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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Deuteronomy 18

 

 

Verse 1

1. The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi — More literally, There shall not be to the priests the Levites, the whole tribe of Levi, any part or inheritance with Israel: that is, neither the priests nor any one of the tribe of Levi shall have any part or portion with Israel. As they were to be entirely devoted to the service of Jehovah they were not, like the other tribes, to have a separate tribal territory.

His inheritance — What Jehovah in a certain sense had reserved for himself is intended by this term: the sacrifices, the tithes, the firstfruits.


Verses 1-8

THE RIGHTS OF THE PRIESTS AND LEVITES, Deuteronomy 18:1-8.

As the tribe of Levi was to have no tribal district allotted, the question would naturally arise, How are they to be supported? Here, in general terms, Moses states that “they shall eat of the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and his inheritance.” To the earlier books of the Pentateuch we must look for the explanation of these expressions. Comp. Leviticus 1:8; Numbers 18:20.


Verse 3

3. The gifts which are here mentioned are to be given to the priests, for the distinction between priest and Levite is here observed.*

The shoulder, and the two cheeks, and the maw — By the word translated maw that stomach of ruminating animals which was considered a special delicacy is meant. “Of each of the three parts of the animal some valuable piece was to be presented.” — Schultz.

[* “The third verse, instead of containing, as some think, a modification of the old law, is simply a new regulation for the benefit of the priests just as they are about to enter the Promised Land.” — The Levitical Priests, by Samuel Ives Curtiss, p. 4.]


Verse 4

4. Fleece — In this verse, in addition to the perquisites enumerated in Numbers 18:12, there is added the regulation with regard to the fleece of the sheep.


Verse 6

6. If a Levite come from any of thy gates — The Levites, so called in contrast with the priests, are to be entitled to a share of the offerings. Not only priests but Levites were employed in the tabernacle and temple service. See Numbers 18:1-5; 2 Chronicles 31:2.


Verse 8

8. Besides that which cometh of the sale of his patrimony — The passage is somewhat obscure, but it probably refers to the Levites who may have sold their houses in the Levitical cities and have gone to the central sanctuary to minister unto the Lord. Such were to be supported the same as the priests, reserving the money that came from the sale of their patrimony or house in case they wished to redeem it.


Verse 9

9. Thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations — Practices connected with idol-worship are often called abominations in the Old Testament. The prohibition implies that the arts and rites of the nations whose land they were to possess might lead the people away from the worship of Jehovah. Many of them had been beguiled by the seductive rites of heathen worship, had taken part in the sacrificial festivals, and indulged in the licentious rites of Baal-peor. Numbers 25.


Verses 9-14

SOOTHSAYING AND IDOLATROUS WORSHIP FORBIDDEN, Deuteronomy 18:9-14.

In the preceding verses the rights of the priests and Levites have been mentioned. Before speaking of the prophetic order, the divinely appointed men who, in the nation’s future history, are to supplement the priesthood, Moses gives a kind of summary of the methods employed by the heathen to learn the will of their deities. Israel is forbidden to use such modes to secure the revelation of the will of Jehovah, for other and surer means will be provided.


Verse 10

10. There shall not be found among you — That is, shall not exist among you, shall not be tolerated.

That maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire — The sacrificing of children to Molech, or Moloch, is here again forbidden. Moloch seems to have been the fire-god of the eastern nations, whose worship was probably similar to that of Baal and Chemosh. In 1 Kings 11:7, Molech is called the abomination of the children of Ammon, Chemosh the abomination of Moab. It was Chemosh, we infer, to whom the king of Moab sacrificed his son. 2 Kings 3:27. According to a Jewish tradition Molech was worshipped under the form of a brazen statue which was hollow and capable of being heated. It had the head of a bull and the arms of a man, extended to receive the child that was to be sacrificed. Molech is first mentioned in Leviticus 18:21. See also Leviticus 20:2-5. These rigid prohibitions did not prevent Ahaz from making “his son to pass through the fire according to the abominations of the heathen.” 2 Kings 16:3. And it is said of Manasseh that “he made his son to pass through the fire.” 2 Kings 21:6. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:35) represents Jehovah as saying, “They built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech.” Comp. Jeremiah 7:31. We find traces of this worship among the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Cretans.

That useth divination — Diviner of divination is the literal rendering of the Hebrew. Baalam is called קסם, (kosem,) diviner, in Joshua 13:22. It is doubtful if the term is ever applied to a true prophet.

