Since its posting on June 25, 2020, more than 1.7 million people have watched the above video (15:57) describing the prophetic dreams of Dana Coverstone, pastor of a small Assemblies of God congregation in Burkesville, Kentucky. In the video, Coverstone gives stark warnings about events which are said to unfold in the coming months in the United States.
As Christians, how are we to handle such messages? Some Christians today view prophecy with suspicion, or skepticism. Many lack experience receiving and evaluating prophetic words. Meanwhile, other Christians are quick to embrace anything “prophetic,” and may be quick to believe prophecies they hear without weighing and testing them biblically.
Valuing, Testing, and Weighing Prophecy
Under both the old and new covenants, God uses His servants with prophetic capabilities to speak His word to humanity. Christians are to test (1 John 4:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21), weigh (1 Corinthians 14:29) and carefully interpret everything presented as prophecy. Yet, God instructs Christians not to despise prophetic words (1 Thessalonians 5:20) and to value spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1). Christians can err by making too much of prophecy by not testing and weighing what is said, and can also err by making too little of prophecy by despising or not valuing it. It’s between these two extremes that Christians are called to handle the gift of prophecy.
Role of Prophecy
Prophecy’s primary role is not to disclose the future per se, although that happens sometimes, but to give encouragement as described in 1 Corinthians, “On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” - 1 Corinthians 14:3
Examples of prophetic words for the purpose of encouragement are as follows. The general content of the prophetic word was already known from the Scriptures, but the purpose of the prophetic word wasn’t to disclose new content as much to provoke action.
- Azariah, by the prophetic word, gives courage to King Asa (2 Chronicles 15:1-8).
- Jahaziel, by the prophetic word, gives courage to King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:13-17).
- Elijah encourages King Ahab to repent through a prophecy of judgment (1Kings 21:17-29).
While encouragement is a primary role, prophecy is not always positive or affirming. Consider Jeremiah 16:1-4:
The word of the Lord came to me: “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth.
Jeremiah’s prophecy was harsh and the people of Jerusalem did not want to hear or believe it. However, that made it no less true or important. Indeed, his warning proved true when the Babylonian army conquered Jerusalem in 587 BC, killing many. Today, some won’t receive a prophetic word if it doesn’t contain “hope,” yet there is no requirement in the Scriptures that all prophetic words contain hope.
Testing and Weighing
When receiving a prophetic word, the Christian must seek the Lord about whether it’s truly from Him. What’s helpful after receiving a word is to seek God in prayer and ask Him to reveal what’s of Him and how to apply it. Good men and women who love God can err in speaking prophecy by either confusing their own thoughts with the prophecy (sometimes called a soulish prophecy), or by mistakenly receiving information from a spirit of false prophecy instead of the Holy Spirit. The wise Christian seeks confirmation from God after receiving a prophecy, especially if it’s significant and affects other people.
Prophetic words may come true and even miracles performed, but if the prophetic minister urges a Christian to leave the Lord and not follow Him, the prophet should be regarded as an enemy of God and enemy of Christians (Deuteronomy 13:5). No matter how powerful the prophecies or miracles, only those advocating for wholehearted devotion to the Lord are to be regarded as prophetic. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 shows that a prophet is a false prophet who turns people away from Yahweh, even if their prophecies are correct. Enemies of God do indeed tap into supernatural power too, as Jannes and Jambres demonstrated when they opposed Moses (Exodus 7:11, 22; 8:7, 18, 19; 2 Timothy 3:8). However, in the end, God proves to be more powerful.
Questions may arise if a predictive prophecy does not come to pass or is wrongly applied. Is the prophetic minister speaking falsely and therefore a false prophet? After all, doesn’t Deuteronomy 18:20 say that such people should be put to death if they speak falsely or in the name of other gods? The answer is no for several reasons:
1. There are Old Testament examples of prophetic ministers wrongly prophesying, yet were regarded then and now as authentic prophets. For example:
- Nathan speaks falsely to David (1 Chronicles 17:1-3), yet is not regarded as a false prophet.
- Jonah prophecies that Nineveh will be overthrown, yet God relents of the disaster He planned and the nation is not overthrown (Jonah 3:4-10). Thus it could be argued that Jonah spoke falsely, or was a false prophet, but he’s not regarded this way.
Isaiah prophesies to Hezekiah that he’s going to die (2 Kings 20:1-7), but shortly thereafter Isaiah receives another word from God that Hezekiah's been granted 15 more years of life. Did this make Isaiah’s first prophetic word a “false prophecy,” and therefore Isaiah a “false prophet?”
2. The emphasis in Deuteronomy 18 is on the intention of the prophet to call on other gods, leading people away from the LORD. The emphasis is not so much on whether a prophet can be wrong about something, because as listed in number 1, sometimes they are.
As Peter C. Craigie remarks in his commentary on Deuteronomy 18:18-22:
It would probably be wrong to take these criteria as rules to be applied rigidly every time a prophet opened his mouth. When a prophet announced God’s coming judgment and called for repentance, it would clearly be pointless to wait first to see if the judgment actually came to pass, and then to repent (too late!). Rather the criteria represent the means by which a prophet gained his reputation as a true prophet and spokesman of the Lord. Over the course of a prophet’s ministry, in matters important and less significant, the character of a prophet as a true spokesman of God would begin to emerge clearly. And equally, false prophets would be discredited and then dealt with under the law.
