Elijah Among Us: Understanding and Responding to God's Prophets Todayby John Loren Sandford
Twenty-five years after the release of his ground-breaking book The Elijah Task, co-authored with his wife, Paula, a sequel comes from the powerful pen of John Sandford. In Elijah Among Us, he outlines a biblically rooted discussion of prophetic history and functioning, both how to instruct prophets and commission their office and how to inform the church about prophetic ministry. Sandford wrote this follow-up book because he sees a strong and even dangerous overemphasis in the church on the "giving of personal words," which is only one role of the prophetic office.
The first section of this book develops a history of the prophetic office, how the office metamorphosed from one of warning into proclaiming God's gentle and merciful side, and becoming burden-bearers. Second, Sandford sets forth the working functions of prophets, explaining how they serve in twelve major roles, including bringing blessings, healing, warning of impending judgment, giving protection from tragedies, and offering direction, guidance, or confirmation.
Readers will gain crucial knowledge of a widely misunderstood topic, helping them be discerning in these strategic end times. Authoritative and compelling, Elijah Among Us is a timely and vital work for the Body of Christ.
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ELIJAH AMONG US
UNDERSTANDING AND RESPONDING TO GOD'S PROPHETS TODAY
By John Loren Sandford
Copyright © 2002 John Loren Sandford.
All rights reserved.
THE PROPHETIC IS THE ONLY ONE of the five offices that has a long and scripturally detailed history. The other officesapostles, evangelists, pastors and teachershave very little history, if any, prior to the New Testament. Apostles are not mentioned in the Old Testament. Evangelists are not spoken of specifically as such, though Jonah was sent to Nineveh, and Jeremiah "came from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy" (Jeremiah 19:14). In both cases the prophets were sent to prophesy destruction for sins. Nineveh repented and turned to the Lord. In this instance, God's acting among people served to evangelize them. Another example of this is the story of King Nebuchadnezzar, who after seven years of eating grassjust as Daniel prophesiedrecognized there is no God besides the Lord (see Daniel 4:34-37). But such happenings throughout the Old Testament were results of prophetic endeavors, not the work of evangelists sent as such. Pastors are mentioned, but only as "shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding" (Jeremiah 3:15) or as shepherds who fail to feed the flock, with whom God contends (see Ezekiel 34). But the pastoral office is not developed. The same is true for teachers. Only the prophetic office has a long and developed history.
That fact is important. History is the battleground for the control of people's minds. What we know of our history declares to us who we are, what we are to do and how we are to behave while doing it. Our view of history controls all of our thinking, impels our feelings and calls forth our motivations. Demagogues take control of multitudes by reciting biased and false histories. White lynch mobs were generated by volatile speeches detailing histories of violations supposedly committed by black people.
Our view of history forms our self-image and thus our self-confidence; it leads to the release or blockage of talents and skills. Knowledge of history warns of the pitfalls of the past. The old adage is too often true that "Whoever does not know history is doomed to repeat its errors." Most importantly, our history informs us positively, guiding us on the stable track of mankind's good experiences. A generation without a solid knowledge of history must reinvent the wheel for itself.
Christianity began with a new template to form each of the other four offices, as there was no significant history upon which to build, but we do not have to invent the prophetic office. We have only to rediscover what the prophetic office was, how it developed and what that means for us today. But before we embark upon the historical quest for the prophetic office, it would be wise to clear up some areas of confusion.
"Prophets of the Moment" and Prophets Called into the Office
First, there is a vast difference between a prophet of the moment and one who stands in the office. All are called to prophesy: "Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying" (1 Corinthians 14:5). But not all are called to be prophets. One who interprets or presents a word from the Lord in a meeting is called a "prophet of the moment." That is not to be confused with one who is called into the office permanently. True prophets are called to wear a mantle that cannot be removed. A prophet is a prophet 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for every year of his life! His bodyand all he isis given to the Lord, a living sacrifice that is his spiritual service of worship (see Romans 12:1).
A prophet of the moment is employed by the Holy Spirit for that moment to deliver a word from God to His people. When the word has been presented, the messenger has no more responsibility for it or to it than any other of its hearers. Prophets of the moment are to weigh their words, but they do not carry the burden and authority resident in the heart of a prophet called into the office. "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment" [other versions say "weigh" what is said] (1 Corinthians 14:29). The burden of informing the pastor and elders for the protection or blessing of the congregation concerning that word is far more explicit and fraught with greater consequences for the prophet who stands in the office. The instruction given to teachers applies just as well to prophets: "Let not many of you become teachers [or prophets], my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment" (James 3:1). The higher the office, the stricter the level of responsibility and judgment.
