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Deuteronomy 13:3 tells us that prophets who prophesy things that go against the divine law are not to be followed, even if their word is accompanied by signs and wonders. We are to consider the word of God (i.e., the law) to be more authoritative than such prophecy.
We also learn that if such prophets arise, it is because God is testing the hearts of the people, to see if they can be tempted to annul the law of God. Perhaps the most difficult test of all is when we must choose between the Word of God and the lawless teachings of a miracle-working prophet. Deuteronomy 13:5 says,
5 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.
It is a serious matter to counsel rebellion against the God of Israel. But God authorizes such temptation in order to expose the rebellious hearts of the people, whose tendency from the days of Moses has been to cast aside the law as an evil thing. True prophecy brings men into agreement with God, not disagreement. The purpose of prophecy is to explain the law, reveal the mind of Christ, and, in our time, to apply the law as Jesus would apply it under the New Covenant.
Keep in mind, however, that all judgments of the law can be set aside by the victim, for the victim always carries the right of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. A prophet guilty of counseling rebellion against God may repent and find forgiveness, even as the rebellious people themselves may repent after their iniquity is exposed.
We are given a warning in Ezekiel 14 that sheds further light on this passage.
1 Then some elders of Israel came to me and sat down before me. 2 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 3 Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all?
There are many idols in this world, of course, but physical idols are only the outward expression of heart idolatry, or iniquity. A heart idol is man’s conception of God which springs from his own carnal mind, rather than the mind of the New Creation Man (Christ in you). Heart idols produce the traditions of men, which seem good and right only because they resonate with some part of the carnal mind that yet lives. These heart idols are “the stumbling block” created by their iniquity.
The question posed to Ezekiel is whether those with heart idols have the right to consult God and expect a clear, undistorted answer. God says,
4 Therefore speak to them and tell them, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Any man of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, puts right before his face the stumbling block of his iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the Lord will be brought to give him an answer in the matter in view of the multitude of his idols,’ 5 in order to lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel who are estranged from Me through all their idols.”
When men inquire of God without first overthrowing the idols of the heart, they receive answers from God which match the distorted views of their own carnal minds. In other words, if they carry a strong belief which they think is true, but yet is actually only the residue of the carnal mind, God answers them according to the idol of their heart.
This is of great importance, yet few understand it. There are many who teach people to hear God’s voice, but not many who make them aware of the importance of dealing with idols of the heart. When I saw how important this was many years ago, I wrote of it in my book, Hearing God’s Voice.
Many people receive visions and revelation about a burning hell. They expect people to set aside the word of God in order to agree with their revelation. Often these revelations are accompanied by signs and wonders. Shall we believe their revelation, or shall we consider the law of God as authoritative? Shall we believe that sinners must be tortured, or that they ought to pay restitution as the law demands? Shall we believe that sinners, once condemned by the law for their sin, can no longer find grace as the law demands? Shall we believe that the debt to the law will have no end, or shall we believe the law of Jubilee?
Just because someone is a believer (man of faith) does not mean that he is free of heart idols. There are many genuine Christians who have placed their faith in what Christ accomplished on the cross, but who have not learned much about obedience. This is where we must make the distinction between a believer and an overcomer.
We may criticize the Israelites for adopting the views of Baal and Molech that burning children is a genuine divine penalty for sin according to the mind of God—but the church has done the same in its own way. In both cases, I have no doubt that their belief was (and still is) sincere, for no one would place their children (or ancestors) in such a fire unless they really believed it to be true. Yet God condemned Jerusalem in Jeremiah 19:5,
5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind.
God clearly repudiates this idea of a fiery torture as a just and righteous penalty for sin. We are not to do this on earth, nor will He do this at the Great White Throne. The law itself is the “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2), and ALL judgments of the law are pictured metaphorically as “fire.” Even the church will be “saved yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15), because all of us must go through the baptism of fire, either in this present life or in the next. The Holy Spirit baptizes us with the fire of God’s character in order to bring judgment upon the flesh. The flesh thinks it is being tormented in hell, but in reality it is being “crucified with Christ.”
