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    Ravens and the Prophet

by Robert Weston  

The Prophetic Ministry
Chapter twenty-three

  Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: ‘Go down to meet Ahab, king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: "Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?"’ . . .

Ahab said to Elijah, ‘So you have found me, my enemy!’ ‘I have found you,’ he answered, "because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel."
. . . (There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel). When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.
(See 1 Kings 21:17-29)

Six years have passed since the mighty confrontation on Mount Carmel. The Lord had been merciful to Israel during the intervening years. He had raised up other prophets, and brought about a mighty deliverance from the vastly superior army of Ben-Hadad of Syria.(1) One thing had not changed, however, and that was the underlying condition of Ahab’s heart. Once again he had failed in his duty, this time by sparing an adversary whom God had determined to depose. In a symbolic gesture, that was strikingly reminiscent of Nathan’s challenge to David, a courageous young prophet rebuked the king to his face. Never one to willingly accept the warnings God sent, Ahab returned to his palace in Samaria ‘sullen and angry.’(2)

Considering the weight of Ahab’s sinfulness, it is little short of amazing that God continued to persevere with such a ruler. But that is the way the Lord is. So long as there is any hope left that a man may repent, the Hound of Heaven continues to woo and to warn.

The Final Straw
Ahab had set his heart on possessing a little garden that adjoined his property. He offered Naboth, his neighbour, a better vineyard elsewhere. It never occurred to him that Naboth would decline his request to buy the land, because it contravened the law of God.(3) Naboth was quite within his right to turn down Ahab’s advances – but the king and queen of Israel did not see it that way. Outraged at seeing her husband rebuffed, the queen devised a vile stratagem to secure the property. Feigning a religious fast, she used the law of God, which she despised so intensely, to forward her own wicked purposes. Jezebel arranged for false witnesses to come forward to condemn the unfortunate Naboth on the charge of having cursed both God and king.

When a nation allows people like Jezebel to reign, there are many innocent victims like Naboth. Evil rulers lead weaker people astray, and cause the nation to lose its conscience. As soon as Naboth had been stoned to death for a crime he had never committed, Jezebel urged her husband to go and take possession of the vineyard.

An Unexpected Response
At last, God’s patience ran out. Ahab’s appalling abuse of power had brought his sins to their fullness. At this crucial juncture the Lord sent for His most experienced prophet, and entrusted to him the strongest word he had yet been given against the wayward king.

If Elijah had once fled in terror in the face of Jezebel’s threats, he would do so no more. The Lord showed him exactly what the king had done, where he was, and what the terrible doom that awaited him.

We know Ahab well enough by now to be able to predict how he ought to have responded to Elijah’s challenge. We would have expected him to run back to Jezebel ‘sullen and angry,’ a spoilt child crying, ‘It isn’t fair.’ But it wasn’t like that at all. Something unexpected happened. At long last it dawned on the king’s dullened conscience that it was beyond the possibilities of coincidence that Elijah should confront him at the precise moment when he was about to set foot on his new property. Ahab was overcome by the realisation that God knew all about the murder he had sanctioned.

Never one to do things by halves, Ahab tore off his royal robes and went about in sackcloth, in full view of his subjects. He was too distressed even to eat. Gone now was the arrogance with which he had strutted through the land. Gone too were the threatenings and the flattery, and the Lord looked on the abject figure of the repentant king with mercy. It is one of the most moving moments in the Elijah narrative. For the first and only time, God gave Elijah something good to say about the king: ‘Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.’(4)

Ahab and Elijah were never to meet again. The prophet’s task was done, and Ahab would end his days a sadder, but wiser man. His conversion does not appear to have been radical enough to have curtailed the activities of his wife, however, let alone to put right the many wrongs he had done to the household of God. It was, perhaps, a conviction of sin Ahab experienced, rather than an infilling of divine love.

Partial though Ahab’s repentance was, it sufficed to postpone judgement on his family line for the immediate future. Nevertheless, each of the dreadful woes Elijah had foretold against the house of Ahab came to pass in the years immediately following the king’s death. The consequences of the evil he had set in motion would live on far beyond his own reign.

