Ezekiel 13:1-9 (ESV)
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ 3 Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! 4 Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. 5 You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lord. 6 They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word. 7 Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?”
8 Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord God. 9 My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give 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.
When God gives us a clear warning, we should pay attention. When God speaks strongly against a religious practice, we had better take note. When God declares that he will judge a certain practice, we had better be sure that we are not taking part in said practice. When God pronounces woe on a people, we had better be sure not to be those people.
In Ezekiel 13, God has some very strong words for people who claim to have a word from him but who in fact have no such word. During the days of Ezekiel, there were people who were claiming to have visions, prophecies, and other such revelations from God. They were attempting either to encourage the people, to calm fears, or to lead the people toward a certain action. And God says to those people that he is very much against them, as they are speaking words which they claim are his but which are not.
Nothing here is a surprise. Throughout the Old Testament, God has always had very strong things to say against false prophets. God has decreed the harshest of punishments for those who would claim that God has said something that God did not say. This is obviously because the issue of divine revelation is extremely important. If we allow the revelation of God to be corrupted with man-made ideas, we soon have no confidence of anything that God has really said.
How, then, ought we to consider these words today? God is still jealous to guard his revelation. He will not approve people speaking as if from him when he has not spoken. To say that God has said something that God has not said is as much an offense today as it was millennia ago.
So, how then do we know what God has said? There is only one place where God has told us that he has spoken with certainty: the word of God. God has told us that Scripture is breathed out by him and profitable to all who would follow him (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). God has declared that the writings of the prophets were not created by the prophets themselves, but instead are the result of men speaking from God carried along by the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Peter 1:19-21). The Bible is sure. In fact, the Bible is even more sure than our personal experiences—the very point Peter is making in 2 Peter 1:16-21.
But we all still desire to discern the present will of God for our lives. Many people today still believe that, through prayer or modern prophecy, tongues and interpretations, visions or dreams, that God is still actively speaking new words of revelation to believers who are spiritual enough to listen.
What do we do with those who claim to have a new “word” from the Lord? I would urge caution in the strongest way. It is so very tempting to believe that we have access to a new and higher level of spiritual communication with God than those before us. Obviously the Colossians faced a group of leaders who claimed a spiritual knowledge that would lead the people to fullness in their Christian lives. Yet, in reality, God has constantly and repeatedly called his people to rest in his perfect and holy word, and to value that word above any vision or personal experience.
Notice again how strongly God speaks against a person saying, “Declares the Lord,” when God has not sent such a person. God is against such people. Yet, in modern faith circles, we allow people to say “God told me,” often without batting an eye. Thankfully, most of these experiences are vague impressions. Also, often, these experiences are declarations of things which God has already commanded in Scripture. But, I wonder if we are really careful enough to test the claims of supposed prophets who would claim an intimate, personal, novel word from the Lord?
At this point, I need to refrain from going on to naming books and studies which have led modern Christians to believe that new words of knowledge and prophecy are still available for the spiritually sensitive enough to claim them. I will also say that I certainly believe that God, by his Holy Spirit, does lead his people into his desires for them. Prayer matters. Yielding to the Spirit matters.
What I will close with, however, is that the word is what is solid. If you want to hear the voice of God, find it in Scripture. The only way that I can say to you, “Declares the Lord,” is if that word is the word, the Bible, rightly handled, interpreted, and applied. And, I will urge us all to be extremely concerned when somebody tells us, “Declares the Lord,” when this comes from somewhere other than a faithful and diligent study of Scripture.