CultureWatch

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

Refusing the Prophetic Word

May 7, 2019

I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I am not claiming any inspiration, only perspiration. But there certainly have been God-sent prophets of course. Biblical prophets with inspired prophetic words which became part of the biblical canon have been a vital part of how God deals with his people.

Without entering the current debate about prophetic words given today, I nonetheless believe God does send people with a prophetic-like ministry, or a watchman on the wall sort of calling. They will not be infallible and inspired as were the prophets that we find in Scripture, but God can still use people like this to speak to his church and to society.

I believe God seeks to both warn and encourage his people today, and to speak in prophetic fashion to the culture at large. God uses many of these people to sound the alarm and seek to wake a sleeping church and a comatose culture. Many of these prophetic-type voices could be mentioned here.

We think of recent great and powerful men of God such as Ravenhill or Tozer or Wilkerson or Schaeffer. They all have acted in a prophetic manner, speaking to the issues of the day, and challenging a wayward church to become all it is meant to be in Christ.

That does not mean people always listened to them or went along with their calls. Often they were ignored or even rejected outright. That has always been true of the prophetic voice. How often does it go unheeded and even fiercely resisted?

The examples of this are found throughout the Bible. The Old Testament has case after case of prophets being raised up by God, only to be rejected, ignored, despised and even killed by the people. And Scripture offers plenty of commentary about this as well. Let me offer just a few Old Testament passages on this:

1 Kings 19:10 [Elijah] replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

2 Chronicles 36:15-16 The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.

Nehemiah 9:30 For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples.

Isaiah 30:9-11 For these are rebellious people, deceitful children,
children unwilling to listen to the LORD’s instruction.
They say to the seers,
“See no more visions!”
and to the prophets,
“Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
prophesy illusions.
Leave this way,
get off this path,
and stop confronting us
with the Holy One of Israel!”

Jeremiah 2:30 In vain I punished your people;
they did not respond to correction.
Your sword has devoured your prophets
like a ravening lion.

Jeremiah 6:17 I appointed watchmen over you and said,
‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’
But you said, ‘We will not listen.’

Amos 7:12-14 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

And we find the same thing in the New Testament. Many texts can be cited. Here are just some of them:

Matthew 13:57 A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.

Matthew 23:29-37 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation. “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.”

Acts 7:51-53 “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Romans 11:3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have torn down your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” Quoting Elijah in 1 Kings 19:10, 14

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

Hebrews 11:32-38 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

Revelation 11:10 The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.

Revelation 16:4-6 The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water,and they became blood. Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:
“You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,
you who are and who were;
for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.”

Hmm, get the message? God’s word via God’s choice servants is seldom readily received and welcomed. In fact it is usually hated and rejected. And things are not really any different in contemporary times. God raises up pastors, teachers and others today to share his truth, but often they are ignored or rejected.

Again, they do not have the same divinely inspired inerrant word as did those whose words and writings contributed to the Bible. But they do have words to share nonetheless. And they too can be just as mocked, reviled, denounced and resisted as were the prophets of biblical times.

Image of The Best of Vance Havner
The Best of Vance Havner by Vance Havner Amazon logo

There have been so many of these watchmen on the wall types today who have warned and pleaded and alerted a slumbering church –only to face ridicule, rebuke and resentment. Sure, since they are not infallible nor divinely inspired, when they get things wrong then they should be ignored and rejected.

But when they get things right, we really need the church to listen, and to listen carefully. So many have warned about massive threats to faith, freedom and family – such as stealth jihad, the culture of death, and the radical sexual juggernaut – but far too often their words have fallen on deaf ears.

Almost always these warnings have been ignored or opposed. Thus when all these things they warn about fully befall the church and culture, all that these prophetic voices can do is say, “We tried to warn you. We told you so. But you would not listen.”

So it is the same sad situation that we find in Scripture. God raises up those who must share crucial warnings, only to have most folks reject them and criticise them. There is nothing new under the sun. But those of us who have been given a calling like this must simply persevere.

It is no fun to be laughed at and hated on. It is no fun to have fellow Christians seek to discredit you and publicly attack you. It is no fun when so much of the church rejects you, along with the world. It is a whole lot easier just to keep your mouth shut and live a quiet and easy life.

But to keep quiet when God is calling you to speak out is just not on. One is reminded of the words of Jeremiah (Jer. 20:9): “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”

Those who are called to speak must speak. They must warn. They must plead. So if you wonder why some Christians today keep speaking out and keep sounding the alarm, you can see why they must carry out their commission. They dare not remain silent. It would be sin for them to do so.

There are many great saints I could quote from here to close off this piece. But let me utilise just one man who knew full well the importance of the prophetic word for today. I refer to the American preacher Vance Havner (1901-1986). If you know nothing about this man of God, you should. See here for more on him: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/02/25/notable-christians-vance-havner/

He often spoke about the absence of prophets today, the need for prophets, and the price to be paid to be a prophet. Here are just a few of his inspiring and challenging quotes:

“Prophets are almost extinct in the religious world today. The modern church is a ‘non-prophet’ organisation.”

