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RIGHTS OF THE PRIESTS AND THE LEVITES. THE ARTS OF DIVINATION OF THE HEATHEN TO BE AVOIDED. PROPHETS PROMISED WHOM ISRAEL MUST HEAR. THE FALSE AND PRESUMPTUOUS PROPHET TO BE PUT TO DEATH.
After the ruling powers, the judges and the king, come the priests and the Levites. In regard to them Moses repeats here the law as before laid down (cf. Numbers 18:20, Numbers 18:23, Numbers 18:24).
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.
Deuteronomy 18:2, Deuteronomy 18:3
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 Deuteronomy 18:1. 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 17:1-16; vide Deuteronomy 12:15. sqq.)"(Keil). According to Josephus ('Antiq ,' 4.4, 4), Philo, 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 (Le Deuteronomy 7:15, Deuteronomy 7:16), but for festal meals in the broader sense, which were held in connection with the sacrificial meals prepared from the shelamim" (Keil).
In addition to the firstfruits already prescribed by the Law to be given to the priests (Numbers 18:12, Numbers 18:13), 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.
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.
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).
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.
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. Le Deuteronomy 18:21; Numbers 23:23; Leviticus 19:26, Leviticus 19:31).
Deuteronomy 18:10, Deuteronomy 18:11
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 (מְעוֹנֵן) 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 (מִכַשֵׁף; 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. 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 (Psalms 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 אוֹב 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; 1Sa 28:7, 1 Samuel 28:8; 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 (of. 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.)
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. 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.
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.
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.
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 (Psalms 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. Deuteronomy 18:16, Deuteronomy 18:17). 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.
In the day of the assembly (cf. Deuteronomy 9:14; Deuteronomy 10:4).
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, hero 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; AcAct 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, John 5:46; 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.
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.
I will require it of him; I will judge him and punish his disobedience (cf. Genesis 42:22; 2 Samuel 4:11; Psalms 10:13, etc.).
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.
Deuteronomy 18:21, Deuteronomy 18:22
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.).
The support of the ministry the duty of God's people.
In a note on a corresponding passage in Numbers 18:21, Numbers 18:22, Dr. Jameson remarks, "Neither the priests nor the Levites were to possess any allotments of land, but to depend entirely upon him who liberally provided for them out of his own portion; and this law was subservient to many important purposes, such as that, being exempted from the cares and labors of worldly business, they might be exclusively devoted to his service; that a bond of mutual love and attachment might be formed between the people and the Levites, who, as performing religious services for the people, derived their subsistence from them; and further, that, being the more easily dispersed among the different tribes, they might be more useful in instructing and directing the people." This suggestive note seems to us to contain the pith of the Mosaic instructions concerning the maintenance of the Levites. (For the several details, see Exposition.) We can scarcely fail to see in this passage principles far wider in their application than to the Jewish people alone, and reaching much further onward than the times of the old covenant. And though, as it falls to the lot of the preacher to expound these principles, it may not quite fall within his preference to do so, if he is, like the Levites, supported by the contributions of the people, yet, when he is continuously expounding the Word of God, he may not omit to teach the people that" he that is taught in the Word should communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things." This is part of the "counsel of God," and should not be withheld, since it is not for his own sake, but for the sake of the entire ministry of the Lord Jesus, for which, if he is faithful, he will plead. The principles which may be expounded by the ministers of the New Testament are these—
I. A GODLY, ABLE MINISTRY IS THE WANT OF THE PEOPLE. True, there are now no sacrifices to be offered, nor is there any complicated ritual of service to be performed; but there is a mighty work to be done in heralding the gospel "to every creature," and in "building up the body of Christ." And so long as sin and ignorance prevail, so long will the people need those who will lead the way in seeking their expulsion and extinction. For this end our Lord has instituted a New Testament ministry. The work now to be fulfilled is that of teaching and preaching Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:1-16; 1 Corinthians 9:1-27.). "Faithful men, able to teach," are to be appointed. These are the qualifications. The Church needs no priesthood in it. It is itself the priesthood for the world. Ministers do not come now in a family, a tribe, or line. The figment of apostolical succession is "less than nothing, and vanity." It is not by the law of "a carnal commandment" that any ministry is valid now. But wherever God's Spirit fills a man with holy yearning for this work, where the needful gifts are imparted, where God's providence leads and clears the way, and the divinely inspired voice of a free Christian people says to him, "Come and be our teacher and guide in the ways of the Lord," there are calls to a ministry such as cannot be mistaken, and such as ought not to be ignored. And when, on such a ministry, the seals of Divine approval are set, when the minister can see the law of Christ which is promulgated by his lips, reproduced in men's hearts and lives, when he can see many a wanderer reclaimed through his pleading and prayers,—then can his ministry show a like validity even with that of Paul, for he, like him, can point to one and another and say, "If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you, for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord."
II. THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD DEMANDS THE DEVOTION OF THE ENTIRE LIFE. We by no means intend here that none should teach or preach but those who can give their whole time thereto. But that, as a part of the application of the "division of labor" in the Church, the demands on those who make the ministry of the Word their care are such, that only the entire consecration of their life to it will enable them fittingly to meet them. To take the oversight of the flock of God: to give unto each one their portion of meat in due season: to visit the fatherless and widow, the poor and the sick: to observe the signs of the times: to know what Israel ought to do, and to direct them in doing it: to keep abreast of the thinking of the day, whether helpful or adverse: and so to declare the whole counsel of God, as by manifestation of the truth to commend himself to every conscience:—all these things go to make up a work so varied, so momentous, so exhausting, that nothing less than "giving himself wholly" to it can enable any man even approximately to discharge it.
III. THIS BEING THE CASE, IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT THE MINISTER SHOULD NOT BE ENTANGLED IN IMPEDING CARES. The Levites were not to have great estates that might draw off their interest from the duties of their office, nor were they to be left at an uncertainty respecting the supply of their temporal need. Even so now. It will greatly fetter and hamper a minister if he is entangled with the affairs of his life, whether by having so much on his hands that his time is absorbed in secular, which ought to be devoted to sacred, things; or by having so little on which he can rely, that the anxiety about feeding the people with living bread, is diverted from its proper channel, by anxiety about having the "bread that perisheth" for himself and his.
IV. CONSEQUENTLY IT IS AN ORDINANCE OF GOD THAT THE MINISTRY, WHICH IS FOR THE PEOPLE, SHOULD BE THE CARE OF THE PEOPLE. This may be set on several grounds.
1. It is manifestly right. If a man gives up all ways of securing temporal comforts for the sake of serving the people, they are bound to secure him the temporal comforts in some other way.
2. The Apostle Paul distinctly lays it down as an appointment by the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:14). (Paul waived this. right, rather than hinder the gospel by pressing it, as is now done under like circumstances; but it was a right, nevertheless, and a Divine appointment.)
3. Wherever a people cause a minister to be embarrassed in temporalities, they will suffer for it. The minister's work, teaching, and preaching will all bear the traces of such embarrassment, and will be the weaker for it.
