Chapter 12


The Specific Stipulations of the Covenant (12:1-26:15)

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “After Moses laid out the principles of the covenant (5:1-11:32), he moved to the application of these principles in everyday life. Passages in this section expand on the Ten Commandments and cover some of the contingencies that inevitably arise in the complexity of human relationships.”

The Lord’s Chosen Place for Worship

        • The following are the statutes and ordinances that you must carefully follow when you are living in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving to you for as long as you live.

        • When you are driving out the nations that live in these lands, you are to completely destroy all the places where they worship their gods- on the high mountains, up on the hills, and under every green tree. Tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, burn their Asherah poles, cut down the idols they have carved, and obliterate the names of their gods from those places.

This rock-hewn altar was carved out of limestone and was approximately 8 feet on each side and 5 feet high. It is located about a mile from Shiloh, and the four corners point to the four directions on a compass (Exodus 27:1-2). The remains clearly demonstrate that animals were sacrificed on this high place. Photo: Yoel Elitzur. Via article “High Places, Altars, and the Bamah”
          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “Mountains and hills were recognized as prime spots for worship and ritual in ancient Near Eastern texts. The phrase ‘hilltop’ is linked with sites featuring leafy green trees. Trees and mountains were often believed to be endowed with a sacred aura in the ancient Near East, both in Israel and in other nations. Mount Hermon in Syria was considered a sacred mountain by many nations, and a mountain located near ancient Ugarit was the site of a shrine to Baal. In Hatti, the gods were thought to assemble under a hawthorn tree. A tree or group of trees could represent fertility goddesses….Being in the supposed presence of a deity was an awe-inspiring experience, and the religious objects at these locations threatened Israel’s faithfulness to the Lord. Israel was not to worship like the prior inhabitants of the land at the high hills and green trees. Hence, the Israelites were to erase the names of foreign deities at all these locations by destroying all their objects.”

        • You are not to worship the Lord your God in the same ways these people worship their gods. Instead, you must go to the place the Lord your God chooses to put His name for His dwelling. It is to that place chosen by God that you will bring your offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, your vow and freewill offerings, and the firstborn from your livestock. You and your families will eat and rejoice at what you have accomplished there, in the presence of the Lord your God because He has blessed you.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The name of the Lord represents the Lord himself. God lived among his people in a designated location by placing his name there (see Exodus 3:13-14).

          • HCSB adds, “The command to worship God in only one place seems to be at variance with Exodus 20:24-26, which permits altars at many places, and with later practice in which prophets who were loyal to God offered sacrifice at authorized high places (eg 1 Samuel 9:11-14; 1 Kings 18:30). What this passage mandates, however, is community worship, especially in connection with the annual festivals. It does not address the matter of local worship in Israel’s towns and villages.”

        • When you cross the Jordan River and live in the lands that the Lord your God is giving you, you will not continue doing as we are doing now- everyone doing whatever seems right to them. Instead, once you are living safely in your lands and the Lord is giving you rest from your surrounding enemies, He will select a place for His name to dwell. This place that He chooses is where you will bring all the things I have commanded you- your burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, special gifts, your special offerings and vow offerings to the Lord. It is to this chosen place that you, your children, your slaves, and the Levites who have no land inheritance will come to rejoice. Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings wherever you choose, but only in the place the Lord has designated.

          • What exactly does Moses mean when he says that once the Israelites settle in their new land they will not be able to continue on as they are now, simply doing whatever seems right to them? After reading multiple commentaries, I find the Barnes’ Notes on the Bible entry to be most consistent with the Scriptural context:

            • Moses points out that heretofore they had not observed the prescribed order in their worship, because during their migratory life in the wilderness it had been impossible to do so. During their wanderings there were doubtless times when the tabernacle was not set up for days together, and when the daily sacrifice Numbers 28:3, together with many other ordinances, were necessarily omitted (compare Joshua 5:5). This consideration must be carefully borne in mind throughout Deuteronomy. It illustrates the necessity for a repetition of very much of the Sinaitic legislation, and suggests the reason why some parts are so urgently reiterated and impressed, while others are left unnoticed. Moses now warns the people that as they were about to quit their unsettled mode of life, God’s purpose of choosing for Himself a place to set His Name there would be executed, and the whole of the sacred ritual would consequently become obligatory. The “rest and safety” of Canaan is significantly laid down Deuteronomy 12:10-11 as the indispensable condition and basis for an entire fulfillment of the Law: the perfection of righteousness coinciding thus with the cessation of wanderings, dangers, and toils.”

