2 Kings 3:13-20
13 And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother.” But the king of Israel said to him, “No; it is the Lord who has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” 14 And Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would neither look at you nor see you. 15 But now bring me a musician.” And when the musician played, the hand of the Lord came upon him. 16 And he said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’ 17 For thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, but that streambed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your livestock, and your animals.’ 18 This is a light thing in the sight of the Lord. He will also give the Moabites into your hand, 19 and you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree and stop up all springs of water and ruin every good piece of land with stones.” 20 The next morning, about the time of offering the sacrifice, behold, water came from the direction of Edom, till the country was filled with water.
This is week two of The Hidden Prophets which we actually began about three weeks ago. And, if you missed that first message, we set the stage for studying the minor prophets by examining the timeline of Israel in the Old Testament and I would encourage you to go back and check it out. There are twelve minor prophets, and starting next week, we’ll be looking at them in chronological order, beginning with the prophet Jonah. Today, though, I want to quickly recap a high level overview of the Biblical timeline and then we are going to look at the nature of the prophets and prophecy and consider its implications for today.
Just as a refresher, we can divide the era of the minor prophets into three basic sections based on the social political status of the Hebrew people and the prominent outside aggressor at the time. The minor prophets span a period of more than three centuries (770-430 BC). And these were tumultuous times. Israel had gone from a golden age in terms of wealth and political peace under David and Solomon, to a time of division under Solomon’s son Rehoboam. The nation divides in two with most of the tribes forming a Northern kingdom of Israel and the tribe of Judah forming a Southern Kingdom of Judah. This is known as the era of the Divided Kingdom and during this time the primary opponent or aggressor was Assyria. We’ll see this next week with Jonah who is sent to the Assyrian capital city of Nineveh. Eventually, though, the Northern kingdom of Israel falls to the Assyrians and is completely destroyed, and the tribes that made it up are scattered. This happened in 722 BC.
Judah is also conquered, but not until over a hundred years later (598 BC). This time, by the Babylonians led by the famous King Nebuchadnezzar. Jerusalem along with its glorious Temple of Solomon is destroyed. This time, though, rather than the tribes being scattered to the wind, the people are carried away in exile to Babylon. And, rather than being treated like prisoners or slaves, they are able to live a somewhat normal life even though they are essentially kidnap victims. We call this the era of exile.
Less than 100 years later in 539 BC, the Persians conquer the Babylonians and eventually begin to allow the people of Judah to return and rebuild their land. They reconstruct Jerusalem and build a new temple. But, Israel is a shell of its former self. Most of the tribes are disbursed. Other pagan tribes have taken up residence in the land. The city and temple that are rebuilt are mere shadows of their former selves, and the land is never really solely Israel’s again.
Our text today picks up during the era of the Divided Kingdom. At this time a man named Jehoshaphat is king over Judah and a man named Jehoram is king over Israel. And, this is a unique moment. An ally of Israel, the land of Moab has rebelled by refusing to pay taxes to Jehoram. So, Jehoram enlists the help of Jehoshaphat and also another king from the land of Edom. And, they devise a plan to surprise Moab by marching their armies a great distance around the territory so that they can essentially come in the back door of Moab. However, this winds up being a terrible plan. The distance is great and they get out in the wilderness and there is no water. So, the armies and the animals that came along are literally dying of thirst.
10 Then the king of Israel said, “Alas! The Lord has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” 11 And Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?” Then one of the king of Israel’s servants answered, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.” 12 And Jehoshaphat said, “The word of the Lord is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.
So, these kings get into a bind and realize that they need God’s help…so what do they do? Do they get down on their knees and pray for deliverance? No, they look for a prophet. And, they find the prophet Elisha.
So, who are the prophets and what is it exactly that they do? Well, in the most basic terms, a prophet is someone chosen and sent by God to declare his word. And, normally, God’s message through the prophets is one of three things: blessing, warning or curse. Prophets are not fortune tellers or magicians, even though people try to treat them in this way. They cannot see the future unless God gives them insight. They are primarily a mouthpiece to declare God’s word to the people. And, in the story of Israel, most of the prophets were not celebrated or even appreciated in their day…because they were often bringing bad news. So, many of the prophets have very hard lives. And, in some cases, such as the case of Hosea who we will look at in a few weeks, God wants their lives to be a living, visible metaphor for the sin of Israel, and it is not pretty.
