Ver.17. "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh. A star goeth out of Jacob, and a sceptre riseth out of Israel, and smiteth the borders of Moab, and destroyeth all the sons of the tumult. Ver.18. And Edom shall be a possession, and Seir shall be a possession -- his enemies, and Israel acquireth might. Ver.19. And a Ruler shall come out of Jacob, and destroyeth what remaineth out of the city."
The star is, in Scripture, the symbol of the splendour of power. The sceptre leads us back to Gen. xlix.10; and, in general, the announcements of Balaam have, throughout, the promises and hopes of the Patriarchs for their foundation. As in the fundamental passage, so here also, the sceptre, the symbol of dominion, stands for dominion itself. The substance of the two figurative expressions is briefly stated in ver.19, in the words, "They shall rule out of Jacob," which are tantamount to, "A Ruler shall come out of Jacob."
A difference of opinion exists regarding the glorious King who is here announced. From the earliest times, the Jews understood thereby the Messiah, either exclusively, or, at least, principally, so as to admit of a secondary reference to David. Onkelos translates: "When a King shall rise out of Jacob, and out of Israel Messiah shall be anointed;" -- Jonathan: "When a valiant King shall rise out of the house of Jacob, and out of Israel, Messiah, and a strong Sceptre shall be anointed." The Book of Sohar remarks on the words, "I see him, but now:" "This was in part fulfilled at that time; it will be completely fulfilled in the days of Messiah." (Compare the passages in Jos. de Voisin, in the Prooem. on R. Martini Pugio fid. p.68; R. Martini iii.3, c.11; Schoettgen, "Jesus Messias," S.151.) How widely this opinion was spread among the Jews, is sufficiently apparent from the circumstance, that the renowned pseudo-Messiah in the time of Hadrian adopted, with reference to the passage under review, the surname Barcochba, i.e., Son of the Star. -- From the Jews, this interpretation very soon passed over to the Christians, who rightly found a warrant for it in the narrative of the star of the wise men from the East. Cyril of Jerusalem defended the Messianic interpretation against Julian. (Compare Julian, ed. Spanh. p.263 c. See other passages [Pg 100] from the fathers of the Church in Calov.) According to Theodoret (Quest.44 in Numb.), there were, indeed, some to whom "Balaam appeared to have foretold nothing concerning our Saviour;" but this opinion was rejected as profane. The Messianic interpretation has, in a narrower and wider sense -- i.e., as referring in the first instance to David, but in the highest and proper sense to Christ -- become the prevailing one in the Evangelical Church also. It was defended even by such interpreters as Calvin and Clericus, who, as to other passages, differed from the prevailing Messianic interpretation. (Compare especially Mieg, de Stella et Sceptro Baleamitico in the Thes. Nov. p.423 sqq., and Boullier, Dissert. Syll. Amsterdam 1750, Diss. I.) On the other hand, the Messianic interpretation found a zealous and ingenious opponent, first in Verschnir in the Bibl. Brem. nova, reprinted in his Opusc. He was joined by the rationalistic interpreters, who maintained an exclusive reference to David. But Rosenmueller and Baumgarten-Crusius (bibl. Theol. S.369) returned to the Messianic interpretation.
