Chapter 12 of Devarim marks the transition between the commandments about our relationship with God and those that mandate our relationship with our neighbor…
Up until chapter 11, the commandments are mentioned (Heb. Mitzvot), and from chapter 12 to 26 the statutes and rules are numbered (Heb. Chukim v’Mishpatim).
(Deut. 12:1) These are the statutes and rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth.
If God gives the Promised Land to the Israelites, it is not so that they do whatever they want there, but so that they live as God commands.
(Deut. 12:8-10) You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, (9) for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the LORD your God is giving you. (10) But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety
God will not only give them the Land, but He will also help them keep it in prosperity and in security. That is the part God commits to do. Now it is the people’s turn to do their part: keeping the instructions (Heb. Torah) that God has given them, in other words, keeping the commandments, the statutes and the rules, etc.
DESTROY EVERY TRACE OF IDOLATRY
As we’ve mentioned before, the Israelites would enter into a land that had been inhabited already, so they would find built cities and planted fields. The problem was that among all those good things, they would also run into traces of idolatry. So the Lord asked them to make sure to destroy everything related to the idols that the Canaanites left behind.
(Deut. 12:2-3) You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. (3) You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place.
Some people might get the idea of using the altars and the high places that the pagans left behind, to worship Yehovah on those same places; but here they are clearly warned not to do that…
(Deut. 12:4-5) You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way. (5) But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go
Next we will see where that place was; where God chose to put His Name…
AT THE PLACE WHERE GOD CHOSE
Before entering Canaan, the patriarchs made sacrifices to God in several places (for example: Shechem or Betel). They did that because God still hadn’t revealed to them the special place that He had chosen.
The revelation began at the desert with the construction of the Tabernacle, which would serve as a temporary model of what would eventually become the Temple.
(Exodus 25:8-9) And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (9) Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.
The tabernacle was portable and temporary; but there would be a day in which a permanent Sanctuary would be built in the Promised Land. This had already been revealed in the prophetic Song of the Red Sea:
(Ex. 15:17) You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
At the time when Moses spoke the words of Devarim, they still had not been revealed the exact place that God had chosen. That place was: JERUSALEM (Heb. Yerushalayim). The chosen place continued to be a mystery for many years to come… until the time of David.
ONLY SACRIFICE IN JERUSALEM
Although the generation of Moses and Joshua didn’t know that Jerusalem was God’s chosen place, they at least had to know that they couldn’t sacrifice anywhere but in the Sanctuary.
(Deut. 12:6-7) and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. (7) And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the LORD your God has blessed you.
The sacrifices had to be done only in Jerusalem. In the very place where they also had to bring the offerings, tithes, and first fruits, as well as celebrate the feasts. When it speaks about “eating there before Yehovah”, it refers to the Passover Lamb as well as the peace sacrifices, which were the only offerings that had to be partly eaten.
This instruction was so important, that Moses repeats it several times in this chapter:
(Deut. 12:11) then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the LORD.
The sacrifices were not to be done in just any place; and the same applied to the tithes and the offerings, they were not to be done wherever the people pleased, but they had to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. While they had no Temple, they had to bring it to the Tabernacle (Heb. Mishkan). This instruction appears for the first time in Leviticus:
(Lev. 17:2-6) Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them, This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. (3) If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp, (4) and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the LORD in front of the tabernacle of the LORD, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people. (5) This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the open field, that they may bring them to the LORD, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the LORD. (6) And the priest shall throw the blood on the altar of the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting and burn the fat for a pleasing aroma to the LORD.
This was the case for the clean animals, which were normally used for the Temple sacrifices (oxen, lambs, goats). In biblical times, people would not usually eat a lot of meat, and whenever they did, they would do it for a feast or a celebration, because if they killed an animal, its meat would have to be eaten in a matter of hours or days, since they didn’t have any refrigeration to preserve it. Another reason for which they killed animals back in that time was as a sacrifice to the gods. The pagan nations would offer animals to their idols, and then they would eat the meat. They would do this anywhere, but mainly in the high places. That is why it is written:
(Lev. 17:7) So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.
This is why during the time of the apostles, the gentile believers were instructed not to eat “food sacrificed to idols” among other things (Acts 15:29).
God instructed his people not to do the same thing that other nations did. The only place where they could offer sacrifices to God was in the Temple in Jerusalem.
(Deut. 12:13-14) Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see, (14) but at the place that the LORD will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you.
It is not just about going to the place where God indicates, but doing it in the way that God commands (which is outlined in the book of Leviticus).