God gave the solution to Ezekiel after telling the prophet that He would answer carnal men according to the idols of their hearts. Ezekiel 14:6 says,
6 Therefore say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations’.”
It is only when we repent and cast down the idols of the heart that we will receive a pure revelation from God. The key is to understand Deuteronomy 13, where we learn that the law-word of God is more authoritative than any man’s revelation or prophecy—even when it is accompanied by signs and wonders. If we do not believe that, then this too is evidence of a heart of rebellion and iniquity that needs to be overthrown. If such idols linger in our hearts, we can be sure that God will test us in order to expose those idols, so that we might find deliverance.
Jeremiah 23 applies this principle to the people of Jerusalem in the days that God raised up King Nebuchadnezzar to bring judgment upon the city and its people. He started his prophecy with the statement, “Woe to the shepherds!” Verse 11 continues,
11 For both prophet and priest are polluted; even in My house I have found their wickedness, declares the Lord.
Were these prophets and priests deliberately acting in a corrupt manner? Perhaps a few of them were, but I believe most of them were as sincere in their carnal religion as they were in Jesus’ time. Jeremiah 2:35 tells us that they claimed innocence,
35 Yet you said, “I am innocent; surely His anger is turned away from me.” Behold, I will enter into judgment with you, because you say, “I have not sinned.”
In other words, when Jeremiah said they were worshipping Baal and ought to repent and turn back to Yahweh, the priests denied the charges. They denied worshipping Baal. They had simply adopted some of practices of Baal worship and followed their old man’s carnal understanding that the law required literal fire as a penalty for sin.
So Jeremiah 23:13 says, “they prophesied by Baal and led My people Israel astray.” Did they say, “Thus saith Baal” when they prophesied? I doubt it, for if they had done so, how could they have claimed to be innocent of Jeremiah’s charges? The next verse says,
14 Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: the committing of adultery and walking in falsehood; and they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one has turned back from his wickedness.
Any time a prophet condones lawlessness, he strengthens the hands of evildoers. When some churches today support the so-called right to commit sodomy or abortion, they strengthen the hands of evildoers. When the churches today support usury, they strengthen the hands of the Babylonian bankers who have oppressed the people. When the churches support the prison system instead of God’s righteous standard of paying restitution, they strengthen the hands of evildoers. In past centuries, when the church taught the doctrine of a burning hell, they put their beliefs into practice by burning people at the stake—an abomination that the mind of God never said was a righteous judgment.
Jeremiah 23:16-22 pleads with the people,
16 . . . Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord. . . 21 I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. 22 But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds.
Jeremiah’s prophecy was the application of Deuteronomy 13 in his day. Times have not changed much, for we see the same problems today. The reason that America and the world have not turned from their evil ways is not because of the unbelievers, but because the church has cast aside the law in favor of “their own imagination,” that is, the idols of their heart. Jeremiah continues in verses 28 and 29,
28 “The prophet who has a dream, may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?” declares the Lord. 29 “Is not My word like fire?” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock?”
And so, while the prophets of Jerusalem had adopted literal fire with which to judge sin, Jeremiah hears a different word: “Is not My word like fire?” The answer is YES, for we read in Deut. 4:24, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” The very nature of God is pictured only as a fire, and His words reflect His nature.
When He spoke His word to Israel at Mount Horeb on that first feast of Pentecost, He spoke “from the midst of the fire” (Deut. 4:33). That fire was designed to burn up the carnal mind by the baptism of fire, so that the New Creation Man might come forth unhindered by flesh, speak the mind of Christ unhindered by the old fleshly man, and be purified by fire from the lawless traditions of men.
I believe that the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit will be different from all of the partial moves of the past. All past revivals of the church in the wilderness were done in blindness, even as Moses tells us in Deut. 29:4. But the day is yet coming when God Himself will remove the blindness, so that we may truly worship Him, not only in spirit but also in truth.
This move will sweep away all denominationalism as well, for Jesus prophesied this to the Samaritan woman at the well. John 4:19-24 says,
19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain [denomination], and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father … 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.