A Prophet Like Moses
Deuteronomy 18:15-19Here’s a Help Wanted ad you may find interesting:
Spokesman needed for international firm. No experience necessary, no education required. Must between 20-85 years old. Full- or part-time. Exciting job with lots of travel. Must be willing to move often, sometimes in the middle of the night. Must be comfortable speaking to large crowds. Will meet often with the CEO who will instruct brief you on what to say to the public. Important that you be able to move in all circles of society–from the highest to the lowest. Good vocabulary a must, ability to speak in colorful images a big plus. Job entail unusual diet, including locusts and wild honey. Must look good in sackcloth and ashes. Unlimited opportunitiy for advancement. Low pay but the benefits are out of this world. Must be willing to endure ridicule, persecution, slander, and occasional beatings. This job carries only one significant negative aspect: Make one mistake and you will be stoned to death.
That ad describes the biblical role of the prophet. If you wonder about the last sentene, I assure it is true. The test for a biblical prophet was 100% accuracy. Make one mistake and you would be stoned to death.
Stoned to Death
As a matter of fact, the Jews had a well-defined procedure for stoning. The victim was stripped naked, with hands bound, paraded out of town and placed on a scaffold nine feet high. The first official witness pushed the victim off the scaffold. The second witness dropped a large stone on his head and chest. Bystanders then pelted the dying man with the stones. The corpse was then buried in a special place along with the stone that inflicted the fatal blow. No mourning ceremony was permitted.
False prophets had to be stoned. The Law commanded it. That’s why prophecy was not a growth industry in the ancient Israel. It was a risky way to make a living.
Today prophecy is big business–and not nearly so risky.
Psychic Friends Network
Every day millions of people read their horoscopes, hoping to find guidance for the future. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year on astrologers, fortune-tellers, spirtists, and the very popular Psychic Friends Network. Self-proclaimed New Age gurus travel from city to city peddling their brand of high-tech mysticism in hotel ballrooms for only $200 per person. A few years ago thousands flocked to hear Shirley Maclaine spin her theories about reincarnation. Today they can watch their favorite celebrities sing and dance and offer free advice to anyone calling a certain phone number “for only $2.95 per minute.”
The Great Chicago Earthquake of 1996
This week I happened run across some predictions for 1996 printed in a supermarket tabloid called the Weekly World News. One article purported to carry predictions by Karl de Nostredame, allegedly the last living descendant of the famed 16th-century French seer Nostradamus. According to the article, this man (who probably does not even exist) predicts the end of the world in 1999. Here are some predictions for 1996 he will supposedly reveal when he speak to a joint session of congress next year:
FSpace shuttle astronauts pick up a stray radio signal from deep space in March 1996. Inexplicably, the broadcast is a frantic plea for help from a planet in the Andromeda galaxy–spoken in Old English.
FThe world recoils in shock and disbelief when the heads of four European states are assassinated over a three day period in July 1996. The bad situation gets worse when the prime minister of Japan is poisoned and dies–two weeks later.
FAn earthquake measuring 11.2 on the Richter scale rocks Chicago in August or September 1996, killing 6,000 and causing billions in damage.
FPresident Bill Clinton undergoes emergency surgery to remove a softball-sized tumor from his colon in October 1996. The President survives the surgery and, against all odds, goes on to win re-election in November.
All of that may cause us to chuckle at the gullibility of the American reading public. However, there are other prophets on the scene whose words are taken far more seriously. Consider the case of noted Christian broadcaster Harold Camping who predicted the Second Coming of Christ in late September 1994. When Christ did not come, Mr. Camping was forced to admit he had fouled up his calculations somewhere.
Camping predicted that Christ would return in judgment between September 15 and 27, 1994. The 72-year-old Reformed Bible teacher issued his claims on his nightly Open Forum talk-radio show, which airs on the Family Radio network he founded 35 years ago. The private network owns 39 stations and 14 short-wave international transmitters.
When the prediction did not come true, Camping said that God was testing the righteous to see if they would still be faithful to him. Unfortunately, many Christians believed Camping and were sorely disappointed when he turned out to be dead wrong about the Second Coming of Christ. Not only that, but multitudes of unbelievers who heard about his predictions now have yet another reason to dismiss the Christian faith.
