Deuteronomy 12(01–28)

Introduction

Moses is getting the people ready to cross the river Jordan to enter the Promised Land, the land which the Lord promised to give to them, even though they did not deserve it or did anything to earn or merit it. Life in the Promised Land was his gift to them and it foreshadows the even greater gift that he has promised to all who have faith, because by faith in Christ the Saviour we receive the hope of everlasting life in the new heavens and earth where all of God’s people will live with him forever and forever in glory.

And Moses has been getting the people ready by reminding them of God’s law which the Lord gave them originally at Mount Sinai, shortly after they left the land of Egypt. However, since they’ve been wandering in the wilderness for forty years, waiting for the generation who left Egypt and who doubted the word of the Lord to die in the wilderness, Moses needs to go over the law with the new generation of Israelites so that they’re familiar with the will of the Lord and know what he requires of them. So, back in chapter 5, Moses reminded them of the Ten Commandments.

Structure

I haven’t mentioned this before, but some — although not all — of the Bible commentators think that chapters 6 and following are an exposition or explanation of the Ten Commandments which appeared in chapter 5. And so, some commentators say that chapters 6 to 11 correspond to the first commandment to have no other gods before the Lord. The emphasis of those chapters was on loving the Lord above all other things.

Then chapter 12 corresponds to the second commandment about how we worship the Lord. As we’ll see, this chapter is all about worshipping the Lord in the right place in the right way.

Chapters 13 and 14 correspond to the third commandment not to misuse the name of the Lord. So, those chapters are about honouring the Lord by remaining holy to the Lord in what they do and eat.

Chapters 14 to 16 correspond to the fourth commandment to remember the sabbath day. And so they’re about observing special days and festivals throughout the year.

Chapters 16 to 18 correspond to the fifth commandment, because they contain laws to do with judges and kings and priests and prophets, the leaders they’re to honour and obey.

Chapters 19 to 22 correspond to the sixth commandment, because they contains laws to do with unlawful killing.

Chapters 22 and 23 correspond to the seventh commandment, because they contain laws about sexual conduct and holy living.

Chapters 23 and 24 correspond to the eighth commandment, because they contains laws about theft. The ninth commandment forbids us from bearing false witness; and in chapter 24 Moses refers to the case of Miriam who falsely accused Moses.

And the rest of chapter 24 and into chapter 26 contain laws which correspond to the tenth commandment which forbids us from coveting.

Then, after expounding the Ten Commandments, Moses follows it up by listing the blessings they can expect to enjoy for obeying the law of the Lord; and the curses they can expect to suffer for disobeying the law of the Lord. As I say, not every commentator agrees with this. Some think this interpretation it’s too forced and we’re seeing patterns which aren’t really there. However, it’s a pretty good way to divide up the rest of the book of Deuteronomy.

Paul and Moses

It occurred to me since we’re studying the book of Galatians on Sunday mornings, where Paul says a number of things about the law, that I should also say a word about how what Paul says about the law in Galatians relates to what Moses says about the law in Deuteronomy. Paul describes the law in Galatians in a negative way. The law, he says, is like a prison, because it imprisons us as sinners who deserve to be condemned. The law is a like a supervisor, with the authority to rebuke us for our shortcomings. The law is like a legal guardian which treats us as slaves and which orders us about. God put the law in place to reveal to us our sinfulness and our need of a Saviour. Furthermore, Paul tells us that Christ came to redeem us or to deliver us from bondage to the law. In other words, he describes the law in negative terms. On the other hand, Moses presents the law as something positive. It’s something the people are to remember and to obey, because God uses it to reveal his will to his people and to show them how to live their lives. Furthermore, by keeping it, they will receive blessings from God in the Promised Land. So, Paul describes the law in negative way; Moses describes it in a positive way. How do these two perspectives on the law relate to one another?

The answer is simple. Paul is addressing people who are tempted to rely on the law as the means to receive eternal life. And so, to those who are tempted to rely on the law as the means to receive eternal life, Paul is quite clear: the law cannot save, it only enslaves; the law does not bring life, it can only condemn. He’s saying to the Galatians: don’t rely on the law, because no one will be justified by observing the law. Instead of relying on the law to receive eternal life, rely on the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Saviour of the world, and the one who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age according to the will of God the Father. Trust in him and not in the law.

