Deuteronomy 18:15-20 - COMMENTARY
CONTEXT: In the verses that immediately precede our lectionary reading (vv. 9-14) Yahweh says, "When you have come into the land which Yahweh your God gives you, you shall not learn to do after the abominations of those nations" (v. 9). Yahweh specifically prohibits passing children through the fire (practice child sacrifice)-and divination, soothsaying, sorcery, casting spells, inquiring of spirits, and seeking oracles from the dead. "For whoever does these things is an abomination to Yahweh: and because of these abominations Yahweh your God does drive (the inhabitants of this land) out from before you. You shall be perfect with Yahweh your God. For these nations, that you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice sorcery, and to diviners; but as for you, Yahweh your God has not allowed you so to do" (vv. 12-14).
These are important prohibitions, because they strike at the heart of practices that look for spiritual guidance to sources other than Yahweh. To practice divination or sorcery or inquiring of spirits would be an abomination to Yahweh because they constitute a spiritual alternative to Yahweh-disloyalty to Yahweh.
Deuteronomy 13:1-5 also prohibits divination by dreams as well as omens or portents. It says, "You shall walk after Yahweh your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and you shall serve him, and cling to him. That prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death, because he has spoken rebellion against Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to draw you aside out of the way which Yahweh your God commanded you to walk in. So you shall put away the evil from the midst of you" (13:4-5).
These verses should cause us to question spiritual alternatives to God in today's world-astrology, Tarot, I-Ching, numerology, and similar practices. Christian pastors need to make it clear to parishioners that such practices are contrary to God's will. In verses 15-20, Yahweh tells the Israelites where they are to find spiritual direction. Yahweh will raise up a prophet for them.
DEUTERONOMY 18:15-16. THE LORD YOUR GOD WILL RAISE UP A PROPHET
15 "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16 This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.'
"Yahweh your God will raise up to you a prophet from the midst of you, of your brothers, like me" (v. 15a). Yahweh will raise up a prophet like Moses to give the Israelites spiritual enlightenment and direction. As a result, they will not have any need to rely on divination, soothsaying, and sorcery. This is greatly to Israel's advantage, because Yahweh's prophet will lead them rightly, while divination, soothsaying, and sorcery are false disciplines that have no power and reveal no truth.
▪ In what way will the coming prophet be like Moses? This text does not specify, but we can assume that, like Moses, this prophet will be called by God and will be faithful to the call. Also, like Moses, he will speak the word that Yahweh gives him and will call Israel to be faithful to that word.
▪ I Yahweh will raise up this prophet from among the covenant people, the Israelites. He will not go outside the covenant community for this purpose.
▪ This verse will assume a Messianic character, so that when the people heard Jesus speak, they said, "This is truly the prophet who comes into the world" (John 6:14) and "This is truly the prophet" (John 7:40). Shortly after Pentecost, Peter quoted this verse in a sermon in the temple (Acts 3:22), saying, "God, having raised up his servant, Jesus, sent him to you first, to bless you, in turning away everyone of you from your wickedness" (Acts 3:26).
"you shall listen (sama) to him" (v. 15b). The word sama means "hear," but also implies obedience. When this prophet arises, the people must listen and obey the word that he brings from Yahweh.
"This is according to all that you desired of Yahweh your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of Yahweh my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I not die'" (v. 16). The Hebrew word horeb means "a desolate region" or "ruin." Sinai and Horeb are different names for the same mountain. "Where a distinction appears, the mountain itself is Sinai and the neighboring wilderness area bears the wider designation Horeb" (Harrison & Hoffmeier, 526). It is called "the mountain of God" (Ex. 3:1; 4:27; 18:5; 24:13) and "the mountain of the Lord" or "the mountain of Yahweh" (Num. 10:33).
▪ This verse refers to the occasion when Yahweh "spoke to all your assembly on the mountain out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice" (5:22). When the people of Israel heard Yahweh's loud voice and saw the mountain burning with fire, they said, "Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of Yahweh our God any more, then we shall die" (5:25). They then petitioned Moses to serve as their intermediary-to go into Yahweh's presence and to hear his word. "and tell us all that Yahweh our God shall tell you; and we will hear it, and do it" (5:27; see also Exodus 20:18-21).
DEUTERONOMY 18:17-20. THEY ARE RIGHT IN WHAT THEY HAVE SAID
17 The LORD said to me, 'They have spoken well. 18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.'
"Yahweh said to me, 'They have well said that which they have spoken'" (v. 17). In the account at Horeb, Yahweh responded to the request of the people by saying, "I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken to you: they have well said all that they have spoken" (5:28).
"I will raise them up a prophet from among their brothers, like you; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him" (v. 18). Yahweh promised to raise up a prophet like Moses and to put his words in the prophet's mouth. The prophet will be responsible for speaking the word that Yahweh gives him.
"It shall happen, that whoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him" (v. 19). When the prophet speaks and the people hear him, Yahweh will hold them accountable for obeying the word that the prophet gives them. As an example of this principle, Samuel will announce to King Saul that Saul will be killed along with his sons and the Israelites will be defeated in battle "because you didn't obey the voice of Yahweh" (1 Samuel 28:18).
