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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 13

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Deuteronomy 13:0


Punishment of ApostatesWarnings Against Idolatry (12:32-13:19)Warning Against Idolatry (Deuteronomy 12:29-18)Against Canaanite Cults (Deuteronomy 12:29-1)
Deuteronomy 12:32-5
Deuteronomy 13:1-5Deuteronomy 13:1-5 Against the Enticements of Idolatry
Deuteronomy 13:2-6
Deuteronomy 13:6-11Deuteronomy 13:6-11Deuteronomy 13:6-11
Deuteronomy 13:7-12
Deuteronomy 13:12-18Deuteronomy 13:12-18Deuteronomy 13:12-18

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This is a difficult passage of Scripture to interpret and understand. It is not a passage one would use to describe the love of God.

B. This chapter is a polemic against idolatry at all levels of religious, as well as, civic life.

1. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 speak about false prophets (cf. Deuteronomy 18:20).

2. Deuteronomy 13:6-11 speak about family members who try to draw other family members into idolatry.

3. Deuteronomy 13:12-18 talk about the entire city or community which embraces idolatry (cf. Deuteronomy 29:18).

C. There seems to be a distinction in the OT between a prophet and a dreamer of dreams. A vision is experienced by a person who is awake and in control of his mental faculties. Ezekiel, by the River Kebar, is an example of a vision. Daniel is an example of one who interpreted dreams. Both are revelations from God. The normative way for God to speak to people today is not through visions nor dreams, yet He has the power to do either.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 13:1-5 1”If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,' 3you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. 5But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you.”

Deuteronomy 13:1 Not all persons claiming to speak for deity can be trusted. We must test them (cf. Deuteronomy 18:20-22; Matthew 7:0; Matthew 24:24; 1 John 4:1-6; 2 Peter 3:15-16).

Deuteronomy 13:1, Deuteronomy 13:3 “prophet” See Special Topic below.


NASB, NKJV, NJB“dreamer of dreams” NRSV“those who divine by dreams” TEV“interpreters of dreams” JPSOA“dream-diviner”

This term is a construct of the VERB (BDB 321, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) and the PLURAL NOUN (BDB 321). Divination (cf. Deuteronomy 18:14-15) or the attempt to understand, foreknow, or effect the will of god/gods was common in the ancient Near East. There were many ways to divine:

1. dreams/trances (mental states)

2. lots, sticks (man-made items)

3. clouds/storms/droughts (weather)

4. birds (flight of and type of)

5. events in the sky (movement of constellations, comets, eclipses, etc.)

6. condition of sheep's liver (other sacrificial animals)

Deuteronomy 13:1, Deuteronomy 13:2 “sign” It seems to me the word “sign” (BDB 16) in the Bible is used when talking about something that had been predicted and then fulfilled. This term is used in several different senses in Deuteronomy:

1. The miracles/plagues that YHWH did through Moses in Egypt to force Pharaoh to let Israel leave, Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 6:22; Deuteronomy 7:18-19; Deuteronomy 11:3; Deuteronomy 26:8; Deuteronomy 29:2-3; Deuteronomy 34:11.

2. Small containers which contained Scripture texts, Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:8

a. on left arm

b. on forehead

c. on doorpost

3. Miracles/predictions of false prophets to lead Israel away from the exclusive worship of YHWH, Deuteronomy 13:1-2.

4. YHWH's judgments on a disobedient Israel will function as a future warning to generations of Israelites, Deuteronomy 28:46; Deuteronomy 28:46.

“or wonder” “Wonder” (BDB 65) seems to refer to a miraculous deed done in the presence of witnesses. It is often used in tandem with “signs.”

Deuteronomy 13:2 “and the sign or the wonder comes true” Miracles are not automatically from God (cf. Exodus 7:11, Exodus 7:22; Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9). This is also true of accurate predictions (cf. Deuteronomy 18:22).

