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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Deuteronomy 18

A.M. 2553. B.C. 1451.

Rules concerning priests and Levites, Deuteronomy 18:1-8 . Cautions against witchcraft, Deuteronomy 18:9-14 . A promise of Christ, Deuteronomy 18:15-19 . The punishment and mark of a false prophet, Deuteronomy 18:20-22 .

Verse 1

Deuteronomy 18:1. His inheritance The Lord’s portion or inheritance, which God had reserved to himself, as tithes and first-fruits, and other oblations distinct from those which were made by fire.

Verse 3

Deuteronomy 18:3. The maw The Hebrew word here rendered maw, or stomach, may have another signification; and some render it the breast; others take it for the part which lies under the breast.

Verse 6

Deuteronomy 18:6. With all the desire of his mind With full purpose to fix his abode, and to spend his whole time and strength in the service of God. It seems, the several priests were to come from their cities to the temple by turns, before David’s time; and it is certain they did so after it. But if any of them were not contented with this attendance upon God in his tabernacle, and desired more entirely and constantly to devote himself to God’s service there, he was permitted so to do, because this was an eminent act of piety, joined with self-denial, to part with those great conveniences which he enjoyed in the city of his possession.

Verse 8

Deuteronomy 18:8. Like portions With their brethren, who were in actual ministration: as they share with them in the work, so shall they in the encouragements. Besides that which cometh The reason of this law was, because he that waited on the altar, ought to live by the altar; and because it was fit he should keep his money, wherewith he might redeem what he sold, if afterward he saw occasion for it. Mr. Henry adds a remarkable note here, especially considering he wrote upward of fourscore years ago. “A hearty, pious zeal to serve God and his church, though it may a little encroach upon a settled order, and there may be somewhat in it that looks irregular, yet ought to be gratified, and not discouraged. He that loves dearly to be employed in the service of the sanctuary, in God’s name let him minister. He shall be as welcome to God as the Levites, whose course it is to minister, and should be so to them.”

Verse 10

Deuteronomy 18:10. That maketh his son or daughter pass through the fire By a superstitious dedicating, or a cruel sacrificing of them, see on Leviticus 18:21. That useth divination Of which there were many sorts, as is implied in the original expressions here: קסם קסמים , kosem kesamim, divining divinations, or with divinations. The meaning undoubtedly is, That seeketh to know or foretel things secret, or to come, by unlawful arts and practices. An observer of times Superstitiously pronouncing some days lucky and others unlucky: or, an observer of the clouds, or heavens; for the word מעונן , megnonen, here used, may be derived from ענן , gnanan, a cloud; and then it means, That divineth by the motion or figure of the clouds, the appearance or passage of meteors, by thunder, lightning, by the stars, the flying or chattering of birds, and the like. Or, deriving the word from עין , gnain, an eye, qui præstigiis utitur, a juggler, one who causes things to assume a false appearance, practises illusions on people’s fancies, or deceives them by sleight of hand. An enchanter Or a conjecturer, that endeavours, or pretends, to discover hidden things by a superstitious use of words or ceremonies, by observation of water or smoke, or tiny contingencies. Or, as the original word seems to be derived from נחשׁ , nachash, a serpent, it means one that divines by means of serpents, of which kind of diviners we have many instances in the heathen poets, particularly Homer and Virgil. A witch Supposed to be in covenant with the devil, and by his help to delude people’s senses, or hurt their persons, their cattle, or other property, through the use of evil arts. The same Hebrew word is translated witch also, Exodus 22:18, where it is evidently intended to be taken in the same sense as here. But, Exodus 7:11; Daniel 2:2, and Malachi 3:5, where it occurs in the plural number, it is translated sorcerers, and interpreted by Aben Ezra of those who change and transform natural things so as to deceive the eyes of the beholders. Le Clerc translates the word, hariolus, soothsayer, because it is joined in the Scriptures with other species of divination.

Verse 11

Deuteronomy 18:11. Or a charmer One that charmeth serpents or other creatures. Or rather, as the Hebrew חבר חבר , chober chaber, seems to mean, an astrologer, or such as, by the conjunction of the planets, pretended to foretel the events of men’s lives, or other future things. It must be observed that the eastern people were much addicted to divination of all kinds, and undertook no enterprise of importance without consulting their soothsayers; and therefore Moses uses these sundry expressions that he might prohibit it in all its forms. A consulter with familiar spirits The original words שׁאל אוב , shoel ob, are here rendered by the Seventy, εγγαστριμυθος , one that speaks out of his belly: but literally, it is one that consults or inquires of Ob. This word originally means a bottle, and was the name which the Hebrews gave to the spirit which was supposed to agitate these ventriloquists, because their bodies were violently distended, like leather bottles full of wine and ready to burst. See Doddridge on Acts 16:16, where both St. Paul and St. Luke evidently consider the girl spoken of as being really possessed by what is there termed πνευμα πυθωνος , a spirit of python, or divination, because the Greeks supposed it to be an inspiration from their god Apollo, whom they termed Pythius.

