In the Torah-Deuteronomy 18:17-20 God gives the first test. He tells us through Moses how to recognize a true prophet with these words,
"The Lord said to me `What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. But 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.' "
The command and the punishment for disobeying the command are stated very clearly. Yahweh, the Eternal One says, "If anyone doesn't listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account." Then He goes on (verses 21-22) to mention the very problem which has been on our minds,
"You may say to yourselves, `HOW CAN WE KNOW WHEN A MESSAGE HAS NOT BEEN SPOKEN BY THE LORD?'
How can we know a false prophet from a true? How can we know whether a man speaks for God or not? And the LORD then gives his answer. He says,
"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."
In other words,
YOU KNOW A TRUE PROPHET WHEN HIS PROPHECY COMES TRUE.
A very clear example is found in I Kings 17 and 18. Elijah prophesied to King Ahab that it was not going to rain with these words,
"As the LORD, the God of Israel whom I serve, lives, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word."
Then everyone waited to see what would happen. When it didn't rain for a few months, people just thought that it was a bit unusual. But when it didn't rain for three and a half years until Elijah told the King "go down before the rain stops you"; and a strong rain came, then everyone knew that Elijah was a true prophet of God who must be feared.
The second test is to evaluate the teaching of the person claiming to be a prophet and consider whether his doctrine contradicts previous revelation. In the Torah, Yahweh, the Eternal One, guides Moses to say,
"If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, `Let us follow other gods'---gods you have not known---'and let us worship them', you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer...Miraculous signs are not enough by themselves. If the person's words contradict previous teaching, he is not to be believed and accepted. These two points are shown quite well in the next example where two men are both claiming to be prophets of Yahweh Elohim but are giving contradictory and opposing messages.
"It is the Lord your God (Yahweh Elohim) you must follow, and Him you must revere. Keep His commands and obey Him; serve Him and Hold fast to Him."
This striking example is to be found in the life of Jeremiah. While living in Jerusalem he had to prophesy that because the people had forsaken God, the Eternal One, and worshiped false and powerless idols, God was going to destroy the city using Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.
God ordered him to wear a yoke like the yoke of an ox on his neck and then to speak to Zedekiah, King of Jerusalem, with these words,
"Bow your neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon; serve him and his people, and you will live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, famine and plague with which the LORD has threatened any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?"
But there were also prophets prophesying who said exactly the opposite. The prophet Jeremiah describes the situation in Chapter 28 of his prophecy as follows,
"In the fifth month of that same year...the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, who was from Gibeon, said to me in the house of the LORD in the presence of the priests and all the people: `This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says, "I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the LORD's house that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from here and took to Babylon...For I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon." '
"The prophet Jeremiah replied, `...From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.'
(Here Jeremiah applies the two tests. He reminds the listeners that his words are in accordance with previous prophecy and that they will know the true prophet when the prophecies are fulfilled.)
"Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it."
Now let us imagine that we are living in Jerusalem at that time. Jeremiah tells us that God is set on destroying the city, and that we will die by famine, by plague, or by the sword unless we surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. He will take us to Babylon as slaves, but we will stay alive, and after 70 years God will bring our children back again (Jeremiah 29:10). These words are treason in the eyes of the King of Israel, of course; but who wants to die being against God?
On the other hand, Hananiah says that God is going to deliver Israel. If that is true, it's better to stay here as a free man. Who wants to be a slave? In addition if we desert to the enemy and then the King of Israel captures us back, he will probably put us to death because we deserted.
It's a matter of life and death, of freedom and slavery. How shall we decide? In the end we will know which prophet is right by which king wins the battle, but by then, if Jeremiah is right, it will be too late to act.
So the LORD, the Eternal One, sends more information. Chapter 28 continues,
"Shortly after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: `Go and tell Hananiah, "This is what the LORD says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but in its place you will get a yoke of iron...I will put an iron yoke on the necks of all these nations to make them serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon..." '
"Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, `Listen, Hananiah! The LORD has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies. Therefore, this is what the LORD says: "I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebellion against the LORD." '
"In the seventh month of that same year, Hananiah the prophet died."
