Warnings must be given when danger abounds:
Life is full of danger, risk, peril and misadventure. So many things can go wrong. So many traps lay before us. So many dangers lurk everywhere. Therefore life is full of warnings. Those who truly care for others will warn them of various dangers and risks. Only those who do not love you will remain silent when a warning needs to be given.
From an early age children will be warned by their parents about all sorts of things: looking both ways before crossing a road; being careful of an open flame; not eating too much junk food; and so on. Parents who care about their children will constantly be warning them about the dangers that abound.
As our loving heavenly father, God does exactly the same with his children. He warns them repeatedly because he loves them dearly. But just as in earthly families, so too in the heavenly family: warnings can go unheeded, resulting in us getting into all sorts of strife, difficulty and calamity. We bring all these troubles upon ourselves because we refuse to heed the warnings.
The story of Israel is a major example of all this. Many times in Scripture the story of Israel is recounted, usually emphasising God’s great patience and mercy, and the people’s continual sin, disobedience and hardness of heart. And these retellings of Israel’s story usually include the matter of warnings gone unheeded. Consider one such account, as found in Nehemiah 9:26-31. There we read about how the priests are reminding Israel of its failed past:
Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies. Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies. But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies. And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
The same is found in the New Testament. In Acts 7 for example we find the speech of Stephen given just before he is stoned to death. He too recounts Israel’s history and how they kept ignoring the warnings that God sent to them. As verses 51-53 state:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
The rejection of the prophetic word – the refusal to listen to prophets and believe their warnings – is a constant and sad theme of Scripture. Here are just a few of the many instances in which we read about the rejection of the prophets:
2 Kings 17:7-14 All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right. From watchtower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the Lord had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that aroused the Lord’s anger. They worshiped idols, though the Lord had said, “You shall not do this.” The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your ancestors to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.” But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the Lord their God.
2 Chronicles 36:15-16 The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.
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,
Leave this way,
get off this path,
and stop confronting us
with the Holy One of Israel!”
Jeremiah 6:10 “To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them, they find no pleasure in it.”
Jeremiah 6:17 I appointed watchmen over you and said,
‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’
But you said, ‘We will not listen.’
Jeremiah 7:25-27 From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers. So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you.
Jesus said the same about his own contemporaries:
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.”
And thus it shall be until the end of time. In Revelation 11 for example we read about the Two Witnesses. Consider their fate as described in verses 7-10:
And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.
We must keep on warning today
Refusing to heed God and his spokesmen is the story of mankind. Ignoring and making fun of his warnings has always been with us. Just imagine how Noah and his family were mocked, ridiculed and hated on as they warned the people of the coming flood (Genesis 6-9).
We have a NT commentary on this in Hebrews 11:7: “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”
The ministry I and others are involved in is not a welcome one. It is a watchman on the wall sort of ministry. It is a prophetic type of calling. And it involves warning others – constantly. It is a burden the Lord shares with certain people, and it is a ministry that most of us would never choose ourselves. But it needs to be done, even though it will usually result in rejection, enmity and hatred. Words of warning are needed both for the world and the church.
Given the sorts of verses I featured above, as you can imagine this will always be a thankless task. Most folks – Christians and non-Christians – do NOT want to hear you and your warnings. They want you to just shut up. They want to go on living their lives as they want. So you will never be well-received.
But as I said at the outset, if you really love someone, you will give them warnings when they are needed. Refusing to speak out and sound the alarm when required is proof that you do NOT love others. Then you are only concerned about yourself, your own well-being, and your own reputation.
Sure, all the usual caveats must be stated here: we need to know when to speak and how to speak – and when to keep silent; we need our words of warning to be backed up with prayer, and so on. But if God has given you a calling to give warning – and in one sense all Christians have that calling – then you best do it faithfully, and not worry about all the flak you will get.
Some words by A. W. Tozer on the life of Leonard Ravenhill are worth offering here in conclusion:
Those who know of Leonard Ravenhill recognize in him the religious specialist, the man sent from God to battle the priests of Baal on their own mountain top, to shame the careless priest at the altar, to face the false prophet, and to warn the people who are being led astray by him. Such a man as this is not an easy companion. He insists on being a Christian all the time and everywhere. That marks him out as different. Why do we have men of such fiery swords as Ravenhill? They are sick inside when they see the children of heaven acting like the sons of earth. To such men as these, the church owes a debt too heavy to pay.