After the law for the king in the last chapter (Deu 17:17-20) in this chapter follows the law for the priests and the announcement of the prophet. The three offices of king, priest and prophet, help us envision the Lord Jesus. He is the true King, Priest and Prophet. A notable difference between these three is that a prophet has no succession, whereas the king and the priest do.
They also have their meaning for us, believers of the New Testament. As for the position, the New Testament believer is a king (“a kingdom”, Rev 1:6; 5:10), a priest (Rev 1:6; 5:10; 1Pet 2:5) and a prophet, that is, he or she can do a prophetic service (cf. 1Cor 11:4-5a). In practice, however, it only applies to those who live up to it.
That is what is presented in the service and history of Israel in the Old Testament. There we do not see what we are in principle, but how the principle of the New Testament is lived out in practice. A difference is that in the New Testament all believers who belong to the church are priests, whereas in the Old Testament only the descendants of Aaron are priests.
1 - 2 The Inheritance of the Tribe of Levi
1 “The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the LORD’S offerings by fire and His portion. 2 They shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the LORD is their inheritance, as He promised them.
There are two types of inheritance. There is an inheritance that Israel owns and there is an inheritance of God. Israel has received its inheritance as a blessing from God. Of this the people return to Him, as David said: “From Your hand we have given You” (1Chr 29:14b). What the people give to God is food for God. He calls it “My food” (Num 28:2). That is also the food of the priests. But this food was first given by God as a blessing to His people. The worship we bring to God can only be what we have taken in as food in a former stage.
The inheritance we possess is what God has given us in Christ. The inheritance that God possesses is what we give to God in Christ. Our inheritance is the whole of the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, which is summarized: eternal life. We have been introduced to this in the previous chapters. God’s portion is what we in turn give to God in Christ: the offerings by fire, the tithes, the first fruits.
The inheritance of LORD is also the inheritance of the Levites. The LORD Himself is their inheritance. What we offer to God is His own Son. We do so in the exercise of our priestly service as ordained by God. In this we also respond to our sonship, for God has “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” (Eph 1:5), to His own joy.
3 - 5 The Priests Due
3 “Now this shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those who offer a sacrifice, either an ox or a sheep, of which they shall give to the priest the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach. 4 You shall give him the first fruits of your grain, your new wine, and your oil, and the first shearing of your sheep. 5 For the LORD your God has chosen him and his sons from all your tribes, to stand and serve in the name of the LORD forever.
In what is said in Deuteronomy of the priests, their service or their clothing is not paramount, as is the case in Leviticus where a people go through the wilderness. In Deuteronomy, priests are seen as part of a people who have the inheritance and whose position must now be determined in more detail. This distinction can also be seen in the food of the priests. In Leviticus we read about the food of the priests, but there it is connected with the most holy. Here it is about sacrifices that the people both bring and partake of, regardless of the priesthood class, in which the people share with the priests.
The priests are kept alive by the sacrifices of the people, as are the Levies. This means that priestly service in the church, that is to say, worship, only flourishes when every member of the church in his daily life – so to speak, as a member of the people – presents their bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God (Rom 12:1). Without daily dedication to God, not much will come of the priestly service.
It is good to see the difference between the priest and the Levite and what that means to us. Priests are offerors, they are worshipers. Levites are given to help the priests. Priests serve God, Levites serve the priests. The Levites maintain the priestly service. Levite service is all the service aimed at promoting priestly service.
We are both priests and Levites. The believer is both a worshiper and someone who helps to perform the priestly service. This help is particularly evident in the ministry of the Word. The ministry of the Word is especially focused on this and not primarily on our practical walk. Our practical walk is the means by which the priestly service can be performed in a good way.
The food and income of priests and Levites are described in detail in Numbers 18 (Num 18:2-32). Here it happens briefly, in accordance with the book that is not so much about priests and Levites, but about the whole people. This emphasizes the importance of our everyday life, how we behave in it. If we behave in a manner befitting one who is a member of God’s people, it will strengthen both the Levite service and the priestly service. If we have a slovenly way of life, little will come of our service as Levites and priests.
Of the sacrifices the people bring, three parts must be given to the priest. The sacrifices mentioned here are those sacrifices that the people themselves are allowed to eat. The only sacrifice from which the people may eat is the peace offering. In a spiritual sense, food has the meaning that what we think and absorb in our mind forms our character. In other words: our character is partly determined by what we read and listen to.