“The most neglected ministry today is that of the New Testament prophet. Pastors, teachers, and evangelists may exercise a prophetic ministry occasionally, but there should be fulltime prophets who speak for God to the nation and the church.”

“When religion becomes a performance instead of an experience, when the living faith of the dead becomes the dead faith of the living, prophets are needed.”

“The prophet must needs have the heart of a child and the hide of a rhinoceros. His problem is how to toughen his hide without hardening his heart. That combination can be achieved only by the grace of God.”

“Prophets are very disturbing to smug church members who like to sit half-asleep in church on Sunday morning while the minister drones platitudes that offend nobody.”

“Prophets have never been plentiful, and the species is threatened with extinction.”

“We need a John the Baptist in America today to call the nation and church to repentance.”

“I find myself wondering how John the Baptist would have addressed the Rotary Club in Bethel or how John the Baptist would behave before a Monday Minister’s meeting.”

“Popularity has slain more prophets of God than persecution ever did.”

“There has never been a rush to wear the prophet’s mantle.”

[2133 words]

13 Responses to Refusing the Prophetic Word

  • Dear Bill, you write a thought provoking article. I have not attended many capacity stadium filled Evangelical meetings. I have been to many ‘locally’ held Christian speaker events. One of these speakers I believe to be a modern day prophet. Pastor John Anderson is who I have in mind, warning, during the 1990’s, about the dangers in society when men allow their sex drive to lose control.
    You too, Bill, I consider the same. You have a filed recorded history, of your warnings to society on a multitude of fronts. Sadly you have been able to actually see your warnings cease to be warnings, do you call that fortune telling. Just kidding. Keep it up I’m listening.
    Mark Bryant

  • G’day Bill,
    Goodonya again. I thoroughly agree. I do not believe that prophecy has ceased and I long for more prophetic voices like yours. However my experience is of ‘Prophets’ who say largely nice and comforting things like God loves you or revival is coming. Almost anyone gives words from the Lord. It isn’t too few prophets of conviction and courage but too many prophesying things that do not challenge or discomfort. The New Apostolic Reformation folk regard Apostles and Prophets (and pastors, teachers and evangelists) as normative in the world today. You go to their schools of prophecy but that is very different to the ‘prophecy’ you’re talking about.
    Andrew Campbell

  • …the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” – Revelation 19:10c [NASB]

    The faithful testimony to the confronting truth of the Lord Jesus Christ and His cross is surely the very essence of speaking a word from God to humanity – of declaring that the future of every human being is inextricably bound up with what he or she does with Jesus of Nazareth.

  • I believe Israel Filou’s scripture post on social media was a prophetic warning to the people of our nation. What courage it took, regardless of the consequences. He certainly is being resisted, reviled and rejected! We must keep praying for him, and for all the people who read his post to be convicted to check out God’s Word for the truth. God bless you Israel!

  • Prophets have had and still do have, including Mr M, a target attached to them. They have two bullets to dodge the ones from their own words, and another bullet to dodge from someone else using the words of the prophet and so bring down a hail of bullets onto the prophet, often unexpectedly.

    I am no prophet but I do speak out if I consider I am witnessing injustice or immorality. I often get it wrong so I am pleased not to be a prophet since being stoned to death isn’t the best way to get from here to paradise.

    I have noticed and I can tell you Mr M experiences this is that if you are the one who speaks up you soon become the only one to speak up. however, it is the case you can’t stay silent since often you no more want to speak up than those who remain silent as a matter of course, however, the words have to come out of you no differently than vomit when you are being violently sick.

    I often wonder if the purpose of the prophet is so God may say you were warned, you have no excuse.

    I can fully understand why prophet are in short supply and its because we have too few who read God’s word let alone be a conduit for his revelations. I think for every million faithful readers of Gods word he gives us a prophet perhaps, and we have few prophets because we do not have millions of faithful readers of scriptures. God doesn’t send his blessings down on the lazy he sends down his wrath.
    ————-
    off topic.
    Mr M or those in the know.
    I found two books in a charity shop on Saturday.
    one I know is ok but nevertheless seems unusual. Its Called the Gospel Transformation Bible ESV version by Crossway. I think it’s OK since Crossway is OK.

    The other I am not sure about. I’m wondering if it’s akin to the Da Vinci code book.
    Its called- The Book of God by Walter Wangerin. It has a subtitle- The Bible as a Novel. Should this book be binned or read and treasured?

    Sar xx

  • Thanks Sarah. Yes Crossway is usually pretty reliable. As to Wangerin, I am not a big fan of religious fiction, but for those who are, he is well liked by evangelicals and others. The Book of God is one of his more well known and liked volumes.

