Moses was the first in a long line of Biblical prophets that were destined to come out of the nation of Israel. Although he is frequently presented as one of the greatest leaders of Israel during the time that the Lord delivered them out of Egypt, in addition there were few men in history who would come close to him in having the same insight and knowledge of the future. The Lord told him that there would be only one other future prophet who would be his equal and that turned out to be a description of Jesus himself.
Moses was truly the greatest of all the Old Testament prophets. However, when God informed him that there would be many others coming along after him who would also be able to predict some aspect of the future, the Lord anticipated a very logical question before Moses even had a chance to respond. He said,
“And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken?”
In other words, to interpret this King James statement in Modern English, How are we supposed to know for certain that an individual claiming to be a prophet is indeed inspired by God? In every generation, soothsayers are a dime a dozen and willing to deceive anyone dumb enough to listen or provide money for their fortunes to be told. God knew that the prophecies which would be uttered by true prophets would be extremely important for the people to understand, so there had to be a standard by which all prophets can be tested for authenticity. Anyone who steps forward and merely pronounces himself a prophet without being able to verify his claims could be a dangerous man for the nation to follow, especially if he is a charismatic speaker who is able to convince people just through his words. Even today we see the potential for false prophets arising without having confirmation that they are true prophets. Just do a search on the internet for “end times prophecies” and you will find countless sites offering their own predictions concerning what will happen in the future, many of which do not even vaguely correlate to what the Bible says will occur. Some of these sites even have a broad following with many blog entries or visits to their web pages. The Lord knew that this type of deception was a possibility, and he did not want to leave his people in a position of vulnerability to be preyed upon by every fanatic and quack that happened to come along. For this reason, he gave Moses a series of guidelines that are universally useful as a test of a true prophet. They can be found in the following two quotations from the book of Deuteronomy:
“If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,
“And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spoke unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them,
“Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God testeth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
“Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him.
“And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death…”
The other passage Deuteronomy is very similar:
“But the prophet, who shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
“When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously; thou shalt not be afraid of him.”
Deut. 18:20, 22
There are several points worth noting in these passages. The first is the amazing fact that there can be signs and wonders accompanying the words of even false prophets. God recognized the potential of fraud by a clever charlatan. He realized that the biggest danger was that the signs and wonders performed by such false prophets could easily obscure the truth. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened when Moses and Aaron performed the true miracles of God at the time of the Exodus, because his court magicians were initially able to duplicate everything God’s men had done. Unfortunately, the acts of false prophets are often made more palatable by our own desire to see something real from God. So many times we have seen modern-day evangelists work a crowd up to an emotional frenzy just before a time of prayer, only to see that same excitement entice people into believing that miracles had actually taken place during the service. Some who have claimed to be healed during such emotional times are often seen days later struggling with the same illness or injury. The Lord does not require miraculous deception to help him in his work. A man who claims to be a prophet may indeed have miracles accompany his words, but in the eyes of the Lord the work of a true prophet consists of much more than just amazing signs and wonders.
A true prophet must go beyond mere appearance and have a quality within his predictions that few people could ever claim. After all, how many people could say that everything they have ever said, everything they have ever taught has been the truth and nothing but the truth with no falsehood at all? Since we are only human and limited in knowledge, being wrong at times is not out of the ordinary. For prophets, however, the concept of being wrong in their predictions is something that must be totally alien. The guidelines that Moses wrote leave no room for error. The most significant test of an alleged prophet of God simply involves listening to his words and looking for the results. If what he prophesies does not occur exactly as stated, then his words are not from God and he should be labeled a false prophet. In other words, all Biblical prophecy must come true, even in the smallest detail.
The importance of this concept was certainly emphasized through the severe punishment threatened the prophets who were discovered to be false. The Lord commanded that all false prophets were to suffer death by stoning! No one had the right to just nonchalantly say, “Thus saith the Lord…” without being absolutely certain that the Lord had really spoken. Those who spoke presumptuously or falsely risked their very lives. However, even with this serious warning for would-be prophets, I constantly hear people say “Thus saith the Lord”, usually followed by a statement phrased in such a way to appear to come directly from God. Every time I hear such statements I think of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy. Obviously, these people have no respect or fear of God. I don’t mean to imply that prophecy is impossible in our times; it’s just that some people constantly encourage others to speak forth the so-called “word of the Lord” without bothering to judge the validity of the message. Countless authors of end-times prophecy have fallen into this same trap. In the midst of scriptural interpretations they often begin to add their own prophecies to the words of the Bible. According to Moses, if they truly are prophets then everything they say must come true.
For decades I have watched one false prophet after another come along and make predictions of the end. One newsletter I remember reading by an author of several end-times books contained just this sort of self-inspired “prophecy”. She even went so far as to predict the dates when her prophecies would be fulfilled. As I was reading down the list of these predictions, I came to one that said there would be a liberal democrat in the White House in 1985. Since this was a newsletter dated from early 1984 and I was reading it many years after the 1985 presidential election, I immediately knew she was not from God. In another instance, an evangelist published a book in the summer of 1988 saying that God had told him that the end was near. He said that the Lord would rescue his people by removing them from the world on September 14th of that same year. When September 15th rolled around and everyone was still here, did the church brand him a false prophet and ignore him from that point on? No. He went on to predict additional dates for the end and even got himself on a number of TV talk shows to peddle this nonsense.
Over the last twenty years there have been many other predictions of the end by so-called end-times prophets. Harold Camping has periodically predicted the date of Christ’s return since the early 1990s, and clearly he hasn’t been right once. In 1992 he published a book that claimed the coming of Christ would occur on September 6, 1994. In the same book Camping even said that the end of the world would occur in 2011. Now that we are beyond both time periods, we can easily conclude that the prophecies didn’t come true; thus, according to the Bible, he must be classified as a false prophet. Nevertheless, Camping continues to make additional predictions for the Second Coming and he has a group of followers who still believe in him.
According to the test of a prophet as written down by Moses, none of these so-called “last-days prophets” would even survive one week under the scrutiny of true Biblical guidelines.
Next: The Purpose of a Prophet