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.
There should be no need for Israel to turn to heathen soothsayers, or diviners, or such like, because from amongst themselves, of their own brethren, would God raise up prophets like unto Moses, who, as occasion required, would reveal to them what God willed them to know.
To the Prophet who should thus speak to the people all that God should command him, they were to pay the utmost deference, and to his words they were to render implicit obedience.
The test by which it was to be discovered which was the true prophet and which the false, was the fulfillment or non-fulfillment of his prediction. The reference here is to the prediction of proximate events—events that were to happen within a limited period, but which were not such as one not divinely instructed could foresee. When such came to pass, the pretensions of the prophet were thereby substantiated, and his authority established (cf. 1 Samuel 3:19 ; John 2:18 , etc.). This was a more certain test than such as was offered by signs and wonders ( Deuteronomy 13:2 , etc.).
God speaking to man through man.
The Exposition, as well as the Commentaries of Jameson and Keil, may, with great advantage, be consulted on this passage, and also Hengstenberg's 'Christology,' vol. 1. pp. 96-107. Our brief homiletic sketches assume that the student has already mastered the exegesis, and comprehended the intent of the passage. Its connection with the preceding paragraph is obvious. The people had been warned against having recourse to familiar spirits, etc; on the ground that such practices were an abomination unto the Lord their God. But Moses would not only warn the people off the wrong ground, he would direct them to the right, by showing them the completeness of the Divine arrangements for supplying them from time to time with all the religious teaching they would require, in a way far more adapted to their condition and circumstances than by any unveiling of the secrets of the invisible world. They are reminded that when God came in grandeur to speak to them at Mount Sinai, they could not bear the sight nor the sound. They begged that Moses would speak to them, and not Jehovah; "lest we die," were their own words. So that it was clear they would be entirely unable to bear anything approximating to a full disclosure of the Divine. It must be toned and tempered within the limits of their capacities of reception and of their powers of endurance. Otherwise, it would fail of its end, by crushing those whom it was meant to train. Hence he who " knoweth our frame" graciously promises to speak hereafter to the people in their own dialect, as it were, and on their own level, by "raising them up a Prophet, from the midst of them, of their brethren, like unto Moses;" and thus would the needful messages from God be kept up, making it quite unnecessary for them to make use of unauthorized means of getting supernatural light. There would be, from time to time, one prophet raised up after another, culminating in him to whom they all gave witness. Thus our theme is," God speaking to man through man ."
I. UNLESS A DIVINE REVELATION WERE ATTEMPERED TO OUR WEAKNESS , WE COULD NOT BEAR IT . The cry of Israel at Sinai, "Let not God speak with us, lest we die," is a "touch of nature." No man could bear the full blaze of God's glory. Unless there were a "hiding of God's power," we should be crushed by the revelation of it. We could no more endure the full disclosure of the Divine than our eyes could bear to gaze on the splendors of a noonday sun. Hence God, "who knows our frame," and who, therefore, knows what we can bear, meets our weakness by his tender mercy.
II. IN ORDER THAT THE REVELATION MAY BE SUCH AS WE CAN RECEIVE , GOD HAS SPOKEN TO MEN THROUGH MAN . AS Sinai's terror, with the voice of Jehovah, was too much for Israel, Moses says, "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me." Each of these phrases is emphatic, and is intended as the antithesis to the notion of overwhelming force. The meaning of Moses is twofold.
1. There shall be from time to time a prophet sent to you, through whom you may hear the voice of God.
2. There shall be hereafter a great Prophet, who shall be to you as the living Voice of God; but he shall be also "of your brethren, like unto me." We know how true both are. There was from time to time a line of prophets who spake for God. There has come to earth a Prophet greater than all beside. They always pointed onward to another; he, never, save as a heavenly gift from him was by him held in reserve, even the gift of the Holy Ghost. Thus God has come into communion with our race, to reveal his mind and will.
III. NEW MESSAGES , COMING IN A WAY SO SUITED TO US , FROM SO CONDESCENDING A GOD , BRING THEIR OWN AUTHORITY WITH THEM . ( Deuteronomy 18:19 .) The message is not to be set at naught because the voice which speaks it is but human. If a prophet speaks only what the Lord hath spoken, though he may be a weak and frail instrument, though the burden of his message may be almost more than he can bear, yet, being borne along by the Holy Ghost to utter such words, they come with Divine authority. "The treasure is put into earthen vessels;" but though the vessel is earthy, the treasure is Divine.