The law is not the means to receiving eternal life. However, the law is the rule for our life as God’s people. That’s how Moses is presenting it in the book of Deuteronomy. He’s addressing the Lord’s people; the people he graciously and freely chose to be his own special people; the people he graciously and freely rescued from captivity in Egypt; the people who are receiving from him life in the Promised Land as a gracious and free gift. To those people, to his covenant people, he gives the law as the rule for their life to show them how he wants them to live in the Promised Land.

So, Moses gave them the law as the rule for their life. In that sense, the law is good. Paul, on the other hand, was addressing those who were relying on the law as the means to obtain eternal life. And so, he had to make clear that no one will obtain eternal life by keeping the law, because we’re all sinners who fall short of keeping the law. So, instead of trusting in the law for eternal life, trust in Christ alone.

Verses 1 to 14

Having said all that by way of introduction, let’s turn to today’s passage which is about worshipping the Lord. And it can be divided into two main parts: verses 1 to 14 and verses 15 to 28. Verses 1 to 14 are about worshipping the Lord in the right place in the right way. And worshipping the Lord in the right way means offering him the right sacrifices. But not every animal they kill had to be offered to the Lord. And so, verses 15 to 28 are about their right to kill and to eat animals for their own use.

Verse 1 is a kind of introduction where Moses states that these are the decrees and laws which they must be careful to follow in the land which the Lord has given them to possess. It’s easy to slip over verse 1, but we should note that Moses once again emphasises the fact that the Lord is giving them life in the Promised Land as a gracious and free gift. They did not earn or merit the Promised Land, but he was giving it to them. They had done nothing to deserve it, because they had always shown themselves to be a disobedient people, who were prone to wander from the Lord and to disobey his commandments. Isn’t that what Moses told them back in chapter 9 when he said that from the day they left Egypt until the day they arrived on the border of Canaan, they have been rebellious against the Lord. They did not deserve life in the Promised Land, but it was God’s gracious and free gift to them.

And none of us can earn or merit life in the new heavens and earth. We don’t deserve eternal life in God’s presence. We have always been a rebellious people, and we disobey the Lord everyday in thought and word and deed. All of us have sinned and we fall short of doing his will in countless different ways. And yet, he graciously and freely promises to give us eternal life in his presence for the sake of Christ, who gave his life for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age. Through faith in Christ, we’re pardoned and accepted and we receive the free gift of eternal life.

So, after that introduction in verse 1, Moses commands the people in verses 2 and 3 to destroy completely the places where the Canaanites worshipped their false gods. As we’ll see, the Lord will chose one place for his people to worship him. However, the Canaanites worshipped their gods in multiple places: on mountains and hills and under trees. Apparently they believed that their gods lived in the mountains and they regarded trees as being sacred. But the Israelites were not to copy the customs of the pagans; and they were to eradicate every trace of their false worship. And so, they were to destroy their altars and sacred stones and their Asherah poles and their idols. When Moses says they were to wipe out the names of their idols from those places, he means they were to remove every trace, every memory, of the false gods from the land of Israel. The only name they were to honour was the name of the Lord; and they were to eradicate from the land every place where the Canaanites worshipped their false gods.

‘You must not worship the Lord your God in their way’, says Moses in verse 4. The pagans worshipped their gods in many places, but the Israelites were not to build lots of shrines and altars to the Lord. Instead, according to verse 5, they were to seek the one place the Lord their God will choose for them. So, there will be one place among their tribes which he will choose as the dwelling place for his name. God’s name, of course, stands for himself; and so, Moses is saying the Lord will dwell in this place. However, just as we put our name on objects to indicate they belong to us, putting his name on his dwelling-place means that it belongs to him. It’s his dwelling place. While for many years, the place of worship was Shiloh, eventually the Lord made clear to David that it should be in Jerusalem on Mount Zion. And so, that’s where Solomon built a temple for the Lord and that’s where he placed his name and where he dwelt among his people.

And to that one place, they must go. And when they go to that one place, they must bring their burnt offerings and sacrifices and their tithes and their special gifts and the gifts they vowed to the Lord and their freewill offerings and their firstborn offerings. The list of offerings mentioned here is not a comprehensive list, and we can read more about the gifts they were to bring in the book of Leviticus. Nevertheless, Moses mentions seven kinds of offering; and since seven in the Bible often signifies fullness or completion, these seven offerings perhaps stand for all the offerings they’re to bring to the Lord. And, of course, just as we bring gifts when we visit a friend’s house, so the Israelites were to bring gifts when they visited the Lord’s house.

