Deuteronomy 12

The Word Made Fresh

1“These are the things you must do, the laws and rules you must follow as long as you live in the land the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you:

2“First, you must completely destroy the places where the people living in the land worship their gods – in the mountains and hills and under shade trees. 3Demolish their altars. Break their monuments apart. Burn their sacred poles to ashes. Chop apart the idols they use to worship their gods. Completely erase the names of their gods. 4You are not to adopt their ways to worship the LORD your God. 5Instead, search for the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes. That will be the LORD’s dwelling place, and you must go there 6to bring your offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and gifts, your gifts to accompany vows you make, your self-imposed offerings, and the first born from your flocks and herds. 7That is where you and your families will feast together in the LORD’s presence and rejoice in all the ways the LORD your God has blessed you.

8“You will stop behaving as you do now, with everybody following his or her own whims, 9because you have not yet entered and settled down in the land the LORD your God is giving you. 10When you cross the Jordan and settle in the land according to your tribal allotments, and when the LORD gives you rest from the enemies around you and you are safe and secure, 11then you will bring all the things I’ve told you to the place the LORD your God chooses as a dwelling place – your burnt offerings and sacrifices, tithes and gifts, and all other gifts you bring for vows you make to the LORD. 12Then you shall rejoice before the LORD your God – you, your children, any slaves you might possess, and the Levites who live in your towns, since they will not possess territories as you will. 13Do not make sacrifices anywhere you wish. 14You must do that only at the location the LORD chooses. Make your burnt offerings there and obey everything the LORD commands.

15“You may slaughter your animals and eat the meat whenever you wish within your settlements, for the LORD has given that to you. Anyone may partake of it, even if they are ritually ‘unclean,’ for the LORD your God gives this to you. It is the same as eating gazelle or deer, wild animals you may take for food. 16But you must not consume the blood – pour it out on the ground like water.

17“Do not eat within your settlements the grain and wine and oil and firstborn among your animals, or any gift you have promised to give, or other offerings. 18These are all things you may only eat in the presence of the LORD your God at the place the LORD chooses. This applies to you and your family, your slaves, and the Levites who live in your towns. Rejoice in the LORD your God in all your endeavors. 19Be sure not to neglect the Levites as long as you live.

20“When the LORD your God gives you the land promised to you, and you wish to eat meat, go right ahead. 21If you live too far from where the LORD has chosen as a dwelling place, and you slaughter any of the animals the LORD has given you, you are permitted to eat it in your own town whenever you wish. 22It is the same as eating a gazelle or deer. Whether you are ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’ you may eat it. 23Just be certain you don’t eat the blood. The blood is the life of the animal. Don’t eat the animal’s life with its meat; 24pour it on the ground, 25and all will go well with you and the children who come after you because you have done what is right in the LORD’s sight. 26The sacred offerings that are your due, and any gift you have vowed must be brought to the place the LORD chooses. 27When you bring your gifts there, present the meat and blood of your burnt offerings on the LORD’s altar. The blood from other sacrifices is to be poured out beside the altar, but you may partake of the meat.

28“Take care to obey all these rules, and all will be well with you and your children from now on because you will be doing what the LORD your God desires.

29“When the LORD your God has done away with the nations in the land you are about the enter, 30be careful not to be tricked into copying them after they have been displaced. Don’t ask about their gods or have any interest in taking part in their rituals. 31Do not try to do for the LORD what they have done for their gods. The LORD hates all the abhorrent things they do. They even burn their children in the fire for their gods. 32Be careful to observe everything I have taught you; don’t add a word to it or take anything from it.”

Commentary

Moses continues his address to the people, preparing them for the conquest of the land:

1-7: He emphasizes that the religious practices of the indigenous people must be abolished. All their places of worship must be destroyed. Only the God of Israel can be worshiped, and only in the place God designates.

8-12: He reiterates that there will be a central place of worship when they enter the land. They will not be allowed to make their sacrifices and offerings anywhere else. Why do you think Moses thought such a rule was necessary? Perhaps it was a way to keep them together as a nation, similar to the way our states make up the United States.

13-19: They will be allowed to butcher and eat meat anywhere they wish, but their sacrifices and offerings must only be brought to the place of worship God designates. Firstborn animals, the tithe (10%) of their grain and wine and oil, cannot be consumed as they wish but must be reserved for offering at the place of worship. For us, do you think God wants us to give part of our tithe to other “charities?” or should we give the whole tithe to the Lord (in our case, the church) and support other charities with giving beyond the tithe?

20-28: More rules are offered to clarify the consumption of meat. Wild and domestic animals may be eaten, but must be eaten “kosher” (drained of the blood).  Moses insists that following these rules is necessary for their well-being.

29-32: Again, he warns them not to be drawn into the worship of the people they are displacing. Moses emphasizes this because in ancient times it was customary to believe that every locale had its own gods, and worshiping the local gods was thought to be necessary to appease them. Moses is rejecting that way of thinking; pretty radical in his day!

Takeaway

The notion of multiple gods is foreign to us today (unless you are Buddhist or Hindu or the like). But on the other hand, even people who believe in the one God are tempted to make other ‘things’ their gods, and when we do that we are ruled by these other gods – our belongings, our status in the community, our favorite activities – all these things can exercise enormous control over our time and talents and money, even to the point of drawing us away from worshiping God and surrendering to God our tithes.