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CRITICAL NOTES.—After speaking of the rulers of the people, Moses now mentions the teachers priests, Levites, and prophets; and what their privileges and position must be in their settlement in Canaan.
Deuteronomy 18:3-5. Rights of priests. The tribe of Levi had no inheritance like other tribes (Numbers 18-20); wholly consecrated to the priestly office, they were supported by tithes, first-fruits, and portions of sacrifices, which God had expressly reserved to Himself, yet when offered bestowed upon His servants. Priest’s due, the shoulder, two cheeks, and the maw, i.e., the front leg. The two jaw bones, and the rough stomach of ruminants in which digestion is completed, and which was considered a great dainty (ver, 3). First-fruits, the law repeated from Numbers 18:12-13, for the purpose of adding “the first of the fleece of thy sheep” (Deuteronomy 18:4). Him and his sons. Reference to Aaron and his sons, in whom the priesthood was established (Deuteronomy 18:5).
Deuteronomy 18:6-8. The Levites, i.e., the non-priestly Levites contrasted with the priests must be remembered. “These verses presuppose that part of the Levites only will be in residence and officiating at the sanctuary, the others dwelling in their homes in the Levitical cities (cf. Numbers 35:0). But if any Levite, out of love for the service, chose to resort to it when he might reside in his own home, he was to have his share in the maintainance which was provided for those ministering in the order of their cause.”—(Speak. Com.) Sojourned, though not homeless. He was regarded as a sojourner only, for he had no inheritance in the land. Minister assistant to the priest (Numbers 3:6). Patrimony, lit. his price upon (the house) of (his) fathers. Margin, his soles by the fathers. The Levites had no part in the land, but they might individually have property, buy and sell houses and fields. Abiathar (1 Kings 2:26; Jeremiah 32:7). A Levite who desired to settle at the sanctuary, must have his share of the perquisites, notwithstanding private resources. Have like portion, lit., “part like part shall they eat.” The new comer and those already in attendance must share and share alike.
Deuteronomy 18:9-14. Passing on to speak of the prophets, the legislator begins by enumerating and prohibiting the various superstitions by which heathen nations of Canaan had sought to explore the future and to test the will of the Deity.—(Sp. Com.) Through fire, i.e., to Molech, (cf. Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5), a rite of doubtful character, but connected with magical arts, and probably with unlawful lusts (2 Kings 18:17; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Ezekiel 23:37) Divination (cf. Ezekiel 21:21) for different methods of it, and (Numbers 23:23) observance of times, mode of dividing days into lucky and unlucky, or of drawing omens from clouds (Leviticus 19:26). Enchanter, serpent charmer. Witch, sorcerer (Exodus 7:11). Charmer (Deuteronomy 18:11), one who fascinates noxious animals, like Eastern serpent-charmers. The word is derived from a root to bind, referring to the custom of binding or banning by magical knots. Wizard, originally “the wise one,” “the knowing one,” from a verb to know. Necromancer, one who interrogates the dead (2 Chronicles 33:6). Thus all known words are grouped together, which belong to the practices described—perfect, upright, sincere or blameless (Latin integer) in relation to God. For thee emphatic, not so thou, God never allowed (Heb. given), granted thee to do such things.
Deuteronomy 18:15-22. No need for Israel to turn to soothsayers; God would raise up from amongst them a prophet time after time, a series of prophets. Like me, not in every sense, but as intercessor for the people and revealer of God’s will. Assembly (Deuteronomy 18:16 cf. cp. Deuteronomy 18:9-10, and Exodus 20:19). To this prophet who should speak words received directly from God, reverence and obedience must be rendered. Require it (Deuteronomy 18:19), i.e., visit disobedience with punishment (cf. Psalms 10:13; Acts 3:23). The prophet who presumed to speak in God’s name, or utter words not given him, must be regarded as a blasphemer and put to death (Deuteronomy 18:20). If his prophecy failed, or if his words did not come to pass, he was discovered to be an imposter. Whatever signs and wonders were performed, fulfilment of prediction was the true test of prophecy (cf. cp. Deuteronomy 12:2 sq.).
