Who was the Prophet Promised in Deuteronomy?1 Comment | June 2011
Now, we come to the second aspect of the prophecy that the promised prophet would resemble Moses(as). In his book, the Pope has rightfully pointed out that; ‘The object of this promise is not a king of Israel and king of the world – a new David, in other words – but a new Moses.’ From this it appears that this prophecy contained a promise of a prophet like Moses(as), not of a prophet like David(as). But how do we determine whether Jesus(as) resembled Moses(as) or David(as)? The Pope has written in the foreword of the book that; ‘The main implication of this for my portrayal of Jesus is that I trust the Gospels.’1
So, let us consult the Gospels. The Gospel of Luke tells us that before the birth of Jesus(as), the Angel Gabriel gave this glad tiding to Mary about him:
And behold you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of His father David.2
So, it was destined that the coming Messiah would resemble David(as), and would inherit his spiritual throne. Like David(as), the Messiah would not introduce a new law but clarify the law given to Moses(as). But the book Jesus of Nazareth states that the prophecy narrated in the book of Deuteronomy is not about a new David(as), but about a new Moses(as). This can only lead to one conclusion. The prophecy in Deuteronomy is not about Jesus(as) because it speaks of a prophet who would resemble Moses(as), whereas, according to the above quotation, Jesus(as) is deemed to resemble David(as).
When Jesus(as) started his mission, the people of Israel were excited, since they were eagerly waiting for the kingdom of David(as) to be restored. They thought that the deliverer they awaited would free them from Roman subjugation, and that their past glory would be restored. When many of these people saw Jesus(as), they thought that their deliverer had come and a new David(as) had appeared. This is why when many amongst the multitude saw him, they cried out that here was the ‘Son of David’ (See Matthew 21:9). Of course, whilst the masses might call Jesus(as) the “Son of David”, did Jesus(as) himself ever confirm that he was, in fact, like David(as)? To answer this question, we will have to follow the story of Jesus’ life when he entered Jerusalem for the last time. The Gospel of Matthew narrates that Jesus(as) went to the Temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers, and healed the blind and the lame that came to him. At that time, children present in the Temple cried out in excitement, ‘Hosana to the Son of David.’ These innocent words of the children were too much for the chief priests and the scribes. They found it hard to conceal their jealousy, and said to Jesus(as), ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus(as) replied: ‘Yes. Have you ever read…’Out of the month of the babes and nursing infants…you have perfected faith?’ (Matthew 21:16). He was, of course, referring to the verses of Psalm 8.
When Jesus(as) started preaching, people speculated about his role. Indeed, the Gospel of John tells us that these theories started when Jesus(as) was a baby. When John the Baptist(as) baptised Jesus(as), he said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!’ Some of the disciples of John started following Jesus(as). One of them – Andrew, told his brother that he had discovered the Messiah. On the other hand, Philip had a different opinion; and he told his brother Nathaniel that; ‘We have found Him of Moses in the law, and also the prophets wrote – Jesus of Nazareth.’3 But, Jesus(as) was not present to either confirm or reject their theories. Jesus(as) was aware of these rumours. Mark tells us that when he and his disciples were on the road whilst going to the towns of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus(as) asked his disciples, ‘Who do men say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but some say Elijah (Elias); and others, one of the prophets.’ Jesus asked them, ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter was the one who answered and said that he was the Christ. Jesus(as) did not say that his answer was wrong, but he strictly told them not to tell anybody about him.4 Luke also narrates a similar incident.5 But it is worth noting that when Philip called him the prophet promised by Moses(as), Jesus(as) was not present and that Philip had not yet himself heard the preaching of Jesus(as). But when the children in the Temple called him Son of David, these remarks were quickly confirmed by him. In other words, Jesus(as) himself only confirmed comparisons to David(as). Indeed, most of the comparisons above are not, in fact, to Moses(as).
