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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Deuteronomy 18

 

 

Verses 1-8

Priests and Levites18:1-8

The Levites lived as sojourners among the other Israelites. While they had their own cities, they did not possess land and territorial inheritances as the other Israelites did. However the privilege of serving God as they alone could was compensation much greater than their loss of physical benefits. They could eat the produce of the land. In addition to the tithes, the Levites also received the parts of the sacrifices allotted to them that included meat of various kinds, wine, oil, and wool ( Deuteronomy 18:3-4).

Evidently not all the Levites served at the tabernacle. Some simply lived in their assigned cities. Participation in sanctuary services was apparently voluntary to some extent ( Deuteronomy 18:6-8). God did not preserve in Scripture the plan whereby individual Levites served in carrying out various duties at this period in Israel"s history (cf. Numbers 18). This passage refutes the Wellhausian view that all Levites could be priests. [Note: See also Rodney K. Duke, "The Portion of the Levite: Another Reading of Deuteronomy 18:6-8 ," Journal of Biblical Literature106:2 (1987):193-201.]

One writer argued that Deuteronomy 18:8 permitted the Levites to sell the remains of a sacrificed animal. [Note: Logan S. Wright, "MKR in2Kings XII:5-17 and Deuteronomy XVIII:8 ," Vetus Testamentum39:4 (October1989):445 , 448.] Most translators believed this verse allowed them to sell their family possessions.


Verses 9-22

Prophets18:9-22

The context of this section is significant, as usual. Deuteronomy 18:1-8 deal with people who ministered to Yahweh in various ways for the people, and Deuteronomy 18:15-22 concern the delivery of God"s revelations to His people. Deuteronomy 18:9-14 contrast illegitimate types of religious personnel and practices with the legitimate kinds Moses dealt with in the surrounding sections.

"Of the three major institutions of ancient Israelite social and religious life-royalty, the priesthood, and prophetism-only the last was charismatic and nonsuccessive. Prophets were men and women raised up individually by God and called and empowered by him to communicate his purposes to the theocratic community. Frequently this ministry would take the form of a word of instruction or even rebuke to the leaders of the people as well as messages addressed to the present and future promises of covenant accomplishment and fulfillment." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy , p270.]

It is helpful to think of the prophets as preachers and worship leaders, and the priests as teachers.

Child burning ( Deuteronomy 18:10) may have had some connection with determining or discovering the future course of events (cf. 2 Kings 3:26-27). However it was probably a separate type of abominable practice from divination. [Note: Miller, p151.] The pagans used various phenomena as instruments to divine (foretell) the future. These devices included the patterns of birds as they flew, the arrangement of the organs of an animal offered as a sacrifice, and the relationship of the heavenly bodies to one another. Witchcraft involved dealing with Satan and his demons to obtain desired ends. Omens were signs of coming events or conditions. Sorcerers cast spells. Mediums and spiritists called up the dead (cf. 1 Samuel 28:8-14). The precise distinction between some of the terms in Deuteronomy 18:10-11 is not certain. [Note: Craigie, The Book . . ., p260; Merrill, Deuteronomy , pp271-72.]

"While the New Testament use of Deuteronomy is pervasive (all but chapters3 , 12 , 15 , 16 , 20 , 26 , 34being cited at least once), it is striking that four passages stand out as being the clear centers of focus: Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Deuteronomy 21:22-23; and Deuteronomy 30:11-14." [Note: Idem, "Deuteronomy . . .," p23.]

This writer observed that of the42New Testament citations of this passage, 24of them appear in John"s Gospel. [Note: Ibid, p27.]

In Deuteronomy 18:15-19, God promised that when Moses was dead He would provide guidance for the nation through other prophets like Moses, whom He would raise up as her needs demanded. Consequently the people should not try to discover knowledge of the future on their own, as idolatrous pagans did. Commonly they did this through various practices, all of which involved contact with the spirit world ( Deuteronomy 18:10-11).

"Abraham is called a prophet in Genesis 20:7, and the existence of prophets is presupposed in the Pentateuch ( Exodus 7:1; Numbers 11:29; Numbers 12:6; Deuteronomy 13:2-3). The present text, however, is the first to discuss the office of the prophet.

"The historical basis for the office is Israel"s request for a mediator at Sinai ( Exodus 19:16-19; Exodus 20:19-21). Fearing to stand in God"s presence, the people asked Moses to go before the Lord and return God"s words to them. Thus the prophet was to be "like Moses." This suggests that the office of the prophet was to play an important role in the further history of God"s dealings with Israel. Indeed, a major section of the OT canon is devoted to the work of the prophets ( Isaiah -Malachi). The prophet was to be God"s mouthpiece to the people." [Note: Sailhamer, p456. Cf. Exodus 7:1.]

Was Moses predicting one coming prophet, many prophets, or both?

"This order [the prophetic order] is first spoken of in the singular-"a prophet like me" and "listen to him"-but the continuing context makes it clear that the term is being used in a collective sense to refer to prophetism as an institution (cf. "a prophet" and "that prophet" in Deuteronomy 18:20; Deuteronomy 18:22). There is nonetheless a lingering importance to the singular "prophet," for in late Jewish and New Testament exegesis there was the expectation of an incomparable eschatological prophet who would be either a messianic figure or the announcer of the Messiah (cf. John 1:21; John 1:25; Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37). The ambiguity of the individual and collective being expressed in the grammatical singular is a common Old Testament device employed to afford multiple meanings or applications to prophetic texts. [Footnote30:] This is seen most clearly in the singularity and plurality of the Servant in the "Servant Songs" of Isaiah ( Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:1-6; Isaiah 50:4-9; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12)." [Note: Merrill, "Deuteronomy . . .," p28. See H. Wheeler Robinson, Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964), pp15-17; Kline, " Deuteronomy ," p181; R. P. Carroll, "The Elijah-Elisha Sagas: Some Remarks on Prophetic Succession in Ancient Israel," Vetus Testamentum19:4 (October1969):408-14; and Johnson, pp186-87.]

Another example is the word "seed," which can have a singular or plural referent.

Jesus Christ was one of the prophets that God raised up as promised here ( Deuteronomy 18:15; Matthew 17:5; John 4:25; John 5:45-47; John 12:48-50; Acts 3:22-23; Acts 7:37).

"When finally Christ appeared upon earth, the promise was fulfilled in its highest and fullest sense. It Isaiah , therefore, a Messianic promise." [Note: Young, p35.]

"Jesus was like Moses in numerous ways. He was spared in infancy ( Exodus 2; Matthew 2:13-23); He renounced a royal court ( Hebrews 11:24-27; Philippians 2:5-8); had compassion for the people ( Numbers 27:17; Matthew 9:36); made intercession ( Deuteronomy 9:18; Hebrews 7:25); spoke with God face to face ( Exodus 34:29-30; 2 Corinthians 3:7); and was the mediator of a covenant ( Deuteronomy 29:1; Hebrews 8:6-7). The greatest revelation in the Old Testament era came through Moses. This revelation was only surpassed in the coming of Christ, who not only revealed God"s message but provided salvation through His death." [Note: Schultz, p64. See also David Moessner, " Luke 9:1-50: Luke"s Preview of the Journey of the Prophet Like Moses of Deuteronomy ," Journal of Biblical Literature102:4 (December1983):575-605.]

Another important comparison is that both Moses and Jesus laid the foundation for the kingdom of God on earth and called on the Jewish people to prepare for it (cf. Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37).

Jesus was superior to Moses in at least seven ways. He provided salvation through His death. He arose from the dead. He ascended into heaven. He continued to give revelation from God after His death (through the New Testament prophets). He presently intercedes for His own. He will return for us. And He will literally bring us into God"s presence.

God told His people how to distinguish true prophets from impostors because people could step forward in Israel with claims to be prophets with messages from God ( Deuteronomy 18:20-22). The people could identify false prophets when their prophecies failed to materialize ( Deuteronomy 18:22). If someone claimed to be a prophet but sought to lead the people away from the law, the people should recognize that God had not sent him ( Deuteronomy 18:22; cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-5). During a prophet"s ministry it would become clear whether he was a false or true representative of Yahweh (cf. Matthew 7:15-16). [Note: See Young, pp20-37 , for an exposition of this entire section (18:9-22).]

People who claimed to be prophets but distorted or misrepresented the Word of God were subject to execution in Israel. This shows the importance of presenting the Word of God accurately. Let preachers and Bible teachers take note!

PRIESTS AND PROPHETS IN ISRAEL

Priests

Prophets

Their threefold task:

Offer sacrifices for the people

Teach God"s Word to the people

Lead the people in cultic worship

Their threefold task:

Receive messages from God

Deliver messages to the people

Lead them in heartfelt worship

Teachers of the people

Appealed to the mind

Goal: understanding by the people

Preachers to the people

Appealed to the emotions and will

Goal: obedience by the people

Inherited their ministry

Were called by God to their ministry

Didn"t foretell the future

Foretold the future occasionally

Lived in assigned towns ideally

Lived anywhere

Were very numerous

Were not as numerous

Came from one tribe and family

Came from any tribe or family

Were males only

Were males and females

Later were divided by "courses"

Later lived in "schools"

Were gifts from God to the people

Were gifts from God to the people

How does this chapter fit into the civil legislation of Israel? Priests, Levites, and prophets were important civil as well as religious leaders in the theocracy. They represented the people before Israel"s heavenly King and served as mediators between the King and the people.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 18:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/deuteronomy-18.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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