Some of My Best Friends Are False Prophets - Prophecies, Politics, and Present Responsiblities (Part 2)

July 22, 2020

In my prior post, I mentioned that my major goal in this series of blogs is to challenge us all to give heed to an undoubtedly valid prophetic voice challenging all of us to realize that God’s will for us and our times may well contradict our most treasured spiritual values and expectations. After some necessary preliminaries, we will be examining Jeremiah 25-29 where this is spelled out for us. 

I stated that we can only appreciate the impact of these chapters if we will first deal with three preliminary matters followed by a fourth, the Jeremiah chapters.  We considered the first of those matters last time, "A matter of definition: How does NT prophecy operate?" This current post will examine "A Matter of Caution: Some of My Best Friends are False Prophets."

False Prophets of Our Time and Place

Fully describing various breeds of false prophets is a book-length contemplation, not needed here.  Instead we will restrict ourselves to snares we are all currently facing from false prophets and false prophecy, with special attention to what Jeremiah says about the phenomenon. We are preparing ourselves to hear from Jeremiah, a true prophet, examining his words to his own generation, and even to our own.

So what special warnings about false prophets should we be keeping in mind?

The Sincerely Wrong - Remember: false  prophets are not necessarily malignantly wicked cunning deceivers. Instead they can be average people who are simply self-deceived. They are sincere, but they are wrong and not to be followed.  

All it takes to be a false prophet is to insist on prophesying something that is false, a message from one’s own psyche but not from God.

Jeremiah clues us in.

Adonai - Tzva’ot says: “Don’t listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are making you act foolishly, telling you visions from their own minds and not from the mouth of Adonai. They keep reassuring those who despise me, ‘ Adonai says you will be safe and secure,’ and saying to all living by their own stubborn hearts, ‘Nothing bad will happen to you.’ But which of them has been present at the council of Adonai to see and hear his word? Who has paid attention to his word enough to hear it? (Jeremiah 23:16-18).

They may think they have the word of the LORD, but it is their own imaginings they report. 

 “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I didn’t send them, order them or speak to them. They are prophesying false visions to you, worthless divinations, the delusions of their own minds” (Jeremiah 14:14).

Again, these are not necessarily malicious people. Often they are simply deluded or mistaken, and when others follow them, then, in Yeshua’s words, we have the blind leading the blind.

The Knowingly Deceptive - Of course, some prophets are not simply deceived: they are themselves deceivers. Jeremiah repeatedly calls these false prophets liars, and the New Covenant picks up this strain also, as in 1 John 2:22: “Who is the liar, if not the one who denies that Yeshua is the Messiah? This one is the anti-messiah—the one who denies the Father and the Son.” Yeshua also warns of such intentional deceivers, who seek to seduce people away from their proper loyalties in ways that serve the prophets’ own ends: “There will appear false Messiahs and false prophets performing signs and wonders for the purpose, if possible, of misleading the chosen” (Mark 13:22).

Profiteering Prophets - Jeremiah, who teaches us more about true prophets and false prophets than anyone else, tells us what the New Covenant also affirms: that yes, there are some false prophets who do what they do for the Almighty dollar. They are in it for the money: “For from the least to the greatest of them, all are greedy for gain; prophets and cohanim alike, they all practice fraud” (Jeremiah 6:13). Alongside the dollar, there is another kind of riches such people seek: the heady drug of influence. They are in it for the rush.

Preferred Prophets - Jeremiah then supplies a diagnosis especially relevant to our times. He is in contact with the first wave of exiles to Babylon, the leadership class taken there by Nebuchadnezzar. In chapter 29:15, the prophet  reports the words of these exiles, who reject his dire predictions and his counsel that they accommodate to this new exilic reality. Instead of heeding him, they consider his prophecies fake news. They prefer a more upbeat kind of message, that their sojourn in Babylon is just a bump in the road, and that they will be returning to Jerusalem before long along with the Temple vessels purloined by Nebuchadnezzar. These exiles respond to Jeremiah’s unwelcome word with words of their own: “The LORD has raised up prophets for us in Babylon.” Their message to this true prophet of ADONAI is, “No thank you. We have prophets of our own now,” pleasing prophets who were telling them the kind of message they prefered to hear.

The New Covenant corroborates this human tendency, “. . . the time is coming when people will not have patience for sound teaching [they will not tolerate the Jeremiahs], but will cater to their passions and gather around themselves teachers who say whatever their ears itch to hear [“The LORD has raised up for us prophets in Babylon”] (see 2 Tim 4:3).

There are a bundle of psychological dynamics here that are playing out in our own day. Whether it’s COVID-19 or the coming election, people reject and mass themselves against a bad news message, and bury their hands in a more tasty dish.

Tailor-Made Prophets - For us in our time, sometimes it is the crowd that makes the prophet. The adulation and appetite of an audience can stimulates someone to self-deceit and to inflate their iffy experiences into grandiose claims of prophetic anointing. The people develop itching ears, the prophets love to scratch them, and they get admiration and esteem for doing so.

