a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

Privileges of Priests and Levites


The levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no allotment or inheritance within Israel. They may eat the sacrifices that are the L ord’s portion 2but they shall have no inheritance among the other members of the community; the L ord is their inheritance, as he promised them.

3 This shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those offering a sacrifice, whether an ox or a sheep: they shall give to the priest the shoulder, the two jowls, and the stomach. 4The first fruits of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the first of the fleece of your sheep, you shall give him. 5For the L ord your God has chosen Levi out of all your tribes, to stand and minister in the name of the L ord, him and his sons for all time.

6 If a Levite leaves any of your towns, from wherever he has been residing in Israel, and comes to the place that the L ord will choose (and he may come whenever he wishes), 7then he may minister in the name of the L ord his God, like all his fellow-Levites who stand to minister there before the L ord. 8They shall have equal portions to eat, even though they have income from the sale of family possessions.

Child-Sacrifice, Divination, and Magic Prohibited

9 When you come into the land that the L ord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations. 10No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, 11or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. 12For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the L ord; it is because of such abhorrent practices that the L ord your God is driving them out before you. 13You must remain completely loyal to the L ord your God. 14Although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the L ord your God does not permit you to do so.

A New Prophet Like Moses

15 The L ord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16This is what you requested of the L ord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the L ord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17Then the L ord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. 19Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.” 21You may say to yourself, “How can we recognize a word that the L ord has not spoken?” 22If a prophet speaks in the name of the L ord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the L ord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.

15. The Lord thy God will raise up. This is added by anticipation, lest the Israelites should object that they were more hardly dealt with than the rest of the nations of the world; for it was always most justly considered an extraordinary blessing to hold communication with God; and indeed there can be nothing more to be desired. But an opinion had obtained currency, that men approached more closely to God by means of magical arts, by the oracles of Pythonic spirits, and by the study of augury. The people of Israel, then, would have complained of being badly treated, if they had been shut out from all prophecies and revelations. Moses meets this complaint or objection by announcing, that their access to God would be not less familiar than as if He should Himself openly come down from heaven; if only they kept the right way, and were contented with that rule which He deemed best for them. He, therefore, commands that, instead of all the imaginations of the Gentiles, the doctrine of the Prophets should alone have force among them. Thus He signifies that although God should not openly come down from heaven, yet that His will, as far as was expedient, should be surely and clearly made known to them, since He would faithfully teach them by His servants the Prophets. On this ground when, in Isaiah, He has mocked at the prophecies of false gods, He calls the Israelites His “witnesses,” (Isaiah 43:1-10,) as having made them the depositaries of His secrets and of the treasures of divine wisdom. We see, then, the way pointed out in which God would have His people inquire concerning the things necessary to salvation; and this is more plainly declared in Isaiah 8:19, 20,

“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony.”

Nor is there any doubt that Isaiah took this doctrine from the passage before us, when he first condemns the errors which men by their curiosity invent for themselves, and then enjoins the faithful simply to give attention to the Law, and to be content with this form of instruction, unless they desired to be miserably misled. Hence we conclude that the expression, “a Prophet,” is used by enallage for a number of Prophets. For it is altogether absurd, as some do, to restrict it to Joshua or Jeremiah; since Moses is here treating of the continual manner of the Church’s government, and is not speaking of what God would do within a short time. Not at all more correct is their opinion, who apply it strictly to Christ alone; for it is well to bear in mind what I have said respecting God’s intention, viz., that no excuse should be left for the Jews, if they turned aside to familiar spirits (Pythones) or magicians, since God would never leave them without Prophets and teachers. But if He had referred them to Christ alone, the objection would naturally arise that it was hard for them to have neither Prophets nor revelations for two thousand years. Nor is there any strength in those two arguments on which some insist, that the Prophet, of whom Moses bears witness, must be more excellent than him who proclaimed him; and that the eulogium that he should be “like unto” Moses could not be applied to the ancient Prophets, since it is said elsewhere that “there arose not a Prophet since like unto” him. (Deuteronomy 34:10.) For he does not at all detract from his own dignity, by recommending that whosoever might be sent by God should be hearkened to, whether they were his equals or his inferiors; and, as to the comparison, this particle translated like (sicut) does not always denote equality. Therefore it is true that there was no Prophet like Moses, that is to say, similar to him in every respect, or in whom so many gifts were displayed; yet it is no less true, that they were all like Moses; because God set over His Church a continual succession of teachers, to execute the same office as he did. This is referred to in the words, “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John,” (Matthew 11:13, and Luke 16:16,) where we see others united as colleagues with Moses in the government of the Church, until the coming of Christ. Yet Peter aptly and elegantly accommodates this testimony to Christ, (Acts 3:22,) not to the exclusion of others of God’s servants, but in order to warn the Jews that in rejecting Christ they are at the same time refusing this inestimable benefit of God; for the gift of prophecy had so flourished among His ancient people, and teachers had so been constantly appointed to succeed each other, that nevertheless there should be some interruption before the coming of Christ. Hence, in that sad dispersion which followed the return from the Babylonish captivity, the faithful complain in Psalm 74:9, “We see not our signs; there is no more any prophet.” On this account Malachi exhorts the people to remember the Law given in Horeb; and immediately after adds, “Behold I send you Elijah the prophet,” etc., (Malachi 4:4, 5;) as much as to say, that the time was at hand in which a more perfect doctrine should be manifested, and a fuller light should shine. For the Apostle says truly, that

