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Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
by Peter Pett
Commentary on Deuteronomy
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
Part 1. (Chapters Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 4:43 ).
Introduction to Deuteronomy.
(For those who simply wish to study Deuteronomy verse by verse without regard to its important context this introduction, which is rather long, can be omitted, but it will be referred to in the commentary and we would advise that it be read. It is written in order to give the background to the book, to consider in more detail some of the questions that will arise when studying Deuteronomy, to explain its framework as a covenant, and in order to consider its essential Mosaic authorship).
That Deuteronomy is essentially Mosaic is declared in the book, which claims to record the words of Moses (Deuteronomy 1:5; Deuteronomy 1:9; Deuteronomy 5:1; Deuteronomy 27:1; Deuteronomy 27:8; Deuteronomy 29:2; Deuteronomy 31:1; Deuteronomy 31:30; Deuteronomy 33:1) and specifically records that ‘he wrote’ at least a part of it (Deuteronomy 31:9; Deuteronomy 31:22; Deuteronomy 31:24). As morally speaking it is too grand and ethical book to be based on deception, however excused, this claim must be treated seriously. Someone with the type of conscience revealed in the book could never have knowingly deceived others. And as we shall see in the commentary there are further indications in the speeches of the fact that these were the very words of Moses. Certainly its early date is stressed by the fact that in it there is no mention of the ‘high places’ (bamoth) which were so common a feature of later religious life, and so condemned by the prophets. They were clearly unknown to the writer. There is also no mention of Baal by name. Both these facts suggest, although do not finally prove, an early date.
Furthermore the clear chiastic pattern that pervades throughout the book passage by passage points to one overall author and militates powerfully against the idea of a number of redactors. It demonstrates that apart possibly from a very occasional minimal insertion the final author was the overall author, who manipulated any sources that he used into his own pattern. And the same pattern in Exodus and Numbers may be seen as suggesting unity of authorship in those books.
Other Old Testament books also assert the essential Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy demonstrating the strong tradition supporting the claim (see 1 Kings 2:3; 1 Kings 8:53; 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Kings 18:6; 2 Kings 18:12). No one ever thought that they were written by anyone other than Moses. More importantly Jesus Christ Himself saw the Pentateuch as the writings of Moses (John 5:46-47), as without error (Matthew 5:17-18), and indicated Moses’ connection with Deuteronomy (Matthew 19:7-8; Mark 10:3-5). See also Peter (Acts 3:22), Stephen (Acts 7:37-38), Paul (Romans 10:19; 1 Corinthians 9:9), and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:28).
That is not, however, to deny that he used a scribe (or scribes) to assist him, who may well have mainly been his ‘servant’ Joshua, and/or Eliezer the Priest. ‘Moses wrote’ could well signify ‘caused to be written’ under his supervision, for that was usual in those days. This may be seen as confirmed by the fact that someone living at the time recorded that Moses ‘made an end of writing the words of this law in a book’ (Deuteronomy 31:24), and that it included an account of his death. While both could have been written by Moses, it seems far more probable that the words of Deuteronomy were the words of Moses, and the recording that of his scribe who also provided under God part of the overall literary style of the book and its framework (Deuteronomy 34:5-7).
It is no secret that the authorship of Moses has been questioned, we might even say subjected to a battery of criticism, and yet it has stood this test remarkably well to such an extent that it has still not been demonstrated that it is not genuinely true. There are still genuine scholars who argue cogently for the essential Mosaicity of the book. Given the forces of scholarship that have been arrayed against it, this must be seen as in itself a testimony to its authenticity, especially as the opposing scholars cannot agree among themselves, differing so widely that once we start to speculate it makes anything and any date possible.
That the Bible has shaped Western civilisation, in spite of the fact that its requirements have then basically been ignored, cannot be questioned. And it is a remarkable fact that such is its importance that in large parts of the world whole departments of universities, containing some of the astutest minds in that world, both devout and antagonistic, have concentrated on and are concentrating on its study. Given that, we would have expected it to disintegrate (some have certainly tried to make it do so) if it were not genuinely what it claims to be. But the fact is rather that it has flourished, and its message is still sought today as much as ever before.
But, it may be asked, have we solid grounds for thinking that Moses would have put these things in book form? The answer is a resounding ‘yes!’. For after the first ‘major’ battle after crossing the Reed Sea God specifically told Moses to record what had happened as a memorial for the future (Exodus 17:14). From that command it was hardly a step of unimaginable brilliance for him then to recognise how important such a history could be, and to see that God approved of the idea, which would make it reasonably certain that he would continue to record subsequent events, especially when he came to know that they would be in the wilderness for forty years prior to entering the land. This was especially so as later he would make that history the basis for urging the invasion of the land of Canaan, and it was common in his world to record basic covenants with their historical background in writing. We have other references to his recording information in writing as well (Exodus 24:4-8; Exodus 34:27; Numbers 33:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:9; Deuteronomy 31:22; Deuteronomy 31:24), and it was hardly something that needed to be mentioned every time he wrote. The assumption to any sensible person would be that God wanted him to record important events.
Added to this is the fact that there was a strong tendency among ancient peoples to record covenants made through theophanies in writing. The covenant would be recorded together with its surrounding history. The covenant principle is prominent in the Pentateuch. It can be argued that every chapter in Genesis up to the time of Joseph is based on a covenant saying. Furthermore covenant ideas underlie Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, and that the covenant idea is especially emphasised in Deuteronomy is clear.
To appreciate the book of Deuteronomy it is vital to first appreciate the circumstances under which it was written.
The Background To The Book.
All had begun with Abraham who had responded to God’s call to leave his homeland and had travelled down from the north to Canaan because of God’s instruction. He came to ‘the place’ (maqom) of Shechem (note Deuteronomy 11:0; Deuteronomy 27:0). Initially God (Yahweh) made promises to Abraham in the form of what we call a ‘covenant’, that is, in this case, an agreement made by a Superior arising from His lovingkindness, and declared to His beneficiary, and responded to by him. This covenant stated among other things that one day He would give to Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan (see Genesis 12:0 onwards), because he had obeyed Yahweh’s voice, left his home and his family and come to the land of Canaan in response to God’s call. This promise was repeated to Isaac and Jacob/Israel. The complementary inference in Genesis 15:16 is that any who were unworthy, who were idolaters and not responsive to the covenant, would one day be excluded from the land.
This idea of the gift of the land, and what it required in return, is prominent all through Deuteronomy, and is the basis of much of its argument. This is especially so in the legal section, where it is emphasised that because God has graciously given them the land and has delivered them from Egypt and brought them there, they must respond similarly. Thus the doctrine of presence in the land, and also therefore, in contrast, warnings of exclusion from the land, are firmly based in the Abrahamic covenant. The stress is on the fact that the land is to be given to those who serve Yahweh fully, who faithfully respond to the covenant, while those who do not respond will be excluded from the land. Later in Scripture this idea will expand into inclusion or exclusion from the Kingly Rule of God.
After a time, as a result of a severe and extended famine, and as a result of God’s activities through Joseph, Jacob’s family with their households of servants left Canaan, the land that God had promised them, and settled in the great land of Egypt to the south of Canaan, one of the great powers of the ancient world. There they expanded and grew. But eventually they came into disfavour in Egypt and were oppressed and virtually enslaved. However, God saw their need and by the hand of Moses delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt by mighty acts of power (see Exodus 1:1 onwards). He did this in fulfilment of His promises to their fathers (Exodus 2:24 and often). And now after many adventures He had brought them back to the very edge of the promised land, the land ‘flowing with milk and honey’, the land which provided both necessity and luxury, His land.
These mighty acts were brought about by their great leader and prophet Moses whom God had raised up for this purpose. But the people he led were now a total mixture. As well as the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel, together with their households (which themselves were a mixture of races, consider for example Eliezer the Damascene (Genesis 15:1) and Hagar the Egyptian (Genesis 16:1)), who had gone down to Egypt (Exodus 1:1), they had left Egypt accompanied by a ‘mixed multitude’ from many nations (Exodus 12:38) who were taking the opportunity to get away, and they would all have customs of their own. Thus he had the difficult task of blending these people together into one nation. In order to do this it would be necessary in a fairly short time to rid them of their idolatrous connections, connections which were also prevalent among many of the Israelites (Joshua 24:14), unify their major laws and bring them all together into a unified cultus. The process would necessarily commence as soon as they had left Egypt, as indeed we are told (Exodus 15:25).
This was given a great boost forwards at Mount Sinai in Horeb, when God appeared in vivid manifestation and declared His overlordship covenant with them, binding them all together as one in the covenant, and adding to this His various covenant stipulations (Exodus 19:1 onwards). As a result of this covenant a Central Sanctuary was set up in the form of a magnificent tent which was called God’s ‘dwellingplace’ (mishkan, often translated ‘tabernacle’) at which Yahweh was worshipped. This was to be the centre of their worship, and the focus of the covenant. The covenant process would later be sealed with the covenant seal of circumcision for all who opted into the covenant (Genesis 17:0; Exodus 12:48-49), once they entered the land (Joshua 5:2-9). Thus were these conglomerate people all united together as one.
One aspect of these laws that were promulgated needs to be borne in mind. In the majority of nations such laws were seen as a guide rather than as a binding requirement. Thus a judge when considering his cases might look to law codes for assistance but he did not feel himself bound by them. The code of Hammurabi, for example, was not strictly applied. It was seen as giving general guidance, interpreted by local custom. Local judges did not carry a copy under their arm.
However, Israel had, alongside general law exemplified by particular examples, ‘if a man --- then ---’ (case law or casuistic law), an almost unique form of law often called apodictic law, where the law was given as a direct command (e.g. ‘You shall not steal, you shall not murder’). In this case the law was seen as having come directly from God and therefore as being more binding and more sacred. It was only, however, in days when religious zeal was high that such laws were seen fully in that way. At other times their effectiveness was blunted. The fact therefore that a law was not fulfilled in practise did not mean that the law did not exist. Local circumstances could change. Customs sometimes took precedence over law. At other times compromise could be accepted, or expediency was brought to bear. A particular law might not be brought to mind, or might be interpreted in the light of different customs. For most would be depending on memory, and however good that was it could not compare with the written record, and it could be affected by prejudice and wishful thinking.
By the time this book was written the majority of the original ‘strangers’ (non-Israelites) would, as a result of Sinai, have been fused into the twelve tribes, and have become ‘descendants of Jacob’. It is also indicates that in the process of fusing them together and of running the ‘camp’ from day to day Moses has gradually built up a mass of statutes and ordinances which he and they saw as revealed to him by God. These commenced even before Sinai (Exodus 15:25), and were extended at Sinai, and continued afterwards as the details of the Law had to be unfolded. And a moment’s thought will bring home the necessity for them. Uniformity of behaviour would be a necessity for their survival. That in the early days all this was concentrated in the hands of Moses is made clear (Exodus 18:0), and even after that major decisions which required a new interpretations were to be left in his hands (Exodus 18:22).
We are specifically told that he continually received revelations from God (Exodus 33:11; Numbers 7:89). And that many of these revelations were later put together by him or Joshua in the final part of Exodus, and in Numbers, and also in the book of Leviticus, which was basically a manual of religious and ethical ordinances (all part of the covenant), is emphasised by continual phrases like, ‘and Yahweh said to Moses’. By this means Yahweh revealed His will for His people, and provided the means by which when they entered the land they could keep separate from the depraved religion of those in the land, and by which they could maintain a theocratic society, governed by the people under God and under the oversight of the Central Sanctuary, which was ensured through their continued individual holding of the land. This individual holding of the land was to be maintained by a year of Yubile, which was to take place every forty nine (seven time seven) years, a year in which all land would return to its original owners, so that the land remained in widespread ownership. This was to be so because it was God’s land. Other statutes and ordinances were promulgated or expanded on in the book of Numbers, which also provides further details of their wilderness journey. They were all seen as God’s ‘instruction’ (torah).
It is clear from these writings that humanly speaking they were to some extent built up as they went along, and were then seemingly brought together with minimum change, thus sometimes seeming a little haphazard and disjointed, but while modern legislators might have spent considerable time in putting them together in one continuous narrative, rewriting them and blending them together in sections and subsections, this was not the ancient way, as is demonstrated quite clearly in a number of law codes from elsewhere.
In saying this, however, we must not suggest that they were totally haphazard. We should note, for example, the careful overall structure of Leviticus which brings order to seeming chaos. And the sections in Numbers outlining different laws were not just fitted into the context haphazardly. Indeed both Exodus and Numbers can clearly be seen to be based on a chiastic framework, which was a typical ancient approach and confirms the essential unity of the narrative (see our commentaries on those books). And there were no doubt basic reasons why sections were placed where they were, even if we may not fully agree on what they were. In fact the reason that sometimes they might not fit exactly together was precisely because of an unwillingness to alter the original sources to suit. They were cited as they were. They are thus the more reliable.
That Moses spent much time before God, receiving His inspiration, is referred to constantly. He received guidance at Marah (Exodus 15:25-26), further guidance during the time at Sinai (Exodus 19:3; Exodus 20:21; Exodus 24:12-18; Exodus 32:31; Exodus 34:2) and then constantly in daily life, first in the old Tent of meeting (Exodus 33:9-11) and then later in connection with the tabernacle (e.g. Numbers 7:89). Joshua also was a witness to much of it (Exodus 24:13) and kept busy with tasks not described to us (Exodus 33:11) which could well have included recording the words of God. This pattern would not cease when the tabernacle was built (Numbers 7:89). Thus Moses’ forty days with God in the Mount was a period of reflection and revelation (Exodus 24:12-18), something which continued on constantly as he brought his great gifts to bear on dealing with the problems of his people (Exodus 33:9-11). We may well argue that the necessities of the circumstances, and the fact that these were seen as a part of the covenant and as the result of theophanies, would ensure that they were recorded in writing.
But the problem was that when the people arrived at the borders of the land and heard about the opposition in the land awaiting them their faith failed and they refused to go forwards (Numbers 13-14). They turned their back on their covenant responsibility. Then when they shortly afterwards made a feeble attempt to enter the land they were driven out. This was inevitable. It followed the principle that God had laid down from the beginning. That if they were disobedient they would be excluded from the land. As they were no longer entering as a covenant people, the land could not receive a disobedient people. The result was that they remained in the wilderness for a further thirty eight years, first at Kadesh, and then by circling around the wilderness area, surviving on the manna and on what they could otherwise gather.
Details of the encampments of their wandering are given in Numbers 33:0 where Numbers 33:18 refers to Hazaroth (compare Numbers 11:35) from where they first went to Kadesh in the Wilderness of Paran (Numbers 13:26). But this first visit to Kadesh is not mentioned in Numbers 33:0, for it was something that was a deep shame as a result of the failure to enter the land and needed to be blotted out. It was a shame which had to be excised from that record. But we know where it probably should have been mentioned, for it would directly have followed the arrival at Hazaroth (Numbers 33:18; compare Numbers 12:16; Numbers 13:3 with Numbers 13:26). The places that follow in Numbers 33:18-36 were thus clearly visited after that episode and prior to their second arrival at Kadesh (Numbers 33:36). They are listed, from Rithmah to Ezion-Geber. For the few incidents mentioned concerning this period see Numbers 15:1 to Numbers 20:1, but little is really known about it.
However, that dreadful time had now passed. The generation that had failed had virtually passed away. The new Israel, responsive to the covenant, and never having known any other leadership than that of Moses, had therefore now to be encouraged to go forward so that they could invade Canaan from the east. That had been the main purpose behind the writing of Numbers (see the commentary on Numbers). And now like any good general Moses gathered them together a number of times on the way in order to harangue them and enthuse them with a view to the coming campaign. That is what Deuteronomy is all about.
He especially wanted to bring home to this new generation in a new way the details of the covenant given at Sinai to their fathers, the spectacular giving of which would still linger in the minds of the oldest of them, from their childhood memories, and its importance for their future success. However, his aim was not just to repeat the covenant in all its detail, but in order to bring home to them in what way the covenant was for them personally. He wanted to exhort them to obedience to Yahweh and to assure them that God had covenanted to give them the land, and further to point out that in return He expected them to respond to the covenant and be faithful to it. If they did not, he stressed, they too would be driven out of God’s land. There could be no place in the land for the disobedient.
The Speeches of Moses.
Deuteronomy claims to contain speeches of Moses. It is these speeches that we find recorded in it. His first speech is a long description of Israel’s recent history since the days at Sinai, a kind of preamble to the main speech (Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 4:44), which was itself in mini-covenant form. In his second speech in chapters Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 29:1 he then moves on to provide the basis of the covenant of Sinai as now renewed with the people in the Plains of Moab, explaining it in a popular way with emphasis on what applied to the people as a whole, rather than from a legalistic point of view. This covenant is given in chapters Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 29:1. It commences with ‘These are the testimonies, the statutes and the ordinances which Moses spoke to the children of Israel --’ (Deuteronomy 4:45) and ends with ‘these are the words of the covenant which Yahweh commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant that He had made with them at Horeb (Sinai)’ (Deuteronomy 29:1). This may well originally have once been a written record in itself, with the first statement being its heading, and the last its colophon identifying the tablet or papyrus or leather scroll. Chapters Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 4:44 may be seen as another such tablet. But the clear connections between the two demonstrate that they belong together.
And as regularly with Moses, when written down the whole was put together in covenant form, a favourite methodology of his (compare Leviticus 18-19 and consider Exodus 20-24). Indeed the structure of Deuteronomy is such that, while containing covenants within the covenant in more than one speech, it is presented in the form of one long covenant based on the pattern of second millennium treaties and law codes.
It is very probable that the actual recording of the main details was by the young man who was his ‘servant’ from earlier days, the young man Joshua (Exodus 17:14; Exodus 24:13; Exodus 33:11), who by now was himself a mature, ageing and important man, but the source of the information we can only see as being Moses himself as the book itself makes abundantly clear (Deuteronomy 1:1; Deuteronomy 31:9; Deuteronomy 31:24). This is not to deny that later scribes may have added minor explanatory comments in order to explain things which by then may have been obscure, but there is no reason for thinking that they were major alterations nor that they altered the essential meaning of the text. They were explanatory or with a view to updating (as was normal with ancient literature) rather than expansionist, for the words would in general have been seen as too holy to tamper with. Nor is it to deny that the language may have been updated (as someone today might update Chaucer) in order to keep it readable and understandable. For the important thing was that its message should be understood. But reverence for its source would prevent this exercise from distorting it. It would be constantly read over at the festal gatherings, which in the worst times were clearly attended by the faithful, and the old and the wise would note anything that they thought varied its message.
The Deuteronomic Stress.
For it should be noted that it is quite apparent on reading it that the legal information provided in Deuteronomy is supplementary and has very much in mind the people’s side of things. It is not detailed enough in itself to provide a full coverage of God’s instruction, but draws on such a coverage in order to apply its own lessons. Indeed it is such that it could only be understood and carried into action by those who already had a background in the customs and laws of Israel, which it assumes.
In Deuteronomy the details of the cult are only described very secondarily and no great stress is placed on priestly activity and priestly responsibilities. And yet both are assumed. It is rather a popular presentation of God’s Instruction (Torah) as it related to the whole people. And this fact is the death knell to any theory that suggests that it was written specifically in order to encourage specific reforms at a later date, especially in connection with the Temple, for it was simply not detailed enough. Anyone writing such a document with reforms in mind would have ensured that fuller details were given within it so that it was sufficient in itself, and that it was written in a way to guide those who read it in the correct forms that should be followed. As a forceful presentation of a covenant to the people, the details of which have already been given, it is powerful; as a reforming document it is quite inadequate.
Indeed Deuteronomy is not only portrayed as a record of speeches by Moses, but bears all the marks of the weaknesses of such speeches, that they summarise and assume a background knowledge which is necessary in order to understand the details given in the speeches. Unless this background was known they would appear sparse and even contradictory, and be largely unintelligible. For a speech is no place for going into too much detail, and for too much precision, and we find this clearly revealed in Deuteronomy. It is exhortatory rather than precise.
Deuteronomy was written as preparatory to entering the land. Thus in it there is a great emphasis laid on the prosperity awaiting them there (Deuteronomy 6:10-11; Deuteronomy 7:13-15; Deuteronomy 8:7-13; Deuteronomy 11:11-12; Deuteronomy 11:14-15; Deuteronomy 12:20). But there are also frequent warnings of its accompanying dangers, and of the grave danger of their succumbing to idolatrous practises, a warning which permeates all the way through the book in many different ways. Moses had learned a salutary lesson from the molten calf at Sinai. If Israel had tended to stray while in the wilderness, and even at the covenant mountain itself (Exodus 32:0), and he had received a further warning concerning this at Baal-peor (Numbers 25:0), how dangerous it was going to be when they entered a land full of idolatry of the worst kind. One of its central messages is therefore that all idolatry is to be driven out of the land, whether that of Canaanites or of Israel.
We are also introduced to new ideas which expand on the old, and put an emphasis on their coming prosperity, bringing an ordered pattern to the future. For example, each third year and seventh year were to be utilised in order to bless the poor and the stranger (Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 15:11), so that the poor would always be catered for, and this because they would all so prosper in the land.
Three and seven were both significant numbers in ancient times, signifying completeness and divine perfection. And seven was already uniquely significant in Israel as a measure of time periods without reference to outside phenomena (such as sun and moon) in the giving of the Sabbath, which occurred every seven days regardless of natural phenomena (Exodus 16:0; Exodus 20:10). It was God-ordered and God-controlled, and thus had to be split up into such sevenfold periods. For this idea of sevenfoldness not only applied to the Sabbath, but also to very seventh year, and to every seven times seven (the year of Yubile).
Thus they also already knew about the sabbatical year, which was to occur every seven years, and which was to be a year of blessing for all, in which the produce of the fields was made free to all, and in which the ground itself, which ‘worked’ for them, was given opportunity to rest (Exodus 23:10-11). In Exodus it had clearly been connected with the weekly Sabbath (Exodus 23:12), which was to enable the rest for their servants who worked for them (Deuteronomy 5:14; Leviticus 25:1-7). Well, he says in Deuteronomy, a further factor is added. It was now, along with every third year and sixth year, to be a blessing to the poor, and was to be a Year of Release for debtors (Deuteronomy 15:1-3; Deuteronomy 15:9; compare Deuteronomy 31:10). This, in association with the three yearly cycle for providing for the needy, would control poverty in Israel so that the poor too could have rest (Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 15:11). So all needy people were to benefit from both three and seven year cycles within the overall care and concern of God.
Moses had by this time no doubt had ample opportunity to see the burden that debt placed on some of his people, as he acted as their mediator and judge, and he recognised that it would expand once they were in the land. Thus he made prior provision for it so that it would not destroy the unity of Israel and be an offence to Yahweh.
They already knew that their tithes of one tenth of their produce had had to be set apart for Yahweh (Leviticus 27:30-33) and had had to be made available to the Levites with a tenth part of that going to the priests (Numbers 18:21-24; Numbers 18:26-28). But due to the prosperity in the land this tithe was going to produce far more than the Levites could possibly need. So while their tithes were now to continue being set aside to Yahweh (Deuteronomy 12:6; Deuteronomy 12:11; Deuteronomy 12:17-18), in the light of the prosperity anticipated in the land and the resulting huge growth in the quantity of content in the tenth of that product, especially as a result of the fruitfulness of the land, some of this was also to be used in order for all to enjoy celebratory meals before Yahweh at the great feasts (Deuteronomy 14:22-23; Deuteronomy 15:19-20). Furthermore every third year it was to benefit the poor and aliens as well as the Levites (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; Deuteronomy 26:12-13). There would, of course, still be plenty left over for the Levites, who would supervise the tithes, and who were always to be remembered and not forsaken in spite of this relaxation (Deuteronomy 12:19; Deuteronomy 14:27), but in the new situation the tenth would be far more than they would need, or than could possibly be eaten at celebratory feasts. Thus must the poor be taken into account. Similar provisions applied to firstlings (Deuteronomy 12:6; Deuteronomy 12:17; Deuteronomy 15:19-20). These provisions underlined the certainty of the abundant future that would be theirs.
This was all because such would be their prosperity that the amount produced once they were in the land would be so much greater, with the result that the tenth share, and the firstlings would be far too much for just the Levites and priests. The idea was now that all must benefit under Yahweh, but with necessary restrictions so that the Levites would not go short; so that Yahweh’s tithe might be seen as belonging to Him; and so that the holiness of the offerings may be preserved. If Deuteronomy had stood on its own the Levites would have been in a very precarious position, very much dependent on charity, for it makes no specific provision for them. But tied in with previous legislation they would be well catered for. Levites who sold their properties in the levitical cities and came to serve at the Sanctuary were also to share in the firstfruits (they would then no longer share in the crops grown around their cities) as well as retaining what they have obtained by selling their properties (Deuteronomy 18:6-8).
They knew the provisions concerning the freeing of Habiru bondmen given in Exodus 21:1-6 did they not? There the strict conditions of such contracts were laid down. Well, there was another thing to be considered. Once they were in the land and prospering they were not only to release them with their families, giving them one free year, but when they were fellow-Israelites they were to ensure that when they were released these too were liberally provided for (Deuteronomy 15:12-15; Deuteronomy 15:18), and that the law applied to both men and women. And this was to be because they themselves knew what it was to be bondservants in Egypt, although the provision about their remaining with their master, if they wished to, still applied.
Habiru bondmen and bondwomen were a feature of 2nd millennium BC. They were landless peoples moving around seeking sustenance in an uncertain world. Israel would have known such in Egypt, would meet up with some in the wilderness, and would find them aplenty in Canaan. Details of such seven year Habiru contracts were also found at Nuzi. All these expansions stressed how prosperous they were all going to be once they were in the land. And as Leviticus had emphasised, once they were they must love their neighbour, and the resident alien, as they loved themselves (Leviticus 17:18, 34).
Furthermore, once they were in the land Passover and Unleavened Bread were to be celebrated, at least by the men, at the Central Sanctuary and not within their own cities. But it will be seen at once that it is assumed that they will all know the details of the Passover celebrations (Deuteronomy 16:1-6), for no details are given. This assumption also applies to the feast of Weeks and the feast of Tabernacles which were to be times of rejoicing and remembrance (Deuteronomy 16:7-15). Full details are not given of these feasts. Rather than the emphasis being on the feasts themselves, in Deuteronomy it is on the oneness and rejoicing that were to be the feature of such feasts. All were then to give as they had been blessed (Deuteronomy 16:17). Their future in the land would be bright.
So assurances of wellbeing and warnings of temptations facing them are applied continually, just as we would expect in ‘sermons’ preceding their entry into the land which were to guard their future, although for the details they had to turn back to the earlier Instruction given by Moses. For once in the land they would be scattered, and it was necessary to prepare for that eventuality.
Deuteronomy’s Covenant Form.
As we have already pointed out Deuteronomy is not only a series of speeches but is also put together in the form of a covenant. What is given is not just exhortation, it is binding requirement based on the trustworthiness of their Benefactor. Thus as we approach Deuteronomy we should see it from three points of view.
1). As a grim warning given to the current generation by a description of what had happened to their fathers, which is repeated with warnings of how the same thing could happen to them if they failed in their response to the covenant.
2) As a means of stirring up the people, giving them a vision of a prosperous new world, and encouraging them so that they would go forward, because it was Yahweh’s desire to give them the land as He had sworn to their fathers, the patriarchs.
3) As the reaffirmation in popular form of the solemn covenant with Yahweh confirmed on the basis of the original covenant made in Horeb at Sinai.
Deuteronomy As A Solemn Covenant.
Covenants made in 2nd millennium BC followed a specific pattern. They began with an introductory preamble and by naming the Overlord, and then continued with a historical prologue by describing what He had done for them. Consider Exodus 20:2, “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage,” which is a brief example. This was then followed by details of His covenant requirements, and an explanation as to how the covenant was to be documented, who were to witness it, and the cursings and blessings that would come on those who obeyed or disobeyed its stipulations. Stipulations would then be laid down for the public reading of it, and it would be lodged in a Sanctuary. This pattern is clearly reflected in Deuteronomy.
Thus it has been suggested that the covenant basis of Deuteronomy can be briefly seen as follows:
1). Preamble: Background, and description of the Covenant overlord (chaptersDeuteronomy 1:1-6; Deuteronomy 1:1-6 a)
2). Historical prologue: the Covenant history outlined (chaptersDeuteronomy 1:6; Deuteronomy 1:6 to Deuteronomy 4:44)
3). Stipulations: the principles laid down and the Covenant requirements laid out (chaptersDeuteronomy 4:45; Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 26:19)
4). The Documenting of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 27:1-8)
5). Witnesses to the Covenant (Deuteronomy 27:11-13)
6). Blessings and Cursings on the recipients depending on response (Deuteronomy 27:14 to Deuteronomy 28:68).
7). Covenant ratification (Deuteronomy 29-30).
8). The Public Reading of the Covenant (chaptersDeuteronomy 31:10-13; Deuteronomy 31:10-13)
9). Lodging the Covenant in the Sanctuary (Deuteronomy 32:24-27)
10). Ensuring the continuity of the Covenant (chapters 31-34).
This basis in all this detail is mainly as found in treaties of the second millennium BC. It also interestingly in general follows even more closely the pattern of ancient law codes of that millennium. Thus in the Code of Hammurabi we have the pattern - history, laws, document clause, blessings and cursings, as here. While it cannot be said to actually prove it, and there are also similarities with 1st millennium treaties, although not so close, this does in general support the claim of the book itself to be a 2nd millennium BC document, and thus a record of the actual words of Moses.
This covenant as set forth in Deuteronomy is based on two main speeches by Moses, each of which forms a mini-covenant, which are found in chapters Deuteronomy 1:6 to Deuteronomy 4:44, and chapters Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 29:1. But that the two are to be seen as connected comes out in that in chapters Deuteronomy 1:6 to Deuteronomy 4:44 no detailed covenant stipulations are laid out (its ‘statutes and judgements’), although they are referred to within it as having been given ‘this day’ i.e. ‘at this time’ (Deuteronomy 4:5; Deuteronomy 4:8; Deuteronomy 4:40), while Deuteronomy 5:1; Deuteronomy 5:31; Deuteronomy 6:1 onwards are clearly linked to these ‘statutes and judgments’.
This covenant form was central to Israel’s religious thought. They believed that Yahweh had chosen them, was their sovereign God, and had a special relationship with them. This was seen as incorporated in the earlier covenants with the patriarchs, and as summed up in the covenant at Sinai, a covenant made with them by their gracious sovereign God to which they were called on to respond, forty years earlier. But as can so often happen to covenants, (consider that of marriage), while often entered into eagerly, their impression can die down until there does not even appear to be a covenant relationship at all but all becomes a matter of routine. The excitement and force of the covenant can wither.
The Reason Why Yahweh Has Brought Them To This Place And Will Enable Them To Enter The Land.
God makes quite clear in Deuteronomy why He has brought them to this place and why He is encouraging them to enter the land. It is in order to receive it as His gift. This idea of the land as His gift to them comes out constantly throughout the book (e.g. Deuteronomy 1:8; Deuteronomy 1:20; Deuteronomy 1:25; Deuteronomy 1:35-36; Deuteronomy 1:39; Deuteronomy 2:29; Deuteronomy 3:18; Deuteronomy 3:20; Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 4:21; Deuteronomy 4:38; Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 5:16; Deuteronomy 5:31; and often).
Firstly this is because of the promises that He made to their fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This too is stressed constantly throughout the book (Deuteronomy 1:8; Deuteronomy 1:21; Deuteronomy 1:35; Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 4:31; Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 6:3; Deuteronomy 6:10; Deuteronomy 6:18; Deuteronomy 6:23; Deuteronomy 7:12-13; Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 8:18; Deuteronomy 9:5; Deuteronomy 10:11; Deuteronomy 11:9; Deuteronomy 11:21; Deuteronomy 12:1; Deuteronomy 19:8; Deuteronomy 26:3; Deuteronomy 26:15; Deuteronomy 27:3; Deuteronomy 28:11; Deuteronomy 29:13; Deuteronomy 30:20; Deuteronomy 31:7; Deuteronomy 31:20-21; Deuteronomy 31:23; Deuteronomy 34:4).
Secondly it is because of the sinfulness and idolatry of the people who at present dwell in the land (Deuteronomy 9:4; Deuteronomy 20:16-18 compare Genesis 15:16). He can no longer stomach their sinfulness (Leviticus 18:28; Leviticus 20:22). They must therefore be got rid of at all costs for they make Him sick. This necessity for the removal of their idolatrous behaviour and all connected with it again comes out throughout the book, and explains His remorseless attitude towards the Canaanites. Israel were to be His instruments of judgment on them, and His instruments for the purification of the land.
And thirdly it is because He loves His people and has set His love on them for the sake of their fathers (Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 10:15). But He immediately stresses in the same context that in His love for them He expects their love and faithfulness in response (Deuteronomy 7:9). His love is covenant love and demands response to the covenant. His giving demands response from them. Those who reject His covenant do not come within His love because they have failed to accept it.
Thus They Must Learn From The Example Of Their Fathers And From The Example Of The Canaanites That Unbelief Will Result In Expulsion From The Land.
The first chapter of the book (or literally Deuteronomy 1:6 to Deuteronomy 2:1) is not only a historical description of the past, but a stark warning about the possibilities of the future. What is described later in Deuteronomy as being their future if their faith in Yahweh fails is here first of all portrayed in terms of the past, in terms of the failure of their own fathers.
For the first chapter deals with how, having received the covenant from Yahweh, their fathers had been commanded to go forward (Deuteronomy 1:6-8), had willingly with Yahweh’s help established themselves as a populous and just nation (Deuteronomy 1:9-18), and had proceeded to enter the land (Deuteronomy 1:19-43), but because of unbelief and failure to respond to the covenant had been driven out of the land to wander in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:44 to Deuteronomy 2:1). They had failed to obtain what should have been theirs. And it was not because Yahweh had failed, but because they had failed in faith and obedience.
To those who heard his words it was a grim warning. It had been relatively recent (38 years earlier), it was factual, and they had good cause to remember it. It had actually happened within living memory and it had been a shattering experience! It had sentenced them to the hardships of the wilderness. It was historical proof, that could not be forgotten, of what Yahweh would do to all who, having received His covenant and acted on it, turned back to unbelief. They had learned from it that the land belonged to Yahweh and was for covenant keeping people, and for them only, in accordance with the promise to Abraham, and that there was no place in it for unbelief. Let them remember their lesson well. Unless they entered the land with full faith in Yahweh they could expect to be ejected.
In the same way they were to learn that the reason that the Canaanites were being driven out was not because of Israel’s deserving, but because of their own evil ways (Deuteronomy 9:4). It was because they had worshipped images and false gods, with the especially degraded behaviour that resulted in their case, a degradation made clear from the excavations at Ugarit. So they had to recognise that both the Canaanites, and their own unbelieving fathers, were both driven from the land for the same reason, because of their unbelief. This land was only for covenant believers.
This is the pattern for the whole book. Israel too are now receiving the covenant from Yahweh, they too are being commanded to go forward, they too have taken the first steps in entering the land with the defeat of Sihon and Og, kings of the Amorites, they too are to establish themselves as a populous and just nation, but let them also beware. They too must recognise that if they turn to unbelief they also will be driven out of the land to wander in a ‘wilderness’ in far countries. It had happened to their fathers through unbelief (Deuteronomy 1:44). It was about to happen to the Canaanites, through Israel’s efforts because of idolatry and sinfulness (Deuteronomy 4:38). Indeed God’s hatred of this idolatry, which He warns again and again that they must get rid of and avoid at all costs, is the basic reason for the expulsion of the Canaanites. Let them be sure then that unless they remain faithful to the covenant it will also happen to them (Deuteronomy 4:27; Deuteronomy 28:36; Deuteronomy 28:63-68). Far from being declared after the event, this spoke of what was inevitable from the beginning unless they maintained their faithfulness. This was what they must recognise. The land was for the faithful. All others would be expelled.
But the objection might then be made, what about the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Surely those promises guaranteed their security in the land? Moses’ reply was a firm, ‘no’. What they did guarantee was that the land would remain theirs if they were faithful. And they also guaranteed that if, once they had been expelled from the land, there was then repentance and a turning to belief, those who believed and responded to the covenant would once again be allowed to enter the land (Deuteronomy 4:29-31; Deuteronomy 30:2-5). That was what the promises to the patriarchs guaranteed. But they did not guarantee continual possession of the land if the people were unfaithful.
So Moses clearly saw two sides to the covenant. Firstly that its fulfilment and continued enjoyment depended on faith and obedience. And secondly that its ultimate fulfilment was guaranteed because of God’s promise to the fathers. What he says in the book revolves around and applies these factors. The two are held in tension. On the one hand there can be no place in the land for a disobedient people, but on the other there can be no ultimate failure in God’ promises to the fathers. Thus while disobedience will result in expulsion from the land, repentance and faith will result in restoration.
So while he is satisfied that the sovereignty of God will finally ensure the reception of the land and the final blessing of the world through the seed of Abraham, he wants Israel to be in no doubt that if they were to be a part in it, it must be by faith and obedience. Otherwise they would be excluded. This was all the consequence of the covenant and the receiving of the land as a gift from Yahweh once He had turned others out of it because of their sinfulness. It would only remain theirs on their being faithful to Him.
Possession of the Land.
This is a major theme on which the book concentrates. The land promised to the fathers is to be possessed. But it is to be no ordinary possession. The land is to be possessed in righteousness (Deuteronomy 6:25), that is by those who ‘live rightly’ by doing the will of Yahweh. The whole idea behind the rejection of the previous generation (Deuteronomy 1:0) and the driving out and slaughter of the Canaanites, was the cleansing of the land preparatory to the setting up of a holy nation there, a nation who do the will of Yahweh. Only such a nation could safely dwell in it.
This had begun with Abraham. Yahweh’s purpose for him in bringing him into the land was in order that he might multiply, possess the land and bring blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3). But this had been delayed because ‘the iniquity of the Amorites (Canaanites) was not yet full’ (Genesis 15:16). However, the iniquity of the Amorites was now full and Israel were therefore to replace them, and be there as a ‘holy nation, a kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6). The ‘kingdom of God’ on earth was about to be established.
So in Deuteronomy is outlined the requirements of that kingdom and the covenant that is designed to bring it about, although it is built on and assumes much of the previous legislation. His people are to possess the land and establish in it a righteous ‘kingdom’ under the overlordship of Yahweh. He will be King (melek) ‘in Yeshurun’ (‘among His righteous ones’) (Deuteronomy 33:5). All that is evil must be purged from it. But if they fail to achieve this and turn from righteousness to idols let them not fail to recognise that they too will be removed. This idea is a central theme in the book.
And in that ‘kingdom’ Yahweh will raise up prophets ‘like to Moses’ (Deuteronomy 18:15-22) and the people will no doubt desire a king (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) as had been promised in the past (Genesis 17:16; Genesis 17:20; Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17). But if so the king is not to be like the kings of the nations. He is rather to be a king under Yahweh. He is to be a king whose heart is set in God’s instruction, one from among them, who will live as they live. (Their later demand for a king went exactly opposite to this, for Samuel makes clear that the kind of king they are seeking is precisely the type that Yahweh disapproved of. Had they wanted the kind of king that Yahweh described it would only have met with His approval).
The reason that the word ‘king’ was not more often applied to Yahweh was probably because the application of the word melek (king) would be fraught with danger. The name of Ammon’s god was Melek (Molech), the god of child sacrifices, and he was seemingly worshipped throughout Canaan. But 1 Samuel 8:7 unquestionably stresses that Yahweh was seen as reigning over His people. And the idea of a suzerainty treaty emphasises that He was their suzerain Lord.
This is all included in the central covenant which forms the core of the book from chapters Deuteronomy 4:44 to Deuteronomy 29:1. In that covenant which opens with a re-declaration of the covenant in Deuteronomy 5:0, is emphasised the ‘instruction’ that has already been given (Deuteronomy 4:14) as in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, with the emphasis in Deuteronomy being on its direct application to the people’s lives. And once declared it will be emphasised by calling up first the lay leadership, the elders of Israel, and then the levitical priests, the representatives of Yahweh, Who will both voice their support to it (Deuteronomy 27:1-10).
As soon then as they were in the land that covenant was to be recorded on stone with the Levites declaring twelve cursings on the twelve tribes of Israel if in secret they failed to fulfil it (Deuteronomy 27:14-26), and manifold cursings (seven sixfold curses) on them if they openly failed to fulfil it (Deuteronomy 28:0), while if they obeyed it, it would be the pathway to blessing, as described sixfold (the number of tribes on the mount of blessing). And one way in which all this was to be achieved was by the setting up of a central sanctuary.
The Central Sanctuary (Deuteronomy 12:0 ).
Central to the idea of the covenant and the possession of the land in righteousness was to be the Central Sanctuary. The Sanctuary contained the covenant, and above the chest (Ark) containing the covenant was ‘the propitiatory’ (the mercy seat) where covenant breaches could be dealt with and removed. The idea of this is firmly conveyed in Deuteronomy 12:0, where the stress is on the fact that it is to be in a ‘place’ where He chooses, and see Deuteronomy 14:23-25; Deuteronomy 15:20; Deuteronomy 16:2; Deuteronomy 16:6-7; Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:15-16; Deuteronomy 17:8; Deuteronomy 17:10; Deuteronomy 18:6; Deuteronomy 26:2; Deuteronomy 31:11 which demonstrates that it was assumed that the choosing would not be too far in the future. The gist of it is that rather than looking to the gods and altars of the nations which they must destroy (Deuteronomy 12:2-4), His people must continue to look to the one sanctuary, constantly set in whatever ‘place’ that God chose as His earthly dwellingplace, to which alone they could bring their offerings and sacrifices, for there alone could mercy be found. And there they could rejoice together (Deuteronomy 12:5-7), and bring to it their gifts and tithes (Deuteronomy 12:17-18). It was to be ‘the place’ where all sacrifices and offerings were to be made, (Deuteronomy 12:13-14) and where He would cause His name to dwell (Deuteronomy 12:11).