Slaughtering Animals to Eat

        • However, you may kill and eat meat within any of your towns according to the blessing the Lord your God has given to you. Anyone can eat it, regardless of whether or not they are ceremonially clean or unclean, just as you would eat a gazelle or deer now. But you must not consume the blood; you must pour it on the ground.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “This instruction refers to animals for eating, not for ritual sacrifice. The slaughter of animals for food could take place without the slayer undergoing purification rituals necessary when sacrificial animals were slain…The prohibition against consuming blood pertained both to sacrificial animals and to those slain for meat. Because it represented life, blood was sacred and was to be rendered only to God. This principle is inherent in creation and preceded the law (Genesis 4:10-11; 9:4-6; Leviticus 17:11).

        • But you cannot eat your tithe of grain, oil, or wine; the firstborn of your livestock; any of your vow or freewill offerings; or special offerings anywhere within your towns. You, your children, your slaves, and the Levites that live within your towns must only eat these things in the presence of the Lord your God at the place that He chooses. You are to rejoice before the Lord your God in everything that you do and be careful to never neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.

          • Guzik notes, “This shows that animals which were offered in sacrifice, even if the one offering was to eat a portion, could only be killed at God’s appointed place of worship.”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The Levites, descendants of Jacob’s son Levi, were set apart to serve the Lord full time in Israel’s religious life (Numbers 18:1-7). The primary task of the Levites was to assist the priests in their various responsibilities. Because the priests and the Levites could not engage in secular pursuits, they depended on the generosity of Israel’s other tribes for their livelihood (Numbers 18:21-24).

        • When the Lord your God expands your territory as He has promised and you get the urge to eat meat, you may eat it wherever you want. Even if you are far away from the place where the Lord your God has chosen to put His name, and regardless of your status as ceremonially clean or unclean, you may kill and eat any of your livestock that He has given to you just like you would eat a gazelle or deer now. But don’t consume the blood. You must pour it on the ground because the blood is the life and you must not eat the life with the meat. Don’t consume the blood so that you and your children will be prosperous because you’ll be doing what the Lord considers right.

        • When the Lord your God goes ahead of you destroying the nations that you are taking possession of and you drive them away and settle there, be careful not to be caught in the trap of following their ways. Don’t ask, “How did these people worship their gods? I want to do the same things.” You must not worship the Lord your God in these same ways because the practices they engage in to worship their gods are detestable practices that He hates. They even burn their children in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. Instead, you must be careful to obey all the commands that I have given to you. Don’t add anything to them or take anything away from them.

            • In 1921 the largest cemetery of sacrificed infants in the ancient Near East was discovered at Carthage. It is well established that this rite of child sacrifice originated in Phoenicia, ancient Israel’s northern neighbor, and was brought to Carthage by its Phoenician colonizers. Hundreds of burial urns filled with the cremated bones of infants, mostly newborns but even some children up to age six years old, as well as animals have been uncovered at Carthage.”

            • The actual rite of child sacrifice at Carthage has been graphically described by Diodorus Siculus: There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus extending its hands, palms up and sloping toward the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire.”

            • Two inscriptions at Carthage even show that occasionally the parents would sacrifice a defective child hoping to later receive a healthy one as a substitute. In one inscription a man named Tuscus says that he gave Ba’al ‘his mute son Bod’astart, a defective child, in exchange for a healthy one.’”

            • In I Kings 11:7, Molech is identified as “the detestable god of the Ammonites” and recent archeological evidence in the former territory of the Ammonites from the period of the Conquest supports biblical testimony that child sacrifice was practiced in Jordan roughly contemporarily with Moses.”

A funerary stela dedicated to the goddess Tanit at Carthage. Archaeologists have discovered upwards of 20,000 burial urns at the Carthaginian Tophet, which contain the incinerated remains of children sacrificed to Tanit and her consort, Ba’al Hammon. The Carthaganians came from Phoenicia (north of Israel in modern day Lebanon), and brought with them Canaanite customs and practices, including child sacrifice. The Israelites were repeatedly warned by God not to adapt the despicable practices of the Canaanites. Failing to heed these warnings, God eventually brought judgment upon the Israelites. Via Wikimedia Commons

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