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The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Standard Study Bible that provides essential scholarship and guidance for Bible readers.

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Commentary on Deuteronomy

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Commentary spanning earlier chapters

16.18–18.22 : Laws of public officials.

The proposed government has judicial, executive, and religious branches: local and central courts ( 16.18–17.13 ), kingship ( 17.14–20 ), Levitical priesthood ( 18.1–8 ), and prophecy ( 18.9–22 ). Each relates to the others and is subordinated to the authority of the word of God, the Torah of Deuteronomy. Even institutions that might claim absolute authority, such as king or prophet, are integrated into a comprehensive vision. The continual concern with centralization of worship connects this section with the preceding legislation on the sacrificial system. The ritual laws ( 16.21–17.1 ) seem to intrude between two paragraphs each concerned with justice ( 16.18–20; 17.2–7 ), but the repetition provides a transition into the new section, while establishing the underlying unity of both areas of community life: (A) worship ( 12.1–16.17 ); (B) justice ( 16.18–20 ); (A′) worship ( 16.21–17.1 ); (B′) justice ( 17.2–7,8–13 ).

18.1–8 : The Levitical priesthood.

Centralization also affected the Israelite priesthood. A “job description” (vv. 1–5 ) precedes discussion of this impact (vv. 6–8 ).

1 :

Levitical priests, the Deuteronomic conception differs from that of Priestly literature, which speaks of two distinct groups, “the priests” and “the Levites.” The Priestly source sees a hierarchy within the tribe of Levi between direct descendants of Aaron and the rest. Only the Aaronide priests officiate at the altar (Num 18.5 ,7) and receive the priestly share of the offerings (Num 18.8–20 ). The Levites serve the priests, and are prohibited from officiating (Num 18.3–4,6 ); they receive tithes and in turn tithe to the priests (Num 18.21–31 ). Here, in Deuteronomy, all within the tribe are Levitical priests and both serve at the altar and receive sacrifices.

2 :

No inheritance, see 12.12n. The Lord is their inheritance, God grants them a share of the sacrificial offerings, making them dependent upon other Israelites for support. In contrast, the priest‐prophet Ezekiel allocates land to the priests and the Levites in his vision of the future restoration of Judah (Ezek 48.10–14 ).

5 :

Stand and minister, officiate at the altar.

6–8 :

When the local altars throughout the land are outlawed ( 12.8–12,13–15 ), the Levites serving there would be unemployed and, owning no land, would become destitute. Accordingly a Levite who leaves any of your towns … and comes to the central sanctuary in Jerusalem must be provided for (contrast 2 Kings 23.9 ). This emphasis underscores that the countryside altars were not entirely Canaanite sanctuaries (as 12.2–4 asserts).

8 :

Equal portions, the choice meats, grains, and oil assigned the tribe in vv. 3–4 .

18.9–22 : The Mosaic prophet.

9–14 :

Just as the legal corpus prohibits sacrificial worship it condemns as Canaanite ( 12.1–4,29–31; also 7.1–6,25–26; Ex 23.24; 34.11–16 ), it prohibits forms of divination it brands as foreign and abhorrent. In each case it requires its own alternative: here, prophecy rather than divination. However, divination is not elsewhere typified as foreign (1 Sam 28.3–25; Isa 8.19–22; 28.4 ). Thus, describing the practice as foreign may actually cloak a condemnation of Israelite popular religion.

10 :

Pass through fire, child sacrifice (see 12.31n. ), joined with divination for condemnation because each is “abhorrent” (v. 9 ). Practices divination, or is a soothsayer, the most comprehensive compilation of such activities in the Bible (Ex 22.18; Lev 19.30–31; 20.6,27; Isa 8.19; Ezek 21.21 ).

11 :

Who consults ghosts or spirits … dead, necromancy or conjuring the dead (1 Sam 28.7–15; Isa 8.19–20; 29.4 ). Popular religion in antiquity devoted extensive attention to communicating with the dead, especially with ancestors.

12 :

Abhorrent, more commonly “abomination,” as at Lev 26.26–27 ,29. There is no claim that divination is ineffective; it is, however, illegitimate (see 1 Sam 28.7–25 ).

15–22 :

Deuteronomy transforms prophecy, viewing the prophet as the spokesperson of Torah (see 13.1–5n. ) and defining Moses as the paradigmatic prophet.

15 :

The Lord … will raise up, prophecy by divine election. That God alone appoints the prophet makes the prophet independent of all institutions and able to challenge them. More than one prophet is clearly intended. Like me, at Horeb ( 5.23–33 ), Moses established the model of prophecy as mediating God's word to the people. Thus the prophet, like the king ( 17.15 ), should be from among your own people.

16–17 :

See 5.23–31; Ex 20.18–21 .

18 :

The prophet's oracles do not originate from other deities, from dead spirits, from skilled manipulation of objects, or from the prophet's own reflections.

20–23 :

Having established an Israelite model of prophecy, the law provides two criteria to distinguish true from false prophecy. The first is that the prophet should speak exclusively on behalf of God, and report only God's words. The second makes the fulfillment of a prophet's oracle the measure of its truth (Jer 28.9 ). That approach attempts to solve a critical problem: If two prophets each claim to speak on behalf of God yet make mutually exclusive claims (1 Kings 22.6 versus v. 17; Jer 27.8 versus 28.2 ), how may one decide which speaks the truth? The solution offered is not free of difficulty. If a false prophet is distinguished by the failure of his oracle to come true, then making a decision in the present about which prophet to obey becomes impossible. Nor can this criterion easily be reconciled with 13.2 , which concedes that the oracles of false prophets might come true.

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