Worship in an Approved Place
Chapters 12 through 26 of Deuteronomy contain a long series of laws that were given to govern life in the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 12:1 states that the Israelites were to carefully (“which you shall carefully observe”) and continually (“as long as you live on the earth”) observe God’s laws. The discussion of the law begins with the law related to worship. This is an important place to begin a discussion of the law. A people who are not properly related to their God will not be concerned about observing other aspects of the law. Notice the following considerations concerning worship in the Promised Land.
First, the Israelites were to utterly destroy the idolatrous shrines of the Canaanites (12:2-3). The Canaanites were an idolatrous people (see also Deuteronomy 7:1-5) who sacrificed their sons and daughters to their gods (12:31). The reason for destroying the pagan shrines was to remove the temptation to use/adopt both the places and practices of pagan worship (12:29-31).
Practical Consideration: We must hate what God hates. We should love the things that God loves. We should, however, also hate the things God hates. When we love things that God hates, we will have problems in our lives. When we hate things that God loves, we will also have problems in our lives. James wrote, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Practical Consideration: We should guard against the things that distract us from worship and in worship. The Israelites were instructed to remove the idolatrous influences of the Canaanites lest they be distracted in their worship. God wanted the undivided attention and loyalty of His people in worship. We too, should guard against anything that keeps us from participating in worship or distracts us while we are involved in worship. We should give God our undivided attention in worship.
Second, the Israelites were to worship at “the place … the Lord your God chooses,” a phrase that appears six times in chapter 12 (verses 5, 11, 14, 18, 21, 26) and a total of twenty-one times in chapters 12 through 17. Notice the following considerations regarding the place of worship.
• Deuteronomy 12:5 – “there you shall come.” The Israelites were to worship God in the place of His choosing in a manner different than that of Canaan’s inhabitants (12:4, 31). The Israelites were to come to the place where God chose “to establish His name” (12:5) or make “His name to dwell” (12:11). Some scholars comment that the phrase is used as an affirmation of ownership while others feel it refers to the place where God manifests His presence.
• Deuteronomy 12:11 – “there you shall bring.”
• Deuteronomy 12:14 – “there you shall offer.”
• Deuteronomy 12:14 – “there you shall do.”
Third, the Israelites were to do several things at the place of worship.
• They were to bring their offerings to the Lord (12:6, 11, 13-14, 17, 26-27).
• They were to rejoice before the Lord (12:7, 12, 18). Their worship was to be characterized by joy.
• They were to obey the Lord (12:28, 32).
Moses instructed the people to offer sacrifices at “the place which the Lord chooses” (12:14). The people were at liberty, however, to slaughter animals for food at any place (12:15), but were prohibited from eating the blood of those animals (12:16). Tithes were to be brought to the sanctuary (12:6-7 and 17-18). The people were reminded and admonished not to forget or neglect the Levite (12:19) who had “no portion or inheritance” (12:12). Verses 13-19 are repeated, reemphasized, and expanded in verses 20-28. Regarding the repetition found in this chapter, John Maxwell comments, “The repetition in this chapter can become a bit tedious. But remember that Deuteronomy was presented to Israel in sermonic form. Normally, repetition is important in the learning process, but it is doubly important in oral presentation, as the audience does not have the privilege of regarding something missed the first time.”
Idolatry Not to Be Tolerated
Moses cautioned the people to avoid all contact with the Canaanite religious system. They were to avoid curiosity about the Canaanite system of worship lest they become ensnared in it (12:30). The idolatrous practices of the Canaanites, which included the sacrifice of children, were an abomination in the sight of God (12:31).