Those living in Jerusalem did not have to wait very long before they had their answer. Hananiah made his false prophecy in the fifth month. Shortly afterward Jeremiah told him, "You will die for your false prophecy", and he died in the seventh month. Jeremiah's word was confirmed by God, and those who were looking for leading from God knew that they must surrender and go to Babylon.
Five years later Jerusalem fell, again confirming Jeremiah's words. We read in Jeremiah 39:6-7 that,
"...the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes and also killed all the nobles of Judah. Then he put out Zedekiah's eyes and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon."
There are many other such fulfilled prophecies in the Torah-Old Testament. For some of them the length of waiting between the prophecy and the fulfillment was short. In Elijah's case it was three and a half years, in Jeremiah's a few weeks. Thus the people living at the time could see the fulfillment and believe in the prophet. Other prophecies were not fulfilled until centuries later, and some have still not been fulfilled. Here are several examples.
A. In Section Two, Chapter II we quoted Daniel's prophecy that Babylon would fall to the Medes and the Persians; that next the Greeks would take over (which happened 270 years later), that the Messiah would come and "be cut off, but not for himself"; and that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed a second time, as happened in 70 A.D. Daniel 8:20-21 and 9:25-26.
B. Isaiah, to whom the Word of the Lord came around 750 B.C., prophesied that the Persian general who would conquer Babylon according to Daniel's prophecy would be called Cyrus. In addition Isaiah prophecies that Cyrus will order the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. The prophecy reads,
This is what the LORD says...
"I am the LORD who has made all things,
Who alone stretched out the heavens,
Who spread out the earth by myself,
Who foils the signs of false prophets,
and makes fools of diviners...
Who carries out the words of his servants
and fulfills the predictions of his messengers,
Who says of Jerusalem, `It shall be inhabited...'
Who says of Cyrus, `He is my shepherd
and will accomplish all that I please;
he will say of Jerusalem, "Let it be rebuilt,"
and of the temple, "Let its foundations be laid." '
Isaiah 44:24-25a, 26, 28.
The fulfillment is recorded in the book of Ezra. Writing sometime before 400 B.C., more than 300 years after the prophecy, Ezra records,
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia...the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus...to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put in writing:
This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
"The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah..."
Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god...(and sent them back)
This prophecy is really very remarkable. Cyrus, who was the King of Persia (Iran), came in 539 B.C. and defeated Babylon (Iraq) where the Jews were prisoners. His policy was to return all peoples to their homelands with orders to rebuild their temples. Each people was then to ask its "god" to intercede with the great "gods" which Cyrus worshiped called Bel and Nebo.
This policy is explained in a text, called the Cyrus Cylinder (now in the British Museum). It reads,
"May all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities ask daily Bel and Nebo for a long life for me and may they recommend me (to them)."
In summary, to fulfill Isaiah's prophecy, God raised up a King in Persia to defeat the Babylonians---a king whose unusual and tolerant religious policy was to return captured people to their homelands so that they could pray for him. One of these captured people happened to be the Jews of Israel---a small unimportant people of no consequence---except that God used them to send the Messiah, the Saviour of the world.
This prophecy and its fulfillment are so remarkable that those men who constructed the "documentary hypothesis" discussed in Chapter I of Section Three concluded that since miraculous prophecies are impossible, the prophecy of Isaiah had to have been written after 500 B.C.---after Cyrus had become King and fulfilled the prophecy.
C. Ezekiel prophesied around 590 B.C. that Nebuchadnezzar would take Tyre (in present day Lebanon) and that the town "shall be a place to spread nets" and "shall be built no more" (Ezekiel 26). In 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Tyre, and thirteen years later in 573 B.C. he took it. Thus the first part was fulfilled in Ezekiel's day when people who heard him give it were still alive.