The idea of ‘the place’ (maqom) was sanctified by history. It was to ‘the place at Shechem’ that Abraham first came on entering the land (Genesis 12:6). He then went on to ‘the place’ (the place of the altar) at Bethel (Genesis 13:3-4). Later he would go to ‘the place’ at which he was to offer his son, Isaac (Genesis 22:3; Genesis 22:9; Genesis 22:14), the place which Yahweh had chosen. Jacob would meet God at the place in which God was (Genesis 28:16) which he would name Bethel (‘house of God’ - Genesis 28:19; compare Genesis 35:7; Genesis 35:14-15), saying ‘how dreadful is this place’ (Genesis 28:17)
This fact that Yahweh is present where He chooses is important to their understanding of Him. They cannot make Him appear anywhere that they want by erecting images and making altars. They can only meet Him where He chooses. He had chosen to do it at Sinai. Now He has chosen to do it in the Tabernacle in the midst of the camp. In the future it will be in a suitable place chosen by Him as He wills. But there must only be one sanctuary because He is one (Deuteronomy 6:5).
That such an idea could be established while travelling together in the wilderness, with the focal point of all the tribes being on the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh and the sacred tent containing it in their midst, makes good sense. There would be less of an incentive once they were spread over a wide area facing problems in their own localities, but the fact that they did maintain their Central Sanctuary at all confirms that the idea had been so firmly implanted within them well before they actually reached the land and spread over it, that it never died out.
This is another of the major issues which arises as we study the book. While not central to the message of the book (although still very important) it has become a debating point in studies about Deuteronomy because some see ‘the place that I will choose’ as only possibly signifying Jerusalem. They thus consider that they have to date the book after the establishment of Jerusalem. However, what Deuteronomy 12:0 speaks of is not Jerusalem. Its stress is rather on important religious concepts on which the future of Israel would depend: the concept of the Central Sanctuary, the focal point of covenant response, and the parallel concept that He can only be met where He chooses. Thus in Deuteronomy the Dwellingplace (Tabernacle) must be set up in the place wherever He chooses where He will be among them as their Overlord, although He may vary His choice as He wishes.
The fact that He could vary His choice as He wished comes out in the following history, as well as from the fact that nothing to the contrary is stated, while Exodus 20:24 states that it can occur wherever He ‘records His Name’. The first temporary place where the Dwellingplace rested was at Gilgal. But once they were more established in the land His next choice of a place was clearly Shechem (Deuteronomy 11:29-30; Deuteronomy 27:4-26; Joshua 8:30-35; Joshua 24:1-25). This was then later unquestionably replaced by Shiloh, which Jeremiah 7:12 speaks of as, ‘Shiloh, where I set my name at the first’, because Shiloh was more long term. Jeremiah’s words would suggest that Jeremiah actually saw Shiloh as the place at which He set His name permanently right from the beginning, once the settlement in the land was completed and they were ‘at rest’.
But Deuteronomy simply says that it should be set up ‘in the place which Yahweh your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there’ (Deuteronomy 12:5), and modern interpretations of this are numerous. However, in interpreting it we should consider Deuteronomy 23:16 where ‘in the place which he shall choose’ can be anywhere that someone chose to go, and there was certainly no thought there that the person should be restricted to one place permanently. The thought was that he had the right of choice and was unrestricted, and could therefore select where he wanted, and was no doubt permitted to move around..
It is true that the final full use of ‘the place’ would only be when God had given them rest from all their enemies, and they dwelt in safety (Deuteronomy 12:10), but such periods of rest are constantly mentioned. They are indicated in Joshua 11:23; Joshua 23:1 and Judges 3:11; Judges 3:30; Judges 5:31; Judges 8:28. So in fact once we read on we would naturally see this place of the full operating of the cult as being at Shiloh (Joshua 23:1-2 with Deuteronomy 18:1; Deuteronomy 18:8-10; Deuteronomy 19:21; Deuteronomy 21:2; Deuteronomy 22:9), where the tabernacle of the congregation was apparently permanently set up, and where it was when they found rest from all their enemies (Joshua 23:1 with Deuteronomy 22:9), and where it still remained in the time of Eli (1 Samuel 1:3).
We can compare here Psalms 78:60 which clearly saw Shiloh as having been a chosen place of Yahweh, for the Psalmist speaks of ‘the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which He placed among men’. It was the tabernacle of Shiloh which was thus seen as the tent that He placed, and that He had chosen for His abode. As we have seen Jeremiah 7:12 also speaks of, ‘Shiloh, where I set my name at the first’. So Shiloh was therefore twice confirmed as the place where Yahweh set His name. That being so Scripture clearly identifies Shiloh as the place where Yahweh chose to place the tabernacle, chose to dwell and chose to set His name.
However there are also strong grounds for previously referring such a choice to Shechem. For according to Deuteronomy itself Mount Ebal in Shechem was specifically the appointed place where the people were to gather once they were in the land, where they were to establish the covenant blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 11:29) and where they were to offer offerings and sacrifices before Yahweh (Deuteronomy 27:0), as Abraham had done before them (Genesis 12:6). If then the book of Deuteronomy elsewhere speaks of the place which He chose, the place where He set His name, that surely had to be, at least in the first place, at Shechem which Deuteronomy claims that He chose.
And it was certainly there that they did gather after obtaining a foothold in the land (Joshua 8:30-35), taking the Ark with them (Joshua 8:33), and where they also gathered for Joshua’s final farewell covenant ceremony (Joshua 24:1), after they had obtained rest from all their enemies (Joshua 23:1). So this was certainly one place that they saw as a ‘place that Yahweh their God had chosen’, and named. And when we are told that there was at such times a ‘Sanctuary’ (a holy place - Joshua 24:6) there, we may well gather that the tabernacle was at that time established there. That being so ‘the place where He chose to put His name’ could well be seen as being originally at Shechem, which would tie in with Deuteronomy itself (Deuteronomy 11:29; Deuteronomy 27:4-8), for Mount Ebal was at Shechem, followed eventually by Shiloh.
We should note in this regard that ‘the place which Yahweh your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there’ (Deuteronomy 12:5) need not necessarily indicate that only one place would ever be chosen, but that only one place would be chosen at a time. The point being made is rather that they should not set up just any altar at any place as the idolatrous did, but should rather seek God only at the place where He chose to put His name, wherever it might be at the time, at the one altar and sanctuary in contrast with the many, as He had once at Sinai. The point was that whenever the tabernacle was set up with any permanence it should be set up where God chose to dwell among His people, and not at a place to be decided on by men, and that that was consequently the only place to which men should look.
With this in mind there can really be no doubt that according to Deuteronomy 27:0 Mount Ebal near Shechem was one of those places, a place mentioned specifically there as specified by, and therefore chosen by, Yahweh. Indeed an altar was to be set up there, and whole burnt offerings offered and peace offerings were to be sacrificed (Deuteronomy 27:6-7 compare Deuteronomy 12:6). This would seem to indicate that either the ‘dwellingplace’ (tabernacle) was to be there (the place where He ‘caused His name to dwell’ - Deuteronomy 12:11) or at the very least the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh (‘to put His name there’ - Deuteronomy 12:5; compare 2 Samuel 6:2), or more probably both. This would seem to be unquestionably the intention of whoever wrote Deuteronomy 11:0 and Deuteronomy 27:0.
Furthermore it is hardly conceivable that, having a portable shrine, which they were used to moving about, they should consider participating in such important ceremonies as those at Shechem without either the tabernacle or the Ark present. So the very fact that Shiloh and not Shechem later became the place where Yahweh primarily put His name suggests that Deuteronomy 27:0 was written before the settlement in Shiloh, and that Shiloh later came into prominence probably because it was seen as more neutral, more independent and more suitably placed as a permanent site for a Central Sanctuary than Shechem, being seen as the place which Yahweh had chosen after consulting Urim and Thummim, but always recognising that Shechem was originally such a place and hallowed by the fact.
For as we have already seen, it would be difficult indeed to deny that Shiloh was seen as the place which God chose, in view of the continual connection of the tabernacle with it, and the testimony of both the Psalmist and Jeremiah to the fact that He had caused His name to dwell there (Psalms 78:60; Jeremiah 7:12). This really seals the issue.
We may certainly then see this as later followed by Jerusalem, because that was how it came to be seen in the prophets and in the Psalms, and once Shiloh had been defiled by the Philistines a new place would clearly be required.
So once Jerusalem was established as the Central Sanctuary, something which in fact took a considerable time, well into the reign of Solomon, that too was seen as the place where Yahweh had caused His name to dwell. David set His name there when he took into it ‘the Ark of God whose name is called by the name of Yahweh of Hosts who dwells between the cherubim’ (2 Samuel 6:2) and set it up in a special tent (2 Samuel 6:17; 2 Chronicles 1:4). But even so the Tabernacle itself, which had been at Nob, was next at Hebron and then at Gibeon. It was Solomon who later brought the Tabernacle (1 Kings 8:4; 1 Chronicles 5:5) which had been at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 1:13), and established it in his temple in Jerusalem. Here then were a number of places which Yahweh chose one after the other, for there is never any suggestion that they were not. The choice was probably confirmed by means of the Urim and Thummim, or by lot.
Thus Shechem, Shiloh and Jerusalem, together with Nob, Hebron and Gibeon, all had valid claims to be the place to which God chose to put His name, and indeed all were so in their time in their own way (as had been Sinai).
(Some have emphasised the definite article in ‘the place’, but we must beware of over emphasising it. We should rather take into account that the definite article in Hebrew does not always have the force that it has in English. It does not necessarily in this case signify one place. Rather it can mean simply ‘the one I am talking about’ at any particular time. However, if we do seek to emphasise the article, ‘the place’ contrasts with using many places in use at the same time, rather than meaning that God cannot change His Dwellingplace.).
It may be wise at this point to consider in more detail the question of the Central Sanctuary and its history according to the records we have, in order to consolidate this point, for there is much misunderstanding about it.
The Concept of the Central Sanctuary and The One Place of Sacrifice.
Important for the future of Israel at the time of Moses, and of great importance in interpreting the book of Deuteronomy, was the concept of the Central Sanctuary. This concept was at the heart of their tribal system, as it was of others in what came to be called amphictyonies (groups of tribes united by a central sanctuary), and it was intended to be a means of keeping their religion pure, and of maintaining the unity of the tribes.
To this Sanctuary as the earthly ‘Dwellingplace’ (mishkan, from shakan ‘to dwell’ - translated in EVV also as ‘tabernacle’) of Yahweh, and as the depositary of the covenant (Exodus 25:21 - thus the Ark is also called ‘the Ark of the Testimony’) and final arbiter of the tribes, all looked, and three times a year they were to gather at the Central Sanctuary at their regular religious feasts, agricultural feasts which had in the main been observed for centuries, but which had been expanded and given new meanings, in order to worship Yahweh, to renew the Sinai covenant, to hear it read and expounded, to feast together and to decide on major matters concerning tribal relationships (Exodus 23:14; Deuteronomy 16:16). Whenever matters of major import arose which affected all the tribes it was through the Central Sanctuary with its High Priest that consultation and action could take place.
While they were still moving on together in the wilderness this posed no problems. The Tabernacle was there among them, central to the camp, protected by the priests and Levites, remote yet approachable, a focal point for all. To it they brought their sacrifices, and round it they gathered for worship, to consult Yahweh and to settle issues between them. But while they were in the wilderness, although very valuable for focusing their worship, it was not quite so necessary for unity, for they were encamped together. However, once they had dispersed within the land it would be even more necessary, both in order to maintain their oneness under Yahweh and to maintain the purity of their worship, and in order to ensure the maintenance of the covenant.
This is not to say that the requirements concerning it were always rigidly observed. In times of apostasy only the faithful would gather there, and many events, as well as apathy, could tend to make attendance impossible. Such a rise and fall in interest in the covenant, and thus in the Central Sanctuary, is reflected in the Book of Judges. But that it did continue in even the worst times, and even served as a binding force, is evidenced by the fact that Israel maintained its semblance of unity, and, to some extent at least, did continually respond to the call to arms, and by the other fact that it regularly emerges as being there. And the emphasis on it as the one place of sacrifice should, if observed, have prevented the possibility of turning after other gods.
It is further of significance that until the time of David no offerings or sacrifices are ever said to be legitimately made in any other place unless there was a clear and specific indication of Yahweh’s presence there, either 1). Through the presence of the Tabernacle, His ‘dwellingplace’; 2). Through the presence of His Ark, His chariot throne; or 3). Through a specific theophany when He was clearly present in person. The only exception to this was the unique situation when the tabernacle was destroyed, the Ark was out of action, and the faith of Israel rested on a ‘holy child’ of the Tabernacle (Samuel) who established a ‘temporary’ Central Sanctuary to which all could come, because the true Tabernacle had been rendered inoperative.
Some such centralising activity must already have taken place in Egypt, at least to a certain extent, although we know little of their worship there. While Jacob was alive he would be the focal point of unity. But on his death, unless they continued to worship at the one altar which he had set up as father of the clans, it would probably more be external pressure that bound them together, seemingly with a deliberate gathering together of the ‘elders’, the leadership of the tribes. For the children of Israel were already seen as one people there, partly, if loosely, united under ‘the elders’, when Moses and Aaron called them together (Exodus 3:16), and the ease with which the elders worked together in comparative unison suggests their previous cooperation in the past. Something had held them together, which probably included a common faith in the God of their fathers and a sense of brotherhood arising from their having been one family (with their households) in Canaan, and they are portrayed there as acting together in comparative unison, while Pharaoh recognised whom Moses had in mind when he spoke of ‘the children of Israel’ and could himself speak of them as ‘Israel’ (Exodus 5:1-2). Furthermore they were bound together by the emergency.
But if they were ever to become a permanent nation some means of permanently cementing and maintaining this unity would have to be found, especially in view of the mixed multitude who joined with them (Exodus 12:38) and the way in which they would be spread out through the land. And this was found in the Central Sanctuary.
In Israel this Central Sanctuary was the Tent of Meeting, where God could be met up with, the ‘Tabernacle of the gathering together of the congregation’. Similar portable pavilions were known in Egypt long before the time of Moses, and portable shrines are also known from elsewhere. A tent shrine has been discovered at Timnah in the Negeb, the region of ancient Edom, and there are even hints of such in Scripture, for Oholibamah means ‘tent of the high place’ (used of a Hivite -Genesis 36:5; Genesis 36:14; Genesis 36:18; and of an Edomite - Genesis 36:41). Thus a tent shrine was not unique. What was unique was its significance. The main word for Tabernacle means ‘dwellingplace’, and Israel’s tent was seen as the earthly dwellingplace of Yahweh, their Creator and covenant-keeping God. It was the place where the covenant was preserved and in which He had His Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh. There, present between the cherubim, He could be met with, and there He could be consulted, and from there He spoke to Moses (Numbers 7:89) and there forgiveness for breaches of the covenant could be obtained. The difference between Israel and other nations was that Israel were to look to no other.
Indeed had it not been for the unifying force of ‘the Priest’ and the Central Sanctuary it is difficult to see how such a conglomerate people would have remained as ‘one people’ given the circumstances under which they settled in the land, divided up and separated from each other by the terrain and by the peoples that they had failed to drive out. They had no king to unify them. But they did have the High Priest, and they did have the ‘dwellingplace’ (the Tabernacle).
Every nation had its High Priest, and if Israel had not had one they would have been unique. He was known as ‘the Priest’. But what was unique in Israel was not the High priesthood, but the nature of the High Priesthood, with its high moral tone because of the commandments, and its status as representative of their invisible God-King. And the one Sanctuary itself arose from the fact that they worshipped only one God. Not for them gods who could be split up into many identities. While He could be prayed to anywhere, there was only one place where He could be met up with and where sacrifices could be offered.
The importance of the Central Sanctuary, and of the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh which was its central focal point, comes out constantly in their future history, and helps to explain the first struggles as to who should control both (Number 16-17). To deny the existence of some kind of Tabernacle in the wilderness would be incredible if we accept the existence of the Ark. The Ark would necessarily have its own ornate tent. And it is made clear that all communication with Yahweh took place at ‘the door of the Tent’. The Ark was too holy to be approached direct except by the most holy, and even by them within strict limits. It was a chest which contained within it the covenant tablets, a symbol of how they were bound to Yahweh, and over which was the ‘propitiatory’, the place from which God dispensed mercy. And because it was so sacred it was remote. Anyone who touched it died.
Some central object of worship would have been essential in the case of the people who left Egypt with Moses. The differing peoples making up the group that left Egypt, for it included a mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38), would have had different objects of veneration. It would thus have been necessary for the sake of moulding them into one people that these be replaced by something even more holy, and something distinct from what they venerated. And this was accomplished in the holy Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh, mainly hidden but known to all, and brought out at times of crisis, which contained the tablets of the covenant. It represented the presence of Yahweh between the cherubim, and His covenant with them, as One Who was invisible except for in cloud and fire, but was nevertheless real. Its isolation in the Great Tent, the Tent itself patterned on well known sanctuaries with its sacred chamber and ante-chamber, would increase its mystery.
Interestingly gold overlain wooden chests are known in the Ancient Near East from before the time of Moses, and the similar idea of sacred chests has been known among the Arabs, although in neither case containing within them covenant records, or having on their lids the forms of cherubim.
It was the Ark that led the people across the Jordan under the jurisdiction of the priests who alone could bear it when it was uncovered and moved into action (Joshua 3:0). The Ark alone is mentioned at this time because that alone reflected the living presence of Yahweh with them while on the march. But it would then be settled in the Tabernacle, in His dwellingplace in Gilgal (Joshua 4:19), where also the people were circumcised and the Passover was celebrated (Joshua 5:2-11). It is probable that the trial of Achan was carried out at the door of the Tabernacle through the Urim and Thummim (Joshua 7:16-18). That explains the step by step approach of the questioning.
As soon as was possible after entry into the land Joshua celebrated their foothold in the land with a covenant ceremony at Shechem with the Ark as its central focal point (Joshua 8:30-35). This was in fulfilment of Deuteronomy 27:0 (see Joshua 8:31; Joshua 8:33), following in the path of Abraham (Genesis 12:6). The aim of this ceremony at Shechem in Joshua 8:0 was probably partly with the purpose of incorporating Shechemite worshippers of Yahweh within the covenant. The Amarna letters reveal that the Shechemites were not ‘Canaanites’ in the same way as other Canaanites. They indeed probably included among them descendants of some who had been left behind to look after Jacob’s property when he moved on after the slaughter of the Shechemites (Genesis 34:0), and they would see themselves as ‘brothers’ of Israel. It is noteworthy that in the book of Joshua, a book of continual conflicts, no mention is ever made of conflict in the area around Shechem. Thus it is quite feasible that as worshippers of ‘the Lord of the Covenant’ (baal-berith) they proclaimed themselves worshippers of Yahweh. If so, that this was then later perverted into full blown worship of Baal as Baal-berith comes out in Judges 8:33; Judges 9:4. But there was always a danger of mixing Yahweh up with Baal when faith grew weak, for Yahweh could be called Baali, ‘my Lord’ (Hosea 2:16), and for the sinful the practises of Baal were more palatable and less demanding. Baal would be whatever you wanted him to be.
Nothing would have been more impressive to the Shechemites in such a circumstance than the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh, the erection of the magnificent Tabernacle of Yahweh and the building of an altar within the bronze altar framework (we must remember that at this stage the moving of the Tabernacle was something that they had constantly engaged in and never mentioned). On the other hand the Tabernacle is not mentioned, so that the building of the altar may have been justified simply by the presence of the Ark indicating that Yahweh was there, ‘recording His name’ (Exodus 20:24-25). But it would still require a protective tent.
An interesting point here is the bold declaration of their ‘building an altar’ and ‘making offerings and sacrifices’ without mentioning either Ark or Tabernacle (Joshua 8:30-31). The presence of the Ark is so assumed that it is only the following ceremony, where it is mentioned (Joshua 8:32) as though its presence was assumed from the beginning, that makes us aware that the Ark is there. The writer seemingly assumed that all would know that at least the Ark must be there if offerings and sacrifices were made.
So whether the Tabernacle was taken to Shechem for the building of the altar on Mount Ebal we are not told (Joshua 8:30), but the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh was clearly taken there by the ‘levitical priests’ as the focal point of the covenant (Joshua 8:33), for the Ark was the symbol of the warrior King (Numbers 10:35).
It is interesting that the building of the particular altar here is specifically justified in terms of Exodus 20:24-25 (Joshua 8:31). This might be because the bronze altar of whole burnt offering was but an outward shell, which would have been destroyed if a fire had been lit directly in it, (it was made of timber and bronze), and thus had to have stones and earth built up inside it to form an altar on which a large fire could burn safely, (thus the ‘building’ of the altar); or it might suggest that the tabernacle and the bronze altar were not there, but that they were aware that the building of this altar had therefore to be specifically justified from Yahweh’s laws. Either way they clearly considered that it was a place where He had recorded His Name.
