Looking for a Prophet Like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-22)

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“Advent” simply means “coming.” During the Advent season, we prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming, then celebrate his arrival on Christmas Day. Although Christ’s first advent has already occurred, it is an ancient Christian tradition to remember and re-enact the longing and groaning of God’s Old Covenant people for their Messiah. We sing songs like, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”—even though Emmanuel has already come—and anticipate Christ’s Second Advent.

In 1 Peter 1:10-12, we read that the Old Testament prophecies were given for our benefit since the prophets knew that they would not see the coming of Christ during their lifetime:

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Advent is a time to anticipate and celebrate that Christ has come! But…what is the meaning of Christ? Christ (from the Greek christos) is another word for Messiah (from the Hebrew meshiyach). Both Christ and Messiah mean “anointed one.”

When we say, “Jesus Christ has come” or “the Messiah has come,” we mean, “Jesus the Anointed One” has come. But…what is the meaning of anointed one?

In the Old Testament, there were three offices that required one to be anointed with oil as part of one’s ceremonial appointment: prophet, priest, and king.

When God appointed Saul as the King in 1 Samuel 10:1, Aaron and his sons as priests in Exodus 28:41, and Elisha as prophet in 1 Kings 19:16, each was anointed with oil. In this sense, every Old Testament prophet, priest, and king was a christ or messiah because they were anointed ones, set apart for the Lord’s work. When Saul was pursuing David, David snuck into Saul’s camp at night and could have killed him, but refused to “put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed [meshiyach]” (1 Samuel 24:6).

While God provided his people with these three “anointed” or “messianic” offices, Israel was inevitably plagued by false prophets, sinful priests, and corrupt kings. The Old Testament is a story of anointed ones who failed. But every time Israel reaped the consequences of the failures of its anointed ones, God spoke into the darkness about a coming One.

Deuteronomy 18:15 promised a Prophet like Moses would come.
Psalm 110:4 promised that a Priest like Melchizedek would come.
2 Samuel 7 promised that a King like David would come.

It became clearer and clearer throughout prophetic history that these three offices would be united in one person who would fulfill all of them perfectly. Israel’s hopes and dreams were wrapped up in this Anointed One—the Messiah. He would be the Prophet of prophets; the Priest of priests; the King of kings; the Anointed One over all anointed ones.

During Advent season, we will be exploring these three Messianic offices of Christ and hopefully rediscover the meaning of the “Christ” in “Christmas.”

Scripture Reading

When we read Deuteronomy 18:15-22, we join God’s people in “Looking for a Prophet Like Moses.”

15 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;  [“You must listen to him” (NIV)]
16 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.
17 And the Lord said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken.
18 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.
19 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. [“I will hold accountable whoever does not listen to My words that he speaks in My name.” (HCSB)]
20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken?
22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

Looking For A Prophet to Represent a Holy God (v.16)

Israel’s terrifying encounter with God at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19 is difficult for us to imagine. For two days, the Israelites washed their clothing, set themselves apart, and prepared for God’s fiery presence to descend. A boundary line was drawn around the foot of the mountain, and anyone who stepped over it was immediately put to death.

God’s presence was announced with thunder, lightning, and a thick cloud on the mountain, and “Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire” (Exodus 19:18). As the people looked on, Moses was as fearful as any other Israelite; according to Hebrews 12:21, “so terrible was the sight, that Moses spoke aloud saying, ‘I exceedingly fear and quake’” (Hebrews 12:21, KJV). The voice of God uttered his name and Israel watched from a distance as “Moses approached the thick darkness where God was” (Ex. 19:21, NIV), expecting him to be swallowed whole in the inky blackness.

When Moses finally returned, the Israelites had distanced themselves from the mountain. “They stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:18-19).

This request from Israel is what Moses alludes to in verse 16 of our text. God is holy and we are not! God’s fearsome holiness is too much for us! We need someone to speak to us on his behalf! We need someone to represent God to us! We need a prophet!

Moses promises that a prophet will rise up “According to all that you desired 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.” (Horeb is another name for Mt. Sinai.)

In Exodus 33, when Moses uttered those beautiful words, “Show me thy glory,” God responded by telling Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” If God spoke the sun into existence—which is nearly 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit— how can a sinful person expect to stand in his fiery presence and live?

God’s spoken word is powerful. Psalm 33 declares, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. … Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be” (v.6, 8-9). To hear God’s word from God’s lips would cause anyone to tremble and quake.

Throughout the Old Testament, God sent prophet after prophet to represent him. From Samuel to Elijah to Isaiah, God sent messengers to speak on his behalf and declare “Thus saith the Lord.” But each of these prophets pointed them to a great Prophet — one who would come as God’s perfect representative.

Looking A Prophet From Israel And Like Moses (v.15)

In verse 15, Moses promises that God would send the prophet that Israel longed for. This prophet would be able to draw near because he would be raised up from among the brothers of Israel, and he would be like Moses.

Moses was a truly great prophet. In fact, of all the Old Testament figures, Moses may have been the greatest. Even the great Patriarch Abraham falls short of the glory of Moses. Do you remember what Moses was like?

  • Moses was spared from death as a baby.
  • Moses did not take advantage of his royalty.
  • Moses had compassion on his people.
  • Moses was initially rejected by his people.
  • Moses made intercession for his people.
  • Moses was the mediator of God’s covenant with his people.

Moses was a truly great prophet. But even Moses was not the Prophet. A prophet’s job is to represent God to the people, and Moses failed horribly when he struck the rock at Meribah. Moses looked at the people and said, “‘shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’ And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice” (Numbers 20:10-11). A prophet is only to speak and do what the Lord commands him, but Moses acted as though it was he and his brother Aaron who had the power to bring forth the water, and failed to follow God’s instructions. Moses sinned and was punished.

