In studying Deuteronomy 12-15, our big picture is: Called to a place of worship, called to rejoice
In Deuteronomy 12:1-7 Moses gives very detailed instructions to rid their new home of all idols, idol worship alters and places, utterly destroying the false religion. There exists a huge contrast between worshipping the One True God, and the religions of the nations Israel is surrounded by; and so there is no similarity in how the God of truth, love, beauty and goodness should be sought and worshipped, and how the other nations worship their idols.
Israel is being told that God will choose a place at which He is to be sought, a place to be the center of worship. Which place is never mentioned in Deuteronomy–so the hearers did not envision a specific temple, or a specific city, or even a particular hill. Over and over in Deuteronomy they are told “when the LORD shows you the place…” or “to the place the LORD shows you…” They did not know Jerusalem would be so special to them yet. But they did know, and hear over and over, that they were to destroy the places dedicated to false gods. They knew they were to purge their new homeland of evil, and of idolatry.
They were to purge and destroy–not redeem and repurpose. (CF Ephesians 5:6-13!)
Instructions are also given on how to come: with sacrifices and offerings, to eat, to rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you.
12:8-9 repeated throughout Joshua and Judges…because in our fallen nature, our old man, we are all prone to do what is right in our own eyes, to lean on our own understanding, rather than seeking God! But, remember verse 5–seek! (Meditate on Psalm 27, and Jeremiah 29:1-14; and Lamantations 3:19-26; though please, do not isolate one of these verses, they cannot be rightly understood apart from the passage.)
Verse 12 REJOICE!!! Our first call to rejoice in this speech, one of several. The worship of YHWH will include rejoicing. The instructions He gives are linked to our ability to rejoice. When we rightly acknowledge God as our life source, and the giver of all we have–we rejoice. When we withhold the tithe and the freewill offerings we shrivel up in our selfishness; we revert to idolatry, and we miss the abundant life.
Vs 13-14, Yet another reminder not to redeem or repurpose idolatrous places for God’s purposes. Destroy those places, and worship elsewhere. Why? (sit with that question for a while. God does not give purposeless rules, and not one jot of this law was extraneous.)
20ff if you cannot make it to the “place” then eat within your gates! During her wilderness wanderings Israel was sustained by manna; now they would be settling down with the freedom to butcher and eat their livestock. What a blessing, God wants rejoicing over the goodness of having a home, of belonging, of settling down, of partaking of the fruit of their labor. Verse 28 that it will be well with you!!! God is setting them up for wellness, wholeness, flourishing. Obey, do not be ensnared by the nations you are supposed to dispossess. The LORD hates their idolatry, and all the actions they have carried out for their false worship. Do not cling to what the LORD hates.
Verse 32, DO NOT ADD TO THIS! Be careful to do as you are instructed, but without adding to or taking away from this law. This comes at the beginning–in the closing of the Pentateuch, but the beginning of the rest of Scripture, and applies to all of it. It is never pleasing to God when we try to safeguard His word by adding to it. You may think you mean well, but it would be better if a millstone were tied around the neck of any who trip up God’s people by adding to His word (see Luke 17:1-4).
We now, because of Jesus’ atoning work, worship in spirit and truth, rather than in a particular place. Hebrews outlines the beauty of how the temple worship points to Christ, and how Christ’s coming transformed our worship. This does not prove Deuteronomy 12-13 are erroneous or Pharisaical or false, but further refine and reveal God’s ultimate purpose–what His redemptive plan is moving toward. Here, in Deuteronomy, a nation is being instructed on how to begin their new life in their new homeland; we are not a nation but the Church; we are called to be leaven amongst all the nations, taking Him into all the world, rather than ever trying to create our own “Christian Nation”. So here, we learn that God redeemed Israel, and gave laws to punish and banish anything contrary to His purpose for the nation. We have the law of love, of liberty (cf James) and the Spirit leading us as we are salt and light wherever we are–we do not have to be in a specific place. This does not give us right to redeem evil, or repurpose worldly religions for Christ’s purposes. Rather we abide in His words and love alone; worship Him in spirit and truth–not in my own ways and in half truths. Just as Israel was learning that God is nothing like the pagan gods of other nations, so we must remember that there is no-one like our God, and our hearts must worship in simplicity and purity of the truth (see 2 Corinthians 11:1-6; 2 Timothy 1:13-14; Jude 3-5, 17-21).
Deuteronomy 13 can be summed as follows: If a prophet contradicts the Penteteach–forget his words, purge the evil from amongst you. Do you love YHWH? The LORD allows you to be in this situation to prove your love, to show you what is in your heart and soul.
13:4 our recurring theme:
You shall follow YHWH your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.
Death to false prophets, and to those who entice you to follow false prophets. Carrying this out will serve as warning to others see verse 11. Investigate thoroughly. No knee jerk killing. But punishment, designed to show just how much God hates idolatry, and how these false religions are opposed to God’s glory.
To understand 13:6-11 see Matthew 10:34-37.
Verse 17…a third time in this speech, do not attempt to redeem what God has banned. If God says “destroy” then you must. Evil cannot be repurposed for God’s kingdom. If you will listen, keep His commands, do what is right then you will enjoy God’s mercy. How often does God repeat Himself, yet we still believe we can serve Him in our own creative ways. He has shown you what is good, do not turn away from it.
Chapter 14 lists prohibitions, mainly of practices characteristic of foreign religions. For the foods, much speculation–but the theories are just that, theories. While the meats prohibited have been found to have more toxic substances than the meat allowed, this is conjecture. The animals listed were prohibited because they were sacred to foreign religions. Nothing sacred to the false gods would be used to nourish God’s people. We can sometimes impose the teachings of Acts, and think the Old Testament is harsh. Is it? God is love, always has been. What could this loving God have been showing His people? What did He want to enlighten them to understand? We can rejoice in what Peter experienced, and we are free to eat anything; but this lesson pointed Israel to the coming of their eternal Redeemer, not to a harsh ‘god’ keeping them back from yummy seafood etc.
14:23 tithing teaches us to fear the LORD, draws the community together as we all forsake selfishness and care for the Levites and the poor, and draws us further into rejoicing. I know firsthand the struggle to think I ought to withhold tithes to feed and clothe the poor. But do I really know more God? How glad I am for His patience with me.
Some of the tithes paid were used to feed the poor. Because the poor will always be with you. Sound familiar? Matt 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8 Context is important, Jesus was teaching us to Worship extravegantly.
Chapter 15:5-6 There shouldn’t be poor among you (though verse 11 rightly appraises that there will be, on account of our inability to listen, remember, or obey), you should help and not be so selfish. The fulness of God’s blessing will be that there is no want, no lack…to all who obey. Contingent blessing–not contingent salvation. This was designed to show Israel His power and care.
7-11 You must open wide your heart! You must care, because of God’s great care for you. Do not harden your heart or be tightfisted! Give!!! Do not borrow, do not lend with interest. Do not create a new slavery. The borrower is slave to the lender. The LORD will bless, so look to Him, listen to Him, walk in His ways in your new home!
12-18 the nature of this slavery is that a debt is owed, and he is unable to pay. So he works it off. Treat this “slave” as God treated you when He redeemed you from slavery. Be generous, have pity, help! The term “perpetual slave” does not seem derogatory, but more like a trusted, valued, role. And when the year of release comes, generously send him on his way. These laws were created to show God’s care for those who have, and for those who have entered into debt. Debt is not a commodity, as America has tried to treat it; it is slavery. And since it existed, God showed His care even for these. Nothing we do–even choosing to enter into debt (i.e. credit cards, student loans, keeping up with the Jones’) can separate us from the love of God. His steadfast love endures forever. And our love for one another must reflect His love, or it is not love.