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ANNOUNCEMENT OF PARTICULAR LAWS.
CHAPTERS 12-26. Moses, having in his first address cast a glance at the events which had transpired between Sinai and the plains of Moab, and in his second recapitulated what had happened at Sinai, repeated the Decalogue, and urgently counseled the people to be obedient to the Divine commandment, and steadfast in their adherence to Jehovah as their God and King; proceeds now to set forth certain laws which it specially behooved them to observe. These are for the most part the same as those already recorded in the previous books; but a few are new, and are to be found only here. No special order or plan of exposition is here observed; the speaker uses that freedom of discourse which was fitting in a popular address. One or two historical narratives are interpolated; but the address as a whole is hortatory, and is designed to direct to the proper regulation of the ecclesiastical, social, and domestic life of the Israelites when they should be settled in Canaan.
Deuteronomy 12:1-32. PLACES AND MONUMENTS OF IDOLATRY TO BE DESTROYED; JEHOVAH TO BE WORSHIPPED IN THE ONE PLACE WHICH HE SHALL CHOOSE; INSTRUCTIONS AS TO THE USE OF FLESH FOR FOOD; AND CAUTIONS AGAINST BEING ENSNARED INTO FOLLOWING THE HEATHEN IN THEIR MANNER OF SERVICE.
These are the statutes and judgments (cf. Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 6:1). Moses, as the servant of God, had taught Israel statutes and rights, as God had commanded him (Deuteronomy 4:5); and now he recapitulates the principal of these for their guidance in the way of obedience. These they were to observe all the days of their life upon the land that was to be given them; the land was the Lord's, and there, as long as they possessed it, the Law of the Lord was to be paramount.
Deuteronomy 12:2, Deuteronomy 12:3
In order to this, Israel was, as soon as the land was possessed, to destroy all the objects and means of idolatrous worship in the land. Upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree (cf. Isaiah 57:7; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 17:2; Hos 4:13; 2 Kings 16:4; 2 Kings 17:10). The heathen had their places of worship on lofty elevations, probably because they imagined they were thus nearer to the object of their worship; and they sought also the shade of woods or thick-foliaged trees (Ezekiel 6:13), under which to perform their rites, as tending to inspire awe, and as in keeping with the mysterious character of their rites. These places of heathen worship in Canaan the Israelites were utterly to destroy, along with the images of their deities and other objects of idolatrous worship. Burn their groves; their asherahs, idol-pillars of wood (cf. Deuteronomy 7:5).
The heathen placed their altars and offered their worship wherever they thought fit, according to their notions of the deity and his service; but Israel was not to do so unto Jehovah their God: he himself would choose the places where he was to be worshipped, and there alone might they come with offering and service. As the revealed God—the God whose being and perfections had been made known, not by a vague revelation of him in nature merely, but expressly by his putting or recording his Name historically and locally among men (cf. Exodus 20:24)—so should there be a definite place chosen and appointed by him where he would come to receive the worship of his people, where he would record his Name, and where he would be known for a Refuge and a Helper to all who put their trust in him (Psalms 48:3; Psalms 76:1, etc.; Daniel 9:18). The Name of God is God himself as revealed; and he puts his Name on any place where he specially manifests himself as present (cf. 1 Kings 8:29), and which is consequently to be regarded as his habitation or dwelling-place. Hence the temple at Jerusalem was in later times known as the place of the Name of Jehovah (Isaiah 18:7), the dwelling-place of his glory (Psalms 26:8). But he is the God of the whole earth, and therefore, wherever he is pleased to reveal himself, in whatever place he makes his Name to be known, there he is to be worshipped. There is no reference in this passage to the temple at Jerusalem specially, as some have supposed; what is here enjoined is only a practical application of the Divine promise, that in all places where God would record his Name, there he would come to bless his people (Exodus 20:24). The reference here, therefore, is quite general, and applies to any place where, by the Divine appointment, the tabernacle might be set up and the worship of Jehovah instituted. Unto his habitation shall ye seek. To seek to any place means, primarily, to resort to it, to frequent it (cf. 2 Chronicles 1:5), but with the implied purpose of inquiring there for something, as for responses or oracles, when the place resorted to was that in which God had put his Name.
To the appointed place all their sacrificial gifts and offerings were to be brought, and there they were to keep their holy feasts. The gifts are classified in groups.
1. Burnt offerings and sacrifices, the two principal kinds of altar offerings, with which meal offerings and drink offerings were united (Numbers 15:4, etc.).
2. Tithes and heave offerings (cf. Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-24). The heave offerings are described as of your hand, either because offered by the offerer's own hand, or to indicate such gifts as were made off-hand (so to speak), voluntary offerings made in addition to the legal offerings from an immediate impulse of grateful emotion.
3. Vows and freewill offerings, sacrifices which were offered in consequence of vows or of spontaneous impulse (cf. Le Deuteronomy 7:16; Deuteronomy 22:21; Deu 23:1-25 :38; Numbers 15:3; Numbers 29:39).
4. Firstlings of their herds and of their flocks (cf. Exodus 13:2, Exodus 13:12, etc.; Numbers 18:15, etc.).
And there ye shall eat before the Lord. The injunction here and in Deuteronomy 12:17, respecting the eating by the offerer of the firstlings of his flocks and herds, appears to be inconsistent with the injunction in Numbers 18:18. There it seems as if the whole of the flesh was to be given to the priest. "And the flesh of them shall be thine [the priest's], as the wave breast and as the right shoulder are thine." This may be taken to mean that just as the wave breast and the right shoulder are the perquisites of the priests in the case of other offerings, as e.g. the peace offering, so in the case of the firstling offering the whole flesh shall be the priest's; and thus taken, the passage presents an unquestionable discrepancy to that in Deuteronomy. But probably the passage is not to be so taken. The particle translated "as" (כְּ.) not infrequently occurs in the sense of "according to, after the manner of," implying conformity to some rule or model (Genesis 44:2; Exodus 21:9; Exodus 39:8; Le Exodus 5:10; Numbers 8:4; Numbers 9:3; Numbers 29:18; Ps 7:18; Zechariah 2:10 , etc.). The passage, therefore, may be rendered thus: And the flesh of them shalt thou take after the manner (or according to the rule), of the wave breast, etc; i.e. not the whole of it, but only these parts. So the LXX. seem to have taken the passage: καὶ τα κρεα εὐται κασα καὶ το στηθυνιον του ἐπιθέματος καὶ κατὰ τὸν βραχίονα τὸν δεξιὸν σοι ἔσται. Of some of the offerings the whole was received by the priest, as in the case of the sin offering and trespass offering (Le Deuteronomy 6:25, etc.; Deuteronomy 7:1, etc.); while of others only certain portions, viz. the wave breast and the heave shoulder, were given to him, as in the case of the peace offering (Leviticus 7:28, etc.). The purport of the law in Numbers 18:18 is that, in respect of the firstling offering, the allotment to the priest shall be after the same manner as in the peace offering. There is thus no discrepancy between the two passages. The animal belonged originally to the offerer; when he brought it before the Lord part of it was consumed on the altar, part of it was assigned to the priest, and the rest, as a matter of course, remained with himself. The law in Numbers, addressed to the priest, intimates what he might claim as his portion; the law in Deuteronomy, where the people are addressed, directs them how to use the portion that remained with them. It may be added that, even supposing that all the flesh was given to the priest, yet, as it had to be consumed on the day in which the sacrifice was offered, and as every clean person in the house might partake of it, it is almost certain that the offerer would, as a matter of course, share in the meal, as was usual in the case of sacrificial meals. Rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto; enjoy whatever your hand may gain, whatever you may earn, all the good which the Lord may give you (cf. verse 18; Deuteronomy 15:10; Deuteronomy 23:20; Deuteronomy 28:8, Deuteronomy 28:20). The phrase is peculiar to Deuteronomy; but comp. Genesis 3:22; Isaiah 11:14.
