3 BIBLICAL TIPS FOR IDENTIFYING FAKE PROPHETS AND MEN OF GOD | 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time | Year B

Are you one of those fascinated or thrilled by prophecy such that you can go any length just to hear a prophecy about your life and your future? Hear this: you need to slow down before you are deceived or led astray. Or are you so critical of prophecies to the extent you reduce prophetic utterances to mere predictions intended to deceive gullible persons. Hear this: you may be mistaken. And if you are so glued to the classical way of identifying a true prophet as 'one whose prophetic utterances come to pass' (Deut 18, 21-22), I say to you: slow down, the evil one has upgraded and is smarter than that litmus test. If all these is unclear to you, then read slowly...

Moses said to the people: ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers; to him you must listen. This is what you yourselves asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the Assembly. “Do not let me hear again” you said “the voice of the Lord my God, nor look any longer on this great fire, or I shall die”; and the Lord said to me, “All they have spoken is well said. I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him. The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it. But the prophet who presumes to say in my name a thing I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.”’
POINTS FOR REFLECTION
1. Child of God, the text you just read came as an exhortation to the people of Israel to abhor magicians and fortune-tellers, but live by the Word of God- not only by the word found written in a book, but by what God says today through people whom we call prophets. These receive a special gift from the Spirit to guide people and nations in the ways of God. From his function therefore a prophet is truly and properly one inspired by God through the Holy Spirit to deliver a message. And God being aware anyone could claim to be speaking for Him and therefore deceive others says: 'if a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but what he says does not happen or come true, you shall know that the word has not come from the Lord' (Deut 18, 22). But is this the only way to identify a true prophet? No. Even devils can (because of their spiritual nature) have some abilities to predict the future, and thus reveal it (see Acts 16, 16-17). Hence we have sorcerers, magicians and fortune tellers who work with these spirits. To clear this ambiguity the bible gives us other ways as well to identify a false prophet:
a. Mission to teach righteousness: the prophet's mission is not so much to predict the future, but to guide the people in the right path in God's name bearing in mind the conditions of the time. Hence the true prophet is not someone cut-off from the world and social interests, but one, as St Paul says, 'judges everything according to the Spirit'- the mind of God (1 Cor 2, 15) and not according to their imaginations (Ezek 13, 1-2). His message must call people to repent and change their lives so as to avert consequences that must come from wrong choices; not centred only on prosperity or bewitchment in order to induce fears. The mission of calling people to repentance is central in the lives of all the biblical prophets. This mission is exemplified when prophet Jeremiah exhorts King Zedekiah to 'serve Babylon or perish' (which is a lesser problem) against the advice of false prophets and political manoeuvres luring him into anti-Babylonian coalition (cf Jer 27, 1-22).
b. Their messages are not always pleasant: The message of repentance is not a pleasant message because it is one that touches on human weakness, hence is always attended with pain, and causes shame. Therefore prophets of 'peace and prosperity' should be listened to with more caution than prophets of hard times. For the former wants to lull the guilty conscience with placebos of peace and half baked solutions (Ezek 13,10-11), while the latter comes to awaken consciences which is the goal of righteousness. The Lord, though the lips of Prophet Jeremiah, gives us this criteria when he says: "from ancient times the prophets who were before you and me prophesied war, disaster and plague...so the prophet who prophesies peace will not be recognised as one truly sent by the Lord, until his predictions are fulfilled." Prophets of peace and prosperity exist everywhere and they conduct a profitable business in times of trouble and among weak and frightened people.
c. Prophets never takes advantage of others: true prophets never take advantage of the trust people have in them, but always relate the truth to them, even if their message is not accepted,  or is a bad one. Hence the mosaic law punishes with banishment and death sentence prophets that take advantage of the trust people have in them, to lead them away from 'true worship of Yahweh' into idolatry (Deut 13, 6; Ezek 13, 9). Therefore any prophet inciting you to doing "anything strange": immorality, fetishism, spiritism, monetization of prayers, etc is a false one. You should know the difference between worship of God, idolatry and business.
TASK: Child of God in Jesus is found the fullness of prophecy; the three tips above are summarised in his life. Focus on His teachings and what He did, and you will never be deceived. Be wise as serpent, but gentle as lamb. Wise as to differentiate truth from falsehood; gentle as to accept the Word of God when it is preached. Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4,1). You can't test spirits if you are in the flesh because that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3,6). You must be a spiritual man to understand the language of the Spirit (1Cor 2, 14), otherwise be quiet on matters of the Spirit. Pray Psalm 25 now and say: Lord make me know your ways; teach me your paths in Jesus name. Amen

© Fr. SimOne Madu, OSJ 

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