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This section continues on the topic of religious leaders within the community. We read yesterday about priests and Levites of Israel, and about the Canaanite shamans. The previous verse (18:14) mentioned that the nations about to be dispossessed listened to their soothsayers and diviners, and this section begins with the command to listen to God’s prophet instead (18:15). I have divided the chapter into two sections because there is too much material for one day, but they are clearly continuous in theme.
Moses promises the Israelites that God will raise up a prophet, someone who would speak God’s words to them, as he had done. Moses had fulfilled this intermediary role since the Israelites had asked to not hear God’s voice directly anymore on Mount Horeb (= Sinai), when they felt they would die from direct contact with the fiery God (cf 4:24). Yahweh approved their request and gave them Moses, and now he promises to give them another prophet, like Moses, from among them. The prophet would speak God’s words to the community, whatever was commanded by him. Anyone who did not listen, God would seek out. The verb here is somewhat ambiguous; some translate as ‘hold accountable/responsible’ and others as ‘demand/require’. It is actually the same verb as is used in 18:11 about seeking the dead. The idea here is probably that God will not allow someone who doesn’t listen to his word to escape.
The chapter closes with the problem of the false prophet, who either speaks in God’s name words not commanded by God, or in the name of other gods. How is the listener to know when the prophet’s message does not come from Yahweh? Moses advises that false messages will not come to pass. He assures the people that they need not fear prophets who speak insolently or presumptuously; they will die. It is helpful to note that the Hebrew does not say, contrary to some English versions, that the false prophet must be put to death or killed.
The main take-away from this passage is that God provides prophets who speak his word to his people. After Moses it would be Samuel, and then Elijah and Elisha in the northern kingdom, and Isaiah and Jeremiah and others in the southern kingdom. In 1 Kings 18 we learn about false prophets speaking in the name of other gods; in Jeremiah 27-29 we learn about prophets who speak falsely in Yahweh’s name. Most importantly, of course, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophets, the one who embodied the word of God in himself (John 1:14; cf Heb 1:1-2). This truth is clearly declared in the moment of his transfiguration (Matt 17:3-5), when Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah, and the disciples hear God’s voice commanding them, ‘Listen to him’. If you want to know the will and word of God, listen to Jesus.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for being a God who speaks and is not silent. Help me to hear your word through the prophet you have appointed.