Deuteronomy 18:9
When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(9-14) Certain forms of idolatry to be avoided, especially unlawful means of communication with the unseen world.

Deuteronomy

PROPHETS AND THE PROPHET

Deuteronomy 18:9 - Deuteronomy 18:22
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It is evident from the connection in which the promise of ‘a prophet like unto Moses’ is here introduced that it does not refer to Jesus only; for it is presented as Israel’s continuous defence against the temptation of seeking knowledge of the divine will by the illegitimate methods of divination, soothsaying, necromancy, and the like, which were rampant among the inhabitants of the land. A distant hope of a prophet in the far-off future could afford no motive to shun these superstitions. We cannot understand this passage unless we recognise that the direct reference is to the institution of the prophetic order as the standing means of imparting the reliable knowledge of God’s will, possessing which, Israel had no need to turn to them ‘that peep and mutter’ and bring false oracles from imagined gods. But that primary reference of the words does not exclude, but rather demands, their ultimate reference to Him in whom the divine word is perfectly enshrined, and who is the bright, consummate flower of the prophetic order, which ‘spake of Him,’ not only in its individual predictions, but by its very existence.

A glance must be given to the exhaustive list of pretenders to knowledge of the future or to power of shaping it magically, which occurs in Deuteronomy 18:10 - Deuteronomy 18:11, and suggests a terrible picture of the burdens of superstition which weighed on men in these days of ignorance, as the like burdens do still, wherever Jesus is not known as the one Revealer of God, and the sole Lord of all things. Of the eight terms employed, the first three refer to different means of reading the future, the next two to different means of influencing events, and the last three to different ways of consulting the dead. The first of these eight properly refers to drawing lots, but includes other methods; the second is an obscure word, which is supposed by some to mean a ‘murmurer,’ and may refer rather to the low mutterings of the soothsayer than to the method of his working; the third is probably a general expression for an interpreter of omens, especially of those given by the play of liquid in a ‘cup,’ such as Joseph ‘divined’ by.

Two names for magicians follow, of which the former seems to mean one who worked with charms such as African or American Indian ‘medicine men’ use, and the latter, one who binds by incantations, or one who ties magic knots, which are supposed to have the power of hindering the designs of the person against whom they are directed. The word employed means ‘binding,’ and maybe used either literally or metaphorically. The malicious tying of knots in order to work harm is not dead yet in some backward corners of Britain. Then follow three names for traffickers with spirits,-those who raise ghosts as did the witch of Endor, those who have a ‘familiar spirit,’ and those who in any way consult the dead. It is a grim catalogue, bearing witness to the deep-rooted longing in men to peer into the darkness ahead, and to get some knowledge of the purposes of the awful unseen Power who rules there. The longing is here recognised as legitimate, while the methods are branded as bad, and Israel is warned from them, by being pointed to the merciful divine institution which meets the longing.

It is clear, from this glance at the context, that the ‘prophet’ promised to Israel must mean the order, not the individual; and it is interesting to note, first, the relation in which that order is presented as standing towards all that rabble of diviners and sorcerers, with their rubbish of charms and muttered spells. It sweeps them off the field, because it is truly what they pretend to be. God knows men’s longings, and God will meet them so far as meeting them is for men’s good. But the characteristics of the prophet are set in strong contrast to those of the diviners and magicians, and lift the order high above all the filth and folly of these others. First, the prophet is ‘raised up’ by God; the individual holder of the office has his ‘call’ and does not ‘prophesy out of his own heart.’ The man who takes this office on himself without such a call is ipso facto branded as a false prophet. Then he is ‘from the midst of thee, of thy brethren,’-springing from the people, not an alien, like so many of these wandering soothsayers, but with the national life throbbing in his veins, and himself participant of the thoughts and emotions of his brethren. Then he is to be ‘like unto’ Moses,-not in all points, but in his receiving direct communications from God, and in his authority as God’s messenger. The crowning characteristic, ‘I will put My words into his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him,’ invests his words with divine authority, calls for obedience to them as the words of God Himself, widens out his sphere far beyond that of merely foretelling, brings in the moral and religious element which had no place in the oracles of the soothsayer, and opens up the prospect of a continuous progressive revelation throughout the ages {‘all that I shall command him’}. We mutilate the grand idea of the prophet in Israel if we think of his work as mainly prediction, and we mutilate it no less if we exclude prediction from it. We mutilate it still more fatally if we try to account for it on naturalistic principles, and fail to see in the prophet a man directly conscious of a divine call, or to hear in his words the solemn accents of the voice of God.

