Book of Deuteronomy Chapter Eighteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Priests, Prophets & Counterfeits
Verses 1-2: "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. 2 They shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the Lord is their inheritance, as He promised them." As Moses continued his words to the new generation who were about to invade the land of Canaan, he reminded them that the Levitical priests and other Levitical workers would have no tribal inheritance of land like the other tribes of Israel. Also note carefully that the Levites were honored by a special office within the land, an office they did not deserve. Just like everyone who is called by God to service, we look to God and not our own efforts, for He who has called us is the Lord, our inheritance. And in this chapter we observe two types of religious leaders in humanity: 1) Those who love the Lord and are called by Him, and 2) others that may outwardly seem to be similar, but sadly they are counterfeits who serve the enemy and themselves.
Verses 3-5: "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. 4 You shall give him the first fruits of your grain, your new wine, and your oil, and the first shearing of your sheep. 5 For 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." Have you noticed that the ways of the Lord seem strange to the world of mankind? It is odd how we come into the world and our departure is equally surprising. And it is also strange that the Lord chooses weak people like us to achieve His will. He calls who He chooses and our acceptance is not unlike a vow of poverty, in which we give up our own attempts at success in life and instead rely upon Him. Amazingly, all who place their faith in the Lord become "a royal priesthood," as the Apostle put it in 1 Peter 2:9. Paul in 1st Corinthians 6:20 observes, "you were bought at a price," by the precious blood, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. You, His priest, belong to Him through faith, and He who is faithful beyond human understanding, gave Himself for you.
Verses 6-8: "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, 7 then he shall serve in the name of the Lord his God, like all his fellow Levites who stand there before the Lord. 8 They shall eat equal portions, except what they receive from the sale of their fathers’ estates." You, or someone you might define as "your kind of people" or not, may suddenly be in your midst, called by God but unexpected by people. God calls whoever He wants "to the place which the Lord chooses." Be prepared, pray continually, for the Lord will do what we least anticipate at a time we don't expect. He will send us and provide for our needs. He chooses the weak (1 Corinthians 1:27) and He empowers us to win the battle. We serve in the name of the Lord our God, like the Levites of old, who were not qualified for the task, but the Lord used them anyway.
Verses 9-12: "When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. 10 There 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, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For 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." Have you noticed that people everywhere "imitate" each other constantly and with great intensity? God knows this tendency in us and He will shield your heart from the dangers, the idolatry of this world. The actions of Verses 9-12 are counterfeits that lead people astray. We need faith in the Lord, and the enemy would have us believe that the "detestable things" of these verses belong to the persons who wield them. They don't—instead they are the disgusting property of the enemy Satan, who lends to people who will be disposed of when he tires of them. The enemy and those who join him are "detestable to the Lord" and they will be driven right out of this world, at a time of God's choosing.
Verse 13: "You shall be blameless before the Lord your God." The faithful in Christ are called to lives of holiness. Ephesians 1:3 provides surprising and wonderful information about those who trust in Him: God "chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." Israel is both a reality and a parable, a people called to be set apart from the sinful ways of this world; a picture of what it means to have faith in the Lord. Israel was to differ from the appearance and manner of the nations around them, through outward mechanisms such as circumcision, not intermarrying with gentiles and the avoidance of even the appearance of idolatry. The deep and beautiful fulfillment of the prophetic nature of Israel is foretold in places like Joel 2:28—"It shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams..." and more. The fulfillment of that promise is touched upon in Ephesians 1:13—"Having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise." Blamelessness before God is not through our mere efforts. The work of God was done on the cross and our part is to trust in Him who died for you and me. When we believe, His Holy Spirit comes upon and into us, rendering us able to be, in Christ, acceptable, blameless and holy in the sight of God.
Verse 14: "For 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." It's reasonable to be concerned about the men, women and children Israel was about to dispossess at the time of these verses. A key to understanding is found in a prophesy given to Abraham, in Genesis 15:16 and its context. The man received the surprising news that his descendants would remain in slavery to a foreign power for 400 years, "for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." The Amorites filled the land of Canaan, and as long as some among them had faith in the Lord, Israel was kept out of the land. But as of the moment of these verses, the Amorites, the Canaanites and all who lived there were filled with "iniquity," idolatry and were closed to trusting in the Lord, which was clearly seen by God. And so Israel, God's prophetic message to the world, the people through whom the Messiah would come, was to dispossess the idolaters of Canaan.
Verses 15-18: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16 This 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.’ 17 The Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. 18 I 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." The Hebrew word for "prophet" here is from a verb which meant "to tell, to announce." Moses received direction from God and then announced it to the people. In Acts 2, the disciples of Jesus "were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Verse 4). As prompted by the Lord, Peter quoted the prophet Joel: "I will pour out My Spirit in those days and they shall prophesy" (Verse 18). In Acts 3:22, Peter also quoted the words of Deuteronomy 18:15, relating Moses' words to the future death and resurrection of our prophet, priest and king, Jesus Christ, and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the "Prophet" Moses spoke about. In Him and because of Him, ordinary people like you and me are able to speak about what we otherwise could not know. Moses' mention of "Horeb" refers back to the time of Exodus 20:18-21, when the people were terrified by lightning, trumpets, smoke, and did not want the Lord to speak directly to them. The Lord does speak to His faithful ones, but know this: He who is All-Powerful is also gentle and kind.
Verses 19-20: "It 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. 20 But 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." The Apostle Peter would later continue to quote the words of Moses in these verses, as seen in Acts 3:23—"And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people." The "Prophet" we need is Jesus Christ, who speaks to His people, just as He did to Moses, and we are also to speak as He leads, to those He tells us to address. Paul the Apostle later spoke about prophecy in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20—"Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies." And then he continued in Verse 21—"Test all things." We are to pray, trust in the Lord, and "test all things," like Paul said.
Verses 21-22: "You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ 22 When 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." In Deuteronomy 13:1-5, we saw a test of whether or not a prophet was uttering words that were truly from the Lord: "If that prophet or dreamer of dreams" leads you to "other gods..." you shall not "listen" to them. And Moses continued the warning in that place, "the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." Your faith will be tested but God Himself will protect you and is showing you the truth. Here in Deuteronomy 18, God further opens our eyes: If the prophet predicts something and it doesn't happen, don't be afraid and—stop listening to them!
Father, I am Yours. Please forgive me and heal my fear, mistakes and lack of faith. I place my faith in You, Lord Jesus, and none other. Fill me, Holy Spirit—showing me when to listen and when to walk away. In Jesus Name. Amen.