CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Where Have All the Prophets Gone?

Dec 12, 2009

One very significant – yet often neglected – Old Testament passage is Numbers 11:29. There Moses says this: “I wish that all the LORD’S people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” All Christians today should have a similar desire. We greatly need the prophetic word in these dark days.

The church of Jesus Christ is in desperate need of prophets today. We so often lack a sure word from God, and we seem to be a church which has lost its way, floundering on a sea of easy believe-ism, personalities, programs, and marketing.

Indeed, our situation today is not all that dissimilar to what we read about concerning Israel, just prior to the monarchy being established:  “The word of the LORD was rare in those days” (1 Sam. 3:1). In fact, later prophets would warn about a dearth of the word: “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD’” (Amos 8:11).

We seem to be experiencing that famine right now. Thus we need watchmen to once again sound the alarm. We need prophets who will act much like the watchman as found in Ezekiel 3 and 33. Of course there are those today who claim to be acting as watchmen. But we have several warnings in Scripture about those who are not properly doing their job.

For example, Paul in 1 Cor. 14:8 warns about an uncertain sound coming forth from those who should be our sentinels: “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”

An even stronger warning comes from the prophet Isaiah. He says this about false watchmen: “Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain” (Isaiah 56:10-11).

Often those who should be sounding the alarm have been asleep, instead of alert and vigilant. And Jesus, in his parable of the sower, also sounds this warning: “While men slept, the enemy sowed tares in the field” (Matt. 13:25). It is because those who should be awake were in fact asleep that the enemy was allowed easy access to do his work.

With so many false prophets, or careless and reckless prophets, how can we know who is the real deal? Scripture does give us information describing the marks of a true prophet. For example, they are a people of the Book. They will always draw God’s people back to God’s Word, and what they say will always line up with Scripture.

Also, they will weep for the people. A prophet has a broken heart. Consider Jeremiah, known as ‘the weeping prophet’: “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people” (Jer. 9:1).

Others can also be mentioned. Micah also knew much about tears:  “Because of [Israel’s sin] I will weep and wail; I will go about barefoot and naked. I will howl like a jackal and moan like an owl” (Micah 1:8).

True prophets are also often unwilling prophets. They are not self-appointed, and it often takes a bit of convincing to get them on board.  Think about Moses for example. Or Jeremiah:

“The word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’ ‘Ah, Sovereign LORD,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.’ But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a child.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the LORD” (Jer. 1:4-8).

They will also declare the whole counsel of God. They will give the bad news as well as the good news. Thus they will proclaim all of God’s Word, as Paul states in Acts 20:27. They will comfort the afflicted, but also afflict the comfortable.

And of course they will seldom be popular. Indeed, the only popular prophets in the Bible were the false prophets. A real prophet will always meet opposition and resistance.  We read this about Jeremiah for example: “Jeremiah was put into a vaulted cell in a dungeon, where he remained a long time” (Jer. 37:16).

Or as Jesus put it, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37).

And needless to say, a true prophet fears God, and not man. They only fear one thing, and that is to disobey their Lord. Human rulers and officials offer no fear to them, only the living God whom they represent.

The marks then of a false prophet are easy to come by – they are basically the opposite of the marks of the true prophet. Thus a false prophet will usually be quite popular. He will tell people what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. He will promise peace, when destruction is coming. His word will not come to pass. And he will lead people away from God, not to God.

Consider these last two points in more detail. Yahweh warned that even if a prophet’s words come to pass, if they lead people away from God, then he is a false prophet, worthy of death: “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ … That prophet or dreamer must be put to death” (Deut. 13:1-2,5)

So who does the prophet minister to? Just to God’s people? No, he will give a word to all people. The prophet speaks to both God’s people and to the world. Recall all the prophetic words which are given to the pagan nations: Is. 13-21; 23,24; 34; Jer. 46-51; Eze. 25-32; 35; 38,39; Joel 3;  Amos 1,2; Zeph. 2; Zech. 9;12; Nahum (which deals with Assyria); and Obadiah (which deals with Edom).

Modern day prophets

It seems that a number of Christians can be more or less designated as modern day prophets. These are people who are fearless as they proclaim the word of God, and take seriously their responsibility as a watchman. A.W. Tozer certainly comes to mind here. He rightly said, “We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum.”

Leonard Ravenhill is another man who could be included here. A few quotes of his indicate why he qualifies:
-“If Jesus had preached the same message that ministers preach today, He would never have been crucified.”
-“How can you pull down strongholds of Satan if you don’t even have the strength to turn off your TV?”
-“My main ambition in life is to be on the Devil’s most wanted list.”