A Prophet Is Fallible
Some have thought that a prophet's word must always come true or he is not a true prophet, and that in the Old Testament the penalty for a prophet's error was always death. In the day of the prophet Micaiah, King Jehoshaphat of Judah wanted to know whether or not he and the king of Israel should go up against the king of Syria (also known as Aram). Several prophets said, "Yes, go up against him." But Jehoshaphat asked if there was another prophet of whom they might inquire. The king of Israel called for Micaiah. In the meantime the prophet Zedekiah made horns of iron and said, "Thus says the Lord, 'With these you will gore the Arameans [Syrians] until they are consumed'" (1 Kings 22:11). All the other prophets agreed and told the kings that the Lord would prosper them and give Ramoth-gilead into the hand of the king of Israel (see verse 12). When Micaiah came, after some exhorting by Jehoshaphat to tell the truth, Micaiah told them the true word that Israel would be scattered on the mountains and the king of Israel would be killed (see verse 28). Micaiah explained that the Lord Himself had sent a deceiving spirit to speak through the mouths of the other prophets (see verses 19-23). Micaiah's prophecy came true, and the four hundred other prophets were proven wrong.
But the prophets who had brought deceptive words were not slain. Neither were the prophets in Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 13 slain for their lying visions and words but only castigated severely.
Sometimes prophets were indeed killed, as in the case of Hananiah (see Jeremiah 28:15-17), although he was not put to death by men but, it seems, by the Lord. And in Deuteronomy 13, the command was given to put an erring prophet to death. But read verses 1-5 carefully. The Word says the prophet's prophecy was true: "and the sign or the wonder comes true" (verse 2). It was not for false prophecy that death was decreed. It was for false teaching: "But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God" (verse 5, emphasis mine). By the way, if you look again at Jeremiah 28:16, you will see that Hananiah died because he "counseled rebellion against the Lord." Our Lord is not so strict or unjust as to put any and all prophets to death for errors. Death was required only for very serious matters, such as leading God's people into rebellion.
Some persist, saying that a true prophet's word must always come true, for this is one way to judge whether or not the prophet is true. Such teachers would do well to read the Word of God more thoroughly before speaking. Paul said, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part" (1 Corinthians 13:9). As the Amplified Bible puts it, "For our knowledge is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect), and our prophecy (our teaching) is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect)." This verse humbles us to realize that even the best of our prophecies are incomplete. No one can encompass all the truth or fully express it. God's thoughts and ways are high above ours. But incompleteness is not necessarily error.
Critics could say, possibly with some justification, that we have not yet addressed adequately the question of whether or not true prophets can err. Micah 3:5-7 speaks to true prophets who make mistakes:
"Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray; when they have something to bite with their teeth, they cry, 'Peace,' but against him who puts nothing in their mouths they declare holy war. Therefore it will be night for youwithout vision, and darkness for youwithout divination. The sun will go down on the prophets, and the day will become dark over them. The seers will be ashamed and the diviners will be embarrassed. Indeed, they will all cover their mouths because there is no answer from God."
The Lord is saying that because the prophets are leading the people astray by their errors, He is going to stop giving them visions and stop speaking to them. Had these been false prophets, He would not have been giving them visions or talking to them in the first place! The fact that He says there will be "no answer" implies that He has previously been giving them answers. So, it is clear that He is addressing true prophets who have been making mistakes. But note: These prophets are not killed. They are punished by the Lord's silence; He will not speak to them again.
Earlier I mentioned a more precise text: "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment" (1 Corinthians 14:29, emphasis mine). Paul was trying to establish order in church meetings. In the process, he revealed something crucial about prophets. That is, that they can err. Paul advised that when two or three have spoken, the others are to examine what was said. Throughout this book we will see that the Church needs to seek God for clear interpretations of what His words through prophets mean. But Paul's instruction here goes beyond mere pondering of true words from God. He uses the words pass judgment. If prophets' words could always be depended upon to be truly from God and without error, there would be no need for such an admonition. Knowing that prophets can make mistakes, wanting the Body to be cautious, Paul advised that each word be judged. Paul would not have given the instruction to judge each word if prophets' words were always without error. Because we who are prophets are fallible and can err in what we say, we need one another and we need humility to hear each other's corrections.
In His wisdom, God does not grant anyone's desire to be absolutely correct all the time. That would endanger any prophet's flesh through pride and self-reliance, and tempt the Body of Christ to honor and follow the servant rather than the Master. Deuteronomy 13:3-4 says that when prophets err
"the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him."