The Perils of Greed
Of all sins, covetousness is perhaps the most impossible to satiate and the most difficult to overcome. The illusory quest to find happiness through riches has caused untold misery through the centuries. Solomon, who was better placed than most to understand this, sounded a warning to all generations: ‘Whoever loves money never has money enough, whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.’(5)

Nelson Rockefeller, one of the richest men in the world, was once asked how much money he would need to feel really happy. ‘Just a little bit more,’ was his sobering answer. ‘People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap,’ lamented Paul. He went on to depict the love of money as the root of all kinds of evil.(6)

It was greed which proved Ahab’s downfall. May the Lord deal with any lingering tendencies to covet in our own hearts!

The Prophetic Calling
The Elijah narrative is exceptional in that every time the Lord commanded the prophet to do something, he did it straightaway. He was in every sense, an outstanding man of God, who fulfilled tasks that only a prophet could accomplish.

In one sense, times have not changed. God still works through a prophetic people who are seeking to follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Our nation has long nurtured a relative abundance of Bible teachers, but the Church is more effective when there is also a prophetic dimension.(7) If the Church in Antioch included prophets, as well as teachers, in the ministry team, then why shouldn’t we?(8) In some cases, prophets will bring insights for the Church, or for specific issues, or even for the nation. More commonly, however, the Lord will simply use prophets to bring His word to the people in our fellowships, to help the Church grow in the beauty as well as the knowledge of God.

So significant is the ministry of a prophet, that the actual moment of commissioning of many of the biblical prophets is recorded for us.(9) Such men were love-gifts from God, for even when the message they brought was a hard one, it was still God’s mercy and kindness to show people how things really stood.

When the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, it was His intention to raise up a nation which would be a demonstration to the world of what a righteous society could be like, when it lived under the rule of God. In this plan, the prophets had a vital role to play.(10) At times of crisis, it was the word of the Lord through the prophets which, again and again, saved the nation from its enemies.(11)

Although the age of the biblical prophets is over, the Lord invites – nay instructs – His people to be eager to prophesy.(12) The testimony of Jesus is still the spirit of prophesy.

‘When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is Mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is Mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is Mine and make it known to you.’(13)

In His great task of restoring His bride, and bringing in His Kingdom, God is raising up a people to make Him known in our land; perhaps a New Testament equivalent of a prophetic nation.(14) But let us not be narrow in our interpretation of what the prophetic ministry should consist of. I believe in watchmen who are concerned for their professions as well as for their Churches or their geographical regions. It is my greatest joy to work with musicians whose music reflects what is happening in heaven, and brings the presence of the Lord close to His people. Wise is the Church which recognises and nurtures those who have particular burdens, whether it be for the Church, their professions, or for the wider community.

How can we tell when someone is being raised up for the prophetic ministry? In the first instance, we will recognise an above average ability to feel issues deeply – and then to turn these feelings into prayer. As we have already seen, much of a prophet’s principal work is done in secret, going to God on behalf of men, as well as going to men on behalf of God. Secondly, we do well to be aware that prophets are almost always trained and tested through strange twists and turns in their life, together with extended periods ‘in the wilderness.’ These are necessary to make the person mature enough to exercise the prophetic ministry safely. It is not always easy to discern whether these testings are proof more of God’s favour than of human sinfulness. We need discernment. Calamities may equally befall a person because there is something seriously wrong in their life.

Testing the Vocation
Since discernment is the key, how can we recognise the false prophet we fear so much? This is by no means an easy matter. Even the disciples failed to realise what was going on in Judas’ heart until the very end. One key is to look for the direction of the heart. Proud and stubborn attitudes can be a major stumbling block.

It is wise, too, to heed checks in our spirit, especially if they are accompanied by warnings from other mature Christians. A false sense of loyalty to somebody (or our instinctive dislike of them for that matter!) can also make it harder for us to perceive when a person is in genuine error.

The one thing we should not do, is to dismiss anyone lightly as being a false prophet. The best of us make many mistakes – but we learn from them. The false prophet, by contrast, refuses to heed warnings, and continually dreams up new excuses to prolong his delusion. Typically, these people are loan-rangers who brook no correction, unwisely supposing themselves to be superior to those who could help to set them straight. It is the work of superheated flesh and subtle demons to lead many godly souls astray in such ways.

Commonly, the problem revolves around their sense of infallibility. Presumption is wishful thinking pushed too far – and false prophets are nearly always presumptuous. The Old Testament may incline us towards the concept of the Lord speaking in a fixed, authoritative manner. The temptation is to assume that we are likewise merely to become channels for the voice of God. But we are not ‘taken over’ by the voice of God, as mediums are in seances. Our own character and personality is also important; God gave them to us, and He wants to express something of His own heart through them.

