“And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him” (Eze. 14:9-10).
A reader of the News from Uganda asked to have this passage explained.
God spoke to His people Israel in different ways. Sometimes He spoke directly to them, as at Sinai; sometimes through miracles He performed for them, which miracles were signs of spiritual truths; very frequently, God spoke to His people through prophets whom He anointed with His Spirit. Moses himself was a prophet through whom God spoke, more frequently, it seems, than any other prophet. But all the prophets spoke the Word that God gave them to speak. That was their glorious calling.
Just as a priest was a mediator between God and His people, and just as a king ruled over God’s people in His name, so a prophet spoke the Word of God. Even the word “prophet” means one who “bubbles over” with the Word of God. When Jeremiah, because he suffered much and was repeatedly rejected by Judah, wanted to resign his office and told God so, he could not resign because, as he put it, the Word of God was “as a burning fire” within him (Jer. 20:9). But where there were true prophets, there were also false prophets. They put themselves in an office to which they were not called by God. They falsely claimed to be sent by God and to speak on His behalf.
Even before Israel entered Canaan, while they were in the plains of Moab ready to cross the River Jordan, God through Moses spoke long to them. Among the things He said to them was His warning against false prophets and how Israel could distinguish them from the true prophets of God (e.g., Deut. 13; 18).
Perhaps, the clearest instance of false prophets as distinguished from a true prophet is found in II Chronicles 18. (The reader is urged to read the entire chapter and especially verses 4-27.) Let us take a close look at this chapter for it answers the questions of the reader.
II Chronicles 18 describes the wicked agreement between godless Ahab and God-fearing Jehoshaphat to go to war together against Syria. As the prophet Jehu told him, this was very wrong of Jehoshaphat: “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord” (19:2). The righteous should never join with the wicked for any reason.
Ahab and Jehoshaphat were sitting at the entrance of the city of Samaria, where in most cities in Israel was a huge gathering place, a sort of public square. The false prophets that claimed to speak in God’s name were prophesying before the two kings, proclaiming and saying that the kings should indeed fight against the Syrians because Jehovah said they would be victorious.
Jehoshaphat asked for a prophet of the Lord and Ahab knew only of one, Micaiah by name, but Ahab did not like Micaiah because he always spoke evil of wicked Ahab. It is a strange conversation that revealed Ahab’s twisted mind. Micaiah prophesied the same as the prophets of Baal. Ahab demanded that he speak Jehovah’s word. Micaiah did so and was imprisoned by Ahab for doing it.
In the course of Micaiah’s prophesy of the defeat that Israel would suffer, he explained why the false prophets prophesied falsely. Some of the demons were in heaven (as was possible for them in the old dispensation) and God asked the assembly for volunteers to deceive Ahab. Some demons said they could deceive the king by being a lying spirit in Ahab’s false prophets and God gave them permission to do this.
This answers the question of the reader why the text quoted speaks of God deceiving wicked prophets. God is sovereign also over the demons. Yet, as the text makes clear, those who prophesy falsely, as well as those who listen to and act on the wicked prophesies that lead people astray, are all guilty. For they all commit their sin wilfully.
In other words, the people who listen to false prophets know that the prophet to whom they listen is a wicked prophet who does not come with the Word of God. They listen to him anyway and do what he says. They are enticed by the false prophet’s flattering words and like the predictions that suit them. (I do not know why good King Jehoshaphat did what the false prophets said and ignored what he knew to be the Word of God. He must have been so enamoured by his desire to cooperate with wicked Israel that he was blind to what he knew he ought to do.)
In the old dispensation, the Lord gave guidelines for Israel to distinguish between a false prophet and a true prophet. For one thing, they were to see whether the predictions the prophets made actually took place.
Today’s false prophets swarm like bees in the church world. Jesus said this would happen as a sign of His coming (Matt. 24:4-5, 11, 23-28). They claim to speak the Word of God but instead they speak seducing words, words that men like to hear. All the false prophets who emerge throughout the whole history of the church will culminate with the greatest of all false prophets, the Antichrist. The whole world will accept him not only as a prophet but as if he were Christ Himself, the great prophet of God (II Thess. 2:1-12; Rev. 13:3-8).
In the new dispensation, God has given to His church an infallible canon by which every prophet, whether true or false, can be evaluated or tested. That canon is the sacred Scriptures. Let us not be deceived: those who follow false prophets know they are false; they follow them anyway, but they walk contrary to God’s righteous ways and will be destroyed. We must listen to prophets who bring to us the Word of God as found in the holy Scriptures alone. Prof. Hanko