Old Testament Prophets
Thus far we’ve been talking about true Prophets who proclaimed the word of God. There were also false prophets, who were faking it. “I did not send prophets; yet, they ran: I have not spoken to them; yet, they prophesied.” Jeremiah 23:21
In troubled times, false prophets often told people what they wanted to hear. “Everything is just fine, folks, God is on our side, so relax.” In the same dangerous times, true Prophets arose to tell the people: “Repent, lest the Assyrians conquer the land”. The people didn’t repent, and the Assyrians took the northern Kingdom of Israel. “Repent or the Babylonians destroy you”. The people of Judaea did not return to God, Judaea was conquered, the temple in Jerusalem was leveled, and the people were marched off to 75 years of captivity in Babylon.
True Prophets never feared to “speak the truth to power”, as it’s sometimes put, no matter the cost. With what result? The three greatest Old Testament Prophets ended their lives like this: Isaiah was sawn in two (Lord, have mercy!) by his own people. Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern by his own people. Regarding Ezekiel, one story says he died a natural death. However “Orthodox Wiki” says was condemned to execution because he denounced a certain Hebrew prince for idolatry. Bound to wild horses, he was torn to pieces.” (Lord, have mercy 40 times.) As Jesus said,”A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country.” That’s to put it mildly.
Kings and emperors in ancient times kept wise men around to advise them, just as presidents and prime ministers do today. Hebrew kings often kept “court prophets”. Many rulers, of whatever sort, both then and now, like to surround themselves with “yes men”. “Atta boy, your highness, God says you’re doing just fine. Keep it up. And now pay me my salary.”
Do you know the story of the great Prophet Elijah/Elias and King Ahab? Ahab was a weak man, controlled by his wife Jezebel who worshipped Ba’al (or the ba’als) a fertility god who required the sacrifice of children usually by fire, often the first-born male child. Ahab allowed Jezebel to kill the prophets of the Lord and fill the court with false prophets of Ba’al. It’s a powerful story of how Elijah overcame and killed these false prophets. (Harsh punishment? yes, but remember, they were sacrificing living, breathing children.) For more of the story see: https://frbillsorthodoxblog.com/2017/07/14/22-story-holy-prophet-elijah-part-one/ Or better, read the full story in the Holy Scriptures! See 1 Kings 17–19 and 2 Kings 1–2.
Do you know the story of King David and the Prophet Nathan? This is one of my favorites. David was a good king (with major personal weaknesses) who kept Nathan around because He was a genuine, true Prophet. Here’s the story in a nutshell: One day King David looked out his window and saw Bathsheba, the gorgeous wife of Uriah the Hittite, bathing in her apartment. (Why she hadn’t drawn the curtain we aren’t told.) Uriah was in the military, and when he was away, David sent for her, and pretty soon she was pregnant – and now what to do? Simple: David sent Uriah into the front lines of battle, where he was killed. After a suitable period of mourning, David brought Bathsheba to the court, and he thought they had got away with it, until…
Then one day the Prophet Nathan came to David and told him there was a problem. A man had only one ewe lamb. Then a rich man, who had many flocks and herds, came along and stole his ewe lamb and killed the man. What should be done with this man? David was outraged:”That man must die!” Nathan said to him: ‘You are the man!” David repented. That is how we got Psalm 50/51 which is read at most Orthodox services. Next time you hear it, listen to it as King David wrote it.
It’s the measure of King David that he kept Nathan in his court. David wanted to know the truth. Therefore Nathan is to be trusted in this: He was the first Prophet to prophesy clearly the coming of the Messiah, born of David’s line. One day Nathan came into the court with this prophecy – which applied both to David’s son Solomon and also to the Messiah, as is made clear at the end: “When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he [Solomon] does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your kingdom will be established forever.’” * 2 Samuel 7:12-16
- At every Liturgy when we repeat Nathan’s prophecy: “..and His Kingdom will never end”.
Malach was the last Old Testament Prophet. He spoke this word of the Lord: “I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” Malachi 4:5-6
Then there were no true Prophets for about three centuries.
Prophets in the New Testament
Then arose the greatest Prophet, John the Baptist, John the Forerunner. You know his story, so I won’t repeat it here. Our Lord Jesus said “if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come”. Matthew 11:14
Other prophets are mentioned in the New Testament, about which we know little or nothing:
In Acts 11:28, Agabus took Saint Paul’s hands and prophecied his arrest in Jerusalem.
Acts 15:32 describes Judas Barsabbas and Silas, elders of the Jerusalem church, as prophets. Acts 15:32 says Judas and Silas, elders in the church in Jerusalem were prophets. Acts 21:8-9 mentions the Apostle Philip’s four daughters who prophesied.
Some also count Saint John the Evangelist as a prophet because of his Revelation.