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE OTHER ANIMALS
The only instance where they were not required to take the animal to the Temple was if it was about game animals or birds (which were allowed to be eaten, but were not to be used as a sacrifice in the Temple, like deer, chicken, etc.)
(Deut. 12:15) However, you may slaughter and eat meat within any of your towns, as much as you desire, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you. The unclean and the clean may eat of it, as of the gazelle and as of the deer.
Interestingly, it also contemplates the issue of the Israelites that lived far from Jerusalem…
(Deut. 12:20-21) When the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he has promised you, and you say, ‘I will eat meat,’ because you crave meat, you may eat meat whenever you desire. (21) If the place that the LORD your God will choose to put his name there is too far from you, then you may kill any of your herd or your flock, which the LORD has given you, as I have commanded you, and you may eat within your towns whenever you desire.
WITHOUT THE BLOOD
Those who wanted to eat meat at their homes had to comply with one condition: the blood had to be spilled on the earth, just as it is written in Leviticus…
(Lev. 17:13-14) Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. (14) For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.
The animals that were offered to Yehovah had to be eaten only in Jerusalem (by the priests, according to their designated portion; and the ones giving the offering, their portion of the peace offerings, Lev. 7).
Devarim also mentions the forbiddance of eating blood:
(Deut. 12:16) Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it out on the earth like water.
Later it says it again:
(Deut. 12:23-25) Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. (24) You shall not eat it; you shall pour it out on the earth like water. (25) You shall not eat it, that all may go well with you and with your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD.
The meat that came from the sacrifices in the Temple could only be eaten by those who were in a state of ritual purity; but those who were unclean could not eat it because they could not appear before the Temple. However, if it was about eating meat at home, anyone could eat it, since it was not done in the context of the sacrifices.
(Deut. 12:22) Just as the gazelle or the deer is eaten, so you may eat of it. The unclean and the clean alike may eat of it.
THE OFFERINGS IN JERUSALEM
Further ahead, Moses explains that in the case of the offerings, tithes, firstfruits and vows, either of animals or of grains, these could only be eaten in Jerusalem…
(Deut. 12:17-18) You may not eat within your towns the tithe of your grain or of your wine or of your oil, or the firstborn of your herd or of your flock, or any of your vow offerings that you vow, or your freewill offerings or the contribution that you present, (18) but you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place that the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your towns. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all that you undertake.
Then again it emphasizes this message:
(Deut. 12:26-27) But the holy things that are due from you, and your vow offerings, you shall take, and you shall go to the place that the LORD will choose, (27) and offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, on the altar of the LORD your God. The blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the LORD your God, but the flesh you may eat.
[Later on we will study about the tithes and offerings in more detail]
DURING THE FEASTS
Generally, the time the Israelites would use to bring their offerings and sacrifices was during the feasts (Lev. 23), when they would go to Jerusalem to celebrate.
(Exodus 23:14-19) Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. (15) You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. (16) You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. (17) Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD. (18) You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my feast remain until the morning. (19) The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
The three convocations to the feasts are linked with a harvest. The Israelites would go to Jerusalem to celebrate and offer the firstfruits to God.
This is why it is written in Devarim:
(Deut. 12:12) And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male servants and your female servants, and the Levite that is within your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.
THE LEVITE’S PORTION
Since the Levites had no land to cultivate, they could not bring the tithe of the harvest. Instead, they would receive the tithes and the offerings, which served as their sustenance. But even from what they received, they were called to give “the tithe of the tithe” (Num. 18:26). Each one gave from what they had, and everything was dedicated to God, but the Lord assigned the portion of the offerings to the Levites.
(Deut. 12:19) Take care that you do not neglect the Levite as long as you live in your land.
THAT ALL MAY GO WELL WITH YOU
All these instructions are not to “limit” God’s people. Although we don’t understand everything, the reality is that all the commandments are to receive blessing…
(Deut. 12:28) Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.
This way of life is very different from the way other nations do things. The Lord knows that Israel will have the temptation of imitating the other nations, but God warns them not to do it, for their own good…
(Deut. 12:29-31) When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, (30) take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ (31) You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.
DO NOT ADD OR TAKE AWAY
This chapter ends with a very important instruction:
(Deut. 12:32) Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.
Jesus clearly said that he did not come to take away, but to fulfill the Law… and to teach us to also keep it… “so that all may go well with us”.
(Matthew 5:17-19) Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (18) For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (19) Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
More lessons on Deuteronomy: DEVARIM (Deut.)