"But the prophet, who shall speak a word presumptuously in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who shall speak in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die" (v. 20). This verse acknowledges that false prophets will speak to Israel-prophets who speak "in the name of other gods"-prophets who speak words that Yahweh did not give them-"dreamers of dreams" or those who give "a sign or a wonder" (13:1-2). Those prophets "shall be put to death, because he has spoken rebellion against Yahweh your God.... So you shall put away the evil from the midst of you" (13:5). But "How shall (the people) know the word which Yahweh has not spoken?" (18:21) "When a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh, if the thing doesn't follow, nor happen, that is the thing which Yahweh has not spoken: the prophet has spoken it
presumptuously, you shall not be afraid of him" (18:22).
BIBLE.ORG - UTLEY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 18:15-22
15"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.' 17The Lord said to me, 'They have spoken well. 18I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. 20But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.' 21You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?' 22When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him."
18:15-22 Deuteronomy 18:9-14 shows the improper way to seek God's will for one's life. Verses 15-22 describe the proper way to ascertain knowledge about God and His purposes.
18:15 "a prophet like me" This became a title for the Messiah (cf. John 1:21, 25, 45; 5:46; 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:22; 7:37). Jesus acted like the "new" Moses:
1. gave the law of the new covenant (cf. Matthew 5-7)
2. fed the people as they expected (cf. John 6)
3. met God on a mountain (cf. Matthew 17)
4. interceded for the covenant people (cf. John 17)
For an excellent discussion of the function of prophecy in Israel see How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, pp. 184-189. This helpful discussion continues dealing with the interpretation of prophetic passages and books, pp. 189-204.
18:16 This reflects Israel's encounter with YHWH at Mt. Sinai (cf. Exodus 19- 20). Direct revelation from God is an awesome thing (cf. Exod. 20:18-21)! The people wanted an intermediary!
This context is, in a sense, a multiple fulfillment prophecy. It obviously refers to the recurrent ministry of the prophet in Israel's national life (cf. TEV). The king and priest were from one family, but the prophets were individually called by God to mediate His covenant to each new generation. However, it also points toward the special spokesman of YHWH (Hebrew singular, vv. 15,18 and the comment in 34:10, i.e., the Suffering Servant, the Messiah). This is the one spoken of in Gen. 3:15; 49:10; II Sam. 7:12-13,16; Isa. 7:14; 9:1-7; 11:1-5; Dan. 7:13; 9:25; Micah 5:2-5a; Zech. 9:9. Also notice John 1:45 and 5:46.
18:17 This same idiom, "they have spoken well," is also found in 5:28, but not in Exodus 19-20. So this is unrecorded revelation. We must remember that the Bible is only part of the word of God. By faith, believers assert that all that is necessary for life and doctrine has been included, but it is not exhaustive. In this sense, it is analogous to Jesus' words (cf. John 20:30; 21:25).
18:18 "I will raise up a prophet" The verb (BDB 877, KB 1080, Hiphil imperfect) is used often of YHWH's purposeful, covenantal actions in history (e.g., Gen. 6:18; 9:9,11,17; 17:7,19,21; Exod. 6:4; Deut. 18:15,18; 28:9; Jdgs. 2:16,18; 3:9,15; I Sam. 2:35; I Kgs. 9:5; 11:14,23; 14:14; II Chr. 7:18, etc.).
YHWH is in control of history, as predictive prophecies like this one referring to Jesus (also notice Micah 5:2) clearly shows. The Bible is the only "holy book" that contains prophecy!
▣ "I will put My words in His mouth" This refers to him speaking the message of YHWH! He will speak only what YHWH tells him (just what Jesus affirmed, cf. John 3:34; 12:49; 14:10; 17:8).
18:19 We are responsible to act on God's will once we know it. The real question is how do we know who truly speaks for God (cf. v. 21)? Verses 20-22 are a partial answer. There are other criteria (cf. Deut. 13:1-2; 18:20-22; Matt. 7; I John 4:1-6). This verse is quoted in Acts 3:22-23!
18:20-22 God's speaker will be known by (1) speaking in YHWH's name, not the names of other gods (cf. v. 20); (2) the accuracy of his statements (cf. v. 22); and (3) Deut. 13:1-2 must also be taken into account because God's dealing with Israel was based on their spiritual response.
One wonders how contemporary hearers are to judge a prophet if their prediction is beyond their lifetime. Also, what about conditional prophecy that depends on the repentant faith response of the people of that day to which it is addressed (i.e., Jonah)?
The evaluation of those who claim to speak for God is not easy. Here are some criteria:
1. content of message
2. lifestyle of the messenger
3. correlation of the message with other Bible passages
False prophets, false teachers, are often very dynamic, educated, logical, and winsome people. In our day the marks of a false speaker might be:
1. an emphasis on money
2. a sexual license
3. a claim to exclusive access to God
3. (Deut. 18:15-19) The promise of a true Prophet to come.