4. This Divine ordinance helps to promote the mutual care of minister and people for each other. They reap his spiritual things; he reaps their carnal things.
5. There is also thus a high and holy spiritual education of the people, in calling out their own kindly and just activities to uphold that ministry by which they themselves are upheld. The ministry is not to be found for them, but to be maintained by them. Thus there is seen to be a guard against abuse of position on either side.
V. ISRAEL WAS TO GUARD ITS OWN PRIESTHOOD AS BEING ITSELF A PRIESTHOOD FOR THE WORLD. So Churches are to guard the honor of their own ministry, because they have a ministry for the world. It is not for the ministers' own sakes that they are to be thus cared for, but on account of the high and holy cause which they represent, and which they seek, however imperfectly, to maintain. They are to be esteemed very highly in love for their work's sake; for the work which they fulfill is that which is purifying and saving the world. It is, in fact, by thus supporting a ministry that the Church is fulfilling its commission, "to preach the gospel to every creature." Of course, it follows from all this, that a ministry can claim such and such support, only so far as it is carrying out the Divine intent, or seeking in all fidelity to do so. It is not that God has put clergy as a kind of official police over the people; but that those who love righteousness are to show it by upholding the preaching of righteousness, and that those who love their Savior's Name are to sustain the heralds of that Name, both at home and abroad.
In the verses forming this paragraph, there are nine terms or phrases, each with its own special meaning, £ pointing to some pagan superstition, against which Moses is warning the people. The variety and number of such terms show us how great a bold a spurious "spiritualism" had upon the people. The phenomena connected therewith, however, present to us an aspect of history that is worthy of careful study. In some sort, the pagan customs of olden times connected with divination may seem so completely out of date, that it may be thought useless for the preacher to allude to them now. But though some details connected therewith may vary, yet the two purposes for which men "divined" of old, are still sought to be accomplished, viz.:
(1) the ascertainment of destiny; and
(2) a peep into the invisible realm of the departed.
And not only so; but the methods of a modern so-called" spiritualism" are so nearly analogous to those of ancient times, that it is as needful for the preacher now to warn the people against them, as it was for Moses to warn the Hebrews. Even among them, the roothold of this superstition was so strong, that Isaiah had to caution the men of his time against it, and to remind them of the more excellent way (see Isaiah 8:19, Isaiah 8:20). But it is very remarkable that neither Moses nor Isaiah closes up the matter at once by saying, "You may as well give up all that, for you cannot possibly hold any communication with the departed." Neither of them suggests that the invisible world is absolutely closed against all possible access. Various reasons for this may be surmised. It may be that the question of the abstract possibility or otherwise of communications with the departed, formed no part of God's revelation to Moses; or that God has not seen fit at any time to inform us thereon, deeming an education on the moral bearings of the question, of far greater moment than intelligence on its physical or metaphysical aspects. Any way, certain it is, that we are not called on to ask, Can we converse with the dead? But we are rather forbidden to attempt it. Five reasons are suggested as we compare and unite the teachings of Isaiah and Moses.
I. IT IS UNREASONABLE. "Should not a people seek unto their God?" If they wish to commune with spirit, there is one Great Infinite Spirit with whom they can hold fellowship, who has said, "Call on me in the day of trouble." From him we may get at any time all needful light on the daily path, and all needful intercourse with the spiritual world. We may hear a voice behind us, saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it." And if we may consult the Great Supreme, why leave the highest authority, for the sake of consulting any others?
II. IT IS UNNECESSARY. For what is that we really need? Light for the future, but not light on it; and light concerning the invisible world, but not light into it. And these are given to us in the revelation of the Divine Word (see next Homily). The connection between this paragraph and the next should not be lost sight of. Moses says, "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet," etc. (verse 15), i.e. not only one Prophet in the fullness of time, but also from time to time as may be needed, prophet after prophet shall be sent you to direct you in the truth, so that you will have no excuse whatever for seeking light elsewhere, or in any forbidden ways. If that was true of Israel, how far more is it true of us! What a fullness of light and truth have we in Christ! And now that we have an unction from the Holy One to teach us the deep things of God, it is a wildly foolish and needless step to go knocking at the gates of the invisible world!
III. IT IS USELESS. It might very fairly be asked, "If you get an answer, how are you to verify its worth?" But Isaiah practically impales the "spiritualists" on the horns of a dilemma. "To the Law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them;" i.e. supposing you consult the dead, and get an answer from them, that answer will either accord with "the Law and the testimony," or it will not. If it does, you are no better off than you were before, for you had it in the Book before you inquired. If it does not, still you are no better off, for "it is because there is no light in them," and if they have no light, they certainly cannot give any to you! So that either way the inquiry after the dead is utterly useless. And besides, who ever heard of anything alleged to be communicated by "the spirits" which contained aught that was not previously known? We have an infinitely more sure "word of prophecy," and we shall be guilty of the veriest folly if we forsake it for the random guessings of "spiritualism." Hence—
IV. IT IS SINFUL. The preacher may press this on the following grounds.
1. It is a wayward effort to force an opening into a region which God as yet sees fit to conceal from view.
2. It comes of a wish to get light on future issues rather than on present duty. Duty is ours, events are God's.
3. It involves the neglect of a rule which God has given, and a search after one which he has not.
4. It is a waste of time.
5. It puts a prying curiosity in the place of a lowly, loyal obedience.
6. It springs out of a guilty unbelief or from dissatisfaction with the ways of God. Why, even among the heathen who knew not God, it was regarded by him as an "abomination;" how much more must he so regard it among a people to whom he has revealed himself in deepest, tenderest love? Have men not yet learnt that it is mercy which hides the future, and shrouds in veil the realm of the dead? Who of us could bear to have either curtain drawn aside? Oh! it is no wonder that this spirit of false inquiry should be forbidden by God. We should frown on it in others, sternly and constantly, and it should not be so much as named among us as becometh saints.
V. THERE IS ANOTHER AND A BETTER WAY OF GETTING ALL THE LIGHT WE NEED. "The Law and the testimony." Here are the words of God which are to direct us. Here we may "inquire of God," and to the lowly, childlike heart the Book will be full of divinest, holiest teaching. It will give us light on the daily path, and guide us to a course which has "promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." It abounds with promises that will cheer life's gloom, and chase away the darkness even from the grave. It opens up immortality and life. By its light we know that our departed ones in Christ, though absent from the body, are present with the Lord. Cheered by its words of hope, we can sing, "Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory!" We are not treading uncertainly. We walk not at random. We are not helplessly drifting down a current. We are "firm on the rock." We are surrounded with light from him who is "the Light of the world;" and with all this, cannot we wait a while, and let him who is redeeming us reveal the mysteries of the spirit world to us in his own good time rather than our own? Hush! these longings to know beforehand. Let us keep to the written Word. It tells us quite as much as we can bear to know while in these tabernacles of clay. Be it ours to study the Book of God: to take it not only as a guide, but as the guide; not simply as the only guide, but as the all-sufficient one, "until the day break, and the shadows flee away."
