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Thursday, October 23, 2014

God and False Prophets Deuteronomy 13

Deuteronomy 13

            Last week, the Bible study from Deuteronomy 12 taught how the Israelites were to worship the LORD God. God commanded they destroy every altar, pillar, Asherah pole, and engraved/graven image in Canaan. He told them to destroy the places where the Canaanites worshiped. God told them not to worship Him in the places where the Canaanites worshipped their gods. He told them not to worship Him with the same rites and rituals with which the Canaanites worshipped their gods. Yehovah (“the existing one”) God is the LORD of lords and the God of gods. Remember Baal’s name meant lord. This means then that the LORD God is greater than Baal is. In chapter twelve, Moses taught the Israelites what God required them to take to the temple as offering and sacrifice to God. He told them they are to take them to the temple for several reasons – to atone for sin, to worship God, to praise God for His blessings, to exult in what God has done, and to give food for the temple priests. God told the Israelites in this chapter He is the great and mighty God and that the place of His temple is where they must worship Him because His glory and name rest there.

            In chapter 13, God taught the Israelites about false prophets. Before we get to the actual study of the passage, we must first define what a prophet is. A prophet is a spokesman for a god or for God. During Bible times, God’s priests and prophets encountered false prophets, such as when Elijah confronted the 450 prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Individual followers of God encountered false prophets, too, such as Balaam in Numbers 22. Deuteronomy 13 tells us what God commanded the Israelites do when they encountered a false prophet. This chapter reveals a very severe judgment of God, which He required His people, the Israelites, administer. We must remember that God’s intention was to protect His people from the influence of false gods because false gods have no power, but draw people away from God and the promises of living in covenant with Him. They seek to trick and lure the people away from the worship of the one true God, Yahweh. The LORD God is the one God and is more powerful than any other power on, under, and over the earth. He proved Himself to the Israelites from the moment Moses and Aaron entered Egypt to insist the Pharaoh release them. God joined in covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. His side of the covenant was that He would be their God, give them their inheritance, protect and provide for them, and promised they could always find Him. The Israelites side of the covenant was to fear/reverence and love the LORD by obeying His commands, laws, and statutes. The covenant carried a blessing and curse, which God gave depending on whether the people remained faithful to the covenant. God’s giving the command about false prophets in chapter thirteen, when seen in this light, is understandable. He was protecting them from the tricks and snares of false gods so they would stay faithful to their covenant with Him and receive His blessing, per the covenant. God loved the Israelites so much that He chose them and made a covenant with them. He wanted the best for them. Because of that, He gave His commands, statutes, laws, and judgments, just as a parent gives rules to their children.

False Prophets - General

            Let us now look at Deuteronomy 13. This chapter is broken into three sections. The first deals with what God commands about false prophets in general. The second concerns what God commands about false prophets among their relatives. The third relates to false prophets in their nation. After the first section, God became specific in the second and third sections. Specificity is necessary because it is easy to say, “Well, God did not tell us to do that specifically, so we don’t have to do it.” People find this important when they deal with matters more personal to them, like family. In verses one through five, God gave His general command about false prophets. He said several things – 1. False prophets show miraculous signs and wonders; 2. They lead people away from the LORD God to serve other gods; 3. If any person leads you to consider gods against what the LORD God said in the Bible, they are false prophets, even if they can do amazing or miraculous signs; and 4. Satan, the one who uses false prophets to trick God’s people into not following Him with their whole heart, gives his power to his workers for his benefit. God reminded the Israelites that they know Him. The word “known” in verse two reminds them of their history with God. Moses introduced them to Yahweh, showed them where God worked on their behalf in their lives, and then taught them about His love, purposes, and faithfulness to His word. The gods the false prophets espoused were unknown to the Israelites. They had no history with those false gods. Moses said, “Do not trust them, but trust the One whom you know from teaching and from your history with Him. Do not be mislead and serve them.” Moses spoke further and said, “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 all your soul.”

