The nation of Israel was blessed to have faithful prophets of Jehovah proclaim His message to them. At the same time, however, God’s people always faced the potential of having false prophets arise to lead them astray. Peter sets forth this historical fact about Israel during the Old Testament era: “But there were also false prophets among the people . . .” (2 Peter 2:1).
What instructions did the Lord give to Israel about how to deal with false prophets? Read the answer from Deuteronomy 13:1-5:
(1) If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, (2) and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’ – which you have not known – ‘and let us serve them,’ (3) you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (4) You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. (5) But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.
God Himself referred to such a person as “a prophet” (13:1,3); the context makes it plain that such people were not true messengers from Jehovah.
The Lord’s appeal – Do not heed the message of the false prophets. God’s clear charge was “you shall not listen to the words of that prophet” (13:3). In order to carry out that command, what would the Israelites need? First, they must be able to recognize a false message when they heard it. That required, of course, that they be familiar with God’s truth in order to discern what message was different from it. Second, in order not to be pulled away by false prophets, they must have a strong conviction – they must be committed to following the way of Jehovah. Knowledge of what God says is essential, but knowledge without conviction is insufficient.
The Lord’s test – God tested Israel in the wilderness by the trials that they faced (8:1,2). He also tested His people via false prophets. It is written, “You shall not listen to the words of that prophet . . . God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (13:3). Those that love God comply with His commands (6:3-5). Those that follow false prophets are lacking something. What is it? They do not have a heart in which they love God with all of their being. For those who think that modern-day false teachers and their followers “are such loving people” that “really love the Lord,” we recommend that they read Deuteronomy 13:3. Why? Because that verse makes it plain that those who follow (and stay with) false messages do not love the Lord. You may not like that conclusion, but remember, the Lord is the One that said His people’s response to false prophets showed whether or not they loved Him with all of their heart and soul.
The Lord’s jealousy – He will not share with anything or anyone else the reverence and devotion that He alone deserves. Going after “other gods” is the way of disaster (13:2). Jehovah wants us to walk after His ways, fear Him, keep His commands, obey His voice, serve Him, and hold fast to Him (13:4). What does the message of false prophets do? Either directly, or indirectly, their message turns people away from the living God – “he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God” (13:5). Those who downplay the danger of false messengers do so to their own soul’s peril! Is it any wonder that the Christ told His disciples to beware of false prophets?! (Matthew 7:15).
The Lord’s prescribed punishment for false prophets – False prophets were to be put to death. That is correct. Read it again: “But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death” (13:5).
Does this truth not show us how serious it is in God’s sight to proclaim a false religious message?!
The Lord’s appraisal of false prophets – God called them “evil” (13:5). They may have some appealing traits, and they may take part in activities that in some manner benefit other humans, but God’s final analysis of them is that they are evil. Evil people will be raised to the resurrection of condemnation. Jesus said so (John 5:28,29).
The Lord’s answers to a frequently-asked question – “What good does capital punishment do?” In Deuteronomy 13, we find two of God’s answers to that inquiry. First, putting to death the evildoer (as in the case of a false prophet) would “put away the evil” that was among them (13:5). Second, “So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you” (13:11). That is, capital punishment can be a deterrent to crime.
Here are three final observations. First, God really cared about the spiritual welfare of Israel. That is why He spoke such strict words about false prophets. Second, no false prophet has ever helped even one human serve God faithfully. Third, God’s people must have the courage to rise up and stand against false prophets and their destructive message.
— Roger D. Campbell