In the wilderness, while leading a nomadic life, no certain place could be appointed to them for the observance of sacred rites; each man did in that matter as suited his own convenience. But after they were settled in Canaan it should no longer be so; a certain order and fixed locality should be determined for their worship and service; when they had passed over Jordan the Lord would give them rest from all their enemies, and then all irregularity and arbitrariness in the matter of worship must cease, and all their gifts arid offerings must be brought to the place which Jehovah their God should choose. Ye dwell in safety; rather, dwell securely, not only safe from assault, but without fear or anxiety (cf. Judges 8:11; Judges 18:7).
All your choice vows; i.e. all the vows of your choice, all that ye choose to make; the vow was purely voluntary; it became obligatory only after it was made.
Of their offerings they should make a festive meal for themselves and their household; and of this the Levite who might happen at the time to be resident among them was to partake. Rejoice before the Lord. This phrase occurs frequently in this book (Deuteronomy 14:26; Deuteronomy 16:11, Deuteronomy 16:14; Deuteronomy 26:11; Deuteronomy 27:7); elsewhere it appears only once—Leviticus 23:40, where it is used with reference to the Feast of Tabernacles, Moses now enjoins this festivity to be observed in connection with all the sacrificial meals. The Levite that is within your gates. The Levites had no share in the land as the property of their tribe; but they had towns allotted to them among the different tribes (Numbers 35:1-34.), so that in this way they were dispersed through the nation. Hence, perhaps, they are described as "within the gates" of the rest of the people. Or, as the Levites seem to have itinerated in the discharge of various offices among the people, the phrase may designate them as on this account occasionally resident among others in their community; just as "the stranger that is within thy gates" means the person of some other nation who for the time being was resident in any of the towns of Israel.
They were to beware of offering sacrifice in any place that might seem to them best; their offerings were to be presented only in that place which God should choose. But this did not imply that they were not to kill and eat in their own abodes whatever they desired for food, according to the blessing of Jehovah their God. Only they were to abstain from eating of blood (cf. Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 7:26); that they were to pour on the earth as if it were water. Burnt offering; this is named instar omnium, as the principal offering. Whatsoever thy soul lusteth after. To "lust," in old English, means simply to will, choose, desire; it is the same word as "list," or, as it is sometimes spelt, "lest," and does not, as now, imply anything evil. As of the roebuck, and as of the hart; probably the gazelle and fallow deer. As these were animals that could not be offered in sacrifice, the distinction between clean and unclean, on the part of the eaters, did not come into consideration.
(Cf. Deuteronomy 12:6, Deuteronomy 12:7, Deuteronomy 12:12.) Thou mayest not eat; literally, thou art not able to eat; i.e. there is a legal inability to this. So the verb to be able (יָכֹל) is frequently used (cf. Genesis 43:1-34; Numbers 9:6; Deuteronomy 16:5; Deuteronomy 17:15, etc.).
When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border. These laws were to continue in force even when God should, according to his promise (Genesis 15:18; Exodus 23:27-31), extend the boundaries of their land.
If the place.; be too far from thee; this supplies the reason for the alteration of the law in Le Deuteronomy 17:3. Only be sure; literally, only be strong; i.e. be firm and resolute, steadfastly resisting the temptation to eat it. The blood is the life (cf. Genesis 9:4; Le Genesis 11:1; Genesis 17:11). The word used is nephesh (נֶפֶשׁ). By this word the Hebrews designated the animal life-principle in men and in beasts; and as without this the body was a mere inert mass, the word came to be used for "life" generally. Of this life the blood was believed to be the seat, and was regarded as the symbol, so that to shed blood was tantamount to the taking away of life. As the blood, moreover, was the life, in it was supposed to lie the propitiatory power—the power, when shed, of atoning for sin, as the giving of life for life. The prohibition of eating it doubtless had respect to this. It was not merely to prevent ferocity in men towards the lower animals (as Rosenmüller suggests) that the eating of blood was interdicted, but specially because there was in this a sort of profanation, a putting to a common use of what appertained to a sacred rite.
Deuteronomy 12:26, Deuteronomy 12:27
The holy things; i.e. the offerings prescribed by the Law; "hallowed things" (Numbers 18:8; cf. Le Numbers 21:22). Which thou hast; literally, which are to thee; i.e. which are binding on thee. Thy burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood; i.e. the flesh and the blood of the burnt offerings which were to be laid upon the altar (Le Deuteronomy 1:5-9). The blood of thy sacrifices (zebachim) shall be poured out upon the altar. This refers to the ritual of the shelamim, or peace offering (Le Deuteronomy 3:2, Deuteronomy 3:8, Deuteronomy 3:13). The word zebach (זֶבַה) is never used in the Pentateuch of an atoning sacrifice (Oehler, 'Theology of the Old Testament,' 2.2); it is used only of such offerings as furnished a sacrificial meal; hence it is added here, and thou shalt eat the flesh.
Deuteronomy 12:29, Deuteronomy 12:30
Here the speaker reverts to the admonition with which he began this part of his address (Deuteronomy 12:2); and warns the people against having any intercourse with the Canaanites in their idolatrous practices. That thou enquire not after their gods. It was a general belief among the heathen that to ignore or neglect the deities of a country was sure to bring calamity (cf. 2 Kings 17:26); hence the need of cautioning the Israelites against inquiring after the gods of the Canaanites when they should be settled in their land,
For even their sons and their daughters have they burnt in the fire to their gods. Elsewhere the phrase used is "make to pass through the fire "(Deuteronomy 18:10), or simply "make to pass through to Molech" (Le Deuteronomy 18:21; Jeremiah 32:35). This has led some to maintain that the ceremony described was merely a februation, a lustration by fire, and not an actual burning alive of these victims; but there can be no doubt that both among the Ammonites and the Phoenicians, and indeed wherever the worship of Baal or Molech was followed, the offering of children in sacrifice by burning prevailed.
The admonition in this verse is best regarded as forming an intermediate link between this chapter and the following, "closing what goes before and introductory to what follows" (Keil).
Regulations for Divine worship: specific rules embodying permanent principles.