So verse 31 may indicate the consciousness of the fact that this altar with its sacrifices was unusual, an example of building an altar where Yahweh recorded His name (Exodus 20:24-25). Indeed it was probably their understanding that where the Ark rested Yahweh recorded His name, and that therefore the presence of the Ark at that place justified a temporary altar. This comes out from 2 Samuel 6:2 where the Ark is described as, ‘the Ark of God which is called by the Name, even the name of Yahweh of hosts, Who sits on the cherubim’.
The tabernacle seems to have remained at Gilgal in the early days while they were establishing themselves in the land, but it is probably found at Shechem in Joshua 24:26. It may therefore not have remained in one permanent place at this stage because of the unsettled state of things, but have moved over the years between Gilgal, Shechem and Shiloh, until it finally settled at Shiloh.
In Joshua 9:0 the inhabitants of Gibeon were made hewers of wood and drawers of water, ‘for the altar of Yahweh, even to this day, in the place which He should choose’ (Joshua 9:27). All this is confirmation, direct and indirect, of the idea of one Central Sanctuary, chosen by Yahweh, and of the one altar, with any others being temporary exceptions. There was one altar of Yahweh, of which other temporary ‘authorised’ altars were a reflection, only permitted in the presence of the Ark or by a theophany, simply because such altars temporarily stood in the place of the one altar because Yahweh was patently there. The tabernacle was God’s dwellingplace, the Ark (or perhaps the top of the Ark) was His chariot throne (2 Samuel 22:11), a theophany was a direct revelation of Himself, thus in each case an altar could be set up for the occasion because Yahweh was personally there, but the only permanent altar was in the precincts of the Tabernacle, for that was His earthly home. All this stressed His oneness.
The general reference to ‘the place which He should choose -- to put His name there’ (as in Deuteronomy 12:5; Deuteronomy 12:11; Deuteronomy 12:13) seems to suggest that that place was not necessarily only one place, any more than ‘in all places where I record My name’ (Exodus 20:24) was one place. It was the place where Yahweh chose to be at any particular time, the ‘place that He chose’, in contrast with the places that men chose in their idolatrous worship where the gods regularly had no say. Such altars could be set up anywhere in any ‘place’, because the gods were intermingled with nature. The main point is therefore that with Yahweh’s ‘place’ the choice was not to be man’s, but Yahweh’s. Worship was to be at that place and no other, and its movement was mainly limited by the movement of the Tabernacle, although seemingly it could be temporarily determined by the presence of the Ark.
So in the end it was the Tabernacle of Yahweh, together with the altar of Yahweh and the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh, that demonstrated that chosen place. It could be established at any place that He chose, and for a good long time its permanent basis was at Shiloh. That was the place that He chose until, ‘He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men’ (Psalms 78:60). But in no case does it justify plural altars in continual permanent use.
Meanwhile, although in the beginning period of conquest Joshua and his men regularly returned to Gilgal (Joshua 10:6; Joshua 10:15; Joshua 10:43), which was presumably where the Central Sanctuary was originally set up, or to which it continually returned, by Joshua 19:51 it had been removed to Shiloh, and there the inheritances were divided for an inheritance by lot ‘before Yahweh at the door of the tent of meeting’. For Shiloh see also Joshua 18:1, Joshua 18:8-10; Joshua 19:51; Joshua 21:2; Joshua 22:9; Joshua 22:12 where it was still the focal point of Israel. That once finally settled in the land Shiloh became its permanent, established resting place is clearly established. What caused the transfer of thought from Shechem to Shiloh we do not know, but it may well have been through the Urim and Thummim (no important decision like that would have been made without either that or a special revelation) and to make it more central.
Furthermore when the Reubenites, Gadites and half tribe of Manasseh built a memorial altar the situation was considered sufficiently serious to call the tribes together at Shiloh in order to prevent it, looking on it as rebellion against Yahweh and a turning away from following Him (Joshua 22:12). And they called on them, if they were dissatisfied with where they were, to come across the Jordan and settle in the land ‘wherein the Tabernacle of Yahweh dwells’ (Joshua 22:19). But under no circumstances were they to build an altar (for sacrifice) ‘besides the altar of Yahweh our God’ (Joshua 22:19). Clearly loyalty to the Central Sanctuary at Shiloh and its Ark and its one altar was seen as of paramount importance. The reply came that it was a memorial altar, not one for offerings and sacrifices to be burned on (Joshua 22:23; Joshua 22:26; Joshua 22:28-29). They recognised for that purpose only ‘the altar of Yahweh our God which is before His Tabernacle’ (Joshua 22:29).
In Joshua 24:0 Joshua calls all the tribes together at Shechem where they ‘presented themselves before God’ (Joshua 24:1). And at that place there was a renewal of covenant, and Joshua wrote a record ‘in the book of the instruction of God’ (Joshua 24:26), and took a great stone and set it up there under an oak that was ‘by the sanctuary of Yahweh’ (Joshua 24:26). To ‘present oneself before God’ was to do so at the door of the Tabernacle (compare Leviticus 16:7). Thus the probability is that the Tabernacle and brazen altar were brought there, (both were portable and Shiloh was not far away and there was a direct route), although it may be that only the Ark was taken there. It is true that nothing is specifically said about the Tabernacle, or about the Ark, but then that is true of an altar and sacrifices. The non-mention of any of these need not, however, mean that they were not there, or were not offered, only that their presence and their happening was assumed. However, unless the Tabernacle was there the implication must be that there were no offerings and sacrifices, or certainly that there were no grounds for us thinking that there were.
The reason for the setting up of the stone was as a permanent reminder which suggests that no permanent altar was erected there to be seen as a permanent feature, which ties in with it having been erected in the outer case of the brazen altar, or with one not being erected at all. There are no particular grounds for suggesting that this ‘sanctuary’ (holy place) of Yahweh was any other than the Tabernacle (even though no altar and no sacrifices are mentioned), although it is true that it might simply have been a place made ‘holy’ by past associations (Genesis 33:18-20). If that be the case we may equally see it as a place where no offerings and sacrifices took place. But if it was seen as partly fulfilling Deuteronomy 27:0 (already fulfilled in Joshua 8:30-35) that could not be so.
Thus all through the book of Joshua loyalty to the Central Sanctuary is paramount, either through its own presence or the presence of the Ark, although it is possible, but by no means certain, that an altar was allowed to be built at Shechem earlier at the first visit (Joshua 8:30), as long as it was built in the presence of the Ark and in accordance with Exodus 20:24-25, for a particular ceremony which was at Yahweh’s behest, and was in conjunction with the presence of the Ark for a specific act of worship.
In Judges 1:1, after the death of Joshua, the children of Israel came to enquire of Yahweh. This suggests that they came to ‘the Priest’ at the door of the Tabernacle, who would use the Urim and Thummim for the purpose. The result in the long run, after much heartache, was victory, but when after a number of years they finally conquered the inhabitants of the land whom they had been unable to defeat at first, they disobeyed Yahweh and did not drive them out.
So in Judges 2:0 the Angel of Yahweh, Whose words reveal that He is Yahweh, ‘came up from Gilgal to Bochim’. He had revealed Himself at Gilgal (Joshua 5:13-15). Now He revealed Himself at Bochim. This (which may have been visually portrayed by the movement of the pillar of cloud and fire) may suggest that the Tabernacle was now set up at Bochim. There He castigated them for not having, after their victory, driven out the inhabitants of the land, nor having destroyed their altars (Judges 2:2-3).
But ‘Bochim’ may have been either at Shiloh or at Shechem, for Bochim (‘weeping’) was not so much a place name, but a name given there and then because of the weeping that took place there because of their repentance. And there they sacrificed to Yahweh, we may presume at the door of the Tabernacle. There is never any suggestion that sacrifices were made to Yahweh anywhere else, except possibly before the Ark, and the movement of the Angel of Yahweh suggests the movement of the Tabernacle. The criticism levelled against them is that they sacrificed to other gods because they had not thrown down the altars of these other gods. The command had been that they be destroyed.
It is true that mention is made of graven images in Judges 3:19 but there is no indication of what the images represented. They were probably simply ancient landmarks from the past.
It is significant that in the story of Deborah there is no mention of sacrificing. In view of the great victory and the godliness of Deborah we might have expected such a reference if it had been permitted, but she was judge and prophetess, not priest. It would seem that the idea of such offerings and sacrifices never entered her head. We are, however, told of the calling together of the tribes from far and wide (Judges 5:14-23), and that call would normally go from the Central Sanctuary. The thanksgiving offerings would be offered when the tribes met up at the Central Sanctuary.
When Gideon made an offering it was at the direct command of Yahweh and Yahweh was Himself there, and it was He Who caused it to be burned with fire (Judges 6:19-21). Yahweh acted as His own priest. Gideon built no altar there. However, he did build one later and called it ‘Yahweh is peace’. It stood there permanently and there is no reason to doubt that it was a memorial altar, established as a blow in the face to Baalism. He is not said to have offered sacrifices there (Judges 6:24). Even so it was at a place where Yahweh had recorded His name, revealing His presence there.
The altar that Gideon did build and sacrifice on, using the wood from the Asherah image, was again at the direct command of Yahweh (Judges 6:26), in accordance with Exodus 20:24-25, and was particular for the occasion. It was because Yahweh had revealed Himself as there through a theophany. It was a riposte against the altar of Baal which dominated the neighbourhood. Whether he had a local priest connected with his family to help him we do not know, but the circumstances were exceptional, specifically commanded by God at a theophany, and in accord with His direct instructions. There may have been no loyal priests in the area, and Yahweh had the right to alter His own instructions. We cannot argue with a theophany, or draw general conclusions from it.
Later he called up the tribes and they gathered to him. This would require some authority to whom the tribes would listen which may suggest he went to the Central Sanctuary for help, which would explain why the tribes responded to him. ‘Blowing the ram’s horn’ (Judges 6:34, compare Judges 3:27) may signify exactly that. But there is no other mention of him sacrificing, and his sin was rather to set up an ephod, probably used to enquire at as a substitute for going to the Central Sanctuary for guidance from Yahweh (Judges 8:27 compare 1 Samuel 23:9; 1 Samuel 30:7). In Exodus 28:0 the ephod was a priestly garment which bore the names of the children of Israel, to which was attached the breastpouch which contained the Urim and Thummim. It regularly indicated high religious status (1 Samuel 14:3). Thus here it was seemingly some symbol through which to supposedly consult Yahweh. But it was not approved of.
The ‘offering up as a burnt offering’ by Jephthah of his daughter (if it was actually carried out in practise and not a symbolic offering made at the Tabernacle when she was dedicated to lifelong service at the Tabernacle while a lamb was offered in her place, as with Isaac) was clearly not in accord with Yahweh’s teaching and cannot thus be used as an example of anything. We would not expect such an offering to be made at the Central Sanctuary if it was a human sacrifice. It would not have been countenanced.
Manoah’s offering of a whole burnt offering was again at the direct command of Yahweh in a theophany (Yahweh was there) and it was offered on a rock (Judges 13:16; Judges 13:19). This use of a rock may possibly be seen as demonstrating that there was no local altar to Yahweh. It certainly emphasises the temporary nature of ‘the altar’.
One thing that stands out in all this is the lack of mention of spontaneous sacrifices to Yahweh by the people in general. While such sacrificing to other gods is mentioned, there is silence as to sacrifices to Yahweh, apart from the examples given above which were at the specific command of Yahweh. Silence is, of course, a dangerous two-edged weapon, but it at least serves to demonstrate that such sacrifices away from the Ark and the Tabernacle are nowhere spoken of as positively sanctioned or allowed, or even stated to be engaged in. The whole of their religious tradition points to sacrifices being made only at the Tabernacle, except when the Ark was on the move or when there was a unique theophany. The otherwise total silence cannot be discounted.
We now come to the final incidents in Judges which throw more light on the matter.
In Judges 17 a foolish and unscrupulous young man named Micah, as a result of his grave misdeeds and subsequent deep penitence, made a graven image and a molten image from silver dedicated to Yahweh, the images themselves being in disobedience to the commandments. He ‘had a house of God’, made an ephod and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons as priests. It would seem that he was aping his own idea of the Tabernacle. The images were not said to be of Yahweh Himself. Possibly, as with Jeroboam later, he made a silver calf which in some way represented Yahweh, possibly being seen as His throne, for gods are known to have used bulls as their thrones. But the paraphernalia indicates a mixture with false worship.
The writer expresses his view of the situation by immediately adding the comment, ‘in those days there was no king in Israel. Every man did what was right in his own eyes’ (Judges 17:6). Many see this as signifying that this was written when there was a king in the fullest sense, and therefore not before the time of Saul. But there are alternative possibilities.
1). It might have signified a time when the kingship of Yahweh was not being taken seriously, ‘there was no king in Israel’ signifying to the writer the gloomy thought that Yahweh’s kingship had been rejected, as evidence the false altar, so that all did as they would.
2). It might have signified a time when there was no central authority who could be spoken of as being a king. It is quite clear that a section of Israel had been ready to make Gideon their ‘ruler’ over them, and possibly did so, even though, as Gideon stressed, it was only under Yahweh’s rule (Judges 8:22-23). His refusal may have been a polite acceptance, although subject to the kingship of Yahweh. Thus the writer could have been bewailing the loss of men such as Gideon, which had resulted in men living as they liked.
3). It might have been looking forward to the king promised as coming in the covenant promises (Genesis 17:6; Genesis 17:16; compare Genesis 49:10; Deuteronomy 17:14-20) and saying that, alas, that king had not yet arrived.
So the thought of being ‘kingless’ may simply indicate a lack of general authority. However, while the question is debatable, his statement certainly demonstrates that the writer regarded Micah’s actions as lawless. This whole process cannot therefore be looked on as legitimate, or even as common in Israel.
In this regard it is interesting and significant that while archaeology has thrown up a multitude of images of Baal throughout Canaan, there are comparatively few, if any, that could be seen as representing Yahweh. In view of man’s propensity for religious artefacts this can only be seen as surprising. It demonstrates how strictly the law against such images was observed, even at the most rebellious times.
It should be noted that Micah’s actions were so unusual that when revealed they drew the attention of the leaders of the tribe of Dan when they were moving to a new homeland. It is significant in this regard that the tribe themselves clearly did not have such images, nor a priest of their own, even though they knew that they were moving outside the range of the orthodox priesthood. It is clear too that they still did not know how they could obtain paraphernalia for worshipping Yahweh until they came across Micah. It seemed to them a gift from Heaven. To suggest therefore that this was the norm in Israel is to go against the evidence.
When a travelling Levite arrived and sought hospitality Micah seized on the opportunity to appoint him as his priest, declaring ‘Now I know that Yahweh will do me good, seeing I have a Levite as my priest’. By this he demonstrated that he was aware that his set up was contrary to the law. He was clearly aware that his present arrangement was unsatisfactory. This in itself condemned him. If he knew that he should not have a non-Levite as his priest, why had he appointed his son? In spite of his vague religious ideas he clearly knew that having his son as a priest, which would have been acceptable in patriarchal days, was now not quite sufficient. And this opportunity to have someone who was actually connected with the Central Sanctuary must have seemed like a Godsend. That he should at least have a Levite, who while not necessarily the perfect solution was at least a step up, clearly thrilled him. It confirms at this date the special status of Levites religiously speaking, but it does not indicate that Levites could act as priests. To Micah the Levite was simply one step up from the layman. Note that it is stressed in the story that this Levite was unscrupulous. (One point emphasised here is that Micah was aware of the lack in his son’s priesthood. Up to that point he had simply made do. He was transparently doing his own thing. He was clearly therefore not scrupulous about keeping the law, whatever it might be).
One of the responsibilities of Levites was to make clear the law of Yahweh, so we can understand why Micah, in his careless attitude towards religious matters, (he probably only had a very vague idea of what God’s law required), considered that this was one step up from his son. Here was an expert, a man set apart by God to serve the sanctuary, and he could have him for his own private sanctuary! But at this time the Levites, in the lack of organisation in those days, were probably not benefiting from a full allocation of tithes due to the lawlessness of the days, and the travelling Levites as opposed to those who remained in the levitical cities were probably in poverty. Thus this Levite, instead of admonishing him, accepted the position. As we discover later he too was unscrupulous. Note that he was consecrated by Micah. ‘Became his priest’ may well be sardonic.
It is clear to anyone not out to prove a point that this whole story is riddled with unscrupulousness, expediency, and religious error. The command not to make graven and molten images was basic to the covenant, had been specifically condemned in the incident of the golden calf (which no one would have invented, especially as related to Aaron, if it had not happened), and was constantly repeated. The setting up of his own house of God was seen as unusual enough to draw the attention of a large section of a major tribe, who had no images of their own, nor a priest of their own (it is clear that they had no priest among them, indicating that no reputable priest would remove so far from the Central Sanctuary), suggesting that they had had nowhere else that they could look. He is not to be looked on as one among many who did these things.
We may, however, well set his behaviour down to ignorance rather than total and flagrant rebellion, and as arising from the depth of his conviction of sin. He could not live with himself and was going to extremes to pacify his own conscience. People will do strange things in order to soothe their consciences. It was a time when the law was not being applied strictly and when men to some extent followed their own course in religious matters. Thus many turned to Baal (‘Lord’), possibly even loosely identifying him with Yahweh. (That Yahweh was in the early days referred to as ‘Baal’ (‘Lord’ - compare Hosea 2:16), which would have caused confusion, comes out in the early names which include Baal, e.g. Jerubbaal (Judges 7:1; Judges 8:29; Judges 8:35); Eshbaal, Saul’s son (1 Chronicles 9:39), altered to Ishbosheth later (2 Samuel 2:10). And Meribbaal, Saul’s grandson (1 Corinthians 8:34; 1 Corinthians 1:0 Corinthians 9:40), whose name was changed later to Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9:6). Bosheth means ‘shame’. Compare Hosea 2:16). Such names did not appear later, presumably because of the confusion. Furthermore if he was burdened in his own conscience because of his abominable behaviour towards his own mother we can understand why he went to such extremes. He was trying to make up for it by excessive ‘godliness’ based on ignorance, by setting up his own holy place That he was an innovator comes out in the sequel.
The tribe of Dan are depicted as not having been able to take over the lot that had been allocated to them in the land (Judges 18:1 compare Judges 1:34-35). A large section of them therefore decided to desert their inheritance. (How large in comparison with the whole we do not know, but many Danites remained behind). And while seeking a new place to which to move outside the allocated areas their spies chanced on Micah’s house and lodged there. They actually knew the Levite (Judges 17:3). Judges 18:30 in fact informs us that he was Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses. He thus had important connections and was seemingly well known. The narrator does not inform us of this at the beginning presumably because he considered that it was a shame on Israel, and on Moses, that this man behaved in this way. The non-naming of people in the Old Testament often seems to result from an attempt to indicate their worthlessness.
So when this large section of the tribe moved from Danite territory to Laish they passed by Micah’s house and appropriated his priest and his images, his ephod and his teraphim, first by stealth, and then by force, delighted to find something that they knew to be missing in their venture. It will be noted how many of the commandments were being broken at this stage. That regarding images, that regarding theft, that regarding threatened murder, that regarding covetousness, and even that regarding honouring father and mother, for it had been stressed that he treated the young Levite as his son (Judges 17:11). That is, at least half of the commandments had been broken, a whole tabletful. They had also deserted their allotted inheritance. There is no way in which we can depict this whole account as being other than riddled with gross disobedience to the covenant, even in the light of the times. All the sins are piled up on each other. To suggest that Dan are simply doing innocently what later generations would condemn is to ignore the facts. From the moment of deserting their inheritance they were depicted as being totally unscrupulous and in the wrong in all that they did.
Arriving at Laish, and taking it, they set up the image and established the Levite as priest. As a descendant of Moses, and as a Levite connected therefore to the family of Aaron (Moses was Aaron’s brother), they no doubt felt he was the next best thing to a Levitical priest of the family of Aaron, (Moses had had the right of priesthood) and no legitimate priest would have followed them out of the allotted territories away from the Central Sanctuary. They had probably tried to tempt one and had failed (another confirmation that priests did not think that they could set up altars just anywhere). This image was set up ‘all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh’. Thus it is deliberately contrasted with the one Central Sanctuary in a way that suggests disapproval. The house of God was at Shiloh, and they had set up this false one which was no house of God (for that was at Shiloh). This emphasises that it was contrary to the conception of the Central Sanctuary. (It also demonstrates that Micah’s house of God was equally condemned). The ‘time of the captivity of the land’ probably refers to the overrunning of it by the Philistines (compare Judges 13:1; 1 Samuel 4:10-11) which was also the time when Shiloh ceased to be the Central Sanctuary (Jeremiah 7:12-14; Jeremiah 26:6; Jeremiah 26:9). Such as it is, archaeological evidence supports this situation.