The third important aspect of the prophecy is that this prophet would be from among the brethren of Israel. When Moses(as) narrated the prophecy in his own words, he told his people that this prophet would arise, “from among you, from your brethren”, but when he quoted the exact words of God, he said that this prophet “from among their brethren”. So what does the phrase, “from among their brethren” mean? Christians claim that this means that the prophet would arise from among the tribes of Israel. Muslims, on the other hand, maintain that this phrase clearly indicates that this prophet would be born of the progeny of Ishmael(as). Since Ishmael(as) was the brother of Isaac(as), the progeny of Ishmael(as) are brothers to the tribes of Israel. This may be a matter of opinion for some and a matter of faith for others, but let us see how Pope Benedict XVI has dealt with this particular point. While discussing that the promised one would arise from Israel on page 3 of his book, the Pope has quoted this part of the prophecy in a strange way. He writes:
“…It does this in the form of a promise. ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you… him you shall heed.’ (Deut.18:15). At first glance it seems to be no more than a declaration that God will establish the Prophetic office in Israel…”6
Here the ellipsis (…) – used at times to skip over irrelevant passages in a longer quote, replaces the words ‘from thy brethren’. This is odd, because the phrase is not irrelevant; in fact, it is of key importance to understanding the prophecy. Secondly, the quote is not lengthy and it does seem rather unnecessary to replace three little words with an ellipsis. The author may have interpreted the words, from thy brethren as he understands, but the Pope should not have deleted these crucial words when quoting the prophecy. It would have been more appropriate – and just, to let the reader of the book read the full text of the prophecy and make his own judgment about the interpretation of the author (see The Review of Religions December 2010, for a detailed discussion on the positions of Ishmael(as) and Isaac(as) as sons of Abraham(as) and true brethren of the Israelites – Ed).
Now we come to another important point of the prophecy. God told Moses(as) that He “will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” Obviously, this meant that this prophet would convey to mankind the exact words which God revealed to him. Also, through him people would have the good fortune of listening to the very words of God.
Did Jesus(as) pass on the exact words of God to his followers? When we go through the four Gospels we find sermons, parables, and the story of Jesus’ life. However, according to the Gospels, Jesus(as) did not convey the exact words of God to mankind. Once again, Jesus(as) does not fulfil this particular aspect of the prophecy. Moreover, God told us about this Prophet that, “He shall speak unto them all I shall command.” To judge whether the personality of Jesus(as) fulfils this aspect, let us trust the Gospels and listen to what Jesus(as) himself said about this. Just before his arrest and crucifixion, he told his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when he – the spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth for the shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that he shall speak; and he will show you things to come” (John 16:12-13)
Here Jesus(as) himself admits that he is not the one who was destined to pass on all that God told him. As said before, Pope Benedict XVI has not quoted the full text of this prophecy in his book. It is evident why the author did not feel comfortable about quoting the full text of the prophecy. After all, the details of the prophecy go against his conclusion. But again, he should present his readers with the whole truth and let them decide.
But what if someone pretends to be the one promised by God? How can we ascertain the truth of this claim? In Deuteronomy 18:20, God has given us the criterion by which to judge. We are told that such a pretender shall incur Divine wrath, and meet with death and defeat. In fact, such a pretender will be killed. But Christians themselves admit that Jesus(as) was successfully crucified and died an accursed death. So, this again leads us to the conclusion that, according to Christian belief, Jesus(as) cannot be the prophet promised in Deuteronomy.
Usually the following reference from the Gospel of John is quoted by some Christian authors to support their claim. Jesus(as) said:
Do not think that I shall accuse to the father; there is one who accuses you – Moses in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. (John, 5:45-46).
But here there is only a vague reference to a prophecy by Moses(as). It does not specify which prophecy is being mentioned. Furthermore, Christian authors quote many other prophecies from the Pentateuch about Jesus(as), but cannot prove that the Jews of Jesus’ time understood the same verses in the manner that present day Christians interpret them.
There are many Jewish commentators, such as Ibn Ezra (1089-1164), who have claimed that this prophecy of Moses(as) was fulfilled in Joshua(as). But here we face another obvious ambiguity. The book of Deuteronomy was written when Joshua(as) had already taken over the leadership of Israel. Deuteronomy 34:9 describes the events after the death of Moses(as) in the plains of Moab:
Now Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses has laid his hands on him: so the children of Israel heeded him, and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.
We can safely conclude that at the earliest, the Book of Deuteronomy was compiled in the early part of Joshua’s reign. In fact, most scholars place its composition around 640-650 B.C., several centuries after Joshua(as). So while this verse describes the Divinely-ordained leadership of Joshua(as), the next verse makes it clear that Joshua(as) was not the deliverer promised by God in Deuteronomy 34:10. Here, we read:
But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.
This makes it clear that the fulfilment of the prophecy about a prophet like Moses(as) lies in the future, that is, after Joshua’s time.
As mentioned before, Muslims claim that Muhammad the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) was the prophet like unto Moses(as) promised in the Deuteronomy prophecy. First of all, let us ascertain whether the Qur’an declares the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) to be a prophet like Moses(as) or not. Surah Al-Muzzammil states:
Verily We have sent to you a Messenger, who is a witness over you, even as we sent a messenger to Pharaoh. (Ch.73:V.16)
Moreover, Surah Al Araf refers to the followers of the Holy Prophet(saw) as:
Those who follow the Messenger, the Prophet, the Ummi (Immaculate one) whom they find mentioned in the Torah and the Gospel which are with them… (Ch.7:V.158)
Muslims claim that Muhammad(saw) is referred to in Genesis 12:2-3; 17:4; 21:13, 21:18, 25:13,; in Deuteronomy 18:18, 33:1-3, Psalms 84:4-6, Habakkuk 3:3, Isaiah 21:13-17; 28:10-11; 42:1-13 and as the Paraclete in John 16:13 and John 14:26.
The Holy Prophet(saw) mentioned this to the Jews of his time. After migrating to Madinah, the Holy Prophet(saw) wrote a letter to the Jews of Khaibar in the following terms:
“In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. From Muhammad the Apostle of God, Friend and Brother of Moses, who confirms what Moses brought. God says to you, O People of the Book; you will find it in your scripture: ‘Muhammad is the apostle of God…”7
So the Qur’an declares that the Prophet Muhammad(saw) is the prophet like Moses(as), and that his advent was foretold in the Torah. Also, the Holy Prophet(saw) himself claimed to be a brother and friend of Moses(as) , whose coming was foretold by Moses(as).
This is not a mere claim. Everyone can see the resemblance between Moses(as) and the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw). Amongst some of the many similarities:
-Both Moses(as) and the Holy Prophet(saw) were Law-bearing prophets.
-Both were given revealed Books, namely, the Torah and the Qur’an.
-Both prophets had to migrate under most dangerous circumstances and were pursued -during their migration.
-Both prophets had to fight battles.
Hence, the question arises as to what is meant by the phrase from thy brethren. Who are the brethren of the Children of Israel? The Muslim world claims that it meant the prophet will be born from among the progeny of Ishmael(as). If this prophet was destined to be born from among the children of Israel, then it would have sufficed to have used the phrase “from among you”; there was no need to add the words from thy brethren.
Christian and Jewish commentators have always maintained that, for the purposes of this prophecy, the descendants of Ishmael(as) cannot be considered the brethren of the children of Israel. They claim that the prophecy clearly means that this prophet would be born amongst the tribes of Israel. In order to interpret a Biblical prophecy, we should find guidance in the Bible itself. In the book of Numbers, we find an interesting narration about the encounter between Israel and the Edomites. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob(as). We read in Chapter 20 that Moses(as) sent a message from Kadesh, a city at the edge of Edom, to the King of Edom. This message began with the words, “Thus says your brother Israel…” If the descendants of Jacob(as) can be called brothers of the progeny of Esau, because Jacob(as) and Esau were brothers, there is no reason why the progenies of Isaac(as) and Ishmael(as) cannot be considered brethren to one another. Ishmael(as) and Isaac(as) were both sons of Abraham(as), and thus were brothers. Furthermore, in the Bible the word “brother” is not only confined to blood relations; it also includes the definition of being a compatriot or ally (See 2 Samuel 1:26, 1 Kings 9:13).
In the prophecy we are told that God will put His words in the mouth of this prophet, and he will convey all that is revealed to him to mankind. The Qur’an is exactly such a book. It contains the exact words of God. On the other hand, none of the four Gospels or even Gospels of Apocrypha, are the exact words of God’s revelation.
Some Christian authors when confronted with this question, take refuge in the objection that the entire Qur’an was revealed through the medium of the Angel Gabriel, and that this proves that the Prophet Muhammad(saw) did not speak to God directly, and that he is not the prophet promised by God.
But this objection does not hold water. Firstly, if God sends His revelation to a prophet through an angel, does not this mean that God has put His words in the mouth of that prophet? Sahih Bukhari – the most authentic of the books of the traditions (Ahadith) of the Holy Prophet(saw) – states in its very first chapter that not all of the revelations received by the Holy Prophet(saw) were through the Angel Gabriel8.