David Wilkerson, still alive, would be another candidate. But they do not just have to be evangelicals or Pentecostals. Think of someone like Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The Russian was certainly a prophet who withstood the evils of godless communism.

We could mention many others, such as the late apologist Francis Schaeffer; or the great Christian abolitionist, William Wilberforce. Or consider a singer and songwriter whose life was cut short at an early age: Keith Green. He produced a few powerful albums before his untimely death, such as “No Compromise”.

His songs often had a strong prophetic edge to them. Consider but one example, “Asleep in the Light”. The opening lyrics are these:

Do you see, do you see
All the people sinking down
Don’t you care, don’t you care
Are you gonna let them drown

How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come
You close your eyes
And pretend the job’s done

“Oh bless me Lord, bless me Lord”
You know it’s all I ever hear
No one aches, no one hurts
No one even sheds one tear

But He cries, He weeps, He bleeds
And He cares for your needs
And you just lay back
And keep soaking it in,
Oh, can’t you see it’s such a sin?

And a bit later, he offers this verse:

The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can’t fight
Cause it’s asleep in the light
How can you be so dead
When you’ve been so well fed
Jesus rose from the grave
And you, you can’t even get out of bed
Oh, Jesus rose from the dead
Come on, get out of your bed.

Watch and listen to the music video of this here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ik-XOVZcwow

We desperately need more men and women like this. And yes, I mention women here. All of the above examples have been men. But the Bible speaks of prophetesses as well. These include Miriam (Exodus 15:20); Deborah (Judges 4:4); Huldah (2 Chron. 34:22); an unnamed prophetess (Isaiah 8:3); Anna (Luke 2:36); and four daughters (Acts 21:9).

While we may not all be called to be prophets, we all can have a prophetic ministry. We at least need to have the same spirit that we read about in Amos 3:8: “The lion has roared, who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken, who can but prophesy?”

[1664 words]

27 Responses to Where Have All the Prophets Gone?

  • Wonderful, I have nothing to add or take away from this post as it is complete and truthful to me.

    Thank you Bill, for being a faithful watchman yourself.

    Stuart Mackay, UK

  • Each one of us might think about praying for each of our pastors, that they, their family and marriage, and their position and reputation be covered by the blood of the Lamb and that they be prophets. And to be in a group praying for our pastor(s). And for Bill, of course, and other true prophets!

    Rebecca Field

  • I just read the article on revival, so of course it’s not just up to the pastors, but up to us as individuals to be willing to speak a prophetic word as God leads.

    And back to the subject of revival, there is not only the personal repentance, but corporate repentance on behalf of the nation. Didn’t the Old Testament prophets repent on behalf of their nation?

    Rebecca Field

  • Hi Bill, I was blessed to be at PCLC this morning and heard your message ‘Where Have the Prophets Gone’. Not only did I hear your message, but I was challenged as to where my relationship with God lay. I came to the front and knelt in tears as the truth that God has been revealling to me over an issue in my life, slammed into me with a force of a 20 ton truck! I know the answers to my issue, but I have been trying to circumnavigate another passage and to achieve the same end result but on my own terms. Your message today left me knowing in no uncertain terms just what I need to do. As I seek first his Kingdom all that God has planned for my life will follow. As I listened to your message today, a verse from an old song came into my head – Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey!
    Kevin Moffat

  • Thanks Kevin

    It is encouraging to see how God is stirring up his people all over the place to be fully sold out for him. Bless you brother.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Who and what is a prophet of God, is it all believers not just Pastors, Elders and Ministers.
    Doug Matthews

  • Bill, you may consider a series on this forgotten bible truth. Prophecy is unpalatable. Jonah warned for 120 years of the coming world deluge to their derision. Ezekiel sighed with the news: every heart will melt, all hands will be feeble, every spirit will faint, all knees will be as weak as water. 21:7 The unique John the Baptist was decapitated for pointing to the Lamb of God. A lonely Jeremiah spoke of Babylon, it will sink and not rise from the catastrophe. 51:64
    God’s beloved prophesied, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all unto me.” They crucifed Him for such magnetic daring.
    Harrold Steward

  • Just wonderful Bill, one of your strongest posts yet. I grew up listening to Keith Green, and your quote of his lyrics moved me to tears, as they so often do.
    Bless you
    Danny Polglase

  • Many thanks Danny.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Ta Bill, The answer was in front of me all along under related searches “On being a Prophet”.
    Doug Matthews

