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Welcome to Bible Fiber, where we are encountering the textures and shades of the biblical tapestry through twelve Minor Prophets, two reformers, and one exile. I am Shelley Neese, president of The Jerusalem Connection, a Christian organization devoted to sharing the story of the people of Israel, both ancient and modern. Before I start, I want to thank our good friends Paul and Arlene Samuels for sponsoring today’s episode. Paul and Arlene are the authors of Mental Health Meltdown: Illuminating the Voices of Bipolar and other Mental Illnesses. Their book is coming out this summer.

This week we are studying Ezekiel 13. At the end of Chapter 12, last week, we discovered Ezekiel had resisters among his peers in Tel Abib. They rejected him as a doomsayer and doubted if his prophecies would materialize (12:28). In the next two chapters, we discover Ezekiel was not only up against cynics dismissive of his prophecies. He also faced counterfeit prophets who actively contradicted him with oracles of their own (12:11-14:11). While Ezekiel pronounced the coming judgment, they spoke of the coming deliverance. He preached repentance, and they encouraged patience.

To all those guilty of propagating falsehoods, God had a strongly worded dispatch: “Alas for the senseless prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing” (13:3).

History of false prophets

According to the laws of Moses, the covenant people could not engage in occult practices (Deut. 18:10-11). 18:10-11). They were to execute any diviners, sorcerers, or false prophets spreading lies in the community (Ex. 22:18). Yet, the biblical narrative reveals that Israel did not punish false prophecy as instructed. In Kings and Chronicles, Israel’s leaders were far too often tempted to go outside the Israelite faith in search of supernatural guidance. For example, after King Saul supposedly expelled all the spiritists from Israel, he hypocritically consulted the witch of Endor to conjure the spirit of Saul (1 Sam. 28). King Manasseh consulted mediums, practiced divination, and even sacrificed his own son as part of the occult (2 Kings 21:6). King Ahab and Queen Jezebel endorsed the prophets of Baal over the prophets of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:19-20). (Thank goodness for Elijah’s challenge to the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, which proved Ahab and Jezebel were betting on the wrong pony.)

Starting in the eighth century BCE, a crucial period in the history of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, false prophets multiplied alongside the amplification of true prophets. The true prophets warned that if the Kingdom of Israel did not engage in dramatic covenant renewal and revival, it faced obliteration. The false prophets approved of the status quo. As the people endured internal fights over the throne and external threats from Assyria, the Israelites had to choose between the true prophets and self-appointed prophets.

What all the false prophets had in common was their immediate message of reassurance. According to them, Jerusalem was going to be fine, and nothing would come of the foreign threats. The prophet Micah accused the diviners of lying to the people to console them (Mic. 3:7). The prophet Isaiah said the people preferred the pleasant and soothing messages of the false prophets, even if they were illusory (Isa. 30:10). The false prophets appealed to the community’s wealth and appetite, as opposed to petitioning their conscience.

In the sixth century BCE, right before the fall of Jerusalem, the masters of deception preyed on the vulnerable Judahites, promising Jerusalem was impenetrable. During Jeremiah’s decades-long ministry, he confronted many a counterfeit prophet. While the Babylonian threat grew stronger, the false prophets provided deceptive messages that attempted to nullify Jeremiah’s warnings. Jeremiah’s warnings proved right when he stated that the lies of the false prophets would only result in the nation’s defeat and exile (Jer. 27:10). While Jeremiah confronted the false prophets in Jerusalem, the job of confronting the deceivers in exile fell to Ezekiel.

According to Ezekiel’s narrative, the initial waves of deportations from Jerusalem to Babylon must have included imposter prophets. Even in exile, they continued to offer false hope that they were on the cusp of returning to a secure Jerusalem.

Three metaphors

In a sarcastic tone, Ezekiel ridiculed the origins of the prophets’ oracles. They prophesied “out of their own imaginations” and “follow their own spirit” (13:2,3). They acted as if their own inspiration or opinion was a divine revelation. In fact, nothing they uttered was a genuine message from Yahweh.

Three times, Ezekiel used metaphors and similes to illustrate the false prophets’ ulterior motives and criticize their methods. All three metaphors illustrated the perilous consequences of the imposters’ actions. They were diverting the people from genuine repentance by sowing seeds of false hope.

