"How did a prophet know he was called to be a prophet?" one of my students asked. In Old Testament survey courses, we discuss the roles and functions of the prophets. How did Micah, for example, know that he was truly called by God as a prophet as opposed to just having his own thoughts or feelings? Further, how could the Israelites know who was truly a prophet and who was just making things up out of their own head?
In a short time, we got to the real question behind his question: "How do we know if a modern day prophet is a true prophet of God?"
You see, in Togo there are people who call themselves prophets. In exchange for a donation, these prophets will envision a future for people supposedly planned by God. Usually this involves a way for the person to be cured of a sickness or get out of poverty. Some of these modern-day "prophets" will even go up to the tops of hills—reminiscent of "high places" in the Old Testament—and offer blood sacrifices like an Old Testament priest.
Once the real question was out in the open, we more specifically discussed the functions of a prophet. First and foremost, all of the Old Testament prophets were calling people to live in covenant faithfulness to Yahweh. From Abraham to Moses, to Elijah, to Isaiah, to Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah, and all of the prophets, they all called people to worship God and God alone. So I gave a question back to the students: "Are the prophets you are talking about calling people to faithfully worship God? If they are not, then they are not acting like a true prophet of God."
We discussed how this critical role of prophets calling people to covenant faithfulness to Yahweh informs their questions about specific people in their context. By the end of our discussion, the students demonstrated the ability to discern truth from error in the way modern day "prophets" are speaking and acting.
Let us pray fervently that the Lord will use these students to shepherd the people in their churches!