False Prophets: Why Do They Fail?

Excerpt From The Book, Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing

False Prophets: Why Do They Fail?

10 Reasons Why They Fail

False Prophets: They Always Fail

Why do false prophets fail? They always do. Worse yet, those who follow them also fail.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many have said it, but it bears repeating:

  • George Santayana started it: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
  • Bill Gates modified it: “It is fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

Those who fail to learn from history repeat it.

Despite the familiarity of this truth, scores of people have failed to learn from the past and follow false prophets to their calamity.

The Bible offers numerous warnings against following false prophets. It even offers vivid examples of them to confirm the warnings and illustrate their characteristics. The story of Eli and his two sons provides one of those pictures. (1)

Eli served as high priest over Israel. He had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who served with him as priests in the Temple. Their stories indicate their true natures which led to their ultimate failures.

False Prophets: They Fail Because They Do Not Know God

Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.” (2)

This word “knew” has two different meanings.

  • One expresses factual knowledge, e.g., book knowledge, understanding, or some kind of insight into a subject. In this way, you can recite information about different matters with some degree of mental acuity, and a level of intelligence. With this knowledge, acquired by observation and reflection, you can say, “I know it.”

That kind of knowledge does not define the kind of knowledge meant by “knew” in this verse.

  • Another meaning depicts an intimate, personal relationship with a person, an intimacy of knowledge by experience, a fellowship. This denotation defines “know” in this verse.

Hophni and Phinehas lacked this category of knowledge of God. They had no intimate, experiential knowledge of Him. Therefore, they did not know Him.

They may have known some facts about Him, e.g.:

  • God’s appearing on the mount to speak to Moses, and give him the law;
  • God’s bringing the Children of Israel out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land.

They could tell some things about God, but they did not experience a personal knowledge of Him. They did not truly worship or obey God, true signs of false prophets who will fail.

The example of Hophni and Phinehas warns Christ followers of those in authority in the Church of Jesus Christ who do not know God. These acclaimed leaders may know about God, can describe facts about Him, and recount stories from the Bible about Him. But, they do not know Him in an intimate, personal manner.

False Prophets: They Fail Because They Neglect God

The priorities and practices of false prophets reveal it. Like Eli’s sons, whose behavior disproved a sincere heart for God, they spend little if any time in prayer and intimate fellowship with God. These leaders, on average, spend a few minutes a day in prayer, seeking God’s face.

Further, the content of their preaching and teaching, as well as the absence of the unction of the Holy Spirit upon it, confirms their lack of knowledge of God. They do not know Him. One cannot teach what one has not experienced.

Neither can leaders guide others to a spiritual level they have not attained. People who follow false prophets demonstrate not only a dearth of the knowledge of God and the lack of an intimate fellowship with the God Whom they say they serve.

They also neglect Him in their priorities and practices like the false prophets they follow. Like them, they, too, will fail.

False Prophets: They Fail Because They Disobey God’s Word

Eli’s sons disobeyed God’s word in the manner of the sacrifices they offered on behalf of others. God stipulated the acceptable offerings, the sequence of the offering, as well as the portion of the offering reserved for the priests after the completion of the sacrifice.

Hophni and Phinehas violated these requirements as given by God to Moses.

  • They demanded their portions prior to sacrifices.
  • They stole parts of the sacrifices for themselves after they completed them.

In violation of God’s decree, Hophni and Phinehas had utter disregard for the law of God as well as for the people offering sacrifices. They dishonored the sacrifices and failed in their responsibilities before God. No wonder God judged them for their sins.

False Prophets: They Fail Because They Adopt An Attitude Of Entitlement

Eli’s sons saw their offering of the sacrifices as an opportunity to satisfy their shameless desires with gratification of luxury. They took more of the sacrifices for themselves than God’s law stipulated. They demanded the choicest portions of animals before completing the actual sacrifice of the animals.

A similar attitude of entitlement exists among many Church leaders today. Contrary to Christ’s command of humble service, these false prophets believe they deserve special treatment because of their positions.

  • They demand and enjoy lives of luxury.
  • They command sizeable salaries and spend Church funds on expensive vehicles and palatial homes.
  • Their opulent clothing draws attention to their pride.

Often, they claim a special authority and anointing for them to indulge their impious desires. These false prophets satisfy their cravings with purchases from funds offered by believers who trusted that they made an offering to the Lord.

Like the sons of Eli, the false prophets, teachers, and preachers of our day take these offerings for themselves, beyond actual need. As a result, people have come to abhor offerings and view them with disdain, just as they did in the time of Hophni and Phinehas. (3)

False Prophets: They Fail Because They Indulge In Debauchery and Immorality

Up to this point in the story of Eli’s sons, their disregard for time to know God, their neglect of God, and their disobedience of God’s law qualified them for destruction. Yet, their wickedness does not end with these crucial failures. The Bible expands the depth of their sinfulness:

Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.” (4)

In that day, not unlike our day, the women helped in the temple, cleaning, sorting, organizing, and helping the priests. Some came to pray and worship. We read about Anna the prophetess who was in the Temple when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to complete the law of circumcision and to present Him to the Lord according to the Law. She is one who came to the temple to serve, honor, and worship God.

Eli’s sons used their positions to take advantage of these women and abuse them sexually. Their immorality became common knowledge among the people of Israel. Hophni and Phinehas lost the respect of those who brought their offerings to God at the Temple. Eli’s sons failed long before their demise.

Remember that those who fail to learn from history repeat it? The immoral practices of Hophne and Phinehas did not end with them. No doubt, you like I have read of some in leadership positions in the professing Church today who have illicit sexual relationships with women in their congregations.

Members of their families indulge their illicit sexual desires, too. Sexual trysts occur between staff members who travel together to meetings that promise to “glorify and honor God.” When implicated, they lie about their immorality and justify it as a means for their victims to come closer to God.

Just like Hophni and Phinehas before them, they are false prophets, teachers, and pastors. They, too, will fail.

False Prophets: They Fail Because They Disdain Discipline

After Eli heard some of the stories and reports that came back to him of his sons’ behavior, he said to them:

Why do you do such things, for I hear of your evil dealings by all the people? Nay, my sons, it is not a good report that I hear. You make the Lord’s people to transgress. If one man sin against another the judge shall judge him, but if a man sin against the Lord who shall intreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father.” (5)

When Eli questioned his sons, they responded with disdain for discipline. They did not care for their father’s warnings and rejected his attempts to correct them. In so doing, they disregarded God’s Law and His rule over them.

Eli had let his sons function as a law unto themselves in their roles as priests. He had become ineffective as a High Priest and as a father. He lacked moral authority to enforce Biblical practice upon his sons. They rejected their father’s warnings and correction, hastening toward failure.

Time and time again, this pattern recurs in the lives of false prophets today. Churches split over pastors’ refusal to accept discipline for their moral failures. Popular teachers ignore the warnings from those who love them and seek to correct their sinful lifestyles.

Like Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas, today’s false prophets plunge headlong into failure and take many along with them.

False Prophets: They Fail Because They Elevate Themselves

Hophni and Phinehas esteemed themselves above the people whom they served. They satisfied their own lusts without regard for God’s law. They ignored the impact of their behavior upon others and rejected the messages of those who attempted to correct them. Eli’s sons gratified their cravings as fitting for their positions, which led to their failure.

The “I am different” attitude of Hophni and Phinehas describes the false prophets in our day who have elevated themselves to a status beyond correction. They do not function in the Church the way God designed it:

  • setting themselves above Biblical Church structure;
  • rejecting correction;
  • declining direction and guidance from Godly servants;
  • deceiving others in financial matters; and
  • violate the tax laws of our land, to mention only a few examples.

When admonished for their practices, these false prophets fail to repent of their sins of disobedience to God and their violation of the trust of others. Like Hophni and Phinehas, they claim special anointing of God and disregard the correction of others.

False Prophets: They Fail Because Of The Dearth Of The Word Of God

1 Samuel 3 begins the story of Samuel’s residence in the Temple with Eli, the High Priest. Samuel’s dwelling with Eli resulted from his mother’s prayer for a son and her promises to give that son to God as recorded in 1 Samuel 1.1-2.11.

“And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” (6)

The dearth of the word of the Lord describes three different conditions fostered by false prophets.

  • Dearth Of The Word Of God: Scarcity

When it says that the “word of the Lord” was precious in those days, it literally means scarce. Scarcity of something helps to determine its value. For example, people all over the world view gold as a precious commodity. They do so because of its scarcity and high quality.

In Eli’s day, he and his sons deprived the Children of Israel of God’s word. In fact, they disobeyed it with latitude. They failed to propagate God’s word, and it became scarce and of little value to the priests and the people.

As a result of their sinful behavior, the Children of Israel experienced the deprivation of God’s Word to them. The void of the life giving sustenance of God’s word brings certain failure.

  • Dearth Of The Word Of God: A Lack of Vision

Because Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas deprived the people of God’s word, they did not have any open vision to guide them. The revelation of God and His purposes for His people came from the spiritual leaders to whom God has given a vision of His plans and purposes. No one stood up and said, “Thus saith the Lord. Go this way.” This dire circumstance followed the failed leadership of Eli and his two sons Hophni and Phinehas.

  • Dearth Of The Word Of God: Emphasis Upon Lesser Issues

In or day, the lack of vision exhibits a different aspect that results from a dearth of the word of God. Pastors and teachers today concentrate upon lesser life issues:

  • psychology;
  • emotional disturbances: and
  • “How To…” messages on money and health.

This emphasis, perhaps having some Biblical basis, has replaced the greatest good: sermons on foundational Biblical doctrines and personal holiness. These false prophets abandon preaching the word of God for “talks,” making no clear statement of God’s truths. Thus, the Church careens as a rudderless ship, without direction or standards. No wonder the professing Church experiences spiritual decay.


Dr. Ainsley Barnwell, a former mentor of mine before his death, counselled me,

“Tom, water never flows above its source. A spiritual leader can never take people above his level of spirituality. They will reflect their leader. If you maintain a low spiritual quality, so will the people that you lead. They will never rise above you. If you are not a man of God, your people will not be people of God.”

The failure of Hophni and Phinehas brought spiritual decay to Israel. Their spiritual failures reappear in the false prophets of today, who influence the spiritual decline of the Church.

In the third chapter of his epistle, James warns believers of the responsibilities of leadership. Those who lead in the Church have great liability for their actions. Leaders face greater condemnation for their failures, because the spiritual condition of those who follow them will reflect the leaders’ condition.

The examples of Eli and his sons provide a vivid picture of the causes of the failure of false prophets. Therefore, we must examine those who lead us to escape the same destiny of those who followed them.

May God, by His Holy Spirit, open our eyes to distinguish between truth and error, to identify the false prophets among us, and to escape their failures that threaten to destroy us.

Thank you, heavenly Father, that You have provided for us ways in which we can observe and heed Your warning to us through the Lord Jesus to beware of false prophets, ways in which we can examine them and come to some kind of evaluation and understanding of whether these men and women truly are men and women of God. Help us to reject the false and to pursue after the truth. I pray that You will open their eyes by Your Holy Spirit to see the truth, to understand it, and to grasp it. Grant us by the power of the Holy Spirit to conform our lives to the truth, to come to know You intimately, and to fellowship with You intimately. We will give You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, honor, glory, and praise for what You accomplish with the truth in our lives. Amen. 


  1. 1 Samuel 2.12-17.
  2. 1 Samuel 2.12.
  3. 1 Samuel 2.17.
  4. 1 Samuel 2:22.
  5. 1 Samuel 2:23-25.
  6. 1 Samuel 3:1.

Questions For Study

  1. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinheas, did not know God. How does that happen:
    1. to preacher’s kids?
    2. to deacon’s kids?
    3. to Sunday School teacher’s kids?
    4. to your own kids?
  2. Is it right to call people who strive to follow God’s law, “legalists?”
  3. How can you obey God’s voice in your life without assuming that your good works earn you points with God?
  4. How do modern day false prophets evidence their attitude of entitlement?
  5. How does the church determine whether the demands of their pastors are necessary to live in this society or are born of a desire for luxury?
  6. Does your church have a plan in place to deal with the possibility of sexual immorality on the staff of the church?
  7. How does the church follow-up incidents that give rise to doubt regarding church staff?
  8. Is it ever right to disregard such immorality?
  9. Do you cause your spiritual leader to stumble by treating him as though he were above and superior to others in the church?
  10. Do you show him respect and appreciation without treating him as a “star?”
  11. Most churches state in their constitutions that the Word of God is the sole provider of wisdom and truth from the hand of God. Believers in these churches often read more of the latest popular books about Christianity or books with ethereal prose about communion with God than they read the Bible. Does your pastor discourage such choices and promote the reading of God’s word both in the church and in the home?
  12. What is your personal plan for learning to know God and know His word?

© Thomas P Hill. Website: www.masterministries.org.

Personal Information: Thomas P. Hill, M. A. in Ministry, Luther Rice Seminary; author of 3 books: Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing; Homosexuality, Christians, and the Church; and Keys To A Revolutionary Life (available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Tom’s web site). To invite Tom to speak at your college, church, or group, contact him by email at hill_tom@att.net.

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