Who was the Prophet Promised in Deuteronomy?

No Comments | May 2011
Deuteronomy or Devarim is the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible

Chapter 18 of Deuteronomy contains two verses that have been the subject of intense debate over the centuries. Moses(as) told the assembly of Israel:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren – him you shall heed. Just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They have rightly said all that they have spoken.’ I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. (Deuteronomy, 18:15-20)

Christian missionaries argue this verse proves that the advent of Jesus(as) was foretold in the Hebrew Bible. Muslims believe that the coming of the Prophet Muhammad(saw), the Founder of Islam, was foretold in these passages. On the other hand, many Jews claim that Joshua(as) was being referred to in this prophecy. However, before we analyse all these claims, let us review the salient features of the prophecy. There are five important features:

  1. A prophet will come.
  2. This prophet will resemble Moses(as).
  3. This prophet will be raised from among the brethren of Israel.
  4. This prophet will convey the exact words of God as revealed to him, to mankind.
  5. If anyone pretends to be the prophet promised in this prophecy, such a pretender will incur God’s displeasure, and will meet death and defeat. However, the real claimant to this prophecy will remain completely protected by God.

Deuteronomy consists of three sermons by Moses(as). The identity of the promised Prophet mentioned by Moses(as) in Deuteronomy 18 is the subject of intense debate

First, let us look at the Christian interpretation that this prophecy was about the coming of Christ(as). The Christians quote the following references:

1) Luke 7:39 – the Pharisee said to himself, ‘if this man were a prophet…’.

2) John 5:46 – Jesus(as) said “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he (Moses(as)) wrote about me.”

3) In various places, at various times, several people called Jesus(as) the ‘prophet’, yet Jesus(as) never corrected them, rebuked them, nor told them otherwise. When the Pharisees called him otherwise, He set them straight. Matt. 21:11, John 1:45, 6:14, 7:40, Luke 7:16, 24:19, etc.

4) Jesus(as) called himself a prophet – John 4:44.

5) After His ascension his disciples emphatically said he was that prophet: Acts 3:22, 7:37. In none of these references is there any claim by Jesus(as) to be a Prophet in the context of Deuteronomy 18:15-20.

We notice an obvious ambiguity. Moses(as) predicted the appearance of a prophet, but most Christians do not believe that Jesus(as) actually was a prophet of God. Instead, he is held to be Divine by them. The very foundation of present-day Christianity is based on the concept that Jesus was the ‘Son of God’. However, Moses(as) did not prophesy about a “Son of God”; he prophesied about the advent of a great prophet who would be like him.

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI published the book Jesus of Nazareth, which was translated into English in 2007. The first chapter of this book, entitled “An Initial Reflection on the Mysteries of Jesus” contains the following:

The Book of Deuteronomy contains a promise that is completely different from the messianic hope expressed in the other books of the Old Testament, yet it is of decisive importance for understanding the figure of Jesus. The object of this promise is not a king of Israel and a king of the world – a new David in other words, – but a new Moses…1

The first chapter of this book is mainly about this prophecy. But oddly enough, the complete text of the prophecy has not been given in Jesus of Nazareth.

Unfortunately, Pope Benedict XVI does not discuss this particular aspect in his book. Instead of clearing up this inconsistency, he focuses on another point entirely. He discusses the fact that the term “Prophet” as used in the literature of Israel, had a totally specific and unique meaning as compared with the literature of the surrounding religious world. While this comparison is of academic importance, the fact remains (in whatever way the title of “Prophet” was used in the Bible), the Christian world does not claim that Jesus(as) was a prophet. So according to Christian beliefs, Jesus(as) cannot be the Divine prophet that was promised in Deuteronomy, since Christians believe him to be the “Son of God”, as opposed to a Prophet and a teacher of faith.

The next point is that according to the Pope, this prophecy is totally different from the prophecies about the Messiah in other books of the Old Testament. Unfortunately, his introduction, quoted above, lends some doubt to the conclusion he eventually draws. If this prophecy was really about the Messiah, then why would it be completely different from the other prophecies about the Messiah? If those other prophecies were about the same person, then there should have been some noticeable similarities. This very observation leads us to the conclusion that this particular prophecy, unlike the other prophecies about the Messiah, is actually about a different person.

Continues in the next edition
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