Deuteronomy 13:1
If a prophet or dreamer of dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you,
Sermons
Danger and SecurityJ. Parker, D. D.Deuteronomy 13:1-3
On the Criterion of a False MiracleW. Pearce, D. D.Deuteronomy 13:1-3
The Objection of the Jews to ChristianityC. Simeon, M. A.Deuteronomy 13:1-3
The Only Pulpit Worth HavingHomilistDeuteronomy 13:1-3
True Tests are Unfailing DiscoverersScientific IllustrationsDeuteronomy 13:1-3
False ProphetsJ. Orr Deuteronomy 13:1-6
God's Executioners Upon IdolatersD. Davies Deuteronomy 13:1-18
Idolatry to be Treated as a Capital CrimeR.M. Edgar Deuteronomy 13:1-18
In viewing the bearings of this passage on the credentials of revelation, two points should be observed.

1. The case supposed is one in which the prophet contradicts a revelation already received.

2. The prophet does not dispute the evidence of that earlier revelation. On the contrary, he admits it. He stands within the lines of it. He professes to speak under its authority. Yet he asks the people to violate its fundamental laws. This of itself was sufficient to convict him. His pretensions are disposed of by the simple fact that, professing to speak in the Name of God, he gives the people a message contradictory of what he admits God to have previously revealed. No sign and wonder can accredit contradictions. The prophet is inconsistent with himself, and is not to be listened to. Nay, his message had been anticipated, and the thing he bids the people do, expressly forbidden. Notice, then -

I. EXTERNAL MIRACLES DO NOT OF THEMSELVES ACCREDIT A REVELATION AS FROM GOD. (Vers. 1-3.) This prophet gives a sign or wonder - presumably a predictive word - and it actually comes to pass. The failure of his sign, according to Deuteronomy 18:21, 22, would have been a proof of falsity. The converse of this, however, that he speaks God's word because his sign has not failed, is not immediately to be admitted. There are other tests to be applied. In this case, the prophet's message is condemned because contradictory of what he himself allows to have been a true revelation. This raises the question of the value of miracles as credentials of revelation. That they have a value is not disputed, but not as mere signs and wonders. This will be best seen by contrasting the sign or wonder given by this prophet with the evidence of the earlier revelation. If we take the Scripture account of the founding of the Mosaic dispensation, it is impossible to question the magnificence and convincingness of the displays of Divine power and holiness therein contained. In founding his dispensations (Mosaic and Christian), God has not only given evidence, but an amount and kind of evidence which put the source of the revelation - admitting the facts to be as stated - beyond all cavil. For here, it is not merely the fact of miracle which is to be regarded, but the number, nature, magnitude, variety, spiritual quality of the supernatural events, in connection with the self-evidencing divineness of the revelation itself. The difficulty as to whether the miracle proves the doctrine, or the doctrine the miracle, or in what proportions the two factors combine, has little place in the actual evidences of revelation. The two cannot be separated, either in thought or in fact. Grant the authenticity of the miracles of the Gospels or of the Pentateuch, and it will not be disputed that they originated with God, not with Beelzebub. To this mass of evidence, overwhelming in its sublimity and convincingness - evidence- embracing the wonders of Egypt, the displays of God's power, love, and grace in the events of the Exodus, the miracles of the desert, the stupendous revelations of Sinai, etc. - the prophet opposes a few stray signs and wonders. Which were the people to believe? Plainly, no sign or wonder would have justified an Israelite in believing a prophet whose teaching contradicted the first principles of his revelation; as no sign or wonder would justify us in believing teachings contradictory of the first principles of ours.

II. THE RISE OF FALSE PROPHETS IS TO BE ANTICIPATED. (Ver. 1.) The passage takes it for granted that they will arise. They did arise in Old Testament times, and they will do so again. Their appearance is predicted in connection with "the last days" (Matthew 24:11; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1). "Signs and wonders" will not be wanting (Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10). False teachers are included under the category of false prophets (Matthew 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1). They assert as the truth of God principles and doctrines subversive of the revelation God has given. The readiness of people to believe them arises from want of knowledge (Ephesians 4:14); from the itch for novelties (2 Timothy 4:3); from a diseased craving for the marvelous - witness the credulity displayed in connection with spiritualism (2 Thessalonians 2:9-13); above all, from the adaptation of their teachings to the inclinations of depraved hearts (2 Timothy 3:1-8).

