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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 18

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Deuteronomy 18:0


The Portion of the Priests and LevitesThe Proper Worship of GodThe Share of the PriestsThe Levitical Priesthood
Deuteronomy 18:1-5Deuteronomy 18:1-2Deuteronomy 18:1-2Deuteronomy 18:1-2
Deuteronomy 18:3-5Deuteronomy 18:3-5Deuteronomy 18:3-5
Deuteronomy 18:6-8Deuteronomy 18:6-8Deuteronomy 18:6-8Deuteronomy 18:6-8
Avoid Wicked Customs Warning Against Pagan PracticesProphets
Deuteronomy 18:9-14Deuteronomy 18:9-14Deuteronomy 18:9-13Deuteronomy 18:9-12
The Promise to Send a ProphetDeuteronomy 18:13-20
A New Prophet Like Moses Deuteronomy 18:14-15
Deuteronomy 18:15-22Deuteronomy 18:15-22
Deuteronomy 18:16-20
Deuteronomy 18:21-22Deuteronomy 18:21-22

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS - Deuteronomy 16:18-22 deals with Israel's leadership

A. Judges - Deuteronomy 16:18-20; Deuteronomy 17:8-13

B. King - Deuteronomy 17:14-20

C. Levites/Priests - Deuteronomy 18:1-8

D. Prophets - Deuteronomy 18:9-22

1. false - Deut. 9-13

2. true - Deut. 14-22

a. current (Moses)

b. future (pre and post exilic)

c. eschatological (Messiah)

Verses 1-2

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 18:1-2 1”The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the LORD's offerings by fire and His portion. 2They shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the LORD is their inheritance, as He promised them.”

Deuteronomy 18:1 “Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi” According to Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 2, p. 358, the name Levi can have three possible etymological sources:

1. “to whirl around,” assuming a ritual dance or procedure (similar to the dance of the prophets of Ba'al in 1 Kings 18:26)

2. “to accompany someone” or “to be attached to someone, “ possibly the popular etymology given in Genesis 29:34, also note Numbers 18:2, Numbers 18:4

3. “to lend,” “to give as a pledge,” possibly referring to and parallel to “given” referring to the firstborn to YHWH (Numbers 3:12; Numbers 8:16) or to Samuel being given to YHWH in 1 Samuel 1:28

There are several developmental stages involved:

1. at the Exodus it was the firstborn from every family that was given to YHWH, to serve Him (cf. Exodus 13:0)

2. this was changed (Mosaic Covenant) to one particular tribe (i.e., Levi) who functioned as YHWH's special servants (cf. Numbers 3:12; Numbers 8:16)

3. this was modified in Israel's history:

a. some Levitical families served at the central sanctuary

b. others ministered locally

c. later rabbinical Judaism expanded the concept of local Levitical teachers into local rabbis or scribes, but not necessarily from the tribe of Levi

4. for a good discussion of another theory see (1) The Language and Imagery of the Bible, by G. B. Caird, p. 70 and (2) Ancient Israel by Roland de Vaux, vol. 2, pp. 360-371

“shall have no portion or inheritance” The inheritance of the Levites was God Himself (cf. Deuteronomy 10:9; Deuteronomy 12:12; Deuteronomy 14:27, Deuteronomy 14:29; Psalms 16:5; Psalms 73:23-26; Lamentations 3:24; Ezekiel 28:0). In Joshua 20-21 the Levites are given portions of 48 cities and the surrounding land as a possession. Among these 48 cities there were also six Cities of Refuge, three on each side of the Jordan, where a person could flee if he accidentally killed a covenant partner in order to escape the “blood avenger” (cf. Deuteronomy 19:1-13; Numbers 35:9-15).

“they shall eat the LORD's offerings” Originally all Levites participated in a portion of the sacrifices of Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 18:6-8). Later the priests were supported by food from the altar and small pieces of private land surrounding the Levitical cities. Also Levites were supported by a third-year local tithe (cf. Deuteronomy 14:27; Numbers 18:25-29; Nehemiah 10:37, Nehemiah 10:38).

There are some variations in how the whole tribe of Levi was supported. These are not contradictions, but developments related to the central sanctuary.

