Deuteronomy 18

The Word Made Fresh

1“The priests, and the whole tribe of Levi, are to have no land allotted to them in Israel. The sacrifices that are the LORD’s are given to them for food, 2but they will have no inheritance of territory among the other tribes, for the LORD is their inheritance.

3“When the people bring sacrifices such as an ox or sheep, the priests shall have the shoulders, jaws, and inner organs for food. 4In addition they shall have the first gathering of your grain, wine, and oil, and the first fleece taken from your sheep. 5This is the compensation the priests and all the Levites will have, for the LORD has chosen them to manage the religious rituals and activities and belongings in the name of the LORD from now on.

6“Any of the Levites may choose to leave your towns where they have been living and come to the place the LORD will choose for a home, 7and they may serve in ministry in the name of the LORD with their fellow Levites who have been serving there. 8They will have their fair share of the sacrifices brought there as their food even if they have other income from selling their family’s things where they had lived.

9“When you settle the land the LORD your God is giving you, be careful not to be drawn into the detestable religious rituals of the people there. 10Don’t allow anyone to sacrifice a child in the fire, or practice magic or fortune-telling or sorcery. 11Let none of you ever be found casting spells or talking to ghosts or trying to make predictions from dead bodies. 12The LORD hates anyone who does such things. Indeed, those practices are the reason the LORD is driving those people out. 13You must remain loyal to the LORD your God. 14The people who live there now do such things, but the LORD your God will not allow you to participate in them.

15“The LORD will appoint prophets like me from among you and you must respect them. 16When you were at Horeb the day we had the great assembly you were afraid you would die if you ever heard the LORD’s voice again or saw the fire from which the LORD spoke. 17The LORD told me your fears were well-founded, 18and said to me, ‘I will appoint from among them prophets like you, and I will tell them what to say and they will pass it along to the people. 19I will hold accountable anyone who refuses to listen to what my prophets say. 20Any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods or claims I have said a word I have not said, that prophet shall die.’

21“You may be wondering how to tell if someone claims to speak a ‘word of the LORD’ that is not from the LORD, and this is how you can tell: 22if a prophet says something will happen in the name of the LORD, and it does not happen, the LORD didn’t say it. That prophet has spoken out of turn. Have no respect for such a one.”

Commentary

1-2: Moses tells them that Levites will not inherit land – apparently in contradiction to the earlier rule that they would be given towns and grazing lands (Numbers 35). So, Moses must be referring here to those Levites who choose to live in other towns among the tribes.

3-5: The priests will however be rewarded by the system of sacrifices and offerings.

6-8: Levites would be allowed to freely move about the land, from one designated shrine to another. This would help provide some balance should one area not produce enough to sustain all the Levites who might reside there.

9-14: Child sacrifice is prohibited – a good thing, no doubt. But what about divination, spell casting, palm reading, and other such practices? No doubt, Moses sees these things as enticements to leave off keeping God’s laws and sees them as a danger to the well-being of the people.

15-22: It is not clear from the manuscripts whether the word “prophet” in verse 15 should be singular or plural. Either way, Moses is reminding them that, after he is gone, God will raise up new leadership. Just as their future kings must come from the community (17:15), so must future spiritual leaders also. Any prophet who claims to have a revelation from a pagan deity must not be honored. Curiously, the way to tell a false prophet is that his predictions don’t pan out, whereas back in chapter 13 it was acknowledged that sometimes false prophets would in fact get it right. The point is, if they don’t follow the true God, don’t follow them.

Takeaway

Moses is aware that people are easily misled by charlatans and tricksters (and televangelists?). A true prophet never seeks personal acclaim, never advertises himself or herself, and never pretends to be a savior.