The Prophet From Deuteronomy
Deut 18:18-22: I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, "How may we know the word which Yahweh has not spoken?" — when a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which Yahweh has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him.
September 29, 2006
Yahweh is speaking. He is telling of some future time when an unusual servant will appear on the world stage. He refers to him as a Prophet, some one who can predict the future.
Moses is writing. This passage certainly dates from that time. 18:15 - "Yahweh your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among you, from your brethren - him you shall heed . . ."
The ancient Church fathers and most modern commentators have regarded Jesus as the Prophet in these verses. In John 5:46 Jesus is attributed with the remark: If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. Of course this may not refer to Deut 18:18, but to some other statement by Moses, although most everyone believes this remark indeed was made by Jesus about himself. (Or the editor of John's Gospel may have interpolated this remark to show that the promise was fulfilled. Refer to my work on John's Gospel.)
Other Apostles also taught that this Prophet was Jesus. Peter in Acts 3:22 and Stephen in Acts 7:37 cast their discourses with the assumption that Deut 18:18 refers to Jesus. Acts 3:24 shows how the Old Testament prophets, including Samuel, are invoked as pointing toward Jesus. We must conclude that the Apostles and their Greek converts were still looking forward two thousand years ago to this personality appearing on the world stage, and that he had then appeared. Thus we can see that Hebrews and Jews since the time of Moses were confused and befuddled by this strange promise. Clearly they did not see any of the prophets from Moses and Elijah on down to their time as a fulfillment. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to assign this prophecy to Jesus. After all, Jesus was an important destiny figure.
This apostolic speculation should not deter us from understanding the Prophet as some human mortal. Obviously he is a normal human being, "a brother," and not divine Jesus as the Son of God living on earth in mortal form. Furthermore, since Yahweh is Jesus, and Yahweh is the one making the promise, this person could not be Jesus, as Christian tradition has so longingly held. Hence, the Prophet has not yet appeared.
When will he appear? What is so important about his words, that God's people are exhorted to obey them? There must be a world destiny environment that presents this need. If 3500 years have not produced him, then he must play a crucial role, a function in unfolding world events that is important to the salvage of God's people.
But the Prophet does not speak in his own name; he speaks words that Yahweh gives to him. He is a mouthpiece for Yahweh. If Yahweh were speaking directly to His people, telling them what to do, He would not have a need for the Prophet. The Prophet is a servant, filling a need. Since humanity is not forced to obey the Prophet, then elements of decisions must be involved. Brothers and Sisters can obey what the Prophet has to say, or they can reject those words. However, if they do not obey, a price must be paid.
I myself will require it of him.
According to Old Testament Lexicons, the meaning of the word "require" is
Importantly, the context of this decision is seen in Deut 19:1. The Septuagint says that when God shall have destroyed the nations, an ominous warning. The New International Version uses the word destroy, while other translation use the phrase cut off. Already, at that early date, we were told that the nations would be destroyed. Moses therefore stood in the role of a prophet about the end times.
In Acts 3:23 Peter also shows the seriousness of the warning. The usual mode of punishing disobedience is by cutting the offender off from among the people, Exodus 12:15, 30:33; Leviticus 7:20-21; Numbers 15:31 . One might understand the sense that the offender should be punished in the usual manner; that is, by excision. But here the sense is more than that. More properly, he will be destroyed from among the people. The word translated shall be destroyed means properly to exterminate, wholly to devote to ruin. Those who do not obey the Prophet will be destroyed.
The concept is not one of normal human death, but death found in the general punishment of mankind. The implications are that men must make decisions concerning their physical survival. They can say yes or they can say no, but in that decision they determine their fate. Clearly, they have a choice. This means they can entertain doubt. They do not have the luxury of their decisions being made for them through divine intervention. God is creating conditions in which they must each decide.
Jesus spoke of just such a time, Matt 24. But he put it into the future, far beyond his own lifetime. This is another reason why the Prophet could not be Jesus. The Deuteronomy context shows that Prophet is reserved for that future time.
We can see the doubt that will be raised in people's minds. And if you say in your heart, "How may we know the word which Yahweh has not spoken?" The only way out of this impasse is to exercise faith, knowing within your heart that what the Prophet says will come to pass, will indeed transpire.
