Deuteronomy  xiii.

Notes & Commentary:

Ver. 1. If….a prophet, or even an angel from heaven, as St. Paul (Galatians i. 8,) says on a similar occasion, (Calmet) should work a miracle, and afterwards adduce it in proof of a false religion, believe him not. The Jews and Christians had already received such convincing proofs from God, of the truth of what they had been taught, that they had reason to conclude either that the miracle was false, or that the person who would persuade them to embrace a different religion had fallen, after God had honoured him with miraculous powers: or, in fine, that if he were an impostor at the time when he exercised that power, like the magicians of Egypt, or Balaam, the miracle was either not wrought in confirmation of what he preached, or at least it was eclipsed by some greater miracle in favour of the truth. Whether God will ever suffer a real miracle which may seem to countenance error, or not, this appears to be unquestionable, that he will never deny himself, or, in a contest of miracles, permit falsehood to gain the victory. If the magicians performed wonderful works, they were forced at last to confess their inferiority, and yield to Moses, Exodus viii. 18, 19. Miracles are generally a proof of the truth of any doctrine; but when the doctrine is already established, as in this case of the unity of God, (ver. 2,) it may be adduced with propriety as a criterion of miracles. Truth can never be in contradiction to truth. The light of reason suffices to evince that there is but one God. The same truth had been repeatedly confirmed by miracles, particularly during the last forty years, during which God had manifested his power over all nature, in the sight of all the Hebrews, and had trampled on the idols of the Gentiles. If therefore any person should attempt, by his dreams or predictions, to invalidate this most fundamental and undeniable article, his testimony could not be received. (Haydock) — The Jews, in vain, allege this passage against the religion of Jesus Christ. He did not subvert, but fulfilled the law; so far was he from endeavouring to persuade them to abandon the true God. (Calmet) — If he had not come to act in this manner, the law would have contained in itself the seeds of dissolution, by falsely holding forth the expectation of a future Messias, who would bring all things to perfection, chap. xviii. 15., Genesis iii. 15., and xlix. 10, &c. Hence when he really appeared, the Jews desired him to prove his mission by a miracle, as he did repeatedly, Matthew xii. 38., John viii. 40., and x. 25. — A dream, of a mysterious kind, like those of Joseph and of the prophets. (Haydock)

Ver. 2. To pass. The completion of a prophecy does not always prove, that the person who uttered it was a true prophet. Chance, a knowledge of natural causes, &c., may enable an impostor sometimes to hit upon the truth. God may also, for reasons known to himself, declare what will come to pass by the mouth of a false prophet, or of a wicked man, as he did by Balaam and Caiphas. Judas wrought miracles before his apostacy. (Calmet) — Yet if any who had been so highly favoured, should attempt to enforce by their preceding miracles, any false doctrine, let him be anathema, Galatians i. 8. — Not. The Hebrews had inconvertible proofs of the existence of one God. They could not therefore acknowledge any other. (Haydock) — Novelty in religion is a mark of idolatry or of heresy. (Worthington)

Ver. 3. Trieth you, not in order to induce you to embrace evil, (James i. 13,) nor to discover your real dispositions, but to lay open your hearts to yourselves and to the world, (Haydock) that, if you continue steadfast, others may be encouraged to imitate you; but if you fall, they may take warning, and stand with all humility and circumspection. (Calmet) — Appear. Hebrew, “to know, or to disclose.” (Menochius)

Ver. 5. Forger. Hebrew, “dreamer,” to whom God reveals his secrets in the night, as he does to the prophet while he is awake. — Slain. Philo says, without any trial or delay; but the Rabbins allow that, although the impostor was not to receive an admonition, no ignorance being able to excuse him, as in other cases, he was to be brought before the Sanhedrim, at Jerusalem, and strangled. See Luke xiii. 33. The Jews, it is thought, condemned our Saviour on the plea that he was a false prophet, Matthew xxvi. 57. They commonly required before this condemnation, that a person should have assumed the character of a prophet, and not barely that he should have performed some wonderful work by his ingenuity. For if he only did the latter, and thereby endeavoured to withdraw the people from the service of the true God, he was punished as a seducer. They also refused to condemn one who had foretold evils, if they did not take place as was the case with Jonas and the Ninivites. (Haydock) — But those who taught or did any thing contrary to the law, in quality of prophets, were in danger of condemnation, unless their great reputation might screen them from suspicion. Thus Elias offered sacrifice on Mount Carmel, without giving offence, 3 Kings xviii. 23. If a true prophet bore witness to another, the latter might also claim respect. (Calmet) — Yet though St. John the Baptist had repeatedly commended Jesus Christ, the Jews did not hesitate to call him a seducer, and to put him to death. (Haydock) — “The evil one,” (Syriac,) 1 Corinthians v. 13.

