Deuteronomy 18:22 (CSB)
22 When a prophet speaks in the Lord’s name, and the message does not come true or is not fulfilled, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.
This pericope starts out with a familiar theme: don’t do what the people who do not follow God do, instead observe and follow the commands God has given. Moses goes on to list a unique list of “detestable acts”. Although the initial premise is true, and in general a good guideline for us, we soon find out that the rest of the passage is aimed at discernment of prophetic gifts. All those “detestable acts” are associated with supernaturally discerning what God, or a god or gods, is telling his people.
All these acts shift the focus off of God, and onto the one performing them, or the medium. It becomes more about coercing the god to respond to the diviner. But God’s design is the opposite: he selects the prophet, and he initiates his message through that person. The final verse of the passage informs us of a couple things:
- God is never wrong. If a prophecy does not come true, then God didn’t speak it.
- A true prophecy is initiated, or it comes from, God first. This verse implies that if a prophetic message comes true, then it was a message spoken by God. Therefore, if a prophet has spoken it, it can only be they were given it by God first.
One other thing to note: the gift of prophecy here was not a generational thing, or something passed on simply through tribe membership. We have seen how the priesthood is through the line of Aaron, and the ministerial priesthood through the tribe of Levi. We also know that kingship was through bloodline. But prophecy appears to be an appointment from God on individual cases. Not only that, it appears to be very limited. After all, this is Moses, the one prophet, speaking and saying, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me […]. You must listen to him.” So Moses, who will not be coming into Canaan with the Israelites, says he will be replaced by one person. Being a prophet is apparently a very exclusive club.
But, even then, as we should still do now, the prophets words should be tested. The prophecy, if it was of God, would come true then. Today, we should judge prophecy in the light of scripture, God’s word, and the fruit that it bears. And false prophets should not be feared by the one who has surrendered to, and belongs to, Christ.
Lord, thank you for speaking your words, your message, through men and women at times. It is easy to be tempted into believing messages we hear, often because it is what we want to hear. And sometimes we might even be the ones speaking as if we are speaking your words. But I pray that we would be in tune to you, and especially your word, so that we can identify false prophecy and not be swayed from your truth. Amen.