God speaking to man through man.
The Exposition, as well as the Commentaries of Jameson and Keil, may, with great advantage, be consulted on this passage, and also Hengstenberg's 'Christology,' vol. 1. pp. 96-107. Our brief homiletic sketches assume that the student has already mastered the exegesis, and comprehended the intent of the passage. Its connection with the preceding paragraph is obvious. The people had been warned against having recourse to familiar spirits, etc; on the ground that such practices were an abomination unto the Lord their God. But Moses would not only warn the people off the wrong ground, he would direct them to the right, by showing them the completeness of the Divine arrangements for supplying them from time to time with all the religious teaching they would require, in a way far more adapted to their condition and circumstances than by any unveiling of the secrets of the invisible world. They are reminded that when God came in grandeur to speak to them at Mount Sinai, they could not bear the sight nor the sound. They begged that Moses would speak to them, and not Jehovah; "lest we die," were their own words. So that it was clear they would be entirely unable to bear anything approximating to a full disclosure of the Divine. It must be toned and tempered within the limits of their capacities of reception and of their powers of endurance. Otherwise, it would fail of its end, by crushing those whom it was meant to train. Hence he who "knoweth our frame" graciously promises to speak hereafter to the people in their own dialect, as it were, and on their own level, by "raising them up a Prophet, from the midst of them, of their brethren, like unto Moses;" and thus would the needful messages from God be kept up, making it quite unnecessary for them to make use of unauthorized means of getting supernatural light. There would be, from time to time, one prophet raised up after another, culminating in him to whom they all gave witness. Thus our theme is," God speaking to man through man."
I. UNLESS A DIVINE REVELATION WERE ATTEMPERED TO OUR WEAKNESS, WE COULD NOT BEAR IT. The cry of Israel at Sinai, "Let not God speak with us, lest we die," is a "touch of nature." No man could bear the full blaze of God's glory. Unless there were a "hiding of God's power," we should be crushed by the revelation of it. We could no more endure the full disclosure of the Divine than our eyes could bear to gaze on the splendors of a noonday sun. Hence God, "who knows our frame," and who, therefore, knows what we can bear, meets our weakness by his tender mercy.
II. IN ORDER THAT THE REVELATION MAY BE SUCH AS WE CAN RECEIVE, GOD HAS SPOKEN TO MEN THROUGH MAN. AS Sinai's terror, with the voice of Jehovah, was too much for Israel, Moses says, "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me." Each of these phrases is emphatic, and is intended as the antithesis to the notion of overwhelming force. The meaning of Moses is twofold.
1. There shall be from time to time a prophet sent to you, through whom you may hear the voice of God.
2. There shall be hereafter a great Prophet, who shall be to you as the living Voice of God; but he shall be also "of your brethren, like unto me." We know how true both are. There was from time to time a line of prophets who spake for God. There has come to earth a Prophet greater than all beside. They always pointed onward to another; he, never, save as a heavenly gift from him was by him held in reserve, even the gift of the Holy Ghost. Thus God has come into communion with our race, to reveal his mind and will.
III. NEW MESSAGES, COMING IN A WAY SO SUITED TO US, FROM SO CONDESCENDING A GOD, BRING THEIR OWN AUTHORITY WITH THEM. (Deuteronomy 18:19.) The message is not to be set at naught because the voice which speaks it is but human. If a prophet speaks only what the Lord hath spoken, though he may be a weak and frail instrument, though the burden of his message may be almost more than he can bear, yet, being borne along by the Holy Ghost to utter such words, they come with Divine authority. "The treasure is put into earthen vessels;" but though the vessel is earthy, the treasure is Divine.
IV. THIS AUTHORITY REACHES ITS CLIMAX IN THE MINISTRY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Such, surely, is the import of the scene known as "the Transfiguration" (Matthew 17:1-27.). Moses and Elias are there—the representatives of the Law and the prophets. They speak of the decease which Christ should accomplish at Jerusalem. Presently they vanish from the spot, and no one is left with the disciples save "Jesus only." Then a voice out of the cloud said, "Hear him." In Acts 3:20-26, we have the Apostle Peter's application of the very passage before us to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Prophet to whom all the rest did point. (See also HebAct 1:1 -31; and for New Testament teaching as to the authority of Christ, and the importance of hearing and obeying him, see Hebrews 2:1-18; Hebrews 9:1-28; Hebrews 10:1-39.) So full is the revelation of God by Christ, that it is not only, revelation through him, but in him (John 1:1-18).
From these four principles involved in the paragraph, there are four inferences which may be safely and profitably drawn.
1. If the voice of God speaks to us suitably and. adequately through the medium of human voices, then it is utterly needless for us to seek information and light by any forced attempts at gaining messages from the invisible world (see preceding Homily).
2. We are here furnished with a test as to what is truly a Divine message or no. There is, in fact, a twofold test. It is partly moral and partly physical.
(1) Partly moral (Acts 3:22, "When," etc.). It is as if Moses said, "You only require a guide in case a 'prophet speaketh in the Name of the Lord,' for if he does not, you know what to do (cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-18.). If he speaks in the name of other gods, you must reject him at once." Note: Any supposed message from God which violates the dictates of enlightened reason and conscience, must be set aside.
(2) Partly physical. If a prophet speaks in the Name of the Lord, they are then to watch and see if the thing comes to pass; and if not, then they may be sure that the prophet is a mere pretender; "he hath spoken presumptuously."
3. Here is an antidote to fear. "Thou shalt not be afraid of him." What is the connection between this and the preceding? Is it not this? Suppose that the "prophet" declares that this or that is about to happen, do not give way to excitement and alarm. Follow the voice of God, of which you are sure, and obey that, and come what will, all is well with you. You can afford to do this; "Study to be quiet, and to do your own business," and whether what the prophet declares come to pass or no, you are sure to be safe, if you have maintained unswerving loyalty to God. Nothing can harm you. So with us under the New Testament dispensation. Many affix dates to this or that. We heed them not. We have but to "wait for the Son of God from heaven."
4. The reception of the Divine message is a part of that obedience which every man owes to high Heaven. Its acceptance is not merely the adoption of a number of opinions. Oh no! Opinions are one thing, convictions are another. A man "holds" opinions, but convictions "hold" a man. His conscience is held fast in their grip. Even so it is with those who receive the words of the living God as their guide through life to immortality. Their whole being is held firmly in their strong yet loving and tender hold. A skeptic once said to the writer, "I tell you candidly, that if I wanted to point out the best specimens of humanity, I should point to some of your way of thinking." So he put it, "of your way of thinking." How little does the outsider or unbeliever dream of the hold the Father's words have on-us! Our whole being takes shape and outlook from them. Our fealty to him whom we know and love supremely, makes "the law of his mouth to be better to us than thousands of gold and silver."
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
God's provision for the priests and Levites.
