A Focus on the Hebrew Scripture
with Saul Plotkin
A Prophet Like Me (Deut. 18:15)
When we hear the word “Torah,” we frequently think about the laws God gave to our people or about the book that contains the laws God gave to our people. And, while that is true, it is also a truncated view, for the Torah is more than that. It is also a book of prophecy. In fact, it is the book of prophesy that informed and guided all subsequent prophets and prophecies in the Tanakh. Thus, the Torah is not simply a list of rules to live by in the here and now, it is also a compendium of laws, narratives, and poems to inform the reader how to prepare for the future.
How is the Torah prophetic? First, the structure of the Torah as a whole “stitched” together around the theme of the future. At every major junction in the Torah, a central figure (Jacob, Balaam, and Moses) declares what God would do in “the last days” (Gen. 49:1; Num. 24:14; Deut. 31:28-29) through the Messiah-King from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10-12; Num. 24:7-9, 17-24; Deut. 32:43; 33:5, 7).Second, the Torah frequently uses similes or types to inform the careful and prayerful reader about future events. One example from the life of Abram (Abraham) will suffice. During a period of famine, Abram goes to Egypt where his wife is taken captive in Pharaoh’s house. God delivers Sarai (Sarah) by striking Pharaoh’s house with plagues, Abram acquires great wealth, Pharaoh tells Abram to go, and so he returns to the Promised Land (Gen. 12:10-13:2). The attentive reader will immediately notice that this is Israel’s story as well. Abram’s sojourn is a simile or prophetic type pointing to future events, in this case, the Exodus.
A Prophet Like Moses
In Deut. 18:15 Moses states, “A prophet from among you, from your brothers, like me, the Lord your God will raise up for you, you must listen to him.” Notice the language of simile (comparison): a prophet “like” Moses. The New Covenant writers identified Yeshua as the fulfillment of this verse (see Acts 3:22) because, among other things, they witnessed many parallels between Yeshua’s life and ministry and Moses’. Not only did events in Yeshua’s life correspond to those which happened to Moses (the killing of Hebrew boys by evil tyrants at their birth [Matthew 2:16; Exod. 1:22]; fasting for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert [Matthew 4:2; Exodus 34:28]; etc.), but also the signs and wonders performed by Yeshua were remarkably similar to those performed by Moses (turning water into a red substance, blood and wine respectively [John 2:1-12; Exodus 7:14-25]); a miraculous crossing of a body of water [Matt. 14:22-36; Exodus 14:13-31], etc.). Yeshua was, no doubt, a prophet like Moses both in word and deed.
However, there is a problem we must discuss. There are many who argue that Deut. 18:15 was never intended to be a Messianic prophecy at all. These people frequently fault the New Covenant writers (and modern Messianic Jewish believers) of taking Deut. 18:15 out of context. Deuteronomy 18:15, they claim, is not speaking about one specific individual, but all subsequent prophets throughout Israel’s history (the office of a prophet).
A careful reading of the verse in its context suggests that Moses is speaking about various prophets the Lord would raise up for Israel when they enter the land so that they would not follow the detestable practices of the original inhabitants (Deut. 18:9-14).
The Best Commentary on Scripture
At this point my detractors might say, “There we have it, case closed!” Not so fast. There is an old adage that goes, “The best commentary on Scripture is Scripture.” The earliest interpretation of Moses’ words in Deut. 18:15 on record is found at the end of the Torah itself, Deut. 34:10: “And a prophet like Moses has never again arisen in Israel whom the Lord knew face to face” (see Numbers 12:8). Many Bible scholars realize that Moses could not have written Deuteronomy 34. Why? According to Deut. 34:6 Moses has been dead for a very long time. Moreover, the Hebrew syntax of v. 10 implies that the writer (an individual who is no less inspired than Moses) has evaluated all the prophets throughout Israel’s biblical history (Joshua–Malachi), and has concluded that a prophet like Moses never came, neither in a succession of prophets nor in any single individual prophet. In other words, although Moses promised that the Lord would raise up a prophet like him (Deut. 18:15), and the Lord had indeed raised up many prophets throughout Israel’s history, the literal words of Moses never materialized.
Past and Present in Tension
Thus, this unknown author at the end of Israel’s biblical history not only understood the words of Deut. 18:15 as a reference to an individual prophet, but also concluded that this prophet never appeared. The ending of the Torah, therefore, introduces a bit of tension between Moses’ literal words in Deut. 18:15 and the evaluation of these words in Deut. 34:10. Moses promised, but it never happened. How can this be?! This tension between Israel’s past and Israel’s present (namely, the time Deuteronomy 34 was written), could, therefore, only be resolved sometime in Israel’s future (Incidentally, the Prophets conclude in a manner virtually identical to the Torah; namely, with an eschatological hope in the coming of a prophet like Moses (see Mal. 3:23 [English 4:5]). The Torah ends, therefore, with an expectant eye towards the future.
A Future Coming
The early history of the interpretation of Deut. 18:15 (before the time Yeshua came), moreover, strongly supports these conclusions; namely, that the Torah concludes with a door wide open to the coming of a future messianic prophet. The New Covenant writers studied the Torah carefully, seeking for clues about this promised prophet in the details of Moses’ life. And when this long awaited prophet arrived, they recognized him immediately!