What Should We Do When the Prophets Are Wrong

We should not despise prophecy, but we should test everything, focus on what is good and reject evil.

“When the prophet of the Lord arrived, King Ahab asked him, ‘Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or not?’” (1 Kings 22:16)

I continue to process the events of the last year, and my reading through Scripture will sometimes call those things to mind. One of those ongoing events involved former President Trump and all the evangelical support he received regardless of whatever he said or did.

There were evangelicals who defended every word and action. Their support was unwavering, and prophets even prophesied that he would be reelected.

Obviously, they were wrong.

Let me say that again. They were wrong. If God spoke to them and said Trump would be re-elected, he would have won, regardless of any voter fraud.

Regardless of the circumstances in the world. God is sovereign. He knows those things. If God actually moved in those prophets to foretell the future, it would have come to pass. They were wrong! God didn’t prompt those prophecies.

More importantly, I want to focus on the evangelical support of Donald Trump. The unwavering support and relentless defense of Donald Trump troubled me greatly from before he was elected in 2016. I wrote often about it. The prophecies that he would be reelected troubled me even more.

They didn’t trouble me because of the thought that Trump might be reelected. Whatever God will do, He will do. If God wanted Donald Trump to be President for another four years, so be it. God establishes authorities. (Rom. 13:1)

The prophecies troubled me because Paul says we should not despise prophecy. (1 Thessalonians 5:20) We should, therefore, not take prophecy lightly. In that vein, I was troubled that I could be dead wrong about my assessment of Donald Trump and of what God is/was doing in our time.

I wrote about the Sons of Issachar who “understood the times” in an attempt to think, pray and write through it. The people who were saying that Donald Trump would be elected were claiming to be like the Sons of Issachar. They claimed to know what God was doing in our times, and they were one hundred percent behind Donald Trump who they claimed was God’s man for this time.

I was personally concerned that I had it all wrong. I am not a prophet, and I don’t claim to be one, though I feel sometimes that I have a prophetic bent in me (whatever that really means). I would not, however, and do not call myself a prophet.

I don’t predict things.

Not that predicting things is all the prophetic gift is about. I don’t think it is. I think the prophetic gift is about speaking the mind of God. It may include speaking the mind of God in a particular moment, to a particular person or people, or not. It may include speaking God’s mind and heart generally.

I believe people who preach can be prophetic in their preaching. There are teachers, and then there prophetic preachers.

Prophecy may (at times) be predictive, but I think it is more about speaking God’s mind and heart than the ability to predict things. For whatever reason, though, people are really interested in predicting things and knowing the future. In fact, we seem to be obsessed with it.

This isn’t anything new. The disciples asked Jesus many times about when the end would come. Jesus said it wasn’t for them to know the day or time. Still, they pressed him.

Throughout history are examples of people claiming to know the end times. Though, many people have predicted days and times, they have all been wrong.

Of course, someone someday might be right, so people continue to try….

Not that I think we should. Jesus said we wouldn’t know. I take him at his word.

We see this same kind of preoccupation with wanting to know the future in the Old Testament. I recently read the story of Israel’s King Ahab and Judah’s King Jehoshaphat coming together to attack the City of Ramoth Gilead that once belonged to Israel. This story has something to say to us today on the subject of prophecy, and it’s the backdrop for what I have on my mind today.

Ahab went to Jehoshaphat for assistance in taking the city, saying, “’Don’t you know that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us and yet we are doing nothing to retake it….’”

Jehoshaphat was open to the idea but insisted that they first seek the counsel of the Lord. (1 Kings 22:1-5)

We should seek God’s counsel, right? We should pray. We should go to God for direction in all significant decisions that we make. This is the right thing to do. I don’t mean to suggest we should not seek God’s counsel. We definitely should!

How we seek God’s counsel, however, is the important thing. It’s not just a matter of knowing whether we will win or lose, though we may be tempted to make it about that, and nothing more.

When we seek God’s counsel we should be seeking, first and foremost, to know God Himself. “Seek first the kingdom of God….” Everything else follows from that.

Whether God gives us a definitive answer about the questions we put before Him, the most important thing for us is the desire to know Him. The danger is that our desires are not always so pure. We often want the things we want more than we want to know God. The story of Ahab is a case in point.

Ahab did what Jehoshaphat requested and gathered about 400 prophets together. He asked the prophets if they should go to war to retake the city that had once been theirs. All those prophets told the king to go ahead, “[F]or the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.’” (1 Kings 22:6) They confirmed that Ahab should do what he wanted.

Jehoshaphat must not have had much faith in the prophets Ahab gathered, because Jehoshaphat asked, “’Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?’” (1 Kings 22:7) Jehoshaphat must have had a “check” in his spirit – even when 400 prophets said, “Go ahead!”

Ahab is known for being an idolatrous king who did not worship God, while Jehoshaphat is known for being a king who turned from idols to worship God. Jehoshaphat likely knew Ahab’s reputation. In this instance, though, Jehoshaphat seemed agreeable to ally with Ahab and the northern kingdom of Israel to take back the city that had been theirs.

Still, Jehoshaphat challenged Ahab to get a second opinion. He was rightfully skeptical of Ahab and his prophets.

Ahab responded, “’There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad.’” (1 Kings 22:8) Thus, Ahab reluctantly called for Micaiah. Meanwhile, all Ahab’s prophets continued to predict that God would deliver the Armeans into Ahab’s hands. (1 Kings 22:10-12)

When the king’s messengers summoned Micaiah, they forewarned him: “’Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.’” (1 Kings 22:13)

They knew the answer King Ahab wanted to hear, and it didn’t matter to Ahab, or them, what God might actually say.

When Micaiah arrived, he initially affirmed what the other prophets said: “’Attack and be victorious,’ he said, ‘for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.’” (1 Kings 22:15)

But King Ahab was suspicious. He most have sensed that Micaiah was not being straight with him. Ahab pressed for a more candid answer: “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” (1 Kings 22:16)

Really? The King didn’t trust Micaiah. It wasn’t just that Micaiah always said negative things (though he did). Ahab didn’t trust Micaiah because the King didn’t trust in God.

I think this is the right way to interpret the story because King Ahab didn’t want to consult the prophets to begin with. He consulted them only when Jehoshaphat insisted.

When Ahab pressed Micaiah to say what he really thought, Micaiah came clean, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills without a shepherd….’” (I Kings 22:15-17)

Micaiah’s change of tune prompted Ahab to say, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?” (1 Kings 22:18)

We might be tempted to wonder, “What does Ahab want? Does he want Micaiah to lie? Or to tell the truth?” But, I think the point is that Ahab didn’t believe in or trust God. To Ahab, the prophets were just people who were for him or against him. He was not ultimately concerned about God or what God’s prophet had to say.

We might wonder why Micaiah went along with Ahab’s prophets at first, and then changed his tune. The explanation Micaiah gives is that God ordered “a deceiving spirit” to go out “into the mouths of all the prophets” to entice Ahab to attack “and so go to his death”. (1 Kings 22:20-23)

Of course, Ahab didn’t believe that either. Jehoshaphat, meanwhile, is caught in the middle. He didn’t know who to believe. He ends up going with the majority of the prophets and attacking Ramoth Gilead with Ahab.

Micaiah, of course, was right. Ahab and Jehoshaphat attacked the city, Ahab was killed, and the armies of Israel and Judah were turned back in defeat.

This story is a solemn warning about a number of things, starting with the character of the people with whom we align ourselves.

Jehoshaphat really was a good king. He destroyed the idols in Judah, and he was generally a righteous man who sought to be true to God. His motivation was likely good in seeking to align himself with Ahab and Israel. When Ahab first came to him for help, Jehoshaphat responded, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” (1 Kings 22:4)

Ahab was the bad guy. In aligning himself with Ahab, Jehoshaphat found himself in the crosshairs of God’s plan to take Ahab out. Jehoshaphat would repent for that misjudgment and withdraw his alliance from the northern kingdom of Israel for the remainder of his reign.