The next incident in Judges is in respect of a Levite who was travelling some distance to ‘the residence of Yahweh’ (Judges 19:18). This confirms that in general Israel recognised but one ‘house’ (bayith - residence) of Yahweh, the Central Sanctuary. As he lodged in Gibeah his concubine was viciously multi-raped with public approbation (Judges 19:0). So he acted swiftly, cut up her body and sent parts to the twelve tribes together with a message explaining the purpose of his action. It was a call to the tribes to come before Yahweh and pass their judgment and avenge her death. It was a gruesome variation on the way that the tribes were seemingly summoned by an animal cut up so that its body parts might be a reminder of the fact that not to respond to the covenant would be to be deserving of death (see 1 Samuel 11:7).
This spurred the tribes to action and ‘all the children of Israel -- the congregation, was gathered as one man, from Dan even to Beersheba with the land of Gilead, to Yahweh at Mizpah’ (Judges 20:1). Whether this was at a time of festal gathering we do not know, but it does seem probable that they took such an opportunity, although it is also clear that they had come to hear the Levite’s charges against Gibeah of Benjamin which had been brought before them in such a vivid manner. This would explain why Benjamin were not present even though they had been notified (Judges 20:3) (they would also have received a body part). Benjamin had closed ranks behind Gibeah. Note how every part of the land is specifically included, north (Dan), south (Beersheba) and Transjordan (Gilead), and it is stressed that the chiefs of all the tribes were present together with four hundred military units. Thus it would appear that the Central Sanctuary was at this stage at Mizpah, otherwise why did they not gather at Shiloh? Unless of course this Mizpah (‘watchtower’) was adjacent to Shiloh, which is quite possible. Mizpah might well have been a gatheringplace near Shiloh. A wide area would be needed. The Levite had come to ‘the house of Yahweh’ as he had said was his intention, although in very different circumstances from his original intention
This picture of the whole of Israel acting in unison is a confirmation of the strength of the concept of the Central Sanctuary. What else but a sacred gathering point could have brought together such a gathering of disparate tribes? But they came because the covenant had been broken in such a way that it brought a curse on Israel, as witness the pieces of the dead woman. And this sin had been committed against a servant of Yahweh, on his way to serve at the Central Sanctuary. In the end they knew that they were responsible towards Yahweh and His covenant. They had no alternative but to act. Gross and shameful sin had been committed against Yahweh. But Benjamin refused to acknowledge the guilt of Gibeah and the result was seen to be so serious that it resulted in civil war. Benjamin were in breach of the sacred covenant.
In order to aid in the carrying forward of operations the Ark, and possibly the tabernacle, was removed to Bethel, for it was there that they came to consult the Urim and the Thummim, through the High Priest. They ‘asked counsel of God’ and ‘Yahweh’ replied. Then after being defeated they returned and ‘wept before Yahweh until the evening’, and again consulted Him and received His reply, again presumably through the Urim and Thummim. After a second defeat they ‘came to Bethel and wept, and sat there before Yahweh -- and they offered whole burnt offerings and peace offerings before Yahweh’ (Judges 20:26). And they again enquired of Yahweh (Judges 20:27 a). And it is at this point that it is explained that ‘the Ark of the Covenant of God was there in those days’ (Judges 20:27 b). This should not surprise us. The Ark was regularly brought to where there was a holy war. It explains how they could come ‘before Yahweh’.
Furthermore we are told that ‘Phinehas, the son of Eliezer, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days’ (Judges 20:28), in other words he was ‘the Priest’. Thus if an altar was built as opposed to the presence of the Tabernacle it was sanctioned by the presence of the Ark, but only while the Ark was there and if built in accordance with Exodus 20:24-25.
But while the Tabernacle is not mentioned every Israelite would know that where the Ark went the Tabernacle would normally surely go, and that ‘enquiries of Yahweh’, and weeping ‘before Yahweh’, and the offering of whole burnt offerings and peace offerings, indicated that it was before the door of the Tent of meeting, unless, and we do not know whether this was so, in times of holy war the Ark stood in for the Tabernacle on the front line. This is finally confirmed by the presence of Phinehas, ‘the Priest’, and the fact that the enquiries are again here addressed to Yahweh, this time specifically through him. The result was total defeat for Benjamin and a process of elimination (Judges 20:48) until only six military units, ‘six hundred men’ were left who had not fled the country.
This then caused the people to return to the Central Sanctuary at Bethel because they suddenly realised that a whole tribe was to be blotted out of Israel (Judges 21:2-3). They ‘built there an altar and offered whole burnt offerings and peace offerings’ (Judges 21:4). We know that at the very least the Ark was there (Judges 20:27 b), and we are probably to see the Tabernacle as there also, for the ‘building of the altar’ probably refers to using the brazen altar (which was in itself only a shell) and building up in it the stones and earth required to make it usable as an altar. On the other hand Bethel may alternately have been seen as one place where Yahweh had recorded His name because of the presence of the Ark so that an earthen altar or one of unhewn stones could be used.
Everything having been settled the Central Sanctuary seemingly returned to Shiloh (Judges 21:12). Shiloh was recognised as the place of the Central Sanctuary par excellence (Psalms 78:60; Jeremiah 7:12). Jeremiah even compared the Temple and Jerusalem to it (Jeremiah 7:14). It was the place where God caused His name to dwell at the first (Jeremiah 7:12). It was the place that Yahweh their God had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to set His name there (Deuteronomy 12:5).
But the possibility must be accepted in all this that the Tabernacle in fact remained at Shiloh over this period, with only the Ark as the central point of worship being removed to Mizpah and Bethel. However, where the Ark was would be seen as the place where Yahweh had set His name (Exodus 20:23-24; 2 Samuel 6:2). Thus it may be that temporary altars could be set up where the Ark was, given authentication by the presence of the Ark. Then they would have to be built as in Exodus 20:24-25. But it is difficult to think that the Ark was left out in the open so that the dew could fall on it. Its sacredness required that it be sheltered.
It seems that often when there was warfare the Ark was prominent and temporarily left the Tabernacle. See Numbers 10:33-36 where it is connected with Yahweh arising and scattering their enemy, and where its return to the Tabernacle is spoken of in terms of returning to the whole of Israel. This refers to their first stage on leaving Sinai to give confidence to the people as they moved forward. It probably went ahead whenever danger was sensed. Normally when all was quiet the Tabernacle would travel in the middle of the column (Numbers 10:17), covered and borne by the Levites. See also Joshua 3-6 where the Ark was evidence that Yahweh was with them in what lay ahead and where it produced the unique victory at Jericho, in which cause it had to be borne by ‘levitical priests’. But Jericho was a firstfruit, a city to be devoted to Yahweh, for Yahweh had taken it. That would not be directly true of every city.
The only time, however when we know of it actually being taken into battle (again by ‘levitical priests’) was in 1 Samuel 4:3-6, but it clearly had a reputation for the Philistines feared it (1 Samuel 4:7-8). The probability is that when a battle was ahead it was brought into the vicinity rather than actually being taken into battle, as in Judges 20:27. Whether the Tabernacle was sometimes brought with it we are not told.
But the Ark would be seen as the focal point of the Central Sanctuary, for it was the durable and central feature, so that where it went there symbolically was, as it were, the Central Sanctuary. And there went Yahweh’s Name (2 Samuel 6:2). With its ‘propitiatory’ (mercy seat) placed between the cherubim it symbolised the throne between the Cherubim on which Yahweh sat and on which He travelled through the heavens (2 Samuel 22:11; Psalms 18:10; Ezekiel 1:10; see also Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1; Isaiah 37:16). This would have justified the building of temporary altars while the Ark was there, because there He was seen to have set His Name, and there He was considered to be. But once it had returned to the Tabernacle any such altars would cease to be valid. Their validity came from the presence of the Ark.
We may note that while the Tabernacle would itself have needed renewing and could even be replaced by the Temple, the Ark could not be replaced by anything. When it was captured they did not make a new Ark, whereas the Tabernacle would have to be renewed constantly. Even the Temple could be rebuilt. But the Ark was permanent and so sacred that it could not be replaced. It represented the essence of the Central Sanctuary and was also the Ark of the Testimony, containing within it the covenant. They did not even replace it after the Exile but symbolised its presence with a stone. It was too sacred to replace. There was only one Ark. The tradition thus grew that it had been hidden and would one day return (see 2MMalachi 2:4-8).
The durability of the Central Sanctuary comes out in that after the long period and turmoil of the judges period it still survived and appears in 1 Samuel 1:0. There we read of Elkanah who went up from his city ‘at regular times’ (miyamim yamimah - literally ‘from days of days’) to worship and to sacrifice to Yahweh of hosts in Shiloh’ (1 Samuel 1:3). This suggests that he went up for the regular feasts. Thus we have here evidence that the ordinary godly Israelite expected to attend regularly at the Central Sanctuary for worship and the offering of sacrifices. It is also added that those who ministered were Hophni and Phinehas, sons of Eli, who were priests of Yahweh. Eli was ‘the Priest’ (1 Samuel 1:9). These were descended from Aaron.
Eli ‘sat by a post of the temple (heycal) of Yahweh’ (1 Samuel 1:9). The word ‘heycal’ means a ‘magnificent structure’. It is possible that the Israelites used it of the Tabernacle which they no doubt saw as their ‘magnificent dwellingplace for Yahweh’, and that the post was one of the posts of the Tabernacle entrance, but it is very possible that in view of the circumstances of the time the Tabernacle had been surrounded by a defensive wall with a gate and that store buildings had been erected for containing the paraphernalia of the Tabernacle and the fruit of its offerings. Archaeology has revealed such storebuildings at Shiloh (assuming it to be modern Seilun), although whether they were connected with the Tabernacle we cannot know.
Elkanah went up to offer to Yahweh the ‘regular sacrifice and his vow’ (1 Samuel 1:21). All this is consonant with what we know of the Central Sanctuary where offerings were alone made to Yahweh. When his wife bore her ‘miracle child’ whom she had promised would be given to Yahweh all the days of his life and that no razor would come on his head (1 Samuel 1:11), indicating an ‘avowed’ man, she took the child up to the Central Sanctuary, to ‘the residence (bayith) of Yahweh’ (compare Judges 18:31; Judges 19:18), ‘that he may appear before Yahweh and there abide for ever’ (1 Samuel 1:22) and there offered an ox bull as an offering. A tent could be called ‘a residence’ but the usage may reflect the more permanent elements that had probably been built there. In 1 Samuel 3:3 reference is made to ‘the magnificent residence’ (heycal) of Yahweh where the Ark (and the lamp of God) was’
So Samuel became a child of the Sanctuary and as such was probably seen as adopted by Eli, thus becoming a member of the priestly family, even though Samuel is in fact never called a priest. (That may well be because the priesthood was at the time seen as discredited). But his permanent attachment to the Tabernacle probably required that he be adopted by those who serviced the temple, and what is more he was probably the ‘faithful priest according to My will who will do according to what is in My heart and in My mind’ (1 Samuel 2:35). He certainly performed the functions of a priest in the anointing of kings (1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:13) and the offering of sacrifices (1 Samuel 7:9-10), and in blessing the sacrifice (1 Samuel 9:13), and even while a child ‘ministered before Yahweh before Eli the Priest’ (1 Samuel 2:11; 1 Samuel 2:18), wore a linen ephod (1 Samuel 2:18) and entered the Holy Place (1 Samuel 3:3). The last is suggested by the reference to the lamp of God which had not gone out and would be in the Holy Place. The description ‘where the Ark of God was’ refers to the Sanctuary as a whole. It does not mean that he was in the Holy of Holies but that he was in a place where Yahweh could speak to him from the Ark behind the veil, that is in the Holy Place. He would see the staves which bore the Ark protruding through (2 Chronicles 5:9). His presence there confirms that he was seen as ‘priestly’. We must remember in this regard that Samuel was ‘sanctified’ to Yahweh from babyhood. He was a uniquely ‘holy’ child, a Sanctuary child. In 1 Chronicles 6:28 he is named in a genealogy of Levi which supports this, even if it was by adoption.
But he also became much more. He became ‘a prophet of Yahweh’ in a special sense (1 Samuel 3:20), an intercessor for Israel ( 1Sa 7:5 ; 1 Samuel 7:8; 1 Samuel 12:18) and a ‘judge’ of Israel (1 Samuel 7:15) and also head over the whole band of prophets (1 Samuel 19:20). He was a mighty figure in religious terms. However, he was not officially ‘the Priest’ (the High Priest) for that was first Eli, and then Ahiyah, son of Ahitub, son of Phinehas, son of Eli (1 Samuel 14:3). But Eli died when Samuel was young and Ahiyah became High Priest when Samuel was old, so Samuel may well have stood in as High Priest while he was growing up. It is possible that Ahitub, of whom nothing is known, was High Priest, but it seems more likely that he must have died fairly young for he never appears on the scene. (He must not be mixed up with Ahitub the father of Zadok).
So Samuel cannot be judged by normal standards. He was brought into the world to be Yahweh’s servant, was supremely Yahweh’s man like no one since Moses and Joshua, and accepted by Yahweh as having priestly rights. Furthermore while he was growing up, the Central Sanctuary was being watched over by priests not worthy of the name and the Sanctuary was subject to many sinful practises (1 Samuel 2:13-17; 1 Samuel 2:22). It was rapidly becoming discredited. It was thus to Samuel, child and ‘holy one’ of the Central Sanctuary, prophet of Yahweh, that the pious people looked. There was their hope. Samuel and Shiloh were identified (1 Samuel 3:21). The Central Sanctuary was still central and personified in Samuel.
Note in all this that Eli was said to be ‘chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to be My priest, to offer on My altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before Me’ and to receive the offerings made by fire to Yahweh which were for the priest (1 Samuel 2:28). The High Priesthood of Eli is thus confirmed as appointed by Yahweh in line with the Law found in the Pentateuch.
However, catastrophe struck. A defeat by the Philistines resulted in a call by the people that the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh which dwells between the cherubim should be brought from Shiloh, from its place in the Central Sanctuary (1 Samuel 4:3). This being complied with the presence of Eli’s sons was required, for only the priests of Yahweh could carry the Ark into battle, possibly uncovered (1 Samuel 4:4; compare Joshua 3-4). But the people were defeated, the Ark of God was taken and the two evil priests slain (1 Samuel 4:11). And as a result the aged Eli died, probably because of the shock (1 Samuel 4:14-18). It was possibly around this time that Shiloh was destroyed (Jeremiah 7:12-14; Jeremiah 26:6; Jeremiah 26:9), although the Tabernacle may have been whisked away for we much later find Ahimelech ministering as ‘the Priest’ and in charge of the shewbread and the ephod (1 Samuel 21:0). Ahi-melech (my brother is King) may be an alternative name for Ahi-yah (my brother is Yahweh).
So as a result of the defeat at the hands of the Philistines the Ark was in the hands of the Philistines, the structure at Shiloh was destroyed, and the High Priesthood was in disarray. We do not know whether the Tabernacle escaped whole or whether another one had to be put together, but a Central Sanctuary was much later to be found at Nob, containing the shewbread which was ‘before Yahweh’, the ephod and the sword of Goliath, although lacking what was central to it, the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh (1 Samuel 21:1-9). But at the time of Samuel’s maturity it was clearly marginalised. Even if it still existed its authority had been diminished, its priesthood discredited and shamed and now slain or dead, its shrine empty, and it itself having to be ignominiously removed. But even its existence in any usable form must be doubted. Yahweh had deserted it (Psalms 78:60). What then preserved the unity of Israel and the idea of the oneness of God? The answer lies in the one whom Yahweh had raised up for the purpose, Samuel, child of the Central Sanctuary. He was the symbol of Yahweh, the symbol of unity, famed throughout Israel (1 Samuel 3:20). And the fact that he, the child dedicated for life to the Sanctuary, was no longer with it, serves to confirm that it was no longer active.
The Ark did not remain long with the Philistines. They found it too hot to handle and it was returned in an unmanned cart to Bethshemesh, a priestly city (Joshua 21:16). The workers in the fields which would include priests were so delighted to see it that they lost their heads, and looked into the Ark (1 Samuel 6:19). Possibly they were checking whether the covenant tablets were still there, but whatever the reason they were smitten as a result, probably with the plague, (as with the Philistines - 1 Samuel 5:6; 1 Samuel 5:9; 1 Samuel 5:12) and fifty eleph (leading men?) and seventy men died (1 Samuel 6:19). Although this would only manifest itself after the initial celebrations, it would then come with all the more seriousness. Those who looked into the Ark would probably be mainly the leading men.
The gift of the Philistines of five golden tumours and five golden rodents (1 Samuel 6:4) may well indicate a connection of the plague with flea-ridden rats, of which some may have been still in the Ark. If they sought to remove them we can well understand why they were smitten.
Meanwhile the Israelites had been sensible enough, once the first moments of excitement had passed, to ensure that Levites (as it was a priestly city, presumably levitical priests) present lifted the Ark down, and they placed it on a great stone which they then also used as an impromptu altar and sacrificed the oxen as a whole burnt offering to Yahweh, utilising the wood of the cart. They then also offered more whole burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices, the latter suggesting that they then had a feast. The use of an altar was legitimised by the presence of the Ark, and in a priestly city there was no shortage of priests.
The repetition in verses 14-15 is typical of ancient literature which was often very repetitive. It was written in order to be listened to and the repetition helped the hearer to keep up with events. Such repetitions were simply ancient style.
The effect of the plague was to cause them to desire to get rid of the Ark and they sent messengers to Kiriath-yearim calling for them to come and collect the Ark. We are not told why they brought Kiriath-yearim into it, or why they expected them to accept something so dangerous, but the men of that city responded and fetched the Ark of Yahweh and brought it into the house of Abinadab ‘in the hill’.
This gives us a clue to the explanation. The presumption must be that it was precisely because Abinadab was there, and had agreed to take the Ark, that Kiriath-yearim was involved. All would have consulted together and would have asked, who can we call on to take responsibility for this dangerous Ark? And their solution had been Abinadab. He was probably the most prominent man in the area and recognised as a godly man who would know what to do, thus probably also a priest. And he had presumably consented. Then they ‘sanctified’ Eleazar, Abinadab’s son to be its custodian, ‘to keep the Ark of Yahweh’. This would suggest that all knew that Abinadab was the right man to receive the Ark, that his son was a suitable person to be its custodian, and suggests that they were of a priestly family. That is no doubt why Kiriath-yearim were prepared to accept the Ark (they were not a levitical city). ‘In the hill’ probably suggests his status, but it may indicate that the aim was to have the Ark kept in an elevated place. We may consider that had everyone not been confident that Abinadab was the most suitable of men for the task the men of Kiriath-yearim would probably have rejected the kind offer of the Ark (which had been shown to be so dangerous) on the grounds that the priestly people of Bethshemesh were the experts.
If we consider that Bethshemesh was a priestly city, and that there was much death as a result of misuse of the Ark, which could hardly have been hushed up, we can surely recognise the great care that would have been taken to ensure that the correct precautions were observed and the correct person to look after the Ark. They had learned the hard way that this was not something to be trifled with, or even dismissed. The writer would not feel it necessary to point out that Abinadab was qualified to receive the Ark. All would know that it was clearly so. It is hugely probable that he was a high status priest or Levite. Certainly he must have been a man of high position and reputation.
The fact that there seems to have been no thought of restoring the Ark to the Tabernacle counts heavily in favour of the Tabernacle having been destroyed at Shiloh when the Central Sanctuary was destroyed, an occurrence which was deliberately totally ignored until mentioned centuries later by Jeremiah 7:14; Jeremiah 26:6; Jeremiah 26:9). This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that Samuel who had been dedicated to serve the Tabernacle for life now seemingly ceased specifically to be so and was no longer connected with it. The only possible explanation for this is that the Tabernacle had ceased to operate, otherwise he was breaking his mother’s vow, although we need not doubt that as much as possible would have been saved and stored somewhere. (Samuel himself must have fled from it). The Ark thus had nowhere to go. It may also have been seen as having been defiled, and besides it smote all who touched it, and was such that they did not know what to do with it. The alternative explanation may, however, be that the Philistines forbade its restoration at the time, for the lords of the Philistines were taking a personal interest in the situation (1 Samuel 6:12, compare 1 Samuel 7:7). While they could not handle it themselves, they would not want Israel to make use of it as it was before. But that would only apply before their defeat.
The Ark, however, would remain there for twenty years. For some reason not explained it was clearly considered that it could not be brought into use. One good reason for this would be that the Central Sanctuary had been destroyed and was no longer operating. Another that the death of the two sons of the High Priest, followed by the death of Eli itself, had left no adult hereditary High Priest able to fulfil his duty. A third that it was defiled until Yahweh indicated otherwise. Thus might the Central Sanctuary have been put on hold, with the nation uniting around Samuel.
“And all the house of Israel lamented after Yahweh” (1 Samuel 7:2). This may suggest that the ancient Sanctuary at Shiloh was destroyed, and the Ark was in quarantine, so that they had nowhere to look for Yahweh’s help. Their very heart had been torn out. Thus all eyes were turned to Samuel who par excellence represented the essence of the destroyed Central Sanctuary.
