Israel was promised by God “a fountain” – “to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” The idea of a fountain of water that provides full life to God’s people flows from one end of the Bible to the other (Ezekiel 47:1-12; Revelation 22:1-2). As Christians, when we hear about a fountain that brings cleansing, we think of Jesus.
He had been talking to a Samaritan woman at a well. It was an important well, dating all the way back to the patriarchs of Israel. And Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).
Such water was promised to Israel.
Also promised to Israel was a great cleansing among the people of idolatry and false prophecy. The two go hand in hand – idolatry and false prophecy. It had been that way from the very beginning. In his Law, God had warned the people about the existence of false prophets (and “dreamers of dreams”). If someone gave an accurate prediction and then encouraged the people to worship false gods, the people of Israel were to not listen to that “prophet.”
God said, “For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
False prophecy ultimately leads to false gods. It leads to idolatry. And God promised to root both out of Israel.
On the flip side are the concepts of testing and obedience. “For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 13:3).
False prophets tempt people to lurch out in search of something other than the One True God. That “something” might be money or reputation or security or good health. Those things can become idols in our lives. Meanwhile, God is seeking faithfulness on our part – a faithfulness that is borne out in obedience.
“On that day,” God will cut off both idolatry and false prophecy. What will be left of his people after those things are stripped away? Will their obedience to God’s commands shine through? And so there is a fountain for cleansing.
Jesus appears again in the final section of this passage – about a shepherd who is struck and a flock of sheep that is scattered. Two thirds of those sheep will perish, and one third will be refined (and tested) by fire. And they will pass the test.
Jesus used this passage to describe his arrest, while a much-too-confident Peter made promises he couldn’t keep. Jesus said, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered'” (Matthew 26:31).
But those scattered sheep would be refined. “And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them.”
We are purified, cleansed, strengthened by testing. We grow through testing and trials and through things that seem difficult in this day. My guess is that – generally speaking – the false prophets provide God’s people with an easy way out. False prophets offer some lesser good that we could grab ahold of now. And that leads us away from the One True God – the giver of living water.
So we hold fast to God and his commandments. We continue to obey, even when things are difficult. And we look forward to the day when false prophecy is no more. In fact, we look forward to the day when all prophecy comes to an end.
“As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).
That day will come. In a sense, it is already here. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).