III. THE RISE OF FALSE PROPHETS IS PERMITTED FOR THE SIFTING OF THE CHURCH. (Ver. 3.) God has thus much to do with their appearance that he permits it as a means of proving and sifting the Church. The trial is a searching and real one. The plausibility of their errors may occasion, even to believers, much mental conflict, But out of this conflict they come forth strengthened and purified, with firmer hold upon the truth, and clearer insight into Scripture. Those willing to be deceived are, on the other hand, led by the spirit of delusion. False prophets shake all but "the very elect" (Matthew 24:24). The heresies, schisms, controversies, etc., which have agitated the Church, with the teachings of antichristian philosophy and science outside of it, have always had this effect of sifting, while in the end they have subserved the progress of the truth.

IV. THE TEACHING OF FALSE PROPHETS IS TO BE REJECTED.

1. Their doctrine is to be tried by its conformity with the rule of faith (Isaiah 8:20). John bids us "try the spirits," giving as the reason that "many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).

2. Their doctrine, if found contradictory of Scripture, is to be unhesitatingly rejected.

3. Of old, the prophet whose teachings struck at the foundations of the theocracy was to be put to death (ver. 5). This rule no longer applies. But it is the duty of the Church, in the exercise of her judicial functions, to deprive such a teacher of office and status in her ministry (see also 2 John 1:10, 11. - J.O.







If there arise among you a prophet.
I. THE EVIDENCE DRAWN FROM MIRACLES, IN FAVOUR OF ANY DIVINE REVELATION, rests in general on the testimony of those who saw the miracles performed. But in addition to this, it is important to inquire, whether some consideration may not be at the same time due to the nature and tendency of the doctrines themselves, and whether there may not be in them some internal marks, which, in some cases at least, may enable us to distinguish false miracles from true. That such a criterion was given to the Jews appears plain from the words of the text, according to which, though a miracle should actually be performed, yet if its intention was to teach the doctrine of idolatry, it was not to be considered as a miracle authorised by God.

II. Yet the text does not appear to be confined merely to fictitious miracles of human contrivance, BUT TO EXTEND TO REAL MIRACLES ACTUALLY PERFORMED, either by men permitted so to act, or by the agency of superior intellectual beings, with the permission indeed of God, but not by His authority. Not only no human art or deception, but also no superior, or supernatural power should undermine our faith, or draw us from the allegiance which we owe to God.

III. I cannot dismiss the subject without taking notice of a DIFFICULTY WHICH MAY POSSIBLY BE THOUGHT TO ATTEND THE FOREGOING THEORY. It relates to the assertion that no internal doctrine can be brought in proof of a miracle. For it may be said, that there are certain doctrines conveyed by the help of miracles, which no human reason could ever have discovered; such are, that God on certain conditions will freely forgive sins, and that to the sincere, penitent, and faithful believer in Jesus Christ, He will grant life eternal. The answer is, that though the truth of these things be beyond the reach of the human reason to discover, yet the things themselves are not beyond the reach of the human imagination to conceive. Their truth therefore must depend on the evidence of the miracles which were wrought in their support, and the miracles must first be distinctly proved, before we can give an admission to the doctrines.

(W. Pearce, D. D.)