The question at issue is chiefly this: -- Whether by the star and sceptre some single Israelitish king is designated, or rather, an ideal person -- the personified Israelitish kingdom. The latter view I proved, in my work on Balaam, to be the correct one, for the following reasons: -- 1. The reference to a certain Israelitish king is against the analogy of the other prophecies of the Pentateuch. A single person, especially a single king of future time, is nowhere announced in it, -- except the Messiah, whose announcement, however, is different from that of David. But, on the other hand, the rise of the kingdom in Israel is announced as early as in the promise to the Patriarchs, on which all of Balaam's declarations rest throughout. It is only to this that the words, "A star goeth out of Jacob, and a sceptre riseth out of Israel," can refer, -- according to the analogy of Gen. xvii.6: "Kings shall come out of thee;" ver.16: "And she shall become nations, kings of people shall be of her;" and xxxv.11: "Kings shall come out of thy loins." 2. The reference to a single king would be against the analogy of Balaam's prophecies, inasmuch as these nowhere refer to a single individual.3. The sceptre does not, in itself, lead us to think of an individual, since it does not designate a ruler, but dominion in general. But that which especially militates against the reference [Pg 101] to an individual is the comparison with the fundamental passage, Gen. xlix.10, in which Judah, and in him all Israel, does not receive the promise of a single king, but of the kingdom which shall at last be consummated in the Shiloh.4. In favour of this general interpretation is also ver.19, in which the words, "And dominion shall come out of Jacob," or literally, "They shall rule out of Jacob," may be considered as just a commentary on the words, "A sceptre riseth out of Israel." So also is ver.7, "More elevated than Agag be his king," where the king of Israel is an ideal person -- the personification of the kingdom. Agag, i.e., the fiery one, is not a proper name, but a surname of all Amalekite kings. The Amalekite kingdom -- which here represents the world's power, opposed to the kingdom of God, because at the time of the Seer the Amalekites were the most powerful among the people who were hostile to Israel (compare ver.20, where they are called the beginning of the heathen nations, i.e., the most powerful of them) -- is here put in opposition to the Israelitish kingdom, and the latter will show itself superior to all worldly power.
The arguments which thus prove the reference of Balaam's prophecy to an Israelitish kingdom, disprove also, not only the exclusive reference to David, but also the exclusive reference to Christ; although they imply at the same time that the prophecy, in its final reference, has Christ for its subject. The Israelitish kingdom, indeed, attained to the full height of its destiny only in and with the Messiah; without the Messiah, the Israelitish kingdom is a trunk without a head. The prophecy thus centres in Christ. We are, however, not entitled to suppose that the prophet himself was not aware of this; on the contrary, we cannot but assume that Balaam must have known it. It is with intention that he does not speak of a plurality of Israelitish kings. The Israelitish kingdom, on the contrary, appears to him in the from of an ideal king, because he knows that, at some period, it will find Its full realization in the person of one king. For the same reason, Moses also describes the prophetic order, in the first instance, as an ideal prophet. That Balaam knew that the Israelitish kingdom would centre in the Messiah, is shown by the reference which his prophecy has to that of dying Jacob, in Gen. xlix.10, from which the figure of the sceptre is borrowed. According to the latter passage, the whole dignity of Judah as [Pg 102] ruler and lord over the whole heathen world is to centre in one elevated individual -- the Shiloh. As to the letter, Balaam's prophecy falls short of the prophecy to which it refers, and on which it is founded, in two points. Instead of Judah, it mentions Israel; and instead of the invincible kingdom which is at last to centre in the Messiah, it represents the invincible kingdom only in general. But in both cases, this generality is easily accounted for by the external direction of Balaam's prophecy: a more definite tendency was of importance only for those who were within. We are fully entitled to suppose that Balaam himself knew what was contained in the fundamental passage. To the same result we are led by the contents of the prophecy itself. Balaam here brings into view an Israelitish kingdom, all-powerful on earth, and raised absolutely above the world's power. He does not stop with the victory over Moab and Edom -- even this victory appears to him as an absolute and lasting one, and hence, essentially different from the temporary submission to David -- but, from the particular, which only serves to exemplify the idea in reference to the historical relations existing at the present, he passes on, in ver.19, to the general, the total overthrow of the whole hostile world's power. Indeed, such a progress is probably found even in ver.17 itself. If at the close of it we read, "And destroyeth all the sons of the tumult," the word all, which is wanting in Jer. xlviii.45, indicates that by the sons of the tumult we are to understand not only the Moabites, but the whole species to which they belonged, the whole heathen world, whose nature is restlessness, desire for strife, and the spirit of conquest, -- the opposites of meekness and gentleness, which are the virtues characteristic of the subjects of the kingdom of God. In ver.18, the particular is likewise followed by the general. But while ver.17 and 18 contain, in each of the two particular features, a previous short allusion to the general, ver.19 most expressly and intentionally reduces the particular to the general. The absolute elevation above the world's power, attributed by Balaam to the Israelitish kingdom, leads not only beyond the idea of a single king of the ordinary stamp, but also beyond that of the entire ordinary kingdom.