Let’s summarize and conclude this section with some key thoughts.

  1. Not all prophets are malicious and cunning deceivers; some are average people, but self-deceived. In fact, some people you know are false prophets. It is very common. So common that indeed, “Some of my best friends are false prophets.”
  2. On the other hand, there are those who are in it for the fame and fortune they can gain: fleecing the flock. But not all false prophets fit this mold.
  3. Prophetic people and hungry crowds can develop a symbiotic relationship, each relying upon the other for the thrills the relationship provides. In this way, even the sincerely misguided so-called prophet can develop momentum and increased grandiosity in response to the adulation he or she receives. It is in these kinds of relationship that crowds of people will say, “The LORD has raised up for us prophets in Babylon,” pleasing prophets, reassuring prophets who tell us what we prefer to believe.
  4. It is also important to realize that the majority of the prophets mentioned in the Bible are false prophets. True prophets of God are few and far between and false prophets are more common. In the case of wicked King Ahab, there were 450 prophets of Ba’al who served his court. Elijah appeared to be the only true prophet to stand against them, a minority of one. But later, in 1 Kings 22, we learn of 400 others in Ahab’s court who fancied themselves prophets of ADONAI, not prophets of Ba’al. The only true prophet who stood against their affirmative consensus was Micaiah, who was again, a minority of one against hundreds of deceived and deceiving prophets who likely felt they were serving the common good with their populist message.
  5. Notice how often false prophets in the Bible accommodate themselves to political trends. They attach themselves to the court of a ruler and tell him and his entourage what they want to hear. False prophets are the politically compatible majority. The true prophets are a minority, as in the case of Elijah, whom Ahab labeled, “you troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18), and Micaiah of whom Ahab said, “I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” (1 Kings 22:8). Both of these were solitary and true prophets standing against hundreds of prophets peddling a more popular political consensus.

False prophecy is common, more common than the true. But God’s prophetic gifting is also real. And in the New Testament sense, such true prophets will not be self-aggrandizing, they will not be in the business of prophecy for profit, they will not be surfing on adulation. Instead, they will humbly submit their reports of what the Spirit seems to be telling them to the refining fire of the community’s consideration and discussion.

Next time we will continue this series by looking at "A Matter For Consideration - Jeremiah's Challenge To His Time." To prepare to consider it, why not read Jeremiah 25-29 in at least two translations?

11 comments on “Some of My Best Friends Are False Prophets - Prophecies, Politics, and Present Responsiblities (Part 2)”

  1. אולי תמליץ איזו גרסאות כדי לקראה? יספיק אולי לקרוא בעברית ובספטואגינתה? [:)]ה

    1. I do not think that in this case, with narrative passages such as I am considering, that translational variation is a critical as it might otherwise be. For those who are English speakers and not able to handle the Hebrew, I would suggest a mixed brew. In no particular order, the New English Translation (WITH the footnotes) is excellent for pointing out textual nuance. Similarly, in English, Robert Alter's new translation of the Tanach--excellent for capturing the literary nuance of the Hebrew. The New American Standard is a good contribution for those who imagine a word for word correspondence across languages is preferable. Other translations also help and serve their own uses: Stern's among them, etc. I myself rely on a variety of translations and tools for various purposes, including the Hebrew and language tools associated with it. However, I think we do people an egotistical disservice when we make them always feel one down if they cannot work the Hebrew or the Greek. In reality, the difference between the original languages and translation is often comparable to the difference between a black and white TV and on in color. Same picture. different nuance.

      1. Whether or not someone feels "one down" for lack of facility with the Hebrew or Greek, or for lack of familiarity with traditional Jewish sources that aid its interpretation, is entirely irrelevant. The fact is that such a one is operating at a disadvantage; and we should all encourage and help one another insofar as possible to overcome that shortcoming. Sometimes the "nuance" makes a great deal of difference to a proper interpretation -- not so the insecurities of a reader who must be challenged not to settle for superficiality.

        1. I'll go out on a limb to recommend even more strongly that, just as the newly-awakening Jewish messianists of 50 years ago began to emphasize Jewish terminology to distinguish themselves and their return to a Jewish consciousness and self-awareness, and their recognition of the apostolic writings and trust in HaShem's messiah ben-Yosef, so the next generation ought to have begun to emphasize the return to the traditional Jewish sources that provide the background for their return in repentance to a Jewish framework of thought and praxis. While I would grant that some few have done so, there has not been as widespread an emphasis and enthusiasm for it as there was to call haRav Yeshua by his actual Hebreo-Aramaic name, and similarly for haRav Shaul and other Jewish disciples. By this time we ought to be rather some distance past these fundamentals and discussing what a third generation of messianists ought to emphasize.