THE RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF PRIESTS.—Deuteronomy 18:1-5
From the limitations of monarchy, Moses turns to the duties of the priests and specifies their inheritance and dues.
I. The dignity of priests. They were a special tribe called to minister in the name of the Lord (Deuteronomy 18:5).
1. Chosen of God. “Thy God hath chosen him.” This is an honour which no man taketh upon himself (Hebrews 5:5), not hereditary, nor conferred by men, and which should not be despised. “Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you … to bring you nearer to Himself” (Numbers 16:9).
2. Consecrated to holy service. “To minister in the name of the Lord.” He was not engaged in secular callings, nor employed in the service of an earthly monarch, but in the serivce, by the authority and for the praise of God. A sense of this dignity should be carefully formed, and constantly realised. Dignity of character should correspond with dignity of station. Ministers should “magnify” (glorify) their “office” (Romans 11:13) by a due appreciation of its nature, an earnest endeavour to live up to its demands, and a fearless discharge of its duties.
II. The due of priests. Deprived of land and specially set apart for spiritual functions, they had special reverences.
1. They required the sympathy of the people. The order preceded from the midst of the people (Exodus 28:1), was appointed for the benefit of the people and depended upon the people. They were not a sacred caste, standing in proud pre-eminence above the rest of the nation. A principle of equality was indicated in priesthood and monarchy. “Taken from among men.”
2. They required the support of the people. To reward their labour, performed instead of the first-born of the people, and to compensate their loss of material wealth, it was ordained that they should receive tithes of produce and parts of animal sacrifices. The Levite, as well as the widow and orphan, was commended to the special kindness of the people (Deuteronomy 14:27-29; Deuteronomy 12:19). “He commanded the people to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 31:4).
III. The inheritance of priests. They had cities and residence that they might exercise a refined influence upon the people, and disseminate a knowledge of the law, but no territorial possessions. “The Lord is their inheritance” (Deuteronomy 18:2). Theirs by adopting love, personal preference, and public avowal. An inheritance blessed, satisfactory, secure, and permanent. “I am their inheritance and ye shall give them no possession in Israel” (Ezekiel 44:28).
THE MINISTRATION AND MAINTENANCE OF THE PRIESTS.—Deuteronomy 18:1-8
The words may be applied to the Christian ministry, though not a priesthood in the Old Testament sense. The sacred office is filled with men divinely called and qualified, entrusted with the most responsible and enriching blessing, and rendering the greatest service to their fellow men.
I. The calling of a priest is one of the highest into which a man can enter. It eclipses earthly callings as the sun outshines the stars.
1. An office divinely instituted. Not left to the wisdom and device of men. “The ministry is a matter of free grace and favour,” says Quesnel, “who then will dare to enter into it without a Divine call? There is nothing in which a king would willingly be more absolute than in the choice of his ministers, and shall we dare to contest, and take away this right from the King of Kings.” “Ordained of God as was Aaron.”
2. An office spiritual in its nature. Levites were forbidden to become farmers and enter into commercial pursuits. They were devoted to the service of God and the ministration of His house. The work is not an ordinary profession, conducted on the principles of commercial transactions. Ministers “must give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
3. An office perpetual in its duration. “Him and his sons for ever.” Aaron died but successors entered the office. Human life is uncertain; we must not trust to man whose breath is in his nostrils. Ministers die, but the ministry remains a perpetual monument, a gift of God to all generations.
II. Many priests in discharging the duties of their calling are exemplary in their zeal. Sometimes a Levite would leave his own home, and from intense love devote himself to the altar of the sanctuary. “Come with all the desire of his mind unto the place which the Lord shall choose.” This is the true spirit of service, the spirit of the Master and of His apostles. No coldness and formality here. We often lack zeal and spiritual fervour; are too carnal, selfish, and slothful. Love is wanting. “O that I was all heart, and soul, and spirit,” said Rowland Hill, “to tell the glorious gospel of Christ to perishing multitudes.” We must sacrifice worldly pleasure, and personal convenience, and devote ourselves with energy to our work. “I longed to be as a flame of fire continually glowing in the Divine service,” cried Brainerd. “The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up (devoured like a flame)” (John 2:17; Psalms 69:9).