The objections urged against the Messianic interpretation are based either on a misunderstanding, or upon a superficial view of the passage. They who maintain that the judging activity of [Pg 103]the Messiah is here brought forward in a manner too one-sided, forget that this part only could here be treated of. As Balaam's discourse formed the answer to Balak's message -- "Come, curse me this people; peradventure we shall prevail to smite them and drive them out of the land," -- its natural subject was: Israel's position towards their enemies; and Balaam had expressly stated, in ver.14, that he would treat of that subject. Balaam had to do with an enemy of Israel, and his chief aim was to represent to him the vanity of all his hostile efforts. The partial view arises, therefore, from the nature of the case; and only in that case could doubts arise as to the ultimate reference to the Messiah, if the other view were altogether denied. But such is by no means the case; for the words in ver.9, "Blessed is he that blesseth thee," distinctly point it out. They who object to the Messianic interpretation on the ground that, at the time of Christ, the Moabites had disappeared from the stage of history, overlook the circumstance, that the Moabites here, as well as in Is. xi., where the complete destruction of Moab is likewise assigned to the times of the Messiah, are viewed only in their character as enemies to the congregation of God. If the prophecy were fulfilled upon the Moabites, even at the time when they still existed as a nation, not as Moabites, but as the enemies of the people of God; then the limit of their national existence cannot be the limit of the fulfilment of the prophecy. A case quite analogous is found in Mic. v.4, 5, where the prophet characterizes the enemies of the kingdom of God at the time of the Messiah by the name of Asshur, although it appears, from other passages, that he distinctly knew that Asshur must, long ere that time, have disappeared from the scene of history.
The Messianic character of the prophecy being thus established, it will be impossible to misunderstand the internal relation between the star of Balaam and the star of the wise men from the East. The star of Balaam is the emblem of the kingdom which will rise in Israel. The star of the Magi is the symbol of the Ruler in whom the kingly power appears concentrated. The appearance of the star embodying the image of the prophet, indicates that the last and highest fulfilment of his prophecies is now to take place.
MOSES' PROMISE OF THE PROPHET.
Ver.15. "A prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me, Jehovah thy God will raise up: unto him ye shall hearken. Ver.16. According to all that thou desiredst of Jehovah thy God in Horeb, in the day of the assembly, when thou didst say, I will not hear any farther the voice of Jehovah my God, and will not see this great fire any more, that I die not. Ver.17. Then Jehovah said unto me. They have well spoken. Ver.18. A prophet I will raise them up from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put My words into his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. Ver.19. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto My words which he shall speak in My name, I will require it of him."
If we leave out of view the unfortunate attempts of those who would understand by the prophet here promised, either Joshua -- as is done by Abenezra, Bechai, and von Ammon (Christol. S.29) -- or Jeremiah -- as is the case in Baal Hatturim and Jalkut out of the book Pesikta, and in Abarbanel -- we may reduce the expositions of this passage to three classes.1. Several consider the "prophet" as a collective noun, and understand thereby the prophets of all times. Such was the opinion of Origen (c. Celsum i.9, Sec.5, Mosh.), of the Arabic translator, and of most of the modern Jewish interpreters, -- especially Kimchi, Alshech, and Lipman (Nizachon 137); while Abenezra and Bechai conjoin this view with that according to which Jeremiah is meant. Among recent expositors, it is defended by Rosenmueller, Vater, Baumgarten-Crusius (Bibl. Theol. S.369), and others.2. Some see in it an exclusive reference to Christ, -- a view which has been held by most interpreters in the Christian Church, and from the earliest times. It is found as early as in Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Athanasius, Eusebius (Demonstr. iii.2, ix.11), Lactantius (iv.17), Augustine (c. Faustum, xvi. c.15, 18, 19), and Isidore of Pelusium (c. iii. ep.49). It was held by Luther (t.3. Jen. Lat. f.123), became the prevailing one in the Lutheran Church, and was [Pg 105] approved of by most of the Reformed interpreters. Among its earliest defenders, the most eminent are Deyling (Misc. ii.175), Frischmuth (in the Thesaurus theol.-philol. i.354), and Hasaeus (in the Thes. theol.-philol. nov. i. S.439.) In recent times it has been defended by Pareau (in the Inst. interpr. V. T. p.506), by Knapp (Dogm. ii.138).3. Others have steered a middle course, inasmuch as they consider the "prophet" to be a collective noun, but, at the same time, maintain that only by the mission of Christ, in whom the idea of the prophetic order was perfectly realized, the promise was completely fulfilled. Thus did Nicolaus de Lyra, Calvin, several Roman Catholic interpreters, Grotius, Clericus, and others.