In this new situation both Samuel and Israel were feeling their way. But Samuel had no doubt as to why all this had happened. He called on the people to return to Yahweh and put away their strange gods and Asherah-images and return to the covenant. Then he called on them to gather at Mizpah which was probably a gathering place near Shiloh (compare Judges 20:1). We are not given a time scale, and it is probably significant that no sacrifices were said to be offered there. This was not the triumphant gathering to the Central Sanctuary. It was an act of national repentance. So instead they poured out water before Yahweh and fasted (1 Samuel 7:7). But the approach of the Philistine army, alarmed at this huge gathering, terrified the people. This faced Samuel up with what he must do and he opted on a bold and unorthodox course.
There was no Central Sanctuary there, and no Ark, and probably no adult hereditary High Priest. So in the absence of a Central Sanctuary he had no option but to act as the supreme representative of the Central Sanctuary and approach Yahweh ad hoc. This was no ordinary situation and they wanted Yahweh to manifest His Name.
We must remember that Samuel was, like Moses and Joshua, a unique person in the eyes of Yahweh. He was His chosen one and His prophet. He was all that was visibly left of what had been truly sanctified in the Central Sanctuary. He was also a ‘holy’ child of the Sanctuary and probably an adopted priest. And he was known as one who received Yahweh’s word directly. So he took a sucking lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to Yahweh (1 Samuel 7:9). That this was pleasing to Yahweh was evidenced by the fact that He stepped in and disabled the Philistines by a huge storm so that Israel was able to defeat them (verse 10). But it was clearly exceptional and connected with his own unique position and the unique situation (as with Elijah’s altar later).
The final result, very much summarised, was that Israel were able to free themselves from the Philistine yoke. Samuel meanwhile recognised that there must be some central place for the people to come to worship and set up an altar to Yahweh in Ramah (1 Samuel 7:17). This was probably intended to act as the Central Sanctuary, until the Central Sanctuary could be restored on the coming of age of the hereditary High Priest. This was to act in its place, and seemingly did so into Samuel’s old age (1 Samuel 8:1-4). That Yahweh’s chosen ‘child of the Sanctuary’ was there would identify it to the people as such. Possibly the wait was intended to give time for the Central Sanctuary and the Ark to become ‘clean’ again after the way in which they had been defiled by the former High Priesthood. Passage of time was always the way by which cleanness was restored, ‘and shall be unclean until the evening’ is a regular description of becoming ritually clean again (Leviticus 22:6; and twenty seven more times; Number Deuteronomy 19:21). For some cleansings a seven day wait was necessary. Here it was much longer, possibly by necessity. Such a wait being seen as necessary would explain why he did not immediately establish a new Tabernacle, bring back the Ark, and proclaim a new Central Sanctuary that way.
While Samuel judged Israel the people were satisfied but his heirs were not like him (1 Samuel 8:3), so the people then came to Samuel and ask him to give them ‘a king to judge us like all the nations’. They had been twenty years without an official Central Sanctuary apart from Ramah and were no longer thinking in those terms. They simply wanted settled government.
Their dream, of course, was of a perfect king who would rule righteously, and one who would have his own standing army and do all their fighting for them. But they were in essence rejecting the rule of Yahweh. It was Yahweh Who fought for them. And they were not looking for a king under Yahweh, who would lead them to the victory provided by Yahweh and teach them Yahweh’s Law, but a despotic king who would fight their battles for them. Faith was low. So Samuel reminded them of what the reality of such a king would be like (1 Samuel 8:10-18). But no, they insisted, they wanted a king like all the nations who would protect the country and fight their battles. They saw the old ways as discredited. Samuel’s sons were wayward (1 Samuel 8:3). They could not depend on the rising of another Samuel.
Samuel saw to the heart of the matter immediately. They had lost their trust in the covenant God and the principle of the Central Sanctuary. The truth was that they felt that they could no longer fully rely on Yahweh as their King (1 Samuel 8:7) to fight their battles.
Saul was meanwhile led by Yahweh to Ramah where Samuel lived, at a time when sacrifices were taking place at ‘the high place’ (1 Samuel 9:12), that is at the site of the central altar in Ramah (Deuteronomy 7:17) which had been Israel’s one altar for the last twenty years, in essence its Central Sanctuary. But from now on things were to change. Samuel recognised that his ‘temporary’ High Priesthood was coming to an end. He was old and the balance of power was necessarily changing. His thoughts therefore turned to where the Central Sanctuary had been first established when Joshua entered the land, to Gilgal, and he called on Saul to meet him there (1 Samuel 10:8). A new Central Sanctuary must be established. We can compare here how when Elijah instated Elisha as his successor he too repeated the course of the first entry into the land (Bethel, Jericho, parting Jordan, Jericho, Bethel - 2 Kings 2:0).
And a new Central Sanctuary was suitably established by the building of an altar and the offering of whole burnt offerings and sacrifices ‘before Yahweh’ (1 Samuel 11:15). We are not given any further details. This was the beginning of Samuel’s farewell and withdrawal. It should be carefully noted that at Saul’s coronation at Mizpah there had been no mention of offerings and sacrifices (1 Samuel 10:17-27), they could not just be offered anywhere. Although it would seem that Samuel did make use of the Urim and Thummim there (1 Samuel 10:20-21).
Saul now took on himself the rights of the Central Sanctuary by calling together the tribes in a time of emergency (1 Samuel 11:7) and he defeated the Ammonites. Further victories against small Philistine forces (for the Philistines were now once more exercising their power over Israel - 1 Samuel 14:52) resulted in a call for ‘all Israel’ to gather together which took place at the new Central Sanctuary at Gilgal (1 Samuel 13:7). But Saul knew that even then he must await the presence of the stand-in High Priest Samuel in order for him to offer the offerings and sacrifices. Samuel was, however, delayed, and seeing his army disintegrating Saul panicked and himself began to offer the offerings and sacrifices.
But he had only offered the initial whole burnt offering (this order of offering ties in with the requirements of Leviticus) when Samuel arrived. Samuel was appalled at what was happening. Saul had no right to offer offerings and sacrifices without his authority as acting High Priest. (Note that Saul had ‘forced himself’. He knew that what he did was wrong). And he declared to him that such was the seriousness of his crime that he had thereby forfeited the permanent favour of Yahweh. Note the seriousness of the penalty. What Saul had done had been no light matter. Without Yahweh’s permission he had taken on himself the prerogatives of the house of Aaron. Yahweh already had a replacement for him in mind (1 Samuel 13:10-14). Nevertheless as a result of Saul’s remorse Samuel led Saul and his men to Gibeah ready for incursions against the Philistines.
We should note at this point the nature of Israel’s new kingship. It was not to be like that of other nations. It is stressed that the new king was crowned as ‘nagid’ (prince) rather than as ‘melek’ (king).
From the earliest days ‘nagid’ was a regular term applied to rulers of Israel, to Saul, David and Solomon (1 Samuel 9:16; 1Sa 10:1 ; 1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Samuel 25:30; 2Sa 5:2 ; 2 Samuel 6:21; 2 Samuel 7:8; 1 Kings 1:35) and to early rulers of Israel and Judah after Solomon (1 Kings 14:7; 1 Kings 16:2; 2 Kings 20:5). Saul was anointed ‘nagid’ (1 Samuel 9:16; 1 Samuel 10:1). David was to replace him as ‘nagid’ (1 Samuel 13:14) as David acknowledged (2 Samuel 6:21). And even though he later saw himself as king, he still recognised that in becoming king Solomon would be appointed as ‘nagid’ (1 Kings 1:35). They were kings under Yahweh, his representatives.
Furthermore in all the verses above, apart from 2 Kings 20:5, the term nagid is related to the actual appointing or anointing of the person as ‘prince’. It is seen as a term especially related to one ‘chosen and anointed by God’.
It is also in Scripture used of important men in authority in Israel and Judah (e.g. ‘rulers over the house of God’, rulers of priestly courses, and grand viziers of Judah and Israel once kingship was fully established, all chosen men), but only twice ever applied outside Israel and Judah, once in 2 Chronicles 32:21 (a late use), where it is used in the plural of the king of Assyria’s war leaders and once of the prince of Tyre by Ezekiel 28:1 where its use is probably sarcastic, having his claim to be the anointed of the gods in mind. Psalms 76:12 may be another exception but is ambiguous.
So even in appointing a king it was recognised that he was a king of a special kind. He was the chosen of Yahweh and therefore responsible for maintaining the covenant and the true worship of Yahweh. He was a ‘prince’ under Yahweh.
This is all confirmed by the fact that shortly after this Samuel handed back the practise of the High Priesthood to the descendants of Eli, for ‘Ahiyah, son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli’ was now found with Saul, wearing the ephod (1 Samuel 14:3 see 1 Samuel 15:35). He had reached an age when the hereditary High Priesthood could be resumed. Saul could not rule without a High Priest. The reference to Ahitub as Ichabod’s brother may be seen as confirming that Ahitub was dead and had died when comparatively young. It certainly demonstrates him to have been not well known. Thus the new Central Sanctuary under the hereditary High Priest could now be set up.
In his new independence of Samuel Saul began to act rashly and naively. His first thoughts turned to the Ark which he knew had in the past had been so important to Israel. He naively turned to his new High Priest and said, ‘Bring hither the Ark of God’ (1 Samuel 14:18), which (as we have been told) was at that time in the hands of Israel. He was clearly unaware of all the problems involved, and probably thought that Ahiyah had it close to hand. Nothing further is heard of it at this point, and, as battle began immediately, he cancelled his request and the matter was dropped. The writer is probably bringing out Saul’s naivety, or possibly drawing attention to the fact that Saul, unlike David, was not permitted to restore the Ark.
But why was the Ark not restored to the new Tabernacle? Possibly because the Philistines were now again pressing and they did not want to risk losing it again. Possibly because it was looked on as defiled by its time in Philistia, and not yet ready to be restored. Possibly because after what had previously happened no word was seen as having come from Yahweh permitting its restoration, and there was still the memory of what had occurred in the past on its first arrival back. Possibly because it was in territory occupied by the Philistines. Possibly because when consulted about the issue through Urim and Thummim Yahweh said ‘no’. Or possibly because they considered that events had proved that it was no longer effective. Any combination of these may indeed be what Saul was told in response to his request.
The way that the Law was being neglected at this time comes out in that when the Philistines were defeated and their cattle captured the people of Israel began to eat them without properly disposing of the blood (1 Samuel 14:32). (Had nothing further been said some might have claimed that here was another evidence that the law was unknown. In fact it merely demonstrates that it was not observed). But Saul knew that this was contrary to the Law and he commanded that the blood be properly dealt with. A great stone was rolled into place and the oxen and sheep were then slain on the great stone in the proper manner (compare Deuteronomy 12:15-16; Deuteronomy 12:20-28). We are not told that these were seen as offerings and sacrifices.
The passage then ends with, ‘And Saul built an altar to Yahweh. The same was the first altar that he built to Yahweh.’ This was possibly the writer’s disapproving view of what Saul had done, even though it is probable that Saul did not look on it as an altar but as a convenient way of killing oxen and sheep while allowing their blood to flow on the ground (Deuteronomy 12:15-16; Deuteronomy 12:20-28). But the statement had another significance within it. Samuel was no longer seen as responsible for building altars, even in the Sanctuary. That now rested with Saul and his High Priest.
But it may mean that Saul did genuinely now ‘build an altar’ which was under his authority rather than Samuel’s, that is, that through his new High Priest he now took responsibility for the maintenance of Central Sanctuary worship. For we must recognise that when we speak of a king doing something it regularly means through his ministers. So the idea may be that he was re-establishing his own new Central Sanctuary in the place of Samuel’s and that it was the first time that he had on his own initiative arranged for an altar to be built within the bronze framework of the altar of whole burnt offering by his new High Priest. A king stood as representative for the people and when he called on them to do something it was often described as him doing it. Thus when Nebuchadnezzar in his inscriptions much later said ‘Forty six cities of Judah I besieged and took’ we are not intended to see him as doing it by himself. We are intended to see that he was including his generals and his great armies in his action. He may indeed not have been personally present at most of the action.
This may be seen as confirmed by the fact that when Saul then wanted to pursue the Philistines under the guidance of ‘the Priest’ he sought Yahweh’s advice (1 Samuel 14:36), probably through the Urim and Thummim ((1 Samuel 14:37), although he received through it ‘no reply’. Then he sought through lots, probably again through Urim and Thummim, as to the reason ((1 Samuel 14:38-42). He was clearly in constant touch with the High Priest, and thus the Central Sanctuary.
An interesting incident then takes place in the secret anointing of David by Samuel. This begins a chain of events which eventually leads to his kingship. But the point of interest from our point of view is that Samuel’s pretext for going to Bethlehem is to be in order to ‘sacrifice to Yahweh’ (1 Samuel 16:2), although we must note that again it is at the direct command of Yahweh. He is then to call Jesse to the sacrifice. This is the one place which reads as though sacrifices in different places might be a regular feature.
It may suggest that it had been Samuel’s practise to move his temporary Central Sanctuary from place to place in these troubled times, (compare (1 Samuel 7:16), but there is no other example of this, unless we read it into 1 Samuel 7:16. But while those were all places which had been visited by the Ark or which had previously been connected with the Central Sanctuary, there is no hint elsewhere that official worship took place at these sites. On the other hand we could argue that had it been his normal practise to offer sacrifices in Bethlehem the elders would not have been afraid at his coming (1 Samuel 16:4). His appearance was clearly not habitual. Had it been normal practise for him to come they would not have been afraid.
They did settle down once he explained his purpose. Perhaps they rather thought that by this unusual act he was seeking to ensure the safety of the town in the face of the Philistine threat, made possible because he was Samuel and God had commanded it.
But whichever way it was this was once more a sacrifice specifically commanded by Yahweh to an exceptional chosen instrument (1 Samuel 16:2-3), one whose authority was such that none would gainsay him. Samuel had an authority that no other had, and this remarkable act would be remembered when David became king. It would be remembered that Yahweh had recorded His Name at Bethlehem at that time (Exodus 20:24-25). This would be seen as having indicated that this was to be the place from which would arise his chosen king, but the full significance of this awaited the birth of Christ (Micah 5:2). No one would, however, question Samuel’s doing of this for he was the recognised prime prophet of Yahweh. His status was immense. Even a half-mad Saul never dared to turn against Samuel.
The later reference by Jonathan to David’s family sacrificing in Bethlehem did not necessarily indicate that that was a regular practise. It was probably simply an excuse which Saul saw through immediately. Had sacrificing in Bethlehem been a regular event he would not have seen through it. It does not therefore prove that this altar was again used or was in constant use. It may well be that David had told Jonathan of Samuel’s visit, and that that gave Jonathan, in his own religious naivety, what sounded like a good excuse for a visit by David, which Saul with his better understanding, (no doubt gained through his contact with his new High Priest), knew perfectly well could not be true (1 Samuel 20:29).
The next stage in the story of the Central Sanctuary is found in 1 Samuel 21:0. This clearly reveals that the Central Sanctuary was now set up in Nob. We are not told anything about it (the detail was just assumed). It was certainly not the original Tabernacle. That would have decayed and have been replaced, probably piece by piece, a good long time earlier. (We may consider the example of the council road sweeper who said that he had had the same broom for forty years, during which time it had had twenty replacement handles and fifteen replacement heads. Was it the same broom? Idealistically speaking, yes, in practise, no. The same would inevitably be true of the Tabernacle). It may or may not have been the physical continuation of the one which had been established at Shiloh, for we are not kept in touch with its history. It may have been, or it may simply have been a replacement after the destruction at Shiloh, possibly including some of its remnants. But unlike the Ark the Tabernacle would continually need replacing anyway over time. However, if it was a new one we may reasonably assume it as probable that they had sought to pattern it on the old.
We know that it did not contain the Ark, which, having mentioned once, Saul appears to have forgotten about, (or possibly had accepted that it was not available at this time), but nor do we know whether it contained the original lampstand, or indeed the original anything, although the Philistines, after their experience with the Ark may well have left the sacred things of Yahweh well alone, or the portable effects may have been spirited away (by Samuel, or under his direction?) before the destruction. It did, however, contain a table for the shewbread, and the ephod. It was thus intended to be the continuation of the Tabernacle, and we have no reason to doubt that it was in accordance with the requirements of the Law as far as it could be. Later Solomon would take into the new Temple, ‘the Ark of Yahweh, the Tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the Tent’ (1 Kings 8:4). This may have been all that remained of the original.
The approach of David filled the High Priest with fear. He was probably aware of the tensions between Saul and David and could not understand why David had arrived alone. David consoled him by assuring him that he was on a secret mission for the king and had a few men standing by. But they needed food.
The High Priest pointed out that he only had available the shewbread which he had taken from the table, having replaced it with new shewbread. (According to the Law this was for the consumption of the priests alone). If the men were in a ‘holy’ state he would allow them to have it in this emergency. David effectively replied that as it was no longer before Yahweh it was in a sense ‘common’, or alternately that as his young men were in a specially sanctified state he could see no reason why they should not have it. He therefore took the bread, and the sword of Goliath which was being kept there.
Remembering that David was a high minister of state, was famed as a man not afraid of spilling blood, and that religious piety at the time was at a low level, this does not demonstrate that the Law was different from what is found in the Pentateuch, only how easily men can argue their way around restrictions, especially when moved by fear or desperation. The High Priest compromised because he was afraid for his life. He felt that he had done his best to ensure the purity of the bread, and that after all David was a favourite of Yahweh. But in the event his failure resulted in his death. This was probably intended to be seen as significant. He was the legal expert and he should have stood firm. But such was the state that the Central Sanctuary had come to. We can see here how the crowning of a king has already diminished the authority and integrity of the Central Sanctuary.
In revenge for helping David Saul slaughtered the whole house of Ahimelech. It is noteworthy that his own guard refused to slay ‘the priests of Yahweh’, for they were seen by the people as ‘holy’, so Saul called on Doeg the Edomite who, presumably with the help of foreign mercenaries, ‘fell on the priests and killed on that day eighty five persons who wore the linen ephod’ (1 Samuel 22:18). He then ‘put Nob, the city of the priests, to the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, oxen asses and sheep’ (verse 19). It was total destruction. Only Abiathar escaped, and he went to David in his exile, taking the ephod with him (1 Samuel 23:6). This gave David new status. Thus in 1Sa 23:2 ; 1 Samuel 23:4; 1 Samuel 23:9-12; 1 Samuel 30:7-8; 2Sa 2:2 ; 2 Samuel 5:19; 2 Samuel 5:23 we have David making use of the Urim and Thummim in order to enquire of Yahweh. He was now the only one who could do so.
Nothing is said about what happened to the Tabernacle, or whether it survived the total slaughter and destruction at Nob at the hands of the Edomite executioner of the demented king Saul, but it presumably ceased to function, at least temporarily. It would soon become known that in a sense the Central Sanctuary was now with David, and the ephod was probably kept in its own, or Abiathar’s, tent. Saul’s move was madness and folly for it gave David the legitimacy of having the support of the recognised successor to the High Priesthood, and once Saul had come to his senses he must certainly have recognised the fact.
Saul would know that he could not let the situation continue as it was. Combating both David and the High Priesthood would have been too much, and he needed some way of learning Yahweh’s will. He would thus have immediately recognised that he had to reinstate a Central Sanctuary with an acceptable High Priest, both in order to appease the people, in order to prevent them from seeking to Abiathar as High Priest, and in order to have a High Priest on his side to seek guidance for him. Did he then seek to resolve this situation by appointing Zadok, descended from Eleazar, son of Aaron, as High Priest? Ahimelech had been descended from Ithamar, son of Aaron, thus Zadok would not be tainted by association (compare 1 Chronicles 25:3). A High Priest would certainly be required by the people. (It should be noted in this regard that the appointment and deaths of High Priests, the latter in spite of their religious importance (Numbers 35:25; Numbers 35:28; Joshua 20:6), are rarely mentioned in the histories we have). This would then explain why later there are two High Priests, Abiathar and Zadok, and why it is Zadok who is always named first as being officially appointed first, and is later addressed by David as in charge of the Ark because of his seniority (2 Samuel 15:24-29). But this primacy could surely only have arisen because he was appointed High Priest at the recognised Tabernacle containing the recognised altar of whole burnt offering, for Abiathar was the one with direct descent from the previous High Priest. This Taberenacle was still what the people would have recognised, given the option. They would not then know that the ephod had disappeared.
Once David was made king in Hebron, directed there by Yahweh through the Urim and Thummim (2 Samuel 2:1), and dwelt there as king, having with him the hereditary High Priest Abiathar and the ephod, it would be natural for him to establish his own Central Sanctuary there, set up when he was anointed king. This would keep Judah from looking to Saul’s house. He could legitimise it by pointing to the High Priest and the ephod. That this was so is confirmed in the incident with Absalom in 2 Samuel 15:7-12, for that appears to place the Central Sanctuary in Hebron at that time. Absalom goes there ostensibly to pay a vow, and there he makes sacrifices. But as Hebron was the centre of the rebellion against David we can understand why it should then be moved to Gibeon as a punishment. Hebron could no longer be trusted. (Though David was man after God’s own heart, he was clearly not a traditionalist, as witness his eating of the shewbread and the taking of the Ark to the heathen city of Jerusalem when the tabernacle was elsewhere. He did things his own way).
So after many years David had established his rule over both Israel and Judah and had captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites, being anointed king over all. Then he decided that it was time to restore the Ark to a place of importance. The Ark was brought from the house of Abinadab driven on a new cart by his sons. This confirms the status of Abinadab’s family. The ‘new’ cart was in recognition of the sacredness of the Ark, the sons drove it because they were considered qualified to do so. It was not just something that anyone could do. This would confirm that they were at least Levites, and possibly priests. But when Uzzah touched the Ark he was smitten. No one could touch the Ark for it was sacred. It was borne on poles which could be slotted in without touching it. Thus David was afraid of the Ark and arranged for it to be kept in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. This was an expedient. It was not planned. The house was simply used as a storeplace. However, the fact that he was a Gittite (possibly ‘of Gath’) does not necessarily mean that he was not a worshipper of Yahweh. Many Israelites bore similar appellations describing their original national origin while having been circumcised and incorporated within the covenant. It was there for three months during which time clear blessing came to the house. This then encouraged David and he decided to remove the Ark to Jerusalem.
The Ark was brought into Jerusalem with great rejoicing and ‘placed in the tent which David had pitched for it’ (2 Samuel 6:17). This was seemingly not the Tabernacle, but a special tent supplied by David. Saul had slain the priests, but there is total silence about the religious affairs of the people at this time, and we are not told what Saul did with the Tabernacle. It may well have been almost destroyed in the mad and systematic slaughter of Nob by foreign troops, but it was no longer for a time the thriving concern that it had been and the recognised High Priest by descent from Ahimelech, Abiathar, together with the ephod, was already with David. On the other hand it was still the Central Sanctuary as far as the people of Israel were concerned, and sacred (remember the attitude of Saul’s guard - 1 Samuel 22:17), and it possibly now continued to function with Zadok as High Priest. Once David had overall rule this was probably in conjunction with David’s Central Sanctuary at Hebron. That would be the obvious solution.
Thus once David became king of both Judah and Israel the Tabernacle would be finally united and set up in Hebron under the joint High Priesthood of Zadok and Abiathar in accordance with what was described above (and later at Gibeon). But even David would not dare to transfer it to Jerusalem. Old religious customs die hard. The people would not object to it being re-established at these old sites with their sacred memories, but they would certainly have objected to it being established at Jerusalem, the pagan city of the Jebusites. And David had had enough trouble uniting the country. He would not want to cause strife by bringing the Tabernacle into Jerusalem. That would have aroused the people’s anger unnecessarily. Jerusalem had until recently been a centre of idolatry and was not seen by the people as a holy place. Rather it was ‘foreign’. Such a move would at this time risk disquieting the people. (The passing of years and the success and exaltation of David would eventually sanctify Jerusalem).
But as his own plan was to establish Jerusalem as the religious centre of Israel/Judah, (it was his own city, independent of both), he wanted to do something to prepare the way, so he cleverly selected a viable alternative. The Ark, which had lain forgotten for twenty years and was not at this time a focus of attention for the whole of Israel, was established in Jerusalem with due ceremony, while he still upheld the Central Sanctuary in Hebron, then Gibeon (2 Chronicles 1:3) just as it had always been in the eyes of the people. Thus he pitched a separate tent for the Ark. We need not doubt that it was a tent of some splendour, even though he probably did not intend it to be its permanent home, but as far as we know all it contained was the Ark.
The people would see this as another resting place for the Ark before its restoration, a place of safety in the very stronghold of David. This is suggested by the fact that the move did not cause a stir. If it was seen as for protection it would not necessarily cause a stir. It had after all just left the house of a Gittite. And they would await the High Priest’s instructions as to what should be done. In the end, however, David’s aim was that he and his son would bring everything into Jerusalem. His final aim was one united Sanctuary. But as he wanted that to be in Jerusalem and he knew that that would offend the people at this time, he trod with care. He wanted the people to get used to the idea first. Once Jerusalem was sufficiently sanctified by the presence of the Ark, the presence of which enabled sacrifices to be offered, that would be the time to move. The building of a magnificent Temple, which he intended to carry out, but was in the end carried out by his son, would provide the final reason.
The Chronicler adds to this account that David said that ‘none ought to carry the Ark of God but the Levites, for them has God chosen to carry the Ark of God and to minister to him for ever’ (1 Chronicles 15:2). This was clearly taken from a different historical record than that used by the author of Samuel (1 Chronicles 29:29). But there is no reason to doubt it. The incident of Uzzah had quite shaken David up and he would certainly want to exercise extreme care. And the importance of the Levites in religious matters is well attested throughout our literature whatever view we hold about them.
This may be seen as confirmed in Samuel by 2 Samuel 15:24 where ‘Abiathar -- and Zadok and all the Levites’ bore the Ark of the Covenant of God out of Jerusalem when David was escaping from Absalom’s rebellion, even though they were then told to return it there. The writer of Samuel thus also confirms that in his view too the Ark must be borne by Levites.
The Chronicler tells us that both Tabernacle and bronze altar were later at Gibeon in the time of Solomon (2 Chronicles 3:6 compare 1 Kings 3:4) and that that was then the central place of worship. Knowing David’s astuteness we need not doubt it. Like Hebron, Gibeon was a priestly city (Joshua 21:17) and a sacred site, and thus acceptable to all the people as a site for the Tabernacle, and once Hebron had proved unfaithful to David, Gibeon was fairly close by and could be established as the new Central Sanctuary. But he now also arranged worship in Jerusalem where he had inherited the priesthood of the Jebusite king, the priesthood which would be called ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalms 110:4). The people of Jerusalem would be right behind him, seeing themselves as distinctive from Israel and Judah. He no doubt took part in the ceremonies but would observe the niceties of the Law, not intruding on the rights of the levitical priests, and would use either Abiathar or Zadok as the offering priest. David’s heart was right with Yahweh, but he was not above a bit of religious ‘reinterpretation’ as we saw with his reply over the shewbread. But he was also politically wise.
The presence of the Ark, as indicating a place where Yahweh had recorded His Name (2 Samuel 6:2), as ever justified the erection of an altar in accordance with Exodus 20:24-25, as it always had done (see earlier). That is why David’s action is not criticised by the later writer. And David therefore arranged for the offering of whole burnt offerings and peace offerings before Yahweh. It actually reads ‘David offered ----’ (2 Samuel 6:17) but it is quite clear that even if he had wanted to he would not have been able to do it all himself, and in fact we are almost certainly to see this as stating that they were offered at his instigation as king. He may have danced before the Ark but he would not see it as his position to actually make the offerings when his priestly servants were there to do it for him with greater expertise. He was a king and used to men doing his bidding, and he would have Abiathar and Zadok with him at his side, especially in so important a religious matter. It did not need to be mentioned that they took charge of the offerings. It could be assumed. (And to see David going through a huge crowd and personally handing out a cake of bread, a piece of flesh and a flagon of wine to each and every one of them beggars the imagination - 2 Samuel 6:19).
Note in this regard that the Chronicler says in 1 Chronicles 16:1, ‘they (the bearers of the Ark) offered whole burnt offerings and peace offerings before God’, and then adds, ‘and when David had made an end of offering.’ Thus the offerings made by the bearers of the Ark, who would no doubt include levitical priests volunteering for the occasion, and may all have been levitical priests, could also be described as having been made by David there.
We know that Abiathar, and then his son Ahimelech, were both High Priests at the same time as Zadok his brother (2 Samuel 15:29; 2Sa 15:35 ; 2 Samuel 17:15; 2 Samuel 19:11; 2 Samuel 20:25; 2 Samuel 8:17). What more likely than that at this stage they operated at two sanctuaries, one official, the Central Sanctuary recognised by the people in Hebron/Gibeon, and one unofficial which was justified because it contained the Ark, and which was in Jerusalem, mainly for political reasons and with the purpose in David’s mind of Jerusalem eventually becoming the Central Sanctuary, and catering to the needs of the people of Jerusalem. Once the temple was built the two could be made one, and Zadok became sole High Priest (although Abiathar was named as High Priest along with him in the official list even after he was deposed (1 Kings 4:4). Once a High Priest, always a High Priest).
In 2 Samuel 8:18 we are told that David’s sons were ‘priests’. This probably refers to their status in Jerusalem in the old Jebusite priesthood of Melchizedek, which David as conqueror would inherit. It was an intercessory and status-giving priesthood rather than a sacrificing priesthood, and would give them important status in Jerusalem. Others have suggested that the word also meant ‘high officials’.
An exception to the usual rule of offering sacrifices at the Central Sanctuary is found in 2 Samuel 24:25 where David built an altar to Yahweh and offered whole burnt offerings and peace offerings. But that was where the Angel of Yahweh had restrained his hand and was thus the site of a theophany, the only exception allowed apart from when the Ark was present.
We may sum up the whole history of the Central Sanctuary to this time with the words God spoke to David when he spoke of building a temple. “Will you build me a house for me to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle. In all the places in which I have walked with all the children of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the tribes of Israel whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ ”. The forbidding of David to build a Temple was not a tradition likely to be invented, thus we have here confirmation that the idea that the Central Sanctuary was always based around a central Tent was firm and strong (compare Psalms 78:60).
So from the time of Moses to the time of David there is not one approved example in Scripture of the offering of offerings and sacrifices apart either from (1) at the Central Sanctuary, (2) in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh, (3) at a direct and unique theophany and command of Yahweh, or (4) by a unique and ‘holy’ prophet directly connected from birth with the Central Sanctuary at a time when the Central Sanctuary did not exist, and under God’s strict direction. General offerings and sacrifices were unknown apart from when made to idols and false gods.
However, the confusion with regard to the Central Sanctuary that arose in the struggle between Saul and David, when there were possibly two tabernacles, and then continued under David with the two tents, one in Hebron/Gibeon and one in Jerusalem, inevitably had its effect. The grip of the Central Sanctuary was being weakened and the insinuation being made that worship need not be limited to one sanctuary. It was probably as a result of this that Solomon and the confused people began to worship in a number of holy places (1 Kings 3:2-3), the former because he thought he was following David his father and it seemed a good idea, the latter because they were now convinced that worship was not limited to one sanctuary and were anyway not sure which was the Central Sanctuary (although seemingly not in the days of David). It had switched about with bewildering rapidity. Thus as far as they were concerned ‘there was no house built to the name of Yahweh’ (1 Kings 3:2). The danger then was that their belief in the uniqueness of Yahweh, the one God, would be affected. This could lead to plural worship. (We may have no difficulty in recognising that one God may be publicly worshipped anywhere in the world in many allotted places, although we do not see any of them as His dwellingplace, but it was different then).
This situation continues in the reign of Solomon. The continued importance of the High Priest was revealed in that at the time of the death of David (1 Kings 1:0) both aspirants to the throne ensured that they had a High Priest on their side, but Abiathar chose the wrong person to support, Adonijah. The result was that while remaining High Priest (1 Kings 4:4), for no High Priest could cease to be High Priest, it was High Priest in retirement. Zadok became the High Priest with the power.
Adonijah began his bid for power at en-Rogel just outside Jerusalem. He was supported by Abiathar the High Priest and Joab, David’s general of the people’s army. But Solomon was supported by Zadok the High Priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah, captain of David’s ‘men’, his small but powerful standing army. At en-Rogel Adonijah ‘slew sheep and oxen and fatlings’ (i.e. arranged for the slaying of) but in all three mentions of this fact (1 Kings 1:9; 1 Kings 1:19; 1 Kings 1:25) there is never any suggestion that they were offerings and sacrifices. They were slain by the stone of Zoheleth so that the blood could flow out as was required where such beasts were not offered as sacrifices (compare 1 Samuel 14:33-34 and see Deuteronomy 12:20-25). However in view of the statement in 1 Kings 3:2 it may be that en-Rogel was a sacred site and that this slaughter was intended as an offering to Yahweh and was carried out by priests, the writer not wanting to see it as such. Things had grown lax.
Adonijah’s cause collapsed when Solomon was crowned king at David’s command at Gihon and the people supported him. We read that Zadok ‘took the horn of oil out of the tent and anointed Solomon’ (1 Kings 1:39). This may have been out of the tent which David set up, but more likely it was in the Tabernacle at Gibeon and had to be fetched from there. As a result of hearing this Adonijah fled to the horns of the altar for sanctuary (1 Kings 1:51). This would almost certainly signify the altar in the Tabernacle in Gibeon, a place made holy by generations of sacred history. This was an act of desperation, as it was later with Joab who ‘fled to the Tabernacle of Yahweh and caught hold of the horns on the altar’ (1 Kings 2:28). Benaiah who was sent to slay him hesitated to slay him while he was in the Tabernacle courtyard clinging to the horns of the altar, but Solomon pointed out that he was a double murderer and therefore guilty under the covenant which decreed sentence of death for his crimes. Thus he was slain at the altar. The ancient right of sanctuary had not worked. (Both knew that it would be futile to flee to a City of Refuge. They would simply be handed over by the authorities there as murderers).
The advent of kingship had inevitably weakened the idea of the Central Sanctuary, and from the moment of Saul’s destruction of the priesthood at Nob the people must have been in some considerable confusion about it. We have seen that Saul probably set a Tabernacle up under Zadok, a legitimate descendant of Aaron, continued by Ishbosheth, and that David probably set one up under Abiathar, the rightful High Priest by descent as a result of the death of Ahimelech. To support either one or the other would have courted danger if the wrong person won the power struggle, and posed religious questions which the people were not in a position to answer. And as this was then followed by the two separate tents at which sacrifices were officially offered under David, one in Hebron/Gibeon and one in Jerusalem, all this had its inevitable effect. People had lost confidence in the idea of the Central Sanctuary and were not sure which to look to, and so began to ‘sacrifice in high places because there was no residence built to the name of Yahweh’. They no longer knew which was the Central Sanctuary until finally the Temple was built (1 Kings 3:2).
In other words because there was no one fixed Central Sanctuary that all could recognise, they began to worship in recognised holy places. It seemed the best compromise. This resulted in a wandering from the teaching of the Law, which in view of the situation was difficult to apply, a wandering which would sadly continue and finally result in disaster, for this probably means that they went to well known holy places and sacrificed to Yahweh. But the danger of this was that it could soon become mixed with Baal worship which had also been conducted at those holy places, especially as the idea of the oneness of God was dissipated. Presumably the priests also had been put in some disarray and complied. Worse still Solomon appears to have courted popularity by going along with it, he ‘sacrificed and burnt incense in high places’ (1 Kings 3:3). For him too the hold of the Central Sanctuary had been relaxed. He had grown up knowing of at least two sanctuaries, and saw no reason for not sacrificing at others. Thus we now hear for the first time about a multiplicity of altars. The firm and inviolable link with the Central Sanctuary was now broken.
But the fact that this is mentioned first of Solomon suggests that the writer recognised that David had never encouraged such practises (whatever the people did). For him the Central Sanctuary had always remained paramount. And he had only sacrificed there, or in the presence of the Ark.
Indeed Solomon is revealed as careless with regard to such things. He did not hesitate about having Joab slain at the altar (1 Kings 2:31), he worshipped in a number of high places (1 Kings 3:3), he would certainly have had to provide a place for his Egyptian daughter of Pharaoh to worship her gods (1 Kings 3:1; 1 Kings 11:1), he went on to worship the gods of his wives (1 Kings 11:4). It was the sad result of the Central Sanctuary having been ‘divided up’. All attention was no longer placed on the one Sanctuary and the one God.
However, Solomon in the beginning did offer offerings and sacrifices at the Central Sanctuary in Gibeon, ‘the great high place’, for ‘there was the Tent of meeting’ (2 Chronicles 1:3) and did it in huge numbers (‘a thousand’) (1 Kings 3:4; 2 Chronicles 1:6), earning Yahweh’s approbation. God clearly recognised the dilemma of the times and that the response was at that stage genuine. On Yahweh making promises to him in response, he then ‘came to Jerusalem (presumably from Gibeon), and stood before the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh and offered up whole burnt offerings and offered peace offerings and made a feast to his servants’. He wanted to keep everyone happy, both the people of Israel and Judah, and his servants in Jerusalem, and also Yahweh. The writer of Kings appears to have given all this his modified approval, although he did criticise the general use of high places (1 Kings 3:3). He recognised that in the circumstances of the times they had had no alternative, and that the presence of the Ark justified sacrifices in Jerusalem. Once, however, the one Central Sanctuary was restored it would be very different.
2 Chronicles 1:0 confirms this picture. It tells us that ‘the Ark of God had David brought up from Kiriath-yearim to the place which he had prepared for it, for he had pitched a tent for it at Jerusalem, moreover the bronze altar, that Bezaleel -- had made, he put before the Tabernacle of Yahweh, and Solomon and the congregation sought to it, and Solomon went up there (to Gibeon - 2 Chronicles 1:3-6; 2 Chronicles 1:13) to the bronze altar before Yahweh, which was at the tabernacle of the congregation, and offered a thousand whole burnt offerings on it’ (2 Kings 1:4-6).
Thus the Tabernacle with the original bronze altar was set up in Gibeon, and the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh was in its sacred tent in Jerusalem. But the final intention in David’s mind had undoubtedly been to re-establish the Central Sanctuary by building a Temple in Jerusalem. Theoretically this should have brought all back to the original principles established by the Law and firmly laid down by Moses. Inevitably, however, it did not completely fulfil its purpose. Once people under Solomon had obtained the idea that they could legitimately express their worship elsewhere because for many decades there was no nationwide recognition of a unique Central Sanctuary, restoration of the original ideal would be difficult. They had become attached to the high places. And the lure of then participating in pagan practises increased. It would continue to be like king, like people.
The temple took seven years to build (the period of divine perfection). And all this time there was no one recognised Central Sanctuary. The cutting and shaping of timbers and preparation of the stones was done by large numbers of Israelites, partly with the help of Sidonian experts (1 Kings 5:0), and the bronzework in the temple was done under the supervision of Hiram from Tyre, an expert who was half Israelite and whose Tyrian father was dead (1 Kings 7:13 onwards). The remainder of the work was presumably done by Israelite craftsmen and presumably an Israelite architect designed the whole, patterned on the Tabernacle combined with known examples of such architecture, especially in Phoenicia, and in cooperation with Hiram, whose influence was probably paramount. The Sidonians (Deuteronomy 5:6) and Hiram (Deuteronomy 7:14) are mentioned in order to stress the expertise that went into the work. They used the very best! But it is a mistake to think of the Temple as just built by foreigners. They simply sought their expertise.
And once it was built it incorporated ‘the Ark’, ‘the Tabernacle’ and the tabernacle sacred ‘vessels’, brought up by the priests and Levites with due ceremony, although all that the Ark now contained (thanks no doubt to the Philistines) were the two tablets of stone which Moses put there at Horeb (1 Kings 8:4; 1 Kings 8:9). It was important that the people now recognise that this was the Central Sanctuary containing within it what remained of the old. But the table, the lampstand, and the altar of incense were all replaced and reproduced on a grander scale, with a multitude of further vessels, and extra cherubim, and we must remember that those then in the latest Tabernacle may not anyway have been original ones. But these alterations would not be seen by the people, for they were in the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. 2 Chronicles 4:1 tells us that he also made a new bronze altar, much larger than the original.
There is no mention of the ancient bronze altar being brought to the Temple, but it probably was, along with ‘the vessels’. But so numerous were the offerings made that the altar was too small and the whole of the middle of the court was sanctified for the purpose of offering sacrifices (1 Kings 8:64). This may have resulted in the making of the new altar. Or the replacement might already have been made.
It is noteworthy that Solomon did not dare to meddle with the Ark. That would have been seen as sacrilege. But he did provide extra cherubim around it. All attention, however, was now finally focused on ‘the Ark in which is the covenant of Yahweh’ (1 Kings 8:21), whose staves were so long that they could be seen from the Holy Place before the oracle (1 Kings 8:8). And it is stressed that now Israel had rest from their enemies (compare Deuteronomy 12:10). There is even the nice touch that Israel returned to their ‘tents’ (1 Kings 8:66), a reminder of wilderness days. Yahweh then declares, ‘I have hallowed this house, which you have built, to put my name there for ever (into the distant future), and my eyes and my heart will be there perpetually’ (1 Kings 9:3). The new Central Sanctuary was established.
But from now on in Judah even the good kings such as Asa and Jehoshaphat would not seek to prevent the worship of Yahweh in recognised ‘high places’, holy sites around Judah. These would include Hebron and Gibeon as well as Jerusalem, and when Bethel came under Judah, Bethel. And this dividing of worship would unfortunately encourage the tendency towards polytheism, and the worship of the Baalim and the Ashteroth, the gods and goddesses of Canaan who were also worshipped at those places. It is not until we come first to Hezekiah, and then to Josiah, that we have kings who were determined to bring Israel back to the ancient ideas, and to unite the people around the one Central Sanctuary, and thus about the one God in indivisible unity, but in both cases the emphasis is on the restoration to what had been, in accordance with commandments of Yahweh.
