” The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: To whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month. Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. ¶But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. ”
– Jeremiah 1:1-7
One of the most common trends I’ve seen in the last 15 years is an insistence by those who teach on the prophetic that prophecy and prophesying are something to be learned by trial and error. Yet many of these same prophets will use Jeremiah chapter 1 as a classic example of the call of a prophet. Somehow, no one notices that God never tells Jeremiah ‘You will have to try to prophesy,’ and not once does he ever tell the prophet that error is in any way part of the process.
The most common arguments used against what I’ve just said are that budding prophets will make mistakes, or that ‘nobody’s perfect,’ or that New Testament prophets are not supposed to be 100% accurate. For the last of these arguments, popular prophetic teachers will refer to this passage:
And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judæa a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:10-12)
It is usually claimed that the prophecy was ‘inaccurate’ because the believers asked Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Had the prophecy been truly ‘accurate,’ the argument goes, then the people would have just accepted Paul’s fate. This rationalization is severely flawed, because one cannot judge the accuracy of a prophecy by the reaction of the people. To suggest that Agabus was somehow remiss as a prophet because people who loved Paul were grieved at knowing that he was going to be afflicted is absurd. By this kind of logic, we would have to entirely dismiss Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and all the other Biblical prophets whose prophetic messages received very negative reactions from the people. In fact, Christ himself declared:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. (Matthew 23:37)
Even Christ’s prophecies were not reacted to well at times, and yet they were true and complete, or shall we accuse even the Son of God of failure when scripture attests that he was tried and found faithful in every way? (Hebrews 4:15) Thus we can see that error, even that of inaccuracy, is not part of genuine prophecy. In fact, the Bible establishes that the opposite of truth is not lies, but error! (1 John 4:1-6) Why? Because not everything which is untrue is stated as a deliberate lie. Some untruths are unintentional, and yet still wrong. If we understand the relationship between truth and error as being opposites, then we must also understand that if we are going by ‘trial and error,’ there is a very real danger of unwittingly giving way to the spirit of error. Unfortunately, the spirit of error is very common in prophetic ministry, and stories of lives shipwrecked in faith because of the erroneous words being passed off as ‘the word of the Lord,’ and the saints’ consequent inability to discern false prophetic utterance, presumption, and outright error for what they are.
Furthermore, in the case of every Biblical prophet, we can never find even one instance in which they had to try to prophesy or take a guess. Either God spoke or he didn’t. Would you want a brain surgeon to operate on you by trial and error? Obviously not! Then why would we want to prophesy by trial and error? This provokes a question:
Does the ‘new and better covenant’ of the New Testament provide for a less reliable means of hearing from God than the Old?
If that seems to you an absurd question, then I believe I’ve made my point. An unfortunate truth of today’s world of prophetic ministry and teaching on it is that like the pharisees of old, there are still many blocking the way to the truth, refusing to enter in themselves. The truth is that prophecy need not be a difficult subject. It may take years for a prophet to mature and learn not to interpret a vision according to his own unerstanding, for example, but it need not take years to learn that genuine prophecy occurs when God reveals something to someone and then specifically directs them to share it with someone else. God speaks to his people when he wants to, there is no need to look a photo, or look around the room for an object as a ‘starting point.’ Nor does a prophet need to ‘step out in faith’ to prophesy. There is no example of such a thing in scripture, because when God has spoken, he has spoken! There are examples of prophets who sought God for answers, but they didn’t not look to images or objects for inspiration. Yes, God can use people, places and things around us to reveal something to us, but this never means we are to look around trying to ‘work it up.’ Jeremiah, for example, did not have to exercise any faith to receive a word or vision from God. He only had to use faith in dealing with his fear of the people, and to withstand the consequences of his obedience when the word of the Lord was not well-received. Other Biblical prophets followed the same pattern: God spoke to them, revealed things to them, gave them visions, or even sent angels to speak to them, but not once did any of them ever have to try.
We have a BETTER covenant than the Old Testament prophets, so shall we then just seek God earnestly and trust that he will communicate with us when he wants to?