Prophecies have become one of the most visible features of church activities in these days as many Christians patronize the services of prophets who attempt to tell what would be happening in the future.
There are those (prophets) who also go to the extent of trying to predict elections and the fate of nations and personalities through prophecies they claim they receive from God. When such prophecies come to past, such prophets are hailed as knowing the oracles of God whilst those whose prophecies fail try to assign reasons or are considered false prophets.
So, how do we know who a true or false prophet is? Bible says in Deuteronomy 18: 21-22: ‘You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?2 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, so do not be alarmed.”
This means to know a good prophecy or prophet, one has to wait till what he prophesies comes to pass and the consistency of a person’s prophecies determines whether the person is truly speaking the word of God or saying things from his own mind.
By inference, prophecies have to go through some time test to be known and in the situation where the prophecy is about a very distant future, many would not live to determine how true or otherwise it is.
A prophecy is God’s word about the future of a person(s), nation(s) or a people. It could also be a revelation of what lies ahead but not necessarily God’s intention and the motive is to save man from disaster or trouble. Job 33:15-18 “ In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn them from wrongdoing and keep them from pride, to preserve them from the pit, their lives from perishing by the sword.”
Therefore, prophecies could be warnings that call on men to take some actions to forestall disasters or problems ahead. They are a revelation of the spiritual realms where two spirits-good and evil- are constantly working to determine man’s fate.
For that reason, there are two major types of prophecies that can be identified in the Bible-the one that can be referred to as “iron-clad” that must surely come to pass, no matter what and the ‘manageable ones’ that are subject to human (in)action.
God told Abraham that his descendants were going to be slaves in a strange land for 400 years and later return to Canaan and He made it clear that it would surely come to pass. Genesis 15: 13- “Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.”
This is an ‘iron-clad’ prophecy that can never fail no matter what men do and God emphasized on it. The prophecy happened even though there were few delays due to human (in)action.
The prophecy about Jesus’ birth and death, among others, is another type of ‘iron-clad’ prophecies that were beyond human manipulations even though many attempts were made on His life as a child and adult, Jesus fulfilled all those prophecies.
On the other hand there is a type of prophecies that are ‘manageable.’ conditional or subject to human involvement and for that matter could be stopped or disrupted if the right/wrong things are done.
There was a time when Hezekiah reversed a prophecy from Isaiah through prayer. 2 Kings 20:1-6 “In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover. Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, Remember, LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’”
We see human action (prayer) changing the fate of Hezekiah within a very short time after the prophecy was spoken to him.
God loves His children so much that He always wants the best for them even though He takes them through some tough times at times. He wouldn’t plan evil except when the ‘evil’ is for a better end. Jeremiah 29:11 “11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Prophecies are not to put fear in God’s people, no matter how they come, but to direct them back to God and fulfill God’s plan for their lives. 1 Corinthians 14: 3 spells out the purpose of prophecy. “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.”
Whatever the prophecy, it must come to fulfill the Scriptures and that is to strengthen but not weaken, to encourage but not discourage and comfort, but not dampen the spirit of the hearers.
It must take men from sin to holiness and draw them closer to God and His purpose for them. When prophecy departs from these pillars, then there could be something wrong.