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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Deuteronomy 13

Verses 1-18

Deuteronomy 12:32 to Deuteronomy 13:18

Deuteronomy 12:32 What thing soever [The whole word] I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

Deuteronomy 13:1. If there arise [stand up] among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, 2And the sign or [and] the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods [follow other gods] which thou hast not known, and let us serve them: 3Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that [this] prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4Ye shall walk [go] after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. 5And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away [spoken, revolt against] from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage [servants] to thrust thee [seduce] out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou [And thou shalt] put the evil away from the midst of thee. 6If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, 7which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers: Namely [om. namely] of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; 8Thou shalt not consent [yield] unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: 9But thou shalt surely [by all means, utterly] kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10And thou shalt stone him with stones that he die; because he has sought to thrust thee away [to seduce thee]1 from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage [bondmen], 11And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is [such evil word] among you. 12If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the Lord thy God hath given thee to dwell there, saying, 13Certain men, the children of Belial,2 are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which 14ye have not known; Then [And] shalt thou inquire, and make search, and ask diligently [well]; and behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain [truth is it, certain the word] that such abomination is wrought among you; 15Thou shalt surely smite [sternly, without mercy] the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly [laying it under a bann] and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. 16And thou shalt gather all the spoil [made in it] of it into the midst of the street [gate, plaza]3 thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof every whit,4 for the Lord thy God: and it shall be an heap [heap of ruins] forever; it shall not be built again. 17And there shall cleave nought of the cursed thing [banned thing] to thine hand: that the Lord may turn from the fierceness of his anger, and shew [give] thee mercy, and have compassion upon thee, and multiply thee, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers; 18When thou shalt hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep all his commandments [commandment] which I command thee this day, to do that which is right in the eyes of the Lord thy God.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

1.Deuteronomy 13:1-5. The closing verse of the last chapter serves as an introduction to what follows. Comp. 4:1, 2. In the exposition of the third command hitherto, the confession to Jehovah was determined with respect to the one place in opposition to the wide dispersion of Israel in Canaan. Now the same confession is confirmed against every seducing influence, 1) however it may come, and 2) from whatever source, and 3) whatever extent or progress it may have won. [“Tempters to false worship are not to be spared even though (Deuteronomy 13:1-5) their teaching be confirmed by miracles; or (Deuteronomy 13:6-12) they be nearly allied by kindred or friendship; or (Deuteronomy 13:13-18) be supported in their apostacy by a whole city.” Bib. Com.—A. G.].

The first case, Deuteronomy 13:1-5. Among you, out of Israel itself, while hitherto the attacks came from without. For נָבִיא see Doct. and Esther 1:0. The phrase dreamer of dreams does not precisely describe the character of the false prophet, for Numbers 12:6 the dream form is expressly assigned to the prophet of Jehovah; the prophet here may be explained by the vision there. Moses also, chap. 18, designates himself as a prophet. The discourse, in the very manner of the pentateuch, is indefinite and comprehensive of the whole prophetic function or being. Givethi.e., announces or makes known to thee, דִּבֶּר אֵלֶיךָ Deuteronomy 13:3, (1 Kings 13:3) sign or wonder, (4:34) are to be distinguished as σημεῖον and τέρας, signum and prodigium, the former more objective and the latter subjective effect [the subjective effect of wonder or astonishment being transferred to that which produces it.—A. G.] equally whether מופת is from יָפַּה (יָפַע) to shine, something striking, brilliant, or from אָפַת, to turn (the kindred Arabic word being to turn away) that which is strangely turned, or more naturally that which excites aversion, amazement, (Psalms 71:7), unless we should think of פֶתַע (from פָתַה ,פָתַח ,פתַע) instantly, what is sudden, unexpected. (“Used specially of a thing or person who draws astonished attention to himself as typifying and presaging the future. HengstenbergChristol., 2 Ed., Vol. III., I., p. 281). Deuteronomy 13:2. And (ו) even both, thus the most extraordinary appearance which could legitimate a discourse, לֵאמֹר does not depend upon the principal verb (Deuteronomy 13:1), but upon אשר־דבר, as soon as he gave the sign he spake. Comp. 6:14; 11:28; 5:9. Deuteronomy 13:3. For the Lord your God proveth (is proving) you. The participle here, as 8:5, designates the constant method of Jehovah with His people. Comp. 4:34; 8:2. Ye are loving. Since the love must be enduring, the proving also must be lasting or constant, 6:5.Deuteronomy 13:4. Comp. 4:3; 8:6; 10:20; 4:4.Deuteronomy 13:5. At first, as continually in the first law-giving, simply the death sentence, then in a deuteronomic way the reasons, and the practical hortatory application. The death-sentence (יומת) suggests the usual procedure in the courts (17:4–7; 21:20). For the reasons. Comp. 7:4, 8; 4:19; 9:12, 16. The application refers the act of executing the death sentence, probably by stoning (Deuteronomy 13:11) to the character of Israel as a holy people of Jehovah (7:6) which they must confess in every case, but which in this case must be especially sanctified out of the opposition to the name of Jehovah.

