‘The word of the LORD came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are prophesying; say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: ‘Hear the word of the LORD!’ Thus says the Lord GOD, Alas for the senseless prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. You have not gone up into the breaches, or repaired a wall for the house of Israel, so that it might stand in battle on the day of the LORD. They have prophesied falsehood and lying divination; they say, ‘Says the LORD’, when the LORD has not sent them, and yet they wait for the fulfilment of their word! Have you not seen a false vision or uttered a lying divination, when you have said, ‘Says the LORD’, even though I did not speak? Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you have uttered falsehood and prophesied lies, I am against you, says the Lord GOD. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations; they shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel; and you shall know that I am the Lord GOD. Because, in truth, because they have misled my people, saying ‘Peace’, when there is no peace; and because, when people build a wall, these prophets smear whitewash on it.’ (Ezekiel 13:1-10 NRSV)
In the Old Testament the people of God were not filled with the Holy Spirit, and therefore they did not have any way of testing what was said by the prophets of the day. Whatever they were told by a prophet they would assume was correct as the prophet would say, ‘Thus says the LORD’ when he prophesied. In those days God called his prophets to be absolutely right, absolutely all of the time, as when God spoke to a prophet they were to speak his actual words. Because this was the nature of Old Testament prophecy God was very harsh on false prophets in the Old Testament.
This was fine as long as prophets were honest and truly spoke when God spoke, but this was not always the case. Some prophets lied, whether it was to fill their bellies or to increase their popularity, or because they themselves were deceived was irrelevant. They lied and spoke ‘out of their own imagination’, rather than speaking God’s word.
What did God do about this? He was ‘against’ those prophets, they would have no inheritance in him. Later on in this chapter we also read how God is against lying prophetesses and well as prophets, God judges both sexes alike, do we share what God has shared with us, or do we share things that he did not say, them attribute those things to him?
What about prophets and prophecy in the New Testament?
In the New Testament things are different. We see fulfilled what Moses wished for, ‘Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!’ (Numbers 11:29 NRSV). God goes beyond that and fills us with his Spirit, ‘As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you.’ (1 John 2:27 NRSV). In the New Testament and now, ‘we prophesy only in part’ (1 Corinthians 18:9 NRSV), prophecy is no longer absolute, which means we must no longer be 100% accurate 100% of the time, but we still should always be responsible when we prophesy and aim to listen to God as accurately as possible.
Under the New Covenant we should never take prophecy for granted, or in any way abuse it. It is a gift from God, and that is true of both the charismatic gift and the ministry gift, the role of prophet in the Old Testament sense does not exist either in the New Testament or today. The main reason for this is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as I said earlier, this means that both the person giving a prophecy, and the person or people receiving the prophecy are both to test what they are hearing. Prophetic people who get things wrong are no longer immediately condemned, but should be given chances to grow, learn and get better at listening, but God will still judge real false prophets today just as harshly, as they lead Christians away from God, and do not confront sin where they see it.
The prophetic word may be completely right, partially right or slightly right or completely wrong. Another thing is the emphasis may be wrong, or a prophetic interpretation may be wrong, or if it is a predictive word it is wrong if it does not happen in the given time frame, unless of course any conditions (either given or implied) are unfulfilled. Another important thing in seeing a prophecy fulfilled is to pray into it and do God calls you to do. Prophecies are not inevitable and will not just be fulfilled without our co-operation.
Lord Jesus, give us discernment to know what you are saying when you speak prophetically, and help us to know what is true and what is false. Help those of us who speak prophetically to say what are saying, not to speak from our own imaginations like the false prophets Ezekiel is talking about here, Amen.