With this twelfth chapter an entirely new set of instructions begins. Up to this point the exhortations have been for the most part moral: now they are positive. Hitherto the precepts have been, speaking generally, concerning duties which God commanded because they were right; but from this point they concern duties which became right because God had commanded them. Of all specific directions which Moses gave to Israel, none could possibly be more important than those which had to do with the Divine worship. A true, wise, spiritual worship, established and maintained, would do very much to ensure Israel's weal in every other respect; while if corruption was admitted and tolerated here, its ill effects would soon be seen through the length and breadth of their land. In dealing homiletically with this chapter, we must take it as a whole. To sever it into paragraphs would be to conceal its unity; taking it, however, as one, we shall see how very far more than is generally supposed, the observance of God's worship among the Hebrews was based on everlasting principles both as to its matter and its manner; and that while there was much ritual in external forms, yet Judaism was not ritualistic in any sense which would imply the efficacy of ritual by itself to bring about spiritual results. Let us enumerate the principles which here are embodied in the directions for the worship of God. The forms in which the principles are expressed may change; the principles themselves, never!
I. HEBREW WORSHIP WAS TO BE IN ALL RESPECTS A PROTEST AGAINST SURROUNDING IDOLATRY. (Deuteronomy 12:2, Deuteronomy 12:3, Deuteronomy 12:29-31.) They were not only to carry out a policy of destruction, in sweeping from the land every vestige of ancient heathen worship (see Homily on Deuteronomy 7:1-11), but were to avoid everything like imitation of it. Theirs was a new nationality, a new deliverance, a new faith, and it must be a new kind of worship, corresponding in its purity to the holiness of Jehovah, and in its intelligence to that knowledge of him which they were expected to cultivate in themselves and hand down to others. And so now, if there are corrupt forms of worship, such as Rome's pagan ceremonies baptized with the Christian name, the worship of God's true Church must needs be a protest against it, and a contention for "the simplicity which is in Christ."
II. IT WAS TO BE ACCORDING TO DIVINE DIRECTION. They might not consult their own religious sentiments, as the heathen did, in choosing e.g. the tops of the hills for worship, because they thought so to get nearer God. Israel must consult revelation, and follow it. So with the Church of God now. True, we have not such minute rites enjoined as Israel had, for we need them not now. But in our New Testament writings all needful instructions are given for those who would worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
III. THE DINIE RULES WERE TO BE PRECISELY ADHERED TO. They might not be swerved from, either by addition or diminution (Deuteronomy 12:32). This is indeed but an extension of principle No. 2; but it requires in oar day to be noticed separately; since many will admit, generally, that worship must be according to Scripture, who nevertheless also maintain that the Church may direct as to forms of worship. But we cannot forget two facts: one, that at the close of the New Testament there is a like caution and prohibition to that given here; another, that the entire course of Church history shows us that men know not where to stop when they once diverge from "the Book," and that departures therefrom little by little, even under Church authority, do ultimately land men in the complicated and superstitious ceremonial of the Church of Rome.
IV. THERE WAS TO BE (after they were settled in Palestine) ONE PLACE WHICH GOD CHOOSE TO PUT HIS NAME THERE. And this place where God would meet with his people is called, in the beautiful Hebrew phrase, God's rest (Deuteronomy 12:5), "his habitation" (of. Psalms 132:13, Psalms 132:14). Thus would God, in his condescending love, launch a new thought into the world, in a form in which the people could understand it; viz. that God's home is with his believing worshippers. It was necessary, for a while, to associate that truth with one special place, until "the fullness of times" should come, when One should say—John 4:20-24; Matthew 18:20; and when Christians should learn that they are the home of God (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:22).
V. TO THIS PLACE THE TRIBES WERE TO COME AND WORSHIP TOGETHER. Thus the unity of God's redeemed people in him, would be continually before their eyes. Though the times in the year were not many when the people were thus to meet as one nation and commonwealth, yet they were frequent enough to ensure their thoughts turning thereto, either by retrospection or anticipation, from one year's end to another. Here is the germ seed of the doctrine of the unity of God's Church. Many tribes, one redeemed people. And is it not precisely this principle which is brought out in the New Testament, only in far grander form? (see Revelation 7:1-17.; Ephesians 2:1-22.; John 17:1-26.; Romans 12:1-21.). Is not the Christian unity a union of many tribes and tongues in one deliverance, and one Deliverer?
VI. THE FORMS OF ISRAEL'S WORSHIP WERE TO BE SUFFICIENTLY VARIED TO REFLECT THE CHANGING ASPECTS AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF LIFE. These forms are sevenfold. In each case, however, an offering was brought to God. It might be typical, symbolic, eucharistic, dedicatory, or votive. (For specific treatment of each kind, see Kurtz, and Kalisch, in loc.) There were:
1. Burnt offering.
3. Tithes (Deuteronomy 26:12).
4. Heave offerings. "Quae sponte dabatur Deo" (Buxtorf).
5. Vows (Psalms 76:11).
6. Free-will offerings (1 Chronicles 29:17; Deuteronomy 16:10).
7. Firstlings of herds and flocks (Exodus 13:12; Nell. 10:35-37; Proverbs 3:9; Psalms 66:13-16).
How varied! There were sacrifices of atonement and of consecration; offerings of consecration and thanksgiving. Each changing scene of life was to call forth its act of devotion to God.
VII. IT WAS TO BE A FAMILY AND HOUSEHOLD WORSHIP. (Matthew 18:18.) Not the head of the house only, but the children, yea, even the little ones had their recognized place in the house of God (Matthew 18:12). And the slaves too! The stranger and the sojourner might also come. The religion of the family was a keystone of Israel's national life; and it will be a very serious thing for any nation, if family religion comes to be slighted or ignored, never let us rob the children of their rightful place in Christian ordinances and in the house of God.
VIII. IT WAS TO BE A JOYFUL WORSHIP. Matthew 18:12, "Ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God." The pagan worship never was or could be a glad one. The heathens feared their gods, dreaded them, sought to propitiate them, but as for being glad in them because of any loving care on the part of their gods towards them, they knew nothing at all about any such blessing. But Israel did. They worshipped Jehovah, a redeeming God, who had manifested his Name to them. Hence such psalms as the twenty-third and the one hundred and third, could be prepared for their gladsome worship and song. Much more may we "Rejoice in the Lord."
IX. ISRAEL'S WORSHIP WAS TO BE SUPPORTED BY THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE PEOPLE. (Matthew 18:19; and see Deuteronomy 18:1-8.) Thus were the people at large from the first to be educated "in giving to God," and in maintaining, at their own cost, the worship and ordinances of God, so as to hand them down intact and untainted to their children and their children's children. How clearly is this principle reproduced in the New Testament! (see 1 Corinthians 9:9-14). Though there is far less detail, yet it is not supposed that less will be done, but rather more; such verses as 2 Corinthians 8:7-9, how much they imply and suppose! Surely it would be well if our Churches everywhere recognized the nine principles of Divine worship which we find laid down by Moses. It may fairly be made a question whether even the purest Church is found recognizing them all; and yet, which one of the nine is repealed or even modified under the gospel? Of necessity, forms have changed. But so long as we need the ordinances of Christian worship at all, so long must we assert and maintain all that we find inculcated here: simplicity versus false ceremonialism; exact loyalty to Divine direction; recognizing the Church as "the rest" of God, where the tribes are many, but the commonwealth one; letting the worship reflect life's varied moods; letting it be a joyous family worship, maintained and supported by our contributions and our prayers.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Destruction of monuments of idolatry.
Israel's entrance into Canaan was the entrance of true knowledge, of pure forms of religion, of cleansed morals. The worship of Jehovah was the very antithesis of that of which these altars, pillars, and graven images, were the polluted memorials. "What did the grove conceal? Lust—blood—imposture. What sounds shook the lane? Alternate screams of anguish and the laughter of mad votaries. What was the priest? The teacher of every vice of which his god. was the patron and example. What were the worshippers? The victims of every woe which superstition and sensuality can gender, and which cruelty can cherish." (Isaac Taylor). Why should the last trace of these hateful worships not be removed from the land of God's abode? (see on Deuteronomy 7:1-6). These commands had—
I. A GROUND IN RELIGIOUS FEELING. Even the dumb memorials of iniquity will excite in pure minds feelings of horror and revulsion. It is positive pain to look upon them. The only sentiments which these monuments of a dark polytheism—suggestive of every species of wickedness, and steeped in foulness through the cruel and lustful rites once associated with them—could awaken in the minds of devout worshippers of Jehovah were those of inexpressible abhorrence. The sooner they were swept away the better. Healthy moral instincts will lead us to hate "even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jud Deuteronomy 1:23).
II. A GROUND IN PRUDENCE. It removed from Israel's midst what would obviously have proved a snare. Prone of their own motion to idolatry, how certainly would the people have been drawn into it had idol sanctuaries, idol altars, idol groves stood to tempt them at every corner, met their gaze on every hill-summit. A wise legislation will aim at the removal of temptations. The business of legislation, as has been well said, is to make it as easy as possible for the people to choose virtue, and as difficult as possible to choose vice.
III. A GROUND IN POLICY. The design of Moses, to gather the life and religion of the people round a central sanctuary, would plainly have been frustrated had innumerable sacred places of repute, associated with the old idolatry, been allowed to remain unshorn of their honors. On the same principle, missionaries, in order to prevent relapses into idolatry, have often found it needful to get their converts to collect their idols, and unitedly to destroy them—burning them, it may be, or flinging them into some river.—J.O.
The central sanctuary.
There are difficulties connected with this law from which conclusions have been drawn adverse to the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy. These arise:
1. From the lack of evidence that the law was in force in the days of the judges and earlier kings.
2. From the practice of judges, kings, prophets, and other good men in offering sacrifices elsewhere than at the prescribed center.
3. From the mention of other sanctuaries in the history (e.g. Joshua 24:26; 1 Samuel 7:1-26, LXX.). But:
1. Verse 10 shows that it was not contemplated that the law should come into perfect operation till the land was settled, and till a place for a fixed center had been definitely chosen. In point of fact, the unsettled state of matters lasted till the reign of David (2 Samuel 7:1). Accordingly, in 1 Kings 3:2, it is not urged that, the law did not exist, or that it was not known, but the excuse is advanced for irregularities that "there was no house built unto the Name of the Lord until those days" (cf. 1 Kings 8:29; 1Ki 9:9; 2 Chronicles 6:5, 2 Chronicles 6:6).
2. While the law lays down the general rule, it is not denied that circumstances might arise, in which under proper Divine authority, exceptional sacrifices might be offered. This fully explains the cases of Gideon (Judges 6:18, Judges 6:26), of Manoah (Judges 13:16), of David (2 Samuel 24:18), of Solomon (1 Kings 3:4, 1 Kings 3:5), of Elijah (1 Kings 18:31).
3. Even while the tabernacle was at Shiloh, the ark, for reasons unknown to us, was moved from place to place—a circumstance which accounts for sacrifices being offered at the spots where, for the time being, it was located (Judges 21:2). We may infer the presence of the ark in Judges 20:26 and on various other occasions.
4. It is not fair to plead, as contradictory of the law, the falling back on local sanctuaries in periods of great national and religious disorganization, as when the land was possessed by enemies (Judges 6:1-7), or when the ark was in captivity (1 Samuel 6:1) or separated from the tabernacle (2 Samuel 6:11); much less the prevailing neglect of this law in times of acknowledged backsliding and declension. In particular, the period following the rejection of Eli and his sons (1 Samuel 2:30-35) was one of unusual complications, during which, indeed, Samuel's own person would seem to have been the chief religious center of the nation.
5. It may further be remarked that the worship at local sanctuaries, having once taken root, justified perhaps by the exigencies of the time, it would be no easy matter to uproot it again, and a modified toleration would have to be accorded. Whatever difficulties inhere in the view of the early existence of this law, it will be found, we believe, that equal or greater difficulties emerge on any other reading of the history. This law was—
I. AN ASSERTION OF THE PRINCIPLE THAT GOD'S WORSHIP MUST BE ASSOCIATED WITH HIS PRESENCE. (Judges 20:5-11.) The sanctuary was constituted by God having "put his Name" there. Under the New Testament the worship of the Father "in spirit and in truth" is liberated from special sacred places (John 4:24), but the principle holds good that his being "in the midst" of his people is essential to worship being acceptable (Matthew 18:20).
II. AN IMPORTANT MEANS OF KEEPING ALIVE THE SENSE OF NATIONAL UNITY. The union of the tribes was far from being close. Tribe feeling was often stronger than national feeling. A powerful counteractive to the local interests, and to the jealousies, rivalries, and feuds which tended to divide the nation, was found in the central sanctuary, and in the festivals therewith connected. Like the Olympic games in Greece, the sanctuary festivals formed a bond of unity for the entire people, helped them to realize their national distinctness, and awakened in them lofty and patriotic aspirations. In the Christian Church, everything is valuable which helps to develop the sense of catholicity.
III. A MEANS, FURTHER, OF INFUSING WARMTH AND VITALITY INTO RELIGIOUS SERVICES. In religion, as in other matters, we need to avail ourselves of social influences. We need public as well as private worship. The self-wrapt man grows cold. There is a time for outward demonstration, not less than for internal meditation. Sharing our gladness with others, it is multiplied to ourselves a hundred-fold. The importance, in this view of them, of the sanctuary festivals, was very great. They were, from the nature of the case, "events," matters to be looked forward to with interest, and long to be remembered after they had taken place. They involved preparations, and often long journeys. Everything about them—the journey in company with neighbors, the season of the year, the friendly greetings, the exhilaration of the scene as they neared the sanctuary, the varied and solemn services at the sanctuary itself—was fitted in a singular degree to exalt, awe, quicken, and impress their minds. Such influences, even in gospel times, are not to be despised.
IV. A COUNTERACTIVE TO IDOLATRY. It; put something in place of that which was taken away. It provided counter-attractions. Negation is not an effective instrument of reform. If we remove with one hand, we must give with the other. Our methods must be positive.—J.O.
