Deuteronomy 18
Pulpit Commentary
The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel: they shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and his inheritance.
Verse 1. - The priests the Levites, the whole tribe of Levi; i.e. the whole tribe of Levi, including both the priests and the general body of the Levites. They shall eat the offerings of the Lord made by fire. "The offerings of the Lord made by fire" (literally, the fires or firings of Jehovah), here referred to, were the meal offering, the sin offering, and the trespass effusing (cf. Numbers 18:9). And his inheritance; i.e. of Jehovah, what was appropriated to him, and from him to the tribe of Levi, such as tithes, firstlings, and firstfruits.
Therefore shall they have no inheritance among their brethren: the LORD is their inheritance, as he hath said unto them.
Verses 2, 3. - As he hath said unto them (cf. Numbers 18:20). The shoulder, and the two cheeks, and the maw; i.e. the front leg, the two jaw-bones, and the rough stomach of ruminants, in which the digestion is completed. These were regarded as the choice parts of the animal, and were to be given to the priests in addition to the wave breast and heave leg of the peace offerings (Leviticus 7:32, etc.; Numbers 18:11), which belonged to the firings of Jehovah, mentioned in ver. 1. To these the priest had a rightful claim; they were his due (מִשְׁפַט, mishpat, right). "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 (Leviticus 17; vide Deuteronomy 12:15. sqq.)"(Keil). According to Josephus ('Antiq ,' 4:4, 4), Philo ('De Praemiis. Sacerdot.,' p. 832, Opp., tom. 2. p. 235, edit. Maugey), the Talmud, etc., this injunction relates to the slaying of animals at home for private use, and not such as were killed for sacrifice. But the use here of the sacrificial phraseology, who offer a sacrifice (זֹבְחֵי הַזֶּבַח, who slay victims for sacrifice - a phrase nowhere found except in connection with sacrificial rites) is adverse to this; and besides, how could such an enactment be carried out? How could people, residing at a distance, convey to the priests the portions due to them every time they slaughtered an animal for domestic use? At the same time, the sacrifices here referred to do not seem to be included in the offerings by fire above mentioned; and these gifts to the priest seem to have been something over and above his ordinary dues. There is probability, therefore, in the suggestion that "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" (Keil).
And this shall be the priest's due from the people, from them that offer a sacrifice, whether it be ox or sheep; and they shall give unto the priest the shoulder, and the two cheeks, and the maw.
The firstfruit also of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep, shalt thou give him.
Verse 4. - In addition to the firstfruits already prescribed by the Law to be given to the priests (Numbers 18:12, 13), Moses here enacts that the first fleece of the sheep shall be given. All these, though legally prescribed, were free gifts on the part of the people; the neglect of the prescription incurred only moral blame, not judicial penalty.
For the LORD thy God hath chosen him out of all thy tribes, to stand to minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons for ever.
Verse 5. - The reason assigned for the enactment is that God had chosen the priest to stand and minister in the Name of Jehovah, i.e. not only by his appointment and authority, but with full power to act as mediator between the people and God. Him and his sons forever; referring to the establishment of the priesthood in the family of Aaron.
And if a Levite come from any of thy gates out of all Israel, where he sojourned, and come with all the desire of his mind unto the place which the LORD shall choose;
Verses 6-8. - Only a portion of the Levites were engaged in the service of the sanctuary; the rest lived in their towns throughout the country. It might happen, however, that a Levite, moved by pious feeling, would come to the place of the sanctuary to worship there; and it is prescribed that such a one should fare as his brethren the Levites engaged in the service of the sanctuary fared; he should minister along with them, and share with them in the gifts of the worshippers; and this in addition to any private means he might have from the sale of his patrimony. Where he sojourned. The Levite, though not homeless, was regarded as only a sojourner in the land, inasmuch as the tribe had no inheritance (נַחֲלָח) there. They shall have like portions to eat; literally, they shall eat portion as portion, i.e. share and share alike. That which cometh of the sale of his patrimony; literally, his price upon [the house] of [his] fathers, i.e. the produce of the sale effected on the house he inherited from his ancestry (cf. Leviticus 25:33).
Then he shall minister in the name of the LORD his God, as all his brethren the Levites do, which stand there before the LORD.
They shall have like portions to eat, beside that which cometh of the sale of his patrimony.
When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.
Verses 9-22. - Moses was not only the leader and ruler of the people, he was also the medium through which God communicated with the people, gave them his laws, and conveyed to them his word and will. In this respect his place could be supplied neither by priest nor by king. In the prospect of his demise, therefore, there required to be instituted another office, that of a prophet, one who should be between God and the people, as the channel through which Divine communications might pass to them. This office Moses here announces that God would establish among them when they had entered the Promised Land. Verse 9. - The abominations of these nations; i.e. certain forms of superstitious usage by which the heathen sought to procure the favor of their deities, to obtain from them direction and counsel, and to penetrate into the hidden future of events. Moses charges the people to avoid all such usages, and not even to learn to do after such abominations (cf. Leviticus 18:21; Numbers 23:23; Leviticus 19:26, 31).