The emphasis in the story of Hezekiah is on his faith in Yahweh (2 Kings 18:5). And he is cited as having done ‘right in the eyes of Yahweh, in accordance with all that David his father had done’, which included the removing of the high places (2 Kings 18:4), and of the images of Baal and Asherah. He even broke in pieces the bronze serpent Nechushtan which Moses had made. This last emphasises that we are not just to see in these descriptions simply a formal reference to reformation. All that could rival Yahweh was genuinely removed. The Central Sanctuary was central once more, and the covenant was restored to its rightful place, and all that was taking men away from Yahweh was got rid of. The idea of the one unique Sanctuary was clearly firm in the traditions of Judah even though it had not been fully observed.
It is also emphasised that he ‘clave to Yahweh, and departed not from following Him, but kept His commandments, which Yahweh commanded Moses’ (1 Kings 18:6). This is emphasised throughout. Note how in the account there is a significant emphasis on the root dbq ("to cling"). It occurs nine times in chapter 18. His reforms were clearly from the heart. He was firm in his response to the covenant and to His God, and he clung to Him.
It was thus that the purity of the Law would be maintained, and the emphasis on the uniqueness of Yahweh established. But the hearts of the people were not permanently wooed away from the high places, and on his death they returned to them again. Manasseh rebuilt the high places which his father had destroyed (2 Kings 21:3), and as ever this led on to the worship of the Baalim and the Ashtaroth.
Josiah began his reign at eight years old and the impression is given that he did ‘right in the eyes of Yahweh’ from the beginning. There is no hint of his having followed his father’s ways. And behind this was the groundswell of ‘the people of the land’. For it was they who had revenged the death of king Amon and quelled the coup that had resulted in it, putting Josiah the true heir on the throne (2 Kings 22:1-2).
Yet it was not until the eighteenth year of Josiah (of his reign - 2 Chronicles 34:8) that he began the repairing of the temple which had fallen into a state of disrepair. On the other hand the reforms had clearly been in process a long time already. This delay was therefore presumably because in the poor state of the kingdom when he took over there were insufficient funds in the treasury for the major repairs required, for the point is made that ‘the keepers of the door’ had had to gather silver from the peoples in order for the repairs to commence (1 Kings 22:4). It was not until sufficient funds had been accumulated that the in depth work could begin.
So the assumption must be that the actual reforms commenced much earlier, and in fact the very desire to repair the Temple indicates such reform. It is a mistake to assume that the reforms followed the discovery of ‘the book of the Law’ in the Temple. The reason that the Temple was being repaired was because of the reforms that had taken place and because the Temple was being restored as the Central Sanctuary. The discovery simply gave them new impetus, and produced repentance in king and people and a desire to truly fulfil the covenant. The result of finding the lawbook was not stated to be centralisation but to be a determination to ‘walk after Yahweh, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and with all their soul, to perform the words of the covenant which were written in this book’ (2 Kings 23:3). This resulted in a keeping of the Passover which surpassed all others (2 Kings 23:21-23) so mightily were the people moved. Centralisation having already taken place this led on to a deeper application of the Law in their daily lives. Indeed there is good reason for considering that the whole description of the discovery of the Law book (2 Kings 22:3 to 2 Kings 23:3; 2 Kings 23:21-23), ‘the book of the covenant’ (2 Kings 22:2), comes from a totally different source than the descriptions of reform (2 Kings 23:4-20).
All this is confirmed in 2 Chronicles 34:0. ‘In the eighth year of his (Josiah’s) reign, while he was yet young (when he was sixteen), he began to seek after the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year be began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and from the Asherim, and the graven images and the molten images’ (2 Chronicles 34:3). This would take some considerable time. Already then he was again establishing Jerusalem as the Central Sanctuary. It was only when this was done that he turned his attention to major repairs to the Temple as a result of gifts received from the peoples of both Israel and Judah. And it was only when these gifts which had been stored up were being accessed that ‘the book of the Law of Yahweh given by Moses’ was discovered (2 Chronicles 34:14). Thus the Chronicles makes quite clear what Kings presupposes, that the reformation and centralisation took place before the discovery of the book of the Law.
This being so there is no good reason for simply seeing ‘the book of the Law’ as Deuteronomy, although it no doubt at least included most of Deuteronomy (it is called ‘the book of the covenant’). Deuteronomy in fact says little about the Passover, certainly not enough to explain how it was to be observed (2 Kings 23:21). Nor does the fact that the book was read to the king necessarily indicate that the whole book that had been discovered was read to the king. Shaphan no doubt selected out the portions, as he himself was reading it, that he felt that the king should hear, which may well have included Leviticus 26:0 and Deuteronomy 27:0. We are not told how long it took Shaphan to read it, nor whether he went to the king on the same day. He clearly wanted to read it through before he took it to the king. He would then read out the parts that had affected him the most.
The gathering together of the people to hear the reading of the Law (2 Kings 23:2) was probably in fulfilment of the requirement of Deuteronomy 31:10-13 even though it was not at the feast of tabernacles. This was no doubt done in view of the fact that such reading of the full Law had not previously been carried out within recent times. The purpose had been that the whole of the Law in full would be read out. As this had not happened within recent memory it was done at that time.
That Deuteronomy was powerfully influential is not to be doubted. Its racy style would enhance its popularity. Hosea in 8th century BC is permeated with its style all through, demonstrating that its teaching was firmly founded in Israel in his day, but its basic tenets, the promises to the patriarchs, the covenant, the kingship of Yahweh, holy war and the possession of the land were not new and could all be traced as early as the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15:0 in the time of the Exodus. It was thus not teaching new ideas. Furthermore its archaic Hebrew (masculine and feminine is not clearly differentiated) and its prose form, more in line with Samuel and Elijah than the later prophets, who tended to a poetic presentation, confirm its early date. As does its covenant format which is most like the formats for tables of laws and suzerainty treaties of 2nd Millennium BC. But in Deuteronomy the Central Sanctuary was not limited to one unique particular site (Jerusalem) but to ‘the place which God should choose’, wherever that may be at any time. And Deuteronomy itself sees that as including Shechem (Deuteronomy 27:0).
After the death of Josiah the reforms collapsed with the result finally of the Exile, when the Central Sanctuary was again destroyed. But this time the people were also, in one way or another, removed from the land, and the land was left to ‘enjoy its sabbaths’. Even here, however, they looked back to the Central Sanctuary (Psalms 137:0; Daniel 6:10).
Meanwhile in the Northern kingdom of Israel events had taken a different turn. The rejection of Rehoboam and crowning of Jeroboam presented a dilemma to Jeroboam. The pious among the people would still look to the Central Sanctuary in Jerusalem, the High Priest and the levitical priesthood. Thus, in spite of the fact that he had had Yahweh’s approval (1 Kings 11:37-38) he deliberately set about establishing rival sanctuaries. (Had worship at these high places been legitimately well established he would not have had the same difficulty). It may well be that the sanctuary at Dan, which had been established in the days of the Judges (Judges 18:30), had become active again, at least spasmodically on and off, as a high place. Certainly it would seem that its memory still enjoyed a reputation and a host of willing adherents. And there was the sacred site of Bethel, possibly on the site of Abraham’s altar there. Solomon’s policy, and the Priest’s, of allowing worship at the high places and of being careless in religious matters was reaping its reward. Jeroboam built/rebuilt ‘houses’ at both sanctuaries and established permanent altars there (1 Kings 12:31).
Jeroboam now also set up two golden calves, one at Bethel and the other at Dan, but the fact that he had to set up a new priesthood from among the people (1 Kings 12:31) demonstrates that the levitical priesthood remained faithful to the Central Sanctuary. Thus up to this point either worship in the high places had been restricted to visits by the priesthood, or the priesthood now deserted the high places, revealing that the principle of the Central Sanctuary still held firm with them, and that as a whole they remained faithful to the High Priesthood.
The two golden calves must have been intended in some way to represent Yahweh, for Jeroboam would know that he could not so easily and so quickly ignore or alter the faith of the people, and he acknowledged Yahweh’s part in his appointment (1 Kings 14:2). It is possible that the invisible Yahweh was intended to be seen as riding/standing on their backs as Hadad bestrode the back of a bull (thus suggesting that the calves did not officially represent a graven image but could be compared to the cherubim), or it may be that they were intended to represent Yahweh’s power and fruitfulness in symbolic form, in which case they specifically broke the covenant. But either way they represented a divided Yahweh, and acted as a spur to polytheism, both by the nature of having two Central Sanctuaries in the northern kingdom with the equivalent of an Ark in each, and because the calves were a reminder of Baal who was also represented by a bull. The dangers are easily apparent. The incident of the molten calf in the wilderness demonstrates how easily and quickly they could turn to such a representation which they somehow clearly connected with Yahwism (the original image at Dan may have been similar).
However, it should be noted that the original protest of the man of God sent by Yahweh was against the altar and the sanctuary and the new priesthood at Bethel, and not against the image, although Yahweh’s aversion to them is made clear later (see 1 Kings 14:9; 2 Kings 10:29). The principle of the one Central Sanctuary of Yahweh had thereby been destroyed. 1 Kings 13:32 may then refer to even more sanctuaries set up, or may simply be a reference to Bethel and Dan. Either way Jeroboam’s actions had resulted in his rejection by Yahweh (1 Kings 13:33; 1 Kings 14:15-16). He had destroyed the idea of the oneness and uniqueness of Yahweh in a way that the high places by themselves had not.
The division of the kingdom being permanent it was politically inevitable that these sanctuaries would continue, although Amos poured out his scorn on the sanctuary at Bethel (Amos 4:4; Amos 5:5-6 compare Deuteronomy 7:10; Deuteronomy 7:13; Jeremiah 48:13). This sanctuary was never accepted by the prophets, and in the end Josiah destroyed it and defiled it (2 Kings 23:15). This sin of Jeroboam became a byword. Although it had probably not been his intention he was seen as the main cause of the defection of Israel from Yahweh (2 Kings 17:21; see also 1 Kings 13:34; 1 Kings 16:3; 1Ki 16:26 ; 1 Kings 16:31; 1 Kings 21:22; 1Ki 22:52 ; 2 Kings 3:3; 2 Kings 9:9; and often).
His actions put the pious in Israel into a dilemma. They could not always seek to Jerusalem because at times, when relations were strained, that would be seen as treason. They could thus only worship privately or make use of what was available. Thus with one exception the only references to sacrifice are indirect and made in such a way as to express disapproval. It is described as following the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. The failure to sacrifice at the one Central Sanctuary, now in Jerusalem, was certainly frowned on by the writer.
The one exception is Elijah’s offering on Mount Carmel in his challenge to the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:0). The ‘altar of Yahweh that was broken down’ repaired by Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:30) may well have been an altar in a recognised sacred high place set up for the worship of Yahweh, either officially or unofficially, whose disuse demonstrated just how far from Yahweh the northern kingdom had gone, but it is clear that God was willing to receive sacrifices there when offered at His own command.
This does not tell us anything about the doctrine of the Central Sanctuary, only that circumstances were such that for Israel there was now often no access to it. It would suggest that in the northern kingdom there were now a number of such altars, but it does not necessarily indicate God’s approval of them, except when specifically authorised by Him. And in this particular case, while Elijah arranged the wood and the offering himself, the actual consumption of it was the action of Yahweh. The sacrifice was undoubtedly carried through at Yahweh’s express command. The very mention of it, and of what followed, demonstrates approval of it.
Apart from this we do not read of acceptable priestly activity in the northern kingdom, although we know that such activity continued unacceptably (2 Kings 10:29), and was disapproved of. This is stressed in that every king is said to have continued in the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. But we do hear of the activities of bands of true prophets (1 Kings 18:4; 1Ki 20:13 ; 1 Kings 20:35; 1 Kings 22:8; 2 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 6:1; 2 Kings 9:1), although we do not know whether they were connected with a sanctuary.
However, until the time of Jehu it was Baalism that flourished in the northern kingdom, certainly in the court and in official circles. But Jehu’s activity demonstrates an underlying support of Yahwism among the people, although he had to destroy the cream of the aristocracy. He purged the house of Ahab and all Baal worship, restoring the centrality of the worship of Yahweh, although still at the sanctuaries of Bethel and Dan with their golden calves (2 Kings 10:29), a worship which continued right through to their exile.
Thus it is clear from a survey of all material connected with it that from the beginning of the covenant, once the Central Sanctuary was set up, that one Central Sanctuary and no other was seen as the direct intention of Yahweh, and that any wandering from that principal except at His own direct command, was seen as unacceptable. And that this continued until the time of Solomon. And further that no sacrifices and offerings were to be made except at that one Central Sanctuary, except temporarily in the presence of the Ark, which stood in for the Central Sanctuary, or when there was a theophany or prophetic revelation. This was necessary in order to stress that there was only one God, Yahweh, indivisible and unique. Thus the fulfilment of Deuteronomy 12:0 began as soon as rest was obtained in the land.
The Use of Singular and Plural Verbs In Deuteronomy.
By this we mainly refer to the fact that the record continually varies between the use of ‘thou’ (2nd person singular) and ‘ye’ (second person plural).
Their Use in Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 4:40 .
There is in this section first of all an unusual use of ‘I’ in Deuteronomy 2:27-29 where it was used of Moses but referred to Israel as a whole, and ‘thou’ where it is used of Sihon but refers to the Amorites as a whole. This was basically a use by ‘king’ to king, where reference to the ‘king’ includes his people. ‘Thou’ throughout the book usually refers to Israel except where the context reveals otherwise.
Elsewhere in chapters Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 4:40, the plural ‘ye, you’ is regularly used. There are, however, exceptions. Deuteronomy 1:31 should especially be noted, for there both ‘thou’ and ‘ye’ are used in the same verse in a case where there can be no real question of two sources. Both sections are required for the sense. (Compare also Deuteronomy 3:21-22). This confirms that the usage is, at least in that case, stylistic.
In Deuteronomy 1:21 we find the first use of the singular ‘thou’ throughout the verse. ‘Behold Yahweh thy God has set the land before thee. Take possession as Yahweh, the God of thy fathers has spoken to thee. Fear not nor be dismayed’. The purpose of ‘thy, thee’ here would seem to be because of the reference to the relationship with the fathers in the form of a declaration (but compare Deuteronomy 1:8; Deuteronomy 1:11 where ‘your’ is used). The idea is to bring out the oneness of Israel as a whole, trueborn and adopted person alike, within the covenant. It is because those who have been adopted have become one with Israel that they can look back to their ‘fathers’.
In Deuteronomy 1:31 the use of ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ is primarily because of the illustration. Israel is likened to a son borne by his father (compare Exodus 4:23). The singular is therefore appropriate. But the application is then immediately to ‘ye’.
In Deuteronomy 2:7 the purpose is to bring out the covenant position between Yahweh and Israel as a whole. It is somewhat similar to the distinction between ‘Israel’ (thee) seen as one and ‘the children of Israel’ (ye) seen as a united group. They are distinctly and genuinely one people whatever their origin. There is also a connection with Deuteronomy 1:31 as Yahweh has clearly ‘walked’ with them as they walked, supporting them and caring for them like a father bears his son.
Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:16-19; Deuteronomy 2:37 are interesting in that ‘thou, thee’ is used of their relationship with Moab and Ammon whereas ‘ye, you’ was used of their relationship with Edom (Deuteronomy 2:4-6). But the historical facts demand the mention of both Edom and Moab, even if not of Ammon, for both were prominent on the journey. The distinction would therefore appear again to be stylistic, and to reflect not two sources but the distinctions made in Deuteronomy 23:3-8, with Ammon and Moab being more remote than Edom in their relationship, (nation to nation rather than brother to brother), reflecting a very early period before the relationship with Edom soured and became one of antagonism.
In Deuteronomy 3:2 Yahweh speaks to Moses as ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ as ‘ruler’ over his people (compare Deuteronomy 2:27-28), and the people are included with him in intent.
In Deuteronomy 3:21-22 Joshua is naturally spoken of as ‘thou’, but this immediately moves to ‘ye’ as his people are brought to mind.
In Deuteronomy 4:9-10; Deuteronomy 4:19 ‘thou, thy’ is used so that it is addressing the whole people, but also so that each person would apply the words personally to themselves.
In Deuteronomy 4:21; Deuteronomy 4:23-24 the use of ‘thy, thee’, switched from ‘you’, is because the relationship between the whole people and the one covenant God is being spoken of. It is as it were one to one, with the whole nation represented by their High Priest. In Deuteronomy 4:25 the ‘thou’ carries on from Deuteronomy 4:24, seeing the one nation as begetting children, but immediately moving on to plural responsibility.
In Deuteronomy 4:29 the movement to ‘thou’ is again in order to stress the choice that each must make, and from Deuteronomy 4:30-40 the stress is on Israel as one covenant people in their relationship to Yahweh.
Thus throughout the whole passage the change from plural to singular is not haphazard, but bears within it particular emphases varying with the context. Israel as a whole is being addressed, but with an indication that each individual one should take the message to heart. This establishes a principle and suggests that we should see the same as applying all the way through the book.
The Use in Chapters Deuteronomy 4:41 to Deuteronomy 26:19 .
The use in this section of ‘thou’ and ‘ye’ intermingled passages and verses occurs regularly, with ‘thou’ often predominating. ‘Thou’ is used to indicate Israel as a whole, or to bring out individual responsibility. ‘Ye’ sees Israel as a plurality. We might sometimes translate ‘ye all’. Distinctively ‘thou’ passages often tend to be those where direct demands are made, while the ‘ye’ passages tend to be more general, although necessarily the distinction sometimes blurs. There is a greater use of ‘thou’ because of the nature of the material. Thus in Deuteronomy 5:6-21, the ‘thou’ usage arises out of the declaration of the covenant by Yahweh to His people from Mount Sinai, where they are being addressed as one nation and individual response is called for; in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 the same idea of command applies. See also Deuteronomy 7:1-4 a; Deuteronomy 8:2-18; Deuteronomy 9:1-7 a; Deuteronomy 10:12-13; Deuteronomy 10:20-22; Deuteronomy 11:1; Deuteronomy 12:20-31; Deuteronomy 13:6-18; Deuteronomy 14:2-3; Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Deuteronomy 15:1 to Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 20:10 to Deuteronomy 21:14; Deuteronomy 22:1-12; Deuteronomy 23:15-25; Deuteronomy 24:8-22; Deuteronomy 25:4, Deuteronomy 11:1 to Deuteronomy 26:19; and so on. Often when ‘thou’ appears there is a heightening of demand and an emphasis on individual responsibility although that is not to deny that some ye passages are also demanding, but on the whole they are more explicatory and general. It cannot be denied that ‘thou shalt not -’ comes over with more force than ‘ye shall not’.
The Use in Deuteronomy 27-28.
In Deuteronomy 27:1-10 ‘thou’ is used in order to emphasis the commands, ‘ye’ is used simply in description in Deuteronomy 27:12. This is followed by cursings and blessings. The singular ‘he’ is used in the cursings in Deuteronomy 27:15-26, which is similar to ‘thou’. In Deuteronomy 28:1-14 ‘thou’ is used indicating the nation being spoken to as a whole, but note ‘you’ in Deuteronomy 28:14 where the phrase is an integral part of the sentence. In Deuteronomy 28:15-68 ‘thou’ is again used to personalise the cursing, but note again reference to ‘you’ in Deuteronomy 28:54; Deuteronomy 28:62-63 where it is explicatory relieving the almost incessant ‘thou, thee’.
The Use in Deuteronomy 29-30.
In Deuteronomy 29:0 there is an overall reversion to ‘ye, you’ but in Deuteronomy 29:12-13 this becomes ‘thou’ as the nation is spoken of as entering into the covenant as sworn to the fathers (compare Deuteronomy 1:21 to Deuteronomy 2:7). Note also how in verse 11 there is the change from ‘your’ to ‘thy’ in the case of the foreigner who is a servant in ‘thy camps’ where there is a change from the personal to ‘thy’ having in mind the nation as a whole in its relationship to foreigners.
In Deuteronomy 30:0 there is a reversion to ‘thou’ because the blessings and cursings are central (see Deuteronomy 30:1; Deuteronomy 30:19), as in Deuteronomy 27-28.
So the alternation of ‘thou’ and ‘you’ should be seen as having particular significance and nuances and not as evidence of two sources.
The Use of The Pentateuch in Deuteronomy.
There are clear indications in Deuteronomy of at least the traditions underlying Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. The land is due to Israel because of the promises made to their forefathers in Genesis; provisions in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:17) are paralleled in many places (see commentary); the chapter on cleanness and uncleanness in the natural world in Leviticus 11:0 is paralleled and almost certainly known in Deuteronomy 14:0; the sending out of the spies and the victories over Sihon and Og, kings of the Amorites, are based on the same traditions as are found in Numbers and there are widespread indications of a knowledge of all these traditions which are drawn attention to in the commentary.