This is not a hopeless exercise. World circumstances will support the Prophet. Conditions will exist that will make the words of the Prophet sure. Yet, in spite of this, doubt and choice still exist.
The latter part of the passage seems to imply that if one chooses to ignore the prophecy, then one can look back and say, "Oh, I should have obeyed the Prophet." But if the nations are to be destroyed disobedience to the Prophet means personal destruction. One will not have an opportunity to look back. No chance to express regrets will exist.
Many false prophets exist on our world today. From foolish evangelical and fundamentalists, to New Age people, to an assortment of other false prophets we hear fantasy in prophesy. Those prophets do not know the Will of God. They also will die, because they think they have an insight into the Destiny of God. Their frame of mind will not permit them to listen carefully to God's true Prophet. This is especially true for all the millions who believe that a Rapture will lift them away. In their view God will come to rescue them from tribulation, and they need do nothing except wait for Him. If this were true, there would be no need for the Prophet.
Another aspect of this Prophet is that he does not exercise a long-term predictive ability, in terms of centuries. We see this long-term ability in the prophet Moses who spoke about the far future. All of the Old Testament prophets similarly spoke of the far future. We also know such prophetic powers from John the Revelator, who showed many features of the far future of the earth. From the sense of the passage this Prophet seems to exercise a short-term insight into the salvage of God's people. His future foretelling is a matter of a few short years.
In fact, that Yahweh singles this Prophet out for special mention shows that he plays a special role. Yahweh does not here tell us about Moses or Elijah or Isaiah or Jeremiah, or any of the Old Testament prophets. He does not tell us about the revelations from John. Rather He concentrates on this brief but intense world period. Something especially important must come from the warnings of this Prophet. We can understand this in terms of the world context of the destruction of the nations, and God's purpose to salvage His people. The Prophet is crucial to that salvage, and deserves special mention by God on those grounds.
This places the Prophet squarely in the context of a world judgment. He appears in a moment of decisive choice — choice for survival. Only one world circumstance would be so severe — the general destruction of mankind. Those who make the decision for survival become the remnant that will return:
Isaiah 10:22 - For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness.
Still another aspect exists to the warnings of this Prophet. The Prophet comes in the midst of exhortations against the abominable practices of evil people.
God speaks emphatically against such evil. One should not seek after them. The statement from God appears in a context of evil spirits profoundly working with mankind. We are warned against them.
You can see that when God spoke to Moses to deliver this message, He expected the people of Israel to dispossess the nations, not merely one nation then occupied by the Canaanites. His view was long-term.
How does the Prophet know what warning to give to God's people? Did God tell him privately? When God puts His words into the mouth of the Prophet does that signify a special voice coming from the Prophet and speaking for God? The implication is that the Prophet has come to know God's Will through a unique relationship. The Prophet knows how to warn God's people through an exceptional insight. That insight does not come out of the private psyche of the Prophet, but out of a spiritual relationship with God.
Such private understanding might impress the Prophet but how would it impress others? How would they know the authenticity of the warning?
Obviously, God is not speaking directly to his people. If he were he would not need a Prophet. The Prophet is used as an instrument of communication because these are faith decisions. One is not forced to a response. If God spoke directly to his people through an audible voice then choice would no longer exist.
The choice is seen in the remark about listening to the Prophet. You cannot test if the Prophet is correct; if you do not listen to the Prophet you shall die. If you wait to see if the Prophet is correct it will be too late. You will be destroyed in the world holocaust. Furthermore, multitudes of prophets exist who tell others about coming events and forecast doom. But those prophets do not speak for God. They do not know the secret of God's Will. They will die along with the general population. They presume against God.
The authenticity of the word from the Prophet is in the logical framework of the Day of Judgment.
Everyone becomes aware of the circumstances of the Day. Thus the warning is merely an articulation of world circumstances. God's people respond to the truth of the warning. No divine display depicts the warning. This further implies that the Prophet does not have private communications from God, but interprets God's Word for others out of a guiding Spirit. In this process the decisions are truly free. There is no compelling circumstance to the choices.
All of this comes in the context of a Great Light, and the Return of Jesus to this world. Jesus is personally present, and will imbue us with his Spirit.