A wizard Hebrew, A knowing man; who by any forbidden ways undertakes the revelation of secret things. The Seventy render the word τερατοσκοπος , an observer of prodigies. A necromancer Hebrew, One that seeketh unto the dead; that calleth up and inquires of them, as the witch of Endor is represented to have done. Dr. Waterland, after the Seventy, renders it, very properly, one that consults the dead. Their manner of doing this is stated to have been by visiting their graves in the night, and there lying down and muttering certain words with a low voice, by which means they pretended to have communion with them by dreams, or by the dead appearing to them. To this Isaiah has been thought to allude, Deuteronomy 8:19; Deuteronomy 29:4.

Verses 13-14

Deuteronomy 18:13-14. Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God Sincerely and wholly his, seeking him and cleaving to him, and to his word alone, and therefore abhorring all commerce and conversations with devils. Hath not suffered thee so to do Hath not suffered thee to follow these superstitious and diabolical practices, as he hath suffered other nations to do, but hath instructed thee better by his word and Spirit, and will more fully instruct thee by a great Prophet.

Verse 15

Deuteronomy 18:15. Will raise up Will produce and send into the world in due time. A Prophet of thy brethren, like unto me These words are very remarkable, and deserve our very particular attention. Moses was now about to leave his people, and therefore informs them, for their comfort, that God would raise them up another prophet, who should speak unto them God’s words, and instruct them in his will. He has been understood by many eminent persons as foretelling hereby that God would raise up a succession of prophets in the Jewish Church for the instruction of his people. And, perhaps, this interpretation is not to be altogether rejected,

1st, Because this prediction is alleged here as a reason why they need not consult with diviners, as they should have prophets at hand to advise them whenever it was needful.

2d, Because the prophet here spoken of is opposed to the false prophets, and a general rule is hereupon given for the discovery of all succeeding prophets, whether true or false, Deuteronomy 18:20-22.

3d, Because, as is here threatened, whenever the people did not hearken to, and obey these prophets, God required it of them, punishing them repeatedly, and that in a signal manner, by the sword of their enemies, by famine, and by captivity, especially the captivity of the ten tribes under Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria, and the captivity of Judah and Benjamin by Nebuchadnezzar, with the awful calamities preceding and following.

The prediction, however, must of necessity be primarily interpreted of the Messiah. 1st, Because the text speaks of one prophet only, in the singular number, and not of many. 2d, Because the Messiah alone can with propriety be said to have been a prophet like unto Moses, it being simply denied, and that repeatedly, that any other prophet did, or should arise, like unto him. See Deuteronomy 34:10; Numbers 12:6-8. God spoke to the other prophets in dreams and visions, or by the appearance of angels, but he conversed with Moses in a free and familiar way, mouth to mouth, and face to face, as it is expressed, as a man converses with his friend, Moses having his light in the divine will immediately from God, without the intervention of dreams, visions, or the appearance of angels. They only expounded and enforced the laws of God already given, none of them being, properly speaking, lawgivers, in the intermediate space between Moses and Christ. But Moses was properly a lawgiver, and that in a very extraordinary sense, delivering a law which was in general entirely new, and that with such authority and attestations from God, as had never been witnessed on earth before. Not many of these prophets wrought miracles, and those who did, can with no propriety be said to have resembled Moses in that respect. The first and the last of these instances of dissimilitude are particularly noticed in one of the passages above referred to. “There arose not a prophet in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face; in all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt; and in all that mighty hand and great terror which Moses showed in the sight of all Israel.” Add to all this that Moses was a mediator and a king as well as a prophet, in the former of which characters none of the ancient prophets resembled him, and none, except David, in the latter. But Christ was truly like him in all these greater, and in a variety of lesser respects. He was not only a prophet, but a priest and mediator, a king and lawgiver; and not only fully equalled, but infinitely surpassed Moses in the excellence of his ministry and work, the glory of his miracles, and in his familiar and intimate converse with God; being in the bosom of the Father, and the wisdom and word of God incarnate. 3d, The awful threatening denounced in this passage, (Deuteronomy 18:19,) was most signally fulfilled with respect to those of the Jews that did not hearken to this prophet: the Lord most terribly required it of them, and continues to require it. For wrath came upon them to the uttermost, (1 Thessalonians 2:16,) by the Roman armies, in the siege and destruction of their cities, and especially of Jerusalem their capital city, and the utter ruin of their country; and the sad effects of that wrath they have felt for upward of seventeen hundred years, and continue to feel to this day. But, 4th, What perfectly places the matter beyond all doubt, this prophecy is expounded by God himself of Christ, and of Christ alone, in the New Testament. See Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37; John 1:45; John 5:45-46; John 6:14.

Verse 22

Deuteronomy 18:22. If the thing follow not Which he gives as a sign of the truth of his prophecy. That is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken The falsehood of his prediction shows him to be a false prophet. He hath spoken it presumptuously Impudently ascribing his own vain and lying fancies to the God of truth. For though the mere fulfilling of a sign, or working of a bare miracle, was not to be considered as sufficient of itself to establish a false and wicked doctrine, as is stated Deuteronomy 13:1-3; yet, on the other hand, a man that pretended to work a miracle, or predict a future event, in confirmation of a message said to be received from Jehovah, or from some other god, and who failed in the performance of the miracle, or the thing foretold not coming to pass, evidently proved himself to be an impostor. Thou shalt not be afraid of him That is, of his predictions or threatenings, so as to be deterred thereby from doing thy duty in bringing him to deserved punishment.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 18". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/deuteronomy-18.html. 1857.