Monuments of idolatry to be destroyed. (1-4) The place of God's service to be kept. (5-32)
Verses 1-4 Moses comes to the statutes he had to give in charge to Israel; and begins with such as relate to the worship of God. The Israelites are charged not to bring the rites and usages of idolaters into the worship of God; not under colour of making it better. We cannot serve God and mammon; nor worship the true God and idols; nor depend upon Christ Jesus and upon superstitious or self-righteous confidences.
Verses 5-32 The command to bring ALL the sacrifices to the door of the tabernacle, was now explained with reference to the promised land. As to moral service, then, as now, men might pray and worship every where, as they did in their synagogues. The place which God would choose, is said to be the place where he would put his name. It was to be his habitation, where, as King of Israel, he would be found by all who reverently sought him. Now, under the gospel, we have no temple or altar that sanctifies the gift but Christ only: and as to the places of worship, the prophets foretold that in every place the spiritual incense should be offered, ( Malachi 1:11 ) . Our Saviour declared, that those are accepted as true worshippers, who worship God in sincerity and truth, without regard either to this mountain or Jerusalem, ( John 4:21 ) . And a devout Israelite might honour God, keep up communion with him, and obtain mercy from him, though he had no opportunity of bringing a sacrifice to his altar. Work for God should be done with holy joy and cheerfulness. Even children and servants must rejoice before God; the services of religion are to be a pleasure, and not a task or drudgery. It is the duty of people to be kind to their ministers, who teach them well, and set them good examples. As long as we live, we need their assistance, till we come to that world where ordinances will not be needed. Whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we are commanded to do all to the glory of God. And we must do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to the Father through him. They must not even inquire into the modes and forms of idolatrous worship. What good would it do them to know those depths of Satan? And our inward satisfaction will be more and more, as we abound in love and good works, which spring from faith and the in-dwelling Spirit of Christ.
Deuteronomy 12:1-15 . MONUMENTS OF IDOLATRY TO BE DESTROYED.
1. These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe--Having in the preceding chapter inculcated upon the Israelites the general obligation to fear and love God, Moses here enters into a detail of some special duties they were to practise on their obtaining possession of the promised land.
2. Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods--This divine command was founded on the tendencies of human nature; for to remove out of sight everything that had been associated with idolatry, that it might never be spoken of and no vestige of it remain, was the only effectual way to keep the Israelites from temptations to it. It is observable that Moses does not make any mention of temples, for such buildings were not in existence at that early period. The "places" chosen as the scene of heathen worship were situated either on the summit of a lofty mountain, or on some artificial mound, or in a grove, planted with particular trees, such as oaks, poplars, and elms ( Isaiah 57:5-7 , Hosea 4:13 ). The reason for the selection of such sites was both to secure retirement and to direct the attention upward to heaven; and the "place" was nothing else than a consecrated enclosure, or at most, a canopy or screen from the weather.
3. And ye shall overthrow their altars--piles of turf or small stones.
and break their pillars--Before the art of sculpture was known, the statues of idols were only rude blocks of colored stones.
5. unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose . . . to put his name there . . . thou shalt come--They were forbidden to worship either in the impure superstitious manner of the heathen, or in any of the places frequented by them. A particular place for the general rendezvous of all the tribes would be chosen by God Himself; and the choice of one common place for the solemn rites of religion was an act of divine wisdom, for the security of the true religion. It was admirably calculated to prevent the corruption which would otherwise have crept in from their frequenting groves and high hills--to preserve uniformity of worship and keep alive their faith in Him to whom all their sacrifices pointed. The place was successively Mizpeh, Shiloh, and especially Jerusalem. But in all the references made to it by Moses, the name is never mentioned. This studied silence was maintained partly lest the Canaanites within whose territories it lay might have concentrated their forces to frustrate all hopes of obtaining it; partly lest the desire of possessing a place of such importance might have become a cause of strife or rivalry amongst the Hebrew tribes, as about the appointment to the priesthood ( Numbers 16:1-30 ).
