A few days ago I had a brief moment of stillness in the middle of this time of transition in our lives, so I picked up my wife’s reading Bible and opened it to Ezekiel.
“Then this message came to me from the LORD: ‘Son of man, prophesy against the false prophets of Israel who are inventing their own prophecies. Say to them, “Listen to the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: What sorrow awaits the false prophets who are following their own imaginations and have seen nothing at all!” O people of Israel, these prophets of yours are like jackals digging in the ruins. They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the LORD. Instead, they have told lies and made false predictions. They say, “This message is from the LORD,” even though the LORD never sent them. And yet they expect Him to fulfill their prophecies! Can your visions be anything but false if you claim, “This message is from the LORD,” when I have not even spoken to you?’” (Ezekiel 13:1-6, New Living Translation).
As a preacher, passages like this grab my attention. What are some warnings concerning false prophets in this Word?
They Follow Their Imaginations
We don’t need a new word tailored for this particular moment. The Bible remains all-sufficient and relevant. Let it speak. We don’t need messages crafted to political or personal circumstances. God’s covenant people live in a world of innumerable false messages, and sit under the preaching/teaching of the Word for just a moment in the week. Just do the math: how much time do you spend hearing and reading the Word in comparison to watching the television, being on the internet, listening to the radio, hearing unbelievers speak, etc. The little time we have together in the Word needs to be a time of devotion to a Jesus-centered, Gospel-faith message to keep us grounded in the truth. We live in a world of vain imaginations; and I do not believe we are discerning enough to tell the difference between “sanctified” imagination and the much more common vanity. Let’s just let God’s Word speak and leave the “new words” to those outside the covenant community. I grieve, because so many faithful Bible expositors waste time with imaginations.
They Don’t Stand in the Gap
Drawing comparisons/applications from the Old Testament to the New Testament requires more than just word-to-word comparison. 13:5, for example, speaks of “the nation.” One of my hermeneutical/theological pet peeves is when modern American believers take O.T. references to “nation” or “land” and apply it to the U.S.A. Examples are legion. The N.T. (and therefore contemporary) equivalent to O.T. Israel is not the U.S.A. (or even the modern State of Israel); it is the Church, the new covenant people of God in Christ. In 1 Peter, “God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1:1) are called “a holy nation” (2:9). I would make the same assertion concerning the O.T. concept of “land.” Since even the O.T. patriarchs were looking by faith to a “heavenly homeland” (Hebrews 11:16), even while living in the earthly Promised Land, we who live in the new covenant in Christ should have the same perspective. When Ezekiel condemns false prophets, for “they have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation,” it’s about the covenant people for us. It was even this way in the O.T.; sometimes this language of “standing in the gap” refers to literal walls in a city (1 Kings 11:27; Nehemiah 6:1), but other times it reflects intercession (Psalm 106:23; Ezekiel 22:30). Isaiah 30:13; 58:12 are probably referring to both at the same time (physical and spiritual walls being breached and repaired). Amos 9:11 is important to our right new covenant application of this O.T. principle because it is quoted in Acts 15:13-18. The “repair” of “damaged walls” is not the restoration of a literal nation Israel, or any kind of wall-building (figurative or literal) in the U.S.A. The apostle James applies Amos’ prophecy to a spiritual building up of the covenant people of God, fulfilled in the “conversion of Gentiles” by the Seed of David (Jesus Christ).
False prophets don’t stand in the broken-down boundaries of the covenant people. One application: true men of God point out those boundaries between truth and lie (in confession and practice), lead the people to rebuild them, and intercede for the failure/judgment those gaps represent. Another application: (re)building means evangelism/missions, church planting, and continual discipleships.
They Don’t Help God’s People Stand
False prophets don’t help God’s people stand in the day. They give feel-good messages of worldly peace “by saying, ‘All is peaceful’ when there is no peace at all!” (Ezekiel 13:10). You just need preferable circumstances in this life to have peace (again, this could be political or personal). In contrast, the apostle Paul admonishes the people to “make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” (Ephesians 5:16). He warns them of spiritual enemies: “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil…put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (Ephesians 6:11,13). By faith we stand in Christ, a place of true peace – peace with God (Romans 5:1,2). It is a standing in the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Believers need to hear this today, for they are constantly tempted to stand in lesser things against worldly/fleshly/temporary enemies. They do not stand in spiritual, eternal reality against spiritual enemies. True prophets help them stand by revealing God’s truth, not their own carnal imaginations. I become more and more convinced that most believers are fighting with all they have in battles that take them far from the simplicity of faithfulness to Christ and proclamation of the Gospel. We need true prophets to lift up a scriptural reality.
That’s what I’ve been meditating upon for the last few days. We need these warnings, saints. Paul gives us a helpful principle for applying O.T. Scripture in 1 Corinthians 10. He’s speaking of the Exodus and book of Numbers, but the concept is the same: “These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols” (1 Corinthians 10:11-14).
True prophets (I understand new covenant prophecy to be ordinary prophecy, that is, preaching the Bible) proclaim an Old Testament rightly contextualized for the New Testament people, and keep the focus on Jesus and His Gospel. This is the prophecy we must have today as the Church, beloved.