  • Thanks Bill. I also consider you a modern day prophet and appreciate you in how you faithfully serve and speak for God, despite attacks and criticism. Stay strong!
    Scott Haas

  • Bill, I thank God for your strong prophetic watchman-style. You are a blessing to the Church of the King. I am in a community of prophets-in-training in Canberra. What a much-needed thing this is today, as you say. Moses and Paul both agreed that “I want you all to prophesy”. Man shall not live by bread (food) alone, but by every (reimer) word which proceeds from the mouth of God. We are meant to be sustained continually by both. Our main mentor teaches us that if you want to pursue this path (prophecy) that you get used to rejection, as the Church so often kills the prophets in one way or another. No-one chooses this path for themselves, of course, but it is still our choice to chase after this if it is part of our Ephesians 2:10., or not to. Bring on the good stuff Lord, and teach us how to pick the false prophets.
    Ian Brearley

  • The danger of false prophets is that they use words like “god”, “love, “ Kingdom of God,” “spiritual” and even “Jesus Christ.” What we do not realise is that though the words are familiar and the outer packaging is the same, the contents of these words have removed and replaced by something entirely different.
    I came across this example the other day:
    July 7th, 2008, on the BBC Newsweek programme, the Venerable Christine Hardman, Archdeacon of Lewisham quoted William Temple who said “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” I must confess that I have used this statement myself, in the dim past, without giving it a moment’s thought; but further to this she added, “We are there, uhm, to proclaim the love of god, for people, and we are there to give.. some kind of a glimpse.. ..of the kind of world…. the Kingdom of god if you like….. that god longs for us to become, and one of those things….. not the only one…. but one of things is that each human being is created with dignity and worth and that men and women are made in the image of god….. and god gives gifts of spiritual leadership to men and women in the church to be used to bring people to Jesus Christ.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7494588.stm

    The Westminster Shorter Catechism, which was completed in 1647, says
    Q. What is the chief end of man?
    A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
    What is sin?
    A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.
    Q. . What is the duty which God requireth of man?
    A. The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will.

    David Skinner, UK

  • Bill it occurred to me immediately to place philosophy Prof. Edward Feser in the category of modern day prophet. His ‘The Last Superstition’ in one book handed to me my inheritance – the metaphysical patrimony of the West and debilitated the pretensions of entire modern philosophical project. So much for the prophets of Baal.

    The New Atheists get the polemical punch in the head they deserve but that’s just a topical way of presenting what has been deliberately denied us – Aristotle and the greatest Aristotelian St Thomas Aquinas. Anthony Flew admitted it was Aristotle who was responsible for his conversion – he admitted he hadn’t had much contact with his arguments – this from one of the greatest atheists of the twentieth century!

    I note your endorsement of J. Budziszewski’s “The Line Through the Heart” which I purchased and found brilliant – ‘The Last Superstition’ being an intro into the metaphysics that grounds natural law would be a wonderful compliment for the average reader.

    Say thank you to your wife for me for allowing you to purchase all your books and ask if you can write a review of what looks like being an important book, already a prize winner and one that opens a door to something like a philosophical time bomb, and certainly part of a prophetic return to the philosophy that is the foundation of our civilisation.

    From a review:

    But one of the most striking passages from Feser’s book is a quote from W. T. Stace in an Atlantic Monthly article of 1948. Stace was one of the minor deities in philosophy when I was studying philosophy at the University of California at Santa Barbara in the early 1980s–a little earlier, I am guessing, than when Feser was there, a fact that makes what he says all the more powerful:

    The real turning point between the medieval age of faith and the modern age of unfaith came when the scientists of the seventeenth century turned their backs upon what used to be called “final causes” … [belief in which] was not the invention of Christianity [but] was basic to the whole of Western civilization, whether in the ancient pagan world or in Christendom, from the time of Socrates to the rise of science in the seventeenth century. … They did this on the ground that inquiry into purposes is useless for what science aims at: namely, the predication and control of events. … The conception of purpose in the world was ignored and frowned upon. This, though silent and almost unnoticed, was the greatest revolution in human history, far outweighing in importance any of the political revolutions whose thunder has reverberated through the world. … The world, according to this new picture, is purposeless, senseless, meaningless. Nature is nothing but matter in motion. The motions of matter are governed not by any purpose, but by blind forces and laws. … [But] if the scheme of things is purposeless and meaningless, then the life of man is purposeless and meaningless too. Everything is futile, all effort is in the end worthless. A man may, of course, still pursue disconnected ends, money, fame, art, science, and may gain pleasure from them. But his life is hollow at the center. Hence, the dissatisfied, restless, spirit of modern man. … Along with the ruin of the religious vision there went the ruin of moral principles and indeed of all values. … If our moral rules do not proceed from something outside us in the nature of the universe–whether we say it is God or simply the universe itself–then they must be our own inventions. Thus it came to be believed that moral rules must be merely an expression of our own likes and dislikes. But likes and dislikes are notoriously variable. What pleases one man, people or culture, displeases another. Therefore, morals are wholly relative. (quoted in The Last Superstition, pp. 225-226)