The loftiness and the limitations of ‘the goodly fellowship of the prophets’ alike point onwards to Jesus Christ. In Him, and in Him alone, the idea of the prophet is fully realised. The imperfect embodiments of it in the past were prophecies as well as prophets. The fact that God has ‘spoken unto the fathers by the prophets,’ leads us to expect that He will speak ‘to us in a Son,’ and that not by fragments of His mighty voice, but in one full, eternal, all-embracing and all-sufficient Word. Every divine idea, which has been imperfectly manifested in fragmentary and sinful men and in the material creation, is completely incarnated in Him. He is the King to whom the sins and the saintlinesses of Israel’s kings alike pointed. He is the Priest, whom Aaron and his sons foreshadowed, who perfectly exercises the sympathy which they could only feel partially, because they were compassed with infirmity and self-regard, and who offers the true sacrifice of efficacy higher than ‘the blood of bulls and goats.’ He is the Prophet, who makes all other means of knowing the divine will unnecessary, hearing whom we hear the very voice of God speaking in His gentle words of love, in His authoritative words of command, in His illuminating words of wisdom, and speaking yet more loudly and heart-touchingly in the eloquence of deeds no less than divine; who is ‘not ashamed to call us brethren,’ and is ‘bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh’; who is like, but greater than, the great lawgiver of Israel, being the Son and Lord of the ‘house’ in which Moses was but a servant. ‘To Him give all the prophets witness,’ and the greatest of them was honoured when, with Moses, Elijah stood on the Mount of Transfiguration, subordinate and attesting, and then faded away when the voice proclaimed, ‘This is My beloved Son, hear Him,’-and they ‘saw no one save Jesus only.’

18:9-14 Was it possible that a people so blessed with Divine institutions, should ever be in any danger of making those their teachers whom God had made their captives? They were in danger; therefore, after many like cautions, they are charged not to do after the abominations of the nations of Canaan. All reckoning of lucky or unlucky days, all charms for diseases, all amulets or spells to prevent evil, fortune-telling, &c. are here forbidden. These are so wicked as to be a chief cause of the rooting out of the Canaanites. It is amazing to think that there should be any pretenders of this kind in such a land, and day of light, as we live in. They are mere impostors who blind and cheat their followers.Beside that which cometh of the sale of his patrimony - The Levites had indeed "no part nor inheritance with Israel," but they might individually possess property, and in fact often did so (compare 1 Kings 2:26; Jeremiah 32:7; Acts 4:36). The Levite who desired to settle at the place of the sanctuary would probably sell his patrimony when quitting his former home. The text directs that he should, notwithstanding any such private resources, duly enjoy his share of the perquisites provided for the ministers at the sanctuary, and as he was "waiting at the altar" should be "partaker with the altar" 1 Corinthians 9:13. De 18:9-14. The Abominations of the Nations Are to Be Avoided.

9-14. thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations—(See on [152]Le 18:21; [153]Le 19:26; [154]Le 19:31; [155]Le 20:4). In spite of this express command, the people of Canaan, especially the Philistines, were a constant snare and stumbling block to the Israelites, on account of their divinations and superstitious practices.

No text from Poole on this verse.

When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee,.... The land of Canaan, often thus described, to express the goodness of God in bestowing it on them, as a mere favour of his, without any desert of theirs; and so typical of the heavenly Canaan, or eternal life, which is the free gift of God through Christ:

thou shall not learn to do after the abominations of these nations; the seven nations which before inhabited it; they might learn, as Jarchi observes, to know how corrupt their works were, and to show to their children, that they might not do so; but they were not to learn them so as to practise them, but to have them in the utmost abhorrence, as being abominable to God, and which should be so to them; some of which are as follow.