The prophet that we are perhaps most familiar with in the Old Testament is actually someone who we probably don’t think of as a prophet, and that is Moses. But, Moses was most certainly a prophet. Called and sent by God to declare God’s word and accomplish God’s purposes. Moses is the one who goes on the mountain and receives the law of God and declares it to the people. Moses is the one who goes before the Lord to intercede for the people when they sin greatly. Moses is the middle man. God does not speak directly to the people of Israel, but instead, he speaks to Moses and then Moses declares God’s word. This is the basic framework of a prophet.
In ancient Israel, there was a basic three-fold framework. You had kings who ruled and engaged militarily. You had priests whose primary task was to facilitate the sacrificial system of temple worship. And you had prophets who declared the word of the Lord. So, the priests of the Old Testament were not the preachers…that was more the realm of a prophet. So, in our text today, as these three kings find themselves in dire straits, they don’t call a priest to inquire of the Lord, they call a prophet.
Now, Elisha was a fascinating guy. He was a prophet of the land of the Northern Kingdom, so his king was Jehoram, but he was not a fan of Jehoram because Jehoram did not honor the Lord, hence the exchange at the beginning of our text:
13 And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother.” But the king of Israel said to him, “No; it is the Lord who has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” 14 And Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would neither look at you nor see you.
Elisha really only agrees to help Jehoram because of Jehoshaphat who is a good king. Elisha calls for a musician to play, and he then says the lines that proceed any true prophecy… “thus says the Lord.”And here is his prophecy or “oracle.”
16 And he said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’ 17 For thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, but that streambed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your livestock, and your animals.’ 18 This is a light thing in the sight of the Lord. He will also give the Moabites into your hand, 19 and you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree and stop up all springs of water and ruin every good piece of land with stones.”
So, this is basically what a prophet does. He is sent by the Lord to deliver a message. Now, in this instance, the message was a blessing. God is going to give you water and you will prevail in battle. But often, as will be the case for many of the minor prophets, the message is a warning or curse because of the people’s sin.
Now, chances are, if you have gone to a church that talks about prophecies at all, they were probably talking about them in one or two contexts…either prophecies were about Jesus, also known as Messianic prophecies, of which there are hundreds in the Old Testament. Or, they were talking about the end of time, also known as eschatological prophecies, which are found in the book of Revelation. But, a great bulk of the prophecy we see in the Old Testament had to do with Israel or certain people in Israel and it had to do with the then-contemporary world. Most prophecies were not super far off in scope. For example, King David has an affair with Bathsheba. She becomes pregnant and David has her husband killed so that he can have her all to himself. As you can imagine, this does not please the Lord, so he sends the prophet Nathan to declare a word of curse to David, that the child will not live. And, this is what comes to pass. And, according to Deuteronomy 18, that is how you know a prophet is real.
18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”
21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 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.
And this is what we’ll see throughout the minor prophets. We’ll see men who receive words from the Lord and thus have to declare them to the people…even when this means great hardship for them.
So, what about today? Are there still prophets today? And to that I would say yes and no. To begin, we have to realize that a number of things have changed between the time of ancient Israel and today.
Firstly, in a broad sense the Old Testament roles of prophet, priest and king have been subsumed in the person of Jesus Christ. Meaning, Jesus is the perfect embodiment of all of these roles. He is clearly our king who has conquered sin and death. He is, according to Hebrews, our great high priest who is interceding on our behalf. And, he is certainly the one who comes declaring the perfect word of the Lord. So, Jesus is the ultimate prophet, and I believe that we should primarily look to him as such.
Secondly, we have the word of the Lord in the form of the Scriptures, and we believe that this word is complete. God has not left anything out. He didn’t forget a couple of chapters. In this sense, we are not waiting for God to deliver a word to us. We have Jesus and we have the Scriptures. Here’s how Peter puts it:
(2 Peter 1)
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
So, in case you missed it, Peter says that because of Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness.
Also, John, the writer of Revelation, says this: (1 John 4)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
So, this is the place we find ourselves in today. We have everything we need for life and godliness through Christ as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and we know that there are many people who would claim to be prophets and speak for God but who are actually false prophets. The way you recognize them is the same way you’ve always recognized them, through their fruit.