A necessity of our spiritual life. Prompted by a community of privileges, interests, feelings, hopes, duties, temptations, aspirations; "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:3-7). It is required in it—
I. THAT GOD BE PRESENT WITH HIS PEOPLE. We meet in his Name. His presence is promised (Matthew 18:20). Without that presence sought and obtained, worship is in vain.
II. THAT IT BE PURE AND SCRIPTURAL. Not "will-worship" (Colossians 2:23); not corrupted by the ingrafting upon it of heathen superstitions. Christianity has often been thus corrupted. The papal mariolatry and worship of images, with the wholesale importation into Christianity of rites and ceremonies drawn from paganism, is a glaring instance. God forbids any mixture of the old worship with the new. The very names of the gods of the Canaanites were to be destroyed (Deuteronomy 12:3). Worldliness, not less than superstition, may intrude itself into worship, and destroy its purity (John 2:13-17; James 2:2, James 2:3).
III. THAT IT BE ORDERLY. (Deuteronomy 12:8.) Paul pleads for order in the Christian Church (1 Corinthians 11:1-34; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31.).
IV. THAT IT GIVE EXPRESSION TO THE VARIED WANTS OF THE RELIGIOUS NATURE. (Deuteronomy 12:6, Deuteronomy 12:7.) The prescribed sacrifices constituted a complex medium for the expression of the complex life and aspirations of the nation. It is to be noted that, save on days specially devoted to the remembrance of sins, a predominatingly joyful tone pervaded the services. This tone of joy should characterize yet more decidedly the services of Christians, coming before the Lord, as they are commanded to do, "to offer up spiritual sacrifices" (Philippians 4:4; Colossians 3:16; 1 Peter 2:5).
V. THAT IT BE ASSOCIATED WITH REMEMBRANCE OF THE POOR. (Deuteronomy 12:7, Deuteronomy 12:12, Deuteronomy 12:18; Deuteronomy 16:11, Deuteronomy 16:14.) One of the first effects of Christ's love in a heart should be to open it up in sympathy and kindness to all in need (Acts 2:45; Acts 4:34, Acts 4:35; Rom 15:25; 1 Corinthians 12:26; 2 Corinthians 8:9.).—J.O.
Deuteronomy 12:15, Deuteronomy 12:16, Deuteronomy 12:20-26
The Divine regulation of food.
All animals for food had formerly to be killed at the door of the tabernacle (Le Deuteronomy 16:1-8). Probably the rule was not strictly observed (Deuteronomy 12:8), but in view of the occupation of the land, the prohibition is relaxed. Note—
I. OUR BIGHTS IN THE USE OF FOOD TAKE THEIR ORIGIN FROM GOD. This is taught in the account of creation (Genesis 1:29, Genesis 1:30), in the grant of flesh to Noah (Genesis 9:3, Genesis 9:4), in the Levitical restrictions on animal food (Leviticus 11:1-47.), and in passages like the present.
II. OUR MANNER OF THE USE OF FOOD OUGHT TO BE GLORIFYING TO GOD. "Eating and drinking" is to be to God's glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).
1. God's gift to be recognized in food. A motive for thankfulness.
2. God's blessing to be sought upon it. The example of Christ in this respect is noteworthy (Matthew 14:19, etc.).
3. Self-restraint is to be exercised in the partaking of it. The blood was not to be eaten.—J.O.
The dues of the Levites consisted mainly of the tithes. The value of this legal provision has been frequently exaggerated. The mistake has lain in comparing it with the average of income over the whole nation, instead of with the incomes of the wealthier and middle classes. Comparing it with these, it will be found to have been liberal, but not excessive, even supposing it to have been conscientiously paid. This, however, it would seldom be. No tribunal existed to enforce payment. All depended on the conscientiousness of the individual tithe-payer. It is easy to see that an income of this sort was in the highest degree precarious, and that in times of religious declension, the body of the Levites would be reduced to great straits. These facts sufficiently account for the reiterated injunctions not to forsake the Levite, but to include him in every festive gathering. Three reasons for his liberal support:
1. His calling deprived him of the usual means of livelihood.
2. His office was one of service for the people.
3. His relation to the altar made neglect shown to him a dishonor done to God.
Paul applies, in 1 Corinthians 9:13, 1 Corinthians 9:14, to the gospel ministry.—J.O.
We have here—
I. BALEFUL SUPERSTITION. The ground of these inquiries about the gods of the place was a lurking belief in their reality. There was a superstitious feeling that the woods, hills, streams, etc; must have their deities, whom it would be well to propitiate and worship. The country as a whole, and special districts of it, had gods, and, Jehovah notwithstanding, the superstitious part of the community stood in dread of them. Superstitions are hard to eradicate. We have examples in the survival of the belief in witches, fairies, charms, omens, lucky and unlucky days, etc; among ourselves. Till a recent period, it was the custom in parts of the Scottish Highlands to sacrifice bulls to local saints. And the practice of burying a live cock for the cure of epilepsy is said to survive till the present hour. Born of ignorance, and acting as a check on all enlightenment and progress, superstition is the parent of innumerable evils, besides debasing and enslaving mind and conscience. Its influence should be combated by every legitimate means.
II. PRURIENT CURIOSITY. The superstitious motive did not act alone. This itching desire to hear about the gods of the place, and how the nations served them, was symptomatic of a prurient disposition. There was, unfortunately, too much in the way in which these nations had "served their gods" to excite and interest the passions of the dissolute. It is a dangerous token when those who ought to know better begin to manifest a prurient curiosity about what is evil. It leads to prying into matters which had better remain hidden, to inquiries at persons whose very society is dangerous, to the reading of obscene books, the visiting of bad places, the keeping of immoral company, etc. At the bottom of such inquiries there is invariably a secret sympathy, which is bound, as time advances, to yield fruit in evil practices.
III. SERVILE IMITATION. The idolatry of the Israelites was signalized by a strange want of originality. They invented no gods of their own. They were content to be imitators. The nations before them had gods. The nations around them had gods. They wanted to be like the rest, and have gods too—hence their inquiries. A curious illustration of the force of the principle of imitation. It is one of the ruling principles in human nature. Imitation is easier than invention. The tendency invariably is to "follow the crowd." It matters nothing that it is "to do evil." The fashion of the time and place must be observed. There are people who would almost rather die than be out of the fashion. Yet what a weakness is this, and how opposed to all true and right manhood! "Be not conformed to the world" (Romans 12:2).—J.O.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The invasion a religious one.
The Israelites were instructed to exterminate the Canaanites in consequence of their sins, as we have already seen; but in this passage we have strict injunctions given to destroy the places of worship which the Canaanites had used, "upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree," etc. They were, in fact, to be iconoclasts, and they were to leave no vestige remaining of the Canaanitish worship.
I. IT WAS THUS MADE EVIDENT THAT THE INVASION WAS RELIGIOUS IN ITS CHARACTER. Palestine, as we have already seen, was not a country of exceptional natural advantages. It was a good training school for a spiritual people. When the Lord, then, sent his emancipated people in to carry out such a program as the destruction of the Canaanitish worship, it was evident to all that religion lay at the basis of the invasion. It was no tribal feud, but a contest for religious supremacy. As Abraham, their forefather, came to Canaan to be the exponent and founder of a new religion, so the descendants are required to expound the religion still more forcibly by putting clown all traces of the heathen worship.
