WHAT PROPHECY IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT
By God’s grace, this is the second topic in our Prophecy Series, the introductory one being:
Do read that first post to help set the stage for our discussions hereunder. And let me know what you think of each post in the series. Kindly share them too across social media, via email or however else you can, to bless as many as possible.
What Prophecy Is And What It Is Not
In the movie, “Fools Rush In,” starring Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek as a young interracial couple, the hero is told by a priest he had never met before (played by Chris O’Neill): “You seem lost. Look around you, there are signs everywhere to help you find your way.” This happened on a busy New York street. He was on the verge of divorce from his wife of several months. Subsequently, he saw several things he felt were the signs referred to and excitedly travelled to Mexico, from there to Las Vegas, to find and reconcile with his wife. This is the kind of message many want to receive everyday: supernatural, compass-like and error-proof. Lots of folks call this type of message prophecy.
To many people, prophecy simply means telling the future. Linked to knowing the future is finding out the divine will over the matters of life to guide one’s steps and decisions.”Should I go on this trip?” “Will the odds be in my favour if I invest in this business?” “Will my marriage be happy if I wed this person?” People are looking for answers in every area of their lives. They also want to know what will happen to their loved ones, their countries and the world.
They therefore seek out people who claim to have the supernatural power to make projections into the unknown. But are all such projections prophecy? No, they are not. And are all prophecies predictions about the future? Not necessarily. What then is prophecy?Are all prophecies predictions about the future? Not necessarily. What then is prophecy? Click To Tweet
Prophecy is a statement that is divinely inspired. That means the person speaking has not reasoned it out, they are relaying the words as received. The proclamation may be contrary to the speaker’s understanding of the situation, it may be displeasing to them, it may expose them to hate or ridicule, yet they utter it because it is a message from a source beyond them. It has a supernatural origin. (There are many voices speaking in the supernatural realm: spirits, angels, gods and the Almighty God. We will explore the distinctions in what they are saying under the next topic in this series, “5 Guides For Identifying True Prophecy.“)
In Christendom, there are different classes of divinely-inspired utterances associated with the gifts of the Spirit identified in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10.
“8. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9. To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10. To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues”.
People speaking in tongues are speaking languages they did not learn in worship to God. Some who also have not learnt such languages can be empowered to interpret what the former are speaking to the understanding of the hearers. The word of wisdom is special insight given by God to solve a problem or guide decision-making (like the example from the movie cited earlier). The word of knowledge is hidden knowledge about a situation revealed by God. It could be about a healing He is perfecting in someone’s body or protection from danger. Some extend the word of knowledge to special ability to teach the word of God. Prophecy refers to discernible words which God speaks directly through someone to exhort and strengthen His people.
(Related: I Will Never Leave You Nor Forsake You)
But to the average person out there, every divinely-inspired message is prophecy, hence the plea, “Prophesy for me about this and that.” So we shall not be working with the distinctions made above. We shall go with the popular understanding that divinely-inspired messages are prophecy. We shall not go into the distinction between the gift of prophecy and office of the prophet (which by the way some see as ending with John the Baptist) either. We are working with the belief that God is still speaking through people today as He did in ages past. So let’s just see someone who prophesies or gives a divinely-inspired message as a prophet. This post and others in this series are not seminary-level teachings but practical guides to help believers navigate their ways through the maze of ‘prophecies’ out there today.
Going back to the source of the ‘prophecy’, a preacher once said that he does not usually prophesy to footballers and politicians because they understand their games better than he. From the foregoing, one can tell that this fellow has not been prophesying but making smart deductions, at least in some cases. So a person can be a preacher but using his head to make predictions in the name of prophecy. Hence this warning in the book of Jeremiah:
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.“‘ – Jeremiah 23:16 (NIV, emphasis, mine)That a person is a minister of God does not mean that every word they say is divinely inspired. Click To Tweet
That a person is a minister of the gospel does not mean that every word he or she says is divinely inspired. This applies both when they are ministering and when they are not. Paul the apostle was a very disciplined man of God. In his letters to the churches he distinguished between his own words and those received from God.
“10. And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11. But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. 12. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.” – 1 Corinthians 7:10-12 (emphasis, mine).
If a person is godly, their words will be trustworthy and more or less influenced by their knowledge and devotion to God, even if they may not always be directly received from God. However, if a person (including one who occupies a spiritual office) is serving strange gods or living in the flesh, they will be open to perverse influences which will naturally inform their speech. Apostle Paul repeatedly warned against such people in the Epistles.
“Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.” – 2 Corinthians 2:17 (NIV)
“10. For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.” – Titus 1:10 & 11
A strong motivation for manipulating people through ‘prophecy’ as we see above is the desire to make money.
While many prophecies speak about the future, the primary goal of prophecy is not to give a glimpse into the future but to help us acknowledge God and walk right with Him.
We can see this in the psalmist’s ebullient declaration in the passage below and in the succeeding passage from the Epistles. The psalmist’s words were received from God to stimulate worship among humanity.
“1. Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands: 2. Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious. 3. Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee.” – Psalm 66:1-3
“But on the other hand the one who prophesies speaks to people for edification to promote their spiritual growth and speaks words of encouragement to uphold and advise them concerning the matters of God and speaks words of consolation to compassionately comfort them.” – 1 Corinthians 14:3 (AMP)
Predictions of the future and whatever divine counsel revealed in prophecy are meant to serve this three-fold purpose mentioned above among God’s people: edification, encouragement and comfort. For example, when God gives warnings of future judgment and calamity, He hopes to bring the hearers to repentance and when He gives assurances of victory in impending physical and spiritual battles, it is to give those addressed the courage to hold on to their faith and stand their ground. God wants men to know Him and yield to His lordship. And as they do, He fights for them to enable them serve Him without restraint, which wouldn’t be the case if they were in physical and spiritual bondage.