With all that said, there are prophets who come after the time of Jesus in the New Testament. God sends Ananias to Paul when he is struck with blindness. We see the prophet Agabus in Acts 11 who predicted a famine that came to pass. John writes the prophetic book of Revelation. Also, the apostle Paul clearly says in Ephesians 4 that the gift of prophecy is necessary for the building up of the body of Christ. But, remember, that prophecy is primarily about declaring the word of the Lord…not about telling the future. It is about truth-telling.
But, because we have the word of the Lord revealed through Christ and the Scriptures…in a sense when anyone shares the gospel, he or she is being prophetic. And, even though prophecy isn’t primarily about telling the future, because of Christ and the Scriptures, we know what the future holds. That Christ will return and bring his Kingdom in its fullness.
There are those who believe that Biblical prophecy has now ceased. That it existed for a short period in the New Testament as the church was being developed and now it has ended. While I am not willing to go that far, I do think God still speaks through people, I also think that what he is primarily speaking through people is already revealed in his Word. The New Testament calls us to take an extremely cautious and skeptical posture when it comes to prophecy because there are so many false prophets. Beware of those who posture themselves as pseudo-Christian fortune-tellers…which is the posture of many televangelists these days. They posture themselves as prophets for profit. Send me your money because I make vague random statements that could be true all the time. We must hold any so-called prophecy up to the lens of Scripture and the lens of the gospel first. And, then, if it passes that test, the Bible tells us to look for it to be fulfilled before we actually accept it as true.
I’m going to leave you today with some false prophecy, so that hopefully you can notice the difference. This is from Kenneth Copeland, a pretty well known televangelist. He says that this was “downloaded into him” as he was riding on an airplane.
2020 will be a year of great change. Wonderful and magnificent changes in the kingdom of God on the earth. Changes that will come because of insights, ideas and concepts directly from Jesus to His Church by His mighty Spirit. Glorious concepts of how His laws work; the laws governing increase and financial prosperity; the laws of the Spirit that release miracles and divine healings and manifestations of His Almighty power on the earth. New concepts of His love; His very person; for He is love. Insights into the true power and strength of His joy.
It will be days of political change, great victories and great defeats. For the spiritual enemies of God and His people shall be crushed—spirits, not flesh and blood. But there are those on both sides of the political divide who refuse to listen to The LORD Advocate General of the Church. Their dreams shall be dashed, their desires shall be wounded, and they will be removed from their offices and replaced, some by the ballot, some by tragedy, and some who in despair will quit and go do something else.
Here’s what I want you to realize. This is not Biblical prophecy. This is no different from a Las Vegas mentalist with a crystal ball who says I sense that you lost someone recently…and you say…well, my grandmother died five years ago, and they say…that’s it! These are extremely vague predictive statements that you could argue are true in any year. “2020 will be days of political change,” hmmm…I wonder if he knew there was going to be an election in 2020. There will be people on both sides of the political spectrum who don’t listen to the Lord…yep. True all the time. There will be great victories and great defeats.
Imagine if the three kings dying of thirst in the wilderness had come to Elisha and Elisha said, “well, thus says the Lord, you are going to go into battle tomorrow and some people are going to win and some people are going to lose. Some people are going to live and some people are going to die. And, because of this battle, there will be some political changes in the land.” He would have told them something that they already knew. It would not have been a prophecy. That’s because prophecy, although at times mysterious and symbolic, deals in specificity. Elisha said…you will get water and you will prevail in battle. Nathan told David…you did a wicked thing in the site of the Lord…and your child will die. Agabus said a famine is coming and it did. If Kenneth Copeland had said, “In 2020, there will be a worldwide pandemic and many thousands of people will die” then maybe my ears might perk up. Please don’t be fooled by this.
- Watch out for self-proclaimed prophets who seem to be in the business of prophecy. I’ll share my secret message with you and you send me money. Kenneth Copeland, by the way, is currently worth an estimated 300 million dollars.
- Watch out for “prophecy” that has nothing to do with Christ or the message of the gospel.
If a prophet says, “the Lord says repent,” it is not prophecy. He’s already told us all of that in the Bible. The message of the New Testament is don’t be fooled. If someone truly has a word from the Lord, it should be approached with great humility.
For the minor prophets, though, sin is primarily what is in view. A people have strayed far from the will of God and the worship of God, and God in his grace and mercy sends the prophets to warn the people of what will happen if they don’t repent. And praise God that he has done the same thing for us through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our King. Our Great High Priest. Our true and faithful prophet.