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With this chapter begins the second part of the speech of Moses, which runs from Deuteronomy 5 to Deuteronomy 26. Deuteronomy 5-11 aim to make hearts willing to obey. Now comes that which will test their hearts. These are the conditions for their relation with God and thus for the enjoyment of the blessing.
Statutes and Judgments
From this chapter on it is not so much about the blessings, but more about the obligations we have to fulfil. By keeping the commandments, being obedient to what God says in His Word, we can show our love for Him (John 14:21; John 14:23). God’s commandments are the test of whether we really love the Lord and appreciate His blessings.
“The statutes and the judgments” are not intended to govern life in all its details, although they regulate it as such, but to determine the quality of life. Living by this will give them the highest and lasting enjoyment of life in the land. They are a help to submit every area of life to the Lord and to destroy everything that can threaten this real surrender.
Although the land has yet to be conquered, Moses speaks of it as the land that the LORD “has given you”. For Moses, the promise of God is the same as fulfilment. That is how it should be for us too.
Destroy Places of Idolatry
The first task that must be fulfilled if the people are to continue to enjoy the possession of the blessing as long as they live on earth is to utterly destroy any false religion. God does not tolerate any form of worship other than the worship to which He is entitled. He is entitled to the undivided tribute of His people. He knows that every form of worship of which He is not the object will plunge His people into misfortune and rob them of every blessing.
High mountains and hills as places where idols are served, find their origin in the widespread superstition that one is then closer to the deity and the heaven. The green tree is a beloved place for the Gentiles because of the shadowy darkness that fills the soul with a holy shudder for the nearness of a deity (Hosea 4:13; Ezekiel 6:13; Ezekiel 20:28; Isaiah 57:5). In such places and with such thoughts God does not want to be served. All these places must be destroyed. Even their names must disappear. Mentioning the name would focus attention on the idol again, giving them influence on their lives again (cf. Psalms 16:4).
To live a devoted life, we must first remove from our lives the things that take up our time and attention so much that they push the Lord to the second place. This can be a sin with which we do not want to break or think we cannot break. They can also be things that are not bad in themselves, but that prevent us from seeing the Lord. Even work for the Lord can become idolatry if it becomes more important than the Lord Himself.
Martha for example “Martha was distracted with all her preparations” (Luke 10:40). Being totally occupied by something makes that there is no room left for something else. Martha has too much work. Work in itself is not wrong, but it is wrong if it obscures the view on the Lord. For Mary, all she can do for the Lord is nothing compared to what the Lord has to tell her. Therefore she sits at His feet and the Lord says of her: “Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).
Only when everything of man has been removed God can show the place where He dwells. Everything that still bears witness to man’s contribution in serving God is an obstacle for Him to make His thoughts known and hinders man to get to know God’s thoughts.
The Place Which the LORD Will Choose
The Gentiles worship in many places. For Israel, there is only one place and one manner. That also applies to us. Scripture does not speak here of a place, but of the place. In this chapter it is said six times (Deuteronomy 12:5; Deuteronomy 12:11Deuteronomy 12:14; Deuteronomy 12:18Deuteronomy 12:21; Deuteronomy 12:26) and in the following chapters it occurs fifteen times more (Deuteronomy 14:23; Deuteronomy 14:24Deuteronomy 14:25; Deuteronomy 15:20Deuteronomy 16:2; Deuteronomy 16:6Deuteronomy 16:7; Deuteronomy 16:11Deuteronomy 16:15; Deuteronomy 16:16Deuteronomy 17:8; Deuteronomy 17:10Deuteronomy 18:6; Deuteronomy 26:2Deuteronomy 31:11), a total of twenty-one times. To establish His Name there or to let His name dwell there means that He wants to reveal His divine presence to people there. The cloud, the so-called ‘shechinah’, a word derived from the Hebrew verb shachan, which means ‘to dwell’, ‘to stay’, can be thought of here.
This book does not say which place the LORD has chosen to make his name dwell there. From other scriptures we know that it is first Shiloh (Joshua 18:1; Jeremiah 7:12; 1 Samuel 1:3; Psalms 78:60) and later Zion or Jerusalem (Psalms 132:13). The temple is built in the four hundred and eightieth year after the exodus from Egypt (1 Kings 6:1). So it takes more than four centuries before they find that place.
We read from only one man who asked for the place God chose to make His Name dwell there: David. He has thought about it and sought for it: “Surely I will not enter my house, Nor lie on my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes Or slumber to my eyelids, Until I find a place for the LORD, A dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob” (Psalms 132:3-Deuteronomy :). He is exercised before God to get to know this place.
He does not search for this at the end of his life. He does that when he pastures the sheep in Efratha. There he hears about it and finds it in the fields of Jaär: “Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah, We found it in the field of Jaar” (Psalms 132:6). He hears it in his heart. It becomes known to him through his fellowship with God. That is no different for us.
In this chapter the most important test is that they will search in the land for the place the LORD has chosen for His Name to dwell. He does not indicate it, does not give an address, but they have to search for it, ask for it. We see an example of this in the Lord’s answer to the question of the disciples, where they are to prepare the Passover.
His answer is not to give an address, but to give an indication of how to find it: they must follow a man carrying a pitcher of water (Luke 22:8-1 Chronicles :). That is, we must pay attention to people who come together according to the characteristics of the Word of God, of which the water is a picture.
Something similar we hear in the question from the bride to the groom in Song of Songs. If she wants to know where he is pasturing the flock and leaving it to rest, he gives the instruction: “If you yourself do not know, Most beautiful among women,
Go forth on the trail of the flock” (Song of Solomon 1:7-Ruth :). The Lord’s answer to the disciples’ question “where are You staying?” is also instructive. Neither does He give them an address, but He invites them: “Come, and you will see” (John 1:37-Matthew :).
The place where God now dwells and wants to be worshipped is no longer Jerusalem or any other geographically determined place. The Lord Jesus says about this to a Samaritan woman: “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. … But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-Jeremiah :). In this time, after the cross and the coming of the Holy Spirit on earth, the church is the dwelling place of God (Ephesians 2:22; 1 Corinthians 3:16). This is not a stone building, but a spiritual place. In order to know where the place of worship for the church is at this time, the Christian must search for it by means of the Bible.
There is also now a place of worship on earth. This is where believers meet as believers only until the name of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 18:20). This can only be said and fulfilled if those believers bow before the authority of the Lord Jesus, His Name, which is expressed in obedience to God’s Word. This is illustrated in the man who carries a pitcher of water, the picture of the Word of God, and him the disciples must follow (Luke 22:10).
It is not left to Israel – nor to us – to choose the place where God wants to dwell. He chooses that place Himself. No one will dispute a person’s right to choose where he receives others. Many Christians do so with respect to God. At this point, His will and thoughts are often not asked for. The standard is not then: What does the Lord want, but: Where do I feel good. However, God does not follow man’s thoughts, although in His grace He continues to bless as He perceives sincerity.
God wants His people to be one people in practice. This applies to Israel and also to the church. When Jeroboam invents other places of worship, the division in the people is a fact (1 Kings 12:26-Amos :). God sees the church as a whole in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). There is nothing that promotes this practical unity more than being gathered together to that one Name, the name of the Lord Jesus, where He is the common object of worship. All the subdivisions among Christians detract from the unity of the church.
The true God may not be served by each in his own place. The great division in Christianity is not the expression of the versatility of the truth. To put the biblical unity into practice we should not go back to some Synod in the past, but to what the apostles have said. We should not go back to Rome or Jerusalem, but to the Lord.
God has His own place and He determines where it is. No nicknames such as Baptist or Lutherans or Darbyst, which make an unbiblical separation between believers, fit in with this. God does not want us to serve Him each according to our own favorite principles or in following the favorite teachers. He determines the basis upon which His people must meet.
Nor does the practice that every land has its own national church fit in with the church of God, as if the church were divided by national boundaries. That too is a denial of the spiritual, worldwide unity of the people of God. There is only one God and one Lord and only one place of meeting. For Israel this is literally the case, for us it is a spiritual place.
We do not have to travel to one particular place. There is a church in every town (1 Corinthians 1:2). When in these different places people gather according to the same principles of God’s Word concerning the church, spiritually speaking they come together in one place. Each place expresses that unity, in the recognition of each other as members of God’s people. There should be no room for sectarianism on the one hand and independence on the other.
Coming into the presence of God at the place He has chosen is first and foremost to offer Him sacrifices. The part of God is paramount. Then we also receive a part: we may eat before His face, that is to feed ourselves with the Lord Jesus and think of Him together with God and His own. Finally, our hearts will be flooded with joy and gratitude for all the blessings that have become our part.