II. THE MULTIPLICITY OF CANAANITISH PLACES OF WORSHIP REALLY EXPRESSED THE POLYTHEISM OF THE PEOPLE. The Canaanites believed in the "gods of the hills," and "gods of the valleys," and "gods of the grove." Hence they erected altars with melancholy frequency over the land. It was not a sense of the omnipresence of a Supreme Being, but a belief in a multiplicity of gods, which led to such multiplicity of places of worship. The land was polluted with idols. Every green tree was supposed to overshadow a god. Altars, pillars, and groves sheltered and surrounded graven images. The desecration was all-prevailing.
III. THE POWER OF ASSOCIATION NECESSITATED THE COMPLETE DESTRUCTION OF THESE SIGNS OF IDOLATRY. If polytheism expressed itself so universally, then association would assert in the Israelitish mind a corresponding power, and lead weak minds to the idea that an idol was surely something in the world, when it secured such recognition. No wise leader could allow such temptations to remain before his people. Hence the Israelites are instructed to spare no trace of the old worship. Intolerance may be a duty in pure self-defense. It was a duty in this case divinely ordained.
IV. CURIOSITY IS NOT TO BE LEFT ANYTHING TO FEED UPON. For there is a prurient curiosity which only leads to sin. All humoring of this is evil. When a soul insists on tasting the fruit of forbidden trees, as a matter of curiosity, he only repeats the act of our first parents in Eden. No possible good can come of it. Much curiosity is indulged only to the deterioration of soul and body. Now, this would have been a danger with the Israelites. The worship of the Canaanites was so sensual and horrible, that the less known about it the better. Hence the command to destroy every vestige of it. It would be well for Christians more frequently to restrain their curiosity than they do. In many cases it would be well if every vestige of sinful practices were destroyed, instead of being preserved to satisfy an "idle curiosity."
V. THE WHOLESALE DESTRUCTION OF THE PARAPHERNALIA OF IDOLATRY WOULD BE THE BEST OF ALL DEMONSTRATIONS OF THE NOTHINGNESS OF THE IDOLS. For if these gods of Canaan had any power, they might be expected to vindicate their majesty against these spoilers. But Israel never suffered anything from the destruction of the idolatry. The only danger arose from the destruction not being as complete in some cases as God intended it should be. And it is important to have the impotence of God's foes made matter of demonstration. Sooner or later this is the case.
VI. THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST HAS ALSO ITS INTOLERANT, AS WELL AS ITS TOLERANT, SIDE. In a sermon on Matthew 12:30, "He that is not with me is against me," Vinet, the greatest of the moral analysts, has expounded L'intolerance de l'Evangile, just as in a companion sermon on Luke 9:50, "He that is not against us is for us," he expounds La tolerance. £ It is well to realize that religion is not an easy-going matter, making things pleasant all round, but something requiring stern and uncompromising conduct oftentimes. We may suffer as much by an unenlightened latitudinarianism as by an unenlightened attachment to non-essentials in use and wont.—R.M.E.
Centralization in worship.
It is quite unnecessary that we should here enter upon the criticism which has been raging upon this important passage, as indicating something post-Mosaic. The directions in Exodus do not necessarily imply a multiplicity of altars at the same time, but rather successive alterations of locality in conformity with the requirements of the pilgrimage. Besides, the genius of the Jewish worship implied the centralization of it in contrast to the multiplicity of places arising out of polytheism. The idea of a central altar is implied in the erection of the tabernacle at Sinai, and all the legislation which gathers round it. We believe, therefore, that Moses, in here formulating the centralization in worship, was merely making plainer what had already been implied.
I. CENTRALIZATION IN WORSHIP SEEMS A CONVENIENT STEPPING-STONE FROM THE DANGERS OF POLYTHEISM TO UNIVERSAL SPIRITUAL WORSHIP. Abraham, in setting up the new worship in Canaan, had erected altars at the different places where God appeared unto him. His fine intellect realized that it was the One God he worshipped at the different places. His descendants also, in their pilgrimage to Palestine, realized that it was the One God who called upon them out of the cloudy pillar to halt from time to time, and to erect his altar, and whom they there worshipped; and they would also feel that this direction about a single central altar was but the necessary corollary to the entire legislation. The ideal of worship, to which the Old Testament dispensation pointed, was, "when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him" (John 4:23); meanwhile it was most important to have the Divine unity publicly recognized and expressed by a central altar. At this they were to aim when settled beyond the Jordan.
II. THE CENTRAL ALTAR IS TO GATHER ROUND IT JOYFUL WORSHIPPERS. (Verses 6, 7.) Burnt offering, sacrifice, heave offering, etc; were to reach their climax in the eating before the Lord the peace offering, and in the joy which springs from fellowship. This is the purpose of all worship. If joy be not reached, then the worshippers are living below their privileges.
III. ALLOWANCE IS MADE FOR THE EXIGENCIES OF THE MARCH AND OF WAR. Means of grace have to be extemporized often in times of battle and marches, and men must do what is right in their own eyes, in a way that would not be lawful in times of settled avocations and of peace. Moses is instructed, therefore, to remind them of the freedom they necessarily practice in the unsettled condition, which must be relinquished when they settle down beyond the Jordan (verses 8, 9).
IV. GOD RESERVES THE RIGHT OF CHOOSING THE CENTRAL PLACE OF WORSHIP. (Verses 10-14.) This prevents all license in such an important matter. It is not what they think advisable, but what God directs, that they are in the locality of worship to follow. This reservation is surely most significant. It indicates that in worship, which is the payment of due homage unto God, his will and wisdom are to be regarded as supreme. The right God holds in his hand of indicating whether he is to be worshipped in one place or everywhere.
V. GOD REVEALED THE CENTRAL PLACE IN DUE SEASON. A good deal of the current criticism seems to overlook the distinction between the principle of centralization in worship and the place where it was to be observed. The principle was stated long before the place was indicated. It was centuries before Jerusalem became the recognized center of the Jewish religion. Had the name been indicated earlier, it would have prevented the natural development of the ritual in Canaan. It is not necessary to suppose that Moses had any definite idea of the central place when he uttered on the banks of the Jordan the will of God. God can express his will through historical developments, just as he can through natural developments. "The nature of things" may be justly regarded as the expression of the Divine mind; and so may a historical procession. Meanwhile, it is well for us to rejoice in the freedom and universality of spiritual worship to which we have come. Now the true worshippers, emancipated from the cumbrous ritual through its fulfillment in Christ, can "worship the Father in spirit and in truth" in every place.—R.M.E.
Private worship not the substitute for public.