Therefore, no true prophecy comes to satisfy idle curiosity but to build our faith in God and help us run the race He has set before us.
We see this clearly stated in scriptural explanations of why God sent His prophets to Israel as exemplified in the passages below.
“4. And the Lord hath sent unto you all his servants the prophets, rising early and sending them; but ye have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear. 5. They said, Turn ye again now every one from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land that the Lord hath given unto you and to your fathers for ever and ever: 6. And go not after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, and provoke me not to anger with the works of your hands; and I will do you no hurt.” – Jeremiah 25:4-6 (emphasis, mine)
“Neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.” – Daniel 9:10 (emphasis, mine).
14. Then upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, came the Spirit of the Lord in the midst of the congregation; 15. And he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the Lord unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” – 2 Chronicles 20:14-15
The prophecy of Zechariah, after his son John the Baptist was born aptly shows why God rescues us from the clutches of the enemy:
“74. That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, 75. In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.” – Luke 1:74 -75
But besides their walk with God, as stated at the beginning of this post, people are looking for personal prophecies in different areas of their lives. They want specific words on the career to choose, who to wed, where to live, etc. God does not want us to be anxious about anything but to trust Him to undertake for us.God does not want us to run around looking for personal prophecies but to trust Him. Click To Tweet
“6. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 19… my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6 & 19 (emphasis, mine)
“25. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 31. Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32. (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” – Matthew 6:25, 31-33 (emphasis, mine)
(Related: Do Not Be Anxious)
In spite of these assurances, some are paying those who claim to ‘see’ to get them words on all kinds of personal issues. It is easy to be taken in by some hocus-pocus whereas the speaker is only making some intelligent guesses. Some of the so-called gifted people have been known to do some research to get people’s personal details which they reel off to convince them they actually have the power to see the unknown.
It has also been observed that a common way Christians err in the desire to get guidance on personal matters is to pick Bible passages randomly or deliberately on the grounds that the Bible is divinely inspired. The Bible is God’s word, yes, but specific words apply to specific situations only when they are quickened by the Holy Spirit. For instance, you may be going through a situation at work where you have to defend yourself before a panel and as you are praying, Luke 21:17 starts to burn in your heart.
“And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.”
That is a prophecy for that occasion. You didn’t choose it by yourself. It may be the first indication you are getting that the real problem they have with you at work is your faith, the accusations are just a smoke screen. Strengthened by that word, you will take the outcome even if it means losing that job because you are not prepared to deny your faith for any job.
The word you received could have been, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist,” (Luke 21:15) – just two verses before – which would mean that you will effectively refute the allegations against you. If your heart is open to God’s will in the situation, as you pray you will probably perceive what the outcome will be and will be prepared for it, whether it comes down to retaining your job or losing it. Ultimately, the victory is yours in Christ Jesus if you refuse to compromise your faith for any immediate relief.
So going through the Bible and picking favourable scriptures or whatever we like isn’t a means of receiving prophetic words. God may have said something to King David but is he saying the same thing to you in the particular situation you’re in?Going through the Bible and picking whatever we like isn't a means of receiving prophetic words. Click To Tweet
Based on the foregoing, we can say that:
Prophecy is a divinely-inspired declaration of divine will.
Prophecy is a divinely-inspired message meant to stimulate and sustain worship.
Prophecy is a message from God to edify, encourage and comfort His people.
Prophecy is a divinely-inspired message that offers guidance.
Prophecy is a divinely-inspired message that reveals the unknown and predicts the future.
Prophecy is not every word spoken by a person who occupies a spiritual office. Some of this person’s words may be divinely inspired, others may not.
Prophecy is not every projection made about the future by those who claim to ‘see’. Some projections are based on intellectual deductions and guesswork.
Prophecy is not any statement picked from the Bible by an individual.
You will notice that at many points in this post I have used the word, ‘divine’ and in other cases, I have used ‘God’. The former refers to any power demanding worship while the latter refers to the Almighty God alone. I’d like you to bear this in mind when we go into the next topic in this series:
5 Guides For Identifying True Prophecy
(Related: Do Not Unduly Probe Into The Future)
I hope you have seen from this post that chasing predictions of the future and personal prophecies is missing the essence of Christianity. As King Solomon told us in Ecclesiastes 12:13, we should strive to, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” A better use of our time rather than pursuing prophecies and prophets is learning the requirements of our God and pleasing Him. When we do, He will meet our needs and He will reveal to us any information we need to be privy to, just like He informed Abraham about the imminent destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the book of Genesis.
“17. And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; 18. Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19. For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” – Genesis 18:17-19
“12. What man is he that feareth the Lord? him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose. 13. His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth. 14. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.” – Psalm 25:12-14
Amen. Praise the Lord!Chasing personal prophecies and predictions of the future is missing the essence of Christianity. Click To Tweet
The scriptures used in this post are from the King James Version of the Holy Bible except where otherwise stated.
I would love to know if there’s anything you’re taking away from this post and do help me share it widely, if you will. You are richly blessed in Jesus’ name.
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