III. It is the duty of the people to support the priests in their calling. “The priests” had their “due from the people.”
1. This is reasonable. “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, it is a great tiling if we shall reap your carnal things!” If a man gives his time and talents for the benefit of the people, surely they are bound to secure his temporal comforts. “The labourer is worthy of his hire.”
2. This is scriptural. The principle laid down by our Lord and applied by apostles in support of the ministry is confirmed by scripture. “Do ye not know, that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so the Lord hath ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” This arrangement helps to secure an efficient ministry, to promote mutual good, and to bring out energies for the spread of the gospel.
DESIRE FOR MINISTERIAL SERVICE.—Deuteronomy 18:6
It appears that the Levites served in rotation from the earliest times; but from their great numbers, it was only at distant intervals they could be called into actual service. Should any Levite, however, under the influence of eminent piety, resolve to devote himself wholly and continually to the sacred duties of the Sanctuary, he was allowed to realise his ardent wishes; and as he was admitted to the share of the work, so also to a share of the remuneration (Jamieson). This desire for the work is a prominent feature in the character and qualifications of the Christian minister.
I. It is a constraining desire. More than a general desire to be useful—a special kindling within, like “the burning fire shut up” in the prophet’s bosom overcoming reluctance for God’s service (Jeremiah 20:9). This constraint rises above all difficulties, and takes pleasure in sacrifices for the work’s sake. “This is a true saying (note the emphasis), if a man desire (vehemently, intensely) the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1).
II. It is a considerate desire. The result of matured thought. The cost is counted, most watchful caution exercised, and the providence of God ascertained. Matthew Henry warns against intrusion into the sacred office. “We must not be forward to put forth ourselves in the exercise of spiritual gifts. Pride often appears under the pretence of a desire to be useful. If the motive be correct it is good, but humility will wait for a call.” “He that believeth shall not make haste.”
III. It is a disinterested desire. A choice not influenced by love of literature, respect and professional dignity. “With all brave and and rightly-trained men, their work is first, their fee second,” says Ruskin. It is an office in which we “seek not great things for ourselves.” God always implants a love in the heart for the service to which He calls, and better not enter than seek to get a name or maintain a party. “If I do this thing willingly (spontaneously without renumeration) I have a reward (Deuteronomy 18:18), but if against my will (not spontaneously), a dispensation (a stewardship) is committed to me, “and so have no special claim to reward for that which necessity is laid upon me to do.” (1 Corinthians 9:17.)
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Deuteronomy 18:2. The Lord their inheritance. True of the believer as well as the Levite and priest. An inheritance.
1. Divinely bestowed. Not gained like earthly possessions by favouritism, wealth, and heriditary succession.
2. Ever sufficient. Men of the world seek pleasure here and there, labour for possessions and are doomed to disappointment. Charles V., Emperor of Germany, cried out to all his honours and trophies “Get you hence, no more of you.”
3. Indissolubly sure. It never diminishes, changes hands nor leads to poverty. “An everlasting portion.”
Stand to minister.
1. Priestly service, active, energetic ministry nor idleness, apathy nor negligent habits. “Exercise thyself.”
2. Priestly spirit. Not selfish, but self-sacrificing and Christlike, which prompts to self-denial and readiness of mind. “Here Lord am I, send me.”
3. Priestly reward. In God the object of affection and centre of bliss. “I am their inheritance,” etc. (Ezekiel 44:28).
Deuteronomy 18:6-8. Voluntary service.
1. Devoted to the noblest purpose.
2. Rendered in the holiest place.
3. Springing from the warmest spirit. We must offer ourselves. Self-consecration, the first act of priestly service. “Our character is our will,” says Archbishop Manning, “for what we will we are.”