From the limitations of the monarchy, Moses next turns to the provision for the "priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi." They were not to receive any estate in Canaan beyond the suburbs of certain cities. They were to take "the Lord as their inheritance." We have already seen that Palestine was a good land for training up a spiritual people; it was a land where dependence upon God was constantly enforced. Bat among this people, thus invited to depend upon God, there was a tribe whose dependence upon God was to be further stimulated by the absence of any tangible inheritance. Their life was thus to be a life of trust in God's continual care. In these circumstances the Lord made certain laws about the priests' due. He took good care of the tribe that trusted him. It has been supposed that the animals, of which the priests were to have a definite part, were not merely sacrifices, but also those privately slaughtered, and the words (זֹבְחֵי הַזֶּבַח) translated "them that offer a sacrifice" will bear the rendering "those who slaughter animals." Still, it seems more probable that it was by the central altar that the priests and Levites were to live. Assuming this, then, the following lessons are here taught.
I. THOSE WHO TRUST GOD SHALL NEVER BE DISAPPOINTED IN THEIR ALLOTTED PORTION. For as a matter of fact, "the shoulder, the two cheeks, and the maw" were deemed dainty portions of the animal. The best portions ascended to God in the altar fire, and then the second best were assigned to the priests and Levites, while the offerer was content with what was left. God and his ministers were regarded as the guests of the Jewish worshippers, and, as the guests enjoy the best which we can offer in the exercise of our hospitality, the support of the priests and Levites was amply secured. These dues of the priests and Levites seem to have been regularly paid while the people remained true to God; of course, their support would suffer in sinful and idolatrous times, yet, even when they suffered with the neglect of God's altar, it was suffering with God.
And as a rule those who trust God are not disappointed with his provision. Even when it is limited in amount, he is sure to give sublime compensations. Though ministerial support is not what it ought to be, there is no class of men who enjoy life so much as God's servants.
II. THOSE WHO ARE THE LORD'S CHOSEN SERVANTS ARE CALLED PRE-EMINENTLY TO THE LIFE OF TRUST. There is a great temptation to encircle ourselves with so much worldly possession as that trust in God will be difficult and seem superfluous. In other words, there is an effort to be able to live by sight rather than by faith. But the Master whom we serve is realized by faith, and his kingdom must be propagated by faith. Hence he so arranges the lot of his servants that a loud call for faith is always ringing in their ears, and they should never neglect that call. The priests and Levites were at liberty to purchase land and leave it to their children, and doubtless many of them so far "made assurance doubly sure, and took a bond of fate." Yet the life of faith, the dependence upon God's altar, was better and wholesomer than the life of sight.
III. THE PEOPLE HAD NO RIGHT TO WITHHOLD THE PRIESTS AND LEVITES DUE BECAUSE OF ANY PRIVATE PATRIMONY INDIVIDUALS MIGHT POSSESS. A good deal of deficient ministerial support is due to the people very unfairly discounting private incomes and often exaggerating them, so as to save themselves. Ministers may inherit means through the kindly consideration of parents and friends; but this is no reason why people should hold their hand in the matter of ministerial support. The Lord specially provided that the Levite (Deuteronomy 18:8) should have like portions to eat beside that which cometh of the sale of his patrimony. The truth is that private means invariably go to make a public ministry more effective, if the ministry is true at all. They are not selfishly utilized, but used as a matter of' stewardship. In such circumstances, instead of being a hindrance to liberality, these private possessions should be a stimulus, as they are so much more in the line of things devoted to the Lord.
IV. DUE RESPECT SHOULD BE SHOWN TO A DEVOTED SPIRIT. The case of the Levite here referred to corresponds to a minister who has responded to a Divine call, against what one might call the dictates of worldly prudence. He has followed the inward impulse (Deuteronomy 18:6), and come to aid the priests at the central altar from his snug patrimony at home. Such devotion is to be considered and rewarded. The Levite, who was so interested as to relinquish his country life and patrimony, deserved the payment of the dues at the altar. So with the generous devotion of the ministers of God. When men relinquish good worldly prospects for the Church, their doing so should be considered.—R.M.E.
The process of divination, in its different forms here referred to—"divination," "observing the heavenly bodies," "enchantment," "witchcraft," "charming," "consultation of spirits," "sorcery," and "necromancy" was an effort to discover secrets by unwarrantable methods. It was man's longing for revelation undergoing degradation through the imaginations of men. It had been practiced by the predecessors in Canaan, and in consequence they were being cast out. The Israelites were to deem it abomination, and unworthy of the people of God. From the succeeding verses, it is evident that it is to be contrasted with the Divine order of prophetical inspiration, and in consequence rejected with detestation.
I. OUR IDEAS OF REVELATION SHOULD BE WORTHY OF GOD. We have no right to expect God to degrade himself in the methods of revelation. Our own instincts should lead us to abhor such processes as have been adopted to secure the secrets of the Most High. All the mean and abominable ways which are here enumerated ought to have been renounced by thinking men instead of adopted. They are all unworthy channels for God's messages. Astrology, enchantment, necromancy,—all are miserable makeshifts for a decent mode of revelation.
God has in "diverse manners" certainly made known his will to men (Hebrews 1:1). He has used dreams (Genesis 37:8; Job 33:15), revealing to the soul, whose avenues of sensation are temporarily closed, the information it needed. The dream was the condition of the communication (Genesis 28:12-22). God spoke when he had got man's ear shut to other things. And we can see this to be a most worthy way! Then by angelic visits he oftentimes revealed his will, instances of which are many in the Bible. This also was worthy. Last of all, by inspiring men, that is, through human nature, which is also eminently worthy of God. But the divination process is and should have been regarded as mean and contemptible.
II. IT IS EVIDENCE OF THE GREAT CREDULITY OF MEN THAT DIVINATION HAS IMPOSED UPON THEM. In connection with "spiritualism," for example, we have examples of credulity now corresponding exactly to the divination of the earlier times. As if such mean methods would be adopted by the Infinite Majesty, who has spoken in these last days by his Son! The power of belief is incalculable. Credulity is the believing power exercised on false objects and on insufficient evidence. We have ample faith in the world, if we could only get it rightly directed. And sometimes we find men who are most skeptical about religious matters, most credulous about the novelties of spiritualism. They yield to phenomena a credence that they deny to the well-authenticated Word.
III. GOD'S PRESENCE IS TO DETERMINE OUR CONDUCT. When Moses says, "Thou shalt be perfect with (עִס) the Lord thy God" (Deuteronomy 18:13), the idea seems to be that the overshadowing Presence is to determine our conduct before him. We will strive to be perfect as he is, and not look for mean methods from him.—R.M.E.
The promised Prophet.
