There is a famous statement attributed to the American writer James Whitcomb Riley (1849 – 1916) that asserts: “When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.” And while that conclusion seems logically unimpeachable, the Torah makes a strong point for investigating that duck just a little more–especially when that duck attests to being a prophet.

Deuteronomy 13(:2-6) warns the Jewish people that anyone claiming to be a prophet who performs signs and wonders (“miracles” or seeing the future), but tries to entice others to worship false gods, then that person is a false prophet. No matter how convincing that so-called prophet’s magic may seem.

The first thought that passes through a modern reader’s mind pertains to the “signs and wonders.” We today are great skeptics of “magic,” but there is conclusive testimony in the Torah that there once were people who knew how to manipulate the forces of the natural world in a seemingly unnatural way. While this was a talent and a skill, it was not a sign of holiness.

More importantly, God is reminding the people that all the wonders in the world pale in comparison to what He has shown them and done for them (the Exodus, the splitting of the sea, giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, etc.), and that more important than all other things is staying true to our relationship with God.

As for the false prophet, he/she shall be put to death; because he/she spoke falsehood about the Lord … “so shall you clear away the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 13:6).

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