Deuteronomy 12 – The Worship God Commands
A. The place of worship.
1. (1-4) The command to destroy Canaanite places of worship.
These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the LORD your God with such things.
a. You shall utterly destroy all the places: Before anyone can worship God, there must be some places where he will no longer worship. There must be a destruction of the places where the ungodly worship.
i. The practice in the ancient world, which was always short on buildings, was to take a nice building such as a temple previously used to worship a prior god, and simply make it a place to worship one’s own god. The LORD God wanted none of that in His own worship. He commanded that the places of pagan worship be completely destroyed, and that they shall not worship the LORD your God with such things.
ii. This is where the worship of many is corrupted. It isn’t that they worship too little; they worship too much. They worship the LORD, and the things of the world. God doesn’t want such worship. It is an abomination to Him.
iii. Many could really begin to worship God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24), if they would only “destroy” in their hearts their pagan places of worship. Because they give their hearts to so many other things, there is little to give to the LORD.
b. On the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree: Since much of the pagan worship of the Canaanites was a sexualized worship of fertility and nature, their shrines and temples were often in beautiful outdoor settings. God didn’t want Israel to adopt this approach of worshipping the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).
2. (5-9) The command to worship at God’s appointed place.
But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the LORD your God has blessed you. You shall not at all do as we are doing here today; every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you.
a. And there you shall go: Worship was not left to the opinion or whim of the individual Israelite. They had to worship God at His prescribed place, and among other worshippers of God. Worship is not a “do as you please” or a “Lone Ranger” activity.
b. You shall seek the place: It may not be easy to find the place where God wants you to worship, but it is out there. There is a place where He wants you to worship. He has not called you to follow Him in isolation.
c. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices: The place of worship was to be a place of atonement, confession (which was made when hands were laid on the head of the sacrificial victim), and cleansing.
d. There you shall take… your tithes: The place of worship was to be a place of giving. Of course, there were other places where an Israelite could give and be generous but giving had to begin at the place of worship God has appointed.
i. Some have thought that because Deuteronomy 12:6 mentions your tithes, that this is an additional tithe which was commanded of Israel, on top of the tithe commanded in Numbers 18. Some even call this the “festival tithe.” But in context, this passage is only speaking of where to bring the tithe, not commanding an additional one to be brought.
e. There you shall eat before the LORD your God: The place of worship is to be a place of joyful fellowship with God and others.
f. Not at all as we are doing here today – every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes: Before Israel crossed over the Jordan, during the wilderness wanderings, each Israelite pretty much conducted their own worship as they pleased. But God was not really pleased with this; worship was not a matter left up to whatever pleased the individual. Real worship is concerned with what pleases God.
i. Much of what is called worship in today’s church really isn’t worship. It is self-focused, man-focused, and personal-experience-focused instead of being God focused. Much of today’s worship is measured by how I feel instead of being measured by how God was honored and worshipped.
ii. “Singing should be congregational, but it should never be performed for the credit of the congregation. ‘Such remarkable singing! The place is quite renowned for its musical performances!’ This is a poor achievement. Our singing should be such that God hears it with pleasure – singing in which there is not so much art as heart, not so much of musical sound as of spiritual emotion.” (Spurgeon)
3. (10-14) The joy of real worship in God’s appointed place.
But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the LORD. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you. Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but in the place which the LORD chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.
a. There will be the place… the place which the LORD chooses: A particular place is important to worship. The man who tells himself, “I can worship God just as well out on the golf course” is a man doing whatever is right in his own eyes. It is fine for him to worship God out on the golf course; but there must also be a specific place where he comes to worship with God’s people.
i. This goes against the trend of our times. Studies find that among baby-boomers, 70% say that you should attend worship services not out of a sense of duty, but only if it “meets your needs.” 80% say you can be a good Christian without attending church.
b. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God: Worship at God’s appointed place must be marked with joy. It is a good thing to come and honor our God and should be done with pleasure and joy.
