ENTERING THE PROMISED LAND PROVIDES THE TRANSITION TO CENTRALIZED WORSHIP ALONG WITH THE FREEDOM TO EAT MEAT LOCALLY
Patrick Miller: Placement of the instruction about worship at the sanctuary in first position indicates clearly its priority for Deuteronomy, which assumes that the starting point for the proper, full, and exclusive love of the Lord (the primary demand of the first and second commandments and the Shema) is found in the way Israel carries out the activities of worship. The radical and unyielding demand for a total commitment to God does not regard the practices and details of worship as incidental or secondary to other matters. Whatever else such commitment involves, it begins in the service of worship. . .
Negating one group of names and establishing another name in effect calls for a new order, a transformation: a shift from an order where there are multiple claims for human allegiance . . . and where human design determines the place and nature of worship. This order is to give way to another, wherein divine control is placed over human worship and one name replaces all other names.
Duane Christensen: What we see in this chapter is a description of sacred slaughter in ancient Israel in the context of public worship, in which the sacrificial animals were slaughtered and eaten—in particular, during the three agrarian pilgrimage festivals delineated in 16:1–17.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Deuteronomy tends to present a command or directive in a fairly simple manner, then to expand upon it through repetition, explanation, greater clarification, and motivation to obey. That style comes into play in this chapter, with verses 4–7 presenting the directive regarding worship at The Place in its most simple and direct form, with the remainder of the central block serving as expansion of the directive (Tigay: 118–27). This expansion consists of five sections that alternately repeat the substance of the centralization directive (vv. 8–12, 17–19, 26–28) and consider the implication of the directive for the slaughter of domestic animals for food (vv. 13–16, 20–25). The command to seek the place thus receives priority attention. It is the focus of the initial presentation (vv. 4–7) and is presented three times in the expansion, including the all-important central position. . .
Deuteronomy 1–11 repeatedly emphasizes that the God of the exodus has chosen Israel as his special people (e.g., 4:34; 7:7–8) and that Yahweh is the only God for Israel (first commandment, the Shema): One God, One People.
Now Deuteronomy teaches that this unique relationship requires Israel to worship and bring sacrifice to that one God only at the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes as his habitation to put his name there (12:5, 11, 14, etc.). Israel is not to worship where the former inhabitants worshiped nor wherever it pleases. To One God, One People is added One Place. Here may be Deuteronomy’s most unusual but far-reaching teaching. . .
The logic of the chapter may be summarized as follows:
1. Obedience to the first command requires the rejection and destruction of Canaanite worship.
2. Rejection of Canaanite worship requires one worship center.
3. One worship center requires a new approach to butchering animals for food.
Michael Grisanti: The general picture in ch. 12 as it relates to proper worship of Yahweh is one of anticipation. The Lord desires that sacrifices offered to him take place only at a location among the tribes of Israel where he “places his Name.” At all times in Israel’s history as a nation (i.e., after Sinai), the Israelites could offer sacrifices only at locations marked out by Yahweh (and not associated with any pagan forms of worship). Once Solomon erected the temple of Yahweh, the restriction was narrowed: the Israelites were not to offer Levitical sacrifices at any location other than that temple.
Jack Deere: The command for a single sanctuary promoted or emphasized three things:
• the unity of God (i.e., He is One, not many),
• the purity of the Israelites’ worship of the Lord,
• and the people’s political and spiritual unity.
(:1) PROLOGUE – COVENANT OBEDIENCE = KEY TO POSSESSING THE LAND
“These are the statutes and the judgments which you shall carefully observe in the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess as long as you live on the earth.”
Daniel Block: As already noted, Deuteronomy 12:1 marks the transition from the exposition of the Supreme Command (chaps. 5–11), to the exposition of the stipulations of the covenant in chapters 12–26. As elsewhere (4:45; 5:1; 26:16–17), “the decrees and laws” represent the covenantal obligations that Yahweh revealed at Sinai. Continuing the second address begun back in 5:1, this opening statement echoes many of the expressions found in 11:32, the conclusion to the previous section. Using familiar phrases this opening makes four points.
1. Moses specifies the genre of the material to follow. Although they will be presented in a profoundly hortatory way, these are “decrees and laws.”
2. He declares his goal—to govern conduct: “Keep them by doing them” (pers. trans.).
3. He links his instructions with the gift of land: They are to be obeyed in the land that “the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess.”
