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This portion of the discourse, from the twelfth chapter to the twenty-sixth, inclusive, is devoted to an exposition of the rules by which the people were to be directed in their religious, civil, and social interests. In this section are many particulars introduced that are only found in Deuteronomy. We should look for modifications of the earlier legislation. Nearly forty years have passed since the enactment of that code. A new generation, who are soon to have a settled abode, is before the great lawgiver. If we find additions and modifications it is no more than we should expect. The first verse of this chapter gives us to understand that the laws to be given are for their observance, not in the wilderness, but in “the land which Jehovah, God of thy fathers, giveth thee.”
2. Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, etc. The Hebrew word translated places ( makom) is almost the exact equivalent of the modern mukam or makam. In speaking of the tenacity with which old religious customs have been kept up, C. Clermont Gann-vean ( Survey of Western Palestine, p. 324) says: “Not only have the fellaheen, as Robinson conjectured, preserved by the erection of their Mussulman kubbehs and their fetichism for certain large, isolated trees the site and the souvenirs of the hill sanctuaries and shady groves which were marked out for the execration of the Israelites on their entry into the Promised Land, but they pay them almost the same veneration as did the Canaanites whose descendants they are. These makoms, as Deuteronomy calls them, which Manasseh rebuilt and against which the prophets in vain exhausted their invectives, are word for word, thing for thing, the Arabic makams, whose little white-topped cupolas are dotted so picturesquely over the mountainous horizon of central Judea.”
Which ye shall possess Better rendered, whom you are dispossessing.
3. Their groves More properly, their images of Asherah. Comp. Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 16:21; also Exodus 34:13.
And destroy the names of them This close connexion of names and places is found in Phoenician and Canaanite mythology, which is remarkable for the number of its local divinities: and it helps to explain why Moses, not content with ordering the destruction of the pagan sanctuaries, insisted upon the abolition of the names. The Israelites were to destroy all that might suggest idol-worship. The Puritans claimed to be carrying out the spirit of this command when, in their iconoclastic zeal, they almost despoiled the churches and cathedrals of works of art in the form of statues and paintings.
4. Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God You are not to follow the example of these nations and select places for worship. You must conform to Jehovah’s requirements, and worship in the place he appoints.
5. The place which the Lord… shall choose It was a wise provision to have for the nation a common religious centre. During the wilderness wandering the divine Presence had been manifested in the pillar of cloud by day and in the pillar of fire by night. After the construction of the tabernacle, that was the place for the divine manifestation. On the conquest of the land, the sanctuary was at Shiloh, (Joshua 18:1; comp. Jeremiah 7:12,) where it remained during the whole time of the Judges. David set up the ark of the covenant on Zion in Jerusalem, which he had selected as the capital of his kingdom, and there he built an altar for sacrifice. 2 Samuel 6:17; 1 Chronicles 16:1. It was announced to David that he should build an altar on the threshingfloor of Araunah, and this was to be the site of the temple. 2 Samuel 24:18. “I have chosen this place to myself for a house of sacrifice.” 2 Chronicles 7:12.
To put his name there That is, to make his presence known.
Even unto his habitation The place where the sanctuary of Jehovah was established was considered his dwellingplace.
6. Thither ye shall bring To the place appointed by Jehovah and consecrated by his presence they were to bring their gifts, and celebrate sacrificial festivals. To the objection that it would not be possible for the people from every part of the land to bring these offerings, it may be said that what is provided for in Deuteronomy 14:24-25, was doubtless applicable in such cases. Then it must be borne in mind that no part of the land was at a very great distance from the central sanctuary. Dan, the northern limit, was not a hundred miles from Jerusalem.
Burnt offerings These were to be wholly consumed on the altar, except that the skin was the perquisite of the officiating priest. See Leviticus 7:8.
Sacrifices Animals that were slaughtered. With these two classes were also associated meat offerings and drink offerings.
And your tithes See notes on the seventeenth verse.
Heave offerings The word here and elsewhere rendered heave is obscurely translated. It refers evidently to some act by which the offering is dedicated to Jehovah.
7. And there ye shall eat That is, at this appointed place. The Israelites were accustomed to make these feasts of great importance. They were festal entertainments, not only for their families and friends, but also for Levites, widows, orphans, and strangers.
8. Ye shall not do… the things that we do During the sojourn in the desert there had not been a rigid adherence to the requirements of the law. Even in the matter of the important rite of circumcision there had been a non-observance for years. See Joshua 5:5. But hereafter they are not to do every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes.
10, 11. There shall be a place When they shall be in peaceful possession of the land these irregularities are to cease. The sacrifices are to be offered and the feast kept in the manner enjoined.
12. The Levite that is within your gates That is, that lives in your towns and villages. This frequent reference to the Levite does not imply that they had no settled habitation, for there was an allotment of towns for them to dwell in. But it was necessary to remind the people that the Levite, having no part in the land that was cultivated, might be at times straitened in his circumstances. This does not imply that the Levites were to have no cities of their own. But as the Levites could temporarily sell their houses to Israelites (see Leviticus 25:32-33) it might be possible that some of them would be living in almost every community.
15. Eat flesh in all thy gates The people had been forbidden during their march through the desert to kill an ox or lamb or goat in the camp. In every case the animal to be killed was to be brought to the tabernacle. See Leviticus 17:3-4. Moses now modifies this requirement. The people are allowed to kill animals for food away from the sanctuary; but the requirement is to be observed in respect to animals killed for sacrifice.
Lusteth after Better rendered, desireth, as of the roebuck, and as of the hart. These animals could not be offered in sacrifice, but might be eaten. They were clean for food, but could not be offered to Jehovah.
16. Ye shall not eat the blood These directions are not to be deemed trivial or unimportant. “Even the inviolability of human life received support from the sanctity of blood. To taste the minutest portion of animal blood was something horrible; even the blood of such animals as were allowed for eating, but not for sacrifice, was to be poured like water upon the ground and covered over with earth.” EWALD, Antiquities of Israel, English translation, p. 38.
17. Thou mayest not eat… the tithe of thy corn The tithes mentioned differ from those in Leviticus 27:30-32. Those include all the products of the flock, the herd, and the field, and are spoken of as the Lord’s. The Deuteronomic tithes seem to be limited to the corn, wine, and oil. “They are nowhere characterized as the Lord’s, but are spoken of as belonging to the Israelites, to be eaten in sacrificial meals, or as a tithe to be set apart once in three years for the benefit of the poor.” CURTISS, Levitical Priests, p. 38.
Firstlings It is said that an unanswerable contradiction is found here to the regulations as to firstlings in Numbers 18:15-18. “There the Lord is represented as intimating to Aaron, in respect to the firstlings, that ‘the flesh of them shall be thine, as the wave breast and the heave shoulder, it shall be thine;’ but it is not said that the priests are to have all the flesh of the firstlings, nor is it said here that the people are to have all.” CURTISS, Levitical Priests, p. 40.
21. If the place… be too far Here is given the reason for the modification of the law, as in Leviticus 17:3, etc., which required that all animals be slaughtered at the sanctuary.
23. Be sure that thou eat not the blood Be firm in resisting any inclination to so doing.
29-32. Take heed to thyself A solemn warning against the idolatry of these Canaanite nations. “This caution is based upon the notion generally entertained in the ancient heathen world, that each country had its own tutelary deities, whom it would be perilous to neglect. Comp. 1Ki 20:23 ; 2 Kings 17:26. Hence even in conquered districts the worship of the local deities was wont to be scrupulously maintained. But Israel was to shun such superstition.” Speaker’s Commentary.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany