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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 18

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verses 1-5


Deuteronomy 18:1-5.


(1) The priests the Levites, (and) all the tribe of Levi.—The fact that there is no “and” here in the original, and the look of the sentence in English, might dispose a superficial reader to find some ground here for the theory that priest and Levite are not distinguished in Deuteronomy. No such idea occurred to Rashi. He says, all the tribe of Levi, not only those that are perfect (who can serve), but those who have a blemish (and cannot).” The distinction between priest and Levite has already been sufficiently noted on Deuteronomy 11:6; Deuteronomy 17:9. The passage is evidently on the same lines with Numbers 18:18-21, which see.

(3) The shoulder, and the two cheeks, and the maw.—This would be from the peace offering. The shoulder is assigned to them in Leviticus 7:32-33 (comp. Numbers 18:18). The “two cheeks and the maw” are not mentioned elsewhere, and the latter word is found in this place only. They are not a valuable part of the sacrifice. An absurd reason for the gift is assigned by Rashi. We know that in the time of Eli, the priests varied their requirements at pleasure, and in the face of the law (see 1 Samuel 2:13). The “priests’ due “here, and “the priests’ custom” there, are the same word in Hebrew, which we have elsewhere translated “requirement.”

(4) The flrstfruit also of thy corn.—See Numbers 18:12. The first of the wool is mentioned here only. The quantity in all these cases has been defined by the Rabbis, on grounds somewhat arbitrary.

(5) To stand to minister in the name of the Lord.—This is the office of the priests. The Levites are said, “to stand before the congregation to minister unto them” (Numbers 16:9). If the writer of Deuteronomy knew no distinction between priest and Levite, it is difficult to see how the Jews could have derived the distinctive privileges of the priests from these enactments.

Verses 6-8

(6-8) And if a Levite come.—The Levites with the priests were to receive forty-eight cities in Israel, with the suburbs (Numbers 35:7). There was as yet no provision made by which all could serve in turn at the tabernacle. When David divided them all into courses, priests, Levites, singers (and porters?) alike, there was no longer any need for this provision. The institutions of David prove its antiquity. The only case in history that illustrates it is that of the child Samuel. His father, Elkanah, was a descendant of Korah. He dwelt in Mount Ephraim, and came up to Shiloh year by year. But Samuel was dedicated by his mother to perpetual service there, and as long as the tabernacle continued in Shiloh, the child Samuel “ministered to the Lord before Eli the priest”—not as a priest, but as a Levite in attendance upon the priests.

Verse 8

(8) They shall have like portions to eat, beside that.—The Levite thus dedicated was to have the same allowance from tithes as the rest who served at the tabernacle, beside the proceeds of the patrimony which he would have had in his own Levitical city.

Verses 9-14

(9-14) Certain forms of idolatry to be avoided, especially unlawful means of communication with the unseen world.

Verse 10

(10) To pass through the fire.—See Leviticus 18:21.

Useth divination—(Numbers 22:7), possibly by sacrifices.

Observer of times.—This is the Rabbinical explanation of the word. In Hebrew the idea of “time” is not so clear. It seems to mean practising hidden arts. (See Leviticus 19:26.)

Enchanter.—Whisperer, or serpent charmer. (See Genesis 44:5.)

Witch.—One who uses charms or spells (Exodus 7:11).

Verse 11

(11) Charmer.—Literally one who ties knots, used here for the first time in Old Testament.

Consulter with familiar spirits.—Literally, one who consulteth ôb (see Leviticus 19:31).

A Wizard.—One who knows or pretends to know the secrets of the unseen world. (See Leviticus 19:31.)

Necromancer.—One who inquires of the dead. Four of the above practices are ascribed to king Manasseh in 2 Chronicles 33:6. It is hardly possible that all of them were mere imposture and deceit.

Verse 13

(13) Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God.—Rashi’s note on this is worth preserving: “Thou shalt walk with Him in sincerity, and wait for Him. And thou shalt not pry into the future. But whatsoever cometh upon thee, take it with simplicity, and then thou shalt be with Him, and be His portion.”

Verse 14

(14) The Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.—More literally, As for thee, not so hath Jehovah thy God given unto thee. A prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me, will Jehovah thy God raise up unto thee. Him shall ye hear. The contrast between the miserable resources of idolatrous nations in their anxiety, and the light and comfort promised to Israel and to us, in the One Mediator, is very marked here. Even Israel was better off than the heathen. As Rashi says upon the words “not so,” &c., “He hath not left thee to hearken to observers of times and enchanters; for behold He hath given Shechinah to rest upon the prophets, and Urim and Thummim.”

Verses 15-20

Deuteronomy 18:15-20. THE ONE MEDIATOR.

The connection between these verses and the preceding is well illustrated by Isaiah’s question (Deuteronomy 8:19): “And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?” Or, as the angels turned the phrase on Easter morning, “Why seek ye Him that liveth among the dead?”

(15) The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet.—Namely, Him of whom St. Peter spoke in Acts 3:22-26. “Unto you first God, having raised up His son Jesus, sent Him to bless you.” It must not be forgotten that the prophetic office is still continued to our risen Lord. He still “speaketh from heaven.” But He “descended first into the lower parts of the earth.” He has “the keys of hell and of death;” and knows all their secrets. They who can draw near to Him have no need to look downward, to consult dead relatives, or seek knowledge from spirits whose character, even if they are accessible, is beyond our discernment. The Holy Spirit, our Comforter and Advocate on earth, and the Prophet, our Advocate that speaketh from heaven, are enough for all human need. What we cannot learn from them, or from the light they give us, it is better not to know.

(16) According to all that thou desiredst . . . in Horeb.—It should never be forgotten that the Prophet like to Moses was promised on “the day of the assembly.” The Holy Spirit, who is Christ in us, was promised on the day of the delivery of the “letter that killeth.” (See also on Deuteronomy 5:28.)

(18) He shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.—“The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself” (our Lord, in John 14:10). “He shall not speak of Himself. He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you” (the Holy Spirit, John 16:13-14).

(19) Whosoever will not hearken . . . I will require it of him.—“For if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven: whose voice then shook the earth.” (Hebrews 12:25.)

(20) That prophet shall die.—Rashi illustrates this by the case of Hananiah (Jeremiah 28:0) who prophesied that Jeconiah, and all that went with him to Babylon, should return within two years. He was sentenced by Jeremiah to die that year; and he died accordingly, within two months.

Verse 22

(22) If the thing follow not, nor come to pass.—This is one form of our Lord’s test for all prophets, “By their fruits (i.e., the ‘results,’ of their teaching, not its first impressions) ye shall know them.”

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 18". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/deuteronomy-18.html. 1905.
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