He likened the prophets to jackals, opportunistic scavengers who scoured the ruins looking for prey (13:4). Like animals, they had no concern for their victims. The charlatans withheld hard truths from their audience because they wanted to be favored. By being the bearers of good news, instead of bad, they attracted followers who they then exploited for personal gain.

In his second analogy, Ezekiel compared the false prophets to lazy builders. He declared, “You have not gone up into the breaches or repaired a wall for the house of Israel” (13:5). If they truly cared about the spiritual climate of Jerusalem, they would work to restore the people to Yahweh. Instead, they let society rot from moral decay and did nothing to rebuild Judah’s spiritual defenses. As a result, the people did not prepare themselves to withstand the coming judgment.

The third metaphor is the most elaborate. Ezekiel compares the prophets’ lies to whitewash applied to a flimsy wall, or a poorly constructed house (13:10-15). The wall represents all of Israel, a crumbling edifice. Like a thin layer of plaster, the prophets’ widespread deceptions provide a temporary cover-up for defects but offer no support to the wall’s underlying structure. The plastered walls cannot withstand the slightest resistance. Yahweh warned, “I will break down the wall that you have smeared with whitewash and bring it to the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare” (13:14). Ezekiel symbolized Yahweh’s intense wrath as a violent storm. God warned, “in my anger there shall be a deluge of rain and hailstones in wrath to destroy it” (13:13). The walls—like the prophets’ lies—did not stand a chance of surviving any of Yahweh’s impending punishments. The deception of the faulty wall built by the prophets and the consequences of the people’s rebellion that the false prophets attempted to conceal will soon be exposed.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus told a parable remarkably like Ezekiel’s metaphor about plastered walls (Matt. 7:24-27). Jesus described a wise builder who built his house on a solid foundation and a foolish builder who built his house on sand. When heavy rains and wind tested the foundations of the two homes, only the house on solid foundation survived. The parable underscores the significance of having a solid foundation of faith in Christ. Faith in Jesus provides a secure basis for facing the challenges and uncertainties of life.

Forging God’s signature

Prophets who claimed to receive direct instruction from God led astray the nation. They spoke of oracles that they did not hear from God and described visions that they never saw. They used the same prophetic trademark as Ezekiel and other true prophets. After they made a pronouncement, they claimed “says the Lord,” as if borrowing the prophetic formula automatically made the oracle authentic (13:6). Surely, the proliferation of “thus says the Lord” made it difficult for the people to distinguish between truth and falsehood when both claimed divine approval. Ezekiel accused the imposters of forging God’s signature, attaching Yahweh’s name to their deceptions.

It is possible that the false prophets believed that by declaring God’s will, they could manipulate the divine will. Ezekiel describes them as waiting for fulfillment of their prophecies, as if they could speak their future into existence (13:6). In the Yahwistic religion, falsely claiming to speak for God was playing with fire, and there were dire consequences. God declared, “Because you have uttered falsehood and envisioned lies, I am against you” (13:8).

Yahweh was going to expel the prophets from the nation of Israel (13:9). When the time came for Israel’s return to the promised land, he would prohibit the false prophets from reentering. Ezekiel declared, they will not be “enrolled in the register of the house of Israel” (13:9). Nothing about their existence or their teaching would make it into Israel’s records. That prophecy has proven true as we possess the books of the prophets of Israel, who may not have received recognition in their own day, but we acknowledge them as truth tellers in our day.

True prophets, like Ezekiel, followed Yahweh’s prompting only. Their authority originated from God. False prophets spoke from the delusions of their own mind, but attributed it to God. A true prophet subjugated himself or herself to the divine will. False prophets gratified themselves. According to Ezekiel, the problem with the false prophets was that the deception they trafficked created a bogus sense of security. They preached peace when there was no peace (13:10). They told the people what they wanted to hear, rather than what they needed to hear. As a result, the people turned to the illegitimate prophets instead of God. They craved words of flattering comfort rather than stern correction.

Rejection of God’s prophets was equivalent to rejection of God. The prophet’s words were genuine because God was genuine. When the people doubted Ezekiel and Jeremiah, they were challenging the trustworthiness of God, a dangerous position.