And look at verse 7: when they come before the Lord, they’re to rejoice before him. They’re to eat some of the meat they bring and they’re to rejoice before the Lord. Again, the book of Leviticus provides detailed instructions on what they were to do when they brought their offerings to the Lord. In the case of the burnt offering, all of it was to be offered to the Lord by fire. However, when it came to other offerings, part of the offering was burned and part of it was given to the priests for their food; and part of — as we read here — was eaten by the worshipper in a kind of thanksgiving feast, when they rejoiced before the Lord because of the blessings he had bestowed on them.

The invitation to come and celebrate before the Lord is repeated in verses 8 to 12, which begin with another negative statement. When they come into the Promised Land and the Lord has revealed his chosen place for worship, they’re not to do what they have been doing, which is that everyone did as he saw fit. Although they had the tabernacle in the wilderness, and even though the Lord had given them detailed instructions for how to worship him at the tabernacle, it seems these rebellious people have been disregarding God’s word and they were doing whatever they pleased. The Lord was willing to put up with their rebellion for the time being, but once he makes known his dwelling-place, they are to behave differently. Instead of doing whatever they please, they’re to worship him in his dwelling-place and nowhere else. That’s in verse 11; and they’re to bring the offerings the Lord requires from them. And whenever they come before him, they’re to rejoice before the Lord: the men and women and their children and their servants as well as the Levites.

Notice that Moses refers to the land as the inheritance the Lord is giving them. Once again, Moses is emphasising the Lord’s grace, because he is giving them the land as his gift to them. But he also refers to the land as the resting place, because the Promised Land was to be a place of rest for them. After years of wandering in the wilderness, they would be able to settle and rest in the Promised Land, where they would live securely in the presence of the Lord who loved them and who gave them the land to live in. And so, since he had been so good to them, so gracious and kind, they were to bring their offerings and rejoice before him.

In verse 13 Moses warned them not to sacrifice their offerings anywhere they please, but only at the place the Lord will choose.

Verses 15 to 28

That’s the first part of the passage where Moses commanded them to worship the Lord in the right place and to bring before the Lord the offerings which the Lord commanded. And when they come, they’re to rejoice before him.

In the second main part of this passage — verses 15 to 28 — Moses makes clear that not every animal they kill has to be offered to the Lord. Only sacrificial animals should be brought to the place of worship; animals you intend to eat at home need not be brought to the place of worship. And that makes sense, doesn’t it? When they’re settled in the land, their homes might be hundreds of miles from the place of worship. It might take them days to walk to Shiloh or to Jerusalem. So, in these verses, Moses makes clear that only sacrificial animals should be brought before the Lord. So, verse 15: slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want. Since this meat is not going to be used for worship, it doesn’t matter whether it’s ceremonially clean or unclean. It’s going to be used in an ordinary way for food, and not in a sacred way for worship. Nevertheless, according to verse 16, they were not permitted to eat meat with the blood still in it. Furthermore, they were not permitted to eat in their homes whatever belonged to the Lord. For instance, a tithe of their produce belonged to the Lord. According to verse 18, they were required to bring those offerings before the Lord.

In verse 20, the Lord once again permits them to eat at home whatever meat they want. But he once again repeats the ban on eating the blood of an animal. Apparently the pagans at that time used to eat and drink blood, but God forbade his people from doing so. So, be sure not to eat the blood, Moses says in verse 23, because the blood is the life. That is, the blood can be regarded as the source of life, because an animal is alive whenever blood is coursing through its veins; and it’s dead whenever it loses its blood.

Whether the ban on eating blood applies today is a matter of dispute. Some Christians believe it still applies; and therefore we shouldn’t eat food like black pudding which contain blood. Christians who think that way point to Acts 15:29 where the Jerusalem Council decreed that Gentiles believers should abstain from blood. However, other Christians would say that, according to Mark 7:19, the Lord Jesus declared all food to be clean. And if all food is clean, then the ban on eating blood has expired.

While it may not be clear today, it was clear in the days of Moses that the Lord’s will for his people was for them to avoid blood. Furthermore, while they could eat whatever they wanted at home, whatever was consecrated to the Lord and was to be used for worship was to be taken to the place of worship to be presented before the Lord. And the blood of the sacrifice was to be poured beside the altar of the Lord.

