The title could be “Is God Bound to Obey Our Decrees?” That’s what certain teachers seem to say. Let’s look into this subject.
I heard a “TV decree guy,” part of the Word of Faith Movement, say with seeming authority in his voice, “I decree and declare that no one will change the channel.” I reacted, “Oh, come on!” Can you guess what I did next? I changed the channel! I don’t believe that even God controls human free will, like that.
Now a quick word.
Yes, I hang out in Renewal Christianity. I am not a cessationist, but a continuationist. (A cessationist believes that the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Cor. 12:7-11 have ceased [hence the name cessationist], while a continuationist believes that they continue today.)
So I write from a sympathetic, inside point of view, not an antagonistic, outside one.
Let’s get started and explain the issue in eight points and wrap things up with a summary and an application section.
1.. Did Elijah really decree a drought?
At first glance, Elijah seems to have acted by himself to “decree” a drought, but look at how James reinterprets this (apparent) prophet-initiated “decree” from the fiery OT prophet.
Elijah and Rain
1 Kings 17:1; 18:41-45
| Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” (17:1, ESV)
41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” 45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. (18:41-45, ESV)
|17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (ESV, emphasis added)|
In comparing the two columns, 1 Kings 17:1 now has to be be reinterpreted. Elijah was not acting unilaterally and decreeing without God’s permission, as if God’s hand was forced to obey a human prophet. No. We now have to fill in the blanks in 1 Kings 17:1 and 18:41-45 with James 5:17-18. Elijah actually prayed, though 1 Kings 17:1 does not record the prayer. Elijah submitted to God; God did not submit to Elijah. The NT clarifies what prophets today can and cannot do.
2.. Did Jeremiah really decree the destiny of nations?
Do modern prophets often point to Jeremiah to claim authority to decree things? Let’s look more carefully at his ministry in its own context.
The LORD himself touched Jeremiah’s mouth and called him to speak God’s words to the nations, not his words (Jer. 1:9-10). Jeremiah was not a loose cannon who had authority in himself. He really just said, “The Lord says,” like all the other OT prophets.
Also, his words landed him in trouble and a mud pit. Are prophets today willing to have Jeremiah’s ministry?
Further, it is clear from the whole context of Scripture at the time of Jeremiah’s ministry that it was God himself who plucked up, broke down, destroyed, overthrew, built, and planted. Jeremiah was simply repeating God’s words. Jeremiah’s authority began and ended with God. God was the sources of his words, not the prophet’s own decrees.
It is no good claiming Jeremiah’s authority if a modern prophet does not also want to suffer the consequences of punishment and judgment of an OT prophet, including death (Deut. 18:20-22), from the Lord when the modern prophet misses it. It is a blessing that we live in another and better covenant, and modern prophets don’t have an OT prophet’s authority, requirement of total accuracy, and possible punishment. That heavy responsibility is beyond them.
3.. Some OT prophets were called to write Scripture
But let’s say that you still believe that Jeremiah had authority to decree the destiny of nations with his own words, without God speaking to him first. Then the next verses are decisive. Modern prophets do not have Jeremiah’s authority or calling (or any other OT prophet’s authority or calling) because OT prophets were inspired to speak and write Scripture.
20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet. 1:20-21, NIV)
And this verse is talking about the OT Scriptures: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, ESV).
Scripture is flawless (Pss. 12:6; 18:30; Prov. 30:5). Prophecies from modern prophets are not. Scripture is inspired in a special way (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Modern prophets’ inspiration does not rise to that level. Therefore, 1 Thess. 5:21 says prophecies must be tested and proven. These revelations do not lay down a new foundation (Eph. 2:20); they occur in the local church, and they are judged by the church.
Modern prophets are not inspired nor have the authority to write Scripture or present new doctrines. (No wonder why OT prophets could be punished with death!) Modern prophets are excluded. They do not rise to or match Jeremiah’s authority or calling to decree the destiny of nations with their own words.
Jehoiakim king of Judah burned and tore up Jeremiah’s scroll and was punished by God who said that the king would have no lasting lineage, but it would be cut short (Jer. 36:27-31). As it happens, he never appears even in Jesus’s genealogies,
Though I in no way approve of burning any book, hypothetically no one should fear such judgment if a “decree guy’s” book were mistreated, like thrown in the trash, because it is not Scripture.
4.. Predicting ≠ Decreeing
There is rampant confusion circulating around the churches, particularly on youtube and facebook, among my fellow Renewalists to be careful about decreeing in the first place. I have heard a really loud youtube prophet who pastors a church decree things, for example: “Come on! Decree it!” he shouted at his congregation in reference to the 2020 elections. (He had predicted Trump would win a second consecutive term.) These prophets and Christians who decree things don’t understand how the New Covenant works (nor how the Old Sinai Covenant works).
NT prophets indeed got revelations about future events. Agabus:
27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:28-30, NIV)
Note that Agabus received a revelation by the Spirit about a future famine. He did not actively decree it. Agabus did not say: “I, like Elijah, decree that the famine will happen and when it happens and how long it lasts! And only I can decree when it will stop!” (And actually, as noted above, according to Jas. 5:17-18, Elijah prayed.) Instead, Agabus merely predicted (“foretold”) it. Then the church was wise when it took action and prepared for it. They sent relief to the church in Judea. We should do the same when tornadoes and hurricanes threaten us. Let’s take action to keep ourselves safe, like driving inland away from the hurricane and getting in underground shelters when a tornado is coming.
5.. Prophesying ≠ Decreeing
Prophets like Isaiah, Zephaniah, Zechariah, and Malachi heard from God and prophesied. They did not decree on their own. When the word decree appears in the OT prophetic books in modern, standard translations, the verse invariably shows that the prophets are merely reporting what God had decreed. They said, “God decrees ….” They did not say, “I decree ….!” And now does God have to obey the prophet’s self-decree? No.
See biblegateway.com in modern translations, like the ESV or the NIV and look up the word decree.
The OT prophets merely said, “Thus saith the Lord” or in modern English: “The Lord speaks in this way.” They heard from God and spoke. They did not control God by decreeing on their own. Prophets today have to be careful about speaking their visions and words coming from their own minds and wishful thinking and not God’s words (Jer. 23:16).
Human decreeing does not cause nonexistent things to exist
Abraham did not decree his child to come into existence. God did:
“I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (Rom. 4:17, ESV, emphasis added)
Clearly, God, not Abraham, is the subject of those verbs. He, not Abraham, is the one who gives life and calls into existence.
Further evidence: Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:21, ESV, emphasis added). God initiated the promise and was able to do it. The child (Isaac) did come into existence (with some human “physical” help!).
6.. Speaking to existing obstacles ≠ decreeing
In Mark 11:22-24, Jesus said we are to have faith in God. If we speak to the mountain (“Be taken up and thrown into the sea”) and believe in our heart and not doubt, then what we say shall come to pass. Translators of Greek say that this is in the passive (“be taken up” and “be thrown,” and in this context they call it the “divine passive,” which means God works it out and performs the miracle.
Further, v. 25 says, “Whenever you stand praying.” So the speaking is in the context of praying. Yes, we can speak to personal and existing obstacles in our lives, like a disease, as Jesus rebuked a fever attacking Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:39). He often rebuked demons with words. However, God is still sovereign, and we still pray about future events.
If you speak to the storm in your life, as Jesus did to a literal storm, “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:35-41 and v. 39), then God may choose to remove it or not. Whether the storm stops or keeps coming on after you speak against it, God will see you through. And yes, I believe you can speak to a literal coming tornado towards you, for example, but you should do so wisely and safely. And don’t lose your faith if the tornado keeps coming. Be like the wise Christians in the book of Acts. Prepare practically and pray for protection. On the lake of Galilee, storms arose quickly, without warning. It threatened Jesus and the twelve. Jesus took action for safety, out of necessity, (and to reveal himself more fully). Now we have warning systems. Run! Hide! Pray! Speak God’s protection!
All of the verses in this section are about actual obstacles right in front of the Christian; in contrast, human decrees tell God what he must do and how he must act about future events. (Or worse, the one who decrees may believe that he himself brings not-yet-existing things into existence.) But you cannot force God’s hand. You don’t boss him around with your words of decree. He’s still the LORD. Try praying, instead of decreeing, that God would do such and such about future events. For right now, pray for protection through the presently existing storm and speak to it.
7.. Prophesying and praying is biblical
So what can prophets and the rest of us Christians do, biblically?
Let’s role-play, to illustrate. Yes to prophesying and praying:
“People of God, I am confident that I got a revelation that my favorite candidate will win the election. I even speak out God’s revelation. I prophesy it. However, I now humbly pray to you, Father, that you would work out the circumstances so that my favorite candidate will in fact win. Now I surrender my revelation to the church, who is called to judge and test and prove all prophesies. I may have missed it.”
No to decreeing like this:
“I decree that my favorite candidate will win the election! I decree it!”
Even if you believe that you are decreeing a future event to come into existence based on a revelation from God, decreeing is still presumptuous because you may not have heard from God. As noted, the OT prophets were reporting and prophesying what God decreed, not what they decreed. Does God have to obey your decree about future events? No. Pray, instead. Humility.
8.. A word about “decreeing” Scripture
Christians and prophets often speak out decrees about the future based on their interpretation of Scripture. Here’s a dubious sample:
“I read in Scripture that I am to prosper. I decree this general principle of Scripture in my own life. I decree more money for myself, so I can give it away! Money, come forth!”
Such a prophet or ordinary Christian seems to be speaking into existence a future reality, based on a general principle of Scripture. However, God may intend specifically to go in another direction, like the prophet or ordinary Christian learning to depend on him without material prosperity of millions of dollars by asking for donations on TV. God has us in different places. We follow his word to us specifically. God is not compelled to back up our decree based on our (self-interested) interpretation of Scripture.
Worse, Satan still has a certain control over wealth and worldly kingdoms (Matt. 4:8-10). He is still the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4). Jesus resisted Satan’s offer to give him all the kingdoms of the world. (The temptation was real, not hypothetical or imaginary.) There is no clear proof that God made the modern prophet or preacher rich. Maybe Satan intervened so he can deceive people with defective teaching about money–through the words of the now-rich prophet or preacher, no less!
Such interpretations misapply Scripture. Such an interpretation is self-centered, foolish, and dangerous, particularly when TV preachers manipulate people to give money, so the preachers can then boast of how well they are doing, in front of the people who had given money to make the preacher well off! Yikes! Meanwhile, ordinary Joe and Jane, who had given money to the TV guy or local mega-pastor, still live as they have been all their married lives. These prophets and preachers have too much chutzpah and a total absence of self-awareness.
Where does this (unscriptural) practice stop?
“Come on, everyone! Let’s decree that each of us will become billionaires. Repeat after me. I decree that I will be a billionaire!”
Yes, you can claim God’s promises, which are yes and amen in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20), but it is better to pray for a better job or a promotion or guidance and ideas to start a business–and to work hard. It is better to do those things than it is to decree future events to come into existence. Future prosperity is ultimately in God’s hands.
God decrees; we pray.
And so decreeing future things into existence is not within a modern prophet’s or Christian’s jurisdiction.
This is a biblical decree (the double arrow means causes):
God Decrees ⇒ A Nonexistent Thing Comes into Existence (e.g. a longed-for baby)
This is an unbiblical decree:
Christian Decrees ⇒ God Is Now Obligated to Bring It into Existence
Worst of all:
Christian Decrees ⇒ He Believes Nonexistent Thing Comes into Existence by His Own Decree
Where is God in the latter decree?
As noted, references in the OT prophetic books show that prophets reported what God had decreed, not what the prophets themselves decreed. Decreeing is only in God’s hands, not in anyone else’s.
Biblical decree related to prophetic ministry (the single arrow means a sequence):
God reveals a decree → Prophet hears the decree from God → Prophet speaks God’s decree
A perfect illustration is the storm in Acts 27. In 27:23-25, an angel of God told Paul that God had graciously granted the lives of the entire crew, and they would all be saved through the storm. First, God decreed his will through an angel to Paul. Second, Paul spoke out the decree and gracious gift to everyone on board.
Paul did not decree it first, and then God jumped to his feet (so to speak) and said he had to obey Paul’s decree.
And so the power of decreeing does not reside in the prophet. He is just a vessel through whom God speaks God’s own decree. The prophet or ordinary Christian can say, “I believe God gave me a revelation of his decree. I speak out and prophesy His decree. I declare His decree! Now I don’t want to bypass God when I decree. Let’s pray that the Father’s decree will be done at the right time in the right way. And you may judge my prophecy. I am humble enough to realize that I may be wrong. I am a fallible human.”
How does this post apply to my life, whether I consider myself a prophet or just an ordinary Christian?
God decrees. We pray. Yes, we can speak to existing obstacles, but God is sovereign. We must not lose faith or heart if we have to go through trials. God may be disciplining us to develop in us good character.
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jas. 1:2-4, ESV)
Or he allows us to go through trials for other reasons. (Please note: God does not cause disasters or sickness, but he does use them.)
You can’t decree (or even pray) such things away from you if God has allowed them. And you can’t decree that you will become rich when God says no. Submit and surrender yourselves to God. And pray that God will see you through any trial.
Don’t stomp around on the platform skipping over God by not praying. Decreeing and declaring bypasses God and concentrates too much power in the hands of selfish, unwise, short-sighted Christians and prophets.
Trust God with your life. Try praying to your loving Father and asking him what you can learn through living life in Christ as he sees you through or over or around the obstacle or removes it after your speaking to it. He is the good Father. Your life is in his hands.
New Testament Restricts Authority of Modern Prophets (important post about OT prophets, NT first-tier or foundational prophets, and modern prophets)