Jesus Christ promised: “Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.” Matthew 23:34
Warnings about false prophets
However, the New Testament has many clear warnings against false prophets: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” Matthew 7:15-20
Should we judge them by the “fruits of the Spirit” listed by Saint Paul, their moral life? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23
Yes, but that seems an insufficient test. Many a false prophet or teacher comes to us, all apparent sweetness and light. Nor can the practical test be only whether the prophet’s prediction comes true. That’s not much help for those trying to decide right now whether the person is a true Prophet or not.
Therefore I am grateful to a comment from Malachi (not the aforementioned Prophet! I trust) at the end of last week’s Post, referring us to this Old Testament test: “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 13:1-3
Yes. The immediate test of a false prophet is this: Does that person lead us away from the God we have known, from the living Tradition of the Church, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone…” Ephesians 2:20
Saint Peter warned “there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.” 2 Peter: 2:1
Likewise, Saint John: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1
Therefore, the three-fold test of prophets:
1 Their “track record”. Do their prophecies come true?
2 Their moral life. Do they produce the “fruits of the Spirit”?
3 Do they teach strange doctrines, contrary to the Tradition of the Church? *
- If any here present are still looking but are not yet Orthodox: This Tradition is plainly visible in the Orthodox Church – in every parish, diocese, school; taught by every priest, bishop, archbishop, patriarch. We all consistently hold fast to that Tradition without addition, without diminution, without compromise. (I feel another Post coming on.)
False Prophets in latter times
There are so many. It would take literally thousands of Posts to cover them all, so let me give you only a few samples.
Before we begin, let me make it clear that I am not joining the chorus of those claiming that Islam is a “terrorist religion” or that Muslims are despicable people. Nonsense. Most Muslims are people like us, who are horrified by the actions of a relatively few Muslim thugs whose actions, I believe, can be better explained sociologically rather than theologically.
However, the origin of Islam is odd, to put it mildly. Muhammed’s supposed revelation of the Koran took place in a cave and was witnessed by no one else until he later dictated the text. It was based on the word of one man alone, who was illiterate. (In comparison, Christianity is based on a corporate experience of Jesus Christ which was shared by many people.) Muslims honor the Virgin Mary (more than some Western Christians!), and Jesus as the last great Prophet before Muhammed who they say is the final Prophet of Allah. *
- “Allah” is the Arabic word for God. Arabic-speaking Christians worship God using that same title.
Western Christianity for many centuries has presented the world with many teachers and leaders who have introduced new doctrines, each claiming that they have the true understanding of the Faith.
The origin of Mormonism is similar to that of Islam. In the Nineteenth Century in upstate New York, Joseph Smith said he was visited by the angel Moroni who gave him the book of Mormon written in “reformed Egyptian” on gold tablets. Were they seen by anyone else? Mormons say they were seen by eleven witnesses. Were they? Here is what one of the witnesses, John Whitmer, later explained: “I now say, I handled those plates … they were shown to me by a supernatural power” (?) Anyway, what was revealed to Smith was how Jesus, after His Ascension, knowing the Apostles would get it all wrong, visited the Nephites, a tribe in Central America, and revealed the actual truth to them, which was then written down in the Book of Mormon, and 1900 years later revealed to Joseph Smith. The Mormons (properly called “Latter Day Saints”) to this day are headed by a “President and Prophet” * to whom revelations can come from time to time. One was that polygamy, which was previously allowed, should no longer be practiced. Traditionally “Negroes” were not allowed to be ordained to the Mormon priesthood. In 1978 it was revealed to the Prophet that people of all races were now allowed to be ordained. Etc. etc. etc.
- The current Prophet is Russell M. Nelson
Mormonism today is the fastest growing denomination in the world. They present themselves publicly as a sort of evangelical Christians. One young woman in our Saint Nicholas Church fell for this (they are very nice people on the whole) till she read of the origins of Mormonism, after which she fled quickly.
False prophets abound today. One predicted that Jesus would return in 1914. * Another taught that the bodies God gave us are evil or rather “non-existent”, and therefore it is wrong to go the doctor. It goes on almost forever.
- He didn’t, but they still believe He did! (Don’t ask.)
During the recent Pandemic, somehow I found myself watching a guy on YouTube who said he had just asked God what to do about Covid, and God had told him…. I forget what. (What to do at such times is to be guided by scientists who are using the brains God gave them.)
Brothers and sisters, do not listen to these false prophets. Study them, if you wish. That might give you a better appreciation of the fullness of Orthodoxy. But don’t fall for their false teachings..
There is one solid Rock on which to build your life: Jesus Christ, the true Jesus Christ who was seen by many witnesses, whose Gospel was recorded in the Holy Scriptures and whose teaching has been preserved whole by His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church ever since.
“Beloved, … I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the Faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 1:3
And I actually thought I could cover “Prophets” in one Post…!
Next Week: The Incarnation of Jesus Christ – what actually happened
Week after Next: A very short Nativity sermon