It is generally agreed that the 39 books of the Old Testament were set in stone (so to speak) by the time of Ezra around 400 B.C. These books were the direct work of acknowledged prophets, i.e., those people who spoke for God. While some of these men are reported to have performed miracles (like Moses with the parting of the Red Sea), the primary test of their validity was not their works, but their words. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 tells us:
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you.” (NASB)
So the first test of whether a man was a true prophet whose words were to be accepted as Scripture were whether his words conformed to previous revelation, i.e., was he telling Israel to do the same things the previous prophets had commanded or was he encouraging them to “try something new”? If the answer was the latter, his work and words were to be rejected by the Jewish people. After all, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.” (Numbers 23:19a NASB)
This doesn’t mean that God couldn’t, didn’t, or doesn’t continue to reveal new things to His people. In fact, we’re told in Joel 2:28-32 that in the Last Days there will be many who prophesy and dream dreams and Revelation 11:1-13 even gives specifics about two prophets who will testify during the time of the Great Tribulation.
What it does mean is that the “new” things He reveals will never contradict what has previously been revealed. If He tells us not to steal one day, He won’t be telling us that it’s okay to steal the next day. Any prophet who says otherwise isn’t a prophet of God!
The second test of a prophet is found in Deuteronomy 18:20-22 where we read:
“But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (NASB)
Obviously, if a prophet runs around telling people that a giant balloon is going to crash on top of a house in Manhattan tomorrow morning and it doesn’t happen – that man is not a prophet! But what about a man who prophesies that I will brush my teeth tomorrow… and I do? Does he qualify as a prophet?
The answer to that question will have to wait until next week, but for now, take some time to think through these prophetic tests one more time… and share your thoughts below!