4. He identifies the context to which they apply: They are to be obeyed “as long as they live in the land.”
Warren Wiersbe: The statement in verse 1 was both an assurance and a commandment. The assurance was that Israel would enter the land and overcome the enemy, and the commandment was that, having entered the land, they must purge it of all idolatry.
I. (:2-7) MANDATE CENTRALIZED WORSHIP FOR OFFERING YOUR SACRIFICES AND CELEBRATING YOUR MAJOR FEASTS
A. (:2-3) Destroy False Worship Sites and Objects
1. (:2) Destroy False Worship Sites
“You shall utterly destroy all the places
where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods,
on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree.”
Eugene Merrill: The command to destroy is couched in the strongest terms, for there must be no residue of paganism remaining after the conquest. And the strategy of destruction would be, first, the elimination of the “places” of worship and then their paraphernalia.
2. (:3) Destroy False Worship Objects
“And you shall tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars
and burn their Asherim with fire,
and you shall cut down the engraved images of their gods,
and you shall obliterate their name from that place.”
Peter Craigie: These objects were to be systematically destroyed so that the places associated with them would be divested of any semblance of sanctity. The physical act of destruction was thus also a symbolic act of rejection, the rejection of the deities and of the efficacy of the religious system of the Israelites’ predecessors on the land. The act of destruction not only removed any subsequent temptation for the Israelites to lapse into foreign forms of religion, but also obliterated their name (i.e., of foreign gods) from that place. There was only one name on which the Israelites could call; this is the theme of the next section.
David Thompson: God does not want His people tolerant of any false religion. Now in this dispensation, we cannot go around tearing down and smashing to bits places that promote false religion, but we certainly can point them out and we certainly can get rid of anything religious that is not true and sound from our own lives and we should certainly do it here in this church.
B. (:4-5) Centralize Your Worship at the One Place God Has Chosen
1. (:4) Reject the Idolatrous Worship Practices of the Canaanites
“You shall not act like this toward the LORD your God.”
Duane Christensen: The worship of YHWH at this sanctuary is to be altogether different from that of the gods of Canaan, who are worshiped in various places throughout the land with specific religious paraphernalia, which the people of Israel are commanded to destroy (vv 2–3). Instead they are to bring offerings to YHWH at the central sanctuary (v 6). . .
For the Christian, this principle of one center of true worship is correct; but the center is not a place but rather a person who embodies the symbols of ancient Israelite worship.
2. (:5) Embrace the Lord’s Prescription for Worship
“But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the LORD your God shall choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come.”
MacArthur: Various places of worship were chosen after the people settled in Canaan, such as Mt. Ebal (27:1-8; Jos 8:30-35), Shechem (Jos 24:1-28) and Shiloh (Jos 18:1), which was the center of worship through the period of Judges (Jdg 21:19). The tabernacle, the Lord’s dwelling place, was located in Canaan, where the Lord chose to dwell. The central importance of the tabernacle was in direct contrast to the multiple places (see v. 2) where the Canaanites practiced their worship of idols. Eventually, the tabernacle was brought to Jerusalem by David (cf. 2Sa 6:12-19).
Peter Pett: This dwelling among men did not in any way limit Yahweh. Moses has shown earlier, especially in Egypt and in the wilderness, that He could act where He would, He could speak where He would, and He knew all that happened everywhere even to the extent of knowing people’s minds. Thus men could pray to Him wherever they were and He would hear them. But it stressed that there was only one physical place of approach to Him by men, not through nature but in the place that He chose, where He came to them in His invisible presence, the heavenly coming in contact with the earthly. This emphasised His distinctiveness. We could see this chapter as based on the first commandment, ‘you shall have no other gods before My face’.
C. (:6-7) Offer Your Sacrifices and Celebrate the Feasts in the Presence of the Lord
1. (:6) Offer Your Sacrifices as Prescribed by the Lord
“And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the first-born of your herd and of your flock.”
2. (:7) Celebrate Your Feasts with Joy and Thanksgiving
“There also you and your households shall eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you.”
Patrick Miller: The text also has the character of Kingdom anticipation in that one sees here in Israel’s regular life the seeds of the Messianic banquet. The community is called to gather with all its gifts before God to eat, rejoice, and celebrate the blessing of God with no member of the community unprovided for or left out.