The false prophets did not come from God, but God allowed them to test the Israelites so they would grow, understand for certain who God is to them, and so He would know their strength and resolve. When Moses said God was growing them with this test, He meant He allowed it for their growth. He reiterated for them the first commandment, “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.” Moses spoke this commandment many times since Deuteronomy 5. He said these exact words in Deuteronomy 10:20. The Israelites would realize the false prophets touted false gods by listening to what they spoke about them and determining their difference from what the LORD God taught them. They had a relationship with the LORD and knew Him; therefore, they could compare Him and His commands, statutes, laws, and teachings to the false gods. The Israelites would understand the god whom the false prophet touted was not God. God told them to continue to love and fear Him as Moses taught them. He told them to act against the false prophet. They were not just to recognize the person as a false prophet, but were to act against him or her. Verse 5 says, “That prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death because he 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 the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you.” God is serious about protecting His people. He is serious regarding the faithfulness of His people, too. Because false prophets bring the enticement to draw people to false gods, they entice them to rebel and sin against Him, the LORD God, Yehovah. God’s righteousness means He is fair and just. He gives what a person earns and deserves. God’s righteousness means He cannot be in the presence of sin. The other side of righteousness is judgment. When a person sins, God righteousness requires justice and judgment. The judgment for sin is death. That can mean immediate physical death, but it always means spiritual and eternal death – complete separation from God forever. Knowing this, God’s command to put to death false prophets does not appear so extreme. What appears extreme is that He requires the Israelites to kill false prophets. From this, people who are not followers of God say God is not a God of love, but of wrath. Let us come back to this discussion after we study the rest of this chapter.

What we need to learn from these verses is that false prophets will arise among God’s people. Luke, Paul, and Peter recorded this, too, in Acts 20:28-30, 2 Corinthians 11:1-5, and 2 Peter 2:1. These false prophets confront God’s people with a choice to hear and obey either God or their false gods. If the Israelites chose to follow God, then they could not tolerate the false prophets and must kill them. God created a new nation and set up laws and rules for the community. God created the nation based on one God, Himself, with no equality or toleration of other religions. The Ten Commandments were the foundations of this new nation. They were the laws of community for a new people.

False Prophets – Relatives

            God commanded the Israelites not give more weight to words of a false prophet even if they are from within their own family. The threat is more insidious because a person would consider and give more weight to what a family member says. God ruled this out in verses six through eleven. God said that even a friend who is as close as family must not be given more consideration when espousing another god. He reminded the Israelites that they know Him and they have a covenant with Him to be their God and to take care of them. The promise of the covenant said they would have abundant life, would be prosperous, and would multiply. God told them not to listen to the family member in secret as he or she entices them. He said not to “yield to him” (vs. 8). That means do not be willing, consent to, or wish to accept what they say as truth. Added to this, God said not to listen to, pity, spare, or hide him. By doing these things, they would rebel against God and fall to the temptation of the false gods. God protects His people by having the false prophet removed so His people are not tempted or tricked into listening to and believing what they say about his or her false god. God wants His people to stay loyal and protected by His hand. God’s law protects them from the trickery of false gods, which would take them out of His covenant blessing. God said they are rebellers and sinners whose  judgment is separation from Him. Death now or death later is the same judgment. They both lead to eternal separation from God.

Why did God say the relative’s hand would be the one to throw the first stones? The relative is the first witness of the trickery and apostasy. He or she makes the first attestation of the false prophet’s rebellion against God. If another person threw the first stone, he or she would be the one condemning the person based on a rumor. The one who knows the facts attests to the validity of the case by throwing the first stones. By doing this, the relatives stay faithful and obedient to the God they know who brought them from Egypt and paid their ransom price for freedom. Being obedient to this law rids Israel of this evil. In addition, when the rest of Israel heard about this incident, they would remember God’s commands, recognize His seriousness, revere, fear, and obey Him, and never tout or ask about a false god again.

