Deuteronomy 18 – Priests and Prophets
A. The provision for priests and Levites.
1. (1-2) The inheritance of the Levites.
The priests, the Levites; all the tribe of Levi; shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and His portion. Therefore they shall have no inheritance among their brethren; the LORD is their inheritance, as He said to them.
a. The priests, the Levites; all the tribe of Levi; shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel: The Levites – those of the tribe of Levi, who were the paid ministers for the nation of Israel – shall have no inheritance among their brethren. In other words, they were not to have allotted portions of land for their own possession.
b. They shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and His portion: Instead, the Levites were to be supported by the gifts and offerings of God’s people. The Levites were permitted to receive at least a portion of most animals sacrificed to the LORD, and thus were provided with meat for food.
2. (3-5) The specific portions of the sacrificial animal set apart to the Levites.
And this shall be the priest’s due from the people, from those who offer a sacrifice, whether it is bull or sheep: they shall give to the priest the shoulder, the cheeks, and the stomach. The firstfruits of your grain and your new wine and your oil, and the first of the fleece of your sheep, you shall give him. For the LORD your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand to minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons forever.
a. And this shall be the priest’s due from the people, from those who offer a sacrifice: From a typical sacrifice, the priests received the shoulder, the cheeks, and the stomach. The rest of the animal would either be burnt before the LORD or returned to the one bringing the sacrifice, so he could enjoy his own fellowship meal with the LORD.
b. Your grain and your new wine and your oil and the first of the fleece of your sheep: The priests also received these offerings of firstfruits from the people.
3. (6-8) All the Levites had equal rights to the offerings.
So if a Levite comes from any of your gates, from where he dwells among all Israel, and comes with all the desire of his mind to the place which the LORD chooses, then he may serve in the name of the LORD his God as all his brethren the Levites do, who stand there before the LORD. They shall have equal portions to eat, besides what comes from the sale of his inheritance.
B. Prescriptions for prophets.
1. (9-11) The command to reject all the occult practices of the Canaanites.
When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.
a. You shall not learn: God knows that many people have a natural curiosity regarding the occult, and that curiosity often leads them to gain knowledge God commands them to leave alone.
b. Anyone who makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire: This refers to the debased worship of the Canaanite god Molech, to whom children were sacrificed by burning.
c. Or one who practices witchcraft: The word witchcraft here seems to be a broad word, describing a variety of occult activities. Basically, anything that makes contact with the demonic or dark spiritual world.
i. Thompson on practices witchcraft: “A variety of devices were in use in various lands, but all were designed to discern the will of the gods. The same word in Ezekiel 21:21 refers to the practice of whirling arrows in a quiver and deciding the answer to the question by the first arrow thrown out.”
ii. There is a modern revival of witchcraft, or Wicca, and many people claim that “white” witchcraft (as opposed to “black” witchcraft) is a use of spiritual powers for good, as well as being a more feminist, ecology-friendly understanding of god and spirituality. But whether a witch claims to be “white” or “black,” they are still using occultic powers.
iii. Some claim that white, or “right hand path” witches are in the majority today. They worship elements and nature deities, the “Mother Goddess,” Gaia, Ashtarte, Isis, Osiris, and a host of other names for the Goddess. Characteristically they are active in “Saving the earth” activities, due to the fact that they are pantheists (those who believe the divine life force is in everything: ever see the bumper sticker picturing a globe bearing the legend “Love Your Mother”?). They deny the existence of Satan, calling him an invention of the Christian Church. They claim to use their powers (and they do have powers) for good: sending healing energies to the sick, affirmations which bring prosperity, and loudly proclaiming their creed, “As it harm none, do as thou wilt.” It’s ironic how their creed sounds so similar to that of a man who referred to himself as “The Beast, 666” – Satanist Aleister Crowley, who wrote, “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
iv. Of course, there are black, or “left hand path,” witches. These are witches who originally were into white witchcraft and got hungry for more power. As their teachers noticed this power lust, they were taken aside and told, “You are now ready to go after the higher power, and there is only one way to achieve this power. Satan is its source.” Thus, comes the white witch’s abrupt surprise: either give up your witchly ambitions, or go for the higher power. The bottom line is that the power behind all kinds of witchcraft is Satan. He is the author of all deception, and all rebellion. To practice or approve of witchcraft is to serve Satan.
v. And this Satanic power kills. Ronald Baker was a 21-year-old student at UCLA, and was found stabbed to death at the mouth of a railroad tunnel in the rocky hills above Chatsworth Park. Police first thought the mangled body was of a transient hit by a train; but they then found an occult connection in Baker’s death. The killing took place on the night of the summer solstice, and the tunnel near the park is known to police as a gathering place for devotees of the occult. Baker was involved with Wicca (described as “benevolent witchcraft”), often wore a pentagram pendant, and belonged to a UCLA metaphysical group known as Mystic Circle (from a July 1990 news article).
