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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
Deuteronomy 18

 

 

Verses 1-8

In addition to the judicial order and the future king, it was necessary that the position of the priests and Levites, whose duties and rights had been regulated by previous laws, should at least be mentioned briefly and finally established (Deuteronomy 18:1-8), and also that the prophetic order should be fully accredited by the side of the other state authorities, and its operations regulated by a definite law (Deuteronomy 18:9-22).

Deuteronomy 18:1-2

The Rights of the Priests and Levites. - With reference to these, Moses repeats verbatim from Numbers 18:20, Numbers 18:23-24, the essential part of the rule laid down in Num 18: “ The priests the Levites, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel .” “All the tribe of Levi” includes the priests and Levites. They were to eat the “firings of Jehovah and His inheritance,” as described in detail in Num 18. The inheritance of Jehovah consisted of the holy gifts as well as the sacrifices, i.e., the tithes, firstlings, and first-fruits. Moses felt it to be superfluous to enumerate these gifts one by one from the previous laws, and also to describe the mode of their application, or define how much belonged to the priests and how much to the Levites. However true it may be that the author assigns all these gifts to the Levites generally, the conclusion drawn from this, viz., that he was not acquainted with any distinction between priests and Levites, but placed the Levites entirely on a par with the priests, is quite a false one. For, apart from the evident distinction between the priests and Levites in Deuteronomy 18:1, where there would be no meaning in the clause, “all the tribe of Levi,” if the Levites were identical with the priests, the distinction is recognised and asserted as clearly as possible in what follows, when a portion of the slain-offerings is allotted to the priests in Deuteronomy 18:3-5, whilst in Deuteronomy 18:6-8 the Levite is allowed to join in eating the altar gifts, if he come to the place of the sanctuary and perform service there. The repetition in Deuteronomy 18:2 is an emphatic confirmation: “ As He hath said unto them: ” as in Deuteronomy 10:9.

Deuteronomy 18:3-5

This shall be the right of the priests on the part of the people, on the part of those who slaughter slain-offerings, whether ox or sheep; he (the offerer) shall give the priest the shoulder, the cheek, and the stomach .” הזּרע , the shoulder, i.e., the front leg; see Numbers 6:19. הקּבה , the rough stomach, τὸ ἤνιστρον (lxx), i.e., the fourth stomach of ruminant animals, in which the digestion of the food is completed; Lat. omasus or abomasus , though the Vulgate has ventriculus here. On the choice of these three pieces in particular, Münster and Fagius observe that “ the sheep possesses three principal parts, the head, the feet, and the trunk; and of each of these some portion was to be given to the priest who officiated” “ Of each of these three principal parts of the animal,” says Schultz , “some valuable piece was to be presented: the shoulder at least, and the stomach, which was regarded as particularly fat, are seen at once to have been especially good.” That this arrangement is not at variance with the command in Leviticus 7:32., to give the wave-breast and heave-leg of the peace-offerings to the Lord for the priests, but simply enjoins a further gift to the priests on the part of the people, in addition to those portions which were to be given to the Lord for His servants, is sufficiently evident from the context, since the heave-leg and wave-breast belonged to the firings of Jehovah mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:1, which the priests had received as an inheritance from the Lord, that is to say, to the tenuphoth of the children of Israel, which the priests might eat with their sons and daughters, though only with such members of their house as were levitically clean ( Numbers 18:11); and also from the words of the present command, viz., that the portions mentioned were to be a right of the priests on the part of the people , on the part of those who slaughtered slain-offerings, i.e., to be paid to the priest as a right that was due to him on the part of the people. משׁפּט was what the priest could justly claim. This right was probably accorded to the priests as a compensation for the falling off which would take place in their incomes in consequence of the repeal of the law that every animal was to be slaughtered at the sanctuary as a sacrifice (Lev 17; vid., Deuteronomy 12:15.).