THE VOCATION AND DUTY OF GOD’S PEOPLE.—Deuteronomy 18:9-13
Israel had constantly to be warned against infection from the idolatrous customs of the Canaanites. The nature of such customs is described, and they are reminded of their calling and relation to God.
I. God calls His people to be like Him. “Be perfect with the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 18:13). Israel were to be upright in conduct, unpolluted in worship, and devoted entirely to Him. Likeness to God must be the aim of life. A Christian must progress in knowledge and love of God every day; for the less we think of God, the greater the danger of conforming to the world. “Let us go on unto perfection.” This is the high calling and destiny of the believer. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
II. In responding to this call, they must avoid worldly customs. Called out of the world, though living in it, they must avoid its “abominations,” charmers and “observers of times.” It has its witches, and “women of familiar spirits.” Notions of lucky and unlucky days are not confined to heathen countries. In this country, men observe the stars, charm diseases, and prognosticate success of wars, the happiness or misfortune of marriages, and the length of human life. This dethrones God from the heart and supersedes the promises and threatenings of His word. It rejects the doctrine of Divine Providence and is treason to the Ruler of the Universe. “Should not a people seek unto their God? for (on behalf of) the living (should they consult) to the dead?” (Isaiah 8:19).
III. In seeking to avoid worldly customs God alone can help. God alone had preserved Israel in the past. “Thy God hath not suffered thee so to do” (Deuteronomy 18:14). In the future, instead of having recourse to heathen superstitions, He would provide them with “a prophet,” with divine teaching time after time. In Christ and the scripture we have help. If weak and sinful, God’s grace can renew and strengthen. If dark and uncertain, the word is a light and guide. Christ completes what Moses begins. He is still performing the prophetic office, calling ministers by His Spirit, enlightening men to understand the scriptures and making the gospel come to them, not in word only, but in power and in the Holy Ghost and in much assurance.
HEATHEN ABOMINATIONS AVOIDED
One reason to shun the practices of idolatry springs from the nature of the evils themselves.
1. They are cruel. Children “pass through the fire.” How inhuman that religion which requires children to be burned or thrown into rivers, and parents in age and infirmity to be given to wild beasts! “Cruelty is one of the highest scandals to piety,” says Seeker. “The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty (homesteads of violence.) “—Kay. (Psalms 74:20.)
2. They are enticing. Divination, enchanter and witch have their spells. Idolatry, “a shameful creed of craft and cruelty,” delights in what fills the sensuous imagination. Ritualistic practices attract the eyes, fascinate the mind, and minister to self-conceit. “Who hath bewitched (fascinated) you, that ye should not obey the truth?” (Galatians 3:1).
3. They are defiling “Abominations.” Paintings and sculptures, laws and legends, reveal the awful corruptions of the heathen world. All sin defiles, and men through sin “are together become unprofitable (corrupt, useless)” (Romans 3:12). Their odour is not praise and prayer, but the poison of asps and secreted malice. “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man.”
4. They are destructive. “Because of these abominations the Lord doth drive them out.” Sin drives away from God here and from heaven hereafter. The fruit of idolatry and superstitions is death. Death spiritual and death eternal. “Ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which 1 cast out before you, for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Deuteronomy 18:13; Deuteronomy 14:1. Preserving grace. God did not suffer Israel to do these things. Other nations He “gave up to their own hearts’ lusts, and suffered to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14-16).
2. High vocation. “Be perfect.” Every man has an ideal, some ruling thought, some object of life. Religion sets forth the ends of life and supplies motives and power for striving for them. God is the desire of our nature, fills the highest capacities of the mind, and should be the aim of our life.
3. Constant effort to reach it. “Thou shalt not learn to do these” Life is a school in which we must learn to know God and do good.
Deuteronomy 18:13. Christian perfection. A solemn injunction. I. Unfold its import. We must be perfect with the Lord our God.
1. In love to His name.
2. In affiance to His care.
3. In zeal for His glory. II. Enforce its authority. Without real integrity before God, we can have—
1. No comfort in our souls.
2. No stability in our ways.
3. No acceptance with God. Address—
(1) Those who are unable to ascertain with confidence their real state.