Moreover, when the Lord does speak to us, we should never assume that we know how or when God will bring what He has promised to pass, unless He has specifically shown us. We must continue to seek Him for the details to unfold. Jesus taught so much on the need for perseverance, precisely because what God asks of us nearly always appears impossible at first sight. Giving birth to a vision requires great stamina!

Prophecies of blessing need to be prayed through to fulfilment, just as warnings need to be taken seriously in order to be averted. Most prophecies are best considered as being conditional on our response, rather than deterministic.(15) Jonah’s doomsday words against Nineveh, for instance, appeared to present the city with an inescapable ultimatum, but when the people repented, disaster was averted.(16)

Why then do people make such elaborate attempts to predict the exact sequence of the end-time prophecies? We are simply not meant to know all the details in advance. Much still waits to be shaped by our prayers and repentance. Trying to work out ahead of time exactly how matters will develop is usually self-defeating. Even the exact sequence of the events concerning the Nativity or Calvary could not have been foreseen from the Old Testament prophecies.
Since it is only with hindsight that we can see how everything fits together, we should be wary of people who claim to know too much. There is a type of prophecy that is dangerous akin to divination in its attempt to predict the future.

Man has an innate desire for an inappropriate knowledge of the future, and easily distorts such ‘prophecy’ to feed this deception. It fits in all too well with the western obsession to know, to plan and to schedule. Authentic prophecy, by contrast, is primarily concerned with revealing the heart of God.

There is a world of difference between checking our leading with others, however, and doubting that the Lord has spoken at all. It is a biblical norm that those who are called to the prophetic ministry will usually be asked to step out in faith, even to the point where they have to stake their all on God’s ability to deliver them.

We must learn, at first hand, the absolute faithfulness of God. If we hesitate, it strengthens the hand of the enemy. As Derek Prince pointed out, God had a harder job persuading Jonah to fulfil his mission than He did in bringing sinful Nineveh to its knees in repentance!

Since the best of us is but a mixture, there will be many opportunities to doubt – especially during those periods when everything seems to be going backwards. After a particularly gruelling time of testing, Teresa of Avila remarked one day, with refreshing candour, ‘If this is how you treat your friends, Lord, it’s no wonder that you’ve got so few of them!’

Those who persevere beyond the testings will inherit the fullness of the Lord’s power, and accomplish all the Lord has in mind for them to do – just as Elijah and Elisha did.

Prophets and Pastors
Few of us will be set apart to be prophets in the way that Judas, Silas and Agabus were,(17) but the Lord wants His people to respond to the inspired words that He speaks to His people. When prophets and pastors are working together in their complementary roles, clear objectives and goals can be set for the church and much wisdom be imparted into the life of believers.

This is why Scripture indicates that the callings are usually separate ones. If pastors have to both give and implement a word of prophecy it can make the church over-dependent on their ministry. This can cause pastors much tension, too, as they seek to move the Church forward into the new things God is revealing, while at the same time needing to nurture those who are finding the changes difficult to handle.

This call for prophets and pastors to work together in tandem is a test of our maturity. Human nature being what it is, such diversity is often perceived as a threat rather than as an asset. The problem is compounded by there being many self-appointed prophets about, who are prone to controlling others through their words. Equally, there are are number of overly cautious pastors, who find it difficult to welcome those who are moving in the genuine dimension of the Spirit’s anointing.

Sadly, the Church has often proved too stifling a milieu for the prophetic word. In the understandable concern to maintain order (to say nothing of the less worthy desire to preserve the status quo!) young prophets are all too often denied the security and the freedom they need in order to develop their ministry. Many who receive a genuine calling become discouraged by the lack of response, and gradually lose heart. Other churches, in which prophecy is commonplace, are in danger of not weighing the utterances properly. What God is really saying is missed in the excitement of the moment.

Prophets are the ‘eye’ of the Church, who help it find its true direction. They need to be welcomed, trained and accommodated. Their closeness to the Lord is invaluable for leading the people of God forward, especially in the realm of prayer and intercession. As John McLaughlin commented, ‘The prophet’s task is as much to bring the glory of intimacy with the Lord to the people of God, as to pass on specific messages from God.’

The fact that much of a prophet’s most effective work will be in the unseen realms of prayer and meditation is no excuse for individualism. Even though the nature of the calling may cause them to remain slightly detached, prophets are only fully effective when they work in close co-operation with other ministries in the Church.

