Dt 18 – A Prophet like Moses

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Polemicists such as Naik and Deedat have argued that Deuteronomy 18 refers not to Jesus but Muhammad:

15The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. 16For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

17The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. 19But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”

(Deuteronomy 18:15-19)

Centuries before Jesus, the Jews associated this prophecy with the coming Messiah. Recently, however, some Muslims have alleged that this prophecy refers not to the Messiah but to Muhammad. This prophecy gives three primary criteria for identifying the prophet:

1. For you (meaning the Israelites Moses is addressing)2. From among your own brothers

3. Like Moses

First Criterion: “For you”

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.” (Deuteronomy 18:15)

Moses was clearly addressing the wandering Israelite community here. While both Jesus and Muhammad claimed to be for all peoples, Jesus’ primary ministry focus was on the people of Israel, while Muhammad’s primary ministry focus was on the Arabs.

Second Criterion: “From among your own brothers”

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers ” (Deuteronomy 18:15)

Moses here was talking to the Israelites assembled at Moab, after having brought them out of Egypt and led them forty years through the wilderness, so we would expect that “among their countrymen” would mean among this community. However polemicists such as Deedat and Naik try to expand the meaning of this word “brothers”/”countrymen” to include other Semitic peoples descended from Abraham, thus Muhammad. However, that interpretation contradicts the basic meaning of the Hebrew word used here for ‘brother’ אח, ‘akh , (Arabic, اَخ ). This word signifies a member of the same tribe; and Ishmael’s descendants had been a separate tribe for five centuries at this point. The distinguished Muslim Qur’ān translator Muhammad Hamidullah concurs: “The Arabic word akh signifies both brother and member of the tribe.”1

Such an interpretation is confirmed by comparing it to verse 15 of the previous chapter, Deuteronomy 17, which reads—

“…One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother ( akh ).” (Deuteronomy 17:15)

This verse clearly indicates that “from among your brothers (אח)” could only mean an Israelite. In fact many of the nations surrounding Israel were, like the Arabs, also Semitic descendants of Abraham (like the Moabites, Edomites, etc). Simply for this reason should we say that the ‘prophet’ could come from any Semitic nation? At the time of this prophecy, Ishmael and `Īsāac’s offspring had been living in separate continents for almost five centuries, and spoke different dialects. A modern analogy is how the Bengalis and Afghanis both have Aryan ancestors but “tribal brother” would never mean an Afghan to any Bengali.

Thus we must conclude that this predicted Prophet was to come from the twelve tribes of Israel whom Moses was addressing, not some distantly-related other nation. Since Muhammad was not an Israelite, Deuteronomy 18:18 absolutely cannot be a prediction of Muhammad.

Third Criterion: “A Prophet Like Moses”

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.” (Deuteronomy 18:15)

Naik and Deedat have compiled various lists of similarities between Muhammad and Moses to prove that this prophecy was about Muhammad, not Jesus:

1. Unlike Jesus, both Muhammad and Moses brought a comprehensive legal code

2. Unlike Jesus, both Muhammad and Moses were born of a normal father

3. Unlike Jesus, both Muhammad and Moses were married

4. Unlike Jesus, both Muhammad and Moses were political leaders of their people.

5. Both Muhammad and Moses were told by God to start numbering months from that time on.

6. Both Muhammad and Moses had to take flight at the hand of their enemies, and found a companion in their own father-in-law.

7. Both Muhammad and Moses died normally.

Some polemicists have used further parallels which are actually false:

• Unlike Jesus, both Muhammad and Moses subjugated a land area (False: Moses never even entered Canaan, he just brought them to the border and Joshua conquered it)

• Both Muhammad and Moses took shelter at Midian, which was later named Yathrib, then Medina. (False; Midian is 400 miles from Medina)

• Unlike Jesus, both Muhammad and Moses preached for ten years in Midian/Medina (False; Moses tended sheep for forty years, not ten years, in the wilderness area of Midian—his call and preaching came later)

So there is a total of seven parallels that can be made between Moses and Muhammad. Notice how most of these similarities are fulfilled by virtually any human leader—normal birth, married, leader of their people, a law-giver, conquered land, died normally. We could similarly find even more parallels between David and Moses:

1. Both political leaders,

2. Had normal births

3. Married many wives

4. Had children

5. Were Israelites

6. Subjugated Canaanite land

7. Brought a scripture

8. Received a covenant

9. Died normally

Solomon and Moses:

1. Both political leaders,

2. Had normal births

3. Married many wives

4. Had children

5. Were Israelites

6. Subjugated Canaanite land

7. Brought a scripture

8. Died normally

Even modern leaders such as Bangladesh’s former Chief Advisor to the Caretaker Government, Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed can be said to be like Moses in these respects—he had a normal birth, is married, has children, was received by his people, and was the leader of a nation. So this doesn’t prove anything.

Instead, to identify the “one like Moses” we need to look rather at the unique core aspects of Moses’ role and ministry . If we read the full account of Moses in the Torah, we find three unique characteristics not shared by David, Solomon or Muhammad, but fulfilled supremely and fully in Jesus:

1. Ministry Core #1: Moses brought salvation to God’s people from physical slavery and led them to a physical Promised Land of peace and plenty. Jesus brought salvation to God’s people from spiritual bondage and showed them the way to a spiritual Promised land of peace and plenty (heaven). The ministry of Muhammad did not entail him bringing salvation to God’s people.