In favour of the Messianic interpretation, the authority of tradition has been, first of all, appealed to. It is true that modern Jewish interpreters differ from it; but this has been the result of polemical considerations alone. It can be satisfactorily proved that the Messianic interpretation was the prevailing one among the older Jews.1 Mac. xiv.41 -- "Also that the Jews and priests resolved that Simon should be commander and high priest for ever, until a credible prophet should arise," -- has been frequently appealed to in proof of this, but erroneously. For, that by the "credible prophet," i.e., one sufficiently attested by miracles or fulfilled prophecies, we are not to understand the prophet promised by Moses (as was done by Luther, and many older expositors who followed him), is shown, partly by the absence of the article, and partly by the circumstance that a credible prophet is spoken of. The sense is rather this: Simon and his family should continue to hold the highest dignity until God Himself should make another arrangement by a future prophet, as there was none at that time (comp. Ps. lxxiv.9: "There is no more any prophet"), and thus put an end to a state of things which, on the one hand, was in contradiction to the law, and, on the other, to the promise, -- a state of things unto which they had been led by the force of circumstances, and which could, at all events, be only a provisional one. (Compare J. D. Michaelis on that passage.) It is not on the passage under review that the expectation of a prophet there rests, but rather on Mal. iii.1, 23, where a prophet is promised as the precursor of the Messiah. But the New Testament furnishes sufficient materials for proving the [Pg 106] Messianic interpretation. The very manner in which Peter and Stephen quote this passage shows that the Messianic interpretation was, at that time, the prevailing one. They do not deem it at all necessary to prove it; they proceed on the supposition of its being universally acknowledged. It was, no doubt, chiefly our passage which Philip had in view when, in John i.46, he said to Nathanael: [Greek: hon egrapse Mouses en to nomo, heurekamen, Iesoun.] For, besides the passage under consideration, there is only one other personal Messianic prophecy in the Pentateuch, namely, Gen. xlix.10; and the marks of the Shiloh did not so distinctly appear in Jesus, as did those of the Prophet. The mention of the person of Moses (which in Gen. xlix.10 is less concerned), and of the law, clearly point to the passage under review. After the feeding of the five thousand, the people say, in John vi.14: [Greek: hOti houtos estin alethos ho prophetes, ho erchomenos eis ton kosmon.] The Messianic interpretation was, accordingly, not peculiar to a few learned men, but to the whole people. Even with the Samaritans the Messianic explanation was the prevailing one, -- based, no doubt, upon the tradition which had come to them from the Jews. The Samaritan woman says, in John iv.25: [Greek: oida hoti Messias erchetai, ho legomenos Christos. hoton elthe ekeinos, anangelei hemin panta.] Now, as the Samaritans acknowledged only the Pentateuch, there is no other passage than that under review from which the idea of the Messiah as a divinely enlightened teacher, which is here expressed, could have been derived. The last words agree in a remarkable manner with Deut. xviii.18: "And he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him." That too great weight, however, must not be attached to tradition, is shown by John i.21, and vii.40, 41; for these passages clearly prove that there were also many who thought it possible that Deut. xviii. contained not only the announcement of the Messiah, but of some distinguished prophet also, besides Him, who should be His precursor or companion. At the same time, we must not overlook the circumstance that, in both passages, the people are at a loss, and are thereby induced to deviate from the prevailing [Pg 107] opinion. Their uncertainty and wavering, however, is only about the person. In this they agree, notwithstanding, that in Deut. xviii. they find the announcement of one distinguished person.