(2) Those who have an inward evidence that their hearts are right with God.—C. Simeon, M.A.
Perfect, i.e., whole, entire.
1. In the elements of your character. Have nothing defective, weak and lacking.
2. In the method of your worship. No admixture of heathenism and error.
3. In the duties of your life. Be blameless, innocent, and upright Scatter thy life through every part, and sanctify the whole.
THE PROPHET LIKE TO MOSES
Here Moses is not speaking of a collective body of prophets, to which Christ is at the end incidentally annexed, as Calvin and other expositors understand the passage; but the whole office and station of the prophets is represented to him as personified in Christ, as the person in whom his conception of that office would be perfectly realised. Thus there is a concurrent reference to the other prophets, not in their individual capacities, but only in relation to the Spirit, who, though in a manner not yet completed, was powerfully efficient in them and conjoined them along with their Head in one united body, They were viewed in Christ, as they were but His instruments; His spirit constituted the essence of their office. (Hengstenberg). Look at the principal circumstances in the description, the likeness to Moses.
I. Like to Moses as a Prophet. Man has ever sought instruction and desired light Heathen oracles were dumb and philosophy impotent to satisfy this moral craving. Plato said “we must wait till someone shall teach us how we ought to conduct ourselves towards the gods”—Moses was a prophet of the highest rank who revealed and interpreted the will of God to men. Not merely a religious man, but one supernaturally inspired. But Christ was “the teacher sent from God.” He came from the bosom of the Father and declared (expounded) him in all his relationships to man (John 1:18). He is the manifestation of God’s character, the revelation of His purpose. The manifold partial disclosures of former messengers, have given place to one complete and final revelation in Christ. “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.”
II. Like to Moses as a Lawgiver. Man requires law, loves order, and is appy only in loyal obedience. No Jewish prophet was legislator, no ruler had right to govern supremely. David was king, inspired teacher and sweet psalmist of Israel, but his work was merely executive. Jesus only was like Moses the founder of a new constitution and a new period. He is the Head of the Church and the Sovereign of men. Moses was faithful as a servant, but Christ has the natural right “as a son over his own house.”
III. Like to Moses as an Intercessor (Deuteronomy 18:16). When Israel sinned, Moses interceded with God, obtained forgiveness, and delivered from temporal punishments. Jesus is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises (Hebrews 8:6). When cursed by the law, condemned by conscience and afraid of intercourse with God, then even we find access and receive help through “Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.”
IV. Like to Moses as leader of his people. Moses was the general and leader of the nation. As chieftain of the community he administered their affairs, and led them in the wilderness. But he could bring them only to the borders of Canaan, and did not enter it himself. Christ guides through life into heaven, and will for ever satisfy His people with fruits of faith and holiness. We know not the way and could never discover it, but He leads by example and precept. There are enemies powerful and combined, but he commands, emboldens, and gives victory. “A leader, and commander to the people.”
FALSE PROPHETS.—Deuteronomy 18:20-22
1. The presumption they display. “Presume to speak,” with a commission from false gods as prophets of Baal; or a pretended commission from the true God. Just as there were false Christs, so were there false prophets, who impersonated for popularity and gain.
2. The test by which they are known. “If thou say how?” It is often difficult to distinguish the true from the false, but facts and fulfilment are the test. Whatever teaching or prediction does not accord with history, scripture and God’s will, we may be sure, is not from God. Samuel’s mission was proved because God “let none of His words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19-20).
3. The punishment which they endure. “That prophet shall die.” They seek to deceive, to draw away the people. They have committed high treason against the crown and authority of Jehovah, and had to be condemned by the Sanhedrim which sat at Jerusalem. Hence the people cautioned not to fear a false, but to obey a true prophet. The caution is needful in our day. “Beware of false prophets.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Deuteronomy 18:15 to Deuteronomy 19:1. Man’s craving for light. On all the great problems of life. God, the future and how to be just with God.
2. Worldly wisdom unable to reveal light. Man has “sought out” many inventions (entangled himself with an infinity of questions, Douay Vers) but never succeeded (Ecclesiastes 7:29).
