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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
15Yahweh your God will raise up to you a prophet from the midst of you, of your brothers, like me. You shall listen (Hebrew: shama) to him. 16This 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.”
“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.
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 (shama) to him” (v. 15b). The word shama 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” (Exodus 3:1; 4:27; 18:5; 24:13) and “the mountain of the Lord” or “the mountain of Yahweh” (Numbers 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
17Yahweh said to me, “They have well said that which they have spoken. 18I 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. 19It shall happen, that whoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. 20But 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.”
“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).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World EnglishBible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica StutgartensaOld Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Miller, Patrick D., Interpretation Commentary: Deuteronomy (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990)
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Copyright 2012, Richard Niell Donovan