It has commonly, and with justice, been thought, that the two great pillars on which a revelation from God must stand, are miracles and prophecies. Without these we cannot be assured that any discovery which may have been made in man is really Divine. We must, indeed, inspect the matter of the thing revealed to see whether it be worthy of Him from whom it is said to come; and from its internal evidence our faith will derive great strength; but still in the first instance we look rather to external proofs. But the Jews imagine that they are precluded from judging of Christianity on such grounds as these, since Moses, in this passage, guards them against any such inferences as we are led to draw from the prophecies and miracles on which our religion is founded. He concedes that some prophecies may be uttered, and some miracles be wrought in favour of a false religion; and that, even if that should be the case, the Jews are not to regard any evidences arising from those sources, but to hold fast their religion in opposition to them. First, mark the supposition here made, namely, that God may permit miraculous and prophetic powers to be exercised even in support of a false religion. We are not indeed to imagine that God Himself will work miracles in order to deceive His people and to lead them astray; nor are we to imagine that He will suffer Satan to work them in such an unlimited way as to be a counterbalance to the miracles by which God has confirmed His own religion; but He will, for reasons which we shall presently consider, permit some to be wrought, and some prophecies to come to pass, notwithstanding they are designed to uphold an imposture. The magicians of Pharaoh, we must confess, wrought real miracles. They were permitted to do so much as should give Pharaoh an occasion for hardening his own heart, but not sufficient to show that they could at all come in competition with Moses. In every age there were also false prophets, who endeavoured to draw the people from their allegiance to God; and in the multitude of prophecies that they would utter, it must be naturally supposed that some would be verified in the event. Now then, in the next place, let us notice the injunction given to the Jews notwithstanding this supposition. God commands them not to give heed to that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, even though his predictions should be verified, if his object be to turn them from Him; for that He Himself suffers these illusions to be practised upon them in order that their fidelity to Him may be tried, and their love to Him approved. It may seem strange that God should suffer such stumbling blocks to be cast in the way of His people; but it is not for us to say what Jehovah mayor may not do; we are sure that "He tempteth no man," so as to lead him into sin (James 1:13), and that the "Judge of all the earth will do nothing but what is right." But it is a fact that He thus permitted Job to be tried, in order that he might approve himself a perfect man; and in like manner He tried Abraham, in order that it might appear, whether his regard for God's authority and his confidence in God's Word were sufficient to induce him to sacrifice his Isaac, the child of promise (Genesis 22:1, 2, 12). It was for similar ends that God permitted His people to be tried for forty years in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:2), and in the same way He has tried His Church in every period of the world. It is God's express design in the whole constitution of our religion to discover the secret bent of men's minds; and whilst to the humble He gives abundant evidence for their conviction, He has left to the proud sufficient difficulties to call forth their latent animosity, and to justify in their own apprehensions their obstinate unbelief (Luke 2:34, 35). He gave originally to the Jews, as He has also given to us, sufficient evidence to satisfy any candid mind; and this is all that we have any right to expect. The argument founded on this injunction comes now before us with all the force that can be given to it. A Jew will say, "You Christians found your faith on prophecies and on miracles; and admitting that Jesus did work some miracles, and did foretell some events which afterwards came to pass, God permitted it only to try us, and to prove cur fidelity to Him. He has cautioned us beforehand not to be led astray from Him by any such things as these; and therefore, however specious your reasonings appear, we dare not listen to them or regard them." Having thus given to the objection all the force that the most hostile Jew can wish, I now come, in the second place, to offer what we hope will prove a satisfactory answer to it. It cannot but have struck the attentive reader that in this objection there are two things taken for granted; namely, that in calling Jews to Christianity we are calling them from Jehovah; and that our authority for calling them to Christianity is founded on such miracles as an impostor might work, and such prophecies as an impostor might expect to see verified. But in answer to these two points we declare, first, that we do not call them from Jehovah but to Him; and next, that our authority is not founded on such miracles and prophecies as might have issued from an impostor, but such as it was impossible for an impostor to produce; and lastly, that, in calling them to Christ, we have the express command of God Himself.

1. We do not call our Jewish brethren from Jehovah, but to Him. We worship the very same God whom the Jews worship; and we maintain His unity as strongly as any Jew in the universe can maintain it. As for idols of every kind, we abhor them as much as Moses himself abhorred them. Moreover, we consider the law which was written on the two tables of stone as binding upon us, precisely as much as if it were again promulgated by an audible voice from heaven. With respect to the ceremonial law, we do indeed call you from the observance of that; and we have good reason so to do; for you yourselves know that all the essential part of your religion existed before the ceremonial law was given; and that Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, who lived hundreds of years before the ceremonial law was given, were saved simply and entirely by faith in that promised seed, in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed. If you ask, Why then was the ceremonial law given? I answer, To shadow forth your Messiah, and to lead you to Him; and when He should come and fulfil it in all its parts, it was then to cease; and you yourselves know that it was intended by God Himself to cease at that appointed time. If then we call you from the outward observances of the law, it is not from disrespect to that law, but from a conviction that it has been fulfilled and abrogated by the Lord Jesus. We call you only from shadows to the substance. We call you to Christ as uniting in Himself all that the ceremonial law was intended to shadow forth. I am aware that in calling you to worship the Lord Jesus Christ we appear to you to be transferring to Him the honour due to God alone. But if you will look into your own Scriptures you will find that the person who was foretold as your Messiah is no other than God Himself. Receive Him in the character in which the prophet Isaiah foretold His advent, as "the Child born, the Son given, the wonderful Counsellor, the mighty God, the Prince of peace." Call Him, as another prophet instructs you, "Jehovah our Righteousness," and know that in thus "honouring Christ you will honour the Father who sent Him."

