February 6, 1996
A friend was offered a $5000 advance just before Christmas. Amazed at this unexpected source of generosity, he wondered if God was telling him he would soon need some cash. The phone rang again. This time it was a sales pitch for a funeral plot!
This amusing story suggests we need to be careful about interpreting life’s situations as special messages from heaven. While God is involved in history, interpreting each of life’s daily events as prophetic messages can lead us astray.
Nevertheless, thousands of people want a handle on the future. Some plan their day around their horoscope. Some seek out fortune-tellers for predictions on everything from vacations to Vatican decisions. Few consider the fact that false prophets abound. Fewer realize there is a test to determine the legitimacy of prophetic claims.
In the Bible, the prophets and seers proclaimed the will of God. Sometimes their messages followed a pattern: If you do this... God will do this.... making it clear that God’s plan included conformity in the lives of those who heard it. Sometimes their utterances included accurate predictions of future events, events that always came to pass.
Not all who called themselves prophets loved and served God. Some were “false prophets.” They were in the fortune telling business but their messages were not from heaven. They claimed otherwise but God’s true prophets challenged their claims.
Jeremiah writes, “Then the LORD said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.’”
Jeremiah explains to the people: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.”
According to God’s Word, false prophets tell those who despise God that He will give them peace (inferring that their attitude against Him is okay). False prophets also say no harm will come to those who stubbornly follow their own way instead of His. Jeremiah says none of them seek the will of God or hear His word. Instead, they tell people reckless lies that will not “benefit them in the least.”
When the people asked how they could discern true prophets from false, God gave them these answers. First: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” A false message will be inconsistent with one basic truth of the Gospel — that we are under bondage to sin unless we turn to God and His saving power.
Second: “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams... announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer.” This test acknowledges false prophets sometimes make predictions that happen but we need to test if their message will lead us toward God or away from Him. If it leads us away, then the messenger is not from God.
Third: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken.” This is the major test: EVERYTHING a prophet predicts must happen. Otherwise, he or she is a false prophet.
Our friend decided God was not talking to him through his unusual windfall. He didn’t buy a funeral plot. Instead, he paid his bills and purchased some special gifts for his family.