Moses reminds them of the jealousness of God in this chapter. There is only one true God and he will not tolerate worship to anyone or anything else. It is the first commandment and the second and third commandments are protection for the first.
The One Place of Worship
1 These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess—as long as you live in the land. 2 Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree, where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. 3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.
The first command is to love the Lord God, the second and third are to have no other gods before him and not to worship any graven images or idols. These commandments are to be followed as long as they live in the land He has given them. It may seem extreme in the way Moses tells them to destroy all of the false worship places, but it is important. God did not want any temptation to follow false gods. If there was nothing remaining of the gods that the people who inhabited the land worshipped, then it would safeguard their hearts for the one true God. He had blessed them immeasurably, he had given them success against a great enemy and they had inherited a prosperous land. He did not want them to forget all of the things he had done for them in favor of the gods of the people they had destroyed. He did not want them just removed, but destroyed beyond remembrance, wiped off the face of the earth. God was setting this land apart for himself, just as he had set the people apart for himself. Something of note is that the places that were to be destroyed are not temples, but only altars, or images on mountains and hills, under a tree for protection. The tabernacle and later the temple were the first houses for a god of any kind.
4 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. 5 But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; 6 there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.
They are told not to transfer the rites and traditions of the idolaters and use them as worship to God. Not even improving upon them and calling them “his”. They are not to worship God with altars on mountains or hills, or to plant trees, or to make pillars. Although this had been done to God in the past (Jacob, Abraham, etc), God was setting a new precedent, he would chose a place for his tabernacle to be set, a place that was Holy and His alone.
8 You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit, 9 since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you. 10 But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. 11 Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. 12 And there rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns who have no allotment or inheritance of their own. 13 Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. 14 Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.
God did not want them worshipping him as they had up to this point, each on their own. He promised them rest from their enemies, and inheritance and safety. He was to chose a place for his dwelling in each of the tribes and he wanted offerings, sacrifices and worship to be in his dwelling only. They were to sacrifice only as he directed. He would now inhabit the place he chose and that is where he wanted them to meet with him.
15 Nevertheless, you may slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want, as if it were gazelle or deer, according to the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it. 16 But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 17 You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your grain and new wine and olive oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts. 18 Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God at the place the Lord your God will choose—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns—and you are to rejoice before the Lord your God in everything you put your hand to. 19 Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.
Although they could do the slaughtering of their animals in their own towns, the tithe and offerings could only be eaten or given in the presence of the Lord. These things were to be held specifically for him, in honor. They had to be careful to keep it apart for God. This means they were allowed to eat common flesh, but not the flesh of their offerings at home. What was in any way devoted to God must not be eaten at home but only in the house of God. He repeats the warning to remember the Levites as well, lest they forget those who serve God.
20 When the Lord your God has enlarged your territory as he promised you, and you crave meat and say, “I would like some meat,” then you may eat as much of it as you want. 21 If the place where the Lord your God chooses to put his Name is too far away from you, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and in your own towns you may eat as much of them as you want. 22 Eat them as you would gazelle or deer. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat. 23 But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. 24 You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 25 Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is rigkht in the eyes of the Lord.
Again it is repeated that they are not to eat the offerings, but could eat whenk they wanted. This is because when they were in the wilderness, all that they ate required a portion given to God. God has increased their territory and given them land as a blessing. Now that they would be living further from the house of God, they were released from giving a portion of each meal and instead were required to give a tenth (tithe) as well as the offerings and sacrifices as set for them by God. Moses also repeats the warning about consuming the blood of the animals, which he had mentioned in the previous paragraph. As we know, when something is repeated, it gives attention to the importance of the instruction.
26 But take your consecrated things and whatever you have vowed to give, and go to the place the Lord will choose. 27 Present your burnt offerings on the altar of the Lord your God, both the meat and the blood. The blood of your sacrifices must be poured beside the altar of the Lord your God, but you may eat the meat. 28 Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord your God.
They are given instruction on how their offerings and sacrifices are to be given to the Lord. Again, they are told to be careful to obey what God tells them to do so that they will continue to be blessed and their future generations will also continue to be blessed. God rewards those who love him and follow his commands.
29 The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, 30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.
The final warning in this chapter again refers to the traditions of those whose land they have received. God doesn’t want them to be deceived by either worshipping those false gods or worshipping him in the same manner as the traditions dictated worship to the false gods. Our God is a holy God and the worship that man uses to worship false gods should never be applied to the one True God. There are many evil things that mankind has done in the name of worship and these things are detestable and offensive to God.
32 See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.[a]
God’s instruction is Holy and perfect. What can we add or take away that will make it more perfect?
- Deuteronomy 12:32 In Hebrew texts this verse (12:32) is numbered 13:1.