Witches and sorcerers

After his condemnation of the false male prophets, Ezekiel turns his attention to the female imposters. The passage sheds light on another flaw in Israel’s religious ecosystem. Not only male prophets gained influence over the Israelites. Female sorcerers made their mark as well and were doing their own damage.

Ezekiel had addressed the male counterfeits as “prophets of Israel,” giving them the honorific title of prophets, even if they were faulty (13:1). However, when Ezekiel addressed the female guild, he did not use the title prophet but a word equivalent to sorceress or witch. Their described activities also aligned closer with witchcraft than pronouncing oracles.

Righteous females gained admission into the prophetic class in biblical times. There are at least three named prophetesses who served as the Lord’s mouthpieces. Miriam, the sister of Moses, was the first Israelite prophetess named in the Torah (Ex. 15:20-21). In the book of Judges, Deborah, the prophetess, played a critical role in a military victory over the Canaanites (Judg. 4-5). During the reign of King Josiah, the prophetess Huldah affirmed the divine nature of the rediscovered scroll in the temple (2 Kings 22:14-20). Because female true prophets were part of Israel’s story, it is not surprising that female false prophets existed as well.

Like their male counterparts, the sorcerers were guilty of “prophesy out of their own imaginations” (13:17). Although the details of their methods are obscure, they seem to be guilty of some kind of black magic that involved wristbands and veils with amulets. Ezekiel said, “Woe to the women who sew bands on all wrists and make veils for the heads of persons of every height, in the hunt for lives!” (13:18). The mention of height suggests that the veils extended from the head to the floor. The wristbands must have been a binding mechanism. Perhaps they picked up this distinct brand of sorcery in exile in Babylon, where divination was commonplace. In the ancient Near East, they looked for divine guidance everywhere: stars, animal entrails, smoke patterns, dreams, etc. Yahweh added, “you have profaned me,” which hints that the women invoked his name during their cultic divinations (13:19). Like their male counterparts, they too tried to manipulate Yahweh.

As punishment for their wickedness and lies, God warned he will tear off their bands and remove the veils so that the Israelites who they “hunt down like birds” will “no longer be prey in your hands” (13: 20,21). Yahweh’s intervention will void their spells and block the dark forces. Interestingly, his punishment of the sorceresses was not nearly as grave as the male prophets. The male prophets were to be excommunicated from the nation and permanently exiled from the land. They only deprived the witches of their equipment and banned them from further activities. People would no longer esteem them after they lost their powers, which meant they would also no longer receive their payment of barley and bread (13:19).

Modern day

Ezekiel 13 serves as a cautionary tale for all of us today. Even in modern times, false prophets and diviners seduce weak believers away from the one true God. They are the latest variety of white-plastered walls with crumbling foundations. Just like the exiles, we also need reminders of the dangers of spiritual deceivers, whether it is the health-and-wealth preacher on television, the latest fad book on the end times, or the fortune teller on the street corner. Not everyone who claims to speak for God is speaking for God. We should only trust those who remain faithful to his word—and do not take interpretive liberties with his word.

As believers, we have a responsibility to resist the seductions of flattering words or the practices of the occult in whatever guise they present themselves. Like Ezekiel, we must condemn illusory visions and deceptive words that cloak our need for repentance when we are disobedient. Our only assurance of withstanding the coming storms in life is if we, like the wise man in Jesus’s parable, have built our house on a solid foundation of rock.

Thank you for listening and please continue to take part in this Bible Reading Challenge. Join us next week in studying Ezekiel 14.

Also, one more thing. If you like Bible Fiber and it has been helpful to you in your own journey of biblical literacy, please consider leaving a review for the podcast so that others will find it. I have never asked for reviews before but I do get weekly emails from listeners so I know you are out there and it would be really helpful for the show.

And please keep the nation of Israel in your prayers. Thursday morning, I heard the unbelievable news that Hersh, the Israeli-American hostage in Gaza, is alive. In Hamas’s manipulated video, we can tell that Hersh’s injured arm was amputated from the elbow. But he is alive after not knowing anything about his wellbeing for 201 days. I am praying for a miracle this Passover season. Please God, Let your people come out of captivity in a miraculous way that the whole earth must acknowledge.

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