3. God in mercy has given light. Raised up prophets, sent His Son and given His Spirit and Word. “Walk in the light,” etc.
Deuteronomy 18:18. Christ like Moses.
1. In coming from the people. “From among their brethren.”
2. In the intercourse he had with God. With Moses God spoke “mouth to mouth.”
3. In the attention which they demand. We must “hear.” Some do not even hear, but ridicule and oppose. Hearken with attention and desire to learn. “In all” that I speak; not some things, as the love and mercy of God, but all things concerning justice, repentance, and faith. There must be no choice, no separation of one doctrine from another. Disobedience results in death (Acts 3:22-23). “Every soul” without partiality, “shall be cut off.” This excision, not correction, not annihilation, but death eternal. “From among the people.” Intermixed now in families and congregations, then separated for ever.
This remarkable promise has two great objects of reference. First, the assurance that God would from time to time, after Moses, send such prophets as he was; that is persons who should make known to the Israelites the will of God, stimulate them to obey His precepts, and when it was requisite foretel future events. These promises God faithfully fulfilled in Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and their successors down to the coming of the Messiah, who was known by the fulfilment of prophecy to be the promised Redeemer. The second point contained is the obedience to Christ with willing hearts. In His capacity as lawgiver, deliverer, and guide, His people hearken unto Him. (Seiler.) Like unto me. Both in the participation of nature and of office. A true man, and a true Mediator. Similes they are, but not pares; Christ being “worthy of more glory than Moses,” and why, see Hebrews 3:3; Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 9:15.—Trapp.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 18
Deuteronomy 18:1-5. Priests. The priesthood hath, in all nations and all religions, been held highly venerable.—Bp. Atterbury. The vesture of that older priesthood is with us an adornment of the heart; and the glory of them that are chief in priesthood is to us no longer commended by the beauty of vestments, but by a splendour that is of the soul.—St. Gregory.
Deuteronomy 18:6. Desire of mind. The virtues of the will are above the successions of time.—Abp. Manning. Most merciful Father! grant me to covet with an ardent mind those things which may please thee; to search them wisely, to know them truly, and to fulfil them perfectly; to the praise, laud, and glory of thy name. Order my living so that I may do that which thou requirest of me, and me give grace that I may know it, and have will and power to do it.—Edward VI.
Deuteronomy 18:9-12. Witch. A border between earth and hell; her qualities are rather those of the former than of the latter.—G. Gilfillan. Those who go to astrology, or wise men as they call them, to know their fortunes and enquire of the events of their life, they forsake God, and betake themselves to lying vanities.—Abp. Tillotson.
Submit thy fate to Heaven’s indulgent care,
Though all seems lost, tis impious to despair;
The tracks of Providence, like rivers wind,
And though immerged in earth from human eyes,
Again break forth, and more conspicuous rise.
Deuteronomy 18:13. Perfect. Moral perfectibility is our destiny.—G. Forster. The Christian ought to know more of God every day; otherwise he may think of Him less, till he totally forgets Him; and then he is in danger of falling into that state, out of which men cannot be renewed by repentance.—Jones of Nayland.
Deuteronomy 18:15-19. Prophet. The mission of the prophets was the religious education of the Jewish people. They were raised up according to the exigencies of the times to preserve them from error, and to prepare their minds for the future development of the kingdom of God. Their object was twofold—to maintain the Church in allegiance to prescribe rites, institutions and ordinances, and yet to prepare the people for a further manifestation of the blessing of the new covenant.
Deuteronomy 18:19. Not hearken. Man is deaf and blind in the things of God. “Having ears he hears not, having eyes he sees not.” To his need and to his remedy he is alike insensible. His ear is open to sound advice, to moral doctrine, to the dictates of external decency. But as to the gospel, he is a perfect statue without life.—Bridge. “Is the sermon done?” it was asked of one who returned from church sooner than usual. “No, not yet;” was the answer. “It is preached, but it still remains to be done.”—G.S. Bowes.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 18". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27