There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,
Verses 10, 11. - Maketh his son or daughter to pass through the fire (see note on Deuteronomy 12:31). That useth divination (cf. Ezekiel 21:21, where the different methods of divination are enumerated). An observer of times. This is according to the Targum, observans horns; the LXX. have κληδονιζόμενος, "one who augurs what is to happen;" Vulgate, qui observat somnia atque auguria. The word (מְעונֵן) is part of a verb which signifies to cover, to use covert arts, to practice sorcery; though some derive it from the noun עָנַן, a thick cloud, and explain it as "interpreter of clouds;" while others trace it to עַיִן, the eye, and explain it as "one who cheats by optical fascinations" (so the Syriac, fascinans oculis), or one who divines by inspection - an augur." An enchanter; one who practices magic, or divines by signs (cf. Genesis 44:5; Numbers 24:1). It is sometimes said that the verb of which this word is a part (נִחֵשׁ) is a denominative from נָחָשׁ, a serpent; whence it is inferred that the species of divination indicated by this word is ophiomancy, or divination by serpents, but this is not generally accepted by scholars. A witch (מִכַשֵׁפ; LXX., φαρμακός: Vulgate, maleficus); probably one who pretended to cure diseases, or procure some desired result, by means of nostrums and philtres. In the enumeration of the wise men of Babylon (Daniel 2:2), the Mecashephim have a place beside the Hartummim, and in Genesis 41:8 and Exodus 7:11, they are joined with the Hachamim or Magi of Egypt; and this favors the conclusion that their sorcery had a quasi-scientific basis. The English word "witch" is now restricted to the female practicer of unlawful arts; formerly it was applied to males as well, if not chiefly (Trench, 'Select Glossary,' p. 806). A charmer (חֹבֵר הָבֶר); a dealer in spells, one who by means of spells or charms pretends to achieve some desired result. The verb here used primarily means to bind, and the species of magic indicated is probably that practiced by binding certain knots, whereby it was supposed that the curse or blessing, as the case might he, was bound on its object; this was accompanied apparently with incantation (Psalm 58:5). Comp. English spell-bound, and the phrase, "to rivet charms" (Jonson, 'Sad Shepherd,' 2:2). A species of incantation known to the Romans consisted in tying knots with threads of different colors, three in number, which were supposed to become a bond to secure an object (cf. Virg., 'Eclog.' 8:76, 77). A consulter with familiar spirits. This phrase conveys something different from what is expressed, in the Hebrew. שֹׂאֵל אוב is one who asks or inquires of an Ob, that is, a Python, or divining spirit. This spirit was supposed to be in the person of the conjurer, and to be able to reveal to him what was secret or hidden in the future (Leviticus 20:27; 1 Samuel 28:7, 8; Acts 16:16). The notion of "a familiar spirit," i.e. a spirit not dwelling in the person, but with which he is intimate - generally the spirit of one who formerly lived on earth - is a modern notion not known to Scripture. The persons here referred to were probably ventriloquists (LXX., ἐγγαστρίμυθοι), and used their faculty in this respect for purposes of magic, pretending that they had within them a spirit which they could consult, and by which they could predict what would happen or reveal what was hid. Wizard. The English word "wizard" did not originally convey the idea of anything evil in the person of whom it was used; Milton applies it to the Magi who came to worship at Bethlehem ('Ode on the Nativity,' 4.); it meant merely "the wise one," or "the knowing one;" and thus is an exact equivalent for the Hebrew word here used (יְדעֹנִי, knowing, wise, from יָדַע, to know). A necromancer; one who professed to call up the dead, and from them to learn the secrets of futurity (cf. 1 Samuel 28:7). (See on all these names the learned and copious dissertation of Dr. Holmes, art. 'Divination,' in Kitto's 'Bibl. Cyclop.,' 3rd. edit., 1:682.)
Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.
Verse 12. - All who practiced such arts were an abomination unto the Lord, and his people are forbidden to have anything to do with them. They are connected here with the Moloch-worship, because of the intimate relation between idolatry and the use of magical arts; and Moloch-worship is specially mentioned, probably because it was the form of idolatry with which the Israelites were most likely to come in contact, both where they then were and also in Canaan; not, as Keil suggests, because that form "was more intimately connected with soothsaying and magic than any other description of idolatry" - an assertion for which there is no evidence.
Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.
Verse 13. - Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God. The word translated "per-feet" properly means entire, whole, answering to the Latin integer; it is used only in a moral sense, and is best rendered by "upright;" the Israelites were to be upright and sincere with, i.e. in relation with, Jehovah their God.
For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.
Verse 14. - Though the heathen whose land they were to possess sought to diviners and enchanters, Israel was not to do so; as for them (the אַתָּה at the beginning of the clause is an emphatic nominative), Jehovah their God had not suffered (נָתַן, given, granted, allowed) them to do such things.
