Deuteronomy 18:1-2 Moses now discusses the role of the Levites. There were three divisions of the Levites based on their duties. They are divided by the offspring of the three sons of Levi; Kohath, Gershom, Merari (Gen. 46:11). Numbers 4 outlines the various divisions of the three divisions. The Kohanim were responsible for the articles associated with the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The Gershomites were charged with the curtains and coverings of the Tabernacle. The Merarites were responsible for the boards, bars, pillars and sockets of the Tabernacle.
This chapter provides an overview of the work of the Levites in their role of serving Israel. They received their commission to be priests in exchange of the first-born sons of Israel. This is explained in Numbers Chapter 3 which gives further details of their various roles. The Levites were set apart by the Lord for the priesthood because of their zeal for the God in the sin with the Midianites in the wilderness described in Exodus 32:25-27 and Num 25:7-13.
The Levites had no other earthly inheritance but this holy calling. Their needs would be met by receiving a portion of the burnt offerings presented on the altar by the rest of the tribes of Israel (14:28-29), but a greater provision was the promise that the Lord himself would be their portion (10:9; Num 18:20). They did not receive land as the rest of the tribes, their blessing and source of blessing would flow from their service to the Lord and His people. To a degree this applies to all children of God as we are declared to be God’s priests when we come to faith. We would do well to embrace our calling as priests serving both God and man.
Deuteronomy 18:3-5 The way the Lord chose for the Levites to be supported was through the offerings of God’s people. The main biblical passages regarding the tithing of produce are: Numbers 18:21-32 and Deuteronomy 14:22-7 and 26:12. In Deut 14 every third year the people’s tithe would go to the support of the Levites. Here we learn also that in addition portions of the animals that were offered to the Lord would go to the priests. Added to this land was set aside for the priests in the cities where they lived which could be cultivated for crops. But the largest part of their needs were to be met from the rest of God’s people, with the exhortation that Israel not neglect their needs. The priests also were called to tithe all that they received. A modern understanding of the rabbinical perspective of tithing can be found here: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tithing/
Deuteronomy 18:6-8 The Levites in addition to their duties in the ministry of the Temple also served the people out of the cities in which they lived. Like those in ministry today they were free to move to the city where the Lord led them. They were not to be denied any of the support due them if they moved to a new location. The priests served on a rotation in the Temple and were divided into 24 courses or divisions. These assignments are described in 1 Chron. 24; 2 Chron 8:14 and we see in New Covenant this division was still active in Luke 1:8. The inheritance mentioned in v 8 has to do with personal property handed down and not land since they had no family plot of land. This is why the priests were city dwellers.
Deuteronomy 18:9 One of the primary commands was to not worship as the people of the land that they were dispossessing or neighboring lands. Their religious practices were “detestable” a theme repeated throughout Deuteronomy describing what the Lord hated about the inhabitants of His holy land. Israel and especially her priests were not to study or practice any of the religious ways of the Canaanites or other nations that were around them.
Deuteronomy 18:10-11 In these verses we see why the practices of the nations were to be abhorred. Some of them called for their children to be burned as an offering to their gods. We find these practices repeatedly condemned in Scripture (Lev 18:21; 2 Kgs 16:3; 17:17; 21:6; 23:10; Jer 32:35; Ezek 16:21; 20:26, 31; 23:37). Molech, the god of the Ammonites required this kind of sacrifice in some cases (Lev 18:21; 2 Kgs 23:10; Jer 32:35) Child sacrifice was also associated with divination or sorcery in 2 Kgs 17:17; 21:6. Archaeologists who were involved in digs at Jericho and other sites describe evidence of these practices. Here is an article on the subject https://www.namb.net/apologetics/resource/joshua-s-conquest-was-it-justified/
God’s covenant people were called to have nothing to do with any of those religious rites and practices no matter how spiritual they may appear. Some of these religions would reveal things to their adherents that seemed supernatural and lend credibility to their teachings and beliefs but they were to be rejected. God, however, would raise up for His people His prophets who would teach them His ways and call them to align with His Word instructing them in His ways. Those who practice divination claim secrets revealed from the gods and claimed the ability to interpret these insights into counsel for those who came to them. Laban claimed to have this ability as did many others whom Israel encountered. Reading tea leaves, entrails, or other signs were techniques employed by such practitioners. Those involved in witchcraft had the ability to perform supernatural signs as the magicians in Pharaoh’s court in Egypt (Exod 7:11). These false prophets would be sought to ward off evil (Isa 47:9, 12) and often mislead God’s people (Mal 3:5). Still others would claim that they could cast spells and invoke curses on enemies. Mediums would claim to communicate with the dead to gain secret information. The best known such practitioner in the Old Testament was the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28:3, 9; Isa 8:19). The spiritist, was another kind of false prophet who like the medium sought out the spirits of the dead (Lev 20:6, 27; 1 Sam 28:3, 9; 2 Kgs 21:6; Isa 8:19).