From speaking of the paltry expectations about divination, Moses goes on to speak of the general plan of Divine revelation. The people had had the splendid chance of direct communion with God, without any mediation. God spoke to them from heaven at Sinai; but so afraid were they of immediate revelation that they implored Moses to mediate the message for them. He became consequently, with God's full approval, the human medium through which the Divine will was conveyed, which means God's prophet. They had had no difficulty in accepting the Divine messages through him. Now, Moses assures them that this method of mediation through human beings will continue. He puts the promise in comprehensive form, and says that through a Prophet like to himself will God continue to speak to them after he has gone, and his message they will reject at their peril.
I. LET US OBSERVE THE APPROPRIATENESS OF GOD REVEALING HIMSELF THROUGH A HUMAN BEING. For man is in the Divine image; if this be not the case, we can have no knowledge whatever of God. Man is the image of God; and hence God reveals himself to men through a man. The office of prophet is the most appropriate way of revealing God's will. And when we carry on this line of thought, we are landed in the idea that an incarnation of God alone could adequately convey to man the mind and nature of God. If any one wishes to follow out this line, he will get splendid help in Mr. R. H. Hutton's admirable essay on 'The Incarnation and Principles of Evidence.' £
II. IT SEEMS CLEAR FROM THE PROMISE THAT A SINGLE PROPHET AFTER THE SIMILITUDE OF MOSES IS TO BE THE MEDIATOR FOR THE AGES. Now, only one Person answers this description, and this is Jesus Christ. He was and is incarnate God. His Spirit he alone could take, and through its gift to men in the different ages make them the channel of God's revelation. As a matter of fact, "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy;" and the prophets were his instruments in the history of the Church. God has spoken in the last days by his Son; and the prophets between Moses and Christ were really the inspired messengers of the one Great Prophet of God. This is the idea of Peter that the Spirit of Christ spoke in the prophets. £ We thus see one Person embracing the mediating work of the different ages, and accomplishing it through holy men.
III. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JESUS, THEREFORE, BECOME THE CLIMAX OF DIVINE REVELATION. The previous revelations were but foreshadowings of this perfect manifestation of God. A human history became the embodiment of Divine thoughts, mercies, self-denials, and self-sacrifice. The blaze of divinity that was intolerable at Sinai becomes not only bearable but entrancing in the face of Jesus Christ. The blinding brilliance has been so toned down that man can rejoice in Jesus as "God manifest in the flesh." "We beheld his glory"—it did not blind or scare men as at the holy mount.
IV. THE DISREGARD OF THE WORDS OF JESUS IS PUNISHABLE BY DEATH. This is the penalty pronounced. We see it in another form in the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha." If disobedience to Moses was visited in many cases by death, how much more disobedience and disloyalty to Christ! (cf. Hebrews 10:28-31). The gospel has penalties of the severest kind for its rejection, as well as bliss beyond compare for its reception. The alternative is thus clearly set before us.
V. THE PROPHETS SENT OF GOD SUBMIT TO THE TEST OF FULFILLMENT, WHILE FALSE PROPHETS ARE TO BE DETECTED BY THEIR FAILURE. God's method being a human mediation, is liable to be imitated, and men from time to time will profess to be prophets, when they have no real commission. Now, God has such a control of the future that no unassisted, uninspired man can forecast it successfully. Sooner or later he is found out. Happy guesses soon run out, and the person is discredited. Hence it was the duty of Israel to weigh well the communication of the professed prophets, and to see wherein they were confirmed by subsequent events. The true prophets had their word fulfilled, and were Christ's messengers; the false prophets had their word discredited, and were acting presumptuously.
Let us hear the Great Prophet, and give him credit for all the predictions of the minor and but human prophets.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Deuteronomy 18:1, Deuteronomy 18:2
The Lord our inheritance.
True of the priests and Levites, it is true also of each believer, that "the Lord is his inheritance" (Psalms 16:5, Psalms 16:6). He is in this respect a "priest unto God" (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6).
I. THE MEANING OF THE EXPRESSION. Inheritance—equal to lot, part, share. Inheritance in families—the share which each receives of the patrimony. In the partition of Canaan, each tribe had its lot, its portion, its share. God's portion or inheritance was the tithes, with the prescribed parts of the sacrifices, the firstfruits, etc. Levi had as his portion God himself, involving a share of the provision from God's table (Deuteronomy 18:1).
II. THE GRANDEUR OF THE TRUTH.
1. The believer possesses God. God is a better possession for the soul than any of his gifts. "It is a thought which lies at the foundation of all true religion, that God himself is the Supreme Good, the true and real portion of the soul …. More intimately than light becomes the possession of the eye on which it streams, or air of the organs of breathing which inhale it, or the food we eat, assimilated and diffused through the physical system, incorporates itself with the nature of him who partakes of it, does he, that Infinite One, the Light of all our seeing, the Bread of Life, the nutriment of our highest being, become the deep inward portion of each soul that loves him" (Caird, sermon on 'The Christian's Heritage').
2. In possessing God, the believer possesses all things. And this, though in an outward sense he has nothing (2 Corinthians 6:10; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:21-23).
(1) God provides for him out of the fullness at his command. Possessing God, the Possessor of all, he knows that he will want "no good thing" (Psalms 84:11). Temporally and spiritually, he will be provided for, kept, saved, delivered (Psalms 37:3, Psalms 37:9, Psalms 37:11, Psalms 37:25, Psalms 37:34; Psalms 121:1-8.; Isaiah 33:16; Matthew 6:33; Ephesians 1:3).
(2) All things work together for his good (Romans 8:28).
(3) He perceives and enjoys God in all things, as none else can (Psalms 104:1-35.).
(4) He is one of the" heirs of God" in "the times of the restitution of all things" (Acts 3:24), when the redeemed enter on their glory (Mt25:84).
Let the saint reflect on his inheritance in God.
(1) How surpassingly rich it is!
(2) How delightsome it is! (PsDeu 16:6).
(3) How enduring it is—eternal! (2 Corinthians 4:17, 2 Corinthians 4:18).
(4) How all-satisfying it is! (Psalms 73:26).—J.O.
Israel, as a holy nation, consecrated to God's service, was "a kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6). This priestly character of the nation was represented formally in the tribe of Levi. The distinctive duties of the priesthood were discharged by the sons of Aaron, who were thus the priests strictly so called.
I. THE PRIESTHOOD IN ITSELF.
1. Chosen and set apart by God. "Chosen him out of all thy tribes."
2. Holy, indicated by bodily perfection (Le Deu 21:16 -24), holy garments (Exodus 39:1-43.), rites of dedication (Leviticus 8:1-36.), ceremonial regulations and restrictions (Leviticus 21:1-24; etc.).
3. Represented the people before God (Exodus 28:12).
4. Made propitiation for sins (Hebrews 5:1).
5. Gave forth oracles (Numbers 27:21).
6. Had for these purposes the right of approach to God.
II. THE PRIESTHOOD AS TYPICAL.
1. Of Christ. The high priest, in particular, was typical of Christ as
(1) the One Medium of approach to God (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5).
(2) Inherently holy, absolutely without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).
(3) Representing the Church before God in his person, work, and intercession (HebDeu 4:14).