2. Ministry Core #2: Moses was uniquely a mediator between God and God’s people, averting God’s wrath, interceding for them and standing between them and God (Numbers 21:7, 16:42-50, Exodus 15:23-25, Exodus 19). This was the core part of Jesus’ ministry as well, interceding on behalf of God’s people (1 Tim 2:5, Heb 7:25), averting God’s wrath.

3. Ministry Core #3: Moses brought a new covenant to the Israelites – Moses and Jesus were the only two people in history who brought or mediated a covenant of between God and his people. The new covenant of Jesus was prophesied by Jeremiah :

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).

Jesus taught with authority a new internally-directed law as part of this new covenant (e.g. Matthew 5-7). Muhammad never claimed to bring any new covenant, but rather intended to restore the same system as in the days of Abraham.

Actually, the Tawrat and Qur’ān state outright what the unique characteristics of Moses are:

Since then , no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders” (Deuteronomy 34:10-11)

“When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses .. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles..” (Numbers 12:6-8)

“Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)

So we can add two more “unique characteristics” of Moses to our list now:

4. Ministry Core #4: Speaking with God directly, not through angel intermediaries or dreams

Unlike Muhammad, both Jesus and Moses regularly heard God directly rather than through visions or angel intermediaries (Numbers 12:6-8, Ex 33:11). The Qur’ān agrees with this: In Sura Al-Nisa 4:163-164 the Qur’ān says that Muhammad and all the other prophets were simply inspired, but “…to Moses God spoke directly ( تَكلِيمَا )”. Moses is listed separately because God spoke to him directly.

Muhammad used to receive revelation through the angel Gabriel (Baqarah 2:97). Jesus is also described of speaking with God directly, even face-to-face. In his transfiguration on the mountaintop (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9), God addressed Jesus directly on a mountain-top, just as he did to Moses. It is clear throughout the Gospels that Jesus heard directly from God without an angel intermediary.

5. Ministry Core #5: Performed Powerful Miraculous Signs

According to the Qur’ān , Jesus performed many supernatural miracles (3:49, 2:253), but according to the Qur’ān , Muhammad’s only miraculous sign was the Qur’ān (29:48-51). Both Jesus and Moses performed numerous mighty miracles which are well-documented in their scriptures.

If we want to look at more superficial similarities, we can still find twice the amount as that drawn by Naik and Deedat:

6. Unlike Muhammad, both Jesus and Moses were Israelites.

7. Unlike Muhammad, both Jesus and Moses were born into poor, non-influential families, but Muhammad was born into a prominent family.

8. Both Jesus and Moses were raised by their own mothers, but Muhammad was raised in the desert by the Bedouin wet-nurse Halimah.

9. Unlike Muhammad, both Jesus and Moses were plotted to be killed at infancy by a ruler’s edict.

10. Unlike Muhammad, both Jesus and Moses were rescued by divine intervention at infancy (Exodus 2:2-10; Matthew 2:13)

11. Unlike Muhammad, both Jesus and Moses travelled from Egypt to Palestine where they completed their ministry.

12. Unlike Muhammad, both Jesus and Moses spoke with God “face to face” on a mountain (Exodus 33:11 Matthew 17:3), after which their faces “shone” (Exodus 34:29, Matthew 17:2)

13. Unlike Muhammad, both Jesus and Moses demonstrated supernatural control over the waters; Moses dividing the Red Sea, Jesus calming the storm.

14. Moses was prepared in the wilderness for forty years, Jesus for forty days. (Acts 7:23 with Exodus 7:7, Matthew 4:1)

15. Unlike Muhammad, both Jesus and Moses prophesied events that were fulfilled (Deuteronomy 18:15-22; 28:15-29:67; Matthew 24)

16. Both are called “faithful servant” in scripture (Numbers 12:7; Hebrews 3:2-5)

Critic: “But the end of Deuteronomy says that no other prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, so it must be someone outside of Israel”

Firstly, this passage is merely saying that up to that time no prophet had arisen in Israel like Moses; if it was referring to the indefinite future we would read “since then, no prophet will arise in Israel like Moses..” Instead, it says “has”; past tense at the time of the Torah. Indeed, this passage actually clarifies the contrast between Moses and Muhammad, as we saw previously– he knew the Lord face to face, and did mighty signs and wonders:

“Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 34:10-11)

What Do the Scriptures Say?

God’s Word, the Holy Injīl, specifically says that the Deuteronomy 18 prophecy concerns Jesus:

 

The disciple Peter testified: “the God of our fathers glorified his servant Jesus…about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers…and all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.” (Acts 3:13,21-22,24, see also Hebrews 3:1-3)

Jesus said: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” (John 5:46)

While the Injīl specifically quotes this Deuteronomy 18 prophecy and states that Jesus fulfilled it, the Qu’ran only vaguely alleges that Muhammad was mentioned somewhere in the previous scriptures (7:157). The Qur’ān nowhere explicitly says that Deuteronomy 18 refers to Muhammad, but the Injīl does explicitly state that Deuteronomy 18 refers to Jesus.

  1. From the footnote to his French translation of Al-A’raf 7:65,73; Le Coran, Le Club Français du Livre, 1959.

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Have the Prophecies of Muhammad Been Removed?

 

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