When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
9. When thou art come into the land] Characteristic of the Sg.; cp. Deuteronomy 9:5.

which the Lord thy God is to give thee] Peculiar to D; see on Deuteronomy 1:20, Deuteronomy 4:21 f.

learn to do] Only here.

abominations] See on Deuteronomy 7:25, and cp. Deuteronomy 12:31.

9–22. Of Prophets in contrast to Diviners, etc.

In the promised land Israel must have nothing to do with the abominations of its peoples (Deuteronomy 18:9); with any one passing his children through the fire, or diviner, soothsayer, augur, sorcerer, spell-binder or trafficker with the dead (Deuteronomy 18:10 f.), for these are abominations to Jehovah to whom Israel must be utterly loyal (Deuteronomy 18:12-14). A prophet shall He raise up from among themselves, to be such a mediator of His word, as in Ḥoreb they had prayed Moses to be; to him shall they hearken (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). The prophet who presumes to speak in God’s name what He has not spoken, or in the name of other gods, shall die (Deuteronomy 18:20). The proof of his falseness shall be the non-fulfilment of his predictions (Deuteronomy 18:21 f.).—Sg. throughout except for an insertion in Deuteronomy 18:15 (see note) and, acc. to Sam. LXX, the last clause of Deuteronomy 18:22. There are no other signs of a diversity of hands. The spirit is thoroughly deuteronomic, the argument compact and consistent.

Marti reads Deuteronomy 18:9-13 as belonging to the law of the priests (Deuteronomy 18:1-8) and Deuteronomy 18:14-22 as a later addition (so too Cornill), with this further evidence of its secondary character that it introduces Moses in a way unparalleled in the Code, and in 22 gives a onesided conception of prophecy. But it is most probable that the Code of D, founded on the teaching of the prophets, contained a law of the Prophet in succession to those on Judges, King and Priests; and the emphatic contrast, which the construction of the passage brings out between the native prophet and the foreign diviners (see on Deuteronomy 18:15), is natural and leaves a strong impression of the unity of the whole. Indeed it is easier to argue the secondary character of Deuteronomy 18:10-13 (as unnecessary before 14 and as containing the term perfect not applied so elsewhere in D but found in P) than that of Deuteronomy 18:14-22. Nor does Deuteronomy 18:22 give so imperfect a view of prophecy as Marti supposes; the resemblance between it and the tests which Jeremiah applied to himself and the false prophets is wonderfully close. Steuern. takes Deuteronomy 18:10-12 a as an independent law to which an editor has added Deuteronomy 18:9; Deuteronomy 18:12 b Deuteronomy 18:22 a, composed by himself with the use of a Pl. narrative (ch. 5) and perhaps an originally separate law on the Prophets. His analysis has more to say for itself than the other but is not convincing. I agree with Berth. that Deuteronomy 18:20 ff. may as well be dependent on Deuteronomy 18:16 ff. as the converse.

It is significant but not surprising that the Law of the Prophet is peculiar to D and not found in other Codes, which contain, however, prohibitions of the foreign practices here forbidden to Israel, E, Exodus 22:18 (17), H, Leviticus 18:21, Leviticus 19:26; Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:2 ff., Leviticus 20:27. It is more important to notice Saul’s suppression of those who dealt with ghosts (1 Samuel 28:3), and the frequent protests of the prophets, and their appeals to the word of the living God (Isaiah 2:6; Isaiah 8:19, Micah 3:6 f., Micah 5:12 (11), Jeremiah 27:9; Jeremiah 29:8), for in these we find the real basis of this law of D, as well as the example of its form.

In the Code of Ḫammurabi there are no laws against divination, sorcery or magic. False accusations of laying spells on men are punished, but the ordeal by water is enjoined in one of the two cases mentioned—§§ 1 f.

Verses 9-22. - Moses was not only the leader and ruler of the people, he was also the medium through which God communicated with the people, gave them his laws, and conveyed to them his word and will. In this respect his place could be supplied neither by priest nor by king. In the prospect of his demise, therefore, there required to be instituted another office, that of a prophet, one who should be between God and the people, as the channel through which Divine communications might pass to them. This office Moses here announces that God would establish among them when they had entered the Promised Land. Verse 9. - The abominations of these nations; i.e. certain forms of superstitious usage by which the heathen sought to procure the favor of their deities, to obtain from them direction and counsel, and to penetrate into the hidden future of events. Moses charges the people to avoid all such usages, and not even to learn to do after such abominations (cf. Leviticus 18:21; Numbers 23:23; Leviticus 19:26, 31). Deuteronomy 18:9The Gift of Prophecy. - The Levitical priests, as the stated guardians and promoters of the law, had to conduct all the affairs of Israel with the Lord, not only instructing the people out of the law concerning the will of God, but sustaining and promoting the living fellowship with the Lord both of individuals and of the whole congregation, by the offering of sacrifices and service at the altar. But if the covenant fellowship with Himself and His grace, in which Jehovah had placed Israel as His people of possession, was to be manifested and preserved as a living reality amidst all changes in the political development of the nation and in the circumstances of private life, it would not do for the revelations from God to cease with the giving of the law and the death of Moses. For, as Schultz observes, "however the revelation of the law might aim at completeness, and even have regard to the more remote circumstances of the future, as, for example, where the king is referred to; yet in the transition from extraordinary circumstances into a more settled condition, which it foretells in Deuteronomy 17:14, and which actually took place under Samuel when the nation grew older (Deuteronomy 4:25), and in the decline and apostasy which certainly awaited it according to Deuteronomy 31:16-29, when false prophets should arise, by whom they were in danger of being led astray (Deuteronomy 13:2 and Deuteronomy 18:20), as well as in the restoration which would follow after the infliction of punishment (Deuteronomy 4:29-30; Deuteronomy 30:1.); in all these great changes which awaited Israel from inward necessity, the revelation of the will of the Lord which they possessed in the law would nevertheless be insufficient." The priesthood, with its ordinances, would not suffice for that. As the promise of direct communications from God through the Urim and Thummim of the high priest was restricted to the single circumstance of the right of the whole congregation being endangered, and did not extend to the satisfaction of the religious necessities of individuals, it could afford no godly satisfaction to that desire for supernatural knowledge which arose at times in the hearts of individuals, and for which the heathen oracles made such ample provision in ungodly ways. If Israel therefore was to be preserved in faithfulness towards God, and attain the end of its calling as the congregation of the Lord, it was necessary that the Lord should make known His counsel and will at the proper time through the medium of prophets, and bestow upon it in sure prophetic words what the heathen nations endeavoured to discover and secure by means of augury and soothsaying. This is the point of view from which Moses promises the sending of prophets in Deuteronomy 18:15-18, and lays down in Deuteronomy 18:19-22 the criteria for distinguishing between true and false prophets, as we may clearly see from the fact that in Deuteronomy 18:9-14 he introduces this promise with a warning against resorting to heathen augury, soothsaying, and witchcraft.

Deuteronomy 18:9-11

When Israel came into the land of Canaan, it was "not to learn to do like the abominations of these nations" (the Canaanites or heathen). There was not to be found in it any who caused his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, i.e., any worshipper of Moloch (see at Leviticus 18:21), or one who practised soothsaying (see at Numbers 23:23), or a wizard (see at Leviticus 19:26), or a snake-charmer (see at Leviticus 19:26), or a conjurer, or one who pronounced a ban (חבר חבר, probably referring to the custom of binding or banning by magical knots), a necromancer and wise man (see at Leviticus 19:31), or one who asked the dead, i.e., who sought oracles from the dead. Moses groups together all the words which the language contained for the different modes of exploring the future and discovering the will of God, for the purpose of forbidding every description of soothsaying, and places the prohibition of Moloch-worship at the head, to show the inward connection between soothsaying and idolatry, possibly because februation, or passing children through the fire in the worship of Moloch, was more intimately connected with soothsaying and magic than and other description of idolatry.

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