Moses’ prophetic word
Numbers 16 tells the story of Korah’s rebellion and the discipline God sent as a result. When Moses spoke out about the earth opening and swallowing these imposters, did he know in advance what God was going to do? Or did the prophecy come to him in that very moment, before he had even realized it?
Numbers 16:30 says, “If the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.”
I don’t believe Moses knew in advance what he was about to say. Instead, I believe he released prophetic words in that very moment. When a prophet speaks, things start happening to fulfill his words.
When I first learned about releasing the “word of knowledge”, the teachers in my prophetic class proposed many ways to receive the word of knowledge, including “hearing”, “seeing”, “feeling”, “dreaming” and “speaking out.” When those who have the gift of prophecy use this spiritual gift, they speak out first and only later realize that what they said is not of themselves, but of the Holy Spirit.
These practices are not preached about or exercised in evangelical churches, so many evangelical lack such experience. But in the Pentecostal Movement, which pays more attention to the use of prophetic gifts, there are many such examples. For example, Churk Pierce, a Charismatic prophet, was prophesying at a meeting when he suddenly found himself saying that Bin Laden would be caught within a few hours. He recalled that he felt regret and fear immediately after saying this, because if this thing did not happen, he would be convicted as a false prophet or a prophet who gives false prophecies. However, it turned out that Bin Laden was indeed caught within a few hours.
I had experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit which made the prophetic gift possible. I tried my best to pursue the gift of prophecy, but I have never experienced the ability to predict future events. However, when I am sharing the Lord’s words in meetings, I often find myself saying something I had not previously planned on saying. Other times, someone asks me a question about verses I don’t quite understand, and I suddenly get an inspiration about its meaning. Sometimes, I give the explanation quickly, before my thoughts and understanding can catch up. After experiencing the filling or outpouring of the Holy Spirit, I frequently have experiences like this while serving the Lord.
This kind of spiritual inspiration not lonely lines up with real, lived experience, but also with the truths of the Bible. The Lord Jesus said, “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (ESV, Matthew 10:19-20). The Holy Spirit can speak through or even control our tongue. But this does not happen naturally. We must dedicate ourselves to God and experience the filling and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We must give the Holy Spirit freedom, so that he can use us in this way. Under normal circumstances, the Holy Spirit respects our free will.
There are many differences of opinion regarding the prophetic gifts in the Old and New Testament. But if we assume that many of the prophetic gifts in the modern church are real, then the same Holy Spirit speaks through the mouth of the prophets in both the Old and New Testaments. Understanding prophecy in the Old Testament will shed light on the gift of prophecy in the New Testament.
Since I left the Local Church Movement in 2015, I have tried my best to learn about and pursue the gift of prophecy in Pentecostal churches. I have had many experiences of seeing prophetic gifts in use. My doctoral dissertation at the United Theological Seminary compared the practice of prophecy in the Local Church Movement with that of the Charismatics.
Let’s explore some of the differences between prophecy in the New Testament and the Old Testament. One big difference between the New Testament and the Old Testament gift of prophecy is that the Holy Spirit’s way of prophesying through prophets in the Old Testament is visitation. Once the Holy Spirit comes upon on a certain prophet, even Balaam or Saul, he will give a 100% accurate prophecy. But New Testament prophecy is “habitational”, which means the Holy Spirit dwells in us. The Holy Spirit will inspire us to speak, but the word will be mixed with our own words and the prophecy will not always be completely accurate. Due to a lack of understanding of the differences between Old Testament and New Testament prophecy, many people deny that there are true prophetic gifts in the New Testament.
Most Christians understand that priests are no longer limited to a certain group of people as they were in OT; instead, every believer is a priest of God today (1 Peter 2:9). The same is true of prophesy. In the Old Testament, a select few were prophets of God. Now, God has poured out the Holy Spirit on all flesh so that everybody will prophesy (Joel 2 quoted in Acts 2:17-18). Paul also echo this idea saying that we all can prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:31). Despite this shift, many people still hold an Old Testament view of prophets.
Hebrews 1:1-2 explains that in ancient times, God spoke to the Israelites through the prophets at many times and in many ways. Now, in these later days, God has spoken to us by His Son (Jesus Christ). We all know that the Lord Jesus lives in us through the Holy Spirit, so the Lord and the Holy Spirit who live in us can also speak through our mouths.
It is wrong to think that there are no prophets in the New Testament. First, the New Testament gives examples of prophets in the New Testament, such as Agabus (Acts 11:27-28), Judas, and Silas (Acts 15:32). Second, throughout the ages, there have been people who have had the gift of prophecy. Although it is very rare to have such people in the history of Christianity after the apostolic era, and though some people with such gifts have a mistaken theological understanding, they have not been lost completely. Instead, they’ve only been buried for a time.
Remember how the truth of justification by faith was buried for many years? It was not restored until Martin Luther was enlightened. Similarly, the gift of prophecy has been restored considerably through the Pentecostal Movement. Though I don’t have time to go into detail on this topic, I wanted to touch on the issues surrounding prophecy in modern Charismatic churches.
One of the biggest questions and concerns is the errors in the prophecies in the Pentecostal Movement. This requires understanding the difference between the gift of prophecy in the New Testament and the Old Testament.
Yes, we certainly hope that every New Testament prophet can be like the Old Testament prophets in terms of giving infallible prophecies. But we also see that the difference between the Holy Spirit’s word in the New Testament and the Old Testament is by God’s design. The prophets in the Old Testament did not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so they would envy us who have the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, living in us every day.
It was important that the Old Testament prophets produce error-free work so they could compile the infallible words of Scripture. The Bible is like our driver’s manual and handbook, a guide to the Christian life. It was important for it to be accurate.
But today the Bible has already been completed. This guide is already in our hands. We are all learning and applying this Bible (guide), whether through exegesis or prophecy, with the purpose of helping others grow spiritually.
When pastors or preachers interpret the Bible in preaching, their understanding is not always accurate. However, many believers are very tolerant of the errors preachers make when trying to express their understanding of the Bible. But with regards to the gift of prophecy in the New Testament, these believers expect 100% accuracy as it was in the OT. Otherwise, they will consider those who prophesied to be false prophets.
On the one hand, this is understandable, since prophecies are supposed to be true. On the other hand, they are applying an Old Testament understanding to a New Testament phenomenon. Many modern prophets make errors in interpreting and applying the revelation from God, even though these revelations are genuinely from God.
In my real-life experience of learning the gift of prophecy, I have observed true prophecies as well as false prophecies. Overall, although there are some problems with the gift of prophecy and the practice of prophecy in the Pentecostal Movement, these prophecies also have many advantages. They encourage believers and build churches.
Many prophetic errors in the Pentecostal Movement, with the exception of deliberately false prophecies, are due spiritual immaturity in the prophet, or the person’s mistaken interpretation and application of the vision or message given by God. Sometimes, this person may be inspired by the Holy Spirit; sometimes they may be inspired by their own feelings. There is a mixture of truth and misinterpretation. Instead of rejecting all prophecy outright, we should have a more balanced approach. We should neither accept all prophecies nor reject all prophecies. Instead, according to Paul’s words, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (ESV, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).
There are similarities between the way the Holy Spirit speaks to New Testament and the way he spoke to Old Testament prophets. We need to distinguish between what a person says when he is inspired by the Holy Spirit and what he says when he is not. For example, if you read David’s Psalms, you will find that many times he is simply pouring out his emotions, the feelings in his heart. Suddenly, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit comes and he is speaking from God in first person. When the inspiration of the Holy Spirit passes, he continues to express his feelings. This is a common occurrence in David’s Psalms, as well as other psalms.
This may be also the case when Moses was speaking in Numbers 16. Although we are not ruling out the possibility that God told Moses in advance about the earth splitting, my personal guess is that what he said during that time was inspired in the moment by the Holy Spirit.
Moses’ Differing Roles
In Numbers 16:1-3, we learn that Korah and 250 leaders of Israel rose up against Moses and Aaron. When Moses heard it, he fell on his face. He told Korah and all his company that in the morning, the Lord would show who was chosen by God (vs. 4-6). He suggested that everyone take the censer to burn incense.
In verse 7, Moses said, “You have gone too far, sons of Levi!” (ESV) He blamed the Levites for coveting the priesthood and not being satisfied with their service in the tabernacle (Numbers 16:8-10). Moses called Dathan and Abiram, but they didn’t come. Instead, they accused Moses of bringing them up from Egypt, a land flowing with milk and honey, to die in the wilderness (Numbers 16:12-14). Moses was very angry and said to the Lord, “Do not respect their offering.” (ESV, Numbers 16:15). Moses was expressing his true feelings.
On the second day, when Moses and those who rebelled were gathered together, the Lord appeared and said to Moses and Aaron that he would destroy all the Israelites except for the two of them. Moses and Aaron begged the Lord not to be too harsh. The Lord agreed to honor their plea, and he agreed to only kill Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:19-27).
It is at this juncture that Moses says, “Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord. And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods.” (ESV, Numbers 16:28-32).
Regardless of whether or not Moses knew in advance how God would discipline Korah and his company, the shift in Moses’ role can be seen here. First, Moses is just a human, angry and praying for God’s help. Then he becomes an intercessor, praying that God would not destroy all the Israelites. Finally, he acts as a prophet, the representative and judge of God’s authority. In this role, he declares and accomplishes God’s chastisement on the people.
