posted on Oct, 16 2015 @ 05:04 PM
The big name prophets that we know from the Old Testament are just the tip of the iceberg.
We can find more obscure prophets known from a single episode alone, and others who are left anonymous, and there must have been many more prophets
who did not come to history’s notice at all.
Among these were many men who might be called “false prophets”.
The law indicates two kinds of unwelcome prophet.
There is the prophet who says “let us go after other gods and let us serve them” (Deuteronomy ch13 vv1-3).
Such would include the prophets of Baal who contested with Elijah.
Then there is the professed prophet of the Lord, “the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded” (Deuteronomy
My interest is in the second kind, who are more difficult to spot.
An early example is the “prophet of Bethel” (1 Kings ch13 vv11-19), who tricked another prophet into breaking the fast which God had ordered,
simply because he wanted to enjoy the other man’s company.
Later, in Ahab’s reign, we see the professional insincerity of the four hundred prophets who told the king exactly what he wanted to hear.
“Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I forbear?”
“Go up; for the Lord will give it into the hands of the king” (1 Kings ch22 v6).
The Lord himself had a completely different message for Ahab, but the king’s rewards will have been more immediate.
Otherwise, we learn about “false prophets” from the complaints of the writing prophets.
Sometimes they bring prophets into their criticism of the priests;
“You [priest] shall stumble by day, the prophet also will stumble with you by night” (Hosea ch4 v5).
“Her prophets are wanton, faithless men; her priests profane what is sacred, they do violence to the law” (Zephaniah ch3 v4).
While Isaiah says that “the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink” (Isaiah ch28 v7).
As long as the priest is ignoring the Lord and acting in support of the status quo, the natural role of the Lord’s prophet is in conflict with the
So if priest and prophet are working hand in glove, or conducting themselves in the same way, something is probably going wrong.
Micah complains about the mercenary prophets who lead the people astray;
“…who cry ‘Peace’ when they have something to eat, but declare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths”.
Whether they call themselves prophets, seers, or diviners, they will all be put to shame (Micah ch3 vv5-7).
But this failing of the prophets is partly the fault of the people themselves, who put them under pressure;
“For they are a rebellious people, lying sons, sons who will not hear the instruction of the Lord;
Who say to the seers ‘See not’’;
And to the prophets ‘Prophesy not to us what is right;
Speak unto us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn from the path, let us hear no more of the Holy One of Israel’” (Isaiah ch30
The best record of the clash between true and false prophecy comes from the time of Jeremiah.
The political crisis was reaching its climax.
On the one hand, Jeremiah was presenting the blunt and uncompromising message that any revolt against Babylon would fail. It was not the Lord’s will
that Jerusalem should break away from that connection, and he would not help them if they tried.
On the other hand, there was no shortage of prophets willing to encourage the people in their illusions, to “speak unto them smooth things”. They
promised that the Lord would back up Israel, without fail, in anything they wanted to do.
“An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; the people love
to have it so” (Jeremiah ch5 vv30-31).
Once again, that ominous alliance between priests and prophets.
They could not see what Jeremiah could see; that is, how the need for judgement would affect the Lord’s decision;
“They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’, and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own
heart, they say ‘No evil shall come upon you’” (ch23 v17).
Whereas “If they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to the people, and they would have turned them from their evil
ways, and from the evil of their doings” (ch23 v22)
“They have spoken falsely of the Lord and have said ‘He will do nothing, no evil shall come upon us, nor shall we see sword and famine’” (ch5
He says about both priest and prophet;
“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace’, when there is no peace” (ch6 v14).
That word “Peace” has a double meaning. It’s not just about their relation with the outside world, but also about their relation with God. If
the people are not “at peace” with God, then they won’t be “at peace” with Babylon either.
Therefore the priests would be “appalled” and the prophets would be “astounded” on the day when the Lord brought his judgement against the
city (ch4 v9).
Jeremiah urged the people to ignore these providers of false comfort;
“So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you ‘You shall not serve
the king of Babylon’” (ch27 v9).
Not surprisingly, the people on the other side showed him the same hostility;
“Then they said; Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word
from the prophet. Come, let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not heed any of his words” (ch18 v8).
It was a combination of priests and prophets who seized hold of him and accused him in front of the princes (ch26).
The prophet Hananiah son of Azzur opposed him with counter-prophesies, in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests (ch27).
The prophet Shemaiah, one of the exiles in Babylon, wrote to the priests in Jerusalem urging them to put Jeremiah in the stocks (ch28).
On the other side of the desert, the prophet Ezekiel was engaged in a similar conflict (Ezekiel ch13).
He criticised those who “prophesy out of their own minds” and “follow their own spirit” (vv2-3).
They said “Thus says the Lord” when the Lord had not sent them (v6).
As in Jerusalem, they showed their falsity by seeing “visions of Peace” for Jerusalem, when Peace was not what the Lord intended (v16).
In the final event, the prophets of judgement were vindicated, and the comforting prophets were shown to be foolish deceivers.
Therefore Zechariah could foresee a time when a man would be ashamed to own the name of prophet.
His family would disown him. His father and mother would say “You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the Lord”.
Existing prophets would abandon the hairy mantle of prophecy, and claim to be tillers of the soil instead.
(Zechariah ch13 vv2-6)
The allegations of “false prophecy” in the Old Testament reflect the tension between two types of prophet.
The first type, which includes the writing prophets and other “big name” prophets, teach that God will defend his people against his enemies, but
that he cannot be taken for granted as offering unconditional support. For there is also the possibility of judgment for sin.
The second type offer the comforting assurance that the support from God is unconditional, and cannot be forfeited.
The “false prophets” are the second group, who make it even harder for the people to follow the guidance of their God.