“You must never set up a wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build for the Lord your God. And never set up sacred pillars for worship, for the Lord your God hates them.
“Never sacrifice sick or defective cattle, sheep, or goats to the Lord your God, for he detests such gifts.
“When you begin living in the towns the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman among you might do evil in the sight of the Lord your God and violate the covenant. For instance, they might serve other gods or worship the sun, the moon, or any of the stars—the forces of heaven—which I have strictly forbidden. When you hear about it, investigate the matter thoroughly. If it is true that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then the man or woman who has committed such an evil act must be taken to the gates of the town and stoned to death. But never put a person to death on the testimony of only one witness. There must always be two or three witnesses. The witnesses must throw the first stones, and then all the people may join in. In this way, you will purge the evil from among you.
“Suppose a case arises in a local court that is too hard for you to decide—for instance, whether someone is guilty of murder or only of manslaughter, or a difficult lawsuit, or a case involving different kinds of assault. Take such legal cases to the place the Lord your God will choose, and present them to the Levitical priests or the judge on duty at that time. They will hear the case and declare the verdict. You must carry out the verdict they announce and the sentence they prescribe at the place the Lord chooses. You must do exactly what they say. After they have interpreted the law and declared their verdict, the sentence they impose must be fully executed; do not modify it in any way. Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the Lord your God must die. In this way you will purge the evil from Israel. Then everyone else will hear about it and be afraid to act so arrogantly.
Guidelines for a King
“You are about to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’ If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the Lord your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner.
“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.
“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.
Gifts for the Priests and Levites
“Remember that the Levitical priests—that is, the whole of the tribe of Levi—will receive no allotment of land among the other tribes in Israel. Instead, the priests and Levites will eat from the special gifts given to the Lord, for that is their share. They will have no land of their own among the Israelites. The Lord himself is their special possession, just as he promised them.
“These are the parts the priests may claim as their share from the cattle, sheep, and goats that the people bring as offerings: the shoulder, the cheeks, and the stomach. You must also give to the priests the first share of the grain, the new wine, the olive oil, and the wool at shearing time. For the Lord your God chose the tribe of Levi out of all your tribes to minister in the Lord’s name forever.
“Suppose a Levite chooses to move from his town in Israel, wherever he is living, to the place the Lord chooses for worship. He may minister there in the name of the Lord his God, just like all his fellow Levites who are serving the Lord there. He may eat his share of the sacrifices and offerings, even if he also receives support from his family.
A Call to Holy Living
“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, be very careful not to imitate the detestable customs of the nations living there. For example, never sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering.[a] And do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord. It is because the other nations have done these detestable things that the Lord your God will drive them out ahead of you. But you must be blameless before the Lord your God. The nations you are about to displace consult sorcerers and fortune-tellers, but the Lord your God forbids you to do such things.”
True and False Prophets
Moses continued, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you yourselves requested of the Lord your God when you were assembled at Mount Sinai.[b] You said, ‘Don’t let us hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore or see this blazing fire, for we will die.’
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘What they have said is right. I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf. But any prophet who falsely claims to speak in my name or who speaks in the name of another god must die.’
“But you may wonder, ‘How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the Lord?’ If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared.
- 18:10 Or never make your son or daughter pass through the fire.
- 18:16 Hebrew Horeb, another name for Sinai.