All in all, the Harold Camping debacle is a sad commentary on the willingness of evangelical Christian to follow anyone who claims special knowledge regarding the end times.
Was Mr. Camping a prophet? No, not in the biblical sense. But he did make a prediction, hedged or qualified as it might have been. When you strip away all of his cautionary statements, he clearly predicted the Second Coming of Christ during the last few days of September 1994. And he was wrong.
He’s lucky he didn’t live during the days of the Old Testament. They had a severe way of dealing with men who made predictions that did not come true.
What prophet today would stake his life on his predictions? But that’s precisely the biblical standard.
It’s Not in the Stars
Which brings us to Deuteronomy 18. In this passage Moses speaks to the people of Israel warning them against false prophets and promisng that God would raise up a prophet like him from the midst of the people. He also explained the tests they should apply to distinguish true and false prophets.
First, the word of warning:
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the destable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or a spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. The nations you dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. Deuteronomy 18:9-14
Words could hardly be clearer. God detests witchcraft, sorcery, divination and every form of fortune-telling. God’s word here is precise, pointed, and penetrating. The people of God must utterly and completely separate themselves from every form of divination. This completely rules out everything from astrology to using a psychic to black magic, superstition, consulting a Oija Board, using Tarot cars, palm-reading, ESP, voodoo, channeling, reincarnation, psychic transference, white magic, Satanism, talking to spirits, dabbling in witchcraft, omens, charms, totem poles, talismans, good luck symbols, praying to the dead, communicating with the spirit world, crystal balls, and so on. All of it is completely forbidden to Christians. These things are marks of paganism.
Two Tests of a True Prophet
But many people claim to bring messages from God? How can we tell when the person speaking is truly from God? Verses 20-22 give us two tests we can use. The first is the test of truth: “A prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” A true prophet speaks the true words of God. That means you must check out a prophet’s words against the true Word of God, the Bible. His words must match both the letter and the spirit of the Bible. If anything he says contradicts the Bible in any way, forget it. That man (or woman) is not from God.
The second test is the test of accuracy. “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” The test is simple. Check out his prediction against the actual results. If what he says comes true, the you can be confident he is a true prophet of God. If not, you can ignore him because he is not speaking for God.
Here, then, are two tests for a prophet:
A true prophet will measure up on both counts all the time.
A Spokesman For God
The word “prophet” literally means “one who speaks on behalf of another.” Applied to the biblical prophets, it means “one authorized to speak on behalf of God.” Thus when Isaiah spoke, he could claim divine authority for his words. He was literally acting as God’s spokesman. That’s why his words had to be 100%. As long as he spoke only for himself, he could make any number of mistakes. But when he claimed to speak for God, he had no margin for error.
A biblical prophet had two primary functions:
1. He delivered God’s message to his own generation.
2. He predicted the course of future events.
In the first role, the prophet upheld God’s righteousness and condemned injustice of every variety.
The prophets often dealt with social issues, and condemned men on these grounds. They dealt with problems of immorality and revealed the standards of God’s holiness. They dealt with the problems of drunkenness and condemned the overuse of wine. They condemned the oppression of the poor, the fatherless and the widow. They condemned unjust extortion and interest rates, and taxation where it was not due. They condemned greed and avarice. They condemned businessmen for using false weights and improper balances.
Because of the bold denunciation of sin, the prophets were often very unpopular. Many were hated and persecuted and some were put to death (Matthew 23:34).
In the second role, the prophets predicted the rise and fall of nations, the outcome of military battles, and the coming judgment of God on disobedient kings. Sometimes their predictions were immediately fulfilled, but often centuries would pass before the predicted events would occur. But in every case, the prophets were held to the strict standard of 100% accuracy. This meant that often the prophets themselves would not live to see their words fulfilled, leaving them mocked by their contemporaries but vindicated by time.
A Prophet Like Moses
In Deuteronomy 18, God promises through Moses to raise a line of godly prophets in Israel. That line would culminate in one person who would be the “prophet like me” of verse 15: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” Verse 18 gives us the same promise in the Lord’s own words: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he wiill tell them everything I command him.”
Moses was the first and greatest of all the Old Testament prophets since he spoke with God face to face and because he was the man God used to work the great miracles in Egypt and in the wilderness. No other prophet after his time would approach his greatness (Deuteronomy 34:10-12). Other notable men would arise: Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah, Zechariah, and Malachi, to name only a few. These men ably fulfilled the twin roles of denouncing sin and predicting future events.
With regard to the 100% accuracy test, anyone may check their words out and see whether their predictions came true or not. Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict offers one of the best collections of fulfilled prophecy and I recommend it to anyone who desires to establish the supernatural origin of the Bible.
“Are You the Prophet?”
The reader might at this point ask what connection all this has with Christmas or with the larger sermon series on Christ in the Old Testament. Actually there is a strong connection because the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18 specifically a prophet who will have four characteristics:
1. He is raised up by God (meaning that he has a divine calling)
2. He will be like Moses (thus having intimate knowledge of God)
3. He will be from among the people (an Israelite)
4. He will speak with divine authority (as a result of the preceding factors)
It’s interesting to discover that the Jews had always understood that this prophecy would one day be fulfilled in a literal by the coming of a “the Prophet” who would either A) come just before Messiah or B) would in fact be the Messiah. That expectation helps explain the dialogue between the Jews and John the Baptist in John 1:19-21. When they ask who he was, he said, “I am not the Christ.” “Who are you, then? Are you Elijah?” “No. “Well, then, as you the Prophet.” “No.” When they said, “the Prophet,” both the Jews and John the Baptist understood the reference to be the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18.
The same thing happened to Jesus himself. When he performed the miracle of feeding the 5000 in John 6, the crowd responded by saying, “Surely this the Prophet who is to come into the world” (v. 14). Again, the reference is to Deuteronomy 18. Later when he spoke to the multitiudes at the Feast of Tabernacles, some of the people exclaimed, “Surely this man is the Prophet” (John 7:40).
John 5 records a long dialogue between Christ and his antogonists where they question his credentials to be the Messiah. At the end of the debate, he summarizes his position by referring them to Moses, who was universally revered in Judaism. He basically accused them of not believing Moses’ words: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (v. 46). But where did Moses write about Christ? There are several possible answers, but none more obvious than Deuteronomy 18.
The Emmaus Road Bible Conference
Let’s run the tape forward to the evening of Easter Sunday. Jesus suddenly appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, but they did not recognize him. When Jesus asked what they were talking about, one of them replied that they were discussing Jesus of Nazareth, “a prophet power in word and deed before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19). Of all the words they could have used to describe Christ–Master, Savior, Lord, Redeemer–they called him a prophet. When Jesus revealed his true identity, he called them foolish for failing to believe all that the prophets had spoken. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (v. 27). We must assume that his exposition included Deuteronomy 18.
Moses and Jesus
If there is any doubt remaining about Jesus being the Prophet like Moses of Deuteronomy 18, let’s consider one final verse in Acts 3. In this passage Peter heals a crippled beggar in the temple courtyards. When a crowd gathers in amazement to watch the formerly-crippled man walk under his own power, Peter preaches a powerful evangelistic sermon. He tells them that this miracle had been done by the power of Jesus–the same man who had been crucified just a few weeks earlier. As part of his proof that Jesus is the promised Messiah, Peter quotes Deuteronomy 18:15, “For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.’”
Let’s consider Moses and Jesus and see if Jesus is indeed a prophet “like Moses.”
Raised up by God Sent by God
Spoke to God face to face Was in the bosom of God (John 1:18)
From the people Son of Mary, legal son of Joseph
Performed miracles Performed miracles
Gave the law Brought grace and truth (John 1:17)
The evidence is clear and even overwhelming. Jesus is the Prophet like Moses promised in Deuteronomy 18. He is the ultimate fulfillment of a promise made 1500 years before his birth.
Only one question remains. What does this fulfillment signify for us today? Why should it matter to us that Jesus is the great Prophet sent by God? Let me suggest three important answers to that question.