And the chapter ends with a reminder to be careful to obey the Lord’s regulations.

Application 1

This passage is important for God’s people in every generation, because it reminds you that you’re to worship the Lord alone. Unlike the pagans, who worshipped many gods, you’re to worship the Lord alone, because he’s your Creator and your Redeemer, the one who made you and all other things, and the one who delivers you from your sin and misery by his Son and who has promised you eternal life in his presence. You’re to worship that God and no other god.

And since he’s the one we’re to worship, then our services of worship should be designed to please him. In other words, we’re to worship him according to his will, which he has revealed to us in his word. Moses commanded the people in verse 8 not to do what they had been doing, with everyone doing as he saw fit. And that’s always the temptation for God’s people. Instead of looking to the Lord and his word to direct us how to worship him, we do whatever we see fit or whatever pleases us. Or, as often happens in the modern church, Christians design the service of worship to please unbelievers and to appeal to them. Instead of asking what the Lord requires, many Christians ask what can we do which will attract unbelievers to our services of worship. So, instead of worshipping the Lord according to his word, we’re tempted to worship him according to what pleases ourselves or according to what will please our unbelieving neighbours.

And so, we need to listen to Moses who commanded the Israelites not to do as they had been doing, with everyone doing as he saw fit. Instead they were to obey the Lord and worship him according to his word. Instead of pleasing themselves, they were to seek to please the Lord.

Application 2

And, of course, for the Israelites, worshipping the Lord according to his word meant offering him different kinds of sacrifices. And, according to verse 27, offering sacrifices meant pouring blood beside the altar.

Today, we do not bring animal sacrifices before the Lord, because all those Old Testament sacrifices were for the time being only; and they were to make do until the time came when the Lord Jesus Christ offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins. As the writer of the book of Hebrews makes clear: it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. All of those sacrifices which the Israelites offered on the altar in Jerusalem could not take away their sins. In fact, in a sense they were designed to remind the people that they were sinners; and it taught them to look forward in faith to the time when God would provide the perfect sacrifice for sins. And Christ is the perfect sacrifice, because he laid down his life as the ransom to pay for our sins; and by his blood, shed on the cross, our sin and guilt is wiped away and we are cleansed. He offered himself as the true sacrifice to atone for our sins forever. And through faith in him we are reconciled to God.

And since he offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins, no further sacrifices for sins are required from us. That’s why we don’t offer sacrifice to God today, but instead we remember and we given thanks for the sacrifice which he offered on our behalf. No further sacrifices for sins are required from you, if you believe in Christ. But instead you’re to offer the Lord a sacrifice of praise, which means you’re to confess his name and proclaim what he has done for you. And you’re to offer yourself to him as a living sacrifice. Instead of offering him a dead sacrifice, as the Israelites did, you’re to offer him yourself: you’re to love and serve him always, refusing to conform to the ways of a wicked world, but living your life for his glory.

Application 3

And finally, Moses made clear that the Lord was going to choose one place to be his dwelling-place. And he was going to choose one place, because his dwelling-place on earth was to point upwards to his heavenly dwelling-place. The worshippers in the days of Moses entered an earthly temple, which was only a copy of the true temple in heaven. When they came, they brought animal sacrifices, which were really only a copy of the true sacrifice, which was Christ. And the priests in the earthly temple were really only a copy of your true priest, who is Christ. And Christ your priest has not gone into an earthly copy, but he’s gone into heaven itself, where he appears before the Father on your behalf, to intercede for you.

And by faith in Christ, you too have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. That’s what the writer to the Hebrews tells us. He doesn’t say we will come to Mount Zion, but that we have already come there. We have come there by faith. And the writer to the Hebrews goes on to say that you have come to thousand upon thousand of angels in joyful assembly, and to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. He doesn’t say that you will come to them, but that you have come to them. We have come to them by faith. And he continues: You have come to God, the judge of all men; and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect who are before the Lord and his throne in heaven. And you have come to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood of Christ that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel, because Abel’s blood cried out for judgment, while Christ’s blood cries for mercy.

The Israelites gathered at an earthly temple, which was only a copy of the true, heavenly temple. But by faith, we have come to heaven. And since we have come to heaven by faith, since we belong in the presence of the Lord, we ought to live our lives here on earth in a way that reflects the holiness and the purity and the joy of heaven above.