Prophets err because all are cracked vessels, no matter how full our sanctification in HimGod has nothing else to use.
Occasional errors do not prove that an individual is a false prophet. Doctrinal errors and continually wrong prophecies certainly prove that the prophet is immature and could possibly lead to the conclusion that he is false. The word false should perhaps be reserved for those who have no real intention of being true, whose hearts are perverse, who are only faking what it is to be a prophet for vainglory or some other base motive, or who stubbornly cling to false concepts or doctrines. Those who are trying to be true but err in their words or doctrineswhether sometimes or even oftenshould be regarded as immature prophets, improperly instructed, needing the discipline and instruction of older and wiser servants.
Bishop Bill Hamon, one of the foremost prophets of today, says the same in his book Prophets and Personal Prophecy: "An inaccurate word from a prophet does not prove that person to be a false prophet; all human beings are fallible, and the inaccuracy may simply have been the result of immaturity, ignorance, or presumption."
Bishop Hamon also wrote these words of wisdom we all might heed:
In discussing false or inaccurate prophecies undue emphasis is often placed on the standard for prophets without considering the need for accountability among the rest of the five-fold ministries. Are any of the other ministries held to a requirement of one hundred percent accuracy in all their pronouncements? No doubt "Thus saith the Lord" demands a greater accountability because of the authority claimed in the utterance. But this does not do away with the need for accountability in a teacher's doctrine or a pastor's counsel. The apostle James notes particularly that teachers will be held to a higher standard of accountability (James 3:1).All too often we employ a double standard. If a healing evangelist prays for a hundred sick and dying people, and two are miraculously healed, everyone is excited and shares the report of the two without mention of the ninety-eight who walked away as sick as they came. On the other hand, if a prophet ministers to a hundred people, and ninety-eight of them receive a specific, accurate word, you can be sure that folks will tend to remember the two prophecies that were inaccurate.
The word prophet comes from the Hebrew word nabi, in plural neviim, meaning "speaker" or "speakers," one whose mouth has been touched to speak for God. From this some have derived the idea that a prophet is one who foretells the future or speaks of things only God could know. Many foolishly run to prophets hoping to hear a word about; what is going to happen in the future, especially their own. Though prophets sometimes do foretell, much of their task has nothing to do with speaking publicly about the future, or even with oral speaking at all. The Old Testament prophets spoke for God through all they did, as when Jeremiah wore an ox yoke, Isaiah went naked and barefoot, Hosea married a prostitute, and Ezekiel bore the iniquity of Israel and Judah on his own body. When prophets are called to speak, it is about anything God wants to addressthe past, present or future, revealing things hidden or merely speaking of what is mundane and well-known. We need to be careful that our importunity does not tempt prophets to become diviners.
Back to the Beginning
To understand the history of the prophetic office, let's begin at the very beginning, before history was. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve could "walk and talk with God and jest, as good friends should and do" (from an old Latvian hymn). Their hearts and spirits were perfectly attuned to His. They read accurately His intentions behind everything He said. They could leapfrog in conversations, not having to complete sentences because they had already grasped what was meant. When Genesis 3:8 says, "They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day," I doubt that was the first time He had come. That was probably His custom and delight, to visit with His children in the soft glow of the evening sun.
But then Satan tempted Adam and Eve, and in the process disengaged their spirits from the Lord's gentle, loving nature and filled them with his own guilt and distrust. Sin separates. When God came as usual, nothing was as usual or would ever be again. The very God of love and forgiveness came walking in the cool of the dayand they fled from Him! If their spirits had not become defiled with Satan's rebellious inability to trust, they could have run to Him, exclaiming, "Oh, Father, we disobeyed Your command! We've eaten of that tree You said not to. Please forgive us." God might then have gathered them into His arms, as we do when our children come, tearfully confessing something they have done wrong. But fear and guilt, and Satan's defilement, had broken their ability to read His Spirit, or trust His words.
When God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9), do you think He did not know where Adam was? Of course He knew. In His own polite and gentle way, God was giving Adam the opportunity to come and confess. Note that He did not call them both, but only the man, and not by name. Sin causes us to lose our names, which stand for our birthright and destiny.
Excerpted from ELIJAH AMONG US by John Loren Sandford. Copyright © 2002 by John Loren Sandford. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
John Loren Sandford, ordained as a Congregational pastor, travels worldwide with his wife, Paula, and conducts seminars interdenominationally on marriage and family, inner healing and transformation, prayer, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, burden-bearing, intercession, and more. They make frequent television appearances and are active in the renewal and reconciliation movements. John and Paula live in Hayden Lake, Idaho.
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