I. He Declares the True Word of God
When Christ finished the Sermon on the Mount, his hearers commented that he spoke “as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:29). When I preach a sermon, I offer documentation, footnotes, references, quotes, etc. to back up what I am saying. I have to because I have no authority in my own power to teach the things of God. But Jesus needed no footnotes! He had divine authority as the heaven-sent Prophet of God.
Consider five statements about his words.
1. He claimed divine authority for his words.
2. He said his words would bring eternal life.
3. He declared that his words would not pass away.
4. He ordered his words carried around the world (Matthew 28:19-20).
5. He said that the ultimate destiny of men and women depended on their response to his words.
These are not the statements of religious leader. Only a Prophet of God can make such claims for himself. Therefore, when he speaks, we must listen because he speaks the true word s of God.
II. He Diagnoses the True Human Condition
At this point I am thinking of the controversy in Mark 7 regarding the Jewish custom of ritual purification. Jesus plainly declared that “what comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ From from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’ (Mark 7:20-23).
In John 3 Jesus explained why men turn away from the truth even when it stares them in the face: “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (v. 20). There is something evil inside every human heart that makes us instinctively hate the light and love the darkness. We turn away from the truth because it exposes the darkness inside.
But Jesus saved his most scathing words for the ultra-religious leaders–the Pharisees. In Matthew 23 he calls them a variety of names: “hypocrites” (13), “blind guides” (16), “fools” (17), “whitewashed tombs” (27), “snakes” and “brood of vipers” (33).
Because Jesus is the True Prophet of God, he understands the secrets of the human heart. Nothning is hidden from him. Though men cover their sin with a thin veneer of religiosity, it’s does fool Christ for a sceond. He sees through the sham, exposes the sin, and calls it what it really is.
He knows the truth and he declares the truth, even when his words are sure to offend his hearers.
III. He Predicts the True Course of Future Events
Most of us realize that Jesus made certain specific predictions regarding his Second Coming–he described in some detail the moral condition of the world in the Last Days, the attacks on Israel, and rise of false religion, and his own return to the earth. His words on this subject may be found in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 17 and John 14. Since these events are yet future to us, we cannot check them for accuracy.
However, Jesus made at least five specific predictions that were fulfilled in his lifetime or shortly thereafter. These we can check for accuracy.
1. He predicted that one of his inner circle would betray him. Fulfilled by Judas.
2. He predicted his crucifixion. Fulfilled on Good Friday in Jerusalem.
3. He predicted his resurrection. Fulfilled on Easter Sunday in Jerusalem.
4. He predicted the coming of the Holy Spirit. Fulfilled at Pentecost.
5. He predicted the fall of Jerusalem. Fulfiilled in A.D. 70 by the Roman army.
Once again, we see that our Lord passes the test with flying color. Everything he predicted came true exactly as he predicted it. This is precisely what we would expect of the True Prophet of God.
When a Prophet Speaks
Let’s go back one final time to Deuteronomy 18. When Moses promised a “prophet like me,” he added this important phrase in verse 15: “You must listen to him.” He also added a warning from God in verse 19: “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him into account.”
When a prophet speaks, you only have two choices:
Listen to what he says
Disregard his words
There are not other options. If you say, “I’m going to think about it,” that’s really the same as disregarding him.
If Jesus is the Prophet of God, then each person must either listen or disregard his words. You have to make a choice. There can be no neutrality about Jesus. You are either with him or against him. You either follow him or you ignore him.
What is your verdict about Jesus? Is he really the Son of God? Can you stake your life on his wors?
One Solitary Life
Before you answer, ponder the words of this famous essay written over 80 years ago.
Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty, an dthen for three yerars he was an itinerant preacher. He never owned a home. he never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundre miles from the place where he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself… .
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. he waas nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While he was dying his executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had on earth–his coat. When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed tormb through the pity of a friend.
Twenty long centuries have come and gone and today he is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of the column of proress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that have ever marched, all the navies that ever were built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.
I urge you to consider the claims of Christ upon your life. Is Jesus really the Son of God? If he is, then you can do nothing less than give him your heart. Crown him King of your life and join the millions who willingly worship him as Savior and Lord.
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