Eugene Merrill: The nature of these assemblies—times of covenant reaffirmation and renewal—is evident from the festivity carried out at those times and at the central sanctuary (v. 7). It consists essentially of a meal shared by all the congregants, a repast “in the presence of the LORD your God.” This does not mean only that the Lord was there but that he too shared in the banqueting as the Great King among his loyal subjects. This was standard protocol at times of covenant making or renewal as a number of biblical texts attest (cf. Exod 24:11; Deut 12:18; 14:23, 26; 15:20; 27:7).
II. (:8-12) MANAGE THE TRANSITION TO IMPLEMENTING CENTRALIZED WORSHIP IN THE PROMISED LAND
Gerald Gerbrandt: chiastic structure
Secular Slaughter, 12:13–16
Secular Slaughter, 12:20–25
A. (:8-9) Inherit the Land with the Goal of Implementing God’s Worship Plan
1. (:8) Reject Any Human-Devised System of Worship
“You shall not do at all what we are doing here today,
every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes;”
Paul Barker: Undergirding all these laws lies a fundamental, theological principle. God has revealed himself. God has spoken. The only way we can know how to appropriately worship God is that he has told us. We are not to worship God in our own ways or “according to our own desires” (12:8) because God has told us how to worship him in the Bible.
2. (:9) Embrace the Divinely Ordained System of Worship to be Practiced in the Promised Land
“for you have not as yet come to the resting place
and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you.”
Earl Kalland: “The resting place” (vv. 9-10) as a description of the land begins with Jacob’s blessing when he called the allotment of Issachar “his resting place” (Gen 49:15). Numbers 10:33 states that the ark was to find a place of rest for the people as they journeyed from one place to another, but those resting places gave merely temporary relief. Canaan was to be a settled place of rest. Solomon, after the prayer of dedication for the temple, said, “Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised” (1 Kings 8:56). Isaiah used this term with reference to the messianic age (Isa 11:10; 28:12; 32:18; 66:1); and Micah enjoined the false prophets about the Jerusalem of his time, saying, “Get up, go away! For this is not your resting place” (Mic. 2:10).
David said of the Lord, his shepherd, “He leads me beside quiet waters, [the waters of rest or restful waters]” (Ps 23:2); and in Psalm 132:8, 14, Zion is extolled as the resting place for the ark and for the Lord.
Psalm 95:11 becomes the source for vital NT teaching. The psalmist says that the Lord had declared of the people who disobeyed him in the desert, “They shall never enter my rest.” The author of Hebrews, quoting from Psalm 95:11, says that those who disbelieved, disobeyed, and rebelled did not enter into his rest (ch. 3). Neither did later Israelites, for Joshua did not give them rest since the Lord was still offering this rest in the days of David. To fulfill the promise of God, a rest was still to be provided. That rest was for the soul in Jesus as Savior from sin: “We who have believed enter that rest” (Heb 4:3). Jesus is the “resting place” for the believer.
B. (:10-11) Implement God’s Worship Plan Once You Live in the Land
1. (:10) God is Providing the Land for Your Rest and Security
“When you cross the Jordan and live in the land
which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit,
and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you
so that you live in security,”
2. (:11) God is Ordaining the Place for His Name to Dwell for the Focus of Worship
“then it shall come about that the place in which the LORD your God shall choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices,
your tithes and the contribution of your hand,
and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the LORD.”
Eugene Merrill: As is well known, the first permanent location of the tabernacle was Shiloh (Josh 18:1), a site chosen only after the land had been brought under control. How long after the conquest Shiloh was chosen cannot be known precisely, but it seems to have been a minimum of seven years (cf. Josh 14:7-10). In the meantime it is clear that altars of the kind authorized by the Lord in Exod 20 were built in Canaan both before (Josh 8:30) and after the selection of Shiloh as the place of national convocation (Josh 22:10-11; Judg 6:24-26; 13:20; 21:4; 1 Sam 7:17; 2 Sam 24:18-25).
C. (:12) Include Your Entire Community in Your Joyful Worship Celebrations
“And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God,
you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants,
and the Levite who is within your gates,
since he has no portion or inheritance with you.”
Duane Christensen: Since the Levites had no allotted tribal territory from which to derive their income, they were dependent economically on the largesse of the general populace. Not all Levites officiated at the central sanctuary. They were distributed throughout the land of Israel with duties of teaching and expounding the faith, including the law (see 33:10; 2 Chr 15:3; 17:8–9; 30:22; 35:3). They not only read publicly the law to the people of Israel, they interpreted it so that the congregation would know what it meant. When the term “Levite” is used alone in Deuteronomy, it refers to the teaching priests who functioned at the local level, in towns throughout the land of Israel. They were clients of the community and thus are included with the poor and landless who must be cared for (cf. Deut 12:18–19; 14:27, 29; 16:11, 14; 26:11–12).
Meredith Kline: Love to God expressed in joyful worship was also to find its corollary in love to the brethren, especially in kindness to those who, like the Levites (v. 12; cf. v. 19), were dependent on the generosity, indeed on the piety, of the congregation (cf. Num 18:21; 35:1 ff.).
III. (:13-14) MAINTAIN GOD’S PROGRAM OF CENTRALIZED WORSHP
A. (:13) Stay on Track in Your Worship
“Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings
in every cultic place you see,”
B. (:14) Stick to the God-ordained Script
“but in the place which the LORD chooses in one of your tribes,
there you shall offer your burnt offerings,
and there you shall do all that I command you.”
IV. (:15-27) MEAT EATING ALLOWED LOCALLY
A. (:15-16) Freedom to Slaughter and Eat Meat Locally
1. (:15) Concession to Allow Local Slaughter and Eating of Meat
“However, you may slaughter and eat meat within any of your gates, whatever you desire, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you; the unclean and the clean may eat of it, as of the gazelle and the deer.”
R. K. Harrison: Not being domestic animals they were not acceptable as sacrificial offerings, though “clean” in other respects. These species of game were apparently plentiful at the time; subsequently, and in the city, they were regarded as a delicacy (1 Ki. 4:23).
2. (:16) Caveat Regarding Not Eating the Blood
“Only you shall not eat the blood;
you are to pour it out on the ground like water.”
Warren Wiersbe: The emphasis on the shedding of blood is at the heart of the message of the Gospel. We aren’t saved from our sins by the life of Christ or the example of Christ, but by the sacrificial death of Christ, “in whom we have redemption through his blood” (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). The blood of Christ is precious to us (1 Peter 1:19) because of who shed it – the spotless Lamb of God – but also because of what it accomplishes for those who trust Him: justification (Rom. 5:9), cleansing (Rev. 1:5; 1 John 1:7), eternal salvation (Heb. 9:11-28), access to God (10:19-20), and reconciliation (Eph. 2:13), to name but a few of the blessings we have through Christ’s blood.
B. (:17-19) Forbidding of Local Consumption of Items Associated with Worship
1. (:17) Specification of Items Not Appropriate for Local Consumption
“You are not allowed to eat within your gates the tithe of your grain,
or new wine, or oil, or the first-born of your herd or flock,
or any of your votive offerings which you vow, or your freewill offerings, or the contribution of your hand.”
Peter Craigie: The freedom of eating meat, however, did not extend to those products and foodstuffs which were set aside specifically for God (v. 17); they could be eaten legitimately only in God’s sanctuary (v. 19), as had already been stressed earlier in the chapter (vv. 6, 11).
2. (:18) Sanctifying the Centralization of Worship
“But you shall eat them before the LORD your God
in the place which the LORD your God will choose,
you and your son and daughter, and your male and female servants,
and the Levite who is within your gates;
and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all your undertakings.”
3. (:19) Special Focus on Providing for the Levites
“Be careful that you do not forsake the Levite
as long as you live in your land.”
C. (:20) Fondness for Eating Meat
“When the LORD your God extends your border as He has promised you,
and you say, ‘I will eat meat,’ because you desire to eat meat,
then you may eat meat, whatever you desire.”
Eugene Merrill: Granting that it was natural and proper for the individual to desire meat as part of his diet, Moses legislated that such could be done once the land was conquered and settled and great distances precluded easy access to the tabernacle or temple.
David Thompson: God did not ever restrict His people to being vegetarians. His people have a right to eat meat. They could eat it from their own herds or flocks and they could hunt for deer or gazelle. The only stipulation was they were not to eat the blood.
D. (:21-25) Freedom of Eating Non-sacrificial Meat Locally
1. (:21) Accommodation for Distance from Worship Center
“If the place which the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, then you may slaughter of your herd and flock which the LORD has given you, as I have commanded you; and you may eat within your gates whatever you desire.”
