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Lesson 9: The Integrity of the Prophetic Gift *

Introduction: After last week's study ended with one prophet being eaten by a lion because the other prophet lied, you may wonder why we are studying the integrity of the prophetic gift. Can true prophets lie, cheat and steal? What do you remember about the Old Testament patriarchs: did they lie, cheat and steal? Obviously, the patriarchs were not perfect. Are prophets to do better? If the prophets don't do better, should we strike them off our "true prophet" list? Let's jump into our study and see what the Bible says about the integrity of the prophets!

  1. Another Source?

    1. Read Jeremiah 42:1-3. What are the people asking of Jeremiah? (The survivors of the war with Babylon want Jeremiah to go to God and find out what they should do and where they should go.)

    2. Read Jeremiah 42:4-5. What does Jeremiah promise to do and what do the people promise in return? (Jeremiah promises to tell them everything God tells him (the whole truth) and they promise to obey what God says.)

    3. Read Jeremiah 42:7-11. What instruction does God give to Jeremiah? (The people should stay where they are and God will protect them from the Babylonians.)

    4. Read Jeremiah 42:19-21. How did the people make a "fatal mistake" when they asked Jeremiah to inquire of God? Isn't this a life or death situation? (Jeremiah believes the people did not really want to hear what God had to say. Apparently, their hearts were set on fleeing to Egypt.)

    5. Read Jeremiah 43:1-3. What did the "arrogant men" accuse Jeremiah of doing? (Not telling the truth.)

      1. Who is this Baruch, and why should they think Jeremiah would be inclined to lie about his source of information? (Read Jeremiah 36:4-6. Baruch was Jeremiah's young helper. He wrote down what Jeremiah dictated and he sometimes publicly read the messages from God.)

        1. Our lesson is about the integrity of the prophetic gift, but should we be just as concerned about the integrity of the consumers of the prophet gift?

      2. Is there any sense to the charges made against Jeremiah? (The people who do not want to follow God's instructions are charging that the young man is influencing Jeremiah and the words are not really from God.)

    6. Read Jeremiah 23:30-32. According to these verses, is it wrong for a prophet to copy the words of someone else?

      1. Is the problem taking the words from other people or is it attributing the words of someone else to God? (If you look at the entire statement, the problem is not so much the source (did the prophet steal?) as the false attribution (this came from God, not somewhere else). This is the problem Jeremiah faced when the people accused him of being influenced by Baruch.)

    7. Assume in modern days someone claims to be a prophet and you find that prophet has copied from the writings of others. Would that be a problem?

      1. We read this a couple of weeks ago, but let's look again at Luke 1:1-3. Luke tells us that he is using other human sources. Is that a problem? (No. He discloses his source.)

      2. The United States has had copyright laws since 1790, and England had them (the Statue of Anne) before that. Assume Luke were limited by one of these copyright laws, could he do what he did?

        1. Does the question I just asked miss the real issue? (Yes. The readers of Luke and Jeremiah's listeners were not worried about property rights, they were worried about truth. Is all-knowing God speaking? Or, is that Babylonian-loving Baruch speaking?)

        2. Last week, did the young prophet care whether the old prophet made up his lies or got them from his own sons? (No! The issue that got him killed was whether they were from God.)

        3. In Jeremiah 23:30, did God care if the false prophets stole each others words, or did He care whether they attributed false words to Him? (Again, the attribution is the problem.)

    8. Let's get back to the original question: What should you do if a prophet copied extensively from other sources, or you thought the prophet might have copied extensively from other sources? (Although it is not helpful to think your prophet is a thief (for example, 2 Samuel 12:1-9) the real issue is the constant issue we face with prophets - is this message from God? That gets us back to the old test: does this person accept Jesus as God and lead followers to a life in accord with the Bible?)

    9. Let's go back to Jeremiah, the arrogant men and Baruch. If you could be transported back in time to hear this debate, and you did not know any of the parties, would you have any clue as to who was giving God's message? (Yes. The message of Jeremiah was to trust in God for protection. The message of the arrogant men was to trust in Egypt for protection.)

      1. Did the young prophet of last week have any clues about the old prophet lying? (Yes. He was being asked to trust the integrity of the old prophet as opposed to what he knew personally from God.)

  2. Oops, Wrong Message!

    1. Read 2 Samuel 7:1-3. What do you think King David has in mind?

      1. Why didn't he have that in mind before he built his palace?

      2. How would you understand the words of Nathan? (God is leading David, so David should do what he thinks best about improving the ark's circumstances.)

    2. Read 2 Samuel 7:4-7. What tone of voice do you think God is using? God makes this personal, as if He were personally living in a tent. Is God unhappy about His living quarters?

      1. What does this tell us about David building his palace before he built a temple?

    3. Read 2 Samuel 7:12-13. What does this teach us about trusting the word of Nathan? What does it teach us about prophetic integrity? (Nathan changes his opinion about who should build the temple. Not everything a prophet says is inspired by God. Unless the prophet says the message is from God, we should not assume it is from God.)

  3. Oops, Wrong Impulse!

    1. Read 1 Samuel 16:1. What mission has been given to Samuel? (To anoint the next king of Israel. The next king would be one of Jesse's sons.)

    2. Read 1 Samuel 16:5-6. Who did Samuel think would be the next king? (Jesse's oldest son, Eliab.)

    3. Read 1 Samuel 16:7. What does this teach us about the natural impulses of a prophet? (That they are like those of other people.)

      1. What lesson do we learn about the integrity of prophets from this story? (We need to be sure that the prophet does not confuse his impulses with God's message. The natural inclination of a prophet may be just as "human" as the next person.)

    4. Oops, Look Again

      1. Read Daniel 8:27. What do we do when a prophet does not understand the vision? (If the prophet is not certain what the message from God means, the prophet should, like Daniel, declare that.)

      2. Read 1 Peter 1:10-12. What does this suggest about the clarity of God's messages to His prophets? (God does not explain all spiritual matters to a prophet. The prophet is to give God's message, but there may be things beyond God's message that the prophet has to research from the Bible.)

    5. We have seen that prophets can give wrong advice, have the wrong impulses, not understand God's message, or be unclear about spiritual matters surrounding the message. The question for us is whether the prophet's message is from God. How should we react if a prophet says, "This is what God declares" and then says something that is wrong? (Read again Jeremiah 23:31. If a prophet says a statement is from God, and the statement really reflects the prophet's own views or impulses, then God is "against" that person. If the prophet is not clear on the source of the message, the prophet should say that.)

    6. Friend, prophets are like other followers of God, they do not always have the right impulses, and they do not always have the best advice. However, when they say they are speaking for God, they had better be leading people towards God and be right. To be safe, test for this integrity!

  4. Next week: The Messages of the Prophets.
* Copr. 2009, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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