2. The next thing which we proposed to show was, that our authority for calling you thus to Christ is not founded on such prophecies or miracles as might have issued from an impostor, but on such as it was impossible for an impostor to produce. Consider the prophecies; they were not some few dark predictions of mysterious import and of doubtful issue, uttered by our Lord Himself; but a continued series of prophecies from the very fall of Adam to the time of Christ; of prophecies comprehending an almost infinite variety of subjects, and those so minute, as to defy all concert either in those who uttered, or those who fulfilled them. Consider the miracles also; these were beyond all comparison greater and more numerous than Moses ever wrought. The whole creation, men, devils, fishes, elements, all obeyed His voice; and at His command the dead arose to life again. But there is one miracle alone which in particular we will mention. Jesus said, "I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again"; and the former of these He proved by speaking with a loud voice the very instant He gave up the ghost, showing thereby that He did not die in consequence of His nature being exhausted, but by a voluntary surrender of His life into His Father's hands. And at the appointed time He proved the latter also, notwithstanding all the preparations made to defeat His purpose, all which proved in the issue the strongest testimonies to the truth of His word. We therefore confidently call you to believe in Him, and to embrace the salvation which He offers you in the Gospel. But there is one great argument which we have reserved till now, in order that it may bear upon you with the greater weight.

3. We declare to you, then, in the last place, that in calling you to Christ we have the express command of God Himself. Moses, in chap. Deuteronomy 13, bids you, as we have seen, not to listen to any false prophet; but in Deuteronomy 18:18, 19, he most explicitly declares that a prophet should arise, to whom you should attend. Now I ask you, who is the prophet here spoken of Where was there ever, besides Moses, a prophet that was a Mediator, a Lawgiver, a Ruler, a Deliverer? Was there ever such an one except Jesus? And was not Jesus such an one in all respects? Yes; He has wrought for yell not a mere temporal deliverance like Moses, but a spiritual and eternal deliverance from sin and Satan, death and hell; He has redeemed you, not by power only, but by price also, even the inestimable price of His own blood. When therefore you plead the authority of Moses, we join issue with you, and say, Be consistent. Renounce false prophets, because he bids you; but believe in the true Prophet, whom God, according to His Word, has raised up to you, because He bids you. Let His authority weigh equally with you in both cases; and then we shall not fear, but that you will embrace the salvation offered you in the Gospel, and be the spiritual children, as ye already are the natural descendants of believing Abraham.

(C. Simeon, M. A.)

Homilist.
I. THAT NO INSTRUMENTALITY IS OF ANY REAL SERVICE TO MAN, AS MAN, THAT DOES NOT PROMOTE IN HIM A RIGHT SOVEREIGN AFFECTION.

1. Every man is under some one dominant affection. Love of —

(1)Pleasure.

(2)Money.

(3)Power.

(4)Knowledge. Man's loves are his sovereign laws.

2. A wrong dominant affection in a man will neutralise the highest services that may be rendered to him.

II. THAT THE ONLY RIGHT SOVEREIGN AFFECTION IS SUPREME LOVE FOR THE SUPREMELY GOOD. All goodness streams from God as all light from the sun. Ought He not, then, to be extremely loved?

III. THAT THE ONLY PULPIT THAT IS OF ANY REAL SERVICE TO MAN IS THAT WHICH GENERATES AND FOSTERS THIS SOVEREIGN AFFECTION.

1. It is the pulpit that works into man the conviction that God loves men, though sinners.

2. It is the pulpit that exhibits God as essentially good and benevolent in Himself.

(Homilist.)

This passage, by the inspiration of God, touches upon all the possible points of danger in a religious course.