Verses 3-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 18:3-5 3”Now this shall be the priests' due from the people, from those who offer a sacrifice, either an ox or a sheep, of which they shall give to the priest the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach. 4You shall give him the first fruits of your grain, your new wine, and your oil, and the first shearing of your sheep. 5For the LORD your God has chosen him and his sons from all your tribes, to stand and serve in the name of the LORD forever.”

Deuteronomy 18:3 Note Leviticus 7:28-36; Numbers 18:8-19 where different portions of the sacrifices are given to the priests.

“cheeks” This (BDB 534 I) refers to the jowls (jawbones and meat hanging down, forming the cheeks).

“the stomach” This term (BDB 867) basically means “hollow” or “cavity” and in this context, refers to one of the stomachs, probably the fourth of animals that chew the cud. Webster's Third International Dictionary, p. 1922, says that the lining of the fourth stomach of cattle was used for curdling milk. The mucous membrane was processed until it became a yellowish powder which was used for making cheese.

Deuteronomy 18:4 “the first fruits of... your oil” This first press of the first ripe olives was a gift of the people to YHWH and from Him to the Levites/priests (cf. Numbers 18:12; Deuteronomy 12:17; Deuteronomy 14:23; Deuteronomy 18:4).

“the first shearing of your sheep” This requirement is mentioned only here.

Deuteronomy 18:3-5 Those who ministered at YHWH's altar received YHWH's share. Moderns need to be reminded that:

1. the Sabbath

2. the first fruits

3. the firstborn

4. the tithe

are all Hebraic ways of asserting YHWH's ownership. It does not mean that humans get six days, all the remaining crops, or nine tenths of their income! Humans are owners of nothing and stewards of everything! The planet and the gift of life belong to its Creator and Sustainer.

“God has chosen” In Deuteronomy 10:8 this same act is called “set apart” (NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 604). These kinds of parallels help moderns define ancient verbal connotations and semantic overlap.

Verses 6-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 18:6-8 6”Now if a Levite comes from any of your towns throughout Israel where he resides, and comes whenever he desires to the place which the LORD chooses, 7then he shall serve in the name of the LORD his God, like all his fellow Levites who stand there before the LORD. 8They shall eat equal portions, except what they receive from the sale of their fathers' estates.”

Deuteronomy 18:6 They were to replace the “firstborn” of Exodus 13:0. This was based on God's choice, not human merit, which is obvious from the sins of Levi, Moses, and Aaron.

Deuteronomy 18:6-7 This allowed Levites/priests to live outside of Jerusalem and to be available to teach and judge in every town. But they had access and the right to function at the central sanctuary also.

Deuteronomy 18:8

NASB“except what they receive from the sale of their father's estatesNKJV“besides what comes from the sale of his inheritance” NRSV“even though they have income from the sale of family possessions” TEV“and he may keep whatever his family sends him” NJB“what he has from the sale of his patrimony notwithstanding” JPSOA“without regard to personal gifts or patrimonies” LXX“besides the sale of his hereditary property” REB“besides what he may inherit from his father's family”

The different translations show the options. It refers to the sale of family possessions (but not land).

Verses 9-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 18:9-14 9”When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. 10There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. 13You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. 14For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so.”

Deuteronomy 18:10-11 There is a series of PARTICIPLES, which denote Canaanite idolatry:

1. NASB, “who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire” - BDB 716, KB 778, Hiphil PARTICIPLE

2. NASB, “one who uses divination” - BDB 890, KB 1115, Qal PARTICIPLE (uses both VERB and NOUN)

NKJV, NET, “one who practices witchcraft”

NRSV, NJB, NIV, “who practices divination”

JPSOA, “an augur”

3. NASB, “one who practices witchcraft” - BDB 778 II KB 857, Poel PARTICIPLE

NKJV, NRSV, NJB, JPSOA, “a sooth sayer”

NIV, “sorcery”

NET, “an omen reader”

4. NASB, NKJV, NIV, “one who interprets omens” - BDB 638 II, KB 690, Piel PARTICIPLE

NRSV, NJB, “an augur”

JPSOA, “a diviner”

NET, “a soothsayer”

5. NASB, NKJV, NRSV, NJB, JPSOA, NET, “a sorcerer” - BDB 506, KB 503, Piel PARTICIPLE

NIV, “engages in witchcraft”

6. NASB, “one who casts a spell” BDB 287, KB 287, Qal PARTICIPLE (uses VERB and NOUN)

NKJV, “one who conjures spells”

NRSV, JPSOA, NIV, NET, “one who casts spells”

NJB, “weaver of spells”

7. NASB, NKJV, “one who inquires” (i.e., a medium) BDB 981, KB 1371, Qal PARTICIPLE

NRSV, JPSOA, “consults ghosts”

NJB, “consulter of ghosts”

NIV, “ medium”

NET, “one who conjures up spirits”

8. NASB, NKJV, NIV, “one who inquires” [assumed] (i.e., a spiritist) BDB 981, KB 1371, Qal PARTICIPLE (assumed)

NRSV, “consults spirits”

NJB, “mediums”

JPSOA, “familiar spirits”

NET, “a practitioner of the occult”

9. NASB, NKJV, “one who calls up the dead”

a. BDB 205, KB 233, Qal PARTICIPLE

b. BDB 559, KB 562, Qal PARTICIPLE

NRSV, “who seeks oracles from the dead”

NJB, NET, “necromancer”

JPSOA, “one who inquires of the dead”

NIV, “who consults the dead”

As you can see from the different English translations these words have some overlap. These terms seem to refer to different types of pagan worship practice, but their exact definitions are uncertain to modern Bible students. See a brief discussion in (1) Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, pp. 524-528 and 608-610 and also Synonyms of the Old Testament by Robert B. Girdlestone, pp. 296-302. The general picture is an attempt to know and manipulate the future for personal benefit. YHWH's people are to trust Him and serve Him. The old original sin of “me first” is the root of all of mankind's problems!

Deuteronomy 18:10 “who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire” This is a reference to the worship of the fertility god, Molech. In Israel the firstborn (cf. Exodus 13:0) was to be given to YHWH to serve Him. In Canaan the firstborn was to be sacrifice by fire to Molech in order to insure fertility, (cf. Deuteronomy 12:31; Leviticus 18:21). There is even one account in 2 Kings 21:6 where God's people worshiped this false god! It also possibly somehow relates to knowing the future (cf. 2 Kings 3:26-27). See Special Topic: Molech at Deuteronomy 12:31.

“divination” This is from the Hebrew root for “divine” (BDB 890, cf. Numbers 22:7; Numbers 23:23; Ezekiel 21:21; 2 Kings 17:17). It is the general term describing several different methods, but all intent on determining the will of a deity by mechanical or natural means, such as examining the livers of sheep or casting arrows. It is based on the pagan worldview that there is information about the future hidden in natural events and that gifted humans (i.e., false prophets, e.g., Jeremiah 27:9; Jeremiah 29:8; Ezekiel 13:9; Ezekiel 22:28) know it and influence this future.

“one who practices witchcraft” This term (BDB 778 II, KB 857) is related to the term “cloud” (BDB 777). Linguists think the term is related to sound:

1. the hum of insects

2. sound of wind in the trees

3. unknown etymology (if cloud, then related to sight)

The parallel passage in Moses' writings which prohibits these same pagan practices is in Leviticus 19:26-8 (see esp. 19:26). This same term is also found in Judges 9:37; 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Isaiah 2:6; Isaiah 57:3; Jeremiah 27:9; Micah 5:12.

“one who interprets omens” The meaning of this term (BDB 638 II, KB 690) is uncertain. In Syrian it means “to murmur an obscure incantation” (KB 690). The root has several usages:

1. serpent - BDB 638 I

2. VERB in Piel only, (BDB 638 II) meaning :

a. practice divination

b. observe signs/omens

3. copper - bronze - BDB 638 III

4. unknown - BDB 638 IV

“a sorcerer” This term (BDB 506, KB 503) basically means “to cut up” (1) as in the shredding of ingredients for a magical potion or (2) cutting oneself as a way of getting the deity's attention (i.e., Syrian usage, cf. 1 Kings 18:28). This term was used to describe Pharaoh's wise men in Exodus 7:11 and Nebuchadnezzar's wise men in Daniel 2:2.