          But I do understand how some tikkunim progress more slowly than they ought to do. After all, in Israel we have still not yet applied full sovereignty and the rule of civil law to the whole of the land. Judea and Samaria and other Jewish districts. that were reclaimed 53 years ago from invading Arabs, are still under military administration and not yet incorporated into the Israeli civil legal system. Normalcy of life's activities has not yet been established for both Jewish and Arab residents of these districts, whether citizens of Israel or merely non-citizen foreign residents. Such normalcy might be expected as a prerequisite for another expression of Israel's restoration after our long second exile, to wit, the construction of a third temple on the site where the first two were destroyed.

          Tomorrow is Tish'a B'Av, which commemorates those destructions, among other catastrophes of Jewish experience. Tonight we read Jeremiah's Lamentations, "Eichah", and recall such history. Our mourning has not yet been turned to rejoicing, but we may nonetheless resolve to do better insofar as may be possible in our days. It could be argued that one of the least challenges we all can pursue is familiarity with the languages of our traditional literature, and the content of that literature, and the praxis of the Jewish civilization that is based upon it. Come, all you who have dedicated yourselves to HaShem, and walk in these His ways!

  2. I believe one reason so many are in deception is due to anti-authoritarism and many are anti-tradition. Some streams in the movement are aligned with new religious movements. Leaders of new religious movements often seek to redefine established rules and boundaries by quickly creating their own outside the tradition rather than working to reform the tradition from within. For example, I know many Messianics who tell me they are Jews but when I point out they dont meet the Jewish standard for Jewish identity they reinterpret the definition of who is a Jew thru a flat and legalistic reading of the bible that is foreign to Judaism and define who is a Jew according to their own interpretation or point to how long they have lived a Messianic Jewish lifestyle, etc. Ultimately they tell me they simply dont care about Judaism's tradition and authority. If you can be in deception
    about who is a Jew, which is a foundational belief, then perhaps it's not a surprise to find other deceptions in the movement. If you dont need the tradition but can simply declare oneself as a Jew, or as an Apostle with the same governmental Authority as the New Testament Apostles and establish on your own a set of rules that congregational members must adhere and politicians that members need to recognize as reflecting God's will and order then you are a New Religious Movement and far from tradition. Many Messianics congregations have incorporated beliefs from radical Christian groups that also exist outside the mainstream of the Christian tradition. Without tradition it can be very hard to discern where the lines should be drawn and what should not be allowed. Many Jews have told me they are suspicious
    of white evangelical churches as in reality being a pipeline that directs people towards religious right politics and the culture wars. Where can I bring them in the Messianic movement where their suspicions won't be confirmed as a reality? This can be a challenge. Especially now that prophets prophesy partisan political rhetoric and apostles seek to align us with religious right political goals and new arrivals to congregations may be asked to navigate thru a very complex religious environment and system that bears little resemblance to their own Jewish sensibilities and sensitivities.

    1. I find your points well put, Glenn. Your final one, though, about religious-right politics and the culture wars, and the sensibilities of Jewish visitors new to distinctively messianistic congregations, is comparable to a similar disconnect likely to be encountered upon entering an orthodox Jewish environment. There is a natural affinity between traditional Americanism and traditional Judaism. Modern Jewish messianism in the USA has good reason to gravitate toward both, and I can understand that this can be challenging to assimilated American Jews who have been inculcated with leftist progressivism. The challenges of returning in repentance may affect cultural views in a number of aspects, which might find some common cause with "white evangelical" churchgoers, or with Israeli Jews who happen also to support certain biblical values.

      I could wish that all messianist synogogues were reflective of orthodox Jewish perspectives and praxis, and that "evangelicals", and Christians in general, would align themselves with biblical values -- many of which are reflected in fundamental "Americanism". I would not recommend that any messianist synagogues reflect leftist political perspectives merely because these are popular or familiar turf to much of the liberal Jewish community. Shrimp cocktail is also a familiar appetizer in many a liberal Jewish bar-mitzvah or other venue, but it is nonetheless not kosher -- and not to be offered as an enticement by those who are dedicated to HaShem and His Torah.

  3. Hosea 4:6 said,"People are destroyed from lack of knowledge, the knowledge of the Holy One of Israel. I believe part of the reason people are deceived is because of the prosperity gospel that is not central in the knowledge of the holiness/beauty/glory of God.

    Some people do have a strong prophetic calling (doesn't mean they are prophets), but because they have character issues, they use it to promote themselves and personal gain which is also very painful to watch.

    I also don't understand why many people want to be prophet. It's a very difficult calling. True prophets suffer.

    Thank you for writing this. I look forward to reading the rest of the series. You are a deep spiritual man, an excellent thinker who speak truth not in a preachy way!!!

    1. Shalom, Grace Johnson. Thank you for your intelligent, perceptive, and gracious comment. I hope that you have had opportunity to read the rest of the series of blogs, and that you will accept my welcoming invitation for you to comment more, should the mood grab you. Again, thank you for writing. I very much appreciated your comment an the trouble you went to to write it.

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