By Pamela Lewis

A Reading from Deuteronomy 13:1-11  

1 If prophets or those who divine by dreams appear among you and promise you omens or portents, 2 and the omens or the portents declared by them take place, and they say, “Let us follow other gods” (whom you have not known) “and let us serve them,” 3 you must not heed the words of those prophets or those who divine by dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. 4 The Lord your God you shall follow, him alone you shall fear, his commandments you shall keep, his voice you shall obey, him you shall serve, and to him you shall hold fast. 5 But those prophets or those who divine by dreams shall be put to death for having spoken treason against the Lord your God — who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery — to turn you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

6 If anyone secretly entices you — even if it is your brother, your father’s son or your mother’s son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend — saying, “Let us go and worship other gods,” whom neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 any of the gods of the peoples that are around you, whether near you or far away from you, from one end of the earth to the other, 8 you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. 9 But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 11 Then all Israel shall hear and be afraid, and never again do any such wickedness.

Meditation

What was it about David Koresh, cult leader of the Branch Davidians sect, and Jim Jones, cult leader of the Peoples Temple and self-proclaimed messiah, who persuaded their followers to commit suicide by drinking a cyanide-laced beverage? And Charles Manson, creator and cult leader of “The Family,” who committed one of the most horrific murders in American history — what was it that drew his followers to him? What attracts so many, perhaps otherwise rational people, to demonic figures?

Cult figures are often physically attractive and/or charismatic, but attractive leaders are not always led by God. Words are also potent tools of seduction, and the false prophet is skilled in manipulating words to mislead listeners and turn them from the truth which they already know. The world is strewn with con artists, snake oil salesmen, and shysters lying in wait for the innocent and unsuspecting. Moses had warned his people against false prophets, and Jesus would also caution his followers to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16).

It is uncomfortable to think of being led astray by evil people. It is even more uncomfortable to acknowledge that even those who are closest to us — our family, friends, and leaders — can also be false prophets. While we do not need to resort to the author’s harsh recommendations for removing the false prophets around us, there are other ways to test whether we should follow their ideas: Are their pronouncements consistent with God’s teaching? Are they telling the truth, and is what they say consistent with what you already know to be true? Are they focused on God or only on themselves? We can “stone” the falsehood rather than the person who utters it.

God is not opposed to new ideas, but is in favor of discernment, which we exercise through prayer, studying the Scriptures, and opening our hearts and minds to God.

Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New YorkerEpiscopal Journal, and The Living Church.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
The Diocese of Cape Coast (Church of the Province of West Africa)