While the central altar was ordained for the reception of the sacrifices and the place for the love-feasts of God's people, they were also allowed to slay and eat flesh meat at home. It must, of course, consist of the flesh of clean animals, and the blood must be carefully poured out unto the Lord; but, after these precautions, it was perfectly possible for the Jew to live luxuriously at home. In these circumstances he might say that the flesh killed carefully at home tasted as sweet as any peace offering enjoyed at the tabernacle, and that he would not trouble himself about the journey to the central altar. Such a conclusion the Lord expressly forbids. How, in such circumstances, will the Levites be sustained? Such private luxury must not be substituted for the public peace offering and the Levitical support connected with the ritual.
I. THERE IS A GREAT TEMPTATION WITH LUKEWARM PEOPLE TO MAKE PRIVATE WORSHIP DO DUTY FOR PUBLIC. It is insinuated that the Bible can be as well studied, and prayer as faithfully observed, and praise as joyfully rendered, amid the sanctities of home as in any congregation. But the fact is that the private worship is a sorry substitute for the public. Not to speak of the promise," The Lord loveth the gates of Zion better than all the dwellings of Jacob," there is in the public congregation a power of sympathy, solemnity, and attention which is missed elsewhere. The private services, when separated from the public, fail to reach the professed ideal, and religious feebleness is the usual result.
II. PRIVATE CELEBRATIONS OF PUBLIC SOLEMNITIES ARE MOST PROPERLY FORBIDDEN. The Jew might have excused himself from journeying to the central altar by resolving on the solemnities at home. "I can share the tithes, and firstlings, and vows, and freewill offerings, and heave offerings with my neighbors, and not bother taking them to the tabernacle." And so men can still abstain from membership in Church organizations under the plea of private baptisms and private "tables;" but all this presumption is an abomination unto the Lord.
III. IT DENIES TO THE PUBLIC MINISTERS OF GOD THEIR DUE RIGHTS. For Levitical support, so carefully guarded in the commandment here, is surely equivalent to "ministerial support" still. The ministry of the Word means an order of men set apart from the secularities of life to give themselves unto prayer and to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). If it is highly expedient, as well as divinely ordained, that such an order should exist, then it is a serious responsibility on the part of any private person to refuse to acknowledge this Divine ordinance and its attendant rights. The pitifulness of the excuse, moreover, in refusing ministerial support because of private scruples, must strike the most superficial judge.
IV. THE LORD LEAVES THE LEVITE AS A CHARGE UPON THE GENEROSITY OF THE PEOPLE. The Levite was to be as a guest within the gates of the Jew (Deuteronomy 12:18). All the rights of hospitality, so to speak, were to be his. Moreover, it was to be an unending charge. "Take heed to thyself that thou forsake not the Levite as long as thou livest upon the earth." Thus an order of men are left upon the generosity of the people, to have their share as long as the world lasts. So is it with the Christian ministry. Public services, the public organizations of the Church, are all to be continued till the end of time, and hence the ministry will continue. Nor will its support severely tax the loyal Christian people. We see how intimately the interests of God's servants are bound, up with proper views about private and public worship. If these are judiciously disseminated, there is no fear of the Lord's servants being neglected. God's rights in the ordering of his worship must be first vindicated and recognized, and then-his servants' rights will follow.—R.M.E.
The sanctity of blood.
The central altar was for the reception of the blood. And while the Jews remained in pilgrimage, every time they killed an animal out of their flocks or herds for family use they carried the blood to the tabernacle, that it might be duly disposed of by the priest. In case of the roebucks and harts, their blood was not sacrificial; it was therefore ordained that it should be poured out on the earth, and carefully and solemnly covered up. When they were settled in the land of Canaan, they were too far from the central altar to carry the blood of every animal out of the herd or flock which was slain to the appointed place. Hence they were allowed to deal with the domestic animals as with the products of the chase (Deuteronomy 12:22). It is to this fact of the sanctity of blood that we would now direct attention.
I. THE HEATHEN NATIONS WERE ACCUSTOMED TO MAKE DRINK OFFERINGS OF BLOOD. David refers to the fact when he says, "Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips" (Psalms 16:4). These drink offerings of blood arose, doubtless, out of the bloodthirstiness of the heathen themselves. Men of blood thought their god delighted in blood shedding as they did; it was human passion projected into the religious domain.
II. GOD SO DIRECTED HIS WORSHIPPERS ABOUT THE DISPOSAL OF THE BLOOD THAT THEY COULD NOT REGARD IT IN ANY OTHER LIGHT THAN AS A MOST SACRED THING. It was to be carefully carried to his altar and disposed of by the officiating priests, or, if this was not possible, it was solemnly poured into the earth, and covered carefully from all profane uses. On no account was it to be eaten: this would have profaned it.
III. THE REASON ASSIGNED WAS THAT THE LIFE WAS IN THE BLOOD. "Life" is the gift of God, the mysterious something which escapes our observation in analysis, which baffles our productive powers, and which works such wonders in the world of nature. As God's gift, it is to be holy in our eyes, and disposed of as he sees best.
IV. THE VICARIOUSNESS OF SUFFERING GAVE IT ADDITIONAL SANCTITY. For shed blood meant life sacrificed to sustain other life. Our bodies depend upon vicarious suffering for their sustenance. Sacrifice underlies the constitution of the world. It was meet, then, that this principle should be recognized and sanctified in the sight of men.
V. BLOOD HAD ITS RELIGIOUS FUNCTION, NOT A PHYSICAL FUNCTION, TO DISCHARGE IN THE MOSAIC ECONOMY. The God of Israel did not delight in blood, as the gods of the heathen were supposed to do. He singled it out for a religious use. It was to be the material of a holy act, wherever shed. This was undoubtedly to keep it so out of the sphere of physical elements that it could symbolize fully "the blood of Jesus Christ," by which the world is to be saved.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
The doom of idolatry.
The reverse side of blessing is a curse. The abuse of the best things is the worst. In the ratio in which any institution has capacity to benefit, has it capacity to injure. The sun can quicken life or kill. The temple is a stepping-stone to heaven or a snare of hell.
I. BOTH NATURE AND ART HAVE BEEN PROSTITUTED TO BASEST USES. If men cannot find God in themselves, they cannot find him in material nature. Some "look through nature up to nature's God." Some look through nature to darkness, sensuality, and despair.
II. THE BEAUTIFUL MUST BE SACRIFICED TO MORAL NECESSITIES. Esthetics must yield to ethics. Our moral exigencies are paramount. The voice of taste is the voice of a charmer. The voice of conscience is the voice of a king. If the creations of art are inimical to the interests of righteousness, they must be destroyed. Eternal life is beyond all price. Whatever keeps man from the living God is doomed.
III. TRUE LIFE HAS A DESTRUCTIVE SIDE. The growth of a plant involves the death of the seed. The life of the body is sustained by manifold death. Eternal life comes by the death of the Son of God. The inner life of piety is quickened by the death of self. True love to God is the hatred of his foes. Jesus Christ "came to destroy the works of the devil."—D.
Characteristic signs of Jehovah's worship.
All the religious institutions of Moses were bulwarks against the idolatry of the period, and were admirably suited to the intellectual and moral condition of the people. The worship of the true God was characterized by—
I. A SINGLE, GOD-SELECTED SHRINE. As the heathen had gods many, they had plurality of temples, altars, and shrines. The single, central temple of Jehovah promoted at least two worthy objects.