7. there ye shall eat before the Lord--of the things mentioned ( Deuteronomy 12:6 ); but of course, none of the parts assigned to the priests before the Lord--in the place where the sanctuary should be established, and in those parts of the Holy City which the people were at liberty to frequent and inhabit.
12. ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God, ye, and your sons, and your daughters, &c.--Hence it appears that, although males only were commanded to appear before God at the annual solemn feasts ( Exodus 23:17 ), the women were allowed to accompany them ( 1 Samuel 1:3-23 ).
15. Notwithstanding thou mayest kill and eat flesh in all thy gates--Every animal designed for food, whether ox, goat, or lamb, was during the abode in the wilderness ordered to be slain as a peace offering at the door of the tabernacle; its blood to be sprinkled, and its fat burnt upon the altar by the priest. The encampment, being then round about the altar, made this practice, appointed to prevent idolatry, easy and practicable. But on the settlement in the promised land, the obligation to slay at the tabernacle was dispensed with. The people were left at liberty to prepare their meat in their cities or homes.
according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee--The style of living should be accommodated to one's condition and means--profuse and riotous indulgence can never secure the divine blessing.
the unclean and the clean may eat thereof--The unclean here are those who were under some slight defilement, which, without excluding them from society, yet debarred them from eating any of the sacred meats ( Leviticus 7:20 ). They were at liberty freely to partake of common articles of food.
of the roebuck--the gazelle.
and as of the hart--The Syrian deer (Cervus barbatus) is a species between our red and fallow deer, distinguished by the want of a bis-antler, or second branch on the horns, reckoning from below, and for a spotted livery which is effaced only in the third or fourth year.
Deuteronomy 12:16-25 . BLOOD PROHIBITED.
16. ye shall not eat the blood; ye shall pour it upon the earth as water--The prohibition against eating or drinking blood as an unnatural custom accompanied the announcement of the divine grant of animal flesh for food ( Genesis 9:4 ), and the prohibition was repeatedly renewed by Moses with reference to the great objects of the law ( Leviticus 17:12 ), the prevention of idolatry, and the consecration of the sacrificial blood to God. In regard, however, to the blood of animals slain for food, it might be shed without ceremony and poured on the ground as a common thing like water--only for the sake of decency, as well as for preventing all risk of idolatry, it was to be covered over with earth ( Leviticus 17:13 ), in opposition to the practice of heathen sportsmen, who left it exposed as an offering to the god of the chase.
22-28. Even as the roebuck and the hart is eaten, so shalt thou eat them, &c.--Game when procured in the wilderness had not been required to be brought to the door of the tabernacle. The people were now to be as free in the killing of domestic cattle as of wild animals. The permission to hunt and use venison for food was doubtless a great boon to the Israelites, not only in the wilderness, but on their settlement in Canaan, as the mountainous ranges of Lebanon, Carmel, and Gilead, on which deer abounded in vast numbers, would thus furnish them with a plentiful and luxuriant repast.
Deuteronomy 12:26-32 . HOLY THINGS TO BE EATEN IN THE HOLY PLACE.
26. Only thy holy things which thou hast--The tithes mentioned ( Deuteronomy 12:17 ) are not to be considered ordinary tithes, which belonged to the Levites, and of which private Israelites had a right to eat; but they are other extraordinary tithes or gifts, which the people carried to the sanctuary to be presented as peace offerings, and on which, after being offered and the allotted portion given to the priest, they feasted with their families and friends ( Leviticus 27:30 ).
29, 30. Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them . . . saying, How did these nations serve their gods?--The Israelites, influenced by superstitious fear, too often endeavored to propitiate the deities of Canaan. Their Egyptian education had early impressed that bugbear notion of a set of local deities, who expected their dues of all who came to inhabit the country which they honored with their protection, and severely resented the neglect of payment in all newcomers [WARBURTON]. Taking into consideration the prevalence of this idea among them, we see that against an Egyptian influence was directed the full force of the wholesome caution with which this chapter closes.