DO NOT BE AFRAID OF HIM 1

By Anthony Rogers

Introduction

Given that many others have done this before, the following aims to be a (relatively) short but pungent reply to the Muslim claim that Muhammad’s coming was prophesied in Deuteronomy 18.

Here is how the passage reads:

“The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him”. (Deuteronomy 18:15-22)

As the popular Muslim version of this goes, rather than specifying that the coming prophet would be an Israelite, like Moses, one who would uniquely speak face to face with God, like Moses, and one who would perform mighty miracles, signs, and wonders in the sight of all Israel, like Moses, it foretells instead the coming of a comparably lackluster 7th century figure, who, by his own admission, had no miraculous signs, never spoke with God directly, and was an Arab by birth. If you are a non-Muslim and are having difficulty buying this story already, imagine the pangs of Muslim apologists who have the unenviable task of defending this view.

A colossal feat to be sure; the way this trick is done is by arguing that: since the word “brethren” could have a broader or more figurative meaning, it could be referring to a distant descendant of Ishmael, who, like Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes, was a descendant of Abraham; and since a being that identified itself as the angel Gabriel supposedly forced Muhammad to recite after him the words of the Qur’an, this is equivalent to God putting His words into his mouth; and since Muhammad had several natural qualities and works to his credit, though they may fall short of such prophetic attributions as were possessed by Moses, he did mimic Moses in all kinds of natural, even if not supernatural, ways.

Evaluating The Case For Muhammad

These three points mentioned above are the contours of the argument made for a Muhammadan fulfillment, with each point being filled out in more or less colorful ways, all depending on the dexterity of the person making the case. Nonetheless, and not surprisingly, for all the sleight of hand and mouth displayed by Muslim apologists, these three claims have insuperable problems.

Among Thy Brethren

First, as for the claim that the word “brethren” could refer to a descendant of Ishmael, this is hardly the most natural reading, and in fact this is not the way any Jew, Christian, or even any pre-Islamic pagan, Arab or otherwise, ever interpreted or would have interpreted the word in this context. The reason for this is negatively because the word “brethren” is never used to speak of the relationship between the descendants of Jacob and the descendants of Ishmael, and positively because the context demands that the prophet be a fellow countryman, and not someone from the nations that surrounded Israel, for the nations that surrounded Israel followed false gods and used unsanctioned methods for doing so, such as divination and necromancy. But Israel was uniquely and specially called out from all of this, as can be seen from the verses immediately preceding the words of the prophecy:

“When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do”. (Deut. 18:9-14)

It was precisely against this backdrop that Moses went on to speak the words of the prophecy in question, promising that God would raise up for the people a prophet from among their brethren, i.e. from among the children of Israel, rather than from among the nations outside of Israel that were given over to abominations in the sight of God.

Moreover, this section of Scripture is dealing with the three anointed offices of the Israelite economy: the offices of king (Dt. 17:14-20), priest (Dt. 18:1-14), and prophet (Dt. 18:15-22). According to the requirements of the former two offices, any person anointed to serve in those capacities had to be an Israelite, and so, not only would one expect, by way of symmetry, that the same would go for the prophetic office, but the fact that the very same language is used in all three cases puts the proverbial nail in the coffin. The relevant portion regarding each office follows:

“When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother”. (Deut. 17:14-15)

“The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel: they shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and his inheritance. Therefore shall they have no inheritance among their brethren: the LORD is their inheritance, as he hath said unto them.” (Deut. 18:1-2)

“The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” (Deut. 18:15-19)

Indeed, and not only so, but the Qur’an acknowledges this as well, that God specially chose the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (i.e., Israel) on which to confer revelation and bestow prophethood.

“And We gave (Abraham) Isaac and Jacob, and ordained among his progeny Prophethood and Revelation, and We granted him his reward in this life; and he was in the Hereafter (of the company) of the Righteous”. (S. 29:27)

“We did aforetime grant to the Children of Israel the Book, the Power of Command, and Prophethood; We gave them, for Sustenance, things good and pure; and We favoured them above the nations”. (S. 45:16)1

I Will Put My Words Into His Mouth

This brings us next to the idea that the way Muhammad is claimed to have received the revelation of the Qur’an – namely, by dictation from the angel Gabriel, who virtually had to force-feed the words to him (at least on their first encounter) – answers to the statement in Deuteronomy 18 that God would “put my words into his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” Now of course this language in itself does not rule out such a mode of revelation (minus, of course, the purported physical assault), for similar language is used of prophets after Moses to whom God sent angelic messengers or communicated with by way of dreams or visions or through inspiration of the Spirit (e.g., Jer. 1:9; Isa. 51:16; etc.). However, that is not the trajectory of the words as they are used in the full context of Deuteronomy 18. The idea in this passage is that even as Moses interposed himself between God and Israel at Horeb – which is what the people themselves cried out for and God Himself said was “well spoken”, for they could not bear to hear the voice of God directly anymore, fearing that they would die – so the coming prophet would hear from God in like fashion, even speaking with him face to face like Moses did.

“The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” (Deut. 18:15-19)

In fact, not only is this great contrast between Moses receiving revelation directly from God  made here and elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Num. 12:8; Exod. 33:11), it is recognized in the Qur’an as well. In Surah 4:164 we are told: “to Moses God spoke direct”.2 Similarly in Surah 19:52 we read: “And We called him from the right side of Mount (Sinai), and made him draw near to Us for mystic (converse).” And if we can assume the consistency of the Qur’an, by no means an easy task for anyone who has read it, Surah 2:253 would have to be speaking of Moses as well: “Those Messengers We endowed with gifts, some above others: To one of them Allah spoke; others He raised to degrees (of honour); to Jesus, the son of Mary, We gave clear (Signs), and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit.”3

Like Unto Me

And this brings us, finally, to the claim that Muhammad was the prophet like unto Moses because Muhammad was like Moses in some very striking ways. For example, it is thought to be significant that both Moses and Muhammad experienced a natural birth and a natural death, both had a mother and a father, both started their mission at the age of 40, both were initially rejected, and both later went on not only to become the spiritual but also the political and military leaders of their people. But such parallels, aside from the fact that some of them are not even true (e.g., Moses mission formally began when he was 80), aside from many of them being found in other figures in history (e.g., rising from obscurity and rejection to great prominence is not altoghether unheard of in world history), and aside from the fact that such parallels rarely get below the surface where the similarities just as strikingly become disparities (e.g., Moses was married, but not to a dozen or more women contrary to God’s standards for everyone else), have nothing to do with the one outstanding reality that marked the life and ministry of Moses: unlike Muhammad who eschewed any ability to declare a sign or perform a miracle, the ministry of Moses was suffused throughout with supernatural signs and wonders providing abundant divine attestation or confirmation of his prophetic calling and mission. This was so much an outstanding feature or distinguishing mark of the ministry of Moses, that whatever could be expected of prophets generally, the specific prophet “like unto Moses” that this prophecy would culminate in, would naturally and necessarily be expected to be like Moses in this regard.

In fact, not only is it certain from the Qur’an that Muhammad performed no miraculous sign or wonder to confirm that he was a prophet from God,4 it is just as certain that he performed no sign or wonder such as would identify him as the prophet like unto Moses, a point on which, once again, the Qur’an agrees: “But (now), when the Truth has come to them from Ourselves, they say, ‘Why are not (Signs) sent to him, like those which were sent to Moses?’”

An Additional Set of Problems

To further complicate matters, the argument that Deuteronomy 18 prophecies the coming of Muhammad rests on several hotly disputed assumptions, such as that the Arabs are descended from Ishmael, and that Muhammad was illiterate, not just unlettered, the latter being a technical term for Gentiles or people generally unlearned when it came to the Jewish and Christian scriptures. It also ignores that the prophecy excludes from its purview anyone who speaks in the name of any other God than Yahweh, which Muhammad did by speaking in the name of a god whose descriptive nature and character are decidedly contrary to the Bible, as well as anyone who makes a prediction that does not come to pass, which Muhammad did many times over.

In other words, even if all the other qualifications were met by Muhammad, that is, even if it could be shown that the passage is really talking about a future descendant of Ishmael who would be so unlike Moses in the key features of his prophetic office as any one person could be, and as Muhammad certainly was, then Muhammad would still be disqualified.

Conclusion

The Muslim idea that the passage refers to an Arab who didn’t speak with God and didn’t perform any miracle flounders over and over again on all the salient points of the prophecy. In light of this fact, Muslims would do well to disabuse themselves of the absurd notion that Muhammad is prophesied here in Deuteronomy 18.

For all the verbal legerdemain employed by Muslims in an attempt to conjure Muhammad up out of Deuteronomy 18, the fact is that any prophet who would lay claim to fulfilling Deuteronomy 18, must be an Israelite, must speak face to face with God, and must have a ministry marked by divine approval. And Muhammad just didn’t cut the muster, for he failed not on one, or two, but on all three points.

In conclusion, not only was Muhammad not the prophet foretold in Deuteronomy 18, but according to that very passage he was not a true prophet at all. Accordingly, although Muhammad uttered many curses and imprecations on anyone who would deny him the all important title of prophet, and even though he would often buttress this demand by saying that Allah would punish those who do not submit to him as the messenger of Allah, according to Deuteronomy 18 there isn’t the slightest reason for anyone to fear, for these are the words of a presumptuous man. Indeed, the divine command is, “Do not be afraid of him.”

Footnotes
1 See also S. 44:30-33.
2 Yusuf Ali notes on this verse: “Allah spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. Hence the title of Moses in Muslim theology: Kalim Allah: the one to whom Allah spoke.” (Footnote #670)
3 This verse is plagued with problems for Muslims, for not only does there seem to be a discrepancy among the translators, with some translating it as “with some Allah spoke”, rather than “with one of them Allah spoke”, but it also seems to suggest that Moses and Jesus were both “preferred” or “gifted” above Muhammad, for the former spoke to Allah directly and the latter had miraculous signs.
4 Surah 2:118; 2:145; 6:37; 6:109; 10:20; 11:12; 13:7; 13:27; 17:59; 17:90-93

To Be Continued …

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Do Not Be Afraid Of Him and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s