It didn’t matter that Jehoshaphat had good intentions in aligning with the idolatrous Ahab. We align with people who set themselves against God to our own peril. Another warning I see is that we should never simply take prophecy at face value. Paul’s admonition not to despise prophecy comes with a qualifier (1 Thess. 5:20-22):

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

God sometimes even puts words in His prophets’ mouths that are meant to entice people to do what they already want to do. God sometimes feeds people the deception they want. Nothing could be worse than being deceived and God abandoning us to our deception!

I am reminded of Romans. When people exchange the glory of God for worthless idols, God will eventually give them over to the sinful desires of their hearts (1:24), their lusts (1:26) and a depraved mind. (1:28) God doesn’t override our ability to choose which way we want to go. He may even give us a push when we continuously lean hard away from God.

I am not going to argue, here, that Donald Trump is evil, like Ahab. I don’t know his heart, but I do know his history and the things he says and does that do not square with godly character or the humility of a person who is committed to Christ.

I am also confident that God is working out His plans and purposes in these things. I am convinced, as well, that we can rely on prophecy in ways that are unhealthy, putting more weight in prophetic utterances than we do in more weighty things like love (1 Corinthians 13) and things God cares more about, like justice and mercy and faithfulness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)

The Pharisees of our day are not concerned with tithing mint, dill and cumin like the Pharisees to whom Jesus spoke those words. Modern Pharisees don’t follow the Mosaic Code or complain about healing on the Sabbath. They just might be prophesying in the local church, though.

Jesus didn’t admonish the Pharisees not to tithe; but he warned them to focus on the weightier issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness. These are not just things we do, ultimately; these are the things we are becoming. These are the characteristics of God that were demonstrated in the person by Jesus. These are characteristics God desires to work in us as we work out our salvation.

When we focus on anything above God, we set our minds on things that are inferior – even prophecy. Jesus said,

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’”

And, God will say to them, “I never knew you….” 

We have to be careful, therefore, not to be overly swayed by prophecy. We should not despise prophecy, but we should test everything, focusing only on what is good and rejecting all that is evil.

We should not forget that God is love. God desires justice, mercy and faithfulness. We should desire to grow in our knowledge of God and strive to allow God to conform us to His image – His character. We should not lose that focus even when 400 prophets tell us what we want to hear.

Finally, I would note the writer of Hebrews, who said.

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

We have less need for prophecy today, it seems, than before Christ when people didn’t have the benefit of the words of Jesus. We also have the Holy Spirit, who doesn’t just speak through prophets. The Holy Speaks into the hearts of all believers.

2 thoughts on “What Should We Do When the Prophets Are Wrong

  1. I’ve had two people “prophesy” to me in this last fortnight, regarding eschatological matters (I won’t expand specifically, as I think there are things that are good honourable just and pure , which are of more value and importance), one person became quite aggressive in text after I rejected his claim to be speaking for God, the other set a period of 8 months to fulfilment of his prophesies, both spoke in “dismal” terms of their foretold events (no peace resting in God’s sovereignty), and one’s life practices were in stark contradiction to the “rational” application of what should have been his actions based on his belief. The verses you quoted from Hebrews, and the others, are gems!

    I believe the scriptures direct us in our responsibility, to live in a manor of being prepared for our Lord’s return at any time. Similarly to how Jesus addressed the disciples in John 7:6 Therefore Jesus told them, “Although your time is always at hand, My time has not yet come….”.

    God provides all that is necessary for fulfilling His children’s daily responsibilities. Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.

    God’s sovereignty expressed in His management of visible earthly government, still works to maintain the application of His love for His children, even to our death.
    Acts 7:55-56 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
    As well as in the course of lesser than life/death adversities…
    Exodus 10:23 No one could see anyone else, and for three days no one left his place. Yet all the Israelites had light in their dwellings.

    Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

    With thanks

    Liked by 1 person

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