The Law of Prophets--Part 1
Feb 23, 2008
Deuteronomy 18 speaks of both true and false prophets and is one of the better known laws in Scripture. First, of the true prophets of whom Christ is Supreme, we read Moses' words in verses 16-19,
" (16) This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire any more, lest I die'. (17) And the Lord said to me, 'They have spoken well. (18) I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. (19) And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him'."
When God first spoke to the people on Sinai in Exodus 20, they all heard His voice speaking the Ten Commandments. This was the day that was subsequently celebrated as the feast of weeks, or Pentecost. But in Exodus 20:18-21 we find that the people were too afraid to hear the direct voice of God. Instead, they wanted Moses to hear God and then tell them what God said.
God, of course, knew that they were not yet ready (mature) to hear His voice, so He said, "They have spoken well." But He promised another prophet like Moses who would be easier to hear. This was fulfilled in Christ, who was like Moses in that He spoke to the people in the form of a man and yet was faithful to speak all that the Father had told Him.
But verse 19 carries a prophetic warning as well, for God knew that in spite of the fact that it would be "easy" to hear Jesus, there would be those who would still reject the words that He spoke.
So we see that God understood Israel's inability to hear His voice in the days of Moses and would not hold them directly accountable for running away from Sinai. But God would "require it of him" if a person refused to hear Jesus Christ. Why? Because 1,500 years later they would have no excuse to refuse to hear Him. By then, they had had time to grow up. And Jesus did not manifest Himself in a huge fire on the top of a mountain. Jesus' miracles were things that would attract the people, not make them fearful.
In fact, the people had said to Moses in Ex. 20:19, "Speak to us yourself, and we will listen." In other words, they promised to listen to someone like Moses who would pass on the words of God to them. So God did just that. This was a concession on God's part, for earlier the people had promised to hear/obey without conditions (Ex. 19:8). God could have held them to that earlier agreement, but He did not.
First, He told Moses what to tell the people--but most of them rebelled anyway. Later, He told Jesus what to tell the people--and most of them rebelled again.
One of the features of God's laws of liability is that people are held more accountable according to their level of ability, authority, and knowledge. Likewise, if they make a vow or promise, they incur a responsibility to do what they vow. In the above case, they promised to listen if God would speak to them through a man. Ultimately, the nation refused to hear the word of God, and God held them accountable for their refusal to hear and obey.
In Deut. 18, when God told Moses to tell the people that He would give them another prophet similar to him, He spoke of Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant. This prophecy ensured that the Messiah would come as a man like Moses. And again, God would hold the people accountable if they refused to hear Him.
This also gives us the picture of the true prophet in general. His calling is to speak the word that God reveals to him. He is called to be a "faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14) as the "Amen" of God.
But when it comes to one's understanding of that word, even true prophets had difficulty. The Apostle Paul recognized this and wrote in 1 Cor. 13:9, "For we know in part, and we prophesy in part." When we see only a partial picture, that which we see may be accurate, but we remain uncertain of its context, application or manner of fulfillment. Note also what Peter says in 1 Pet. 1:10, 11,
" (10) As to this salvation [Yeshua means "salvation"], the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, (11) seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow."
The prophets themselves only had a partial picture, and they searched diligently to get a better understanding of that which had been revealed to them. It is very important to recognize the difference, then, between prophecy and understanding of that prophecy. Not recognizing this distinction has been the source of much unjust judgment upon prophets throughout history and to the present time.
It is for this reason also that in my writings, I will occasionally give a Word from the Lord, and I am careful to put it in bold type to distinguish it from my understanding and explanation of that word. There are many who have held me accountable for my opinion and understanding that has proven to be wrong or only partially correct. Well, I certainly apologize for my lack of understanding, but for this, one should not use Deut. 18 against me.
Another important fact is that even true prophets have to learn and to grow into maturity in their gifting. Prophets are people, too. There are many who have little or no experience in being around prophets today, and these tend to keep a bucket of stones close at all times in case they need to use them. I have been amused, in fact, that many of these people do not believe in true prophets. They only believe in false prophets. So if anyone is said to be a prophet, they immediately assume him/her to be a false prophet.
It is precisely that ignorance that caused the biblical prophets to be stoned as false prophets. That same spirit prevails today.
People very often confuse the spirit of prophecy with clairvoyance, which is the power to perceive things beyond the range of normal human senses. A non-Christian can be clairvoyant as much as a Christian. The New Age movement has its share of them, and they are often called "prophets." But the Church has its fair share of them as well, and the only serious difference is that these happen to be Christians with those special abilities. But clairvoyant ability is not the same as prophecy--though a prophet may also be clairvoyant.
Clairvoyance is neither right nor wrong in itself, but can be used either way. Many use it to tell people about themselves, their backgrounds, their strengths, their weaknesses. And there are many Christian clairvoyants who are called prophets today. Christians flock to them, hoping to get some direction in life. Often, these turn into side-shows.
Prophecy, however, is speaking the word of the Lord that one has heard (directly) from Him. A prophet does not necessarily tell people what they are thinking, nor does a prophet necessarily do miracles. John the Baptist, for example, was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets (John 11:11), and yet did no miracles. In other words, he was greater than Elijah, who did eight miracles, and greater than Elisha, who did sixteen miracles. Yet there is no record that he was clairvoyant or that he did any of the usual "prophetic" things other than speak the message that God had given to him.
This is the first part of a series titled "The Law of Prophets." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones