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: http://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?”