(4) In his having made reconciliation for the sins of the people—himself both Priest and Sacrifice (HebDeu 2:17; Deuteronomy 10:12).
(5) In being the organ of Divine revelations (MtMat 11:27).
(6) For this priestly work—to which he was divinely ordained (Hebrews 5:5)—Christ has free and immediate access to the holiest of all, and has gained admission to the same for his people (Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 10:19).
2. Of believers.
(1) Chosen (Psalms 65:4).
(2) Consecrated (1 Corinthians 1:2).
(3) Having freedom of approach to God (Hebrews 10:19).
(4) Offering spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5).
(5) Interceding for the world.—J.O.
Love to the sanctuary.
God loves those who love the sanctuary.
I. LOVE TO THE SANCTUARY SEEN.
1. In desire for it (Deuteronomy 18:6).
2. In pain at being deprived of its ordinances (Psalms 42:1-7; Psalms 63:1-11.; Psalms 84:0.).
3. In overstepping the bounds of bare duty in attendance on it (Deuteronomy 18:6).
II. LOVE TO THE SANCTUARY REWARDED.
1. By acceptance of those repairing to it.
2. By provision made for them (Psalms 63:5).—J.O.
I. A STERN PROHIBITION OF CANAANITISH PRACTICES. The practice of magic is known to have been extensively developed in ancient Egypt and Chaldea. Numerous indications occur of its existence among the Canaanites (e.g. 1 Samuel 28:7-10). The lower kinds of magic are of rank growth in all barbarous and semi-civilized communities. The priests combine the functions of diviners, prophets, exorcists, thaumaturgists, physicians, and makers of idols and amulets. The magic of the ancients was distinguished as good or bad, according as it was exercised to conjure diseases and to combat demoniacal influences, or was abused to work harm. This last, which was avowedly diabolical in its character, was what was properly called "sorcery," and was universally regarded with horror. The noteworthy fact, however, is that the books of Moses make no distinction as to kind, but forbid absolutely the practice of every species of magical art. Moses recognizes no magic that is good; he classes all under the same category of "abominations." The text is in principle a prohibition of the use of all such arts, whether the pretender to magical power believes in its efficacy or not. It prohibits, further, resort to such as profess these arts. The "spiritualistic" delusions of our time in all their varieties (spirit mediums, rappings, planchettes, etc.), with "fortune-telling," and superstitious practices supposed to bring good or to avert evil "luck," are condemned by the passage.
II. A REASON FOR THIS PROHIBITION.
1. The nature of the practices as "abominations." They were:
Moses, as noticed above, recognizes no "good" magic. It is viewed either as imposture or, assuming its reality, as demonish (Satanic). It was connected with foolish and wicked rites.
2. The character of the people as "perfect" (Deuteronomy 18:13). There could not be perfect love to God and communion with him, and trafficking with the devil at the same time. Love to God, faith in him, and entirety of devotion to him should preclude these superstitions. What he wills his people to know he will teach them by proper means; what he conceals they have no right to seek by means that are improper (Isaiah 8:19).—J.O.
The term "Prophet" covers the whole series of Old Testament prophets, culminating in Christ, the Prophet like unto Moses par excellence (see infra).
I. PROPHECY IN GENERAL. The prophet—what? Etymologically, one "boiling or bubbling over" with the Divine inspiration. No mere religious genius, but one truly and supernaturally inspired. A revealer and declarer of the will of God. Future events were foretold:
1. As signs.
2. In warnings and appeals.
3. In denouncing God's judgments.
4. In administering comfort.
5. In unfolding the Messianic hope.
6. In unfolding the Divine purpose underlying providential developments.
Prediction is thus a true and vital element in prophecy, but it is far from being of the essence of it. It is the function of the prophet either to declare new truth—truth gained by direct revelation, and given forth with the authority of Heaven as a "word of the Lord," or, taking up truth already revealed, to revive and enforce it with supernatural power and fervor, applying it to the circumstances, exigencies, and evils of his particular time. "The prophets were men who, when facing the people, stood as it were before God, and thus spoke fore and for him" (Morison).
II. PROPHECY AND MOSAISM. It is noteworthy that Mosaism contemplated the rise of prophecy from the first, and left room for it in the arrangements of the economy. It even required it for the carrying forward of its objects to completion. The dispensation was not a final one. The kingdom of God had a future which it was the task of prophecy gradually to disclose. The Law enclosed innumerable spiritual germs, which it was the function of prophecy to expand and develop. It had, moreover, underlying its ceremonialism, a spiritual basis, which it was the business of the prophets to bring to light, and to recall to people's minds when they appeared in danger of forgetting it. Prophecy was thus a standing witness to the life, freshness, and power which lay in the heart of a religion largely wrapped up in legal forms. Then there was the necessity for new light and guidance under the conditions of advancing national life, and in times of national emergency. The Law left not a little scope for extended applications of its fundamental principles, and it lay with the prophets to furnish the direction required. All this, in addition to their more general function of rebuking, warning, and testifying, in times of declension, which, with the carrying forward the development of revelation in its relation to Christ and his kingdom, may be regarded as the chief part of their work.
III. PROPHECY AND HEATHEN MANTICISM. The connection shows that prophecy is given in lieu of the heathenish practices that are forbidden. If God forbids divination, necromancy, consultation of familiar spirits, etc; he gives something better—some-thing that will lawfully supply the craving which these superstitions unlawfully sought to gratify. The soul:
1. Craves for a knowledge of God's will.
2. Desires guidance in critical times of life.
3. Ponders anxiously its relations to the invisible world and to the future.
4. Feels its personal unfitness for intercourse with God.
These cravings were the strength of heathen sorcery, etc; and they were provided for in prophecy. This, it may be noticed, is throughout a characteristic of revelation—it does not simply remove the bad, but provides for the supply of the cravings to which the bad appeals.—J.O.
The Prophet like unto Moses.
These chapters bring before us prophet. priest, and king—offices pointing forward to and culminating in Christ. Christ is distinctively, and in the complete sense, the Prophet like unto Moses (Acts 3:22), Christ and Moses were alike—
I. AS FOUNDERS OF DISPENSATIONS. It was the greatness of Moses that he was employed by God in inaugurating a new era in the history of his kingdom—in introducing a new order of things—in settling the foundations of a new economy. In this respect he stood at the head of the Old Testament line of prophets, and in a sense stood apart from them. "The Law was given by Moses" (John 1:17). He had the ordering and settling of the "house" of God in the form in which it was to last till Christ came, who, "as a Son over his own house," would revise its arrangements and reconstitute it on a new and better basis (Hebrews 3:2-7). Prophets subsequent to Moses stood within the lines of the economy already established. They could enforce and maintain, but while predicting the advent of a new age in which great changes would be wrought, they had no authority of themselves to introduce such changes. It was reserved for Christ to "change times and seasons," and so to alter and remodel Mosaic institutions, or supersede them by new ones, or abolish them by giving the substance for the shadow, as to place the Church upon a permanent and moveless basis, and adapt it for the reception of the Gentile nations.
