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Deuteronomy 18:20-22 gives us part of the law dealing with prophets who speak presumptuously in the name of the Lord or in the name of other gods. It says in verse 20, "that prophet shall die." Verse 22 gives the added feature, "if the thing does not come about or come true," then we will know that God did not really speak through that prophet.
Deuteronomy 13 is an entire chapter devoted to this subject, and it adds the feature, "because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God." Primarily, the concern was about prophets attempting to get people to serve other gods (vs. 2, 13).
I find it interesting that many of the same people who put away God's law are most vociferous about this particular law--along with the law of tithing, of course. Years ago I saw a bumper sticker that read: "God's Law was put away--except for tithing." I suspect that the car owner was trying to make the opposite point and show the foolish contradictions in what many Christians have been taught.
The problem is that when a person rejects any portion of the inspired Word of God, he becomes blind in that particular area. And so, when people reject the law in general, they stop studying it, and if they do look at it, the Holy Spirit does not give them much revelation that would help them to understand it. Those Scriptures, then, become mere words on a page and have no life in them. Of course, that merely "proves" to the person that there is "no life" in the divine law.
In my view, we should take heed to Jesus' words in Matt. 4:4 that we ought to live by EVERY WORD that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Surely that covers the law of Moses, since He was actually quoting from Deut. 8:3. I am also of the opinion that man may study the words of the law, but God does not reveal His mind and the intent of the law unless we are able to accept it as His Word (or reverse our previous opinion that rejected the law). So let us start with Deut. 13:1 and 2,
" (1) If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, (2) 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."
Most people are overly focused upon the idea that if a prophetic word does NOT come to pass, then the prophet is a false prophet. They tend to forget verses 1 and 2 above, telling us that the sign and wonder may indeed come to pass. Signs were outward confirmations, or tokens, of the word. Wonders were miracles.
So the passage begins by telling us that some prophets or dreamers will come with confirming signs and miracles--and yet their message will be to serve "other gods." Verse 3 continues:
"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 will all your heart and with all your soul."
In other words, God takes credit for sending such prophets to us and even for making their signs and wonders come to pass. God is a miracle-worker, and He works through false prophets as well as through true prophets in this regard. The divine purpose is to test us in the area of loving God. To follow God is to obey His will, or to do what He says. This is how it is defined in verse 4,
"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."
Perhaps there were prophets in those days who attempted to get the Israelites to follow other gods--that is, the commandments of other gods or religions. If so, they are hardly mentioned in Scripture. By far, the greatest problem was Israel's prophets who prophesied on behalf of the temple or the king. They are all called "prophets." Not until Matt. 7:15 do we read of "false prophets" as such.
A false prophet is not one who prophesies something that fails to come to pass. A false prophet is one who bears false witness when claiming to speak for God. This really comes under the category of the ninth commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness." Yet what shall we say about a prophet whom God sends into our midst, performing signs and miracles, yet teaching lawlessness, or "rebellion" against God's commandments? We cannot say that they are not sent by God, because God takes credit for sending them to us.
It is a test to manifest our hearts. God already knows our hearts, of course. Our hearts deceive ourselves, and such tests are given in order that WE might see and repent (change). In fact, the main purpose of Israel's time of Pentecost in the wilderness was for God to "test" their hearts. As a nation they failed virtually all of these tests, and for this reason they were disqualified from entering the promise. But a remnant passed the tests, for their hearts were right with God.
The main lesson of Deut. 13 is to tell us that the mark of a true prophet is not the signs and wonders--which may even be of God--but rather the issue of lawlessness. Will the people be seduced from God by signs and wonders? Or will they love God more than those signs and wonders? It is a matter of priorities. Signs and wonders are good. Both true and false prophets alike have done them. But the most important factor is their TEACHING, not their miracles.
Many Christians today would cross the sea to observe a miracle, but they would not cross the street to hear the word of the Lord. Miracles excite them; the word bores them. Miracles portray the ACTS of God; the revelation-word shows us His WAYS. Deut. 13:5 continues,
"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."
Such a prophet was put to death, NOT because he prophesied something that failed to come to pass, nor even because the signs and wonders failed. He was put to death because of his lawless teaching. Jesus referred to this law when He said in Matt. 7:22, 23,
" (22) Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?' (23) And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness"[anomia].
Anomia is from the word nomos, "law." Lawlessness was the big problem in the Old Testament, and human nature of the "old man" has not changed after the cross. On a personal level, the old man continues to prophesy lawlessness to us inwardly, and it must be put to death, crucified with Christ.
The Apostle Paul had a problem with those practicing lawlessness as well, saying in Rom. 6:19,
"I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness [anomia], resulting in further lawlessness [anomia], so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification."
John gives us a third witness against lawlessness in 1 John 3:4, saying,
"Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness [anomia]; and sin is lawlessness[anomia]."
To be a sinner is to violate the law. To be lawless is to put away the law.