Deuteronomy 18:11 “one who casts a spell” This literally is “to tie knots,” “to be allied with,” or “join together” (BDB 287, KB 287). In Psalms 58:5 and Ecclesiastes 10:11 it refers to snake charming. A slightly different vocalization describes a Babylonian false wise man in Isaiah 47:8-11.

“medium” The PARTICIPLE's (BDB 981, KB 1371) basic meaning is to “ask” or “inquire.” Here to inquire of the spirit realm (e.g., YHWH, Joshua 9:14 or idols, Hosea 4:12).

The first NOUN, “medium” (BDB 15) is a difficult term to define. Some see the term as it is used in Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6, Leviticus 20:27 as (1) a pit, or place of sacrifice, or (2) form of “father” which refers to ancestor worship. It is translated in the LXX in Isaiah 8:19 as “ventriloquist.” Because of this and Isaiah 29:4 some think it means “to chirp” or “to mutter.” This would imply to “talk with a different voice.” However, from 1 Samuel 28:7-9, it is related to the ability to call or talk to someone in the ground or to communicate with the dead or spirits of the underworld, i.e., necromancy.

The second NOUN, “spiritists” (BDB 396) was a form of the Hebrew word “to know” (BDB 395). It refers to one who has knowledge of the spiritual realm or has contact with those in the spiritual realm who have knowledge (cf. Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 19:3).

“one who calls up the dead” This phrase is a combination of two Qal PARTICIPLES (BDB 205, KB 233, “to ask” and BDB 559, KB 562, “the dead ones”). In context it refers to mediums and “spiritists.” These elite, supposedly gifted, people contact the dead for information about the future and the power to affect it.

All ancient cultures believed in an afterlife. For many in the ancient Near East this had two possibilities:

1. ancestor worship where the spirits of family members could affect the present and future

2. the power of physical (stars, forces of nature) or spiritual (demons, demi-gods) could be utilized to know and affect personal destinies

Deuteronomy 18:12 “detestable” The term (BDB 1072) is used most often in Deuteronomy, Proverbs, and Ezekiel. See Special Topic at Deuteronomy 14:3.

“the LORD your God will drive them out before you” This is an aspect of “holy war.” This was revealed to Abraham as a promise in Genesis 15:16 and their sins are described in Leviticus 18:24-28.

Deuteronomy 18:13 “blameless” This is a sacrificial term (BDB 1071) for a clean animal which is “perfect,” without blemish, and therefore, acceptable for sacrifice (cf. Exodus 12:5; Exodus 29:1; Leviticus 1:3, Leviticus 1:10; Leviticus 3:1, Leviticus 3:6, Leviticus 3:9; Leviticus 4:3, Leviticus 4:23, Leviticus 4:28, Leviticus 4:32; Leviticus 5:15, Leviticus 5:18; Leviticus 6:6; etc.). It becomes a metaphor for those who are acceptable by God based on conformity to the covenant stipulations (cf. Genesis 6:9; Genesis 17:1; 2 Samuel 22:24, 2 Samuel 22:26; Job 1:1, Job 1:8; Job 2:3; Job 12:4; Psalms 15:2; Psalms 18:23, Psalms 18:25; Ezekiel 28:15). See Special Topic below.


Verses 15-22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 18:15-22 15”The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.' 17The LORD said to me, 'They have spoken well. 18I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. 20But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.' 21You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' 22When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

Deuteronomy 18:15-22 Deuteronomy 18:9-14 shows the improper way to seek God's will for one's life. Verses Deuteronomy 18:15-22 describe the proper way to ascertain knowledge about God and His purposes.

Deuteronomy 18:15 “a prophet like me” This became a title for the Messiah (cf. John 1:21, John 1:25, John 1:45; John 5:46; John 6:14; John 7:40; Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37). Jesus acted like the “new” Moses:

1. gave the law of the new covenant (cf. Matthew 5-7)

2. fed the people as they expected (cf. John 6:0)

3. met God on a mountain (cf. Matthew 17:0)

4. interceded for the covenant people (cf. John 17:0)

For an excellent discussion of the function of prophecy in Israel see How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, pp. 184-189. This helpful discussion continues dealing with the interpretation of prophetic passages and books, pp. 189-204.

Deuteronomy 18:16 This reflects Israel's encounter with YHWH at Mt. Sinai (cf. Exodus 19- 20). Direct revelation from God is an awesome thing (cf. Exodus 20:18-21)! The people wanted an intermediary!

This context is, in a sense, a multiple fulfillment prophecy. It obviously refers to the recurrent ministry of the prophet in Israel's national life (cf. TEV). The king and priest were from one family, but the prophets were individually called by God to mediate His covenant to each new generation. However, it also points toward the special spokesman of YHWH (Hebrew SINGULAR, Deuteronomy 18:15, Deuteronomy 18:18 and the comment in Deuteronomy 34:10, i.e., the Suffering Servant, the Messiah). This is the one spoken of in Genesis 3:15; Genesis 49:10; 2 Samuel 7:12-13, 2 Samuel 7:16; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:1-7; Isaiah 11:1-5; Daniel 7:13; Daniel 9:25; Micah 5:2-5a; Zechariah 9:9. Also notice Deuteronomy 18:5 and 5:46.

Deuteronomy 18:17 This same idiom, “they have spoken well,” is also found in Deuteronomy 5:28, but not in Exodus 19-20. So this is unrecorded revelation. We must remember that the Bible is only part of the word of God. By faith, believers assert that all that is necessary for life and doctrine has been included, but it is not exhaustive. In this sense, it is analogous to Jesus' words (cf. John 20:30; John 21:25).

Deuteronomy 18:18 “I will raise up a prophet” The VERB (BDB 877, KB 1080, Hiphil IMPERFECT) is used often of YHWH's purposeful, covenantal actions in history (e.g., Genesis 6:18; Genesis 9:9, Genesis 9:11, Genesis 9:17; Genesis 17:7, Genesis 17:19, Genesis 17:21; Exodus 6:4; Deuteronomy 18:15, Deuteronomy 18:18; Deuteronomy 28:9; Judges 2:16, Judges 2:18; Judges 3:9, Judges 3:15; 1 Samuel 2:35; 1 Kings 9:5; 1 Kings 11:14, 1 Kings 11:23; 1 Kings 14:14; 2 Chronicles 7:18, etc.).

YHWH is in control of history, as predictive prophecies like this one referring to Jesus (also notice Micah 5:2) clearly shows. The Bible is the only “holy book” that contains prophecy!

“I will put My words in His mouth” This refers to him speaking the message of YHWH! He will speak only what YHWH tells him (just what Jesus affirmed, cf. John 3:34; John 12:49; John 14:10; John 17:8).

Deuteronomy 18:19 We are responsible to act on God's will once we know it. The real question is how do we know who truly speaks for God (cf. Deuteronomy 18:21)? Verses Deuteronomy 18:20-22 are a partial answer. There are other criteria (cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-2; Deuteronomy 18:20-22; Matthew 7:0; 1 John 4:1-6). This verse is quoted in Acts 3:22-23!

Deuteronomy 18:20-22 God's speaker will be known by (1) speaking in YHWH's name, not the names of other gods (cf. Deuteronomy 18:20); (2) the accuracy of his statements (cf. Deuteronomy 18:22); and (3) Deuteronomy 13:1-2 must also be taken into account because God's dealing with Israel was based on their spiritual response.

One wonders how contemporary hearers are to judge a prophet if their prediction is beyond their lifetime. Also, what about conditional prophecy that depends on the repentant faith response of the people of that day to which it is addressed (i.e., Jonah)?

The evaluation of those who claim to speak for God is not easy. Here are some criteria:

1. content of message

2. lifestyle of the messenger

3. correlation of the message with other Bible passages

False prophets, false teachers, are often very dynamic, educated, logical, and winsome people. In our day the marks of a false speaker might be:

1. an emphasis on money

2. a sexual license

3. a claim to exclusive access to God

(see A General Introduction to the Bible by Norman Geisler and William Nix, pp. 241-242)


1. Christian Counseling and the Occult by Kurt Kouch

2. Demons in the World Today by Merrill F. Unger

3. Principalities and Powers by John Warwich Montgomery

4. Demons, Demons, Demons by John Newport

5. Biblical Demonology by Merrill F. Unger

6. Three Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare by Clinton E. Arnold

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 18". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/deuteronomy-18.html. 2021.
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