2.Deuteronomy 13:6-11. The second case proceeds from the peculiarly enticing aspect which the addition of brother, wife, friend, (Deuteronomy 13:6) makes clear. In the first case it was that which is above nature, now it is nature truly, flesh and blood with which they should not parley; not to one born of the same mother, then to thine own flesh and blood, nor further, to those bound in the ties of love, nor lastly, to those bound by the still higher tie of friendship (2 Samuel 1:26; 1 Samuel 18:1; 1 Samuel 18:3). For the rest similar to Deuteronomy 13:2.Deuteronomy 13:7. Only the God of Israel, no other. Deuteronomy 13:8. Thou shalt not once listen to him. In other points, comp. 7:16. Since the enticement was in secret, so the proving extends to the concealing (Matthew 10:37). Deuteronomy 13:9. Comp. 17:7, (2:15). Deuteronomy 13:10. Comp. Deuteronomy 13:6; Deuteronomy 4:19. This energetic, real counter-confession to Jehovah, against one’s own flesh and blood, (the neighbor, the confidant, should become accuser, witness, and even the first avenger), Israel should thoroughly fulfil, and indeed with sacred awe before the holy majesty of the one God (comp. Deuteronomy 13:5) that the case might never occur again. The purpose of the given death penalty as such is not to terrify. But the prescribed stoning with many stones made it possible that others than those at first related, that the rest of the people even, might share in the confession to the holy name of Jehovah, and perhaps make ready the eternal heap, Deuteronomy 13:16. Comp. Joshua 7:25-26.