IV. THIS AUTHORITY REACHES ITS CLIMAX IN THE MINISTRY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST . Such, surely, is the import of the scene known as "the Transfiguration" ( Matthew 17:1-27 .). Moses and Elias are there—the representatives of the Law and the prophets. They speak of the decease which Christ should accomplish at Jerusalem. Presently they vanish from the spot, and no one is left with the disciples save "Jesus only." Then a voice out of the cloud said, "Hear him ." In Acts 3:20-26 , we have the Apostle Peter's application of the very passage before us to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Prophet to whom all the rest did point. (See also Heb Acts 1:1 -31; and for New Testament teaching as to the authority of Christ, and the importance of hearing and obeying him, see Hebrews 2:1-18 ; Hebrews 9:1-28 ; Hebrews 10:1-39 .) So full is the revelation of God by Christ, that it is not only, revelation through him, but in him ( John 1:1-18 ).
From these four principles involved in the paragraph, there are four inferences which may be safely and profitably drawn.
1. If the voice of God speaks to us suitably and. adequately through the medium of human voices, then it is utterly needless for us to seek information and light by any forced attempts at gaining messages from the invisible world (see preceding Homily).
2. We are here furnished with a test as to what is truly a Divine message or no. There is, in fact, a twofold test. It is partly moral and partly physical.
3. Here is an antidote to fear. "Thou shalt not be afraid of him." What is the connection between this and the preceding? Is it not this? Suppose that the "prophet" declares that this or that is about to happen, do not give way to excitement and alarm. Follow the voice of God, of which you are sure, and obey that, and come what will, all is well with you. You can afford to do this; "Study to be quiet, and to do your own business," and whether what the prophet declares come to pass or no, you are sure to be safe, if you have maintained unswerving loyalty to God. Nothing can harm you. So with us under the New Testament dispensation. Many affix dates to this or that. We heed them not. We have but to "wait for the Son of God from heaven."
4. The reception of the Divine message is a part of that obedience which every man owes to high Heaven. Its acceptance is not merely the adoption of a number of opinions. Oh no! Opinions are one thing, convictions are another. A man "holds" opinions, but convictions "hold" a man. His conscience is held fast in their grip. Even so it is with those who receive the words of the living God as their guide through life to immortality. Their whole being is held firmly in their strong yet loving and tender hold. A skeptic once said to the writer, "I tell you candidly, that if I wanted to point out the best specimens of humanity, I should point to some of your way of thinking ." So he put it, "of your way of thinking." How little does the outsider or unbeliever dream of the hold the Father's words have on-us! Our whole being takes shape and outlook from them. Our fealty to him whom we know and love supremely, makes "the law of his mouth to be better to us than thousands of gold and silver."
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The promised Prophet.
From speaking of the paltry expectations about divination, Moses goes on to speak of the general plan of Divine revelation. The people had had the splendid chance of direct communion with God, without any mediation. God spoke to them from heaven at Sinai; but so afraid were they of immediate revelation that they implored Moses to mediate the message for them. He became consequently, with God's full approval, the human medium through which the Divine will was conveyed, which means God's prophet . They had had no difficulty in accepting the Divine messages through him. Now, Moses assures them that this method of mediation through human beings will continue. He puts the promise in comprehensive form, and says that through a Prophet like to himself will God continue to speak to them after he has gone, and his message they will reject at their peril.
I. LET US OBSERVE THE APPROPRIATENESS OF GOD REVEALING HIMSELF THROUGH A HUMAN BEING . For man is in the Divine image; if this be not the case, we can have no knowledge whatever of God. Man is the image of God; and hence God reveals himself to men through a man. The office of prophet is the most appropriate way of revealing God's will. And when we carry on this line of thought, we are landed in the idea that an incarnation of God alone could adequately convey to man the mind and nature of God. If any one wishes to follow out this line, he will get splendid help in Mr. R. H. Hutton's admirable essay on 'The Incarnation and Principles of Evidence.' £
II. IT SEEMS CLEAR FROM THE PROMISE THAT A SINGLE PROPHET AFTER THE SIMILITUDE OF MOSES IS TO BE THE MEDIATOR FOR THE AGES . Now, only one Person answers this description, and this is Jesus Christ. He was and is incarnate God. His Spirit he alone could take, and through its gift to men in the different ages make them the channel of God's revelation. As a matter of fact, "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy;" and the prophets were his instruments in the history of the Church. God has spoken in the last days by his Son; and the prophets between Moses and Christ were really the inspired messengers of the one Great Prophet of God. This is the idea of Peter that the Spirit of Christ spoke in the prophets. £ We thus see one Person embracing the mediating work of the different ages, and accomplishing it through holy men.
III. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JESUS , THEREFORE , BECOME THE CLIMAX OF DIVINE REVELATION . The previous revelations were but foreshadowings of this perfect manifestation of God. A human history became the embodiment of Divine thoughts, mercies, self-denials, and self-sacrifice. The blaze of divinity that was intolerable at Sinai becomes not only bearable but entrancing in the face of Jesus Christ. The blinding brilliance has been so toned down that man can rejoice in Jesus as "God manifest in the flesh." "We beheld his glory"—it did not blind or scare men as at the holy mount.
IV. THE DISREGARD OF THE WORDS OF JESUS IS PUNISHABLE BY DEATH . This is the penalty pronounced. We see it in another form in the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha." If disobedience to Moses was visited in many cases by death, how much more disobedience and disloyalty to Christ! (cf. Hebrews 10:28-31 ). The gospel has penalties of the severest kind for its rejection, as well as bliss beyond compare for its reception. The alternative is thus clearly set before us.
V. THE PROPHETS SENT OF GOD SUBMIT TO THE TEST OF FULFILLMENT , WHILE FALSE PROPHETS ARE TO BE DETECTED BY THEIR FAILURE . God's method being a human mediation, is liable to be imitated, and men from time to time will profess to be prophets, when they have no real commission. Now, God has such a control of the future that no unassisted, uninspired man can forecast it successfully. Sooner or later he is found out. Happy guesses soon run out, and the person is discredited. Hence it was the duty of Israel to weigh well the communication of the professed prophets, and to see wherein they were confirmed by subsequent events. The true prophets had their word fulfilled, and were Christ's messengers; the false prophets had their word discredited, and were acting presumptuously.
Let us hear the Great Prophet, and give him credit for all the predictions of the minor and but human prophets.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The false prophet.
The failure of the word of a prophet was decisive proof that he had not spoken by Divine inspiration. Had his word not failed, it would not have followed that he was a true prophet, but it showed conclusively that he was a false one when his word did fail.
I. CERTAINTY OF FULFILLMENT IS A CHARACTERISTIC OF GOD 'S WORDS . If e . g . the prophecies of the Scriptures could be shown to have been falsified by events, it would, by the rule laid down in this fundamental prophetic charter, conclusively disprove their claims to inspiration. It is vain to think of defending the inspiration of the prophets, while conceding, with rationalistic writers, occasional failures in their predictions. The prophets themselves do not shrink from this test, but confidently appeal to it ( Isaiah 34:16 ). This shows how different their inspiration was from the ordinary inspiration of genius, both in their estimation of it and in fact. No man of genius, however wide his range of vision, be he a Bacon, a Shakespeare, a Goethe, or a Carlyle, would like to rest his reputation on the absolute unfailingness of his words. While prophecy affords conspicuous instances of the certainty of fulfillment characteristic of God's words, it is to be remembered that this certainty inheres in all God's words alike. No word of God or of Christ will fall to the ground unfulfilled (Mt Matthew 24:35 ). The thought should comfort God's people, and make his enemies tremble. Applies to promises and threatenings equally with predictions and doctrines.
II. THE PREDICTIONS OF SCRIPTURE ABIDE THIS TEST OF TRUE PROPHECY . The force of the evidence from prophecy can only be properly felt by those who have been at pains to examine the Bible predictions in detail. But it does not need more than an examination of the principal instances to convince us that here we have no chance guess-work, no mere forecasting of natural sagacity. We might point to the predictions in Deuteronomy respecting the future of the Jewish nation, and the punishment which would overtake them for their sins ( Deuteronomy 4:25-29 ; Deuteronomy 28:45-68 ); or to the Messianic prophecies ( e . g . Isaiah 53:1-12 .); or to particular predictions delivered long before the events predicted occurred, or could have been foreseen, as when Amos predicts of Israel at a time when the king and nobles were lying on beds of ivory, and indulging in every species of dissipation and amusement—"Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, whose Name is The God of hosts"( Amos 5:27 ), or when Micah, a hundred, years before the Captivity, foretells of Judah, " Zion for your sake shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps" ( Micah 3:12 ); "Be in pain, and labor to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail: for now shalt thou go forth out of the city, and thou shalt dwell in the field, and thou shalt go even to Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered; there shall the Lord redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies" ( Micah 4:10 ). Discovery has not tended to discredit, but in several striking instances has confirmed the truth of prophecy, as in regard to Ezekiel's prediction of the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar ( Deuteronomy 29:8-16 ), a prediction pronounced by Kueuen and skeptical critics to be a mere guess, falsified by the event, but now strikingly confirmed from a contemporary hieroglyphic inscription (see Expositor , vol. 10.). And while it is true that an isolated sign and wonder is not proof sufficient of Divine inspiration ( Deuteronomy 13:1-18 .), it is certain that, taking into account the character of the prophets, the kind and number of their predictions, the holiness of their message, and the coherence of what they taught with earlier revelations, the evidence of their Divine commission is as strong as could be wished—is, in fact, decisive.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIEs
Presages of the true Prophet.
