True and false prophets
There are a lot of people who claim to be prophets who speak for God. The Bible warns us that many of them are not true prophets and we are not to listen to them. But how can you tell who really is a prophet and who isn’t? The Bible answers this question.
And if you say in your heart, “How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?”— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)
God sent Jonah to prophesy to the people of Nineveh.
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4)
This is how the Ninevites responded.
And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (Jonah 3:5-10)
Jonah said Nineveh would be destroyed in forty days and it didn’t happen. Does this mean that Jonah was a false prophet?
There is more than one kind of prophecy.
If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. (Jeremiah 18:7,8)
Many prophecies were intended to warn sinners of the consequences if they continued in sin. The sinner could avoid these consequences if he turned from his sins and did what was right. If this weren’t the case there would be no point in warning him in the first place.
But sometimes a prophet needed to convince the one he was speaking to that he really was a prophet. He did this by making a prediction that would come true in the immediate future. An example of this is found in the life of Jeroboam, the first king of Israel. When Jeroboam led the ten northern tribes to break away from the rule of David’s house he feared that if his people went to Jerusalem to worship their loyalty would be turned back to following the king who ruled in Jerusalem. To avoid this he set up golden calves at Bethel and Dan and ordered his people to worship them. God sent a man of God to turn him back from this action.
And behold, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the Lord to Bethel. Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make offerings. And the man cried against the altar by the word of the Lord and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’” (1 Kings 13:1,2)
This prophecy would not be fulfilled until many years after Jeroboam was dead, so he had know way of knowing if God had sent the man or not. To prove he was really from God the man made another prophecy.
And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign that the Lord has spoken: ‘Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it shall be poured out.’” And when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar at Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.”
And his hand, which he stretched out against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. The altar also was torn down, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign that the man of God had given by the word of the Lord. And the king said to the man of God, “Entreat now the favor of the Lord your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.”
And the man of God entreated the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored to him and became as it was before. (1 Kings 13:3-6)
If the second prophecy had not come true it would have proved that the prophet was not really sent by God and it would have been right for Jeroboam to have him executed. Its fulfillment showed that his message was from God. In the light of this knowledge Jeroboam should have destroyed the golden calves and gone back to worshiping God in Jerusalem. If he had done this the first prophecy would have been averted. Instead he and his successors continued to worship the calves and the prophecy came to pass.
Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place he pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah. And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs there on the mount. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the Lord that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things. Then he said, “What is that monument that I see?”
And the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted these things that you have done against the altar at Bethel.”
And he said, “Let him be; let no man move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came out of Samaria. (2 Kings 23:15-18)