vi. Some who call themselves Christians are buying into this deception. Take the case of a woman who calls herself Starhawk, who is a practitioner of Wicca – a witch. She first learned about Wicca at an anthropology course at UCLA when she was 17, and she took the name Starhawk in 1975 when it came to her in a dream. After a master’s degree in psychology, she began teaching at universities. She is a licensed minister of the Covenant of the Goddess and performs marriages and other ceremonies. She views the earth as a sensitive, living organism which she calls “the Goddess.” Mary Elizabeth Moore of the Claremont School of Theology said of Starhawk: “Many Christians, especially women and others who are trying to reclaim creation-centered theology, find her work to be compatible with, or at least adaptable to, Christian teaching.” Starhawk was scheduled to speak at the First Christian Church in Santa Monica on a Friday evening (from a June, 1993 news article).
d. Or a soothsayer: This has reference to astrological-type divination, predicting the future or seeking guidance through the stars, planets, clouds, or weather.
i. Kalland says that the soothsayer: “Is… predicting the future by means of physical signs (astrology).” Thompson points out “it seems to refer to divination by reading clouds, or from a root which occurs in Arabic meaning ‘to make unusual noises’, ‘croon’, ‘hum’, in which case it may refer to some kind of incantation.”
ii. Even though Astrology is unscientific – it is based on the supposition that the sun circles the earth, and the positions of the planets and stars have shifted, and are never consistently uniform; therefore, the houses of the Zodiac have shifted – despite all that, thirty-two million Americans believe in Astrology! There are 10,000 full time and 200,000 part time astrologers in America. Three out of four American newspapers carry a horoscope column.
iii. So where does the real “power” of astrology come from? From what most astrologers call “intuition” – but is really psychic knowledge and ability. Astrology is idolatry and stems from the demonic. It leads people away from trusting in God and encourages them to put trust in what God created. And isn’t that Satan’s goal: To replace confidence in God with a dependence on anything else?
iv. Therefore, the Bible clearly forbids us to participate in astrology, which includes reading your horoscope, studying your sign, and computing a natal chart. It is an occult art, meaning that it involves “knowledge of hidden things”, seeking spiritual knowledge apart from God’s revelation. It is a foundational art, which means it is the building block for all occultists. It is studied by witches and magicians alike. Every Christian should renounce any involvement they have ever had with astrology!
e. Or one who interprets omens: The word comes from the root “to hiss” or “to whisper” and refers to psychics and fortune-tellers who use “aids” other than naturally created things to gain knowledge, tell the future, and cast spells.
i. Today, these people are the tarot card readers, crystal ball seers, tea-leaf readers, palm readers, Ouija board users, and the like. A Christian has no business participating or approving of any of these practices, because either they are money-grubbing frauds (at best!), or worse, they gain their knowledge from satanic, demonic, spiritual sources.
ii. This is why it is dangerous for people – especially kids – to break out the Ouija board, or do a little séance, or little “dark” magic tricks. They are tapping into a source of spiritual power that is real – yet evil, and unspeakably dangerous. Many, many people have been ruined on the rocks of “innocent” occult or fortune telling games, and the fact that there is a real power behind those things should make us all the more concerned.
iii. There is a demand for this kind of thing; why else would a homeless man in New York be arrested for stealing skulls from a Brooklyn cemetery and selling them for use in occult ceremonies? A skull can bring as much as $4,000 (from an August, 1991 news article).
iv. It is worth noting that Satan or his demons cannot absolutely know the future; but they can reasonably predict the future based on their superior knowledge of people and circumstances or predict events that they can have a hand in shaping through their own demonic influence.
f. Or a sorcerer: This has reference to those who use drugs or potions to cast spells, gain spiritual knowledge, or enter into altered states of consciousness. Modern drug abuse easily falls into this category, and the use of drugs has a definite occult connection that the drug taker may not want but is exposed to nonetheless.
i. Clarke says of sorcerer: “Those who by means of drugs, herbs, perfumes, and so forth, pretended to bring certain celestial influences to their aid.” Thompson adds, “derived from the root… ‘to cut up’, may denote one who cuts up herbs and brews them for magical purposes (cf. LXX pharmaka, drug). The term is used in Micah 5:12 for some such material as drugs or herbs used superstitiously to produce magical effects.”
g. Or one who conjures up spells: This is literally, “A charmer of charms” and refers to those who cast spells or charms for good or evil upon others with spiritual powers apart from God.