In our text, Moses prophesied about a coming Prophet who would be like him, but also better than him. Israel needed a better Moses.

Looking For A Prophet To Fully Disclose God’s Word (v.18)

In verse 18, God says that the coming Prophet “shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” The Prophet who was to come from Israel and be like Moses was to fully and perfectly disclose God’s Word. He was to be the perfect revelation of God’s truth.

The Samaritan woman at the well was right about one thing: she said, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things” (John 4:25).

Unlike the prophets that had come before him, the Prophet would unfailingly speak on God’s behalf. He would be the perfect representation of God.

Silent Years

Israel was a people of promise. Whenever they were faithful to the Lord, they lived with a posture of looking for the promised Prophet. But it was not until after the Exile that their looking turned into painful groaning and agonizing anticipation. Between the Old and New Testament, there were nearly 400 years of silence from God—400 years without any prophets.

Some of God’s people stopped looking and became absorbed in their traditions. But the faithful remnant in Israel was looking…waiting…listening for the Prophet.

The first prophetic voice that spoke into this 400-year silence was a burly and uncanny man called John the Baptist. When John showed up on the scene, “they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’” The Bible praises John as a great man, but he was not the Prophet that Israel was looking for.

Jesus Was From Israel And Like Moses

During the course of John’s preaching ministry, another curious figure showed up on the scene—a Nazarene carpenter named Jesus. He was a Jew, a brother of the Israelites (Matthew 1:1–6; Luke 3:31–34). And he was strangely like Moses.

  • Like Moses, Jesus was spared from death as a baby. Moses was spared from Pharaoh’s decree to kill every Hebrew boy; Jesus was spared from Herod’s decree to kill all the male children under two years old in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18).
  • Like Moses, Jesus did not take advantage of his royalty. Moses forsook Pharaoh’s household and the riches of Egypt; Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7).
  • Like Moses, Jesus had compassion on his people. Moses did not want “the congregation of the Lord…[to] be as sheep that have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:17); “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Moses’ people were enslaved in Egypt; Jesus’ people were enslaved by sin. Both had compassion.
  • Like Moses, Jesus was rejected by his people. The first time Moses came to Israel to deliver them from Egypt, they rejected him, and he fled to the backside of the desert; Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).
  • Like Moses, Jesus made intercession for his people. Moses fasted forty days to spare Israel from judgment (Deuteronomy 9:18); Jesus “always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
  • Like Moses, Jesus was the mediator of God’s covenant with his people. Moses received the covenant on Mt. Sinai; Jesus sealed the new covenant with his own blood.

People began to follow Jesus because they recognized him as the one Moses foretold. After Jesus called Philip to be his disciple, ”Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses…wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45).

After Jesus fed the five thousand with the five loaves and two fishes, “they…filled twelve baskets with fragments…[and] When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” (John 6:13-14).

In John 7, when Jesus was at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, he claimed to be the bread of life; the crowd was divided about him, but verse 40 tells us that “some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet.’

Jesus Spoke God’s Word

It was important to make sure that Jesus really was the prophet—that Jesus met the criteria given for the Messianic Prophet. In verses 20-22 of our text, Moses warns that many false prophets would arise and be disproved because their prophecies would not come true. They spoke words of their own imagination instead of the words of God.

This is one of the reasons why it was important for Jesus to repeatedly affirm, “I have not spoken on My own, but the Father who sent Me has commanded Me what to say and how to say it….I speak exactly what the Father has told Me to say” (John 12:49-50). No word of Jesus has ever been disproven.

“Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing on My own, but speak exactly what the Father has taught Me’” (John 8:28).

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

John opens his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word.” Not only does Jesus bring the word of God, he is the Word of God.

Jesus Declared by Many Witnesses

The apostles recognized that Jesus met all of the criteria for the Prophet promised by Moses. They went on to preach that to reject Jesus was to incur God’s wrath.

In Acts 3, a blind beggar asks Peter for alms; Peter says, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” Of course, this drew a crowd, so Peter turned the people on Solomon’s Portico and began to preach Jesus. What did he say?

19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’

Before Stephen was stoned and became the first martyr of the church, he defended Jesus as the true Messiah. He traces Israel’s history, starting with Abraham. He tells how Moses came to the people to deliver them. Starting in verse 35:

35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ …

Stephen goes on to say that at Mt. Sinai Moses received God’s Word to give to the people, but they refused to obey him, thrust him aside, and asked Aaron to make a golden calf for them to worship. Stephen’s sermon has a powerful ending; he stares the Jews in the face and says,

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

You Must Listen to Him (v.19)

This brings us to verse 19 of our text, in conclusion: “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name [whoever will not listen to the Prophet], I will require it of him.”

When Jesus took his disciples onto the mount and was transfigured before them, “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’” (Matthew 17:5).

Jesus the anointed Prophet has come, and he has declared God’s Word. But God has promised to punish those who do not listen to him. Are you listening to Jesus? The call of the Prophet is a call of repentance. When Jesus came preaching, he came preaching the same message as John—repent. Have you repented, or are you like the Jews who Stephen called stiff-necked? Are you resisting the Holy Spirit in any area of your life?

If you are walking in obedience to Jesus, rejoice that the Prophet has come!

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Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is President and Founder of Holy Joys. He serves as Associate Pastor of God's Missionary Church in Newport, PA, where he lives with his wife Alexandra and son Adam. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.
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