Deuteronomy 18:12-14 Those who employed or consulted these cursed people to gain some perceived advantage in their lives came under God’s judgment. By consulting them they looked to them rather than the Lord. These people were to be avoided and to be deemed detestable to God and His people. It was because of these practices and more that God was going to remove them from His land. God’s people were to be holy, blameless (tamim, “upright”) and reliant upon the Lord walking in His ways and not in the ways of the world. This does not mean that Israel would have had no means of access to their God and no way to determine his purposes for them.
Deuteronomy 18:15 The promised prophet in Israel would differ from the false prophets just described. There were prophets who would be sent but verse 18 speaks of a unique prophet would be like Moses and would come from God’s covenant people. He would have the authority and power that Moses had, and the people would respond to him as they did to Moses. This prophet would be different than other prophets in distinctive ways. He, like Moses would speak with God face to face and speak with God’s authority and so be heeded by the people (v. 15). There had already been persons designated as prophets in Israel’s past, like Abraham (Gen 20:7) and others who were unnamed (Num 11:29; 12:6-8). Just as God used Moses to accomplish amazing signs and wonders so too would this prophet (Deut 34:10-11). The call to listen to him carries with it the idea that there would be consequences for not listening and obeying. This evokes the Shema of Deut. 6:4 which calls Israel to hear (obey) the words of the Lord. This prophet was in fact, the Messiah who was to come. That this prophet would be the Messiah is seen in the passage in John 1:21 when John the immerser was asked if he was the promised prophet (Messiah) who was to come. Yeshua held the three offices of prophet, priest and king. Here is an excellent article on Yeshua’s three-fold office: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/jesus-christ-our-prophet-priest-and-king/
Deuteronomy 18:16-17 Moses said the Lord used him to display God’s glory and reveal His will to His people. This is seen in his testimony of what the response of God’s people were to the revelation he received on Mt. Sinai in Ex. 19-20. This is explained in Deut 5:23-27 and Heb. 12:18-21 where the scene at Sinai is contrasted with the revelation of the New Covenant. Moses was the Lord’s intercessor who represented God to them and the people to God serving in his role as priest. The work of Moses was divided later in the various ministries of the priesthood, the prophets and the anointed Kings of Israel. Moses like Yeshua held all three roles to a certain degree.
Deuteronomy 18:18-20 The prophetic role of this prophet who would come is clarified in that he would be called by the Lord and given words from Him that they were to heed. Israel rejected this person sent in the person of Yeshua and there were consequences for their rebellion and rejection. The punishment of false prophets and prophecy is identified here. The judgment of leading God’s people astray by false prophecy was death. This is one of the reasons for the admonition by James regarding teachers in James 3:1. Moses has described two kinds of false prophets those with a false message and those who would call Israel to fear and follow false gods in 13:1-11.
Deuteronomy 18:21-22 There were certain identifying things that authenticated such a person. Israel had to be able to discern who was and who was not a prophet. If he calls God’s people to serve other gods would be once such identifier. In the seventeenth century there was a false prophet who came to the Jewish people named Sabbatai Zevi who claimed to be the Messiah and many Jewish people followed him believing that he was the Messiah. When threatened with death by the ruling Muslim government, he embraced Islam. Still a further sign should he not call followers to other gods is the fulfilment of prophetic utterances that could be seen. If such proof was not forthcoming the prophet word were not to be feared or listened to. This of course required that some of his prophecies would be fulfilled in his lifetime. Such validation would give credibility to his teachings and instruction and be taught to the covenant community.