What Makes a True Prophet?
This weekend, we listen to God's word delivered from the book of Deuteronomy. The underlying message is to listen to God, obey Him, and love Him with all your heart, soul, and strength.
Jesus taught that this was the greatest command. Everywhere we go, we should seek to love God. We are reminded that this attitude should pervade our worship, prayer, Bible reading, and relationships.
Interestingly, over the years, God has called people to help us focus on these challenges to listen to God, obey him and love him...but how do we know that those called are authentic? I guess the question more simply asked is: How can you tell a true prophet from a false one?
Surely, we've all heard of prophets...people like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel - strange, charismatic figures whose words continue to inspire and convict us, but who are safely confined to the biblical era. We might also speak of other exceptional people like Mother Teresa as prophets, but I believe that such people are really few and far between.
Over the years, we have also seen that there are many people who claim to be prophets, but in fact are not. False prophets are all around us. They can be described as liking to be hero-worshipped, power-hungry and will not listen to Godly advice which is against their evil intentions.
Usually, they like to surround themselves with a "cult" of followers they can easily control, are spiritually empty and will always say yes to any un-godly instructions or advice. They are known to manipulate their ignorant followers either by force or subtly through false prophecies oftentimes putting fear into their disciples by threatening them that such members will not prosper if they leave.
False prophets wage war against true children of God by assassinating their characters, gossiping about them, sharing fake news, all in an attempt to cause confusion within the body of Christ.
So, how can you tell a true prophet from a false prophet? The question is not only important for us but was just as urgent for the audience that our text from Deuteronomy addresses.
After Moses - the pre-eminent prophet - dies, those ancient Israelites wondered how will they know the will of God? So how will they know who speaks for God? And more importantly, how do we? We hear in the Scripture:
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15).
God promises not to abandon the people to their own devices. From time to time, God would call a prophet to speak God's word to the people. This passage, however, came to be understood over the centuries as an eschatological promise...And eschatological is just a fancy term that simply means, what happens to us and everything in the end.
This concern about the end times does not seem to be at the heart of the matter for us in our readings today. The issue is not the end of the ages, but the present time, when we are in the muck and mire of everyday life. As God's people today, we still need to know who speaks for God.