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son,” (Hebrew 1:1, 2;)

and, in fact, by the appearing of the doctrine of the Gospel, the course of the prophetic doctrine was completed; because God thus fully exhibited what was promised by the latter. And this was so generally understood that even the Samaritan woman said that Messias was coming, who would tell all things. (John 4:25.) To this, then, what I have lately quoted as to the transition from the Law and the Prophets to the Gospel refers; and hence it is made out, that this passage was most appropriately expounded by Peter as relating to Christ; for unless the Jews chose to accuse God of falsehood, it was incumbent upon them to look to Christ, at whose hand was promised both the confirmation of doctrine and the restoration of all things. They had been for a long time destitute of Prophets, of whom Moses had testified that they should never be wanting to them, and whom he had promised as the295295     Ordinaires. — Fr. lawful ministers for retaining the people in allegiance, so that they should not turn aside to superstitions; they had, therefore, either no religion, or else that greatest of Teachers was to be expected, who in his own person (unus) would present the perfection of the prophetic office. But we must remark the peculiar circumstances whereby God restrains the evil affections of the Jews. It was no common act of His indulgence, that He should take to himself Prophets from among that people, so that they should have no need to run about to a distance in search of revelations, and at the same time that they might be taught familiarly according to their capacity. But with regard to the comparison which Moses makes between himself and other prophets, its effect is to raise their teaching in men’s estimation. They had been long accustomed to this mode of instruction, viz., to hear God speaking to them by the mouth of a man; and the authority of Moses was so fully established, that they were firmly persuaded that they were under the divine government, and that all things necessary to salvation were revealed to them.

16. According to all that thou desiredst. He pronounces them to be guilty of ingratitude if they did not quietly submit themselves to their Prophets, since on this point God had complied with their own request. For in order that the prophetic office might be more reverenced and beloved by them, and lest it should fall into disrepute through their beholding the Prophet to be but a mortal, God had extracted the confession from them that nothing could be better than that He should make choice of human interpreters. At the promulgation of the Law, the visible majesty of God had shone forth, and the people, terrified at the sight, had voluntarily desired that Moses should be given to them as a teacher, and as the proclaimer of the heavenly voice. We have already seen how useful was this terror to recommend the teaching which is delivered by the mouth of man. We have abundant experience that our minds are often carried away by vain speculations. Thus we should wish to bring down God from heaven as often as any doubt creeps into them. It was necessary, therefore, that the Israelites should be convinced of their weakness, lest they should go beyond their due bounds, and that they might be led to ask for that as a great blessing which God had foreseen to be for their good, and at the same time might abandon that proud curiosity which would always have been exciting them, had it not been corrected betimes by the application of this remedy. But it would have been anything but excusable in them to have grown weary of that gift which they had judged to be so good for themselves. The sum is, that God had appeared once to obtain credit and authority for His Prophets; but that He had established that order for the government of His Church, and for the declaration of His will, which the people themselves had known by experience to be most highly advantageous to themselves.

17. They have well spoken. Moses relates how this desire of the people was approved by the judgment and the voice of God. Not as if whatever the foolish caprice of men may have urged them absurdly to ask, ought therefore to be immediately granted; but when God’s consent and, so to speak, His vote coincides with it, then whatever He shews to be pleasing to Him ought to stand firm and inviolable. Hence it follows that God, in sending the Prophets, provided for the salvation of men as was most expedient. Moreover, He asserts that when pious teachers arise, who faithfully shew the way of salvation, it is an extraordinary proof of His favor, and He takes to Himself the praise when He repeats it again,296296     S. M. says, in his note on this verse, “Some of the Hebrews understand by that Prophet, Joshua, who succeeded Moses as ruler; others think Jeremiah must be meant, who rebuked the people in the same terms as Moses had done. But Christians who devoutly assert that this passage speaks of Christ, confute the Jews by referring to what is said in the last chap. of Deut., — ‘There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses,’ etc. This passage must be prophetic of some other remarkable Prophet who should not be inferior to Moses, especially as the text says, like thee, ‘that as thou didst deliver the people from corporal bondage, so shall the prophet whom I will raise up for them deliver them from the bondage of sin.’” — W.

“I will raise them up a Prophet.” (Deuteronomy 18:18.)

Thus also Paul teaches, —

“And how shall they preach except they be sent?”
(Romans 10:15.)

The same Apostle, too, bears witness that none will be found sufficient for this office, and that the power of teaching aright is received from God. (2 Corinthians 2:14, and 4:1.) Hence it follows that God, by a certain evidence of His presence, declares His favor towards us as often as He enlightens with the gifts of His Spirit, and raises up faithful and true teachers. Moses afterwards reminds them that God so governs His Church by the hands and the operation of men as not to derogate from Himself; for He retains this as His attribute, to suggest to the mouth, as it were, of His Prophets what they are to say; neither does He permit them to say or advance more than He has commanded. We perceive, then, that pastors were from the first appointed, not that they should themselves rule, or subject the Church to their imaginations, but only to be the organs of the Holy Spirit. And those who in these days usurp a greater power, ought to be altogether deposed from their sacrilegious despotism.

VIEWNAME is study