    Martin Snigg

  • Good article Bill, very timely and prophetic, its what the Lord is saying amongst many other things, don’t quit, keep telling the body what the Lord is saying.
    Keep firing, love,
    Dorian Ballard and the Miracle Christian Center

  • Thanks Martin

    Yes I have the Feser volume. It is a very good book indeed.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill.
    Also for the Keith Green link, they showed us this video at bible school a few years back but I couldn’t remember the guy’s name, only those words stuck with me:

    “Jesus rose from the grave
    And you, you can’t even get out of bed
    Oh, Jesus rose from the dead
    Come on, get out of your bed.”

    Servaas Hofmeyr

  • On the same topic please check out:
    http://www.fireonthealtar.com/books/

    Book Title: The Spirit of Prophecy
    Author: Art Katz

    Blessings,
    Antonio Morra, Italy

  • Hi Bill,
    I love your slant and views on a lot of issues and for your prophetic voice.
    Thanks for your recent article and endorcement regarding Leonard Ravenhill’s book “Why Revival Tarries”
    I had bought the book quite a while ago and started soaking in the truths of this man of God again which is stirring my heart and returning me to my first love.
    Michael Bourke

  • Dear Bill, Kieth Green’s words about not getting out of bed are prophetic because many Catholics these days are just too indifferent to get out of bed on Sundays to go to Mass. A beautiful Philipino tradition which has started in our parish is to make a novena of dawn masses in the spirit of sacrifice ending on Christmas Eve. As you can imagine that involves a lot of will power to drag oneself out of bed that early for nine days. I would also call Lord Monckton a modern prophet because he is well informed about Climate Change and he puts his message over in a direct but gentlemanly manner. Al Gore was probably thinking about him when he referred to climate change sceptics as ‘reckless fools’. Apparently it is easier to call people names than debate them. Al Gore is ‘gratifying the ears of people and princes’ and has ‘ensnared them by smooth speeches and by adulation’ [Pope Leo X111 Humanem Genus 1884] but Lord Monckton is judging the tree by its rotten fruit and courageously warning the faithful of this evil that confronts us.
    God Bless Always Bill.
    Patricia Halligan

  • Thanks Patricia

    Yes I too was thinking about Lord Monckton here. I don’t know if he is a Christian, but he certainly is having a prophetic sort of ministry when it comes to climate change and Copenhagen.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thank you for all your hard work, and i really love that song writen by Keith Green. I continue to pray for you. And this really changed my life also and now i really will rise up and follow what God has asked me to do and to go.
    Kevin Chai

  • Bill,
    Prophets are raised by God specifically to be his mouth piece. He speaks forthrightly the word of God without fear, both in the church and in the world. He encourages the people of God to abide in the Word and does not hesistate to warn of judgement where and when the Word of God is trampled upon. He is outspoken against false teachings and will not hide his anger on world and its leaders when there arises issues that trample readily the righteousness of God and His word. He does not seek popularity or seek to build a big following. He does not desire material gain or seek prosperity for himself but purely seek to proclaim and establish God’s truth among the people of God and in the world.
    His ultimate desire is to lead people to repentance and unto God. He is unlike today’s many self appointed ‘prophets’ with money on their minds, and whose ‘prophecy’ is more like fortune telling and reckless predictions. These ‘prophets’ are in abundance but are very different indeed from the prophets of the Bible. Where have all the TRUE prophets gone?
    Barry Koh

  • Dear Bill, Lord Monckton is a hereditary peer whose father Gilbert converted to Catholicism during his time at Cambridge university in the 1930’s. He married Marianna Laetitia Bower and both became active in the Knights of Malta.Christopher their son studied journalism and was editor of the English Catholic newspaper The Universe in the 1970’s. He was the scientific advisor to Maggie Thatcher’s government. He has also written many books and one media analyst described him as a ‘fervent, forthright and opinionated Roman Catholic Tory’ and it is said he would have no trouble agreeing with that so he sounds like a prophet doesn’t he? God Bless always and a Happy Christmas to you and your family.
    Patricia Halligan

  • Thanks for the background info Patricia.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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