A person used by God often has multiple roles. This role transformation is often a very important link in the biblical narrative. Understanding this concept will help us better understand the Bible.
After the Lord disciplined Korah and his company, many people were still complaining. This time, they were accusing Moses of killing them! They gathered again to rise up against Moses and Aaron. The Lord told Moses and Aaron to destroy these Israelites, and Moses and Aaron interceded for the Israelites yet again. But it was too late. God’s wrath had broken out, causing a plague. Moses asked Aaron to take the censer, put fire on it from off the altar, lay incense on it and carry it to the congregation to make atonement for them. Aaron’s prayer stopped the plague, but 14,700 people still died because of the plague (ESV, Numbers 16:41-50).
Today, we are just as sinful as the ancient Israelites. Just as Aaron’s intercession stopped the plague, Christians’ prayers can stop God’s wrath. Even though God’s wrath was already poured out on Jesus on the cross, God still sends his discipline on believers. He still punishes those who do not accept his free gift.
Sometimes, his discipline includes plagues and disasters. The book of Revelation records disasters that are an outworking of God’s wrath. Similarly, Coronavirus could be both an attack from the enemy and an expression of God’s discipline. (I am speaking in a general sense. I am not condemning people who got the virus. Many people who fought against this disease, like many medical workers, are in fact victims or even martyrs in a sense. May God heal everyone who is sick because of this. Nobody is immune to the virus. But God will protect and heal His people.)
The coronavirus was brought about by the rebellion of the world, but our prayers play an important role in stopping the virus. When we repent in our hearts, and beseech God’s mercy through practical physical actions, he may choose to take the coronavirus away. God wants us to do more than pray about the virus; he wants us to repent and turn to Him. Instead of simply praying that the Coronavirus is removed, we should pray that we repent and turn to God through this coronavirus. When everyone repents and turns to God, the coronavirus will naturally stop.
As a prophet, Moses was God’s representative in administering discipline to those who rebelled. When Aaron interceded for the people, he represents spiritual intercession. Korah was a Levite who served in the sanctuary, and the people who died served in the outer courtyard. God sent his cleansing discipline to these areas, and Aaron’s intercession stopped the plague.
In the same way, God sends his discipline to purge away the sins of the flesh. The intercession of the church, as well as the blood of Christ, provide a powerful intercession that stops the wrath of God.
In the Old Testament, the golden incense altar was located the sanctuary, near the veil that divided the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies. The high priest entered the Holy of Holies only once a year to offer a sacrifice for the people’s cleansing. On the cross, the Lord Jesus removed the veil that divided the sanctuary from the Holy of Holies. Through His blood, we can all draw near to the Holy of Holies with confidence and receive God’s grace and mercy (ESV, Hebrews 4:16).
Not only does Christ intercede for our forgiveness, but we as believers are also allowed to offer prayers that ascend to God from golden censors (see Revelation 8:4). Often, we need God to purify us from sins of the flesh before we can offer effective prayers (1 Peter 3:7).
As our lives are purified by God, our prayers become more powerful (1 Peter 1:22). God will continue to cleanse us as we grow closer to him. When we sin, however, God disciplines us to restore his relationship with us (Hebrews 12). A plague may arise to purify and cleanse our souls from sin. Lack of prayer may cause lack of healing from the plague (James 4:2).
In the New Testament, the golden incense altar is counted as a part of the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 9:4) because the veil that separates the Holy of Holies and the sanctuary has been torn apart. In the Old Testament, Aaron’s prayers are effective despite the veil that separates him from the Holy of Holies. How much more powerful are the prayers of Christians in the New Testament! God has removed the veil, tearing it apart through the work of Christ on the cross. We must repent of sins of the flesh and rebellion in our soul, so that the fragrance of our prayers may reach God.
We must pray for the sins of the world. The effect of intercession is very powerful. We not only pray that the plague may stop, but for sinners to repent and turn to God so that the plague may stop.
In other words, the outbreak of the coronavirus is not only caused by the sins of the world, but it also reflects the lack of prayer in churches. If we prayed with fervency and power, perhaps God would bring an end to the coronavirus or prevent it altogether. The pandemic not only requires sinners to repent, but it also requires churches to humble themselves through prayer. Recently, many people have begun to pray powerfully to God. I pray that the pandemic may soon come to an end. The pandemic is a precursor of coming revival and awakening in the US and all around the world. God is preparing our hearts by cleansing us. Soon, He will pour down His blessings from heaven. Let us not lose hope. May God open our eyes to see this blessing in disguise. Let us pray before the incense altar and come to the throne of grace.