i. “All Christian duties should be done joyfully; but especially the work of praising the Lord. I have been in congregations where the tune was dolorous to the very last degree; where the time was so dreadfully slow that one wondered whether they would ever be able to sing through the 119 Psalm; whether, to use Watt’s expression, eternity would not be too short from them to get through it; and altogether, the spirit of the people has seemed to be so damp, so heavy, so dead, that we might have supposed that they were met to prepare their minds for a hanging rather than for blessing the ever-gracious God.” (Charles Spurgeon, Praise Thy God, O Zion)
ii. “We ought not to worship God in a half-hearted sort of way; as if it were now our duty to bless God, but we felt it to be a weary business, and we would get it through as quickly as we could, and have done with it; and the sooner the better. No, no; ‘All that is within me, bless his holy name.’ Come, my heart, wake up, and summon all the powers which wait upon thee! Mechanical worship is easy, but worthless. Come rouse yourself, my brother! Rouse thyself, O my own soul!” (Spurgeon)
c. And you shall rejoice: The emphasis on shall shows that rejoicing is commanded. It is also commanded in the New Testament; Rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5:16); Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4). If you can’t rejoice out of feeling like it, then rejoice out of being commanded.
i. “No one duty is more pressed in both the Testaments, than this of rejoicing in the Lord always, but specially in his immediate services.” (Trapp)
B. The practice of worship.
1. (15-28) Things permitted and prohibited in regard to butchering animals, sacrificing animals, and respecting the sanctity of blood.
However, you may slaughter and eat meat within all your gates, whatever your heart desires, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you; the unclean and the clean may eat of it, of the gazelle and the deer alike. Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it on the earth like water. You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or your new wine or your oil, of the firstborn of your herd or your flock, of any of your offerings which you vow, of your freewill offerings, or of the heave offering of your hand. But you must eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God chooses, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all to which you put your hands. Take heed to yourself that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land. When the LORD your God enlarges your border as He has promised you, and you say, “Let me eat meat,” because you long to eat meat, you may eat as much meat as your heart desires. If the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, then you may slaughter from your herd and from your flock which the LORD has given you, just as I have commanded you, and you may eat within your gates as much as your heart desires. Just as the gazelle and the deer are eaten, so you may eat them; the unclean and the clean alike may eat them. Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life; you may not eat the life with the meat. You shall not eat it; you shall pour it on the earth like water. You shall not eat it, that it may go well with you and your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD. Only the holy things which you have, and your vowed offerings, you shall take and go to the place which the LORD chooses. And you shall offer your burnt offerings, the meat and the blood, on the altar of the LORD your God; and the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the LORD your God, and you shall eat the meat. Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.
a. You may slaughter and eat meat within all your gates: In the ancient world, almost every time an animal was butchered it was sacrificed to a god. Here, the LORD made it clear that not every slaughtered animal was considered a sacrifice to Him.
b. You may not eat within your gates the tithe… the firstlings of your herd… your freewill offerings, or of the heave offerings: This shows that animals which were offered in sacrifice, even if the one offering was to eat a portion, could only be killed at God’s appointed place of worship.
c. Only be sure that you do not eat the blood: Since the blood was the picture of life in any animal or man (for the blood is the life), God would not allow Israel to eat meat that had not been properly bled. Instead, it was to be given to God by pouring it out on the earth.
2. (29-32) The worship of God must be pure.
When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, “How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.” You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.
a. That you do not inquire after their gods: Israel was commanded to guard itself against a sinful curiosity (How did these nations serve their gods?). There is an old proverb that says curiosity killed the cat, but ungodly curiosity has also killed many spiritual lives.
b. You shall not worship the LORD your God that way: God would not accept just any offering of worship. He had to be worshipped in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24)
c. They burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods: This referred to the practice of Molech worship, where Canaanites offered up their children by placing them alive on a burning hot metal statue of Molech, while drum beats drowned out the screams of the tortured infants.
i. Israel had a tragic history of following after this horrible god Molech.
· At the least, Solomon sanctioned the worship of Molech, building a temple to this idol (1 Kings 11:7).
· King Ahaz of Judah gave his own son to Molech (2 Kings 16:3).
· One of the great crimes of the northern tribes of Israel was their worship of Molech, leading to the Assyrian captivity (2 Kings 17:17).
· King Manasseh of Judah gave his son to Molech (2 Kings 21:6).
· Up to the days of King Josiah of Judah, Molech worship continued, because he destroyed a place of worship to that idol (2 Kings 23:10).
d. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it: The standard for worship was reflected in God’s Word – not in human preference or opinion.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission