GOD’S PEOPLE MUST RESPOND TO DIVINELY APPOINTED LEADERS WITH MATERIAL SUPPORT AND SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT
Meredith Kline: Responsibility was laid upon Israel for the support of the priestly ministers of God whose administrative assignments are cited in the preceding and following contexts (vv. 1-8). Then Moses enjoined the elimination of all false oracular claimants, including the false prophet (vv. 9-22). In that connection, he set forth the institution of the true prophets (v. 15ff., rounding out the treatment of theocratic leaders (judge, 16:8; king, 17:14 ff.; priest and Levite, 18:1 ff.), which is appropriately incorporated into this section of legislation dealing with the official administration of righteousness in theocratic life.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Deuteronomy introduces the prophet with two distinct paragraphs. The first (vv. 9–14) rejects the ways nations of that day seek information about the future. Instead, God will raise up prophets through whom God will speak (vv. 15–22). The passage contrasts the rejected ways of the nations with the type of prophet Israel will have.
I. (:1-8) PRIESTS REQUIRE MATERIAL SUPPORT FROM GOD’S PEOPLE
A. (:1-2) The Basis of the Levites’ Entitlements
“The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the LORD’s offerings by fire and His portion. 2 And they shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the LORD is their inheritance, as He promised them.”
Michael Grisanti: Their lack of a land allotment allows them to focus more fully on their God-given ministry.
Daniel Block: To compensate for their landless status, Yahweh offers himself as the Levitical priests’ grant (v. 2b; cf. Num 18:20). Whereas 4:20 (cf. 32:9) designates Israel as Yahweh’s naḥalâ (“people of grant”), here Yahweh is the naḥalâ of the Levitical priests. In effect, Yahweh invites them to eat from his own table; that which the people present to him, he passes on to them. “As he [Yahweh] promised them” (v. 2) reassures the Levites of their security in him, though the following statement obligates the Israelites to provide for them.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The central concern of the passage is not the job description of the priests, which is assumed, but their status within Israel and the way in which they are supported. The argument is fairly simple. The tribe of Levi did not receive an inheritance or allotment when Israel settled in the Promised Land. Instead, God is their inheritance; hence the people are to provide for the priests’ daily needs through their sacrificial offerings and the giving of first fruits. . .
The Hebrew of the last part of 18:1 also is obscure, with a literal rendering something like They shall eat the fire of the Lord and his inheritance. The term fire is probably a reference to offerings to God that are partially burned at the altar. These offerings are given to God (i.e., his inheritance) but not fully burned, therefore making it possible for the priests to receive what is left for their daily sustenance.
B. (:3-5) The Substance of the Levites’ Entitlements
“Now this shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those who offer a sacrifice, either an ox or a sheep, of which they shall give to the priest the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach. 4 You shall give him the first fruits of your grain, your new wine, and your oil, and the first shearing of your sheep. 5 For the LORD your God has chosen him and his sons from all your tribes, to stand and serve in the name of the LORD forever.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Deuteronomy identifies two types of dues for the priests: first, a portion of that which is sacrificed; and second, the first fruits from the field and sheep.
Daniel Block: Moses specifies three types of offerings: meat; the crops of the fields, vineyards, and olive groves; and wool (for clothing and blankets). The gifts brought to the priests must be choice gifts: the shoulder, jowls, and the stomach of the animals; the first of the processed grain, wine, olive oil; and the first fleeces of their flocks. These expressions remind the Israelites of Yahweh’s abundant provision and reinforce their duty to treat the priests as generously as Yahweh has treated them.
Whereas verse 2 grounded the Levites’ privileges in Yahweh’s promise, verse 5 bases them in his election. Here Moses summarizes the Levites’ roles as professional worshipers of Yahweh: Yahweh has chosen them “to stand [before Yahweh]” and “[to] minister in the LORD’s name always” (cf. v. 7; 10:8). This is official court language, authorizing them to enter the Sovereign’s presence to minister to him or to receive a commission from him (cf. Dan. 1:4). The reference to “their descendants” highlights the hereditary nature of the priesthood.
C. (:6-8) The Equality of the Levites’ Entitlements
“Now if a Levite comes from any of your towns throughout Israel where he resides, and comes whenever he desires to the place which the LORD chooses, 7 then he shall serve in the name of the LORD his God, like all his fellow Levites who stand there before the LORD. 8 They shall eat equal portions, except what they receive from the sale of their fathers’ estates.”
Daniel Block: In verse 8 Moses finally gets to the point of this paragraph: equal prerequisites for equal service. The expression “a portion like a portion” (NIV “share equally”) creates an effective envelope around this passage (cf. v. 1) and highlights Moses’ concern for all Levites. He insists that those who move to the central sanctuary are entitled to the food prerequisites of verses 3–5, just like those who are based there.
Duane Christensen: The so-called country Levites, or those that Deuteronomy describes as those who “live in your towns [lit. ‘gates’],” were the clergy for the local “assemblies” who went to the central sanctuary with the local people in the pilgrimage festivals (Unleavened Bread, Weeks, and Booths). While they were at the central sanctuary, they were to be considered part of the larger religious establishment—“all the tribe of Levi”—so far as priestly prerogatives were concerned. Moreover, according to 18:6–8 they were permitted to serve at the central sanctuary in times between the three pilgrimage festivals, whenever they wished to do so. While they were there, “stand(ing) before YHWH,” they were entitled to share “equal portions” in the priestly allotment in terms of food and lodging. Their primary responsibilities, however, were exercised at the local level, where they recited and expounded the Torah, carried out certain legal functions within the court system, and received sacrifices and offerings as local priests. Their functions also apparently included the role of what we might euphemistically call “village butcher,” particularly in regard to the firstborn of the livestock that were blemished and hence disqualified for use at the central sanctuary within the context of the three pilgrimage festivals.
Eugene Merrill: The whole passage reflects a condition in which Levites moved freely from place to place, especially from a local shrine to the central sanctuary, with no hint of necessity or coercion or restriction one way or the other. Those Levites who decided to make such a move could join the ones already serving at the central sanctuary and there could share and share alike with them despite the fact that they might have their own patrimony in addition (v. 8).
Peter Craigie: The words that follow (… besides what comes from his sale of the patrimony) are obscure in the Hebrew and of uncertain meaning, though they would seem to designate some source of income which was not to be affected by the Levite transferring his residence from one place to the main sanctuary.
II. (:9-14) PAGAN PROPHETIC PRACTICES MUST BE REJECTED AS DETESTABLE
A. (:9-12) Syncretism in Religion is Detestable to God
1. (:9) Mimics Pagan Detestable Practices
“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you,
you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations.”
Peter Craigie: The context of these verses is particularly significant for their interpretation. The beginning of the chapter dealt with the Levites (vv. 1–8), who ministered to the Lord in various ways on behalf of the people; the last section (vv. 15–22) deals with prophecy, the deliverance of God’s word to his people. These two legitimate types of religious office are contrasted by this middle section, which contains prohibitive legislation against illegitimate types of religious functionaries and practices. The period envisaged, as is consistently the case in Deuteronomy, is the time when the Israelites would possess their promised land (v. 9); at that time, they must take great care not to copy their forerunners in the land in the matter of various religious offices and practices.
Michael Grisanti: Before delineating the prophetic office, Moses warns the Israelites against imitating Canaanite counterfeit religious practice. God’s gift of the land of Canaan and his dispossession of the Canaanites from that land begin and end this section. The land Yahweh is giving to them as an inheritance is a land in which God’s covenantal people are to conduct themselves as loyal citizens of Yahweh’s kingdom.
Eugene Merrill: As already noted (cf. Deut 13), prophetism was not unique to Israel. However, it assumed forms and engaged in practices among the pagan nations that were strictly forbidden to God’s people. The passage under consideration speaks to these aberrant expressions of prophetism (vv. 9-13) and then turns to that of Israel for the purpose of defining its nature (vv. 14-20) and establishing criteria about the validity of its message (vv. 21-22).
2. (:10-11) Manifests Itself in a Variety of Occult Forms
“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.”
Daniel Block: The practices in this list are all intended to manipulate deities, supernatural forces, and the spirits of the deceased to act in the worshiper’s favor. They are grounded on several fundamental assumptions.
(1) There is a link between the natural and supernatural world that makes cooperation between these spheres possible.
(2) There is a world of supernatural forces that constantly threaten human beings or that may be harnessed for personal benefit.
(3) The wills and operations of supernatural forces may be deciphered in natural phenomena through unsolicited omens (e.g., solar eclipses, birth anomalies) and solicited omens (examining entrails, dropping arrows).
(4) By invoking the gods or manipulating other supernatural forces, a person may affect the outcome of events.
(5) Since magic is a science, these skills can be taught and learned.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The text identifies seven or so techniques used by people in the ancient world to hear a word from God or to learn about the future. The uncertainty of ancient life leads to “a whole array of esoteric arts and practices, … with various kinds of experts in them,” all with the goal of attempting to discover what God is saying or what the future holds (McConville 2002: 300). The Old Testament regularly denounces these methods (cf. Exod 22:18; Lev 19:31; 20:6, 27), and yet it recognizes that they were practiced within Israel and at points were even effective. . .
These practices challenge Israel’s conviction that God is in control and that there is a dynamic relationship between God and Israel (Brueggemann 2001: 193). The rejected practices tend to be manipulative, requiring special knowledge by those employing them. Most of the practices assume a closed future, one that is “set in stone,” either by fate or the gods, with the goal of the technique being to discover what that future will be. This is in sharp contrast to the theology of Deuteronomy, and indeed of the whole Old Testament. Deuteronomy is a word for today (4:8, 26, 39, 40; 5:1; 6:6; 7:11; 8:1; etc.), whenever that “today” may be, when the audience is challenged to choose life over death (30:15). The future is dependent upon how the people respond.
Eugene Merrill: The phrase “practicers of divination” refers generically to the whole complex of means of gaining insight from the gods regardless of any particular technique. Sorcerers (lit., “those who cause to appear”) were diviners whose specialty lay in their ability to create apparitions (cf. Judg 9:36-37). The interpreter of omens divined through the use of certain revelatory objects or devices such as a cup (cf. Gen 44:5) or through the actions or words of others (1 Kgs 20:32-33). He or she who engaged in witchcraft and was adept at performing signs (cf. Exod 7:11) to ward off evil (Isa 47:9, 12) or to mislead God’s people (Mal 3:5). The “spell caster”, literally, “the binder with a band,” was thought capable of invoking powerful curses that would bring their intended targets under control (cf. Ps 58:5; Isa 47:9). The “medium” (“asker of the pit”) was a necromancer, one who sought to communicate with the dead and thereby gain secret information. The best known such practitioner in the Old Testament was the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28:3, 9; cf. Isa 8:19). In the same category is the spiritist. This does not appear to be a different kind of false prophet from the medium, for both are associated with necromancy and the pit (cf. Lev 20:6, 27; 1 Sam 28:3, 9; 2 Kgs 21:6; Isa 8:19). Finally, he “who consults the dead” is listed, no doubt as a general and summary term for necromancy (cf. Isa 8:19; 11:10; 19:3).
3. (:12) Merits Expulsion from the Promised Land
“For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD;
and because of these detestable things
the LORD your God will drive them out before you.”
B. (:13) Standard = Maintain Covenant Integrity
“You shall be blameless before the LORD your God.”
Michael Grisanti: The adjective (tāmîm, “blameless”; GK 9459) occurs frequently to describe offerings that perfectly match the priestly requirements, i.e., they are whole, perfect, or blameless (Ex 12:5; Lev 9:2; 22:21; Nu 6:14; 28:19). It can also depict the serenity of a relationship between God and the righteous that is complete or without blemish (Ge 6:9; 17:1; Dt 18:13; Jos 24:14). It describes a genuine and loyal relationship between persons (Jdg 9:16; Am 5:10). To be blameless signifies a person is upright before Yahweh (Ps 101:2; Grisanti, “2 Samuel,” 222–23).
C. (:14) Separation from Pagan Occult Practices Commanded
“For those nations, which you shall dispossess,
listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners,
but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so.”
III. (:15-22) PROPHETS CLAIMING TO SPEAK GOD’S WORD MUST BE AUTHENTICATED AND OBEYED
A. (:15) Announcement of Future Prophetic Voice
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Whereas the nations give heed to soothsayers and diviners (v. 14), Israel is to heed (v. 15) the prophet like Moses. The use of the identical term in both places strongly connects the two verses, and it sets the second (what Israel is to do) in contrast to the first (what the nations do). . . The opening verse of the paragraph introduces three key themes:
(1) the divine initiative for prophecy,
(2) the nature of a prophet—like Moses—and
(3) the need to listen to the prophet.
Are there prophets today?
Striking about contemporary approaches is that often they do not build on the role that prophets played in Israel. Generally, Old Testament prophets were messengers of God, proclaiming the word of God, to the people of God, in a time of crisis, with a message of indictment or hope, calling for greater faithfulness to God. They appear to have been sporadic (when God raised them up), with a primary focus on Israel—in fact, often rebuking or guiding its leadership. The contemporary tendency to use the name “prophets” for those who address society is more a vestige of Christendom than a restoration of Old Testament prophets. Even the book of Jonah, although about someone who preaches to Nineveh, probably is a book addressed to Israel.
Daniel Block: Because Yahweh promises to provide Israel with prophets, there is no need to resort to divination, magic, and necromancy to determine his will. Moses contrasts the multiplicity of techniques the nations use with the singular provision of Yahweh by frontloading the subject in verse 15: “[Instead] a prophet from your midst from among your brothers like me Yahweh your God will raise up for you; to him you must listen” (pers. trans.). Impulses that drive others to abhorrent magical practices will be satisfied in Yahweh’s provision of the prophetic institution.
Eugene Merrill: This does not mean that Israel would have had no means of access to their God and no way to determine his purposes for them. They were not to emulate the divination of the peoples whom they would dispossess (v. 14), but in the stead of these purveyors of lies there would be an order of God’s own prophets who would speak true revelation (v. 15). This order was first spoken of in the singular—“a prophet like me” and “listen to him”—but the continuing context makes it clear that the term was being used in a collective sense to refer to prophetism as an institution (cf. “a prophet” and “that prophet” in vv. 20, 22). There is nonetheless a lingering importance to the singular “prophet,” for in late Jewish and New Testament exegesis there was the expectation of an eschatological prophet par excellence who would be either a messianic figure or the announcer of the Messiah (cf. John 1:21, 25; Acts 3:22; 7:37). The ambiguity of the individual and collective both being expressed in the grammatical singular is a common Old Testament device employed to afford multiple meanings or applications to prophetic texts.
MacArthur: Both the OT (34:10) and the NT (Ac 3:22, 23; 7:37) interpret this passage as a reference to the coming Messiah, who like Moses would receive and preach divine revelation and lead His people (cf. Jn 1:21, 25, 43–45; 6:14; 7:40). In fact, Jesus was like Moses in several other ways:
1) He was spared death as a baby (Ex 2; Mt 2:13–23);
2) He renounced a royal court (Php 2:5–8; Heb 11:24–27);
3) He had compassion on His people (Nu 27:17; Mt 9:36);
4) He made intercession for the people (Dt 9:18; Heb 7:25);
5) He spoke with God face to face (Ex 34:29, 30; 2Co 3:7); and
6) He was the mediator of a covenant (Dt 29:1; Heb 8:6, 7).
B. (:16-18) The Appointment by Human Request and Divine Authority
1. (:16) By Human Request
“This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’”
Peter Craigie: The institution of this continued line of prophets was marked by the events at Horeb, when the people, afraid to listen directly to the voice of God, requested Moses to act as a mediator on their behalf (see 5:23–27). The divinely appointed prophet, speaking directly God’s word (v. 18), thus provided the Israelites with a way of knowing and understanding the course of human events that was totally at variance with the manner of their neighbors. And because the word of the prophet was spoken with divine authority, to ignore that word would lead to divine judgment: I myself will hold him responsible (v. 19).
2. (:17-18) By Divine Authority
“And the LORD said to me, ‘They have spoken well. 18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’”
Daniel Block: This prophet will be like Moses. While the text does not yet explain what this means, presumably it includes
(a) his mediatorial role;
(b) access to the presence of Yahweh and membership in his council (Num. 12:7; cf. Jer. 23:16–22);
(c) participation in clear, unambiguous, and direct conversation with God (Num. 12:8); and
(d) his divine endowment with the spirit of prophecy (cf. Num. 11:25–26).
This paradigm of prophecy contrasts starkly to indirect, obscure, and ambiguous divination.
Duane Christensen: Prophetic responsibility was exercised in three general areas, as reflected in the types of oracles associated with the classical prophets:
– in matters of war (war oracles),
– in matters relating to the king (royal oracles), and
– in matters relating to the people in general (as monitors of the covenant agreement between God and his chosen people).
God was the true “king” in Israel (cf. Gideon’s response when invited by the people to rule over them in Judg 8:23: “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; YHWH will rule over you”), so kings were subordinate to prophets.
C. (:19-20) Accountability for Rebelling against God
1. (:19) Rebelling by Rejecting God’s Revealed Prophetic Word
“And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words
which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.”
2. (:20) Rebelling by Prophesying Presumptuously in the Name of the Lord
“But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.”
Michael Grisanti: While it would be a simple matter to recognize the treachery of an alleged prophet of God who encourages them to worship other gods, discerning the authenticity of a prophet’s message represents a greater challenge. A prophet whose proclamation does not come to pass is not a prophet whom God has sent. Yahweh requires truth, i.e., the correspondence between the prophetic word and the realities of history (Miller, 153; cf. 1Sa 3:19–20; 10:2–9; 1Ki 17:1–7; 21:23; 2Ki 9:32–36). Whenever a prophet makes a prediction (his ministry involved both preaching and predicting), the failure of that prediction to come to pass provides a clear verdict about the prophet’s lack of divine authority.
While the fulfillment of a prediction by itself does not prove the authenticity of a prophet (13:1–3 [2–4]), failed prophecy serves as an unmistakable indication of his treachery. Do the Israelites, then, have to wait for years (until a prophetic proclamation comes to pass) before knowing whether a given prophet has been sent by God? For example, what about Jeremiah, some of whose prophecies did not find fulfillment for decades? No, a prophet “like Moses” will have credibility with God’s chosen people, who will accept his messages as divinely authorized unless one of his declarations fails to take place. The coherence of a prophet’s message with the rest of Scripture will be a primary test to apply to authenticating any biblical prophet. The Israelites need not fear a prophet operating under his own authority.
D. (:21-22) Authentication of a Prophet
1. (:21) The Quest for Discernment
“And you may say in your heart,
‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’”
2. (:22) The Test of Historical Accuracy = Fulfillment of Prophecy
“When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The prophet who gives a word that God has not commanded has spoken it presumptuously (18:22). This term has been used thrice previously:
(1) of Israel’s action when it tried to enter the Promised Land on its own after losing faith in God (1:43) and
(2) of someone who does not obey the verdict of the central court (17:12–13 [two times]).
In all these cases a person is taking upon oneself a decision that is God’s: this is presumptuous!
Eugene Merrill: Such a litmus test must, of course, be somewhat nuanced. It suggests prediction, first of all, and not a word of a general moral or theological nature. Second, the time frame would have to be such that the predicted word would come to pass in the prophet’s own lifetime if his authenticity were to be judged by his contemporaries. A false prophet could speak of a day in the distant future long after his own decease and thereby evade detection as false on that basis alone. It would seem likely that one who spoke only of remote times and never of the near future would be suspect in any case. The true prophet, then, would have to validate his calling by inerrantly speaking of events in both the near and distant future. Only at the end of history could he be fully vindicated, but unfailing fulfillment of his predictive word where testable would certainly give him the benefit of the doubt.