Be Careful What You Say: Advice for Prophets and to Us

The book of Deuteronomy has a curious passage about prophecy. It teaches if a prophet says something God didn’t instruct him or her to say, the prophet must be executed. That should certainly cause prophets to be careful with their words, saying only what God commands and nothing else.

A few verses later, it says if a prophet declares something that doesn’t come true, to just disregard that person. There seems little distinction between these two situations, but with drastically different outcomes: killing versus ignoring.

I wonder if the distinction might be intent, where the first instance is willful and the second, accidental.

A third situation, which this passage doesn’t address, is the opposite of the first. Instead of saying what God doesn’t tell them, they don’t say what God tells them. They are disobedient, but in this case their error isn’t public. Only they and God know about it, so there cannot be a response from the people. Yet I suspect that not saying what we should say is almost as bad as saying what we shouldn’t.

While not everyone is a prophet, most of us do talk about God – and we must take care in what we say as well as in what we don’t say. Much is at stake.

[Deuteronomy 18:20-22]

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