The blessings in Deuteronomy 12:7 are not only seen as given by God, but as the result of their own work, which they have “undertaken”. For the blessing of the land, the rain is indispensable, but not enough. Spiritual activity of us is needed, such as ploughing, harrowing, sowing, harvesting. The more activity, the greater the yield from wheat, new wine and oil. The pleasure of spiritual blessings does not come to us. There must be sowing for the Spirit (Galatians 6:8).
In the place where God dwells in the land, there will be rest. That peace is the result of the expulsion of the enemies. There is also protection, security. There is no such peace in the wilderness. That is what the people have to pass through. There is no need to travel around the land anymore, there the people live in their houses.
There is much repetition in this chapter, because the subject is so important. Each time, aspects are added to what has been said (Deuteronomy 12:7; Deuteronomy 12:12).
Eating in the Own Dwelling Place
Not every animal needs to be slaughtered in Jerusalem, as is the case with the tabernacle in the wilderness (Leviticus 17:1-Joshua :). The Israelites cannot always go to Jerusalem when they have slaughtered an animal. Yet they may not bring their burnt offerings home, for they belong in the place where the LORD dwells. Worship is something that happens together where the Lord Jesus dwells and the church meets as a church. But they may eat the meat at home, which means for us to be busy with the sacrifice and have fellowship with each other in enjoying the Lord Jesus together. Thus we may meet apart from the place where the Lord Jesus is in the midst.
There also those who are unclean are allowed to come to receive a blessing there. The concerned uncleanness is not such that they must be removed from among the people of God. A person who is unclean in such a way is not allowed to eat of the holy things, but may eat of the general food.
While the meat may be eaten at home, the tenths may not be eaten at home. Bringing the tithes is the recognition of God’s title to the land. It is the land He has given them. He is its Lord, and they owe Him “rent”.
When we come together as a church, it is to remember the death of the Lord, the offering He has brought, and to worship God for it with our sacrifices of praise and thanks. But not only that. We also come together to eat the collected tithes. Eating the tithes means that together we enjoy before God’s face all the blessings He has given us. We thank Him for it and share with each other what we have received from Him. This can be expressed nicely during a Bible discussion, for example.
Caring for the Levite
The Levite has no inheritance (Deuteronomy 12:12; Deuteronomy 10:9) and therefore no yield of the land itself to give the tithes thereof. But God has determined that the Levite will live of the tithes brought by the people (Numbers 18:21-Jeremiah :). And of the tithes thus given to the Levite, he may again give the tithes to the LORD, and enjoy them himself with others before God.
They should not give the Levite the tithes just once, but as long as they live in the land. Whoever is aware of his spiritual blessings will also be aware of his responsibilities and will want to fulfil them. If we do not live in the land, that is to say, if the awareness that our citizenship is in heaven disappears, so does the care for servants.
Regulations for Eating Meat
We have here a repetition of the permission to eat meat that is not intended as a sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:22; Deuteronomy 12:15-Nehemiah :). A gazelle and a deer are not sacrificial animals. Some details are added, such as that the rule continues to apply even if the area has been extended.
The power of repetition is that it gives certainty to what has been said before (Philippians 3:1). Repetition is also of great significance for a learning process. God knows the strong tendency of the heart to deviate from Him and that one service due to Him. Therefore He does not get tired in His grace to point to the dangers on the one hand and to what is appropriate for us on the other hand.
Doing what is right in the eyes of the LORD (Deuteronomy 12:28) – and not what is right in our own eyes, as in the time of the book of Judges: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25) – guarantees that things will go well for them and their children forever. It is about things that are good and right in the eyes of the Lord our God. We are guests with Him, not He with us.
Do Not Imitate the Nations
Now follows the warning not to imitate the nations in their idolatry. This is at the same time the introduction to the next section. This warning means that the people will take all instructions concerning the place the LORD has chosen serious and will not introduce anything that affects the character of that place.
This means, for example, that we should not be concerned with evil out of curiosity. This is often the first step in the field of Satan, the consequences of which are incalculable. These verses show what atrocities it can eventually come to. In the history of Israel, this evil practice has become one of the reasons for the deportation (2 Kings 17:17-Job :).
Nothing may be added to or taken away from what God has said (Deuteronomy 4:2). Everything God has said is perfect in itself and does not need any addition or confinement. People who add or take away something from it show that they have no respect for the perfection of God’s Word.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Deuteronomy 12". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter