Jeremiah's Warning of False Prophets

MARCH 2, 2018

In the last few years, with the increase in political turmoil, there has been a rise in the number of people who profess to be prophets and claim that they predicted political events. Many times their prophecies do not reflect God’s attitude of how to treat the weak, marginalized or our enemy. As a result, we are often asked by people about various prophecies and what is our position.

In this short reflection, I do not want to enter into a debate or discussion on various prophecies, but draw your attention to Biblical passages related to true and false prophets.

The first passage I would like to look at is from Deuteronomy 13:1-4, an important command from the Lord that I remember vividly studying in high school.   

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.”

These passages indicate that the prophet or dreamer is a worshipper of God, someone from among God’s people and not outside of the camp. Verses 1-4 do speak about a prophet predicting futuristic events that come to pass, as a result, the people believed them to be true prophets of God and began followed their teaching. Yet, the Lord was testing the people, instructing them not to follow these prophets to see if they loved him with all of their hearts and were willing to keep his commandments.

What was this test? Jeremiah 7:1-14 reflects accurately what Deuteronomy 13 commands. Prophecies, political turmoil, unrest, and confusion were quite similar in the prophet Jeremiah’s day. They were speaking to religious people who prayed regularly in the house of the Lord. To people who brought their sacrifices, worshipped and found safety in their sacred practices in the Temple. These people thought their religiousness would bring them blessing and security. However, Jeremiah stood at the gate of the House of the Lord calling the people to repentance so that they could continue to “live in this place” and would not listen to what the false prophets were saying.

He says, “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever” (7:5-7).

This warning from Jeremiah of how we treat others is an indication of a true prophet of God. Moral and ethical behavior is a reflection of true love and faithfulness to God’s covenant. A true act of repentance will determine how God is involved in our history, politics, and our nations.

The number of prophetic voices emerging is shocking, especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it causes great confusion as we are trying to discern whether these prophets are from God. It is easy to be swayed by someone whose predictions have come to pass, who uses religious language, and who appears to love and fear God.

For this reason, Jeremiah continues to speak to the people in exile in chapter 29 and warns them about listening to the prophets and diviners in their midst.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.”

Here, Jeremiah does not call for destruction or dehumanization of others but commands the people to build houses, live in them, marry, and seek the peace of the city. The people of God were also to be a source of blessing to others even when they were powerless, and even when the Babylonians inflicted pain on them and destroyed the Temple of God.

Today, like in Jeremiah’s’ day, there are many voices and many narratives. May we hear the voice of God that calls us to address the needs of the weak, marginalized, and stranger, but more than anything to be a source of blessing to those who cause us pain.

By Salim J. Munayer, Ph.D.

Executive Director