False Prophets – In Another City

            Lest the Israelites become complacent because of long distance, the LORD told them specifics of what He required if they learned of a rumor regarding a false prophet and city that was not following him. Long distance from a crime or hardship makes a person less likely to get involved. God spoke specifically about rumors of false prophets so the Israelites understand that distance must not make them complacent, but vigilant. If they discovered a city or town that listened to a false prophet (here called worthless, scoundrels, and ungodly) and were following and serving false gods, God told them to do several things. The Israelites were to investigate the matter, find where it comes from, and enquire thoroughly to decide if the rumors were true. God takes false prophets seriously because He wants to safeguard His people from evil. Next, He commanded the people to “utterly destroy” the city or town, including its people, livestock, buildings, idols, temples. Remember from the law of the ban from chapter seven, God commanded they destroy everything in idol-loving Canaan. The same ban continued through chapter thirteen and continues today. God wants us to have nothing to do with false gods. He wants to protect us from the temptation to ask about them and follow them. God safeguards our future by demanding we completely remove these things from our presence today, as He did the Israelites. God even commanded they not keep the booty from the false-god-following city or town. They were to burn all booty in the middle of the city as a whole burnt offering to Him. Remember from chapter twelve, God commanded the Israelites give the complete “whole burnt offering” to Him. He commanded His worshippers consume none of it. By giving this offering, the Israelites were obedient and recognizing God’s concern for their earthly and eternal well-being. In verses 17-18, God reminded the Israelites, “Nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand, in order that the LORD may turn His burning anger and show mercy to you and make you increase, just as He has sworn to your fathers if/for you will listen to the voice of the LORD your God.” In reminding them of the law of the ban, God reminded them, too, of the alternative of which He spoke in Deuteronomy 10:12-11:32. Moses commanded them as the people of God to keep His commandments, statutes, and laws. He then explained this meant they hear, listen, obey, fear, revere, and cling to God so they are joined closely with Him and pursue Him closely (Deut. 10:20, 11:22, 13:4). By removing the potential for worship of false gods and rebellion against the LORD God, the Israelites would be able to become so close to God that they would cling to Him. To encourage their following of the law of the ban, God said four things would occur when they destroyed everything in the rebellious city/town. He said His burning anger will “be turned away from them;” He will show mercy (compassion) to them; He will have compassion (deep love) on them; and He would make them increase (become many and great). With so much blessing available for following God and such a dire end for rebelling and turning away from Him, Moses commanded the Israelites to listen to the voice of the LORD God, to keep His commandments and do what is right in His sight  (vs. 18).

Obedience to God is not always easy, especially when it hits close to home with our relatives and close friends, but we must stand firm on God’s commands because they are there to protect us from evil. When the evil is far away from us, laxity in removing a potential problem is easy, too. Yet God requires we investigate the matter so the evil there does not spread and become a problem closer to home or in other parts of the nation. Long distance should not be a consideration in handling evil. God required the Israelites to take seriously any false teachings and evil, to investigate and not ignore it, and then to remove it.

False Prophets

False prophets did not end with the Old Testament. Jesus, His disciples, and Paul each encountered them. Thirty-three times in the Bible God dealt with false prophets and teachers – five in the Old Testament and twenty-eight in the New Testament. If the father of false prophets (Satan) was active in biblical times, he very much is active now when Jesus is not walking on earth. Read and consider each of the passages in the Bible that teach about false prophets and false gods. What can you learn from them?

What the false prophet did:
Deuteronomy 13
Deceived. Urged to follow other gods. Came from within God’s people.
Deuteronomy 18:20-22
Prediction in the LORD’s name did not occur.
Jeremiah 5:30:31
Prophesied falsely.
Jeremiah 14:13-15
Deceived. Lied in God’s name.
Jeremiah 23:1-40
Deceived. Tried to get God’s people to forget Him.
Matthew 7:15-20
Produced bad/evil fruit.
Matthew 7:21-23
Did not do the will of God
Matthew 15:14
Guided people wrongly.
Matthew 16:1-4
Demanded a sign from Jesus.
Matthew 24:11
Deceived people.
Matthew 24:23-26
Mislead and taught contrary to what God and Jesus taught.
Mark 13 21-23
Mislead and taught something different from what Jesus taught.
Acts 20:29-32
Taught contrary to what Jesus taught. Came from within God’s people.
Romans 16:16-18
Deceived and taught contrary to what Jesus and disciples taught.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
Galatians 1:6-13
Taught contrary to what is taught in the Gospel.
Philippians 3:18-19
Put on a show to be well known. Known by their fruits.
Colossians 2:8
Colossians 2:18
Deceived. Taught and preached things other than Christ. Taught the worship of angels.
1 Timothy 4:1
2 Timothy 4:1-5
Taught contrary to what Jesus and disciples taught in the Bible.
Titus 1:10-16
Rebelled against God. Vain. Deceived. Detestable. See they are deceivers by their fruit.
2 Peter 2:1-3
Deceived. Taught contrary to what Jesus and disciples taught. Denied Christ. Came from within God’s people.
2 Peter 2:18
Deceived. Bragged. Had twisted sexual desires.
2 Peter 3:15-18
Taught contrary to what Jesus taught and what is in the Bible.
1 John 4:1-6
Deceived. Taught that Jesus did not come in the flesh and that He did not come from God. Denied Christ.
2 John 1:10-11
Taught contrary to the truth about Jesus.
Jude 1:1-4
Deceived. Changed the truth of the Gospel. Lewd. Denied Christ.
Revelation 2:2
Revelation 13:11-14
Deceived. Did great wonders. Cause people to worship the first beast.
Revelation 16:14
Did miracles to trick people.
Revelation 19:20
Deceived and led people astray. Performed miracles and wonders.
Revelation 20:10
Deceived and seduced.