But the Messianic interpretation may appeal, with still greater confidence, to the direct evidence of the New Testament. The declaration of the Lord in John v.45-47 is here to be noticed above all: [Greek: Me dokeite hoti ego kategoreso humon pros ton patera. estin ho kategoron humon, Mouses, eis hon humeis elpikate. Ei gar episteuete Mouse, episteuete an emoi. peri gar emou ekeinos egrapsen. Ei de tois ekeinou grammasin ou pisteuete, pos tois emois rhemasi pisteusete]; -- It is clear that the Lord must here have had in view a distinct passage of the Pentateuch, -- a clear and definite declaration of Moses. Dexterous explanations (Bengel: Nunquam non; Tholuck: The prophetical and typical element implied in the whole form of worship) are of no apologetic value, and it is not possible summarily, on such grounds, to call the enemies before the judgment-seat of God. It was not enough to allude, in a way so general, to what could not be at once perceptible; greater distinctness and particularity would have been required. But if a single declaration -- a direct Messianic prophecy -- form the question at issue, our passage only can be meant; for it is the only prophecy of Christ which Moses, on whose person great stress is laid, uttered in his own name. Moreover, Christ would more readily expect that the Jews would acknowledge our prophecy to be fulfilled in Him, than the prophecy in Gen. xlix., which refers rather to the Messiah in glory. The preceding words of Jesus likewise contain references to the passage now under consideration. Ver.38 -- "And ye have not His word abiding in you; for whom He hath sent, Him ye believe not," -- contains an allusion to Deut. xviii.18: "And I will put My words into his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him;" so that whosoever rejects the Ambassador of God, rejects His word at the same time. John v.43 -- "I am come in My Father's name, and ye receive Me not," -- acquires both its significance and earnestness from its reference to ver.19 of our passage: "Whosoever will not hearken unto My words, which he shall speak in My name, I will require it of him." Further, -- The point at issue in this discourse of Christ is an accusation of the Jews against Christ, [Pg 108] that He had violated the Mosaic law. (Compare John v.10-16, and v.18, which states the second apparent violation of the law.) It was thus highly appropriate that Jesus should throw back upon the Jews the charge which they brought against Him, and should prove to them that it was just they who were in fatal opposition to the enactments of the Mosaic law. Finally, -- It is this same Moses in whom they trusted, whom they considered as their patron, and whom to please the more, they were so zealous for his law against Jesus, -- it is this same Moses whom Jesus represents as their accuser. And he is such an accuser as renders every other superfluous, so that Christ did not need specially to come forward in such a character. The accusation of Moses must, then, according to this declaration, and in accordance with what follows, refer to the cause of Christ. But the passage under review is the only Messianic prophecy of a threatening character which the Pentateuch contains, -- the only one in which divine judgments are threatened to the despisers of the Messiah, -- the only Mosaic foundation for the denunciation: "Woe to the people that despiseth thee." If it be denied that Christ refers to it, -- if its Messianic character be not acknowledged, the first words of Christ are destitute of foundation. But if it be thus undeniable that Christ declared Himself to be the prophet of our passage, it must be considered an indirect attack upon His divinity to say, as Dr Luecke does, that Christ did so by way of "adaptation to the interpretation of that time." It is just this appeal which forms the pith of Christ's discourse; it is the real death-blow inflicted by Him upon His adversaries. If this blow was a mere feint, His honour is endangered, -- which may God forbid! -- The Lord further marks Himself out as the prophet announced by Moses, and that, too, in a very distinct manner, in John xii.48-50, -- a passage which is evidently based upon vers.18 and 19 of the text under review. (Compare John xiv.24-31.) -- To this we may add, further, that, according to St Luke xxiv.44, the Lord Himself explains to His disciples the prophecies in the Pentateuch concerning Him; and we cannot well expect that Christ should have made no reference to a passage which one of the Apostles points out as being of greater weight than all others. This is done by Peter in Acts iii.22, 23. The manner in which he quotes it, entirely excludes the notion that Moses was [Pg 109] speaking of Christ, only in so far as He belonged to the collective body of the prophets. Peter says expressly, that Moses and the later prophets foretold [Greek: tas hemeras tautas]; and the words, [Greek: tou prophetou ekeinou], show that he did not understand the singular in a collective sense. The circumstance that Stephen, in Acts vii.37, likewise refers the passage to Christ, would not be, in itself, conclusive, because Stephen's case is different from that of the Apostles. But we must not overlook the passage Matt. xvii.5, according to which, at Christ's transfiguration, a voice was heard from heaven which said: [Greek: houtos estin ho huios mou ho agapetos, en ho eudokesa. autou akouete.] As the first part of this declaration is taken from the Messianic prediction in Is. xlii., so is the second from the passage under consideration; and, by this use of its words, the sense is clearly shown. It is a very significant fact, that our passage is thus connected just with Is. xlii. -- the first prophetic announcement in which it is specially resumed, and in which the prophetic order itself is the proclaimer of the Prophet. And it is not less significant that this reference to our text, with which all the other announcements by Isaiah concerning the Great Prophet to come are so immediately connected, should precede chapters xlix., l., and lxi. It thus serves as a commentary upon the declaration of Moses. The beginning and the outlines receive light from the progress and completion.
He, however, who believes in Christ, will, after these details, expect that internal reasons also should prove the reference to Christ; and this expectation is fully confirmed.
That Moses did not intend by the word [Hebrew: nbia] "prophet," to designate a collective body merely, but that he had at least some special individual in view, appears, partly, from the word itself being constantly in the singular, and, partly, from the constant use of the singular suffixes in reference to it; while, in the case of collective nouns, it is usual to interchange the singular with the plural. The force of this argument is abundantly evident in the fact, that not a few of even non-Messianic interpreters have been thereby compelled to make some single individual the subject of this prophecy. But we must hesitate the more to adopt the opinion that [Hebrew: nbia] stands here simply in the singular instead of the plural, because neither does this word anywhere else occur as a collective noun, nor is the prophetic order ever [Pg 110] spoken of in the manner alleged. The expectation of a Messiah was already at that time current among the people. In what way, then, could they understand a promise, in which one individual only was spoken of, except by referring it, at least chiefly, to the one whom they expected? -- Hofmann (Weissagung und Erfuellung i. S.253) objects that the prophet here spoken of was, in no respect, different from the king in Deut. xvii.14-20. But the king mentioned there is no collective noun. An individual who, in future times, should first attain to royal dignity, forms there the subject throughout. This appears especially from ver.20, where he and his sons are spoken of. The first king is held up as an example, to show in him what was applicable to the royal dignity in general. On the other hand, it is in favour of our view, that, in the verses immediately preceding (vers.8-13), the priests are, at first, spoken of only in the plural, although the priestly order had much more of the character of a collective body than the prophetic order.
A comparison between this prophecy and that of the Shiloh in Gen. xlix.10 is likewise in favour of the Messianic interpretation. Even there. His prophetic office is alluded to in the kingly office. The ruler out of Judah is the Peaceful One, to whom the nations yield a spontaneous obedience, an obedience flowing from a pious source, -- and He rules not by compulsion, but by the word.
The prophet is moreover contrasted with a single individual -- with Moses; and this compels us to refer the prophecy to some distinguished individual. In ver.15, Moses promises to the people a prophet like unto himself; and thus also does the Lord say, in ver.18: "A prophet like unto thee I will raise up." We cannot for a moment suppose that this likeness should refer to the prophetic calling only, -- to the words: "I will put My words into his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him." It must at the same time be implied in it, that the future prophet shall be as thoroughly competent for his work, as Moses was for that which was committed to him. If it were not so, the promise would be deficient in that consolatory and elevating character which, according to the context, it is evidently intended to possess. If we were to paraphrase thus, "The Lord will raise up a prophet, inferior, indeed, to myself, [Pg 111] but yet the bearer of divine revelations," we should at once perceive how unsuitable it were. Further, -- It is quite evident that the "Prophet" here is the main instrument of divine agency among the covenant-people of the future, -- that He is the real support and anchor of the kingdom of God. But now the difficulties of the future were, as Moses himself saw, so great, that gifts in any way short of those of Moses would by no means have been sufficient. Moses foresees that the spirit of apostasy, which, even in his time, began to manifest itself, would, in future times, increase to a fearful extent. (Compare especially Deut. xxxii.) Against this, ordinary gifts and powers would be of no avail. A successful and enduring reaction could be brought about only by one who should be, for the more difficult circumstances of the future, such as Moses was for his times. But -- and this circumstance is of still greater weight -- it forms the task of the future to translate the whole heathen world into the kingdom of God. In it, Japheth is to dwell in the tents of Shem; all the nations of the earth are to become partakers in the blessing resting on Abraham. In the view of such a task, a prophet of ordinary dimensions, as well as the collective body of such, would dwindle down to the appearance of a dwarf. They would have been less than Moses. In Deut. xxxiv.10, it is said, "There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face;" -- a passage which not only plainly refers to the experience acquired at that time, but which expresses also what might be expected of that portion of the future which was more immediately at hand. When Miriam and Aaron said, "Doth the Lord indeed speak only by Moses, doth He not speak by us also?" the Lord immediately, Num. xii.6-8, reproves their presumption of thinking themselves like unto Moses, as respects the prophetical gift, in these words: "If some one be your prophet," -- i.e., if some one be a prophet according to your way, with prophets of your class, -- "I, the Lord, make myself known unto him in a vision, in a dream I speak unto him. Not so my servant Moses; in all My house he is faithful. Mouth to mouth I speak to him, and face to face, and not in dark speeches; and the appearance of the Lord he beholds." Moses, as a prophet, is here contrasted with the whole order of prophets of ordinary gifts. A higher dignity among them is claimed for him on the ground that not some special mission, [Pg 112] but the care of the whole economy of the Old Testament, was entrusted to him; compare Heb. iii.5. His is a specially close relation to the Lord, a specially high degree of illumination. The collective body of ordinary prophets cannot, therefore, by any possibility be the "prophet" who is like unto Moses, as completely equal to the task of the future as Moses was for that of his day. But the greater the work of the future, the more necessary is it that the prophet of the future, in order to be like unto Moses, should, in his whole individuality, and in all his gifts, be far superior to him; compare Heb. iii.6.
Finally, -- The common prophetic order itself refuses the honour of being the prophet like unto Moses. The prophecies of Isaiah, in chapters xlii., xlix., l., and lxi., are based upon our passage, and in all of them the Messiah appears as the prophet [Greek: kat' exochen]. It is to Him that the mission is entrusted of being the restorer of Jacob, and the salvation of the Lord, even unto the end of the world.
Whilst these reasons demand the reference of this prophecy to Christ, there are, on the other hand, weighty considerations which make it appear that a reference to the prophetic order of the Old Testament cannot be excluded. These considerations are, 1. The wider context. Deuteronomy is distinguished from the preceding books by this, that provisions are made in it for the time subsequent to the death of Moses, which was now at hand. From chap. xvii.8, the magistrates and powers -- the superiors, to whose authority in secular and spiritual affairs the people shall submit -- are introduced. First, the civil magistrates are brought before them, xvii.8-20; and then the ecclesiastical superiors, chap. xviii. Vers.1-8 treat of the priests as the ordinary servants of the Lord in spiritual things. Everywhere else, offices, institutions, orders, are spoken of. In such a connection, it is not probable that the prophet should be only an individual; and the less so, because evidently the prophet, as the organ of the immediate revelation of God, is placed by the side of the priests, the teachers of the law (compare xvii.10, 11, 18; xxxiv.10), as their corrective, as a thorn in their flesh, to make up for their inability. It is true that this wider connection is also against those who would here exclude Christ. If it be certain that Moses already knew the Messianic promises (compare the remarks on Gen. xlix.), then, just in this context, the reference [Pg 113] to Christ, the head of the authorities of the future, could not be wanting.
2. An exclusive reference to Christ is opposed by the more immediate context. This connection is twofold. In ver.15, Moses first utters the promise in his own name, and here it stands connected with what precedes. Moses had forbidden to the people the use of all the means by which those who were given to idolatry endeavoured to penetrate the boundaries of human knowledge: "Thou shalt not do so," is his language; for that which these are vainly seeking after in this sinful manner, shall, in reality, be granted to thee by thy God. Here, it was not only appropriate to remind them of the Messiah, inasmuch as His appearance, as being the most perfect revelation of God, satisfies most perfectly the desire after higher communications; but it would have been very strange if here, where so suitable an opportunity presented itself, the founder of the Old Economy had omitted all reference to the founder of the New Economy, and had limited himself to the intervening, more imperfect divine communications. But, on the other hand, it would have been as strange if Moses had taken no notice of them at all, -- if, supposing that a series of false prophets would appear, he had been satisfied to lay down in chap. xiii.2 sqq. the distinctive marks of true and false prophets, and had then, in the passage under review, referred to the divine revelations to be expected in the distant future, without noticing those to be expected in the more immediate future, -- thus neglecting to employ means peculiarly fitted for gaining admission for his exhortations. The word [Hebrew: ntN] in ver.14 is especially opposed to such a view. "And thou (shalt) not (do) so, Jehovah thy God gave thee." J. D. Michaelis says: "What He gave to the Israelites is specified in vers.15 and 18." The past tense suggests the idea of a gift which had already taken its beginning in the present. -- The promise stands in a different connection in ver.18. Moses had already given it in his own name in ver.15. In order to give it greater authority, he reports, in the following verses, when and how he had received it from God. It was delivered to him on Sinai, where God had directly revealed Himself to the people at the promulgation of the Law, partly in order to strengthen their confidence in Moses the mediator, and [Pg 114] partly to show them the folly of their desiring any other mode of divine communication. But the people were seized with terror before the dreadful majesty of God, and prayed that God would no longer speak to them directly, but through a mediator, as He had hitherto done; compare Exod. xx.; Deut. v. The Lord then said to Moses, "They have well spoken; a prophet," etc. The words here, in ver.17, agree very well with Deut. v.28. The agreement in the words indicates that here we have an addition to that which is there communicated regarding what was spoken by God on that occasion. There, we are told only what had an immediate reference to the present -- viz., the appointment of Moses as mediator; here, we are told what was at that time fixed in reference to the future of the people. We cannot fail to perceive that here, if ever, a divine revelation was appropriate concerning the coming of Christ, who, as the Mediator between God and man, veiled His Godhead, and in human form, brought God nearer to man. But we should, at the same time, expect here an allusion to the inferior messengers of God, who were to precede Him.
3. The exclusive reference to the Messiah is inconsistent with vers.20-22. The marks of a false prophet are given in them. If, however, that which precedes had no reference at all to true prophets, it would be almost impossible to trace any suitable connection of the thoughts.
4. If the passage were referred to Christ exclusively, the prophetic institution would then be without any legitimate authority; and from the whole character of the Mosaic legislation, as laying the foundation for the future progress and development of the Theocracy, we could not well conceive that so important an institution should be deficient in this point. Moreover, the whole historical existence of the prophetic order necessarily presupposes such a foundation. Deut. xiii.2 sq. was not fitted to afford such a foundation, as it refers, only indirectly and by implication, to true prophets.
5. Finally, -- There are not wanting slight hints in the New Testament that the reference to Christ is not an exclusive one. These are found in Luke xi.50, 51: [Greek: hIna ekzetethe to haima panton ton propheton ... apo tes geneas tautes ... nai lego humin ekzetethesetai apo tes geneas tautes.] The emphatic repetition of [Greek: ekzetein] in that passage shows plainly its connection [Pg 115] with the words, "I will require it of him," in the passage under review; just as the [Hebrew: idrw], which, according to 2 Chron. xxiv.22, the prophet Zechariah, who was unjustly slain, uttered when dying, alludes not only to Gen. ix.5, but to our passage also. But here we must remark that, in consequence of the sin committed against the Prophet [Greek: kat' exochen] -- Christ -- vengeance for the crimes committed against the inferior prophets is executed at the same time, so that, in the first instance, His blood is required, and, on this occasion, all the blood also which was formerly shed.
But how can these two facts be reconciled: -- that Moses had, undeniably, the Messiah in view, and that, notwithstanding, there seems at the same time to be a reference to the prophets in general? The simplest mode of reconciling them is the following. The prophet here is an ideal person, comprehending all the true prophets who had appeared from Moses to Christ, including the latter. But Moses does not here speak of the prophets as a collective body, to which, at the close, Christ also belonged, as it were, incidentally, and as one among the many, -- as Calvin and other interpreters mentioned above suppose; but rather, the plurality of prophets is, for this reason only, comprehended by Moses in an ideal unity, that, on the authority of Gen. xlix.10, and by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, he knew that the prophetical order would, at some future time, centre in a real person, -- in Christ. But there is so much the more of truth in thus viewing the prophetic order as a whole, since, according to 1 Peter i.11, the Spirit of Christ spoke in the prophets. Thus, in a certain sense, Christ is the only Prophet.
Footnote 1: Lampe says: He has preserved to us not only what, in Paradise, and afterwards to and through the Patriarchs, had been told about this Redeemer; but he himself, under divine inspiration, has prophesied of Him, -- especially in Deut. xviii.15-18.