i. It is a glorious thing to bless another in the name of the LORD; or even to pray to God against the evil of another person. But it is always and forever wrong to use demonic, dark, pagan, or occult powers to cast spells or charms.
h. Or a medium: The idea is of someone who “stands between” the physical world and the psychic world; they channel knowledge from the psychic world into the physical world.
i. Thompson notes that the medium: “Spoke from within a person (Leviticus 20:27) with a twittering voice (Isaiah 29:4). Those who practiced this art called up the departed from the realm of the dead, or rather, professed to do so.”
ii. Those who practice such powers are really among us. In May of 1990, after a man died in the City of Industry, his corpse remained at the home of a spirit medium that had convinced his family that he could revive the man. Friday, LA County coroner’s investigators picked up the decomposing body at the home of the family. The unidentified medium apparently gave the corpse back after being unable to revive the deceased.
i. Or a spiritist: Literally, this word refers to the “knowing ones” – those who claim unique occult or psychic knowledge and powers – such as those on the many psychic hotlines that one can pay to call. Again, a Christian has no business participating or approving of any of these practices, because either they are money-grubbing frauds (at best!), or worse, they gain their knowledge from satanic, demonic, spiritual sources.
j. Or one who calls up the dead: This refers to the practice of necromancy, which is the conjuring up or the contacting of the dead.
i. This refers to “One who investigates, looks into, and seeks information from the dead.” (Kalland) This is much on the increase in our culture; “The proportion of adults who say they have been in touch with the dead has risen from 27% to 42% during the past 11 years. Close to 20 million Americans now report mystical experiences.” (McDowell, 1989)
2. (12-14) Why rejection of all these occult actions is commanded.
For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the LORD your God has not appointed such for you.
a. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD: God did not take these occult actions lightly then, nor does He now. It is consorting with the power of darkness, and always to be rejected by Christians.
i. Our culture is becoming more and more accepting of these occult themes and practices, while it is becoming more and more intolerant of Biblical Christianity. In 1991, a ninth grade Junior High Student in Dickson, Tennessee, sued the school board because his teacher wouldn’t accept a research paper written on the life of Jesus. Students were allowed to write on topics such as the occult, reincarnation and spiritualism, and the teacher originally only said that the topics must be “decent.” The student was given a zero on her paper when the topic was declared unacceptable (from an August, 1991 news report).
ii. “It may be pertinent to comment that in our own day, when spiritualism, astrology, teacup reading and the like are widely practiced, these injunctions given to ancient Israel have a particular relevance. Not only is it impossible to discover the future by such practices, but the practices themselves are forbidden by God to men who call themselves members of the covenant family.” (Thompson)
b. Because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you: God’s judgment was upon the Canaanites because of these occult practices, and if Israel took up the same occult practices, they could also expect the judgment of God.
i. Yes, the Canaanites were sex-worshippers (in their service of the goddess Ashtaroth); and yes, they were money and success worshippers (in their service of the god Baal). But other peoples given over to sex and greed haven’t been judged as severely. What made the Canaanites particularly ripe for judgment was their occult practices, practices the people of God were strictly forbidden to imitate.
c. You shall be blameless: more than being a general call to a holy walk, this is a solemn warning to keep from any involvement with these detestable practices of the occult. The LORD your God has not appointed such for you!
i. We are to be blameless in regard to such things, even as the Ephesian Christians, who destroyed all things that marked the occult in their lives (Acts 19:19-20). This is why it is dangerous for people to seek or approve of the occult, even if they don’t really believe it – even if they just kind of think it is “cool.”
ii. For example, rock singer Ozzy Osbourne says that his satanic image is all an act. “We wrote a couple of songs about black magic, so what? I hammed it up, but I’m not the devil. I don’t put curses on people.” But in the same interview, Osbourne refers to “the him,” who is a “malevolent voice in his head that transmits destructive and self-loathing messages.” Osbourne said of this voice inside him, “He’s there all the time… I’ve always had a haunted head.” “Innocent” involvement with the occult didn’t protect him. Satan doesn’t really care if you are a true believer in him or not; just as long as he has you.
3. (15-19) The promise of a true Prophet to come.