If “the Prophet” of Deuteronomy 18:18-19 is a foreshadowing of the Messiah, then this false prophet is a foreshadowing of the Anti-Christ (cf. Deuteronomy 18:20). The “falseness” is revealed if:

1. the word does not come true

2. the word is not of YHWH

“Let us go after. . .let us serve them” These two VERBS document the proposed deviation from the exclusive worship of YHWH:

1. “go after” - BDB 229, KB 246, Qal COHORTATIVE. This is a repeated warning, cf. Deuteronomy 6:14; ; Deuteronomy 8:19; Deuteronomy 11:28; Deuteronomy 13:2, Deuteronomy 13:6, Deuteronomy 13:13; Deuteronomy 28:14; Deuteronomy 29:18, Deuteronomy 29:26

2. “serve” - BDB 712, KB 773, Hophal IMPERFECT, used in a COHORTATIVE sense. This is also a repeated warning, cf. Deuteronomy 5:9; Deuteronomy 7:4, Deuteronomy 7:16; Deuteronomy 8:19; Deuteronomy 11:16; Deuteronomy 13:2, Deuteronomy 13:6, Deuteronomy 13:13; Deuteronomy 17:3; Deuteronomy 28:14, Deuteronomy 28:36, Deuteronomy 28:64; Deuteronomy 29:18, Deuteronomy 29:26; Deuteronomy 30:17; Deuteronomy 31:20.

The phrase “Let us go after other gods” is a repeated warning, not just in Deuteronomy, but in Jeremiah.

“gods (whom you have not known)” The issue here is not the ability to perform power signs, but the exclusive worship of YHWH. See Special Topic: Know.

Deuteronomy 13:3 “you shall not listen to the words of that prophet” The VERB (BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERFECT) is the often repeated shema, which means “to hear so as to do.” See note at Deuteronomy 4:1.

“for the LORD your God is testing you” The VERB (BDB 650, KB 702, Piel PARTICIPLE) expresses the truth that God puts humans in situations of testing or temptation in order to know and strengthen their faith/trust/obedience in Him (cf. Genesis 22:1-12; Exodus 15:25; Exodus 16:4; Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 8:2, Deuteronomy 8:16; Judges 2:22; Judges 3:1, Judges 3:4; 2 Chronicles 32:31). Even the presence of false prophets among the people is a divine way to separate true believers from peripheral believers. God uses evil for His own purposes (cf. Genesis 3:0)!

“with all your heart and with all your soul” See note at Deuteronomy 4:29. This is a metaphor for total and complete devotion. Israel is repeatedly called on to love YHWH with complete devotion (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 7:9; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 11:1, Deuteronomy 11:13, Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 13:3; Deuteronomy 19:9; Deuteronomy 30:6, Deuteronomy 30:16, Deuteronomy 30:20).

Deuteronomy 13:4 This verse contains a series of Qal IMPERFECTS, which serve as guidelines for the exclusive worship of YHWH:

1. “follow,” BDB 229, KB 246, cf. Deuteronomy 8:6

2. “fear,” BDB 431, KB 432

3. “keep,” BDB 1036, KB 1581, cf. Deuteronomy 5:29; Deuteronomy 6:2

4. “listen,” BDB 1033, KB 1570

5. “serve,” BDB 712, KB 773

6. “cling,” BDB 179, KB 209

This verse is similar to Deuteronomy 13:3 and 10:20.

Deuteronomy 13:5 “that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death” YHWH is concerned with the pollution of His worship as Deuteronomy 12:0 clearly shows. If the worship of YHWH had become polluted here, the NT would not be a reality. God was concerned that His people perform their worship in the exact way He commanded (cf. Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32). If it was not pure worship, the consequence was death, which included Canaanites and false prophets within Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 13:5, Deuteronomy 13:9, Deuteronomy 13:15). Seduction was possible for individuals within the community (cf. Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 13:5, Deuteronomy 13:10).

“redeemed” This term (BDB 804, KB 911, Qal PARTICIPLE) is a way of expressing a price paid to release someone from slavery or prison. See , see Special Topic: Ransom/Redeem.

Verses 6-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 13:6-11 6”If your brother, your mother's son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods' (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, 7of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), 8you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. 9But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 11Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you.”

Deuteronomy 13:6, Deuteronomy 13:8 “If your brother. . .your son. . .daughter. . .the wife. . .your friend” If even one who was an extremely close loved one, relative, or friend attempts to entice you to worship another god, the faithful Israelite must turn them in to be stoned by the community (cf. Deuteronomy 13:9-10). This is the heart of individual covenant responsibility. This is a radical statement in the context of the cultural structure where family was most important (cf. Matthew 10:34-39; Luke 14:25-27).

Deuteronomy 13:6 “Let us go and serve other gods” These VERBS are both Qal COHORTATIVES:

1. “go” - BDB 229, KB 246

2. “serve” - BDB 712, KB 773

They serve as collective metaphors for worship.