The priest receives as his food “the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach”. “The shoulder” of the sacrifice speaks of spiritual energy that the Lord Jesus has shown. He continued under all circumstances and completed the work in obedience to His God and Father. If the shoulder is my food, it creates this character trait in me. I then will also go my way in persevering obedience. It is from this that priestly service proceeds. But if it is only priestly service, without first having been food, it is quickly only form. “The two cheeks and the stomach” have connection to the digestive system. The food ingested and the processes of digestion will be made manifest in various aspects of one’s character.
These things apply to the Lord Jesus during His life on earth. He always walked in the way of His God, He contemplated God’s law day and night (Psa 1:2), for God’s law is within His heart (Psa 40:8). The things of His Father (Lk 2:49) were His constant occupation.. There is also an application for us. As priests we must always be in the things of God. It is not enough only to hear the Word. It is important that we think about it, that we process it.
The priest also receives food from the first fruits. The first fruits are that which has just come from the land. So it is about what is fresh and not something that has been in the barns for years. This indicates how important it is that we keep on using “grain”, which speaks of the Lord Jesus as the grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died, through which we received eternal life (Jn 12:24). Every time, every day, we must experience a new joy, “the new wine” in the Lord, through what we read of Him in the Word. Every time, every new day, we must feed on new, fresh food and experience the new power of the Holy Spirit, “oil”.
When our life of faith loses its freshness and we rely on old knowledge and experiences, dead orthodoxy arises. In the meetings this will manifest itself in following a pattern of habits or even the drafting of a liturgy. In both cases a human order is followed and there is nothing to be noticed of freshness and spontaneity in the coming together. Then we eat from old stock. This is the consequence if we do not feed the priest within us and if we forget the Levite, if we do not have an eye for what he distributes to promote the priestly service.
In addition to grain, new wine, and oil, “the first shearing of the sheep” must also be given to the priest. The wool of sheep here speaks of what comes from the new nature in the brothers and sisters. It is the warmth of the fellowship of the brothers and sisters. The first blessing is noticeable in the priestly service. Priestly worship shows how the “first shearing” is doing. There is a cold service if the ‘warmth of the wool’ is missing in the meetings. Then the priestly service is carried out of habit, without the awareness that we belong together as brothers and sisters. We do meet in the meetings, but during the week we don’t care about each other, we live alongside each other, without any interest in each other.
Priestly service exists because of God’s sovereign election. He desires priests in His presence, that they may serve in His name. No priest can stand there and serve on account of who he is in himself, as if he personally has any quality that God can appreciate. God has placed His Name upon them. That is why priests are pleasant to Him. Priestly service never comes to an end. God wants it to be a continuous activity (Heb 13:15).
6 - 8 Each Levite Shares in the Food
6 “Now if a Levite comes from any of your towns throughout Israel where he resides, and comes whenever he desires to the place which the LORD chooses, 7 then he shall serve in the name of the LORD his God, like all his fellow Levites who stand there before the LORD. 8 They shall eat equal portions, except [what they receive] from the sale of their fathers’ [estates].
The service is performed by Levites in Jerusalem, by those who are ‘on duty. If a Levite who lives somewhere else in the land also wants to, he may also go and serve. He must not be hindered in this. He will not be surplus, there is room for him. There is an application for us here. We may gather as a church in the Name of the Lord Jesus to listen to God’s Word, as happens in many places on the first day of the week. For the ministry of the Word, every ‘Levite’ must be given an opportunity. If someone has it on his heart to do a service through the Spirit, he must be given the opportunity to do so, even though there are numerous “ministering” brothers.
The Levites in Jerusalem live from what the Israelites bring. Should a new Levite arrive, they are obligated to share it with one more. The Levites living in Jerusalem may have the low thought that they will get less. This low thought should not be conceded to. It is also irrelevant whether the new Levite has another source of income, for example by selling the land he had in his place of origin.
The same is true of the ‘Levite’ in this day and age. Every work for the Lord deserves to be rewarded by God’s people who benefit from it (Gal 6:6). It does not matter whether such a worker has another source of income. No distinction should be made between those who are so-called ‘full-time’ in the work of the Lord and those who, in addition to their secular jobs, are directly engaged in the Lord’s work. If it is good, every believer is fully engaged for the Lord (1Cor 15:58). The Lord determines the work for each one, and everything should be done for Him (Col 3:17).
Levites are given to the priests to help them in their service (1Chr 23:28-32). All of our service in the character of the Levite must be aimed at doing better justice to our service as priests, i.e. bringing sacrifices to God. Those who make themselves free for the sake of that service are entitled to the support of God’s people (1Cor 9:14; 1Tim 5:17-18).
9 - 14 Prohibition of Occult Practices
9 “When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. 14 For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you [to do] so.
God tells His people what kind of detestable things they will meet in the land. He warns them not to get involved in any way in it or open themselves up to it. The detestable things occur in different forms. Here we recognize the occultism that has fascinated many people today and more and more people fall prey to it. To let children go through the fire occurs in witchcraft. Spiritism is to use demonic powers to penetrate things that are hidden from us in order to obtain information in that way (1Sam 28:7).
Both a medium and other practitioners of occultic arts and those who engage in them, are detestable to the LORD. A person can only be influenced by all these forms of demonic practices if he consciously opens himself up to them. One empties one’s mind and surrenders to passivity, so that the evil spirit is offered his field of activity and can do his pernicious work.
Any form of religion in which we surrender our will except to God is demonic. This effect can also occur through a false form of quiet time, a kind of meditating, without consciously thinking of the Lord Jesus. In the so-called “centers of silence”, demons are offered an excellent means to fill man’s mind with everything but God and His Word. The only remedy against demonic influences is to listen to God’s Word that calls us to be active and sober (1Pet 4:7).
God wishes His people to be “blameless” before Him (verse 13). This corresponds to the teaching of the letter to the Ephesians. In it we read that God has chosen us, believers who belong to the church, to be “holy and blameless before Him in love” (Eph 1:4). It is inconceivable that He, Who has chosen His own to such a special position, can allow them to open themselves up to pernicious influences.
Yet also the believers in Ephesus, and we too, are warned of this (Eph 4:17-19). In contrast to the walk of the nations, in which they are not allowed to participate, is set what is taught to them concerning Christ (Eph 4:20-24). Paul then attaches to this the practical consequences which their new position should bring with it, both in word and deed (Eph 4:25,28).
15 - 19 The True Prophet
15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16 This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’ 17 The LORD said to me, ‘They have spoken well. 18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require [it] of him.
In these verses the difference becomes clear between listening to whom the nations listen and listening to the Prophet Who the LORD will give. Standing opposite to all the demonic influences of the previous verses is the Word. Preservation for the influence of demons lies in the fact that we are closed to everything mentioned in verses 9-14 and that we are open to everything mentioned in verses 15-18.
The Prophet mentioned in these verses is the Lord Jesus (Acts 3:19-23; 7:37). Moses is a picture of Him. That He is “from your countrymen” indicates that, in order to be that Prophet, the Lord Jesus became Man. In the Gospels we find several references to the fact that He is the Prophet Who is announced here by Moses. Sometimes it is only a feeling (Jn 6:14; 7:40), sometimes an expression of faith (Jn 1:45). It is also contained in words spoken by the Lord (Jn 5:46; 12:49-50). The character of the Lord Jesus’ service as a Prophet is similar to that of Moses, but He is far above Moses, however special Moses as a prophet is (Deu 34:10). He is the Beloved Son.
The circumstances under which the promise of the Prophet like Moses is made make it clear that the Prophet will be a Mediator. The confessor who does not listen to His words shall die (Heb 12:25). As believers who belong to the church, we are warned not to despise the prophecies, the word that comes to us in the church on behalf of God (1Thes 5:20a).
20 The False Prophet
20 But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’
Many false prophets have risen in the history of Israel who have presumptuously said to speak in the name of God (Jer 23:25; Eze 13:6; 1Kgs 22:6). They are the forerunners of the false prophet, the antichrist, the worthless shepherd (Zec 11:17a). The antichrist will not only pretend to speak for God, but will pretend to be God himself (2Thes 2:4). It is the pinnacle of overconfidence.
A false prophet can also claim to speak on behalf of other gods. He adapted his image of God to the audience he has in front of him. Whoever is not familiar with the Word of God will fall prey to his misleading language and share in the same judgment that this false prophet will suffer.
21 - 22 The Touchstone: the Word of God
21 You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ 22 When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
The touchstone is and remains the Word of God. What is false always becomes public by comparing it with what is true. God’s Word is the truth. Wonders and signs that are not based on the Word of God come from a wrong source.
The true prophet opposes the false prophets, who will occur especially in the end times. In the end times, false prophets, under Satan’s direction, do miracles and wonders and signs, as the Lord Jesus did during His life on earth (cf. Acts 2:22 with 2Thes 2:9). The real prophet is someone who speaks the Word of God. It is not the wonders and signs that evidence whether anything comes from God, but whether it is in accordance with the Word.
Therefore, we should not be impressed by vague uncontrollable wonders, or by half wonders or wonders of limited duration. We can think of healings or speaking in languages or other miraculous expressions attributed to the Spirit, but which require man to become without will and to surrender himself to a miracle worker. We should not be afraid announcing God’s judgment to such prophets, even though they dare to claim of themselves that they are men of God.