How can we tell who are false prophets? What are their distinctive ways of working? Twenty-eight times in the Bible, biblical writers told the people false prophets deceived or mislead them. Three times, they told the people they could see who the false prophets were by their bad fruits. Three times, because of their denying Christ walked on earth and is the Son of God, they could know the person was a false prophet. Nine times, because of their “signs and wonders,” the people could realize the person was a false prophet. As people who want to know the truth, we must first learn God’s Word. When we study God’s Word, grow near Him, and cling to Him, we will be able to recognize when a false prophet tells lies and denies Christ. Added to this, we must realize that false prophets can produce miracles – signs and wonders – because Satan gives them some of his power to them to ensnare more people and draw them away from the LORD. Jesus told us in Matthew 7:15-20 that we will recognize false prophets based on their fruit. If prophets do not produce actions that glorify God and that come as fruit of the Spirit as Galatians 5:22-23, Ephesians 5:9, Colossians 3:12-15, and Romans 5:1-5 say (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, righteousness, truth, perseverance, hope, compassion, and humility), then they are not prophets of God. God’s Word says if the prophet prophesies in the name of the LORD God and it does not happen, he or she is a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).

What does God’s Word say must be done or will be done about the false prophets? In Deuteronomy 13 and 18, God told the Israelites to kill the false prophets. Jeremiah 5:30-31, 14:13-15 and 23:1-40 tell us “God will punish the lying prophet” and “the Lord’s anger will burst on them.” In the twenty-eight references in the New Testament, God’s strict judgment comes upon false prophets. The Bible repeats in many verses God will judge the false prophets and the penalty of their sin will be death. The Bible states it in these ways: 1. “They will be cut down and thrown in the fire;” 2. “The blind will lead the blind and they will both falls into a pit;” 3. “Their end is based on their works;” 4. They are accursed; 5. God will judge them according to their works; 6. God will throw them in a lake of fire; 7. God will punish lying prophets with sword/war and famine; 8. The Lord’s anger will burst on them like a storm. God will expel false prophets from His presence and their city. Each of these judgments render the false prophet separate for eternity from the LORD God.

Does God still expect His people to kill false prophets? Nowhere in the New Testament do we learn that false prophets are to be killed by human hands, but that God will judge and condemn them. This does not mean God changed. The Mosaic covenant was fulfilled when Jesus Christ was born, lived on earth, was crucified a sinless man for the penalty of the sins of humankind, and was resurrected to sit in power as the mediator for sinful humankind. From that point, the world lives under the Messianic covenant. The Mosaic covenant was a covenant on how to relate to God and to other humans within community. It pointed humankind to their sinfulness for which there was no permanent resolution since people sin every day. The Messianic covenant is a covenant of salvation. It provides righteousness to humankind upon confession that Jesus is God’s Son and came to earth to die for their sins. The Messianic covenant provides permanent resolution of the sin of believers. How does this concern the judgment of destruction God taught the Israelites to inflict on false prophets? Because Jesus brings salvation, He does not want any person to remain lost, but seeks them to save them (Luke 19:10). Jesus extends mercy instead of imposing immediate death to false prophets. Additionally, When Jesus encountered the Pharisees who caught a woman in adultery and wanted to stone her, Jesus told them the one without sin can stone her. From the Mosaic covenant, people set up ways to judge other people and did not consider their own lack of righteousness. Jesus made the Pharisees and His followers realize they had no right to stone a woman caught in sin because they too were sinners. It would be like the pot calling the kettle black. That does not mean to say that when God told the Israelites to kill false prophets, they had no right. With the LORD as the righteous judge and one true God, He can condemn and we must obey. Yet, in the New Testament, He did not tell people to kill other people. When He brought into being the new covenant of salvation, the laws of the Mosaic covenant were fulfilled and no longer valid. The law of killing false prophets was no longer valid. We should do as Jesus, Peter, John , and Paul taught. They said to hold onto what you are taught (2 Peter 2:1-3), which means do not fall to the trickery of the false prophet. The writer of Romans also said this in Romans 16:16-18, as did Peter in 2 Peter 3:15-18, Paul in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, and Jesus in Mark 13:21-23. In all the verses in the New Testament that speak of false prophets, they each say to turn away from them and God will judge and condemn them to hell, the pit, or death.

