Deuteronomy 13:5 (CSB)
5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he has urged rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the place of slavery, to turn you from the way the Lord your God has commanded you to walk. You must purge the evil from you.
This pericope is a warning about following false prophets. Although it would seem that should be pretty straightforward, there are some nuances we should be sure we are aware of.
- There will be false prophets whose prophecies actually occur! It should be obvious that a prophet whose prophecies do not occur, is not a prophet of God. But we should not assume the converse: if a prophet’s prophecies do occur, they must be a prophet of God. This passage says just the opposite, God essentially says it will happen that false prophets will prophecy “successfully”.
- A prophet of God must be “of God”. The test is not just that the prophecy must occur, but it is also the attitude towards God. A prophet who is leading or pointing people to anything other than God, is a false prophet, no matter how true his prophecies are. For example: we should not seek spiritual guidance from a biblical scholar who has not given themselves to Christ and been saved (yes, they exist), because they are not oriented towards God.
- A false prophet should not be tolerated. Obviously this was written under the old covenant, and there was a different relationship between man and God at that time, so death was the punishment prescribed by God. But today we should not leap to such extreme measures, but we should be wary of false prophets. We, as believers, should be careful to make the distinction between a false prophet and a brother or sister in Christ.
In the end, the point is that we should seek God solely: through obedience, prayer and reading His word (listening to Him), worshipping Him, and being faithful to him as our Lord. We cannot do that if we are led around to false gods, by false prophets, speaking lies, just because we saw a sign. Our faith must be deeper than relying solely on prophecies. Instead, prophecy should round out the already solid foundation of our faith in Christ.
Lord, thank You for not just inspiring prophets, and fulfilling Your prophecies through them, but also for warning us to avoid those that might lead us away from You. I pray that You would ground our faith and relationship with You on solid ground, unshakeable by false prophets, and fulfilled and strengthened through true prophetic occurrences. Amen.