Deuteronomy 13:7 “the gods of the people who are around you, near you, or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end” This text has several possible interpretations. The phrase can refer to:

1. the Canaanite gods, whether in the north or south of Canaan (“earth” = “land”)

2. foreign gods, whether in Mesopotamia or Palestine (“near you or far from you”)

3. particular caution against the worship of astral gods, whether the sun, moon, stars, planets, constellations, comets, shooting stars, novas, eclipses, etc. (things that rise and set)

Deuteronomy 13:8 This verse lists (a series of negated Qal IMPERFECTS) how a true follower of YHWH should treat a follower of a foreign god(s):

1. You shall not yield to him - BDB 2, KB 3

2. You shall not listen to him - BDB 1033, KB 1570

3. Your eye shall not pity him - BDB 299, KB 298, cf. Deuteronomy 7:2, Deuteronomy 7:16

4. You shall not spare him - BDB 328, KB 328, cf. 1 Samuel 15:3

5. You shall not conceal him - BDB 491, KB 487 (literally “cover”)

Just a brief comment on #3. This form is an idiom for “do not let your human emotions affect your actions required by God.” It is found several times in Deuteronomy 7:16; Deuteronomy 13:8; Deuteronomy 19:13, Deuteronomy 19:21; Deuteronomy 25:12 (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 50).

Deuteronomy 13:9 “But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him” The MT does not have the term “stone” in this verse, though that is surely the method of death that is alluded to (cf. Deuteronomy 13:10). The MT has the Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and the Qal IMPERFECT of the VERB “kill” BDB 246, KB 255 (i.e., “surely kill”), which denotes emphasis.

The one who witnessed against a person was the one who had to cast the first stone (cf. Deuteronomy 13:10; Deuteronomy 17:7). If one lied about the accused, he then committed premeditated murder (cf. Deuteronomy 5:20).

Deuteronomy 13:10 “you shall stone him to death” The MT has the VERB for “stoning to death” (BDB 709, KB 768, Qal PERFECT) and the term for “stone” (BDB 6), which literally would be “stone him with stones.” Stoning was a capital punishment which was done by the whole covenantal community (cf. Leviticus 20:2, Leviticus 20:27; Leviticus 24:13-23; Numbers 15:32-36; Deuteronomy 13:10; Deuteronomy 21:21; Joshua 7:22-26).

This is not the regular term used for judicial capital punishment. This term speaks of the urgency of immediate, radical purging of evil (cf. Exodus 32:27; Leviticus 20:15, Leviticus 20:16; Numbers 25:5; Deuteronomy 13:10; Ezekiel 9:6).

Persons were stoned by the community for:

1. idolatry, Leviticus 20:2-5 (also possibly 6-8); Deuteronomy 13:1-5; Deuteronomy 17:2-7

2. blasphemy, Leviticus 24:10-23; Leviticus 1:0 Kings 11-14; Luke 4:29; Acts 7:58 (both reflect Exodus 22:28); also note John 8:59; John 10:31; John 11:8

3. rejection of parental authority, Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (possibly Leviticus 20:9)

4. marital unfaithfulness, Deuteronomy 22:22, Deuteronomy 22:23-27 (possibly Leviticus 20:10-16)

5. treason (known disobedience to YHWH), Joshua 7:0

NASB“to seduce” NKJV“to entice” NRSV“trying to turn you away” TEV“tried to lead you away” NJB“tried to divert you”

This is the VERB (BDB 623, KB 673, Hiphil INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT) that means “thrust.” These false prophets (Deuteronomy 13:1) and supposedly covenant members (Deuteronomy 13:6) were trying to impel believers away from YHWH to other national gods. This VERB (cf. Deuteronomy 13:5, Deuteronomy 13:12; Deuteronomy 4:19; 2 Kings 17:21) is parallel to “entice” (BDB 694, KB 749, Hiphil IMPERFECT) of Deuteronomy 13:6.

It is interesting that this same Hebrew root is used to describe the exile (i.e., scattering).

Deuteronomy 13:11 There is more involved in punishment than the punitive aspect to the individual. The ones committing the rebellion did suffer the consequences (i.e., stoning), but there is also a deterrent for those who witness or hear about the punishment (cf. Deuteronomy 17:12-13; Deuteronomy 19:15-21; Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Romans 13:4).

