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Who is a prophet of God and who is not? The biblical criteria for the true prophet are clear and specific. According to Deut and the prophet of God 1 is called by the Lord; 2 speaks the word of God as God's spokesperson; 3 speaks in the name of the Lord; 4 is an Israelite who addresses himself primarily to Israel; 5 stands in the tradition of the Mosaic covenant; 6 encourages loyalty to the Lord and to his revelation and condemns apostasy; and 7 authenticates his mission with "signs.


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The validation of a true prophet was often difficult. The godly had to discern between the true and the false, between Scripture and tradition, between the "old" revelation and the "new" revelation, between claim and counterclaim. The prophets of God rooted their message in God's revelation to Moses and called on God's people to respond anew by living in full. The deterioration of revelation to religion in Israel encouraged the rise of the popular prophets.

The people looked for those religious leaders whose values did not significantly differ from their own. The people in Israel and Judah were complacent, syncretistic, and readily abandoned the way of revelation for the way of popularity with its lack of distinctiveness. The false prophets encouraged a selective lifestyle that combined elements of continuity with God's revelation and an ability to adapt to the cultural changes.

The ministry of the "true" prophet is best seen in contrast with that of the "false.

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But the false prophets enjoyed a social position, whereas Micaiah and Jeremiah were alone. They stood their ground, even though they were maltreated. Their final appeal lay in their confidence that the word of the Lord spoken through them would come true. They could not vindicate themselves, but believed that Yahweh would vindicate them through his presence in history.

Hananiah represented the false prophets in Jerusalem. They were ideologists who operated from the conviction that Moses was true and would always be true. They believed the people of Judah were the legitimate heirs of the covenant, temple, theocracy, and Davidic monarchy.

They could not conceive of the destruction of the temple. To them Jeremiah's radical words of the destruction of the temple and the cessation of the Davidic monarchy were blasphemous. They were zealous for the preservation of the "old" way and closed to the "new" way of the Lord. They believed that Jerusalem, "as the city of God," was invincible.


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Isa , 10? In their zeal for Jerusalem, they disagreed with Jeremiah's message as being inconsistent with their understanding of God's promises.

Jeremiah proclaimed that the temple in Jerusalem was no magic symbol that could restrict Yahweh. He is free and in his freedom he may destroy his own "house," as he had done at Shiloh Jer Jeremiah's theology angered the priests and the prophets, who asked him, "Why do you prophesy in the Lord's name that this house will be like Shiloh.

Jeremiah threatened their theology of the temple and, hence, their view of God. He also challenged them to study the prophetic word of the past to determine if his message was inconsistent with that of the prophets of God Jer Some of the elders did remember the words of Micah's judgment against Jerusalem But this failed to convince the people, who resisted Jeremiah's announcement that Yahweh was free in abandoning Judah A few months later Jeremiah received a response from one of the false prophets, Hananiah, son of Azzur, from Gibeon, situated a few miles to the west of Anathoth.

He predicted in the name of the Lord Almighty the restoration of the exiles, of Jehoiachin, and of the temple vessels that had already been taken in BC Hananiah trusted in the common understanding of salvation, whereas Jeremiah pronounced an oracle of judgment. Judean society recognized Hananiah as "the prophet" , 15 , who spoke in the name of the Lord He enjoyed popular support , because he represented the theological perspective of his contemporaries.

Jeremiah did not oppose Hananiah's prophetic claims. Instead, he trusted in the Lord to vindicate him and his message. The message of the false prophet created serious damage to the credibility of the true prophet of God. But he left a record of his oracles as a witness to generations to come that God's word is true. The false prophets posed a great challenge to the veracity of the prophets of God.

How could the godly distinguish the "true" from the "false"?

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The proposed solutions to the phenomenon of false prophets have been many and diverse. Von Rad assumed that false prophets always spoke a message of salvation and were connected with Israel's cult. Carroll explained it psychologically by the criterion of lack of fulfillment or cognitive dissonance. The gap between prophecy and fulfillment created a problem for the godly. These false prophets were dependent on traditional values and had a closed theological system. James L. Crenshaw proposes that the rise of false prophets was "inevitable" because of the expectations of popular theology vox populi.

The vox populi binds the conscience of people, restricts their vision, and closes them to new and fresh interpretations and applications of God's word. The vox populi represents the collective conscious and subconscious common denominator of faith and its response to divine revelation. The vox populi determines what the prophet could or could not say, based on their theological assumptions and traditions.

Were there objective criteria for validating the true prophets? Yes and no!

Interpreting the Prophetic Word : An Introduction to the Prophetic Literature of the Old Testament

The answer is "yes," when we reflect again on the seven criteria given by Moses. But the answer is also "no," because of the human corruption of revelation. The prophetic "institution" became affected by the teaching of the false prophets and by the popular response to their ministry. Crenshaw concludes that the prophets could not and did not find adequate ways of "self-validation" or authentication.

I do this with some hesitation, because it is much easier to discern the true from the false from our perspective, having the advantage of the historical validation of God's word through the events of the exile, postexilic restoration, intertestamental period, the coming of our Lord, the apostolic age, and the present church age.

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The false prophets bring together revelation and religion. Instead of being completely transformed by the Mosaic revelation, they allowed for syncretism of popular beliefs and practices religion and the revelation of God. This syncretistic way of life vox populi helped them in gaining popular recognition.

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The true prophets built on the foundation of the Mosaic law. As the guardians of the theocracy , they operated solely from the framework of revelation. They remained true to the foci of the Mosaic legislation: exclusive loyalty to Yahweh the covenant-Lord suzerain , strict adherence to the ethics of Sinai regulations pertaining to holiness, righteousness and justice, love and fidelity, and a concern with peace , a sensitivity to social issues justice and care for the rights of the poor, aliens, orphans, and widows , and a hope that the Lord would grant to Israel the privilege of his presence in blessing and protection, resulting in rest.

The false prophets selected themes from the revelation of God to comfort the people of God.

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They believed in God's promises: the election of Israel, the covenant, the inviolability of the temple, the promises regarding David, the election of Zion, and the divine blessings. But they did not for a moment apply God's warnings, judgments, and conditions to the people of God. They bound God to Israel and could not conceive of his abandoning his people to pagan nations.

Hence, the false prophets were selective in their preaching. In Israel the prophets, priests, and wise men gave spiritual leadership each in his own tradition. The perennial danger existed in "closing" the revelation of God by interpretation and by institutionalization, which left no room for new revelation from God. So come, let's attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says" Jer The true prophets, however, affirmed the whole counsel of God. They taught that the Lord is free in his mercy and in his judgment.

They also taught that the Creator-King is sovereign over all creation and that the clay cannot challenge the potter. The true prophets were not opposed to the cult, wisdom, or law as originally derived from Moses, but they were antagonistic to the institutionalization, restriction, and perversion of God's revelation. They opposed any human restriction on the freedom of God , whether in the temple, law, or monarchy. At the heart of the prophetic heritage lies the true worship of God "in spirit.

Zimmerli writes, "Prophetic proclamation thus shatters and transforms tradition in order to announce the approach of the Living One.