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Prophet of Deliverance
Spring Quarter: Prophets Faithful To God’s Covenant
Unit 1: Faithful Prophets
Sunday school lesson for the week of March 7, 2021
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: Deuteronomy 18:15-22
Key Verse: Deuteronomy 18:15
- Summarize what God said about the prophet and message to come.
- Explain how Moses’ words were intended to guide Israel as God’s covenant people.
- Prepare a set of guidelines for distinguishing true from false teaching today.
The theme of the third quarter is “Prophets Faithful to God’s Covenant.” These prophets of the Old Testament era warned people who had turned away from God and encouraged the faithful to remain faithful. On occasion, they had even fortified their calls by foretelling God’s intent and plans for the future.
Unit 1 is called “Faithful Prophets,” and the four lessons highlight the faithfulness of God. In addition, these lessons reveal to God’s people their own continuing need to be faithful to Him.
Moving to today’s lesson, “Prophet of Deliverance,” we have Moses’ foretelling of a prophet whom God would raise up within Israel to speak the Lord’s words to them. Israel’s necessary response would be to obey the prophet. And these words anticipate the line of prophets God would send, culminating in the ultimate prophet, Jesus Christ (see Acts 3:17-26).
Moses had led the children of Israel for 40 years, guiding them through such triumphant moments as the parting of the Red Sea. But he had also led them in the wilderness as he wandered with them and as he shared their consequence (but not their guilt, except for the incident described in Deuteronomy 32:51) of unbelief and failure to trust God. At any rate, the time had come for a transition in leadership. So what respective roles would God and the people have in this transition?
Today’s study comes from the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book in what is often called the Pentateuch, the Torah, or the five books of Law. Moses spoke the contents of the book (1:1) and recorded it (31:9, 22, 24). This same book concludes with the declaration that since the book’s writing, “no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (34:10). Thus, Moses was a prophet of the Lord as well as the lawgiver to God’s covenant people.
The book of Deuteronomy witnesses to Moses’ farewell speech to the second generation of Israelites. He was preparing them to cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land, and they needed to hear the law for the context of their generation (1:1-8).
And we are told that in its function as “second (giving of the) law,” Deuteronomy repeats contents from previous instructions to the people (compare Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-21). At the same time, some of the material had special relevance to those who were to enter the Promised Land and drive out its inhabitants (chapter 20).
Deuteronomy 18, from which today’s lesson is drawn, is the climax of a series of instructions concerning various leadership positions that would offer guidance to God’s people. Reading the directives for a king in Israel will show how different he was to rule as compared to those who ruled other nations (17:14-20).
While Moses did not specifically identify this “prophet,” he did offer some distinguishing characteristics. First, the prophet would be “from among you, from your fellow Israelites,” a member of the covenant people. For this reason, the one to come could be expected to be faithful to God’s law and not attempt to lead the people into idolatry (see 18:20).
Second, the prophet would be “like” Moses in certain respects. At any rate, all true prophets must be “like Moses,” thereby, drawing a line around the range of their teaching and at the same time indicating that Moses was a more than ordinary prophet.
Third, the command “you must listen” implies the next characteristic: that the prophet would be someone who had authority (compare Mark 1:22), someone to whom the people needed to listen to and obey.
Calling Moses a prophet points out the fact that Moses’ words had not lost their significance by the time of Jesus. For instance, a question directed at John the Baptist was, “Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:21), which John promptly denied before pointing to Christ (John 1:26-27). Peter and Stephen quoted Deuteronomy 18:15 in Acts 3:22 and 7:37, respectively, in declaring its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus.
However, an earlier fulfillment, closer at hand for Moses’ audience, was found in the man Joshua. As you know, Joshua was the one who became the leader of Israel after Moses’ death. When the people listened to him, things went well (Joshua 6). But when they trusted their own human nature, unpleasant consequences resulted (Joshua 7). Interesting to note that the names Joshua and Jesus both mean “the Lord is salvation.”
Point! Moses’ successor was to be like him in the sense that their messages from God would be 100 percent in unison. However, the successor may or may not have a personal style like that of Moses. While cultural styles or methods may change, what never changes is the Word of God.
The late Bishop Mack Stokes put it this way:
“The tree of Protestantism roots in the Bible. In that soil alone does it flourish. Every time we try to plant it somewhere else, it withers away and dies.”
This promise of a coming prophet was rooted in a request made by the Israelites when God spoke to them at Horeb (another name for Mount Sinai). After God spoke, the people expressed extreme fear and trepidation at hearing “the voice of God” in that terrifying setting. They pleaded with Moses to speak to them instead of having the Lord do so, lest they die (Exodus 20:19-21).
And these people had reasons to be fearful. God had instructed them to gather at the foot of that mountain and had given strict commandments regarding how close they could get to it – with dire consequences for disobedience (Exodus 19:12, 13, 20-24). To top it all, the scene had been marked by a mighty display of thunder, lightning, fire, smoke, the weird sound of a trumpet, and the shaking of the mountain itself (Exodus 19:16-18). And it was then that God spoke to these people the “Ten Commandments.”
Verse 17 states, “The Lord said to me: ‘What they say is good.’” This further summarizes what the Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai. Because of the people’s legitimate fear of God, Moses continued to serve as the mediator between God and the people.
While verse 18 clearly suggests Joshua’s role in Israel, God also pointed to spiritual leadership beyond both Moses and Joshua. God would make sure that the people did not have an excuse to imitate the detestable practices of other nations (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). Prophets chosen by God would provide access to the “words” of the Lord.
Legitimate prophets spoke only what God told them (see 1 Kings 22:14). These prophets proclaimed the words of God boldly and often at the risk of their own well-being. And the Old Testament prophets foreshadowed the ultimate prophet, Jesus – the one who became “God with us” (Matthew 1:22,23).
Writing in her book “Old Testament Prophets for Today,” Carolyn J. Sharp, Associate Professor of Hebrew Scripture at Yale Divinity School, says that “Christian interpreters since New Testament times have argued that the Hebrew Scripture point in myriad veiled ways to the identity and mission of Jesus as the Christ.” So Moses’ words foreshadowed the many prophets God would send, leading ultimately to Jesus’ own ministry.
To “listen” to the “words” God speaks through his appointed messengers implies obedience to those words. If obedience is not the result, then one had not truly listened. And the consequences for rejecting God’s words is that God calls the disobedient person to account. Perhaps the most extreme example of God’s judgment for failing to hear and obey comes in the form of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles.
Verse 20 makes clear that any prophet who speaks in self-presumption, or in the name of other gods, will be put to death. That prophet is a false prophet (compare Matthew 7:15).
Moses gave God’s people two tests to use in determining whether a person’s claims to be a prophet of the Lord was legitimate.
The first criterion was to verify the content of the alleged prophet’s message. Was it consistent with the previously revealed word of the Lord? If it did not measure up to that divine standard, then the prophet’s teaching had to be rejected and the man himself judged as a false prophet.
And closely related to this criterion was the nature of a person’s character. For example, the prophet who is “like” Moses will be characterized by humility (Numbers 12:3). In other words, the content of character had to match the content of message.
The second criterion is seen in the phrase “speaks in the name of other gods.” To do so clearly violates the first commandment (Exodus 20:3). This same test was outlined by Moses in Deuteronomy 13:1-5. We are told that the test included additional caution regarding an alleged prophet’s ability to perform impressive signs or wonders. Such a person was to be rejected if those wonders were accompanied by encouragement to worship other gods. Thus, idolatry proved the person to be a false prophet, no matter how spectacular his sign or wonder may be.
How faithfully did Israel carry out the command to put false prophets to death? Apparently, not very well, for false prophets seem to have become more prevalent after the nation divided in 930 BC. One principle proponent of false prophets was King Ahab of Northern Israel (reigned 874-853 BC) who promoted the worship of the false god Baal and his consort Asherah. The king encouraged prophets who claimed to speak for these deities, and those prophets and their idolatry flourished.
Point! False prophets were allowed not only to liv,e but were encouraged to advise! Consequently, their messages resulted in much damage to the spiritual welfare of God’s covenant people (Matthew 24:11).
A more modern example of a false prophet is Jim Jones of the so-called People’s Temple. He led 918 of his followers to commit suicide in Guyana in 1978. Without doubt, the followers of Jones suffered greatly for having believed the instructions of this false prophet. Most certainly, Jones didn’t have the best interests of his followers at heart.
Though it would take some time and patience, the people could always recognize a “false prophet if what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord did not come true.” However, it is important to add that just because an individual’s prediction does come true does not in and of itself validate that person as a true prophet of the Lord.
Important! The test of true prophecy in this passage is the fulfillment of the prophet’s word.
One scholar stated that no doubt the higher Hebrew prophecy is interpretative, not prediction, has insight rather than foresight (of particular events), and is concerned chiefly with morality and religion. However, the confirmation of prophetic interpretation, insight and truth would be in events. The true prophet in Israel was (and always will be everywhere) the interpreter of the contemporaneous mind of God.
Thus, at the retirement of Moses, he was given a word by which to reassure the covenant people that they would still be led by the Lord and his chosen prophets even after the 40-year tenure of Moses. Moses had taught the Israelites what they needed to know in living as God’s covenant people, and he wanted to make certain that they wouldn’t engage in practices that would enslave them to the gods of the people around them. Moses wanted the people to be delivered from these influences and fully committed to the Lord as their only God.
And certainly, this is no less true for Christians!
Resources for this lesson
- What are some ways to spot false teachers or false prophets in the church? Read Zechariah 13:1-6; Matthew 7:15; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; 1 Timothy 1;3-7; Revelation 2:20.
- Review the characteristics of a true prophet.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).
- “2020-2021 Standard Lesson Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 233-240.
- “The Abingdon Bible Commentary” by D.R. Scott, pages 332-333.
- The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume II, pages 429-432.