The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, “Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.” And the LORD said to me: “What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”
a. The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me: Moses, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, promised a prophet to come; a prophet that would first be like me – that is, like Moses.
b. From your midst, from your brethren: Like Moses, this Prophet would be from the midst of Israel. This not only meant that He would be an Israelite, but that He would be a “man of the people” – He would be one of them.
c. Him you shall hear: Like Moses, this Prophet would command the attention of the nation. This means both that Israel should listen to this Prophet, and that they would listen to this Prophet.
d. According to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb: Like Moses, this Prophet would be a mediator, representing God to the people, and representing the people before God.
e. Will put My words in His mouth: Like Moses, this Prophet would speak God’s Word.
f. I will require it of him: Like Moses, this Prophet’s message would only be rejected at a great penalty.
g. I will raise up for them a Prophet: People looked for this Prophet in Jesus’ day (John 6:14, 7:40) and some thought that John the Baptist might be this Prophet (John 1:19-21). But the New Testament plainly tells us that Jesus is this Prophet (Acts 3:19-26, Acts 7:37).
4. (20-22) The penalty for a false prophet.
“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 prophet shall die.” And if you say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?”; when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
a. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name: There are those who would presume to speak a wordin God’s name. Therefore we must always, always, guard against presumption when we say, “The LORD told me.”
i. “The difference was that, whereas the true prophet spoke for God, the false prophet spoke presumptuously, i.e. he blurted out personal opinions for which there was no backing from Yahweh.” (Thompson)
b. Which I have not commanded him to speak: Some may genuinely hear from the LORD, but it is not a word that He has commanded him to speak. Just because God tells us something doesn’t mean we should tell others.
c. Or speaks in the name of other gods: Obviously, those who presumed to “prophecy” in the name of Baal or Ashtoreth, or any number of the other false gods of the Canaanites were false prophets.
d. That prophet shall die: Simply stated, the penalty for false prophets was death. Presumptuous speaking in the name of the LORD, disobedient speaking in the name of the LORD, and speaking in the name of false gods was simply never to be tolerated in Israel.
e. How shall we know: It is easy to tell if a prophet speaks in the name of Baal or Ashtoreth; but how can one know if a prophet speaking in the name of the LORD is speaking presumptuously or disobediently? Simply by their accuracy.
f. If the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken: If a prophet says, “Thus says the LORD,” claiming that something will happen, and it does not happen, then that prophet must be held accountable for that false prophecy – and we are no longer to regard that person as a prophet.
i. Not too long ago there was a great emphasis on the “prophets” in some Christian circles, and many would prophesy that something would happen – and it did not. However, those people excused their false prophesies by saying they were “learning” and “experimenting” and “under grace,” therefore, we should not regard them as false prophets.
ii. While it is true that one may need to learn how to flow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, no one should say something is from God unless they are assured that it is – and if they are wrong, then their own discernment and ability to hear from God are rightly called into question.
iii. Besides, if prophets were held to this standard under the Old Covenant, are we to have a lesser standard under the New Covenant? Is there more of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit now, or less? Under the New Covenant, are we more intimately guided by God, or less? It is true we are under grace, so we no longer stone false prophets – yet, we shouldn’t respect them or give them the title or position of “prophet” if they are false prophets.
iv. Instead, the New Testament says all prophecy – any time someone says, “The LORD told me” – all prophecy should be judged: Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge (1 Corinthians 14:29; see also 1 John 4:1). It is far better to be humble and say, “I think the LORD may have said to me” instead of being too confident in one’s ability to hear from the LORD.
v. Tom Stipe, in the foreword to Counterfeit Revival, speaks powerfully about the problem of false prophets in the church:
After only a couple of years, the prophets seemed to be speaking to just about everyone on just about everything. Hundreds of… members received the ‘gift’ of prophecy and began plying their trade among both leaders and parishioners. People began carrying around little notebooks filled with predictions that had been delivered to them by the prophets and seers. They flocked to the prophecy conferences that had begun to spring up everywhere. The notebook crowd would rush forward in hopes of being selected to receive more prophecies to add to their prophetic diaries.
Not long after ‘prophecy du jour’ became the primary source of direction, a trail of devastated believers began to line up outside our pastoral counseling offices. Young people promised teen success and stardom through prophecy were left picking up the pieces of their shattered hopes because God had apparently gone back on His promises. Leaders were deluged by angry church members who had received prophecies about the great ministries they would have but had been frustrated by local church leaders who failed to recognize and ‘facilitate’ their ‘new anointing.’
After a steady diet of the prophetic, some people were rapidly becoming biblically illiterate, choosing a ‘dial-a-prophet’ style of Christian living rather than studying God’s Word. Many were left to continually live from one prophetic ‘fix’ to the next, their hope always in danger of failing because God’s voice was so specific in pronouncement, yet so elusive in fulfillment. Possessing a prophet’s phone number was like having a storehouse of treasured guidance. Little clutched notebooks replaced Bibles as the preferred reading material during church services.
vi. We must always guard against letting an emphasis on the “prophetic” overshadow a simple emphasis on God’s Word: The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:28)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission