Moses and The Messiah
The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken (Dt. 18:15)
There were three administrative offices given by the Lord God to Israel to rule over and guide them – the king, the priest and the prophet. The king ruled over Israel for God; the priest represented the people before God; and the prophet spoke to the people from God. Each was anointed with oil when he assumed his office either as king (1 Sam. 16:3), as priest (Ex. 28:41) or as prophet (1 Ki. 19:16). Thus, each could be referred to as an “anointed one” or a “messiah” (mashiah in Hebrew) in the general sense of the term. While an individual could serve as both a priest and a prophet (e.g., Samuel), and one person might serve as both king and prophet (e.g., David), no Israelite ever combined in his own person the roles of priest and king. Those who attempted to do so were judged by God (1 Sam. 13; 2 Chr. 26:16-21). Only the Messiah could serve as both priest and king (Zech. 6:12-13). The role of prophet also would belong to the Messiah, thus combining all three of these normally separate offices of Old Testament Israel.
It is of interest to note that the Lord gave instructions regarding each of these offices in one extended section of the Book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 17:14-20, guidelines are given for the king of Israel – directions often disobeyed by subsequent kings who later reigned over Israel. In Deuteronomy 18:1-8, guidelines are given for the priests and the Levites, particularly the portions of land and food belonging to them. Finally, in Deuteronomy 18:15-19, Moses provided the characteristics of the Prophet and contrasted Him with false prophets as well.
Before considering what the prophetic characteristics are and who fulfills them, it is important to examine the passage immediately preceding the one which describes the Prophet for Israel. In Deuteronomy 18:9-14 there is a stern warning against all sorts of occult practices – – -soothsayers, sorcerers, mediums, spiritists – all of whom are called an “abomination unto the LORD” (v. 12). No more relevant passage needs to be heeded today in our “New Age” culture with its emphasis on reincarnation, spirit-mediums and out-of-body experiences. Those who say they are out on a limb (the title of a recent “New Age” book) are in reality “out of their tree” and heretics according to God’s Word! In other words, this passage warns us where we are not to get our information (from satanic occult sources) and then tells us where the reliable source is – the Prophet raised up by God.
The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken, According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, who shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die (Dt. 18:15-20).
Moses lists seven characteristics of this Prophet:
- He must be called by God (“The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet” v. 15). No self-ordained preacher could claim this role. He had to have the stamp of a divine call.
- He must be an Israelite (“from the midst of these, of thy brethren,” v. 15). Therefore, no Gentiles need apply for this job! In the 7th century A.D., the truth of this verse was the main reason Jews simply could not accept Muhammad as God’s prophet – he was not Jewish!
- He must be like Moses (“a Prophet… like unto me,” v.15). This, however, raises a problem. According to Deuteronomy 34:10 and Numbers 12:6-8, there never was a prophet like Moses – his experience with God was unique. We must then look beyond the Isaiahs and Jeremiahs to discover one like Moses.
- He must have the authority of a prophet (vv. 16-17). In other words, no uncertain sound was to be heard from him. Only “thus saith the Lord” was to preface his message.
- He must be obeyed (“unto him ye shall hearken,” v.15; “it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him,” v.19). There was no option in obeying the Prophet’s word – there was either obedience or judgment. Anyone who dared to disregard a prophet’s message brought judgment on himself!
- He must speak only God’s word (“I… will put my words in his mouth,” v. 18). He was not to offer his own opinions but to proclaim only the word of God. A prophet who spoke his own ideas would die (v. 20).
- He must certify himself by tested prophecies. According to Deuteronomy 18:21-22, a false prophet could never bat 1,000 – he would eventually fail in his predictions. Not so with the Lord’s Prophet. His prophecies would be attested by their accurate fulfillment, for the true prophet’s power came from the omniscient God who knows all things – past and present – actual and possible.
This remarkable passage made a deep impression on the Jews of the Old Testament and also on those who lived after the restoration from the Babylonian captivity. Although some rabbis desired to see this prophecy fulfilled in Joshua, Ezra or Jeremiah, others knew that such was impossible because none of them was equal to Moses (see Num. 12:6-8). Embedded within the consciousness of the people was a conviction that there would someday arrive a Prophet like none who had appeared before in Israel’s history. It was He who would be the fulfillment of Moses’ description in this passage. Consider, for example, how this expectation of the Prophet is portrayed in the Gospel of John. When representatives from Jerusalem were sent to inquire of John the Baptist, they asked him a number of questions about his identity. Note John 1:21:
And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
These priests were referring to the Prophet promised by Moses in Deuteronomy 18.
When Jesus instructed the Samaritan woman about the true nature of worship, she remarked, “I know that Messiah cometh, who is called Christ; when he is come, he will tell us all things” (Jn. 4:25) . Her concept of Messiah is interesting, especially in light of the fact that the Samaritans only accepted the five books of Moses as their Scriptures. It is clear that she identified the Messiah with the Prophet in one of these five books (Dt. 18) who would declare the truth of the Word of God. Jesus then identified Himself with her expectation: “Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he” (Jn. 4:26).
Later in Jesus’ ministry, on two occasions the crowds proclaimed about Him, “This is of a truth that prophet” (Jn. 6:14; 7:40), identifying Jesus with the promised one of Deuteronomy 18. In the infant days of the early Church, both Peter (Acts 3:22-24) and Stephen (Acts 7:37) saw in Jesus’ life and ministry the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy.
Did Jesus really qualify as the Prophet promised by Moses? It is striking to note how Jesus fulfilled all seven of the characteristics of the Prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.
- He was called by God (Lk. 9:35);
- He was an Israelite (Mt. 1; Jn. 1:49);
- He was a mediator like Moses (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 1:1,3);
- He spoke with an authority unlike the teachers of His day (Mt. 7:28-29; 21:10-11);
- God declared that His words must be obeyed (Mt. 17:5);
- He spoke the Word of God in God’s name (Jn. 12: 8-49; Jn. 5:45);
- and He certified Himself by miracles and prophecies which no one could deny (Jn. 3:2; Acts 2:22).
If Jesus did not fulfill Moses’ description of the Prophet, then no one has ever appeared who has, and Israel’s hope remains unfulfilled.
While various prophets arose throughout Israelite history, none could claim to even approach the level of Moses who had a face-to-face encounter with God (Num. 12:6-8). But listen to John’s description of the Logos: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). That same Word created all things (Jn. 1:3) and is the source of life (Jn. 1:4) and light (Jn. 1:9). Furthermore, that Word became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (Jn. 1:14). To all who receive Him, He gives the authority to become children of God (Jn. 1:12).
In addition to being a prophet like Moses, there were other ways in which the Messiah would be like Israel’s great leaders. Moses was a redeemer who brought God’s people out of Egypt’s bondage (Ex. 3:10); Messiah is a redeemer who brings God’s people out of sin’s bondage (Isa. 53:4-12). Moses was a mediator who went between God and Israel (Ex. 19:16,19); Messiah is a mediator between God and His redeemed (1 Tim. 2:5). Moses was an intercessor before God for Israel (Num. 14:11-20); Messiah intercedes for His followers before the Lord (Isa. 53:12; Heb. 7:25). The writer to the Hebrews exults in the fact that not only was Jesus like Moses, He was actually greater than Moses. While Moses was a servant in God’s house, Jesus was a Son over God’s house (Heb. 3:5-6).
In Jesus, the Jewish person finds all that the Hebrew Scriptures describe as essential for life. As the anointed King, He has a kingdom in which to rule over willing subjects. As the anointed Priest, He is the sacrifice for our sins, and He intercedes for us in God’s presence. As the anointed Prophet, He is the faithful voice of divine instruction. He is Messiah – Prophet, Priest and King – all in one ineffable person. Let us worship Him, adore Him and proclaim Him to Jews and Gentiles alike, for He meets the need of our hearts for time and eternity.