Shoftim–A Prophet like Moses

[Moses recounts the circumstances under which he was asked to serve as the messenger of God’s Torah.  After they heard the Ten Commandments, the Israelites said,] “Let me not hear the voice of the Lord my God any longer or see this wondrous fire anymore lest I die.” Whereupon the Lord said to me, “they have done well in speaking thus.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people.” (Deut. 18:16-18)

If we’re going to believe that the Israelites did well, we have to remember the power of the encounter at Sinai that shook them to the core.  They said at the time, “we have seen this day that man may live though God has spoken to him. Let us not die, then for this fearsome fire will consume us. For what mortal ever heard the voice of the living God speak out of the fire, as we did and lived? ”  (Deut 5:24-26)

They experienced God directly, full to their capacity. And then they asked Moses, whose capacity was greater, to help them fill in the blanks and clarify the details.

It’s easy to lose sight of this interdependence, and opt for a religion based solely on experience or solely on authority. Both are necessary; they can and should coexist.

We must understand God raising up a prophet like Moses along the same lines. The prophets are an extension of our own conscience. That is the only way to legitimize their authority. The tests of a true prophet given in this passage do not seem to me to be very helpful. Anyone can invoke the name of God (Deut. 18:20). If we wait to see whether the prophetic prediction comes true (18:22), chances are the crisis, the moment of opportunity, will have already passed.

The prophets are spiritual friends whose sensitivity sharpens our sensitivity as iron sharpens iron. They don’t flatter us, but do us the kindness of shaking us out of our complacency.

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