Death and hell are harsh judgments you say. Consider this then. From Genesis, we read God created humankind because He wanted a relationship with each of us (Genesis 1-2). Moses reiterated this in Deuteronomy 10:15 when he said, “The LORD set His affection to love them.” Paul repeated it in Ephesians 1:4-5 when he said, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons/children through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” John reported the depth of God’s love to us in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” God did not create humankind to judge and condemn them, but to love them and spend eternity with them. Because of His fierce love for us, He fiercely protects His people. Because of His holiness, He cannot be in the presence of sin. Because of His righteousness, when sin occurs, judgment must be given. Therefore, God protects His people by judging and condemning those who trick and lead His people to walk away from and rebel against Him. Whether God enacts His judgment on earth or after death in the eschaton (after Christ’s return and at the time when God judges every person), His judgment of false prophets will be permanent separation from Him. God does not want anyone to be lost and perish from Him forever, but wants everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth of His love and salvation made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4). Whether His judgment came through the hands of obedient Israelites following His commands in Deuteronomy 13 or through His own hands, as stated in the other thirty-one Scripture passages, judgment for sin is death – eternal separation from God – not just physical death.

What Does This Mean For Today?

How does this relate to us? God judged the Canaanites’ rebellion against Him and demanded their punishment and destruction. Are false prophets touting false gods still today? In the world of today, we learn of many faith systems – animism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hari Krishna, Buddhism, et al. When a person touts a god other than the LORD God, they are false prophet spreading evil. God still protects His people from evil. From this Bible study, we learn how to identify false prophets from true prophets of God. In our study today, we learned to act quickly and decisively to false prophets or rumors of false prophets. We must see the danger they pose and be ready to remove them from influencing God’s people. God said that false prophets will come from inside and outside the church (2 John 1:4-11, Acts 20:28-31, and 2 Peter 2:12-22). These false prophets will try to trick people by adding to or removing from God’s Word. Both Moses and John spoke against these practices in Deuteronomy 12:32 and Revelation 22:18-19. False prophets will try to twist the Scriptures to confuse people (2 Peter 3:14-18). They will tell people what they wish for to appeal to their sinful nature (2 Peter 2:17-18). This means then, that we must be diligent in studying the Word of God so we grow stronger in Him and in Christlikeness.

Deuteronomy 13 says that God will sometimes allow false gods to come so we will be tested and grow from the experience. With trials come perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-5). James said in James 1:2-4 that testing that produces endurance has the result of perfection and completeness. Completeness comes when we enter heaven because of our faithful acceptance and following of Jesus Christ. This is the promise and divine benefit of times of testing and trials. Added to this, by growing in Christlikeness, we comprehend God’s Word and the Holy Spirit reminds us of it. In this way, we can discern when a false prophet arises, confront him or her, show the truth from the Word of God so he or she can understand the truth, and then, if they do not repent and return to God, remove them from the church as Jesus taught in Matthew 18:15-17. By removing the person from the church, his or her influence does not seduce people away from God.

            Maybe you have never heard of the love God has for humankind. Perhaps you did not realize that a person deceived you when they taught you what they did. Now that you understand God loves you and desires to have a relationship with you for eternity, you have the opportunity to think on it and choose whether you will return to your Father and Creator, the LORD God who created and sustains everything that exists. Possibly you have given your heart to Christ and once followed Him, but have fallen away. There is still forgiveness for sin. Jesus’ sacrifice provides salvation from all our sins once we accept Him. None of us is perfect or will be perfect until we are in heaven with Christ. We all must daily go before Him confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness from Him. Whichever place you find yourself in, will you turn to the LORD? If you have never accepted Jesus love and salvation, admit you are a sinner, believe in His Son Jesus Christ, and accept His forgiveness and grace? Will you chose to become a child of God and inherit God’s promise of eternal life with Him? If you once gave your heart to Jesus, will you turn to Him now confessing your sin and asking Him for forgiveness? Now is the time for you to decide.