Captious men of the present day complain that they cannot see God—cannot hear his voice. In their heart they do not wish to see him. He will not reveal himself, as an object of curiosity, to the eye of speculation. He reveals himself to the conscience and to the loyal heart. But men do not wish to see him as the embodiment of righteousness. They shudder and flee away. Yet in no other way can they see him than as he truly is. In this circumstance of mutual estrangement there is need of a mediator—prophet.
I. GUILTY MEN DEBAR THEMSELVES FROM PERSONAL FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD . There is nothing in common between unrighteous men and a righteous God. They are mutually repellent. The heart-language of such men is this , " Let us not hear again the voice of the Lord our God; neither let us see this great fire any more." To them , his voice is the thunder of war; to them , his presence is a consuming fire. They have no eye except to see his burning anger. Hence they flee to hide themselves. Their wish projects itself into reality; he removes himself.
II. MEN 'S DESIRE TO HOLD COMMUNICATION WITH GOD THROUGH A MEDIATOR CONCEDED . The gracious disposition of God towards men yields to his creatures' necessity. Ask what they will, if righteousness be not dishonored, it shall be done. The all-wise God candidly admits that the Jews had, in this matter, spoken well. But the mediator must be a prophet. He must convey the thoughts and dispositions and will of God to men. Human obedience, to have any worth, must be intelligent—the fruit of choice and purpose.
III. THE PERFECT PROPHET IS INTRODUCED BY SUCCESSIVE STAGES . Our moral instincts often outrun our clear intelligence. The Jews desired an intermediate agent, who should convey God's will to them; but they scarcely knew what it was they asked for. Could any mortal man clearly reveal the mind of the Eternal? Would not the pure stream be defiled by the impure channel? Nevertheless, God will do the best for them in their present condition. As yet the perfect Prophet will not be understood nor appreciated. Knowledge of God's character and purpose sufficient for the present shall be revealed by imperfect men—types of the coming perfect Mediator. By easy gradations, the human family must be divinely educated.
IV. THE TRUE PROPHET IS A PERFECT VEHICLE OF GOD 'S THOUGHTS . "I will put my words in his mouth." Unless the prophet be a mere mechanical automaton, his words must be the result of his thoughts. If God shall use a human person to reveal himself to men, he must use his mind, heart, and will: yea, his entire being. This has been realized only in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. Hence he could say, "The words that I speak, I speak not of myself: but that Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works." Hence, again, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father also." For the advent of this real Prophet, humanity stood for centuries on the outlook, on the watch-tower of hope.
V. CONTUMACY OF THE TRUE PROPHET IS CONTUMACY AGAINST GOD . Such is the value of this Divine gift, that to treat it with indifference is heinous crime. No human penalty may be annexed, but God himself undertook to punish the deed. Hunger is God's voice within the body, and he who disregards that voice shall surely die. Pain is God's voice in human nerves, and he who neglects that summons shall die. Truth is everywhere the voice of God, and to turn deaf ears to truth is to deprive one's self of life. And, by parity of reasoning, the voice of God is heard more clearly and more authoritatively yet, in the person of his dear Son: it is his prerogative to give to men eternal life. Hence, to turn a deaf ear to him is folly, contumacy, despair, ruin. God will exact a most fitting retribution.
VI. GOD SUPPLIES A TEST BETWEEN THE FALSE PROPHET AND THE TRUE . The eagerness of men to discover the Prophet of Jehovah, led many to impersonate him for the purpose of personal reputation and gain. Every true prophet of God came with sufficient credential, so that no candid mind need have been deceived. They had the power to read the near future: this was a token of their heavenly commission. But better still, their message commended itself to the conscience of the hearers; and thus might every hearer find in an honest conscience that the herald was from God. If the prophet summoned men to repentance and assured them of a share in the mercy of God, they could readily ascertain for themselves whether relief came to their burdened consciences—whether better feelings arose in the heart. The truth is never very far distant if we really wish to find it.—D.