This weekend at church we heard a message on visions and dreams. Not surprisingly, the word prophecy came up a few times. The following verse was quoted:
NLT Jeremiah 23:16 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to his people:
“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,
filling you with futile hopes.
They are making up everything they say.
They do not speak for the Lord!
But immediately my thoughts ran to this verse:
NLT 2 Peter 1:20 Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, 21 or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.
So which is right?
Context immediately solves the problem, the Jeremiah passage is dealing with false prophets. (Most Bible discrepancies and apparent contradictions are resolved when context is considered.) If there’s any doubt, God disowns these prophets a few verses later:
21 “I have not sent these prophets,
yet they run around claiming to speak for me.
I have given them no message,
yet they go on prophesying.
Does that seem like God has lost control over the situation? No, his affirmation of sovereignty and omniscience follows:
23 Am I a God who is only close at hand?” says the Lord.
“No, I am far away at the same time.
24 Can anyone hide from me in a secret place?
Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?”
says the Lord.
Similarly, the 2 Peter passage has a context, and that context is recorded prophecy in scripture. The Bible Panorama commentary notes that, “…there is a surer prophetic Word, the Bible, which guides us into God’s truth. Someone may mistakenly think he has heard a voice from heaven, but the Word of God can readily be seen and examined. God revealed His Word in the Bible by moving holy men, by His Holy Spirit, to record His infallible truth.”
Peter is writing about the prophecies concerning the coming of Jesus (and in a sense, the entire thread of Israel’s history leading up to that point.) The Biblical prophets spoke of things Peter and The Twelve had heard with their own ears and saw with their own eyes.
NLT 16 For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” 18 We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.
19 Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place…
The challenge for the Christian in today’s world is that sometimes the lines are blurred. A modern day prophet may well quote scripture. They may speak of things which relate to the overall arc of the Bible story. Then, out of the blue, they might interject something which rings of truth because of everything said to that point, but is actually the starting point for a message that is heading off the rails.
On the weekend at Thinking Out Loud we spoke about discernment, which is key to untangling all of this. We ended with some verses I want to share here which mention this much needed gift. As we said there, in an internet-influenced world, so many voices are talking at once, and we need to be able to discern the difference between prophecy which is of human origin and prophetic words which are from God.
Here’s the first four of 71 verses on discernment from openBible.info:
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.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (all ESV)