In the Holy Qur’an God commanded the Holy Prophet(saw), to Recite that which has been revealed to thee of the Book… (Ch.29:V.46)
Then in Surah Al Maidah God instructed the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw):
O Messenger convey to the people what has been revealed to thee from thy Lord; and if thou do it not, thou has not conveyed His Message at all… (Ch.5:V.68)
In these two verses we see the instruction according to the prophecy in Deuteronomy Ch.18:V.18, that God would put His words into the mouth of the prophet, and he would speak unto them all that he had been commanded by God. The Holy Qur’an is a proof that the Holy Prophet(saw) did as he was commanded. On the other hand, when we go through the Gospels we do not see the commandments or revelation of God being conveyed to mankind. On the contrary, we read such statements as the following admission from Jesus(as):
“I still have many things to say but you cannot bear them now, but when the spirit of truth will come he will guide you to the complete truth.” (John 16:12-13)
The Ahadith (books of traditions and sayings of the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw), recorded faithfully by his Companions and those who were their descendants), also proves that whenever the Holy Prophet(saw) was asked anything by his Companions, he would pause a while, often waiting for God to put words in his mouth, and would then speak and would repeat whatever he had said three times. So it is evident that the Holy Prophet(saw) only spoke whatever he was commanded to do, and many of his words and certainly all his revelations were recorded in his lifetime. Conversely, many Christians admit that in the case of Jesus(as), what he said or did cannot always be verified.
Now the question arises, what if an impostor claims to be the prophet promised in Deuteronomy? What will the criterion be for determining his falsehood? As it turns out, the last part of the prophecy provides the answer. Such a pretender would incur God’s Divine Wrath and would meet with death and defeat, whilst a true prophet would be saved by God. This is the reason why God promised the Holy Prophet(saw):
O Messenger! convey to the people what has been revealed to thee from thy Lord; and if thou do it not, thou has not conveyed His message at all. And Allah will protect thee from men…(Ch.5:V.68)
Whilst the enemy tried to murder the Prophet(saw) many times, each time he was miraculously saved by God. The Jews of that time were very much aware of this part of the prophecy, and many of them began to admit that perhaps Muhammad(saw) was the prophet they had been awaiting. Though some pious Jewish scholars accepted Islam, most of them were obstinate and opposed him in every manner. Many a time the Jews made collective or individual efforts to murder the Holy Prophet(saw). Even when they had signed a treaty with the Muslims, one of the Jews of the Banu Nadir tribe of Madinah – Amr bin Jihas – connived with his comrades, to throw a stone at the Holy Prophet(saw), whilst he was staying as a guest in one of their houses9. When the Jews of Khaibar were defeated in war, one of their women – Zaynab, daughter of Harith – tried to poison him10. Aside from these incidents, the Jews of Madinah also tried several times to encourage the enemies of Islam in Makkah to attack Madinah. One of the possible reasons behind these repeated attempts was that many among them had begun to admit that Muhammad(saw) was the prophet promised in their scriptures. However, if they succeeded in murdering him, they could claim that he was an impostor, and that the prophecy – which stated that any pretender would die – would be fulfilled in this way. But each time God miraculously saved the Holy Prophet(saw).
Of course, everyone is free to hold an opinion about this prophecy. Since ancient times there have been lively debates about such issues – that is the beauty of the intellectual arena. But while arguing in favour of one’s conclusion, each writer should make an effort to present all the necessary facts before the readers, so that they are in a better position to form an independent opinion.
1. ibid, p.xxi
2. Luke, Ch.1:Vs.31-32
3. John, Ch.1:Vs.41-45
4. Mark, Ch.8:Vs.27-30
5. Luke, Ch.9:Vs.18-21
6. Ratzinger, Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth, Bloomsbury, London. Berlin. New York. 2008. p.3
7. Ibn e Ishaq (English translation by A. Guillaume), Sirat Rasul Allah, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 17th Impression, 2004, p.256
8. Sahih Bukhari, Kitab Bida ul Wahi; Ch.1, Hadith No.2
9. Ibn e Ishaq (English translation by A. Guillaume), Sirat Rasul Allah, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 17th Impression, 2004, p.265
10. ibid, p.516