Deuteronomy 18 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Deuteronomy 18)
Lack of faith forseen, but Jehovah would raise up a prophet to whom they should hearken

The priests and the whole tribe of Levi have their portion assigned to them. The people are forbidden to do after those abominations, on account of which the nations which inhabited the land were driven out before Israel, inquiring of those who used divination. Jehovah would raise up a prophet like unto Moses, unto whom the people should hearken. These ordinances foresee in the people the lack of the faith needful in order to walk simply with the Lord. Christ is the true and only answer. They were not to fear a prophet who gave a sign which did not come to pass, for Jehovah had not spoken by him.

Theocracy, and the portion of the priests and people

One word here as to the portion of the priests. First, the normal condition of the people was that of being guided by the priests, and, in case of need, by judges raised up in an extraordinary way; and to abide under the keeping of God in the land, enjoying His blessing. It was, properly speaking, theocracy. The laws of God directed the people; they enjoyed the blessing of God; and the priests settled any questions which arose, a judge being raised up in exceptional cases.

The priests are introduced here in connection with that which was necessary to the enjoyment of the land, not as a means of drawing near to God. Consequently, they were there to fulfil their ministry before God, and a certain portion belonged to them.

The acknowledgment and enjoyment of God's deliverance and goodness

The king was only thought of in the case when the people would ask one, in order to be like the nations; and in that case he was to remain, as much as possible, simple in the midst of Israel, that the law of God might have its full authority. The people are always accounted to be themselves responsible before God, and enjoying the land under this responsibility, though for that reason subject to the decisions of the priests. They had the land from God. The position spoken of here is not that of drawing near to Him, but acknowledging His deliverance and His goodness, as in the feasts which we have considered.

Thus he who went up to the place which Jehovah had chosen ate with his family, and sometimes with the Levite, the stranger, etc., the tithes [1] of each year (in the third year there were some for the Levite and the poor), the firstling of the herd and of the flock, the vows, the free-will-offerings, and the heave-offerings, all before Jehovah. But at the same time that they offered them to Jehovah, the offerer partook of the enjoyment of them (see chap. 14: 23, 28, 29; 12: 7, 11, 12, 17); whilst, in chapter 18 the priest had a certain portion of the sacrifice, the firstfruit of the corn, of the wine, and the oil, and the first of the fleece of the sheep.

The true character of Deuteronomic worship

The first part of these ordinances is so much the more remarkable that in the book of Numbers (chap. 18), the firstborn, [2] the heave-offerings, all sorts of offerings for sin, and the meat-offerings, are given to the priests, and the tithes to the Levites. But these are assumed, not reordained here, that the true character of Deuteronomic worship may be maintained, rejoicing before Jehovah in the enjoyment of what He gives, not drawing near to Him in the holiest.

The position of the people and priests in Deuteronomy compared to preceding books

We may remark here the difference between that which was in this case for the priests, and that which in Deuteronomy the people are to eat of before the Lord, and in the other books what is given to the priests. We have already pointed out the difference of position.

In the three preceding books, what is brought before the mind is drawing near to God, and the priests alone are looked upon as able to do this; and thus, in the relationship of priests, they ate in the holy place all that was offered. They alone were near God, and that which was offered to God (according to the force of the word, [3] that which was brought near to God) was theirs, as being near. They were all as one company in the camp, and the whole was essentially typical.

Pilgrims in the wilderness and dwelling in the land

Thus all the arrangements of the tabernacle were made for a people who found themselves in the wilderness—strangers there; and it is to be observed that Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, never speaks of anything but the tabernacle, never of the temple. The relationship he speaks of is that of pilgrims with God.

It is no longer thus in Deuteronomy. There the dwelling of the people in the land of promise is considered; and, consequently, the people are accounted, not as needing to learn how to draw near to God, [4] but as enjoying, from God, the effect of His promise in His presence and before Him, so that the people are directly concerned in the sacrifices. They are in the enjoyment of the promises, in the presence of God, and they realise, in the communion of Jehovah, all the means through which it is enjoyed, and they partake, in communion, of all that is devoted to Him, as a sign of the redemption through which this enjoyment was procured for them.

The firstfruits of the land

It is otherwise with regard to the firstfruits of the land—that which it yields. Enjoying those fruits of the goodness of God, the people gave Him back the firstfruits, as a testimony that all came from Him, and that all was His, and that His grace had communicated it to them (see chap. 26). Therefore the firstfruits were not for the people to eat: they offered them to God, and ate of all the rest. It was the recognition of God, while sharing His blessings. The firstfruits then were offered to God, and thus fell into the hands of the priests as their portion.

[1] See note in chapters referred to; they were second tithes, not Levitical ones. The people never paid tithes to the priests; but to the Levites at home, they to the priests. The tithes of the third year (not Levitical) were eaten at home. We have nothing of Levitical tithes in Deuteronomy.

[2] Firstborn males. See notes to chapters [12], [14].

[3] The word translated "an offering" (that is, corban) comes from a word which means "to draw near," and, in the form Hiphil (causative active form), "to bring near."

[4] This very important difference characterises the book. It is no question how near we can get to the holiest, to God Himself, but communion in the enjoyment of all the fruits of His promise in His presence and in the spirit of grace. It is not wilderness connection with God, a yet deeper principle of connection with Him.