Prophets are a tricky bunch. You never quite know what they'll do. They are not guys like us that leave home at 8 and return at 5. They're more....um....eclectic.
There are ten instances of the word “prophet” in the book of Deuteronomy, mainly clustered in two places. Best we take a look at them.
Deuteronomy chapter 13
In case a prophet or a dreamer of a dream arises in your midst and does give you a sign or a portent, and the sign or the portent does come true of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us walk after other gods, whom you have not known, and let us serve them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or to the dreamer of that dream, because Jehovah your God is testing you to know whether you are loving Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul. After Jehovah your God you should walk, and him you should fear, and his commandments you should keep, and to his voice you should listen, and him you should serve, and to him you should cling. And that prophet or that dreamer of the dream should be put to death, because he has spoken of revolt against Jehovah your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt….vs. 1-5
Now, It’s been a long time since we came out of the land of Egypt. Nonetheless, what are we to make of this passage? The message gives cause for distrust: “Let us walk after other gods, whom you have not known.” Yet the sign “does come true.” It almost doesn’t seem fair, does it? Why can’t the sign fizzle? Instead, it comes true, and “Jehovah your God is testing you.” [!]
Might the peace and security proclamation of 1 Thessalonians qualify as a Deuteronomy “testing” sign that “does come true,” yet invites us to “walk after other gods?” Every Witness of Jehovah knows this passage:
For you yourselves know quite well that Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. Whenever it is that they are saying: “Peace and security!” then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them just as the pang of distress upon a pregnant woman; and they will by no means escape. 1 Thes 5:2-3
Over the years, there’s been a JW culture of peeking behind this or that headline to see if “peace and security” is brewing or even if it's hinted at. It won’t be real peace and security, we all understand, but some unexpected development will apparently resemble it closely enough so that most persons will swoon in ecstasy over what human governments have accomplished. It is not what it appears to be, however. Rather, it’s the last dancer to leave the floor, after which “sudden destruction” is “instantly upon them.” Small wonder the scripture fuels speculation!
But if the majority hoohaw, hi-five, and celebrate, Jehovah’s people see it as a sign that “comes true” yet points to “other gods:” those of human rulership, in exact contradiction to what the Bible says everywhere else about manmade governments. To use the quaint wording of Deuteronomy, God is “testing” us and we try to keep alert so as not to be thrown off track.
Deuteronomy Chapter 18:
However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded him to speak or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die. And in case you should say in your heart: “How shall we know the word that Jehovah has not spoken?” when the prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and the word does not occur or come true, that is the word that Jehovah did not speak. With presumptuousness the prophet spoke it. You must not get frightened at him. vs 20-22
At first glance, this passage may seem worrisome for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Have they not expected the end of this system to come in 1975? And before that in 1914? Um….does that make them false prophets who should (gulp)....die? Some on the internet act as though they'd be glad to pull the switch. You have to be careful, however, because soreheads pad the numbers. I've seen the charge made on the web, for instance, that Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted 1994 as an “end date.” It’s news to me. I was in the thick of things all those years, and never heard of it. I suppose someone somewhere must have thought it, unless it’s totally made up, but it sure never came to my attention, and it certainly was never in print.
There’s a difference between originating a false prophesy and misinterpreting an existing one. Jim Jones and that guy in Waco originated false prophesies.....God revealed stuff to them, they said. But what JWs have done is more akin to misreading a map. They haven't made up prophesies; they've misinterpreted existing ones. The 1975 and before that, the 1914, dates are presented in Watchtower publications with elaborate (though incorrect) scriptural reasoning. Especially in the case of 1914, it still remains a date of some significance, but it wasn’t…um…the end of this system. So….uh….yeah, it does leave egg on your face. You do sort of regret it afterwards, yet in view of what the scriptures say about “keeping on the watch,” perhaps it’s understandable:
It's pretty much like the sprinter at the Olympics who “jumps the gun.” You don’t want to do it routinely, of course, but nobody holds it against the fellow who does it once or twice. They’re human, we all say. In fact, you even wonder about the racer who never does it. Is he really keeping “on the watch?”
Keep looking, keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is. It is like a man traveling abroad that left his house and gave the authority to his slaves, to each one his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to keep on the watch. Therefore keep on the watch, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether late in the day or at midnight or at cockcrowing or early in the morning; in order that when he arrives suddenly, he does not find you sleeping. But what I say to you I say to all, Keep on the watch.” Mark 13:33-37
It was a District Convention in the summer of 1975. In New York City. Wasn’t it at some racetrack? This was back when (unlike today) the sound quality was seldom very good and you really had to listen sharp. Nixon had just resigned over Watergate, and Ford had stepped in to replace him. Watergate had been traumatic, and so Ford wanted to reassure the country. Was it his inaugural address where he said “peace and security” would prevail from this point on?! It was huge headlines that morning in the New York Daily News. The convention speaker, working a theme about the urgency of the times (remember, this was 1975) held up the paper and bellowed: “Have you seen today’s headline?!”
It was irresistible. I would have done it, too. Though I do remember thinking “uh oh” at the time. So maybe I wouldn’t have. At any rate, I’m sure he’s kicked himself since.