  • Anyone filled with the Holy Spirit can prophesy (Rev 19:10) if God gives them a prophecy. As the scripture says the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy.

    You know that “still small voice” that you should be trained to listen to? (Heb 3:7-10 1 Sam 15:22 1 Kings 19:12) That is the spirit of prophecy. You may not need to speak it out in which case it is just a word of knowledge – something that is just for you to know or use. Prophets have just been taught, in the right circumstances, to speak that out and to ensure they have switched off their own thinking so that it is purely God speaking through them. A literal ass can prophecy (2 Pet 2:16) but a false prophet will be speaking either his own words or perhaps a demonically inspired word, either is obviously bad if professing to be from God.

    Once you know how to listen for God you will know He may only give you the first few words to speak in prophecy and you will need to step out in faith but I can’t stress enough the difference between a true and a false prophet is to do with disengaging your conscious intervention. It has to be purely God speaking.

    2Pe 1:20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture came into being of its own private interpretation.
    2Pe 1:21 For prophecy was not borne at any time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke being borne along by the Holy Spirit.
    (MKJV)

    Prophecies are, however, subject to and under the control of the prophet him/herself. If you don’t speak out a prophecy when God gives you one you will not likely be given more (unless you specifically seek God for it) – there would be no point.

    You can read the true prophets in the scriptures and they themselves very often did not understand what they were being told, even as they spoke it out, but they still said it and recorded it or had it recorded in faith – knowing it was from God.

    Jonah famously did the opposite of what he was told to do and Daniel did not understand his vision even when an angel explained it to him. John the Baptist thought that Jesus was going to establish His throne at that time etc. So just because someone prophesies it does not necessarily mean they are an expert at interpreting what God has said.

    The prophets themselves were a long way from perfect and on many occasions you can see that, even though they had been given a prophecy, they still had to be convinced to act on what they had been told. So even though they trusted God enough to allow Him to speak through them they still often had to be convinced to act according to the prophesied instruction. I, personally, don’t think that is unreasonable in this creation but that may depend on just how much convincing is needed. In Heaven, I suspect, things may be different but then our understanding will be greater.

  • Hi Bill
    Thanks once again for reminding us of the nessecitey of God’s prophetic voice being spoken through imperfect preachers.
    I find it unusual that you have so few replys as there has never been a time as today that needs such a clarion call to action.
    I have spoken to many people about God’s love and the sin that separates them to both non believers and professing Christians and the later group I often quote Luke 9:23
    “If any man wants to be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me”, only to be met with blank stares.
    If more Christians would search their hearts and cry out to God many of these preachers sermons would not fall on deaf ears.
    As definitely a layman we all can do our part.
    Just this week I submitted a small article to the Herald Sun which is obviously a secular paper but with a readership of 1.26 Million.
    In defense of exalting the name of Jesus I said “As we now live in a post Christian era in Australia it is encouraging to see Israel Folau with eyes closed receiving prayer from Daniela Tupou in yesterday’s HS, May 3rd.
    Two great men standing up for their faith in Jesus Christ and God’s word the Bible”.
    And it was printed.
    I for one am inspired by God’s word and his modern day fearless preachers that spread the word and greatly inspired by your deep thinking on many an issue Bill.
    Terry Hill, Trafalgar

  • Thanks guys. Some folks here may have missed my point to some extent. That Paul says some are prophets (eg., Eph. 4:11) means that the gift is with us. But my point (that I tried to repeatedly and carefully make) is that we need great care in any such prophetic words we might give. They will not be inerrant and fully inspired as the prophetic words that became part of inerrant Scripture were. This can be a rather complex debate, and in part depends on where one stands on the role of some of the gifts today. But that is a debate better left for another time thanks.

  • Much care is needed is all I can say. we do truly have prophets out there we also have charlatans who are self-anointed and almost always wrong, excusing it with oh people prayed and God changed his mind. while yes there are examples of this in the bible it is not the NORM and when most or all prophecies of a prophet are “prayed away” one has to question if he is a prophet or just saying things undiscerning people want to hear. sometimes their prophecies are so vague anything is fulfillment of them such that you can never prove that aren’t of God because they will find something to fit that vague prophecy {wetness will come – a boy pees his pants – the prophecy has been fulfilled}. the problem the church has today is discernment – how to know if someone is a prophet of God or just a charlatan playing them for fools. we need wiser christians in the pews not theological idiots who’s simply keep the pews warm. that isn’t as easy to find in todays world. Too many people play church and not enough actually are the church. perhaps the 100% right 100% of the time is too strict in todays world but when your “prophet” can’t get out of the 20’s, at best, me thinks it is time to reevaluate them.

  • I don’t mind if Prophecy has deceased, God has given us so much already to know what is going to take place.
    So many claiming to be Prophets, one has to know the Word of God well to know if they are from their own heart or truly from God & they have to line up to God’s Word anyway so why the reaching our to hear whoever.?

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