I. What are THE POINTS OF DANGER?

1. The first may be described as being somewhat after a philosophical sort. There is nothing rude in the assault, nothing violent or startling, from a merely physical point of view; it is a very delicate encroachment upon religious thought; it is impalpable as a dream. Surely this is harmless: it is more than harmless; it is instructive: it may be a lesson in the deeper philosophy; it may be the beginning of a widening revelation. The mischief is this, that a man who would listen to such a dreamer, or seer of visions, and allow his religion to be affected by the nightmare, would turn the man out of his presence if he attempted to offer him a single idea upon any practical subject under heaven. We are easily beguiled from the religious point. "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?" It would seem as if it were easier to murder the soul than to kill the body. The first point of danger, therefore, is thus clouded in a golden veil; and the man who may be said to be preparing for that danger is dreamy, hazy-minded, speculative, always looking into a mist if, haply, he may find a star; such a gentle, dozing creature, so harmless, and really so very attractive in many qualities of his character.

2. What is the second point of danger? It is not at all philosophical; it may be ranked among the social forces that are constantly operating upon life (ver. 6). Social influences are constantly operating upon our faith. The youngest member of the family has been reading a book, and has invited the head of the house to go and listen to some new speaker of theories, speculations, and dreams; the service is so beautiful; the idea is so novel; a great deal of the rush and tumult common to elementary religious life is totally escaped; the intellectual brother — the man supposed to have all the brains of the family — has got a new idea — an idea which in nowise associates itself with historical churches and traditional creeds, but a brand new idea, altogether sparkling and daring, and whosoever professes it will at once take his place in the synagogue of genius; or the darling friend has caught a voice down some byway, and he will have his other self go with him in the evening to hear this speaker of anti-Christian ideas — a man who has undertaken to reconstruct so much of the universe as will allow him to touch it; a person of exquisite mind, of dainty taste, and of quiet latent power. The subtle purpose is to draw men away from the old altar, the old Book, the God of deliverance and beneficence, of mercy and redemption, to another God who will condescend to be measured for a creed, and who is not above sitting for his portrait. Do not follow a multitude to do evil. Do not always be at the string end, led about by those who are of more forceful and energetic will than yourselves. Be sure as to what they are taking you to; have a clear understanding before you begin. You would not allow those persons to interfere with anything practical: when the discussion of commercial questions arises, you stand at the front and say, There I can bear testimony, and there I ought to be heard. Why claim such a solemn responsibility in the settlement of nothing, and allow anybody to settle for you the great questions of religious truth and personal destroy?

3. What is the third point of danger? It is not philosophical; it is not, in the narrow sense of the term, social; it is a point of" danger which may be characterised as public sentiment, public opinion — a general turning round, and a wholesale abandonment of old theologies and old forms of worship (vers. 12, 13). Some men may have courage to laugh at the dreamer; others may have virtue enough to resist the blandishments of the nearest friend; but who can resist the current or tendency of public opinion?

II. What is THE COURSE TO BE TAKEN UNDER CIRCUMSTANCES OF DANGER? Moses had no difficulty about his reply: let us see what it was, and consider whether we can adopt it. "And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death" (ver. 5). The seducer in the family brings upon himself this penalty. "Neither shall thine eye pity him. neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: but thou shalt surely kill him" (vers. 8, 9); "thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die" (ver. 10). And as for the city — representative of public opinion — "Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword," etc. (vers. 15-17). That was a drastic course; there is no touch of compromise in that stern provision; there is no line of toleration in that tremendous answer. The same course is to be taken today, as to its spiritual meaning. Physical violence there must be none; the day of physical pains and penalties for spiritual offences has closed; but the great lesson of destruction remains forever. What penalty, then, shall we inflict upon men who seek to destroy our faith? I hesitate not in my reply: Avoid them; pass by them; they would injure your soul.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

Scientific Illustrations.
Every substance is discoverable by some "test," which usually neutralises it, or rather, by uniting with it, forms a new compound. The whole fabric of chemistry rests upon this wonderful principle as one of its cornerstones. Thus if the least fragment of copper be dissolved in acid, and the fluid be then diluted with water until no trace of colour remains, so potent, nevertheless, is the affinity of the well-known fluid called "ammonia" for the copper, that a single drop of the latter fluid will immediately reveal the presence of the metal by uniting with it and forming a new substance of the loveliest violet colour. Similarly, if a morsel of lead be dissolved in acid, and the acid be then diluted with water, a single drop of a solution of iodide of potassium will turn the whole to a brilliant crocus-yellow. The presence of iron, after the same manner, is discovered by the least drop of tincture of galls, which blackens it upon contact; that of silver by a little solution of common salt, which causes flakes of imitative snow to make their appearance; that of mercury again with iodide of potassium, which turns the fluid containing it to a beautiful red.

(Scientific Illustrations.)

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