Duane Christensen: The rules regarding secular slaughter of animals for consumption within the towns throughout the land are spelled out in greater detail in Deut 12:20–28. Once the tribes had settled in their allotted territories, it would no longer be feasible to have all slaughter carried out at the central sanctuary. The slaughter of animals for consumption was permitted (vv 20–22), but only if the blood was poured out on the ground like water (vv 23–25). For the holy things reserved for use at the central sanctuary, the old rules still applied—in which the blood of the sacrificial animals was poured out on the altar, and only the flesh eaten (vv 26–27). . .
As long as the people of God were journeying through the wilderness, they did not eat meat of any kind from the flesh of animals that were not killed at the door of the tabernacle, with part of it presented to God as an offering (Lev 17:3–4). But when they settled in the Promised Land, the distance from the tabernacle was too great for many of them. Thus they were permitted to slaughter from their flocks and herds without bringing part of those animals to the altar at the central sanctuary.
Michael Grisanti: Some scholars refer to the slaughter of animals away from the central sanctuary as “profane” or “secular” slaughter; but it might be better to view this allowance as “nonsacrificial” slaughter (Vogt, 209). Yahweh desires that even in this act his people recognize that their presence in the land and their enjoyment of its abundance is a consequence of his faithfulness to them. By obeying God in each of these areas, they are demonstrating their loyalty to him. To consume the blood in violation of this requirement is viewed as covenantal treachery (12:25). Moses exhorts Israel diligently to obey “all these regulations” (12:28). The fact that their continued prosperity in the land is at stake reveals that their obedience is not profane in orientation but covenantal.
2. (:22) Authorization of Eating Gazelle or Deer
“Just as a gazelle or a deer is eaten, so you shall eat it;
the unclean and the clean alike may eat of it.”
3. (:23-25) Prohibition of Eating the Blood
a. (:23) Why Not Eat the Blood? — The Blood is the Life
“Only be sure not to eat the blood, for the blood is the life,
and you shall not eat the life with the flesh.”
b. (:24) What to Do with the Blood?
“You shall not eat it;
you shall pour it out on the ground like water.”
c. (:25) What are the Benefits of Obeying?
1) Prospering Your Family
“You shall not eat it, in order that it may be well
with you and your sons after you,”
2) Pleasing the Lord
“for you will be doing what is right
in the sight of the LORD.”
E. (:26-27) Offer Your Sacrifices at the Designated Centralized Worship Place
“Only your holy things which you may have and your votive offerings, you shall take and go to the place which the LORD chooses.
And you shall offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood,
on the altar of the LORD your God; and the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the LORD your God,
and you shall eat the flesh.”
VI. (:28-32) CLOSING EXHORTATION, MOTIVATION AND WARNING TO OBEY
A. (:28a) Exhortation to Obey
“Be careful to listen to all these words which I command you,”
B. (:28b) Motivation to Obey
1. Prospering Your Family
“in order that it may be well with you
and your sons after you forever,”
2. Pleasing the Lord
“for you will be doing what is good and right
in the sight of the LORD your God.”
Peter Craigie: The Israelites were not immune from God’s wrath on account of the covenant relationship; if they behaved in the same manner as the Canaanites, they would also be liable to be driven from the land, unworthy to continue there as its residents.
C. (:29-31) Warning to Obey
1. (:29-30a) Danger of Defeated Enemies Corrupting You
“When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you,”
2. (:30b) Danger of Curious Investigation of Idolatrous Practices
“and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?’”
3. (:31) Detestable Nature of Their Acts of Worship
“You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The term abhorrent (NIV, detestable; KJV, RSV, abomination), first used in 7:25–26, now becomes a common term in Deuteronomy for designating that which is especially reprehensible to God, frequently because of its connections with Canaanite cultic practices.
David Thompson: God wants us to use our minds to learn things. But He does not want us to learn godless, immoral, false religious things. I have never believed it was right to study the beliefs of false religions that God detests. The reason is because the potential exists for God’s own people to do detestable things.
(:32) EPILOGUE – COMPREHENSIVE COVENANT OBEDIENCE COMMANDED
“Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do;
you shall not add to nor take away from it.”
Michael Grisanti: Moses ends this section where he began, by exhorting the Israelites genuinely to obey all that God demands of them. Since God’s covenantal stipulations are both of paramount importance and sufficient, Israel must not alter them in any way. What God expects of his covenantal people is not open to debate or up for negotiation.