Exercising the Prophetic Calling
Prophecies express how God feels. They may reflect His love and His pleasure, or they may declare His grief and His anger. Elijah told Ahab exactly what God thought about him – and, on this occasion, the word of God brought about instant results.(18)

Concerning the way in which prophetic words are given, however, we should learn to judge a message more by its content than by the manner of its delivery. Prophecies can come complete with grammatical mistakes and still be of God; the message may be a true one, even if the way in which it is given reflects the character (or the nervousness) of the speaker.

Nevertheless, the way in which a word is delivered often has a bearing on whether or not it will be received. Given all the unusual manifestations we are witnessing at this time in the Body of Christ, it is as well to remember that the spirit of the prophet can, and should, be subject to the person’s own control.(19) We do not need to rant and rage: the word of God will speak for itself.

The fact that there is much sub-standard prophecy abroad in the Church, does not mean that we should be afraid to speak out what God gives us to say. He wants us to grow in confidence, both in receiving and in handling His word. Logically, the Lord is more likely to entrust a word of great significance to a trusted member of the body of Christ, than to one who is consistently inconsistent. A great deal, therefore, rests on the character of the prophet himself.

As in other aspects of our lives, it helps to know our strengths and weaknesses, and to be honest about our track record. It is entirely possible to hear the Lord accurately in certain areas, whilst being far less reliable in others.

We are on safe ground if we say that prophecy usually serves to confirm us in a course of action rather than to direct us to some new course.(20) To say that prophecy must always be of a confirmatory nature, however, is to be less than faithful to the biblical picture. It would never have occurred to Elijah, for instance, to go and confront Ahab in Naboth’s garden, any more than it would have crossed David’s mind to leave his stronghold and go into the land of Judah, had not the Word of the Lord summoned him to do so. Neither would the believers in Antioch have sent special gifts to their brothers in Judea had they not been warned through prophecy of a forthcoming time of scarcity.(21)

We ourselves have benefited from such a directive word of God. While we were living as newly-weds in a flat, a friend told us that the Lord had impressed on him that we should go and buy ourselves a house. Largely because we were living by faith, I had never imagined that we would be able to obtain a mortgage. Spurred on by this word, we not only found a suitable house, but were led to the manager of one particular building society. He turned out to be an ‘on-fire’ Christian, who had read one of my books, and who was only too willing to help us secure a house. Considering that the landlord of the flat we had been renting died a few weeks after we left (which might have led to all manner of complications) we can never thank God enough for the gift of the house He gave us.

It cannot be overstated how careful we must be, however, in handling such a word. God does not take away our free will, and our words for each other must not do so either. Suppose that someone comes to us, claiming that the Lord has told them that we are to follow some specific course of action that had not previously crossed our mind. We would be most unwise to base our decisions solely on this one piece of ‘guidance’, unless the Lord confirms it unmistakably by other means.

We cannot do better than to bear in mind David du Plessis’s advice that we should submit a word of prophecy to someone for their testing, and preferably in the presence of someone who knows them well. Then, if anything is said which does not ring true, it is easier for them to shrug it off, just as they will be more confident of being able to accept an authentic word from God. This simple advice will help us to avoid much hole-in-the-corner foolishness.

Heeding the Word of the Lord
The words of the earliest prophets were committed to memory, so that they could be passed on for the benefit of subsequent generations. It is recorded of the young prophet Samuel that ‘he let no word of God fall to the ground’.(22) We are wise if we treasure the words that He speaks to us, perhaps by recording prophecies in shorthand or on tape, so that they can be properly weighed. This honours Paul’s instruction that prophetic words must be heard, tested, and, if accepted, acted upon.(23)

Paul encourages us to be eager to prophesy, and to do so in proportion to our faith.(24) I believe that Paul added this important proviso because he knew how easy it would be for us to go beyond our faith and to add our own conclusion or interpretation. We must stop speaking when the anointing lifts. To continue with our own thoughts and words merely takes away from what the Lord has said.

Few, if any, of us learn to prophesy accurately overnight. Since we are bound to make mistakes, both in our hearing and in knowing what to do with what we hear, it is vital that we overcome our fear of ‘getting it wrong’. Grace and humility will help us to learn from our failures, but it will help enormously if the leadership team is strong and mature enough to prevent wrong words from being acted on.