The only thing that admits of dispute is, whether this gift was to be presented from every animal that was slaughtered at home for private use, or only from those which were slaughtered for sacrificial meals, and therefore at the place of the sanctuary. Against the former view, for which appeal is made to Philo, Josephus (Ant. iv. 4, 4), and the Talmud, we may adduce not only “the difficulty of carrying out such a plan” (was every Israelite who slaughtered an ox, a sheep, or a goat to carry the pieces mentioned to the priests' town, which might be many miles away, or were the priests to appoint persons to collect them?), but the general use of the words זבח זבח . The noun זבח always signifies either slaughtering for a sacrificial meal or a slain sacrifice, and the verb זבח is never applied to ordinary slaughtering (for which שׁחט is the verb used), except in Deuteronomy 12:15 and Deuteronomy 12:21 in connection with the repeal of the law that every slaughtering was to be a שׁלמים זבח (Leviticus 17:5); and there the use of the word זבח , instead of שׁחט , may be accounted for from the allusion to this particular law. At the same time, the Jewish tradition is probably right, when it understands by the הזּבח זבחי in this verse, κατ ' ïé̓͂êïí èṍåéí åõ̓ù÷é́áò å̔́íåêá ( Josephus ), or ἔξω τοῦ βωμοῦ θυομένοις ἕνεκα κρεωφαγίας ( Philo ), or, as in the Mishnah Chol. (x. 1), refers the gift prescribed in this passage to the חולין , profana , and not to the מוקדשׁרן , consecrata , that is to say, places it in the same category with the first-fruits, the tithe of tithes, and other less holy gifts, which might be consumed outside the court of the temple and the holy city (compare Reland , Antiqq . ss. P. ii. c. 4, §11, with P. ii. c. 8, §10). In all probability, the reference is to the slaughtering of oxen, sheep, or goats which were not intended for shelamim in the more limited sense, i.e., for one of the three species of peace-offerings (Leviticus 7:15-16), but for festal meals in the broader sense, which were held in connection with the sacrificial meals prepared from the shelamim . For it is evident that the meals held by the people at the annual feasts when they had to appear before the Lord were not all shelamim meals, but that other festal meals were held in connection with these, in which the priests and Levites were to share, from the laws laid down with reference to the so-called second tithe, which could not only be turned into money by those who lived at a great distance from the sanctuary, such money to be applied to the purchase of the things required for the sacrificial meals at the place of the sanctuary, but which might also be appropriated every third year to the preparation of love-feasts for the poor in the different towns of the land (Deuteronomy 14:22-29). For in this case the animals were not slaughtered or sacrificed as shelamim , at all events not in the latter instance, because the slaughtering did not take place at the sanctuary. If therefore we restrict the gift prescribed here to the slaughtering of oxen and sheep or goats for such sacrificial meals in the wider sense, not only are the difficulties connected with the execution of this command removed, but also the objection, which arises out of the general use of the expression זבח זבח , to the application of this expression to every slaughtering that took place for domestic use. And beside this, the passage in 1 Samuel 2:13-16, to which Calvin calls attention, furnishes a historical proof that the priests could claim a portion of the flesh of the slain-offerings in addition to the heave-leg and wave-breast, since it is there charged as a sin on the part of the sons of Eli, not only that they took out of the cauldrons as much of the flesh which was boiling as they could take up with three-pronged forks, but that before the fat was burned upon the altar they asked for the pieces which belonged to the priest, to be given to them not cooked, but raw. From this Michaelis has drawn the correct conclusion, that even at that time the priests had a right to claim that, in addition to the portions of the sacrifices appointed by Moses in Leviticus 7:34, a further portion of the thank-offerings should be given to them; though he does not regard the passage as referring to the law before us, since he supposes this to relate to every slaughtered animal which was not placed upon the altar.

Deuteronomy 18:4

In Deuteronomy 18:4, Moses repeats the law concerning the first-fruits in Numbers 18:12-13 (cf. Exodus 22:28), for the purpose of extending it to the first produce of the sheep-shearing.

Deuteronomy 18:5

The reason for the right accorded to the priests was the choice of them for the office of standing “to minister in the name of Jehovah,” sc., for all the tribes “ In the name of Jehovah ,” not merely by the appointment, but also in the power of the Lord, as mediators of His grace. The words “ he and his sons ” point back quite to the Mosaic times, in which Aaron and his sons held the priest's office.

Deuteronomy 18:6

As the priests were to be remembered for their service on the part of the people (Deuteronomy 18:3-5), so the Levite also, who came from one of the towns of the land with all the desire of his soul to the place of the sanctuary, to minister there in the name of the Lord, was to eat a similar portion to all his Levitical brethren who stood there in service before the Lord. The verb גּוּר (sojourned) does not presuppose that the Levites were houseless, but simply that they had no hereditary possession in the land as the other tribes had, and merely lived like sojourners among the Israelites in the towns which were given up to them by the other tribes (see at Deuteronomy 12:12). “ All his brethren the Levites ” are the priests and those Levites who officiated at the sanctuary as assistants to the priests. It is assumed, therefore, that only a part of the Levites were engaged at the sanctuary, and the others lived in their towns. The apodosis follows in Deuteronomy 18:8, “ part like part shall they eat ,” sc., the new-comer and those already there. The former was to have the same share to eat as the latter, and to be maintained from the revenues of the sanctuary. These revenues are supposed to be already apportioned by the previous laws, so that they by no means abolish the distinction between priests and Levites. We are not to think of those portions of the sacrifices and first-fruits only which fell to the lot of the priests, nor of the tithe alone, or of the property which flowed into the sanctuary through vows or free-will offerings, or in any other way, and was kept in the treasury and storehouse, but of tithes, sacrificial portions, and free-will offerings generally, which were not set apart exclusively for the priests. וגו ממכּריו לבד , “ beside his sold with the fathers ,” i.e., independently of what he receives from the sale of his patrimony. ממכּר , the sale, then the thing sold, and the price or produce of what is sold, like מכר in Numbers 20:19. לבד is unusual without מן , and Knobel would read ממּכריו , from מכריו and מן , in consequence. האבות על stands for בּית־אבות על (see at Exodus 6:25; κατὰ τὴν πατρίαν , lxx), according to or with the fathers' houses, i.e., the produce of the property which he possesses according to his family descent, or which is with his kindred. Whether על in this passage signifies “according to the measure of,” or “with,” in the sense of keeping or administering, cannot be decided. As the law in Leviticus 25:33-34, simply forbids the sale of the pasture grounds belonging to the Levites, but permits the sale of their houses, a Levite who went to the sanctuary might either let his property in the Levitical town, and draw the yearly rent, or sell the house which belonged to him there. In any case, these words furnish a convincing proof that there is no foundation for the assertion that the book of Deuteronomy assumes or affirms that the Levites were absolutely without possessions.


Verses 9-22

The Gift of Prophecy. - The Levitical priests, as the stated guardians and promoters of the law, had to conduct all the affairs of Israel with the Lord, not only instructing the people out of the law concerning the will of God, but sustaining and promoting the living fellowship with the Lord both of individuals and of the whole congregation, by the offering of sacrifices and service at the altar. But if the covenant fellowship with Himself and His grace, in which Jehovah had placed Israel as His people of possession, was to be manifested and preserved as a living reality amidst all changes in the political development of the nation and in the circumstances of private life, it would not do for the revelations from God to cease with the giving of the law and the death of Moses. For, as Schultz observes, “however the revelation of the law might aim at completeness, and even have regard to the more remote circumstances of the future, as, for example, where the king is referred to; yet in the transition from extraordinary circumstances into a more settled condition, which it foretells in Deuteronomy 17:14, and which actually took place under Samuel when the nation grew older (Deuteronomy 4:25), and in the decline and apostasy which certainly awaited it according to Deuteronomy 31:16-29, when false prophets should arise, by whom they were in danger of being led astray (Deuteronomy 13:2 and Deuteronomy 18:20), as well as in the restoration which would follow after the infliction of punishment ( Deuteronomy 4:29-30; Deuteronomy 30:1.); in all these great changes which awaited Israel from inward necessity, the revelation of the will of the Lord which they possessed in the law would nevertheless be insufficient.” The priesthood, with its ordinances, would not suffice for that. As the promise of direct communications from God through the Urim and Thummim of the high priest was restricted to the single circumstance of the right of the whole congregation being endangered, and did not extend to the satisfaction of the religious necessities of individuals, it could afford no godly satisfaction to that desire for supernatural knowledge which arose at times in the hearts of individuals, and for which the heathen oracles made such ample provision in ungodly ways. If Israel therefore was to be preserved in faithfulness towards God, and attain the end of its calling as the congregation of the Lord, it was necessary that the Lord should make known His counsel and will at the proper time through the medium of prophets, and bestow upon it in sure prophetic words what the heathen nations endeavoured to discover and secure by means of augury and soothsaying. This is the point of view from which Moses promises the sending of prophets in Deuteronomy 18:15-18, and lays down in Deuteronomy 18:19-22 the criteria for distinguishing between true and false prophets, as we may clearly see from the fact that in Deuteronomy 18:9-14 he introduces this promise with a warning against resorting to heathen augury, soothsaying, and witchcraft.

Deuteronomy 18:9-11

When Israel came into the land of Canaan, it was “ not to learn to do like the abominations of these nations ” (the Canaanites or heathen). There was not to be found in it any who caused his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, i.e., any worshipper of Moloch (see at Leviticus 18:21), or one who practised soothsaying (see at Numbers 23:23), or a wizard (see at Leviticus 19:26), or a snake-charmer (see at Leviticus 19:26), or a conjurer, or one who pronounced a ban ( חבר חבר , probably referring to the custom of binding or banning by magical knots), a necromancer and wise man (see at Leviticus 19:31), or one who asked the dead, i.e., who sought oracles from the dead. Moses groups together all the words which the language contained for the different modes of exploring the future and discovering the will of God, for the purpose of forbidding every description of soothsaying, and places the prohibition of Moloch-worship at the head, to show the inward connection between soothsaying and idolatry, possibly because februation, or passing children through the fire in the worship of Moloch, was more intimately connected with soothsaying and magic than and other description of idolatry.