3.Deuteronomy 13:12-18. In the third case it is the extent of the sin which is the peculiar object of thought. Deuteronomy 13:12. בְּ not among, nor of, but, that in one, sq., there are gone out, sq., Deuteronomy 13:13. The case is clearly stated at the outset, in the construction, but becomes more prominent through the obligation to the giver Jehovah, placed over against it. לאמר introduces the report, what had occurred. [The clause which the Lord thy God giveth thee serves to aggravate the sin, and at the same time to remind the innocent city of the obligation to watch over that which had involved itself in apostacy. The city was the Lord’s. They held it as stewards. It was entrusted to them. Hence they were to watch over it with the greatest jealousy, and hence the erring city was misusing and perverting the Lord’s property.—A. G.]. Deuteronomy 13:13. כְּנֵי־בְלִיַּעַל, who are conceived, born of יעל perf. from על above, or imperf. from עלה (עלע) to ascend, and thus with בלי that which amounts to nothing—worthlessness, both religious and moral, as if we should say, vain, profitless people, as their gods are nonentities, (2 Corinthians 6:15). Out from among you. Israel viewed as a whole, hence the obligation against the criminal part. Deuteronomy 13:1; Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 13:11, which comp. But the comprehensive punishment, corresponding to the extent of the sin, should follow only Deuteronomy 13:14 upon the most thorough investigation. Comp. 9:21.Deuteronomy 13:15. לְפִי־ so that they fall to the sword. Destroying, sq., “banned are they,” sq. Comp. chap. 7. Deuteronomy 13:16. The street designates the broad, open place in the gates; the place of concourse, of the courts. כָּלִיל the whole, what was entirely offered, borders upon עלה and יעל as a whole offering for Jehovah. Deuteronomy 13:17. Comp. 7:25 sq. Holiness, as it makes its demand through righteousness, must receive satisfaction, and therewith mercy can follow. The enlargement should counterbalance the loss occasioned by the punishment.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. Delitzsch, upon Genesis 20:7, explains נָבִיא by “one addressed by God, or speaking for Him, i.e., a receiver or interpreter of divine revelation, and thus as equivalent to προφήτης.” Both ideas lie in the primitive word which is common to all dialects. The primordial of the idea is not the utterance as such, or indeed the “statement in clear word” (C. Meier); נביא is not the name of a ready, fluent worker, peculiarly speaker, (Ewald) or an interpreter (Gesenius); but as נבא, related to נבע, to boil, bubble up, thus as ῥέω, transferred to human speech, points out the flowing announcement, hence presupposes an extraordinary endowment and inspiration—a concealed fountain breaking forth in humanity—so the form נביא asserts its usual passive significance (Hengst.) as frequently in words in which suffering, reception, and activity are connected (μαίνομαι, μάντις), not precisely equal to inspiratus but nearly so (Hupfeld) i.e., “one who receives the secret communications or suggestions.” Therefore not so much as the confidant of God; for the prophet not merely preserves these communications, but has to communicate them, which indeed was the case with the patriarchs (Psalms 105:10-11), not to speak of the prophetic sayings of Isaac and Jacob, otherwise we should know nothing of their visions and dreams. המה ,נהם = נאם to hum, murmur, of secret trusted communication, as: to whisper, has notwithstanding Hupfeld’s repeated assertion, no etymological connection with נבא. Even Exodus 7:1 can only be viewed as a decisive passage sage for the idea of the prophet, when the two there designedly separated sides: the suggesting God and the uttering prophet are taken together (comp. upon 18:18. A prophet therefore is one who utters, communicates, that which is hidden, flowing forth from secret sources, either higher (divine) or lower, (demonic). The contents make the distinction between the true and false prophet, as to the form, even signs and wonders, do not fail the latter.

2. As to the biblical idea of a wonder or miracle, it is to be observed that signs precede wonders even in the New Testament connection: σημεῖα καὶ τέρατα, the latter never occurring alone. In the sign it is the objective import of the thing upon which it depends, in the wonder it is the subjective perception. Thus remarks Havernick, “it appears here from the standpoint of revelation, it is not the wonder in and by itself, but that which is significant in it, the higher to which it points, which is the peculiar essential kernel and characteristic of the true miracle. Above all in the biblical miracle there is an exalted sacred conformity to, or connection with the great educating purpose of God.” The fact announced in this chap., that signs and wonders may be used in the service of falsehood, is not less important for the biblical idea of the miracle (Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:13) since thus with the signs and wonders we must take the doctrine, and in connection with this the life, and conduct of the wonder-worker. Comp. Matthew 7:15 sq.; 22 sq. “It is clear that however great the importance attributed to signs and wonders, they were never regarded as of supreme moment, were never in themselves decisive, but that there was in Israel a certainty which was so much more sure and firm than any demonstration of the wonder, that it could be placed in the most decided opposition to it. This certainty was the knowledge of God; for when they were warned against the service of idols, the opposition between Jehovah and the gods was for the most part thus stated; that Israel had known Jehovah as his God, but had not known the gods of the heathen, and could not therefore trust itself to them, etc.” (Baumgarten).

[The point here is not as to the nature and force of the true miracle, but whether these signs and wonders are to be regarded as true miracles. The Scriptures use these terms in a very wide sense, and there is ground for the usage in the very nature of the case. It could not well be otherwise. If we hold, with some, that the prophet here is a true prophet, and the wonder a real miracle; that God for the purpose of proving and testing His people, permitted this use of His power, we involve ourselves in inextricable difficulties. It will be hard to reconcile this view with the character of God, as true and good, or to justify such a misleading test to His people. We shall be driven to degrade the miracle as a proper evidence of a divine commission, or withdraw it altogether from the field of the evidences. We may meet the case here by the supposition that Moses is putting a hypothetical but impossible case, as Paul in Galatians 1:6. But the whole statement as to the sin, and the manner in which it should be dealt with, implies that it was not only a supposable case, but one which would actually occur. Such prophets would arise, and such wonders be wrought.

The only satisfactory solution is that those wonders were not real miracles. They were supernatural events, i.e., events not traceable to any human agency, or to any natural power or process, but not due to the immediate agency of God, or to any other permissible use of His power in any other sense than that in which He permits whatever is. They were not tricks or impostures. They were real wonders so far as the physical events are concerned. They were true occurrences in the external world, wonders to men, lying above and beyond their power, but due to Satanic or demonic agency. Such agency is recognized in the Scriptures everywhere. It would be likely to manifest itself, for precisely the ends in view by these prophets or dreamers. They had the semblance of true miracles, and herein lay the test. It was only the semblance, and they should have distinguished the real from the apparent. The physical wonder, however striking or awe-inspiring, or unexpected it may have been, was not the miracle. The material wonder coincides with some express announcement, some express claim upon the part of him who works it. The nature of the wonder itself, the truth or announcement connected with it, and the character of the agent, all go to make the miracle. Our Lord Himself appeals to the design with which His miracles were wrought. No wonder or sign therefore could justify them in listening for a moment to one who would turn them from the love and service of Jehovah. God would never coöperate to alienate His own people. See the able article on miracles in Smith’s Bib. Dict., Am. Ed. Trench on Miracles, Introduction. Mozley, Lecture on Miracles, London, 1865, and the authors referred to in Smith’s Bib. Dict.—A.. G.].

3. When the peculiar doctrine and practice of the Romish Church, in whose system not only Calvin, but even Melancthon, were entangled, is based as to the punishment of heretics, schismatics, and sects upon our chapter, it is due to a confusion of ideas; of the theocracy with the Byzantine or mediæval State Church, and involves a mistake as to the nature both of the State and the Church. In the Israelitish theocracy, apostacy from Jehovah, and the institution of a heathen confession and service, was intelligibly treason, rebellion, a civil offence, which must meet with civil punishment. The State, even the Christian state, has the sphere of law and justice for its province, rules in the relations of men to men; can thus only be appealed to in regard to faith, the relation to God, when danger or injury from that side, as to its legal relations, threatens it. And the Church will generally have to decline the means of violence as repugnant to the very nature of religion, as especially considering the religious development, it cannot work with the Old Testament against the New Testament injuries, the more refined and cultivated forms of evil. Against Augustine’s compelle intrare (Luke 14:23), Luke himself, 9:54 sq., should be heard. But the sword of the Spirit which the Church bears, the word of God, it uses not merely through philosophic demonstration, but the Spirit is the Spirit of testimony, of strength, and of discipline, (1 Corinthians 5:13). Comp. Lange, Christian Dogmatics, III., § 52, and for the history, Herzog’s Realencycl., V., p. 459 sq.

4. The end of the punishment, as it is more expressly declared in the three clauses (Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 13:11; Deuteronomy 13:17), is the putting away of the sin from the midst of Israel by an actual manifestation of the violated law, hence as opposed to the sinful confession which had come into Israel, to make an energetic counter-confession to Jehovah, not-withstanding signs and wonders, bands of blood, and of choice, and even prudence on account of the greatness of the evil. Thus the jus talionis. Deuteronomy 13:5 declares the negative element of the punishment by Which the sin was restrained in its course, and limited to the doer. Its positive destination, through which the transgression was atoned, and the guilt of the transgressor expiated, appear in Deuteronomy 13:11, since the divine righteousness, in its fearful majesty, enters threateningly over against the whole people. The negative and positive elements are both embraced or pre-supposed, Deuteronomy 13:17-18, so that the reconciliation of God to Israel, and of Israel to God, can now have room. “The subordinate or derived ends of punishment,” says Nitzsch, “can only be sought and attained, as they are made good through the consciousness of eternal righteousness.”

5. [The Jews applied, Deuteronomy 13:2-5, to Christ as though He would have allured them, from their allegiance to God and the law, utterly and blindly perverting His whole teaching; which our Saviour took pains to present, as in its whole nature and tendency completing and not destroying the law. Wordsworth closes his long and elaborate note here with the remark “that the conduct of the Jews here shows the vast importance of a correct interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. They had the Scripture, but failed to understand it, and incurred its fearful denunciations by condemning Him to whom they bare witness.” A. G.]

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Deuteronomy 12:32 sq. Luther: We should depend entirely upon the word, and do all which it enjoins heartily; for if the word is lost, God is lost. But it is better that one should lose friend, brother, saints and nobles, and all, than God. Calvin: “There is a certainty in the heavenly doctrine which does not permit our faith to waver or to be overthrown, Ephesians 4:14.” Cramer: “There must be heresies among you, that the upright may appear, 1 Corinthians 11:19.” Berl. Bib.: One such prophet is our reason. Deuteronomy 13:2. Tub. Bib.: Truth is more than all wonders, and no wonder avails against the truth. Deuteronomy 13:3. Luther: “Dost thou see here that the right is given to every one to judge the doctrine? Matthew 7:18. The silent power of love.” Calvin: “God searches the heart, not to learn what was unknown to Him, but to reveal what was concealed. Thus the true saints are separated from the hypocrites.” Schultz: “He knows from the beginning; but there must be some fitting experience through which His conduct may stand justified before men, angels and Himself even, Job 1:8.” Berl. Bib.: “It is noticeable, that there is no example in the Old Testament in which Israel as such has so treated one of the many false prophets, but many examples in which they wrested the law against true prophets, and against Christ Himself. Matthew 21:33 sq.; 23:34 sq.; Acts 7:52; John 19:7.” Deuteronomy 13:7. Richter: “The evil one tempts at all times, but most easily through those we love; Adam through Eve, Christ through Peter, Matthew 16:23.” Deuteronomy 13:16. Richter: “Since Israel never carried out this sentence upon godless places, God has done it Himself, especially through the Chaldeans.” Schultz: “If the Church neglects the extermination, the Lord will complete it through the spirit of judgment and the spirit of destruction even, Isaiah 4:4.—Faith in temptation, however dazzling the temptation is to it, follows the Lord; however alluring, the Lord is all to it and more; however violent, it is satisfied with the grace whose strength is mighty in the weak.”

Footnotes:

[1][Deuteronomy 13:10. Here as above the הַדִּיחֲךָ does not precisely correspond with our word thrust, which carries with it the idea of external force. Better when followed by מִן, to draw from.—A. G.].

[2][Deuteronomy 13:13. Margin, naughty men: lit. sons of worthlessness.—A. G.].

[3][Deuteronomy 13:16. Street, the broad, open market-place, at the gate; Gesenius.—A. G.].

[4][Deuteronomy 13:16. Schroeder adopts the rendering of our version, making כָּלִיל an adverb. See however Exeget. notes. Others, Keil, Knobel, Bib. Com., render it as in 33:10, a whole offering.—A. G.].

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 13". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/deuteronomy-13.html. 1857-84.