Summary: Too many people say they speak for God. How can you know who really is? The occult is not the answer. God through Moses gives us two tests for discerning real prophets from false ones. And we find that Jesus is the greatest prophet of all!
How to Pick a Prophet
Prophets with a Purpose: Week 3
We are in a five-week series called “Prophets with a Purpose.” We began with Samuel, the great priest and prophet of Israel. Last week we looked at Jonah, the reluctant prophet. And today we’ll discuss two of the greatest prophets who ever lived.
The very first prophet of Israel was Moses. The people were terrified when God spoke to them directly. So they asked Moses to intercede for them, to listen to God and then tell them what God said. Thus was born the role of the prophet. Moses would go up on the mountainside and talk with God. God would give Moses a message. And Moses would give it to the people. The Old Testament says this about Moses: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10).
In today’s passage, Moses is close to the end of his life. He is preparing the people to go on without him. Since he won’t be around forever, he prepares them to receive the prophets that will come in the future. How can they clearly discern God’s voice from all the voices claiming to speak for God? It’s a need we have today. How do you know when someone is truly speaking for the Lord? From Moses’s speech, consider these three principles:
1. Avoid the occult (v. 14)
As the Israelites prepared to move into the Promised Land, God warned them through Moses not to buy into the world’s system of understanding the times and knowing the future. Verses 9-14 speak out clearly against things like witchcraft, sorcery, séances, and divination.
Today we might translate: horoscopes, tarot cards, mediums, and psychics. Magic might be cute in Disney or Harry Potter, but it is absolutely forbidden for the one following God. Why is that? Because God chooses to speak directly to us through a different way, the way of the prophet. All those other things are human efforts to know the future. Prophecy, on the other hand, is God’s effort to guide us. So avoid the occult, and #2,
2. Discern false from true prophets.
In Bible times, many so-called prophets would come along and deceive the people. They would say things like, “The kingdom is not really going to fall. God would never let that happen to you. He cares too much about you.” And then the kingdom fell! False prophets usually carried too positive a message. Reminds me of the “prosperity gospel” preachers today who always promise more, more, more of God’s blessings upon your life, but never call anyone to repentance. Whereas the doom-and-gloom prophets in the Bible usually were the real thing. They were trying to wake up God’s people before it was too late.
Jesus urged his followers, in Matthew 7:15-16, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” Likewise, the elderly apostle John wrote to the church, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). So how do we test the spirits? How do we know if a prophet is truly speaking for God?
God gave two tests in today’s passage. The first one is this:
• Does the message line up with the Bible?
In verse 20 God says, “But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”
If the Bible is God’s word, and the prophet presumes to speak for God, then what the prophet says should line up with the Bible, right? It’s not rocket science, but I’m sure you’ve sat under a sermon or two in your lifetime where you may have wondered, “What does any of this have to do with the Bible?” Maybe it was a good motivational speech, but it didn’t really seem to be...well...biblical! Sadly, I suspect many sermons are preached every week in churches and on TV and radio that may not reflect accurately the word of God.
Preachers are not our only modern prophets. When a well-meaning friend offers you advice, check it against scripture. Is that friend sharing godly counsel? God will never contradict his written word, because God never lies.
Now you can only perform this test if you are familiar with God’s word. Thankfully, you don’t have to have it all memorized, although memorizing key verses for your situation never hurts. Use your concordance or other tools to find scriptures that relate to whatever topic you’re concerned about. Do a little research. And see if the teaching or advice lines up with God’s word.