I have seen churches warned through prophecy of dangers which they have consistently failed to face up to. We are like the people of Ezekiel’s day, who heard and approved the prophet’s words, but did nothing to change their way of life. It is a terrible thing when God is forced to remove His blessing from an individual or from a church, yet it can and does happen.(25)

When the Lord has a corrective word to bring to His people, its effect will usually be to convict us of some particular area in which we have failed, rather than leaving us in a state of introspective confusion.(26) God told Elijah specifically where to go and what to say to Ahab in order to convict him of his sin.(27) Prophecies which merely cause people to feel uneasy or condemned, however, are most unlikely to be from God.

Can you imagine the disaster it would have been if Elijah had brought such stern words to Ahab if God had not truly sanctioned them? Appalling though the thought may be, we do not have to look far to find modern-day parallels. Words have power when they are spoken, for good or ill.

No one is pretending that this is an easy calling. We will not always get it right. On the last night of the very first Conference I ever led, a man claimed he had words of knowledge for people to be healed. Because I felt the Spirit was leading the meeting in a different way, I did not release these words. Predictably, he accused me afterwards of quenching the Spirit. I went to the Lord in agony the following day. Had I got it all wrong? I found His answer both illuminating and reassuring. He did not say that I was either right or wrong, He simply said, ‘I appointed you to be the leader of this Conference and I supported your decision.’ What a responsibility!

Elijah needed great courage to confront men such as Ahab and Ahaziah – but the Lord would have seen to it that he would have felt still more uncomfortable had he not spoken out! Many of us can identify with Jeremiah, who compared the word in his heart to a burning fire which he could not hold in.(28) Fearful though we are, it is infinitely better to speak out the words that are forming inside. May the Lord win the battle between our embarrassment and His Spirit stirring within us, and so develop His prophetic calling on our lives.


The prophetic ministry is all about the restoration of God’s original purpose.
Pray for the prophetic ministry to touch and impact every area of the Church’s witness. I am told that the Greek verb ‘to restore’ can be used for the setting of a bone that has been broken, and for mending a hole in a net. There are many bones that need resetting, and nets that require mending in the Body of Christ today. Many have left the Church altogether because of misunderstandings which a loving visit might have cleared up.

Are there people the Lord would send you to? Wait on the Lord, for Him to give you wisdom how to approach them. Then have the courage to go in and rescue the prey that Satan has taken captive!

Lord, as You sent Elijah to Ahab, so I make myself available to go wherever You send me, to help or to challenge, even as I welcome Your help and challenge myself. Sharpen my ability to hear from You, and to exercise a prophetic ministry. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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1 See 1 Kings 20:1-30
2 1 Kings 20:42-43
3 Numbers 36:7 states unequivocally that a family inheritance should never be sold.
4 1 Kings 21:29
5 Ecclesiastes 5:10
6 1 Timothy 6:9-10
7 Cf Ephesians 4:11-13; 1 Corinthians 12:28
8 Acts 13:1
9 Moses in Exodus 3, Amos in Amos 7, Isaiah in Isaiah 6, Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1 and Ezekiel in Ezekiel 2-3.
10 Hosea 12:10,13; Jeremiah 23:28-29; Amos 3:7
11 Eg 2 Kings 3:9-27; 1 Kings 22:7-28; 2 Samuel 2:18-25; 2 Chronicles 20
12 1 Corinthians 14:1, 3-5, 19, Revelation 19:10 Nowhere is it assumed in Scripture that prophecy was purely for the old dispensation, or that it was to be confined to the early days of the Church. Such an interpretation suits only those who feel the need to explain the absence of the charismata in certain parts of the Church today. The Scriptures were never intended to dispense with the need to seek the will of God over specific issues.
13 John 16:13-15
14 Cf Exodus 29:5-6
15 That is, automatically bound to happen.
16 Jonah 3:4-10 cf 1 Kings 20:29
17 Acts 11:27-28; 15:32
18 1 Kings 21:21-24
19 1 Corinthians 14:32
20 1 Corinthians 14:3
21 1 Samuel 22:5, Acts 11:27-30
22 1 Samuel 3:19
23 Do not quench the Spirit; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21)
24 1 Corinthians 14:39, Romans 12:6
25 See Ezekiel 33:30-33 cf 1 Samuel 15:26-27; cf Revelation 2:5
26 Cf 2 Corinthians 7:10
27 1 Kings 21:17-19
28 Jeremiah 20:9