Prophetic ministers sometimes err in their application of prophecies, even when the substance of the prophetic words are correct. An example occurs in the book of Acts when Paul receives revelation from the Holy Spirit (text does not say if this revelation came directly to him or through others) that he is to travel to Jerusalem and will probably experience imprisonment there (Acts 20:22-23). Yet from the disciples in Tyre and from Agabus in Caesarea he is told that indeed he’s going to suffer imprisonment if he goes to Jerusalem, and therefore he’s not to go. Most likely what happened, and this is not atypical, the prophetic ministers correctly heard from the Holy Spirit about the impending imprisonment in Jerusalem. Out of compassion for Paul they urged him not to go to Jerusalem, even though, as Paul knew from his own hearing from the Spirit (Acts 20:22, 23), it was still the will of God for him to go. Paul did the right thing by listening to the prophetic words from others, but still weighing and testing what was said, and in this case he did not abide by the prophets’ suggested application of the prophetic word - even though it came from two separate prophets in two separate cities! Paul knew that he was to test and weigh what was said to him, and that he was accountable to God for what he believed and what he did, regardless of the perspectives of others.
Paul’s Imprisonment Prophecies
Paul, speaking to the elders of the church of Ephesus, that he is to go to Jerusalem despite the likelihood of imprisonment:
(22) “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,
(23) except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”
Paul, with the disciples in the city of Tyre who told him not to go to Jerusalem:
“And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.”
Paul in Caesarea hears the word from Agabus about imprisonment in Jerusalem, but announces his intent to go anyway:
(10) “While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.
(11) And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”
(12) When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.
(13) Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
(14) And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”
Prophetic ministers sometimes accurately hear from God, yet apply the information wrongly out of compassion for the receiver of the word. Sometimes, they are afraid to deliver the fullness of the word. Whatever the reason for having received a wrong or misapplied prophetic word, the wise Christian very carefully weighs every prophetic word to see whether it’s truly a word from the Lord and how and if it’s to be applied. No prophetic minister, no matter how godly or how powerful, can remove the need for the recipient to seek the Lord for revelation and confirmation.
Steps to Testing and Weighing
1. God as the Center. After receiving a prophecy, the Christian is to ask God to confirm whether the word is from Him or not. He is the giver of mysteries and the revealer of mysteries. He gives revelation, and He also gives interpretation. As the matter is taken to God in prayer, He will provide help and guidance, especially as the Christian communicates to Him a readiness to hear and obey everything He reveals.
2. Alignment with Scripture. Is the prophetic word consistent with the Scriptures? The Lord will not contradict Himself, so any word contrary to the Scriptures should be discarded.
3. History of Accuracy. Does the person delivering the word have a history of accurate words (although not necessarily perfect), and does he or she walk with the Lord and point people to the Lord? If so, then the word should be taken more seriously, but otherwise set aside. Sometimes the prophetic minister can be morally flawed, yet it’s still a word from the Lord.
4. Counselors. Do trusted and godly friends think it’s a word from the Lord? The more of them that resonate with the word, the more likely it’s an authentic word from the Lord.
5. Corroboration. Has there been similar revelation received from other places? E.g.:
- if just that morning there was read something from theScriptures corroborating the prophetic word, it may be a positive sign.
- Or, perhaps at another time and place another prophetic person gave a similar word who knew nothing of the word just received.
- Or, as part of the prophetic word, the minister disclosed something that only the Lord could have known, signaling that the entire word was from Him.
- Or, did the recipient of the prophecy or a friend recently receive a dream, or a providential experience that reinforces the truthfulness of the word? Receiving similar revelation from other sources reinforces the likelihood of a true word from the Lord.
Valuing the Prophetic Word
When the Christian receives a prophetic word and confirms it’s indeed from the Lord, he steps forward in faith and takes appropriate action. Acting on prophetic words takes faith, like everything else in the Christian life, so fear of man cannot be allowed to take hold so that God’s direction is dismissed. Taking action in faith is how a Christian demonstrates he values the prophetic word. God instructs Christians not to despise prophetic words (1 Thessalonians 5:20) and to value spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. As it says in Corinthians 14:1, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophecy.”
Speaking Prophetic Words in a Group Setting
Leaders of a Christian gathering are responsible for what goes on in those gatherings, including the prophetic words spoken to the group. When someone in the group desires to give a prophetic word, a best practice is for them first to share the word with the leaders of the meeting who will then decide what to do with it. Sometimes they may decide it’s not a word from the Lord. Sometimes they will decide it is indeed from the Lord, but this is not the forum or time to release it. They may choose to speak the word themselves or, if the prophetic recipient is highly trusted, have him deliver it himself. Mature prophetic people recognize and appreciate this process, but younger or immature prophetic persons may get upset if their word is not delivered. They have not yet developed the maturity to realize they could be off on their word, or that, even if correct, it’s the leadership’s decision whether it should be released to the group.
Key Biblical Texts on Valuing, Testing and Weighing Prophecy
The following important passages concerning prophecy give clarity to God’s intention for this important spiritual gift. All passages are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, (2) and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, “Let us go after other gods,” which you have not known, and let us serve them, (3) you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (4) You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. (5) But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way of in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”
[God speaking to Moses:] “‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. (19)And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. (20) But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ (21) And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the words that the LORD has not spoken?’ (22) when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”
1 Chronicles 17:1-3
“Now when David lived in his house, David said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Behold, I dwell in a house of cedar, bur the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent.’ (2) And Nathan said to David, “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.’ (3) But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, (4) ‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus says the LORD; It is not you who will build me a house to dwell in.”’”
[Jeremiah:] “The word of the LORD came to me: (7) Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you and say, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” (8) Then Hanamel my cousin came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD. [emphasis added]
Jonah 3:4, 10
(4) “Jonah began to go into the city [Nineveh], going a day’s journey. And he called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’...(10) When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”
1 Corinthians 14:1
“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”
1 Corinthians 14:39
“So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”
1 John 4:1-3
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (2) By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, (3) and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. “
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21
“Do not quench the Spirit. (20) Do not despise prophecies, (21) but test everything; hold fast what is good.”
1 Corinthians 14:29
“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.”
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