15 "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16 This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.' 17 The LORD said to me, 'They have spoken well. 18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.
a. The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me: Moses, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, promised a prophet to come; a prophet that would first be like me - that is, like Moses.
b. From your midst, from your brethren: Like Moses, this Prophet would be from the midst of Israel. This not only meant that He would be an Israelite, but that He would be a "man of the people" - He would be one of them.
c. Him you shall hear: Like Moses, this Prophet would command the attention of the nation. This means both that Israel should listen to this Prophet, and that they would listen to this Prophet.
d. According to all you desired of the LORD you God in Horeb: Like Moses, this Prophet would be a mediator, representing God to the people, and representing the people before God.
e. Will put My words in His mouth: Like Moses, this Prophet would speak God's Word.
f. I will require it of him: Like Moses, this Prophet's message would only be rejected at a great penalty.
g. I will raise up for them a Prophet: People looked for this Prophet in Jesus' day (John 6:14, 7:40) and some thought that John the Baptist might be this Prophet (John 1:19-21). But the New Testament plainly tells us that Jesus is this Prophet (Acts 3:19-26, Acts 7:37).
4. (Deut. 18:20-22) The penalty for a false prophet.
20 But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.' 21 You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' 22 When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
a. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name: There are those who would presume to speak a word in God's name. Therefore we must always, always, guard against presumption when we say, "The LORD told me."
i. "The difference was that, whereas the true prophet spoke for God, the false prophet spoke presumptuously, i.e. he blurted out personal opinions for which there was no backing from Yahweh." (Thompson)
b. Which I have not commanded him to speak: Some may genuinely hear from the LORD, but it is not a word that He has commanded him to speak. Just because God tells us something doesn't mean we should tell others.
c. Or speaks in the name of other gods: Obviously, those who presumed to "prophecy" in the name of Baal or Ashtoreth, or any number of the other false gods of the Canaanites were false prophets.
d. That prophet shall die: Simply stated, the penalty for false prophets was death. Presumptuous speaking in the name of the LORD, disobedient speaking in the name of the LORD, and speaking in the name of false gods was simply never to be tolerated in Israel.
e. How shall we know: It is easy to tell if a prophet speaks in the name of Baal or Ashtoreth; but how can one know if a prophet speaking in the name of the LORD is speaking presumptuously or disobediently? Simply by their accuracy.
f. If the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken: If a prophet says, "Thus says the LORD," claiming that something will happen, and it does not happen, then that prophet must be held accountable for that false prophecy - and we are no longer to regard that person as a prophet.
i. Not too long ago there was a great emphasis on the "prophets" in some Christian circles, and many would prophesy that something would happen - and it did not. However, those people excused their false prophesies by saying they were "learning" and "experimenting" and "under grace," therefore, we should not regard them as false prophets.
ii. While it is true that one may need to learn how to flow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, no one should say something is from God unless they are assured that it is - and if they are wrong, then their own discernment and ability to hear from God are rightly called into question.
iii. Besides, if prophets were held to this standard under the Old Covenant, are we to have a lesser standard under the New Covenant? Is there more of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit now, or less? Under the New Covenant, are we more intimately guided by God, or less? It is true we are under grace, so we no longer stone false prophets - yet, we shouldn't respect them or give them the title or position of "prophet" if they are false prophets.
iv. Instead, the New Testament says all prophecy - any time someone says, "The LORD told me" - all prophecy should be judged: Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge (1 Corinthians 14:29; see also 1 John 4:1). It is far better to be humble and say, "I think the LORD may have said to me" instead of being too confident in one's ability to hear from the LORD.
v. Tom Stipe, in the foreword to Counterfeit Revival, speaks powerfully about the problem of false prophets in the church:
After only a couple of years, the prophets seemed to be speaking to just about everyone on just about everything. Hundreds of ... members received the 'gift' of prophecy and began plying their trade among both leaders and parishioners. People began carrying around little notebooks filled with predictions that had been delivered to them by the prophets and seers. They flocked to the prophecy conferences that had begun to spring up everywhere. The notebook crowd would rush forward in hopes of being selected to receive more prophecies to add to their prophetic diaries.
Not long after 'prophecy du jour' became the primary source of direction, a trail of devastated believers began to line up outside our pastoral counseling offices. Young people promised teen success and stardom through prophecy were left picking up the pieces of their shattered hopes because God had apparently gone back on His promises. Leaders were deluged by angry church members who had received prophecies about the great ministries they would have but had been frustrated by local church leaders who failed to recognize and 'facilitate' their 'new anointing.'
After a steady diet of the prophetic, some people were rapidly becoming biblically illiterate, choosing a 'dial-a-prophet' style of Christian living rather than studying God's Word. Many were left to continually live from one prophetic 'fix' to the next, their hope always in danger of failing because God's voice was so specific in pronouncement, yet so elusive in fulfillment. Possessing a prophet's phone number was like having a storehouse of treasured guidance. Little clutched notebooks replaced Bibles as the preferred reading material during church services.
vi. We must always guard against letting an emphasis on the "prophetic" overshadow a simple emphasis on God's Word: The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?" says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:28)