1. It kept alive in the people's memory the unity of God. In that age, so addicted to idolatry, this was of the first importance. Intellectual belief in the one God would not, in itself, go for much; yet it would be the foundation for reverence, love, and loyalty.
2. It promoted most vitally the unity of the nation. In the absence of representative institutions and periodic literature, the common worship of the people at a central shrine was the most active factor in national unity. On this largely, as an instrument, the strength and safety of the nation depended. In the absence of this cementing element, the tribes would speedily have become factions—distinct entities—like the Canaanites who had preceded them.
II. GOD'S WORSHIP WAS CHARACTERIZED BY PROFUSE AND VARIOUS OFFERINGS. Every event in the life of the Hebrews to be connected with God, and to be associated with religion. Earth was to be joined to heaven by vital arteries of intercommunication. Thus the favor and benediction of God would be enjoyed in every circumstance of daily existence, and a joyous sense of God's fatherhood be kept alive. The arrangement would check avarice and earthly-mindedness. It would make conscience tenderly alive to sin, and promote in a thousand ways practical righteousness.
III. GOD'S WORSHIP WAS A DELIGHTFUL OCCUPATION. "Ye shall eat before the Lord … and shall rejoice." In observing the rites of idolatry, the Canaanites practiced wanton self-mutilations. They stained the altars with their own blood. They made their children to pass through the fire. This was the invention of the diabolic spirit. But in God's temple is the sunshine of joy, the light of his face. For man's hunger he prepares a "feast of fat things," fat things "full of marrow," "wines on the lees well refined." At prodigious cost to himself, he has supplied the "bread of life," and living water from deep wells of salvation. And his gracious voice greets every comer thus, "Eat, O friends … yea, drink abundantly"
IV. GOD'S WORSHIP HALLOWS ALL RELATIONSHIPS AND BRIGHTENS ALL PURSUITS. In the temple, men became conscious of a Divine presence, and felt within the stirrings of a new life. Religion developed their better nature. It made them acquainted with new relationships, and opened their eyes to the value of old ones. It created new and more generous emotions. Fountains of kindly feeling were unsealed within them, and sweet waters of practical kindness flowed out to the poor and the stranger. A new light beautified all toil, and they rejoiced in all they put their hand unto. Those who had been the ministrants of this fresh life and joy—the Levites—were to have a special place in their sympathy and regard. Sacred ties of generous affection were to knit them in one brotherhood.
V. THE WORSHIP OF GOD SANCTIFIES THE COMMON MEAL, The recognition of God and his claims allows us to enjoy all the provision of God with thankfulness and content. Every meal reminds us of God, and leads to fellowship with him. Each meal becomes a minor sacrament, and all food is consecrated to highest use. In this state of mind, excess of every kind becomes impossible, and the amplest enjoyment is not incompatible with vigorous piety.
VI. THE WORSHIP OF GOD TEACHES THE SUPERIOR WORTH OF HUMAN LIFE. All the requirements of the Levitical Law set forth the sacredness of life. Highest sanctions surrounded all life. The lives of inferior animals were generously cared for. But when the life of men was to be sustained, and sustained in richest vigor, the lives of animals were to be sacrificed. Yet even while this was done, the minds of men were to be impressed with a sense of the value of life; hence the blood of victims was to be poured upon the earth. As in redemption, so in daily sustentation, we are taught the costly price at which our life is procured. So high a value has God set upon man, that large sacrifices of herds and flocks are daily made for his behalf.
VII. CEREMONIAL LAWS POSSESSED AN ELASTICITY TO SUIT MEN'S ACTUAL NEEDS. Every moral law had an innate power and value, which never allowed a concession. To infringe a moral law, even the least, became a personal loss. But ritual law possessed a value only as the type and memorial of better things. Righteousness is of higher value than human convenience, but ritual is the servant of expediency. The showbread was for the priests; yet David, in his hunger, might eat thereof and not sin. During the exigencies of desert life, circumcision was often deferred, the Passovers were irregularly observed, and to a large extent the Hebrews became "a law unto themselves." "If the Law of the Spirit of life" be within us, we shall discern when ritual may be profitably used and when it may be suspended.
VIII. THE WORSHIP OF GOD WAS FRUITFUL IN BLESSING. The design of God in every particular was solely the good of families, that "it may be well with thee, and with thy children." We do well to write this with a diamond pen on memory and heart, that God's claims and man's advantage are identical. The plan of human life is laid on the lines of righteousness, and along these lines alone is the road to immortal bliss. We cannot add to or take from the commands of God, without injury to ourselves and dishonor to him.—D.
The subtle ensnarements of idolatry.
A spirit of vain curiosity is to be repressed at its beginning. So weak is human nature, and so subtle is the working of sin, that prying curiosity into evil customs works practical mischief. Human life, to be a success, must be a perpetual battle with moral evil. We cannot afford to parley with the enemy nor give him a single advantage. Incessant watchfulness is our safety.
I. IDOLATRY HAS GREAT FASCINATIONS FOR MAN'S SENSUOUS NATURE. There is in all men a yearning for visible signs of God. "Show us some sign!" is the natural demand of the human mind. Even Moses had passionately asked, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory." Satan employs a thousand wily artifices to corrupt the spiritual impulses of the heart. Speciously, idolatry asks to be tolerated as a symbol, and then detains our faith as if it were the substantial object.
II. IDOLATRY IS THE FRUITFUL PARENT OF VICE AND CRUELTY. We can never deal with forms of idolatry as if they were mere intellectual vagaries. The worship of material images has always been associated with sensuality, obscenity, and vice. It deteriorates human nature, hardens sensibility, and clips the wing of aspiration. When the seed has grown to the mature tree, human victims are demanded as oblations. "The children were compelled to pass through the fire." Atrocious cruelty is the last effect.
III. IDOLATRY IS HATEFUL IN GOD'S ESTEEM. It is impossible for us to err if we make the supreme God our model. To the extent that we know God, we must endeavor to assimilate our tastes to his, to love what he loves and to hate what he hates. Idolatry, in any form (whether of graven image, or material wealth, or human friend) is overt treason against God. If we cannot see the inherent wickedness of idolatry, it should be enough for us to know that it is an abomination before God, "a smoke in his eyes; a stench in his nostrils."
IV. IDOLATRY IS A SOURCE OF NATIONAL AND INDIVIDUAL RUIN. In that early period of human history, the spirit of idolatry must have been rampant. It was the curse of the age. Although the Hebrews had seen the practical effects of idolatry in Egypt; although they had themselves been the executors of God's vengeance against idolatry in Canaan; nevertheless the tendencies to idolatry were, humanly speaking, irresistible. It had been the source of Pharaoh's overthrow. It had been the occasion of a great slaughter among the Hebrews under the peaks of Sinai. It was the parent of the vices and crimes that prevailed among the Amorites. Idolatry is doomed by an eternal decree, and if men persist in identifying themselves with it, they are doomed also. Let us be well guarded against so insidious an evil!—D.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12