In Ezekiel 21:21, several kinds of divination are mentioned.

An observer of times — From the word here used (participle of ענן) some have thought reference is made to one who draws omens from the movements of the clouds. It was probably one who used some kind of divination connected with idolatrous worship.

An enchanter — This, from the connexion in which it occurs, can hardly be understood to refer to serpent charmers, as some have interpreted it: it rather means one who uses magical formulas.

A witch — Rather, a magician, a sorcerer. The Hebrew word here used occurs first in Exodus 7:11, where it is translated sorcerers. The verb כשׁŠmeans to offer prayers in worship, limited to idol-worship, and then to use incantations.


Verse 11

11. A charmer — Hebrew, spell-binder, one who binds by incantations, pretends to subdue some dreadful enemy. In Psalms 58:5, the word is applied to the serpent charmer.

A consulter with familiar spirits שׁאל אוב, one who consults a sorcerer. אוב properly denotes a leathern bottle for carrying water or wine: then it was applied to the “hollow belly of conjurers,” in which the conjuring spirit, πυθων, resides, and speaks hollow, as if out of the earth; then it was used for this spirit which was interrogated for enchantment, and sometimes for the enchanter himself. The Septuagint usually renders אוב by εγγαστριμυθος, ventriloquist. In Acts 16:16, the woman who had a pythonic spirit was regarded by the heathen inhabitants of Philippi as inspired by Apollo; in later times, a pythonic spirit was considered the same as a ventriloquist, εγγαστριμυθος. Augustine, indeed, calls this female slave ventriloqua femina. Comp. Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:27.

A wizard — A knowing one. The meaning of the word must be, one who claims extraordinary wisdom and foresight.

A necromancer — One who makes inquiry of the dead, referring to those who pretended to have power to secure answers from the spirits of the departed. All these are only species of the same genus.

They are false prophets. They pretend to possess supernatural powers, to foresee the future, to protect from evil, to have communion with deity.*

[*In Thomson’s The Land and The Book, (vol. i, p. 214, et seq.,) may be found a long account of the modern pretenders to supernatural powers, “clumsy imitators of these ancient adepts.”]


Verse 12

12. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord An abomination, or a detestable thing to Jehovah, is every one who doeth these things; for the classes of diviners and magicians enumerated were in the service of the heathen gods, and ministered in impure rites.

And because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee — The nations of Canaan had become so corrupt through their degrading forms of worship that Jehovah is about to dispossess them for the sake of his covenant people.


Verse 13

13. Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God Blameless with Jehovah, wholly devoted to him. The people of Israel are not to be like these nations; they are to be blameless in seeking intercourse with their God. In the rabbinical copies of the Hebrew Bible the initial consonant of the word rendered perfect ( תמים) is large, to denote the special significance of this precept.


Verse 14

14. For these nations — The various peoples inhabiting the land of Canaan.

Which thou shalt possess — Whose territory they should possess.

Hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners — The prohibitions in other passages lead us to infer how general were those practices among the heathen. Comp. Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6.

But as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do — Literally, But do not thou thus: Jehovah thy God doth not permit thee.


Verse 15-16

THE TRUE PROPHET, Deuteronomy 18:15-16.

This is one of the most profoundly interesting passages in the whole book. The different views that have been held as to the scope of its meaning place it among the vexed passages in the history of biblical interpretation. The theories held are mainly the following: —

(1.) That the word translated prophet is to be regarded as referring to a particular person, who was to be specially prominent in the nation’s history. Some applied it to Joshua, who had been solemnly installed Moses’s successor; others thought David might be intended, or Jeremiah.

(2.) That the word was used collectively, of the entire body of Hebrew prophets. (3.) That the prophet is an ideal person, including the Messiah and all true prophets who appeared between Moses and him; that Moses does not speak of the prophets as a collective body, to which Christ belonged as one among many, but comprehends the plurality of the prophets in an ideal unity, knowing by the revelation of the Holy Spirit that the prophetical order would at some future time culminate in Christ. See Heng., Christ, vol. i, p. 124. (4.) That the passage relates directly and exclusively to the Messiah. (5.) That, while the passage contemplates a succession of prophets, so that Israel should never be left in any great exigency without a prophet, the Messiah is referred to primarily and distinctly. The last view is, we think, fully sustained by the passage under consideration, and by the context.

15. The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me — The clause may be rendered, A Prophet, as I am, Jehovah thy God will raise up for thee, from the midst of thee, of thy brethren. While the people are forbidden to employ the methods the heathen used to pry into the future, and to learn the will of their deities, Moses assures Israel that Jehovah will provide for them those who will be the medium of communication between him and them as he has been hitherto.

A Prophet — The word translated prophet, first occurs in Genesis 20:7, where Abimelech is warned in a dream to restore Sarah to Abraham: “For he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live.” In Exodus 7:1, Jehovah is represented as saying to Moses: “See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.” These passages suggest some of the prominent meanings of the word — interpreter, messenger, mediator. Moses is expressly called by Paul, in Galatians 3:19, μεσιτης, mediator.

From the midst of thee, of thy brethren — There was to be no occasion for the people to consult foreign soothsayers and diviners. There was to be no need of their sending to distant nations, as Balak sent for the”diviner” Balaam. God would raise up from their own nation those who would make known his will. Deuteronomy 17:14, where the king is to be “from among thy brethren.”

Like unto me — Moses had been commissioned to speak and to act for Jehovah. In Horeb he received his call at the burning bush, when God revealed his Covenant Name. None of his successors was so highly honoured, so fully endowed. Jehovah had said of him, (Numbers 12:6-8,) “If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth.” The circumstances under which Jehovah had promised to raise up a Prophet like unto Moses are referred to in the following verses. At the giving of the law, when “the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet,” they besought Moses to act as a mediator between God and themselves. They said, “Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” Exodus 20:18-19; see also Deuteronomy 5:22-27.

The promise is completely fulfilled in Christ. Moses, as a legislator, is the founder of a dispensation; so is Christ. Moses knew Jehovah face to face. Of Christ it is written, (John 1:18,) “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Of Moses it is said, “There arose not a prophet like unto Moses in all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do.”

Deuteronomy 34:10-11. Christ said of himself that he had done the works which none other man did. John 15:24. The application of this passage to Christ in the New Testament is too definite to leave any room for doubt. Philip said to Nathanael: “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth.” John 1:45. Peter quotes this as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Acts 3:22. Stephen saw its application. Acts 7:37. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews seems to have this passage in mind when he writes: “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.” Hebrews 3:1-2. The woman of Samaria says to the Saviour: “I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.”

John 4:25. The Samaritans founded their expectations of a Messiah on the Pentateuch, for that constituted their Scriptures. The Messiah who was to tell them all things was evidently suggested by this prophecy of Moses.

Unto him ye shall hearken — Compare these words with the words Moses himself heard on the mountain when Christ was transfigured: “This is my beloved Son: hear ye him.” Not hear Moses and the law, nor Elijah and the prophets, but Christ the Son. The “hear ye him” and the disappearance of the two heavenly attendants may be viewed as symbolically connected, and as signifying that God who had “spoken in times past to the fathers by the prophets, henceforth would speak by his Son.” See Alford on Matthew 17:5.

16. In the day of the assembly — Comp. Deuteronomy 9:10, and Exodus 20:19. Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. Comp. Deuteronomy 5:23-26, and Exodus 20:19. The thought of the verse is, Let not Jehovah speak any more directly to us; let us have a prophet to announce to us his commands; let this awful splendour of the manifestation of God cease: we cannot bear it; we shall die. It was the feeling that man has in the presence of the Infinite — the consciousness of guilt in view of the holiness of God. So Isaiah 6:5, awestruck at the sublime, and to him terrible, manifestation of Jehovah, exclaims, “Woe to me, for I perish: for the King Jehovah of Hosts mine eyes have seen.” Compare what Job is represented as saying: “But now mine eye seeth thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5-6. So in the case of Manoah, who said to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God.” Judges 13:22.


Verse 17

17. Jehovah approved their prayer, and he spake no more directly to Israel, but put his message to them in the mouth of the prophet.


Verse 18

18. I will raise them up a Prophet — A repetition of the statement of the fifteenth verse in Jehovah’s words.

And will put my words in his mouth — The prophet is to be Jehovah’s organ of communication with the people.


Verse 19

19. Compare what our Lord says in John 12:48-49.


Verse 20

20. But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak Deuteronomy 13:5.


Verse 22

22. When a prophet speaketh — The prophecy was tested by the result. Signs and wonders were not the criterion by which the people were to decide.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 18:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/deuteronomy-18.html. 1874-1909.

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