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Can Wicked Men Really Do Miracles and Prophesy?

Question

We read in Numbers about Balaam prophesying and in I Samuel about Saul prophesying also. In Matthew 7:22, apparently the non-elect are claiming they performed miracles and prophesying during their lives. It seems that Judas also performed miracles along with the other Apostles. On the other hand, I Corinthians seems to be telling us that God gives spiritual gifts for the building up of His church. My question is whether the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as prophecy and miracles, are given only to the elect. My concern is that I am not understanding what is going on with Balaam, Saul, and Judas.

Answer

As we take up the answer of this question, I believe we will begin by separation between the miracles done by those who are not elect, and the prophecy by Balaam and other reprobate. In the first place, let us consider the fact that there are miracles obviously performed by the wicked. We find that this is the case of Judas, and it is the claim of those mentioned in Matthew 7 of whom Jesus says, “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” But further we already see that this was true in the old dispensation, where the magicians were able to duplicate the miracles of Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt. Howbeit with limitations in that they could not cause the plagues to cease which they helped to increase, and they could not duplicate the miracles after the third one. The testimony is clear from the Scripture that the wicked reprobate were given the ability to bring forth miracles. Further, Jesus testifies that in the last days the world of unbelief shall show signs and wonders, “For there shall arise false christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect,” Matthew 24:24. In our day we see this also manifested at least in part in the wonders and signs of man, through many means and even to some extent (we know not how much) through the so called faith healers and mystics. So let us begin by saying that the reprobate at given times and in a given measure were and are able to bring forth miracles.

Secondly, let us establish also that the reprobate at times did prophecy in some real sense. Again we might have the claim of those in Matthew 7, although it is not true prophecy of which they speak for they declared not the Christ of the Scripture, or at the very least did not continue in the true doctrine of Christ. However, there are instances of a prophecy given through reprobate man that comes to pass as true. Especially, there comes to mind the prophecy of Balaam, which you mention. The whole passage teaches us that Balaam meant to honor himself and to stand against God’s people, but God caused that from his lips would come blessing upon Israel rather than cursing. Balaam could not speak other than what God caused that He speak, even though it would mean that he would not gain what he sought.

The matter with Saul is a bit more general and different. Here we have the case where Saul wanted to take David and do him harm, but when he sent messengers to take David, they ended up being overcome by the Spirit and were as it were in a trance prophesying. Thus Saul went himself. But when he came to Samuel and was about to take David, we read the following: I Samuel 19:23 -1 Samuel 20:1 “And he went thither to Naioth in Ramah: and the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on, and prophesied, until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, Is Saul also among the prophets? And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan, “What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life?” Again He seems to have been overcome by the working of God’s Spirit in such a way that all that he could do was speak words that are called prophesying. We do not know much about these words, but Saul did so in a sort of trance like-state, being cast down naked all the day, while David slips away.

We have established the fact that Scripture does speak of the wicked doing miracles and prophesying. Let us now consider how this can be? In the first place, we must understand that the wicked also are absolutely in the hand of God. That is, they are sovereignly governed by God in all that they do in such a way that they remain responsible for the sin that they commit and the evil they bring forth. This means that even Satan cannot do evil to the elect except God gives him the power to do so. This is very evident from the history of Job. Job 2:6-7 is an example: “And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life. So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.” Satan could not strike Job with the boils unless God gave him the power to do so. All power is in the hand of God, even the evil that the wicked bring forth is possible only if God gives them the power to do so.

The same is true of the prophesy of the wicked Balaam. Balaam would have cursed God’s people and therefore God, but could only bless God’s people as this alone did God give him the words to do. The wicked magicians could only perform the miracles in so far as God gave them the power to do this, even unto their own condemnation as they did so in defiance of God. The same is true of other examples. However with the prophesying of those of Matthew 7, we might add that the prophesying was most probably a false preaching as was the preaching of many evil prophets in the old dispensation.

Now we must understand that God always governs the reprobate in such a way as to serve the elect in Christ and His purpose to establish His kingdom with His chosen in Christ. In this the wicked serve the church as scaffolding serves the building of a house. When the house is done the scaffolding is destroyed. We must think in this manner when a wicked Balaam who hates God cannot help but prophesy of the blessing of Israel. Or when the wicked magicians serve God’s purpose in hardening of Pharaoh’s heart for the two-fold reason of saving His church through her trial with the evident teaching that there is salvation by grace alone, and the glorying of God’s name in the just judgment of Pharaoh (the wicked).

From the wicked reprobates’ point of view, they bring forth the signs and wonders that God gives into their power for the purpose of destroying the cause of God. They do their signs and wonders in order to tout a false gospel, modern day faith-healing (for the greatest part) is a very demonstrative example of this with their gospel of salvation by works of man. Even when the false preacher preaches for a time as Judas did, a right doctrine of the Scripture, it is for his own evil purposes, and the hypocrisy becomes clear as time goes on, as it did in the case of a Judas.

But for all of this God uses these wickedly motivated acts for His own purpose and while they mean it for evil, God uses it to save His people and condemn the wicked in their wickedness. Balaam for instance should have fallen down after prophesying the first time the blessing of Israel, but instead tried again to please the wicked Balak, etc. This he does unto his own condemnation.

Finally, to answer your question whether these are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the answer is no. Rather they are the working of God by the power of His Spirit to bring forth His purpose, but are not the gifts of the Holy Spirit as given to His elect as noted in I Corinthians 12. The elect use these gifts of the Holy Spirit for the edifying of the body and for the glory of God. The Scripture says that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law,” Galatians 5:21-22. Of this the wicked have no part. But the powers given to them to exercise is always done by them for evil, and it matters not if God turns it to the good of His people, as was the case with the evil work of Balaam for example. In either case God is glorified also in the just judgment of the wicked.

I trust that this will help in your consideration of these Scriptures, but if you have further questions feel free to ask, or if I missed the point, let me know.

Remember to write your questions to me at revmo@mtc.mtcnet.net. Also feel free to write follow up questions.