II. IN THE FREEDOM OF INTERCOURSE WHICH THEY ENJOYED WITH GOD. Moses enjoyed, as was necessary, the freest intercourse with heaven. God spake with him, not in a vision, or dream, or in dark speeches, but "mouth to mouth" (Numbers 12:6-9), "face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10). This is made, in the passage last quoted, a feature of distinction between Moses and later prophets in Israel. In Christ, this peculiarity of the relation of Moses to God reappears in higher form. Intercourse with the Father reaches the highest degree of closeness and intimacy, the Son being in the Father, and the Father in the Son (John 14:10). Christ's insight into his Father's will was perfect (John 5:20, John 5:21). His communion with the Father was habitual and uninterrupted. The New Testament apostles, in an inferior degree, shared in this higher footing, were habitually possessed by the Spirit, and spoke and wrote under his calm and abiding influence.
III. AS MEDIATING BETWEEN THE PEOPLE AND GOD. (Deuteronomy 18:16-18.) It was when the people were deeply conscious of their need of a mediator that this promise was vouchsafed. It had only, as regards mediation, a very inferior application to the Old Testament prophets. The fullness of its meaning comes to view in Christ.
These points involve others, as e.g. the resemblance between Christ and Moses:
1. In the degree of authority with which they were clothed, and in the mighty signs and wonders which authenticated their mission (Deuteronomy 34:11).
2. In the fullness and grandeur of the revelations made through them.
3. In the severe penalties attaching to disobedience to their words (Deuteronomy 18:19; Acts 3:23; Hebrews 2:1-5; Hebrews 10:28, Hebrews 10:29).—J.O.
The false prophet.
The failure of the word of a prophet was decisive proof that he had not spoken by Divine inspiration. Had his word not failed, it would not have followed that he was a true prophet, but it showed conclusively that he was a false one when his word did fail.
I. CERTAINTY OF FULFILLMENT IS A CHARACTERISTIC OF GOD'S WORDS. If e.g. the prophecies of the Scriptures could be shown to have been falsified by events, it would, by the rule laid down in this fundamental prophetic charter, conclusively disprove their claims to inspiration. It is vain to think of defending the inspiration of the prophets, while conceding, with rationalistic writers, occasional failures in their predictions. The prophets themselves do not shrink from this test, but confidently appeal to it (Isaiah 34:16). This shows how different their inspiration was from the ordinary inspiration of genius, both in their estimation of it and in fact. No man of genius, however wide his range of vision, be he a Bacon, a Shakespeare, a Goethe, or a Carlyle, would like to rest his reputation on the absolute unfailingness of his words. While prophecy affords conspicuous instances of the certainty of fulfillment characteristic of God's words, it is to be remembered that this certainty inheres in all God's words alike. No word of God or of Christ will fall to the ground unfulfilled (MtMat 24:35). The thought should comfort God's people, and make his enemies tremble. Applies to promises and threatenings equally with predictions and doctrines.
II. THE PREDICTIONS OF SCRIPTURE ABIDE THIS TEST OF TRUE PROPHECY. The force of the evidence from prophecy can only be properly felt by those who have been at pains to examine the Bible predictions in detail. But it does not need more than an examination of the principal instances to convince us that here we have no chance guess-work, no mere forecasting of natural sagacity. We might point to the predictions in Deuteronomy respecting the future of the Jewish nation, and the punishment which would overtake them for their sins (Deuteronomy 4:25-29; Deuteronomy 28:45-68); or to the Messianic prophecies (e.g. Isaiah 53:1-12.); or to particular predictions delivered long before the events predicted occurred, or could have been foreseen, as when Amos predicts of Israel at a time when the king and nobles were lying on beds of ivory, and indulging in every species of dissipation and amusement—"Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, whose Name is The God of hosts"( Amos 5:27), or when Micah, a hundred, years before the Captivity, foretells of Judah, "Zion for your sake shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps" (Micah 3:12); "Be in pain, and labor to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail: for now shalt thou go forth out of the city, and thou shalt dwell in the field, and thou shalt go even to Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered; there shall the Lord redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies" (Micah 4:10). Discovery has not tended to discredit, but in several striking instances has confirmed the truth of prophecy, as in regard to Ezekiel's prediction of the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar (Deuteronomy 29:8-16), a prediction pronounced by Kueuen and skeptical critics to be a mere guess, falsified by the event, but now strikingly confirmed from a contemporary hieroglyphic inscription (see Expositor, vol. 10.). And while it is true that an isolated sign and wonder is not proof sufficient of Divine inspiration (Deuteronomy 13:1-18.), it is certain that, taking into account the character of the prophets, the kind and number of their predictions, the holiness of their message, and the coherence of what they taught with earlier revelations, the evidence of their Divine commission is as strong as could be wished—is, in fact, decisive.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIEs
The true priest is the highest type of man.
God here lays down the lines along which men may rise to the dignity of the true priesthood. The ordinance did not secure the ideal reality. "The Law was weak through the flesh." Human choice and endeavor were requisite to attain to God's ideal priest. It is his privilege to receive from God, and to reveal to men.
I. DIVINE CHOICE AND HUMAN DESIRE MUST COMBINE TO MAKE A REAL PRIEST. The man, though born a Levite, must "come with all the desire of his mind unto the place which the Lord shall choose" (Deuteronomy 18:6). The human will must co-operate with God's will. This is the product of the second birth. In this ancient arrangement, we see the forecast of the Christian life—the true priesthood.
II. THE PRIEST'S OFFICE IS, NOT FOR HONOR, BUT FOR SERVICE. "He shall minister in the Name of the Lord his God." In other words, he shall serve in the stead of God, and by his authority. This is the hardest work, yet the most honorable. No toil or self-sacrifice can he decline while appearing in the stead of God, for he serves the noblest part of man. In God's kingdom there is no honor apart from character; and character is attained by service.
III. THE PRIEST'S EARTHLY NEEDS SHALL BE MET WITHOUT ANXIETY ON HIS PART. "They that minister at the altar shall partake of the altar" (Deuteronomy 18:3, Deuteronomy 18:4, Deuteronomy 18:8). While we are employed on the King's errands, the King will provide our rations. We have a Divine guarantee that bodily wants shall be supplied, for God himself is our inheritance. It is surely better to trust the Fount rather than the stream, the First Cause rather than the intermediate channel, the Creator rather than the creature. The priest shall be supplied before other men, for the firstfruits of corn and wine and oil are his. They that serve God without stint shall never be forgotten.
IV. THE TRUE PRIEST OCCUPIES THE APEX OF THE SOCIAL PYRAMID. The true priest really rules. For him all other orders of men toil. For the priest to possess any earthly inheritance would be a burden, a care, an injury. Others till the ground for him, thresh his corn, and winnow his grain. As a god, he receives. For other men the inferior creation toils and groans. The unreasoning animals bear his burdens and do his will. Yet these men, served well by the subordinate orders of life, wait upon the priest, and minister to his human wants. And in return, the real priest ministers to the hunger of the soul, and supplies light and guidance and hope. The real priest is the greatest benefactor to the human race; the counterfeit priest is a pest.—D.