Verses 12-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 13:12-18 12”If you hear in one of your cities, which the LORD your God is giving you to live in, anyone saying that 13some worthless men have gone out from among you and have seduced the inhabitants of their city, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods' (whom you have not known), 14then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly. If it is true and the matter established that this abomination has been done among you, 15you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it and all that is in it and its cattle with the edge of the sword. 16Then you shall gather all its booty into the middle of its open square and burn the city and all its booty with fire as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God; and it shall be a ruin forever. It shall never be rebuilt. 17Nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand, in order that the LORD may turn from His burning anger and show mercy to you, and have compassion on you and make you increase, just as He has sworn to your fathers, 18if you will listen to the voice of the LORD your God, keeping all His commandments which I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the LORD your God.”

Deuteronomy 13:13 “worthless men” Literally this means “sons of Belial” (BDB 116). The Hebrew word meant “worthless one” or “good for nothing” (cf. Judges 19:22; Judges 20:13; 1 Samuel 10:27; 1 Samuel 30:22; 1 Kings 21:10, 1 Kings 21:13; Proverbs 6:12). By the NT time, Belial had become synonymous with Satan (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:15).

“seduced” See note at Deuteronomy 13:10.

Deuteronomy 13:14 This verse lists a series of VERBS of investigation (all Qal PERFECTS):

1. NASB “investigate”

NKJV, NRSV “inquire”

NJB “look into the matter”

The VERB is BDB 205, KB 233, meaning “investigate,” cf. Deuteronomy 17:4, Deuteronomy 17:9; Deuteronomy 19:18

2. NASB, NKJV “search out”

NJB “examine it”

The VERB is BDB 350, KB 347, meaning “search,” cf. Psalms 139:1, Psalms 139:23; Proverbs 18:17

3. NASB “inquire thoroughly”

NKJV “ask diligently”

NJB “inquire most carefully

This is a combination of BDB 981, KB 1371, Qal PERFECT, “inquire” and BDB 405, KB 408, Hiphil INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE, “thoroughly,” cf. Deuteronomy 17:4; Deuteronomy 19:8

Deuteronomy 13:15 “you shall. . .utterly destroy” This phrase “utterly destroy” (BDB 355) means “totally dedicated to God for destruction.” See full note at Deuteronomy 3:6. The same consequence meted out to pagans would be suffered by the Jews if they worshiped other gods.

Deuteronomy 13:16

NASB“it shall be a ruin forever” NKJV“it shall be a heap forever” NRSV“it shall remain a perpetual ruin” TEV“it must be left in ruins forever” NJB“you must lay it under the curse of destruction”

This last phrase was a Hebrew curse idiom (e.g., Joshua 8:28; Jeremiah 49:2). For the concept of “forever” see Special Topic: Forever ('olam).

Deuteronomy 13:16 “put under the ban” This is the Hebrew concept of dedicating the spoils of “holy war” to Him (BDB 356). The very thing treated here (and Deuteronomy 13:17) occurs in Joshua 6-7!

Deuteronomy 13:17-18 Notice the flow of thought:

1. Idolatry deserves judgment (i.e., holy war, all that breathes, dies), Deuteronomy 13:12-15.

2. All the spoils of the city are given to YHWH as a whole burnt offering (i.e., in holy war, all valuables given to YHWH), Deuteronomy 13:16-17

3. Obedience brings blessing, Deuteronomy 13:17-18:

a. He turns from His burning anger

b. He shows mercy, cf. Deuteronomy 30:3

c. He has compassion (same root as above, BDB 933)

d. He brings abundance

e. He fulfills oath to the fathers

4. Blessing is conditional on obedience, Deuteronomy 13:18

“doing what is right in the sight of the LORD your God” This phrase occurs several times in Deuteronomy (cf. Deuteronomy 6:18; Deuteronomy 12:28; Deuteronomy 13:18). It also occurs in 1 Kings 11:38; 1 Kings 14:8; 1 Kings 15:11; 1 Kings 22:43; 2 Kings 12:3. YHWH is the standard of justice and righteousness by which all are judged. See Special Topic: RIGHTEOUSNESS.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is this chapter so severe in its treatment of other faiths?

2. Can this chapter be a basis of our dealing with other faiths in our day?

3. How do you recognize a false spokesman for God? What about the miraculous?

4. Explain the OT concept of corporality (ie. one effects all), which answers a multitude of questions about the NT.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 13". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/deuteronomy-13.html. 2021.
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