The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;
Verses 15-22. - There should be no need for Israel to turn to heathen soothsayers, or diviners, or such like, because from amongst themselves, of their own brethren, would God raise up prophets like unto Moses, who, as occasion required, would reveal to them what God willed them to know. Verse 15. - A Prophet. The Hebrew word so rendered (נָבִיא) is a derivative from a verb (נָבָא), which signifies to tell, to announce; hence the primary concept of the word is that of announcer, or forth-speaker; and to this the word "prophet" (Greek προφήτης from πρόφημι, I speak before or in place of) closely corresponds; the prophet is one who speaks in the place of God, who conveys God's word to men, who is an interpreter of God to men. (As illustrative of the meaning of the word, cf. Exodus 7:1; Exodus 4:16.) Hence Abraham is called a prophet (Genesis 20:7), and the term is applied to the patriarchs generally (Psalm 105:15); God conveyed his mind to them, and they spoke it forth to others (cf. Amos 3:7). Like unto me. When the people heard the voice of God speaking to them at Sinai, and from the midst of the fire uttering to them the Ten Words, they were struck with terror, and besought that they might not again hear that awful voice, but that Moses might act as mediator between God and them - might hear what God should say, and speak it unto them (Deuteronomy 5:22-27). Moses thus became God's prophet to the people; and of this he reminds them here, as well as of the circumstances amid which he entered specially on this office (cf. vers. 16, 17). The phrase, "like unto me," does not necessarily imply that the prophet who was to come after Moses was to be in every respect the same as he; all that is indicated is that he would act as Moses had acted as a mediator between God and the people in the way of conveying his will to them.
According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, 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.
Verse 16. - In the day of the assembly (cf. Deuteronomy 9:14; Deuteronomy 10:4).
And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken.
I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
Verse 18. - And will put my words in his mouth; will so reveal to him my mind, and so inspire him to utter it, that the words he speaks shall be really my words. The question has been raised whether, by the Prophet like unto Moses, here promised to the people of Israel, is to be understood some eminent individual, or whether this refers to the prophetic διαδοχὴ, or succession, that was to continue under the theocracy. For the latter the context strongly speaks, for

(1) the contrast between what God here forbids the Israelites to do, viz. to resort to diviners and soothsayers, and the provision he would make for them so as to render this needless, point to a succession of prophets rather than to one individual;

(2) the reference in what follows to the discrimination of false prophets from true prophets, shows that a multiplicity and a succession of prophets was in the view of the speaker, not a single individual; and

(3) as a succession of priests, of judges, and of kings was contemplated in this part of the Mosaic legislation, the presumption is that a succession also of prophets was contemplated. At the same time, the use of the singular here is remarkable, for nowhere else is the singular, nabhi, employed to designate more than one individual; and this suggests that the reference here may be to some individual in whom not only was the succession to culminate as in its crown and eminence, but whose spirit was to pervade the whole succession, - that each member of it should exercise his functions only as that Spirit which was in them did signify (1 Peter 1:11). It is possible also, as Oryon Gerlach has suggested, that "Prophet" here may be used as "seed" is in Genesis 3:15, and that this is a prediction of Christ as the True Prophet, just as the assurance to Eve was a prediction of the Messiah, who, as the Head and Crown of the" godly seed," should end the conflict with the serpent and his seed by a crushing victory. It is to be considered also that, whilst the words "like unto me" do not necessarily imply a resemblance in all respects between Moses and the Prophet here promised, and whilst they may be well applied to One superior in many respects to Moses, it would be taking them at much below their real worth were we to understand them of one greatly inferior to Moses, as all the prophets who succeeded him in Israel were until the Chief came (Deuteronomy 34:10; Hebrews 3:1-6). Finally, there can be no doubt that the Jews expected that the Messiah would appear as the Prophet by pre-eminence, and that they founded that expectation on the promise here recorded (cf. John 1:21; John 6:14; Acts 3:22-26; Acts 7:37). It may be added that our Lord seems to apply this to himself, when he says to the Jews, "There is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me" (John 5:45, 46; cf. also John 11:48-50). How early and how widespread was the expectation that the Messiah would come as a prophet, may be inferred from the existence of this among the Samaritans (John 4:25). It is to be concluded, then, that this promise has reference ultimately to the Messiah, the Great Revealer of God, between whom and Moses there should be a long succession of prophets, so that there should always be a medium of Divine communication between Jehovah and his people.
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.
Verses 19-22. - To the Prophet who should thus speak to the people all that God should command him, they were to pay the utmost deference, and to his words they were to render implicit obedience. Verse 19. - I will require it of him; I will judge him and punish his disobedience (cf. Genesis 42:22; 2 Samuel 4:11; Psalm 10:13, etc.).
But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
Verse 20. - If, however, a prophet should presume to speak in the Name of the Lord what the Lord had not commanded him to speak, or if he should speak in the name of other gods, not only was no regard to be paid to his words, but he was himself to be treated as a blasphemer, and to be put to death.
And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?
Verses 21, 22. - The test by which it was to be discovered which was the true prophet and which the false, was the fulfillment or non-fulfillment of his prediction. The reference here is to the prediction of proximate events - events that were to happen within a limited period, but which were not such as one not divinely instructed could foresee. When such came to pass, the pretensions of the prophet were thereby substantiated, and his authority established (cf. 1 Samuel 3:19; John 2:18, etc.). This was a more certain test than such as was offered by signs and wonders (Deuteronomy 13:2, etc.).

When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
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