However the second part is true until this day. For, although there is a modern Tyre, the original site has never been rebuilt, and the fishermen wash and spread their nets there.
D. Micah, prophesying in 750 B.C. about the town of Samaria, foretells its destruction hundreds of years later, saying,
"I will make Samaria as a heap of rubble, a place for planting vineyards."
The town continued as an important center until the time of Jesus and afterward, but it was eventually destroyed. The foundation stones were rolled into the valley, and today the site is covered with vineyards.
E. In the Torah-Leviticus 26:31-33a, written by the hand of Moses more than 1200 years before the Messiah, God tells the 12 tribes of Israel that if they do not follow Him with their whole heart then He will send the following punishments,
"I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings. I will lay waste the land...I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you."
As everyone knows there were two main occasions when the Jewish people were exiled. The first was the exile to Babylon in the time of Jeremiah, and the second occurred after they rejected the Messiah in 30 A.D. Forty years later, in 70 A.D., the Roman General Titus destroyed Jerusalem. Most of the Jews were scattered among the nations and until the present time they have no temple in which to offer their sacrifices.
Now, having looked at these examples of fulfilled prophecy, we must ask ourselves whether there is some principle which we are to learn from this. The answer is "YES".
When God said through Moses that no prophet should be accepted until his prophecy comes true, He was saying that there must be two witnesses. When Elijah said that it wouldn't rain, Elijah was the first witness. By withholding the rain for three and a half years until Elijah prayed for it, God Himself became the second witness as He fulfilled Elijah's words.
When Jeremiah prophesied that Hananiah (the false prophet) would die, he was the first witness. When God caused Hananiah to die a few weeks later, He showed Himself as the second witness confirming Jeremiah's words. In the Torah we find that God established this basic principle even for human law. Deuteronomy 17:6 says,
"On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness."
and in Deuteronomy 19:15 the same principle is stated to apply to all types of crime,
"One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."
This need for two witnesses is also found in the Qur'an. In the Sura of the Heifer (Al-Baqara) 2:282 from 2 A.H. it says,
"If the party liable is mentally deficient, or weak, or unable Himself to dictate, let his guardian dictate faithfully. And get two witnesses out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women."
The same requirement is given for making a last will and testament. The Sura of the Table (Al-Ma'ida) 5:109 from 10 A.H. reads,
"O ye who believe! When death approaches any of you, (take) witnesses among yourselves when making bequests---two just men."
The Sura of the Light (Al-Nur) 24:4 from 5-6 A.H. requires four witnesses in order to sustain an accusation of marital infidelity. It reads,
"And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses, flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors."
Obviously, if two or four witnesses are necessary in human matters, how much more important it is to have two or more witnesses establishing a word as "the Word of God" come by revelation!
If a man walks into a city in Iran or Egypt and says that he is the "Mehdi", how will anyone decide whether it is true?
If anyone walks into New York or Jerusalem and says that he is the "Messiah" returned, how will we know whether to accept him or not?
The first test, of course, is that his doctrine or teaching must not contradict previous revelation. As we saw at the beginning of this chapter, miraculous signs are not enough by themselves. The teachings of a man who claims to be Christ returned to earth cannot contradict the teaching he gave when he came the first time.
Secondly, we would want a confirming sign---a miracle or the fulfillment of previous prophecy---to confirm that the person speaking to us spoke from God.
From this we understand that when Muhammad spoke to the people of Mecca saying that he was a prophet, and the Meccans and the Jews demanded that Muhammad should show them some confirming miracle, it was not just because of hard-hearted unbelief. That may have been true of many of them, but as the Qur'an itself admits, some of the Jews were honorable and feared God. The Jews and others in Mecca were saying, "One witness is not enough. We need a confirming witness from God." They were doing exactly what God has commanded men to do, because Yahweh, the Eternal One, has ruled for our sake that there must be two or more witnesses.
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