The new issue of Conversation is largely about true and false preaching and prophecy. D A Carson’s comment on Ezekiel 13 is very pertinent:
In almost every generation there are both true voices and false. How can one discern between the two?
The question cannot be comprehensively answered by referring to only one passage. For instance, Deuteronomy 13 provides one framework that should be carefully thought through, but it is not the only one. Here in Ezekiel 13 the matter is cast not so much as a set of points to help the righteous discern between true prophet and false, but as a denunciation of all that is false. In so doing God provides at least a partial profile of false prophets.
(1) False prophets speak out of their own spirit, out of their own imaginations. They may think they have something from the Lord, but they do not. “Their visions are false and their divinations a lie” (13:6). This is not so much a principle that the onlooker can use, as a warning to the false prophets themselves. False prophets may deceive other people; they never deceive God. And it is to God that we will one day have to give an account (13:8-9).
(2) They do not deal with the fundamental issues of sin, corruption, injustice, and covenantal faithlessness. To use the metaphor of a walled city, instead of repairing the “wall” they merely cover it with whitewash, so that it looks sturdy enough to the casual observer even though it is hopelessly compromised. “You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD” (13:5), Ezekiel writes. A good storm strips away the whitewash and discloses the horrible weakness. The false prophets deal in omens and end-times fancies and promises of revival, but they do not declare the holiness of God and the odiousness of sin; they fail to bring people to repentance, faith, and obedience.
(3) They are more interested in auguries, telling personal fortunes, serving as “prophetic” personal hope-spinners, than in conveying the word of the Lord. They are not really serious people—except for their seriousness when it comes to getting paid (13:17-19).
(4) One of the larger effects they have is to discourage the genuine people of God. Too many false voices in a culture and many people become confused, disheartened, disoriented. Instead of maintaining a moral standard that reinforces righteousness, builds character, and encourages godliness, these people pronounce their curses and taboos on people God himself has not condemned, and exonerate the wicked so that they do not turn from their evil ways and so save their lives (13:20-23).
Where in our culture do these characteristics thrive? Where do they thrive in the professing church?