13 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘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. (Dt. 13:1-3)
There are two tests in Deuteronomy for a false prophet. The second one is in Deuteronomy 18:22, which we will get to in a couple of days. It’s the easy one:
22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
A prophet says something will happen; it doesn’t. Therefore he’s not from God. Problem solved.
But the first test, the one we get to today, is a little harder. A prophet speaks, and it does come true. And his words are accompanied with signs and wonders that amaze the people. HOWEVER, if the so-called prophet follows this up by enticing the people to go after other gods, then he also is a false prophet, even if what he said comes to pass.
Deuteronomy 13:3 goes on to say that God could allow this in order to test the people, to know whether they loved the Lord with all their hearts and souls.
This gives us a rare opportunity to understand the Pharisees’ mindset in the New Testament, at least a little. I’ve sometimes wondered how the Pharisees could still reject Jesus, even when He performed so many miracles in front of them. But in their minds, Jesus was leading the people away from Yahweh, and therefore the Pharisees were justified in putting Him to death. You really see this in the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda in John 5. Even after healing a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years,
18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18)
Of course, Jesus wasn’t enticing the people to go after other gods, and if the Pharisees were really studying the Scriptures, instead of fixating on all the man-made traditions they had developed to ensure people kept the law, they would have known this. This is why Jesus will say to them a few verses later in this same passage,
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39-40)
So there’s a reason Deuteronomy insists that we write God’s words on our hearts. Why we talk about them when we lie down and when we rise up. Why we inscribe them on our doorposts and bind them to our hands and tie them to our foreheads (See Day 072: Taking God at His Word). God’s word is really the only thing that will help us discern whether a prophet is speaking truth. It can’t be merely external: “He performed a miracle! His prophecy came true! He must be from God!” No. You have to internalize God’s Word. You have to know it so well that when a leader says something that contradicts it, alarm bells will go off immediately, regardless of how flashy or inspiring or motivational that leader is.
Beloved, know God’s Word! Pragmatism is a false idol. A thing will never be true just because it “works.” But a Biblical teaching will always work because it is true.