When you think of prophets, what comes to mind? A scraggly guy like the one in the picture above? Or maybe a preacher in a church? Someone who has a vision of the future? The Bible is loaded with prophets, and they come in many shapes and sizes. One thing is similar about them all, and that is what this post is about. In this series, we’ve been looking at Deuteronomy 18:9-22, seeking God’s heart for how to discover the truth. As we saw in part 2, Israel should not listen to the sorcerer or diviner. Now in Deuteronomy 18:15-22 we read that they should listen to God’s prophet.
In verse 16 Moses reminds them of the time 40 years earlier when they were at the mountain and God made his covenant with the people. See Deuteronomy 5:23-27. There we read that God’s voice was so powerful, the people wanted God to stop talking because they feared for their lives! We so often wish God would speak to us. Maybe if we actually heard God’s voice, we might feel differently. I know we like to joke about loud mouths, but imagine a voice that could get you killed! So God said that he would raise up a prophet from among them, and God would speak through the prophet, whose voice wouldn’t kill them, and they were to listen to the prophet. Moses was that prophet.
Turn back to Deuteronomy 18, and Moses is prepping the people for the time when he would die and there would be a new leader. Moses spoke God’s truth to the people, and eventually there would be a new prophet to lead them.
The big question was how were they to know if the prophet was speaking for God or just for himself or for other gods? That prophet would have been in a prime position, right? He could really manipulate the people for personal gain. He was the one who was supposed to be speaking the words of God, and if he wanted, he could make the words of God say a lot of stuff that would benefit him, keep him in power, enrich him.
Like the tele-evangelists who say, “God wants me to have this multi-million dollar Lear Jet.” Or maybe for 2019 when we start up our capital campaign again, I should say, like some preachers, that God wants me to lock myself in the church steeple until we raise all the money.
How do we know what to believe? With so many people saying “God told them this or that,” how are we to evaluate it?
Well, God gives them a test. In verse 22, he says that if the prophet speaks things that don’t take place or come true, then they can disregard that guy.
This is similar to New Testament teaching about false prophets.
1 John 4 says that there are two tests we can use to determine if a teacher is true: must agree that Jesus has come in the flesh and is from God, and second, that teacher must listen to the apostles. In other words, teachers must follow New Testament teaching. If they don’t they are false.
So just as Moses in Deuteronomy 18 says that there will be more prophets after him, the people of Israel began keeping an eye out for these prophets. There were many. Through the Old Testament, there is a lineage of prophets, and they were both men and women. Some of the most famous, you may have heard of. Deborah in Judges 4-5. Samuel, Nathan, Elijah & Elisha, and of course the many prophets who have biblical books to their names: Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all those short books at the end of the Old Testament, the Minor Prophets. Even in the New Testament we read about prophets. At Jesus’ birth there is a lady named Anna, and a man named Simeon, who functioned in a prophetic role. Jesus called his cousin John the Baptist, the greatest prophet, but was John THE prophet that Moses refers to Deuteronomy 18?
What I mean is that as the centuries went by, the situation of the Jews changed. After the Israelite period of Kings, the people turned their backs on God and he allowed them to be defeated by the many world powers fighting for control of the region. The Babylonians gave way to the Persians who were conquered by the Greeks and eventually the Romans took control. So by the time we get to the New Testament, the Jews longed for another kind of Moses, a leader who would once again lead them to freedom. And they looked to Deuteronomy 18, the Prophet who was to come. Was John the Baptist that new prophet?
In the New Testament, in John 1:21, we read that John the Baptist was gaining popularity in the nation of Israel. This was a thousand years after the time of Deuteronomy. John the Baptist was in ministry right around the year 30 AD in Palestine. The Roman Empire had military control of the land, and the people of Israel were hoping and praying for change. Maybe John was the guy they were hoping for! So the people ask John a very unique question: “Are you the Prophet?” They were referring to Deut. 18, and the prophet mentioned there. But John says, No. So the people ask him, “Are you the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior?” Again he says, No. In verse 25, they question John further. If he is not the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior, and if he is not the Prophet, or the reincarnation of Elijah, one of the greatest prophets of Israel, then why was John baptizing people? They were really curious about John. But clearly John was not the Prophet, though he said he did have a unique role, in that he was preparing the way for someone, someone who was far more important.
Tomorrow we meet THE Prophet!