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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Deuteronomy 12

B. An exposition of selected covenant laws Chs. 12-25

Moses’ continuing homiletical exposition of the Law of Israel that follows explains reasons for the covenant laws that arose from the Ten Commandments. This address concludes with directions for celebrating and confirming the covenant (Deuteronomy 26:1-15). The section contains a mixture of laws previously revealed to the Israelites and other laws not previously revealed in the code given at Sinai (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:19). This is instruction preached rather than codified as comprehensive legislation.

"The specific laws in this section were given to help the people subordinate every area of their lives to the LORD, and to help them eradicate whatever might threaten that pure devotion." [Note: Deere, p. 283.]

"Placement of the instruction about worship at the sanctuary in first position indicates clearly its priority for Deuteronomy, which assumes that the starting point for the proper, full, and exclusive love of the Lord (the primary demand of the first and second commandments and the Shema) is found in the way Israel carries out the activities of worship." [Note: Miller, p. 129.]

There is an obvious general movement from laws dealing with Israel’s religious life (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17) to those affecting her civil life (Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 22:8) and finally to those touching personal life (Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 26:15).

Two insightful writers suggested the following outlines for these chapters. [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, pp. 218-331; and Stephen A. Kaufman, "The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law," MAARAV 1 (1978-79):105-58.]

CommandmentMerrillKaufmanDescription
1Deuteronomy 12:1-31ch. 12Fidelity
2Deuteronomy 12:32 to Deuteronomy 13:18ch. 12Worship
3Deuteronomy 14:1-21Deuteronomy 13:1 to Deuteronomy 14:27Name of God
4Deuteronomy 14:22 to Deuteronomy 16:17Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 16:17Sabbath
5Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Authority
6Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Murder
7Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:18Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:19Adultery
8Deuteronomy 23:19 to Deuteronomy 24:7Deuteronomy 23:20 to Deuteronomy 24:7Theft
9Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4False witness
10Deuteronomy 25:5-19Deuteronomy 25:5-16Coveting

". . . the entire second discourse of Moses (Deuteronomy 5-26) is a single literary unit that convincingly demonstrates that the moral law informs the statutes, judgments . . . and commands of God." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 129.]

In contrast with the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20-23), the Deuteronomic Code, as some scholars prefer to call this section (chs. 12-26), is a popular exposition rather than a formal legal code. Its purpose was to explain to the generation entering the land all the laws that needed clarification, emphasis, and application, in view of Israel’s imminent entrance into Canaan. These laws reflect a centralized, monarchical society.

The value of this section of Scripture to the Christian today lies primarily in its revelation of the heart, mind, and will of God. The modern student of these chapters should look for this kind of insight here. This is the revelatory value of the Law.

Verses 1-14

The central sanctuary 12:1-14

When Israel entered the land the people were to destroy all the places and objects used in pagan worship by the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 12:2-4). Pagan peoples generally have felt that worshipping on elevated sites brings them into closer contact with their gods than is the case when they worship in low-lying places, unless those places had been the sites of supernatural events. The Canaanites typically visualized their gods as being above them.

"’Places’ (hammeqomot) is a quasi-technical term referring to sites thought to be holy because of a special visitation by deity. These were usually in groves of trees (representing fertility) and on high hills, esteemed by the very height to be in closer proximity to the gods. In contrast to such ’places’ would be the ’place’ where the Lord must be worshipped. Seven times (Deuteronomy 12:5; Deuteronomy 12:11; Deuteronomy 12:13-14; Deuteronomy 12:18; Deuteronomy 12:21; Deuteronomy 12:26) this single place (maqom) is mentioned in this passage in which the exclusiveness of the Lord is emphasized." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 220.]

"The centralization requirement must also be understood in terms of Deuteronomy’s nature as a suzerainty treaty. Such treaties prohibited the vassal’s engaging in any independent diplomacy with a foreign power other than the covenant suzerain. In particular, the vassal must not pay tribute to any other lord. Similarly, all the requirements and prohibitions of Deuteronomy 12 were calculated to secure for the Lord all Israel’s tributary sacrifice and offering. Israel must not pay any sacrificial tribute to other gods, for such an impossible attempt to serve two masters would be rebellion against the great commandment of God’s covenant." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 171.]

Israel was only to worship Yahweh at the one central sanctuary that He had appointed, the tabernacle, and later the temple (Deuteronomy 12:5-14).

"The emphasis is not upon one place so much as it is upon the place the Lord chooses. . . . The central activity of Israel’s life, the worship of the Lord, is fully shaped and determined by the Lord." [Note: Miller, pp. 131-32.]

This law governed public worship. Israelites could, of course, pray to God anywhere. This restriction distinguished Yahweh worship from Canaanite worship that was polytheistic and pantheistic. Later in Israel’s history the people broke this law and worshipped God at various "high places." The "high places" were sites of pagan worship or places modeled after them (1 Kings 14:23; 1 Kings 15:14; 1 Kings 22:43; et al.).

"The contrast with Canaanite worship, with its multitude of temples and open-air shrines (Deuteronomy 12:2), is enormous. It is a very common pattern for conquerors and invaders of a country to take over old shrines for their own forms of worship . . ." [Note: David F. Payne, Deuteronomy, p. 79.]

The tabernacle was to be the place of Israel’s national worship because God’s name was there (Deuteronomy 12:5). That is, God manifested His immediate presence there as nowhere else in Israel. When the Israelites came to the tabernacle, they came to God. The Israelites erected the tabernacle first in the land at Gilgal (Joshua 4:19; Joshua 5:10; Joshua 9:6; et al.). [Note: See Daniel I. Block, "The Joy of Worship: The Mosaic Invitation to the Presence of God (Deuteronomy 12:1-14)," Bibliotheca Sacra 162:646 (April-June 2005):131-49.]

Verses 1-31

1. Laws arising from the first commandment 12:1-31

The first commandment is, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Deuteronomy 5:7). The legislation that follows deals with worshipping Yahweh exclusively.

Verses 15-19

God explained that in the Promised Land the Israelites could slay and eat clean animals at their homes. They did not need to slaughter them at the tabernacle, as He required them to do in the wilderness (cf. Leviticus 17:3-6).

Verses 15-28

Regulations concerning blood 12:15-28

Verses 20-32

The laws just given were to remain in force even though God would enlarge Israel’s territory after the nation entered the land. This enlargement would take place as the Israelites gradually drove the Canaanites out (Deuteronomy 7:22). It would come to them as God would give them additional territory as a reward for faithful obedience to Him (Exodus 23:27-33).

Verses 29-31

Pagan gods 12:29-31

The Israelites were not to investigate the pagan religious practices of the Canaanites with a view to worshipping their gods or following their example in the worship of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 12:30; cf. Romans 16:19; Ephesians 5:12). Moses developed this idea further in the next chapter. This pericope is transitional, moving from the worship of Yahweh (ch. 12) to the worship of idols (ch. 13). Chapter 12 opens and closes with warnings against pagan religion.

How does God want His people to worship Him? His people should worship Him exclusively and only as He has instructed us (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 22:19; John 4:20-23).

The prophet or receiver of a dream 12:32-13:5

The last verse of chapter 12 in the English Bible is the first verse of chapter 13 in the Hebrew Bible. It introduces what follows.

God permitted some prophets (people who claimed to have direct revelation from God, or to speak for God, or who praised God) to arise in Israel and perform miracles (Deuteronomy 12:1), even though they advocated apostasy from Yahweh. The primary meaning of "prophet" (Heb. nabi’) is "proclaimer" or "forth-teller" (cf. Exodus 4:15-16; Exodus 7:1) [Note: J. Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel, pp. 36-38.] A prophet was, then, a spokesman for God who represented Him before other people. [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 230.] God permitted prophets to utter false prophecies to test His people’s love (Deuteronomy 12:3), specifically, to see if they would remain loyal to Him. The acid test of a false prophet was his or her fidelity to the Mosaic Covenant. If he led the people away from God, the civil authorities were to put him to death (Deuteronomy 12:5). Some false prophets would foretell the future since they received this information from the evil spirit world (e.g., diviners, soothsayers, etc.). Some of them could even perform signs and wonders (supernatural acts), which would appear to substantiate their claim that their power came from God. Enticement to idolatry was a very serious crime in Israel. [Note: See Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, ch. 7: "False Prophecy in Israel," for a good discussion of this subject.]

2. Laws arising from the second commandment 12:32-13:18

The second commandment is, "You shall not make for yourself an image or any likeness . . . [to] worship them or serve them . . ." (Deuteronomy 5:8-10). The writer mentioned three different cases in this section.

"In the ancient suzerainty treaties it was required of the vassal that he must not connive at evil words spoken against the suzerain, whether they amounted to an affront or to a conspiracy. The vassal must report the insult or the fomenting of revolt. In case of active rebellion, he must undertake military measures against the offenders. Moreover, he must manifest fidelity to his lord in such cases no matter who the rebel might be, whether prince or nearest relative. All of this finds its formal counterpart in Deuteronomy 13." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 172.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 12". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/deuteronomy-12.html. 2012.