Ver. 6. If thy own brother, to distinguish him from the rest of the Jews, who were all styled brethren, as being descended from the same stock of the Patriarchs. (Menochius)

Ver. 9. Presently put him to death. Not by killing him by private authority, but by informing the magistrate, and proceeding by order of justice. (Challoner) (Worthington) — Philo seems to assert the contrary. But he perhaps speaks of those who publicly endeavoured to lead the people astray. Presently is not in Hebrew. Other criminals were allowed twenty-four hours after condemnation. No delay was granted to false prophets. No excuse was admitted. If he had even been once acquitted, he might be examined again. — Thy hand. The accuser or witness first threw a stone, after the wretch had been conducted out of the city, chap. xvii. 4., and Acts vii. 58.

Ver. 12. Cities. If the inhabitants agreed, in general, to introduce the worship of idols, they were to be first admonished, (Calmet) and if incorrigible, to be utterly destroyed. (Haydock) — The obligation of seeing that this was executed, was left to the magistrates. (Du Hamel)

Ver. 13. Belial: that is, without yoke. Hence the wicked, who refuse to be subject to the divine law, are called in Scripture the sons of Belial. (Challoner) — The devil is called Belial, or “an apostate, rebel,” &c. The word is also applied to Antichrist, to idols, and to those who are notoriously wicked. (St. Jerome in Nahum i., and Isaias xxvii.; 3 Kings xxi. 13.)

Ver. 15. Even the cattle. Nothing at all must be spared. Yet the Rabbins and some who argue that penal laws must be restrained as much as possible, exempt the women, and boys under thirteen years of age, and understand this law only of the central cities, ver. 13. If the city was seduced by one man, or by women, or by people of a different tribe, the culprit was only to be stoned, and the Sanhedrim had to take cognizance of the whole affair. If many cities joined in the idolatry, or if any of them were cities of refuge, &c., they were not included. (Selden, Syned. iii. 5.; Grotius) — But these limitations seem visibly to contradict the law. The goods of the innocent were involved in the common ruin, that they might learn to make all possible resistance to the introduction of so abominable a crime; and those of the guilty were destroyed wherever they were found. (Calmet) — But the persons of those who fled away, to shew their disapprobation, and denounce the attempt of their brethren, (Haydock) would no doubt be saved. (Calmet) — If they continued among them, their indolence or connivance deserved punishment. (Haydock) — Grotius (Jur. ii. 15) maintains, that the magistrate is authorized by the law of nature to punish those who deny the existence of God or his Providence, as these errors strike at the root of all society. — [Ver. 16.]For the Lord, as a victim of expiation, and to manifest your zeal for the honour of the only true God. — No more. Septuagint, “it shall be uninhabited.” The Rabbins are so exact, as to entertain a doubt whether the place might even be used as a garden. (Calmet)

Ver. 17. Hand. Thou shalt reserve nothing for thyself, (Menochius) as Achan did, Josue vii. (Haydock)

Bible Text & Cross-references:

False prophets must be slain, and idolatrous cities destroyed.

1 If *there rise in the midst of thee a prophet, or one that saith he hath dreamed a dream, and he foretell a sign and a wonder,

2 And that come to pass which he spoke, and he say to thee: Let us go, and follow strange gods, which thou knowest not, and let us serve them:

3 Thou shalt not hear the words of that prophet or dreamer: for the Lord your God trieth you, that it may appear whether you love him with all your heart, and with all your soul, or not.

4 Follow the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and hear his voice: him you shall serve, and to him you shall cleave.

5 And that prophet or forger of dreams shall be slain: because he spoke to draw you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage: to make thee go out of the way, which the Lord thy God commanded thee: and thou shalt take away the evil out of the midst of thee.

6 If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or daughter, or thy wife that is in thy bosom, or thy friend, whom thou lovest as thy own soul, would persuade thee secretly, saying: Let us go and serve strange gods, which thou knowest not, nor thy fathers,

7 Of all the nations round about, that are near or afar off, from one end of the earth to the other,

8 Consent not to him, hear him not, neither let thy eye spare him to pity and conceal him,

9 But thou shalt presently put him to death. *Let thy hand be first upon him, and afterwards the hands of all the people.

10 With stones shall he be stoned to death: because he would have withdrawn thee from the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage:

11 That all Israel hearing may fear, and may do no more any thing like this.

12 If in one of thy cities, which the Lord thy God shall give thee to dwell in, thou hear some say:

13 Children of Belial are gone out of the midst of thee, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, and have said: Let us go, and serve strange gods which you know not:

14 Enquire carefully and diligently, the truth of the thing, by looking well into it, and if thou find that which is said to be certain, and that this abomination has been really committed,

15 Thou shalt forthwith kill the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, and shalt destroy it, and all things that are in it, even the cattle:

16 And all the household goods that are there, thou shalt gather together in the midst of the streets thereof, and shalt burn them with the city itself, so as to consume all for the Lord thy God, and that it be a heap for ever: it shall be built no more.

17 And there shall nothing of that anathema stick to thy hand: that the Lord may turn from the wrath of his fury, and may have mercy on thee, and multiply thee as he swore to thy fathers,

18 When thou shalt hear the voice of the Lord thy God, keeping all his precepts, which I command thee this day, that thou mayst do what is pleasing in the sight of the Lord thy God.



1: Year of the World 2553.

9: Deuteronomy xvii. 7.