Deuteronomy 18:12

Whoever did this was an abomination to the Lord, and it was because of this abomination that He rooted out the Canaanites before Israel (cf. Leviticus 18:24.).

Deuteronomy 18:13-14

Israel, on the other hand, was to be blameless with Jehovah ( עם , in its intercourse with the Lord). Though the heathen whom they exterminated before them hearkened to conjurers and soothsayers, Jehovah their God had not allowed anything of the kind to them. ואתּה is placed first as a nominative absolute, for the sake of emphasis: “ but thou, so far as thou art concerned, not so .” כּן , thus , just so, such things (cf. Exodus 10:14). נתן , to grant, to allow (as in Genesis 20:6, etc.).

Deuteronomy 18:15

A prophet out of the midst of thee, out of thy brethren, as I am, will Jehovah thy God raise up to thee; to him shall ye hearken .” When Moses thus attaches to the prohibition against hearkening to soothsayers and practising soothsaying, the promise that Jehovah would raise up a prophet, etc., and contrasts what the Lord would do for His people with what He did not allow, it is perfectly evident from this simple connection alone, apart from the further context of the passage, in which Moses treats of the temporal and spiritual rulers of Israel (ch. 17 and 18), that the promise neither relates to one particular prophet, nor directly and exclusively to the Messiah, but treats of the sending of prophets generally. And this is also confirmed by what follows with reference to true and false prophets, which presupposes the rise of a plurality of prophets, and shows most incontrovertibly that it is not one prophet only, nor the Messiah exclusively, who is promised here. It by no means follows from the use of the singular, “a prophet,” that Moses is speaking of one particular prophet only; but the idea expressed is this, that at any time when the people stood in need of a mediator with God like Moses, God would invariably send a prophet. The words, “out of the midst of thee, of thy brethren,” imply that there would be no necessity for Israel to turn to heathen soothsayers or prophets, but that it would find the men within itself who would make known the word of the Lord. The expression, “like unto me,” is explained by what follows in Deuteronomy 18:16-18 with regard to the circumstances, under which the Lord had given the promise that He would send a prophet. It was at Sinai; when the people were filled with mortal alarm, after hearing the ten words which God addressed to them out of the fire, and entreated Moses to act as mediator between the Lord and themselves, that God might not speak directly to them any more. At that time the Lord gave the promise that He would raise up a prophet, and put His words into his mouth, that he might speak to the people all that the Lord commanded (cf. Deuteronomy 5:20.). The promised prophet, therefore, was to resemble Moses in this respect, that he would act as mediator between Jehovah and the people, and make known the words or the will of the Lord. Consequently the meaning contained in the expression “ like unto me” was not that the future prophet would resemble Moses in all respect, - a meaning which has been introduced into it through an unwarrantable use of Numbers 12:6-8; Deuteronomy 34:10, and Hebrews 3:2, Hebrews 3:5, for the purpose of proving the direct application of the promise to the Messiah alone, to the exclusion of the prophets of the Old Testament. If the resemblance of the future prophet to Moses, expressed in the words “like unto me,” be understood as indicating the precise form in which God revealed Himself to Moses, speaking with him mouth to mouth, and not in a dream or vision, a discrepancy is introduced between this expression and the words which follow in Deuteronomy 18:18, “I will put My words in his mouth;” since this expresses not the particular mode in which Moses received the revelations from God, in contrast with the rest of the prophets, but simply that form of divine communication or inspiration which was common to all the prophets (vid., Jeremiah 1:9; Jeremiah 5:14).

But whilst we are obliged to give up the direct and exclusive reference of this promise to the Messiah, which was the prevailing opinion in the early Church, and has been revived by Kurtz, Auberlen, and Tholuck , as not in accordance with the context or the words themselves, we cannot, on the other hand, agree with v. Hoffmann, Baur, and Knobel , in restricting the passage to the Old Testament prophets, to the exclusion of the Messiah. There is no warrant for this limitation of the word “prophet,” since the expectation of the Messiah was not unknown to Moses and the Israel of his time, but was actually expressed in the promise of the seed of the woman, and Jacob's prophecy concerning Shiloh; so that O. v. Gerlach is perfectly right in observing, that “this is a prediction of Christ as the true Prophet, precisely like that of the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15.” The occasion, also, on which Moses received the promise of the “prophet” from the Lord, which he here communicated to the people, - namely, when the people desired a mediator between themselves and the Lord at Sinai, and this desire on their part was pleasing to the Lord, - shows that the promise should be understood in the full sense of the words, without any limitation whatever; that is to say, that Christ, in whom the prophetic character culminated and was completed, is to be included. Even Ewald admits, that “the prophet like unto Moses, whom God would raise up out of Israel and for Israel, can only be the true prophet generally;” and Baur also allows, that “historical exposition will not mistake the anticipatory reference of this expression to Christ, which is involved in the expectation that, in the future completion of the plan of salvation, the prophetic gift would form an essential element.” And lastly, the comparison instituted between the promised prophet and Moses, compels us to regard the words as referring to the Messiah. The words, “ like unto me,” “like unto thee,” no more warrant us in excluding the Messiah on the one hand, than in excluding the Old Testament prophets on the other, since it is unquestionably affirmed that the prophet of the future would be as perfectly equal to his calling as Moses was to his,

(Note: Let any one paraphrase the passage thus: “A prophet inferior indeed to me, but yet the channel of divine revelations,” and he will soon feel how unsuitable it is” (Hengstenberg).)

- that He would carry out the mediation between the Lord and the people in the manner and the power of Moses. In this respect not one of the Old Testament prophets was fully equal to Moses, as is distinctly stated in Deuteronomy 34:10. All the prophets of the Old Testament stood within the sphere of the economy of the law, which was founded through the mediatorial office of Moses; and even in their predictions of the future, they simply continued to build upon the foundation which was laid by Moses, and therefore prophesied of the coming of the servant of the Lord, who, as the Prophet of all prophets, would restore Jacob, and carry out the law and right of the Lord to the nations, even to the end of the world (Isa 42; 49; 40; Isaiah 61:1-11). This prophecy, therefore, is very properly referred to Jesus Christ in the New Testament, as having been fulfilled in Him. Not only had Philip this passage in his mind when he said to Nathanael, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law did write, Jesus of Nazareth,” whilst Stephen saw the promise of the prophet like unto Moses fulfilled in Christ (Acts 7:37); but Peter also expressly quotes it in Acts 3:22-23, as referring to Christ; and even the Lord applies it to Himself in John 5:45-47, when He says to the Jews, “Moses, in whom ye trust, will accuse you; for if ye believed Moses, ye would also believe Me: for Moses wrote of Me.” In John 12:48-50, again, the reference to Deuteronomy 18:18 and Deuteronomy 18:19 of this chapter is quite unmistakeable; and in the words, “hear ye Him” which were uttered from the cloud at the transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:5), the expression in Deuteronomy 18:15, “unto Him shall ye hearken,” is used verbatim with reference to Christ. Even the Samaritans founded their expectation of the Messiah (John 4:25) upon these words of Moses.

(Note: On the history of the exposition of this passage, see Hengstenberg's Christology.)

Deuteronomy 18:16-20

With this assurance the Lord had fully granted the request of the people, “ according to all that thou desiredst of the Lord thy God; ” and Israel, therefore, was all the more bound to hearken to the prophets, whom God would raise up from the midst of itself, and not to resort to heathen soothsayers. (On the fact itself, comp. Deuteronomy 5:20. with Exodus 20:15-17.) “ In the day of the assembly ,” as in Deuteronomy 9:10; Deuteronomy 10:4. - The instructions as to their behaviour towards the prophets are given by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:19, Deuteronomy 18:20) in the name of the Lord, for the purpose of enforcing obedience with all the greater emphasis. Whoever did not hearken to the words of the prophet who spoke in the name of the Lord, of him the Lord would require it, i.e., visit the disobedience with punishment (cf. Psalms 10:4, Psalms 10:13). On the other hand, the prophet who spoke in the name of the Lord what the Lord had not commanded him, i.e., proclaimed the thoughts of his own heart as divine revelations (cf. Numbers 16:28), should die, like the prophet who spoke in the name of other gods. With וּמת , the predicate is introduced in the form of an apodosis.

Deuteronomy 18:21-22

The false prophet was to be discovered by the fact, that the word proclaimed by him did not follow or come to pass, i.e., that his prophecy was not fulfilled. Of him they were not to be afraid. By this injunction the occurrence of what had been predicted is made the criterion of true prophecy, and not signs and wonders, which false prophets could also perform (cf. Deuteronomy 13:2.).

 


Copyright Statement
The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.

Bibliography Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 18:4". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kdo/deuteronomy-18.html. 1854-1889.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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