Gross superstition the alternative of true religion.
The popular superstitions of every age are very seductive. Our only safeguard against them is complete loyalty to the living God. The indwelling Spirit is a Guide and a Defense.
I. MAN GENERICALLY CRAVES TO UNRAVEL THE FUTURE. In every sane mind the inquiry arises, "What is beyond phenomena? What is to happen tomorrow?" The present enjoyment may satisfy animals; it does not satisfy man. He has a faculty that lives in the future. He is ever forecasting life. This inquisitiveness, if repressed, becomes a passion—an insatiable fire. If there is no true oracle that will give reply to his queries, he will betake himself to false ones. If no reply is forthcoming, he is driven hither and thither by the demon of unrest.
II. THIS CRAVING FOR REVELATION LEADS TO CHILDISH SUPERSTITIONS. This conscious want of the soul clearly indicates that some provision has been made by God; but, lacking this, men betake themselves to a thousand subterfuges. The more shrewd and avaricious among them trade upon this prying curiosity, and invent a thousand frauds for self-enrichment. In olden times, every village had its self-anointed oracle; every nation has had its modes of divination. No price has been too great to pay for this envied knowledge. Parental feeling has been freely sacrificed at this blood-stained altar. Fathers have made their loved ones to pass through the fire, in order to avert supposed disaster. Without doubt, the devil has been the moving genius in these systems of enchantment.
III. CRUEL SUPERSTITIONS HAVE LED TO HEAVIEST DISASTERS. So deeply rooted had these systems of diabolic divinations become in the land of Canaan, that to extirpate them it was necessary to extirpate the people also. We are not at liberty to suppose that the Amorites were destroyed because of aberrations in intellectual belief. But the fruit of superstitious belief is soon experienced in sensuality, bestial excess, witchcraft, murder, war. Under such influences society is rent in pieces; every man's hand is red with rapine and blood. At length it becomes an act of necessity to remove such a people from the face of the earth. The deeds of the Canaanites had become a stench in Jehovah's nostrils—a detestation that could no longer be endured. Hence their extermination.
IV. OUR ONLY SAFETY IS IN LOYAL OBEDIENCE TO GOD. No resting-place can be found for intellect or heart of man between degrading superstition and religious faith. Who can solve mysteries but God alone? If God reveal to us our line of duty just to the extent that we really need it; and if, in addition, he give us the assurance that the soul's need shall be met as fast as that need arises;—this will satisfy every reasonable request. Men can and must trust the true God. As a child walks along the darkest road quite contentedly so long as its hand is in its father's hand, so with equal confidence may we confide in the safe and unerring guidance of our Almighty Parent. We have in God a perfect Friend; all that is needed for well-being is complete submission. "Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God." To have recourse to witchcraft or divination is practical treason!—D.
Presages of the true Prophet.
Captious men of the present day complain that they cannot see God—cannot hear his voice. In their heart they do not wish to see him. He will not reveal himself, as an object of curiosity, to the eye of speculation. He reveals himself to the conscience and to the loyal heart. But men do not wish to see him as the embodiment of righteousness. They shudder and flee away. Yet in no other way can they see him than as he truly is. In this circumstance of mutual estrangement there is need of a mediator—prophet.
I. GUILTY MEN DEBAR THEMSELVES FROM PERSONAL FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD. There is nothing in common between unrighteous men and a righteous God. They are mutually repellent. The heart-language of such men is this, "Let us not hear again the voice of the Lord our God; neither let us see this great fire any more." To them, his voice is the thunder of war; to them, his presence is a consuming fire. They have no eye except to see his burning anger. Hence they flee to hide themselves. Their wish projects itself into reality; he removes himself.
II. MEN'S DESIRE TO HOLD COMMUNICATION WITH GOD THROUGH A MEDIATOR CONCEDED. The gracious disposition of God towards men yields to his creatures' necessity. Ask what they will, if righteousness be not dishonored, it shall be done. The all-wise God candidly admits that the Jews had, in this matter, spoken well. But the mediator must be a prophet. He must convey the thoughts and dispositions and will of God to men. Human obedience, to have any worth, must be intelligent—the fruit of choice and purpose.
III. THE PERFECT PROPHET IS INTRODUCED BY SUCCESSIVE STAGES. Our moral instincts often outrun our clear intelligence. The Jews desired an intermediate agent, who should convey God's will to them; but they scarcely knew what it was they asked for. Could any mortal man clearly reveal the mind of the Eternal? Would not the pure stream be defiled by the impure channel? Nevertheless, God will do the best for them in their present condition. As yet the perfect Prophet will not be understood nor appreciated. Knowledge of God's character and purpose sufficient for the present shall be revealed by imperfect men—types of the coming perfect Mediator. By easy gradations, the human family must be divinely educated.
IV. THE TRUE PROPHET IS A PERFECT VEHICLE OF GOD'S THOUGHTS. "I will put my words in his mouth." Unless the prophet be a mere mechanical automaton, his words must be the result of his thoughts. If God shall use a human person to reveal himself to men, he must use his mind, heart, and will: yea, his entire being. This has been realized only in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. Hence he could say, "The words that I speak, I speak not of myself: but that Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works." Hence, again, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father also." For the advent of this real Prophet, humanity stood for centuries on the outlook, on the watch-tower of hope.
V. CONTUMACY OF THE TRUE PROPHET IS CONTUMACY AGAINST GOD. Such is the value of this Divine gift, that to treat it with indifference is heinous crime. No human penalty may be annexed, but God himself undertook to punish the deed. Hunger is God's voice within the body, and he who disregards that voice shall surely die. Pain is God's voice in human nerves, and he who neglects that summons shall die. Truth is everywhere the voice of God, and to turn deaf ears to truth is to deprive one's self of life. And, by parity of reasoning, the voice of God is heard more clearly and more authoritatively yet, in the person of his dear Son: it is his prerogative to give to men eternal life. Hence, to turn a deaf ear to him is folly, contumacy, despair, ruin. God will exact a most fitting retribution.
VI. GOD SUPPLIES A TEST BETWEEN THE FALSE PROPHET AND THE TRUE. The eagerness of men to discover the Prophet of Jehovah, led many to impersonate him for the purpose of personal reputation and gain. Every true prophet of God came with sufficient credential, so that no candid mind need have been deceived. They had the power to read the near future: this was a token of their heavenly commission. But better still, their message commended itself to the conscience of the hearers; and thus might every hearer find in an honest conscience that the herald was from God. If the prophet summoned men to repentance and assured them of a share in the mercy of God, they could readily ascertain for themselves whether relief came to their burdened consciences—whether better feelings arose in the heart. The truth is never very far distant if we really wish to find it.—D.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 18". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany