The laws relating to the worship of the Israelites commence with a command to destroy and annihilate all places and memorials of the Canaanitish worship (Deu 12:2-4), and then lay it down as an established rule, that the Israelites were to worship the Lord their God with sacrifices and gifts, only in the place which He Himself should choose (Deu 12:5-14). On the other hand, in the land of Canaan cattle might be slain for eating and the flesh itself be consumed in any place; though sacrificial meals could only be celebrated in the place of the sanctuary appointed by the Lord (Deu 12:15-19). Moreover, on the extension of the borders of the land, oxen, and sheep, and goats could be slaughtered for food in any place; but the blood was not to be eaten, and consecrated gifts and votive sacrifices were not to be prepared as meals anywhere, except at the altar of the Lord (Deu 12:20-28). Lastly, the Israelites were not to be drawn aside by the Canaanites, to imitate them in their worship (Deu 12:29-31).
On the heading in Deu 12:1, see chs. Deu 6:1 and Deu 4:1. “All the days that ye live” relates to the more distant clause, “which ye shall observe,” etc. (cf. Deu 4:10).
Ye shall destroy all the places where the Canaanites worship their gods, upon the high mountains, upon the hills, and under every green tree (cf. Jer 2:20; Jer 3:6; Jer 17:2; 2Ki 16:4; 2Ki 17:10). The choice of mountains and hills for places of worship by most of the heathen nations, had its origin in the wide-spread belief, that men were nearer to the Deity and to heaven there. The green trees are connected with the holy groves, of which the heathen nations were so fond, and the shady gloom of which filled the soul with holy awe at the nearness of the Deity. In the absence of groves, they chose green trees with thick foliage (Eze 6:13; Eze 20:28), such as the vigorous oak, which attains a great age, the evergreen terebinth (Isa 1:29-30; Isa 57:5), and the poplar or osier, which continues green even in the heat of summer (Hos 4:13), and whose deep shade is adapted to dispose the mind to devotion.
Beside the place of worship, they were also to destroy all the idols of the Canaanitish worship, as had already been commanded in Deu 7:5, and to blot out even their names, i.e., every trace of their existence (cf. Deu 7:24).
“Ye shall not do so to Jehovah your God,” i.e., not build altars and offer sacrifices to Him in any place you choose, but (Deu 12:5.) shall only keep yourselves (אֶל דָּרַשׁ) to the place “which He shall choose out of all the tribes to put His name there for His dwelling.” Whereas the heathen seeks and worships his nature-gods, wherever he thinks he can discern in nature any trace of Divinity, the true God has not only revealed His eternal power and Godhead in the works of creation, but His personal being, which unfolds itself to the world in love and holiness, in grace and righteousness, He has made known to man, who was created in His image, in the words and works of salvation; and in these testimonies of His saving presence He has fixed for Himself a name, in which He dwells among His people. This name presents His personality, as comprehended in the word Jehovah, in a visible sign, the tangible pledge of His essential presence. During the journeying of the Israelites this was effected by the pillar of cloud and fire; and after the erection of the tabernacle, by the cloud in the most holy place, above the ark of the covenant, with the cherubim uon it, in which Jehovah had promised to appear to the high priest as the representative of the covenant nation. Through this, the tabernacle, and afterwards Solomon's temple, which took its place, became the dwelling-place of the name of the Lord. But if the knowledge of the true God rested upon direct manifestations of the divine nature, - and the Lord God had for that very reason made Himself known to His people in words and deeds as their God-then as a matter of course the mode of His worship could not be dependent upon any appointment of men, but must be determined exclusively by God Himself. The place of His worship depended upon the choice which God Himself should make, and which would be made known by the fact that He “put His name,” i.e., actually manifested His own immediate presence, in one definite spot. By the building of the tabernacle, which the Lord Himself prescribed as the true spot for the revelation of His presence among His people, the place where His name was to dwell among the Israelites was already so far determined, that only the particular town or locality among the tribes of Israel where the tabernacle was to be set up after the conquest of Canaan remained to be decided. At the same time, Moses not only speaks of the Lord choosing the place among all the tribes for the erection of His sanctuary, but also of His choosing the place where He would put His name, that He might dwell there (לְשִׁכְנֹו from שְׁכַן, for שָׁכִנֹו from שְׁכֹן). For the presence of the Lord was not, and was not intended, to be exclusively confined to the tabernacle (or the temple). As God of the whole earth, wherever it might be necessary, for the preservation and promotion of His kingdom, He could make known His presence, and accept the sacrifices of His people in other places, independently of this sanctuary; and there were times when this was really done. The unity of the worship, therefore, which Moses here enjoined, was not to consist in the fact that the people of Israel brought all their sacrificial offerings to the tabernacle, but in their offering them only in the spot where the Lord made His name (that is to say, His presence) known.
What Moses commanded here, was only an explanation and more emphatic repetition of the divine command in Exo 20:23-24 (Deu 12:21 and Deu 12:22); and to understand “the place which Jehovah would choose” as relating exclusively to Jerusalem or the temple-hill, is a perfectly arbitrary assumption. Shiloh, the place where the tabernacle was set up after the conquest of the land (Jos 18:1), and where it stood during the whole of the times of the judges, was also chosen by the Lord (cf. Jer 7:12). It was not till after David had set up a tent for the ark of the covenant upon Zion, in the city of Jerusalem, which he had chosen as the capital of his kingdom, and had erected an altar for sacrifice there (2Sa 6:17; 1Ch 16:1), that the will of the Lord was made known to him by the prophet Gad, that he should build an altar upon the threshing-floor of Araunah, where the angel of the Lord had appeared to him; and through this command the place was fixed for the future temple (2Sa 24:18; 1Ch 21:18). דָּרַשׁ with אֶל, to turn in a certain direction, to inquire or to seek. אֶת־שִׁמֹו שׂוּם, “to put His name,” i.e., to make known His presence, is still further defined by the following word לְשִׁכְנֹו, as signifying that His presence was to be of permanent duration. It is true that this word is separated by an athnach from the previous clause; but it certainly cannot be connected with תִדְרְשׁוּ (ye shall seek), not only because of the standing phrase, שָׁם שְׁמֹו לְשַׁכֵּן (“to cause His name to dwell there,” Deu 12:11; Deu 14:23; Deu 16:2, Deu 16:6, etc.), but also because this connection would give no fitting sense, as the infinitive שְׁכַן does not mean “a dwelling-place.”
Thither they were to take all their sacrificial gifts, and there they were to celebrate their sacrificial meals. The gifts are classified in four pairs: (1) the sacrifices intended for the altar, burnt-offerings and slain-offerings being particularly mentioned as the two principal kinds, with which, according to Num 15:4., meat-offerings and drink-offerings were to be associated; (2) “your tithes and every heave-offering of your hand.” By the tithes we are to understand the tithes of field-produce and cattle, commanded in Lev 27:30-33 and Num 18:21-24, which were to be brought to the sanctuary because they were to be offered to the Lord, as was the case under Hezekiah (2Ch 31:5-7). That the tithes mentioned here should be restricted to vegetable tithes (of corn, new wine, and oil), is neither allowed by the general character of the expression, nor required by the context. For instance, although, according to Deu 12:7 and Deu 12:11, Deu 12:12, as compared with Deu 12:17, a portion of the vegetable tithe was to be applied to the sacrificial meals, there is no ground whatever for supposing that all the sacrifices and consecrated gifts mentioned in Deu 12:6 were offerings of this kind, and either served as sacrificial meals, or had such meals connected with them. Burnt-offerings, for example, were not associated in any way with the sacrificial meals. The difficulty, or as some suppose “the impossibility,” of delivering all the tithes from every part of the land at the place of the sanctuary, does not warrant us in departing from the simple meaning of Moses' words in the verse before us. The arrangement permitted in Deu 14:24-25, with reference to the so-called second tithe, - viz., that if the sanctuary was too far off, the tithe might be sold at home, and whatever was required for the sacrificial meals might be bought at the place of the sanctuary with the money so obtained, - might possibly have been also adopted in the case of the other tithe. At all events, the fact that no reference is made to such cases as these does not warrant us in assuming the opposite. As the institution of tithes generally did not originate with the law of Moses, but is presupposed as a traditional and well-known custom, - all that is done being to define them more precisely, and regulate the way in which they should be applied, - Moses does not enter here into any details as to the course to be adopted in delivering them, but merely lays down the law that all the gifts intended for the Lord were to be brought to Him at His sanctuary, and connects with this the further injunction that the Israelites were to rejoice there before the Lord, that is to say, were to celebrate their sacrificial meals at the place of His presence which He had chosen. - The gifts, from which the sacrificial meals were prepared, are not particularized here, but are supposed to be already known either form the earlier laws or from tradition. From the earlier laws we learn that the whole of the flesh of the burnt-offerings was to be consumed upon the altar, but that the flesh of the slain-offerings, except in the case of the peace-offerings, was to be applied to the sacrificial meals, with the exception of the fat pieces, and the wave-breast and heave-shoulder. With regard to the tithes, it is stated in Num 18:21-24 that Jehovah had given them to the Levites as their inheritance, and that they were to give the tenth part of them to the priests. In the laws contained in the earlier books, nothing is said about the appropriation of any portion of the tithes to sacrificial meals. Yet in Deuteronomy this is simply assumed as a customary thing, and not introduced as a new commandment, when the law is laid down (in Deu 12:17; Deu 14:22., Deu 26:12.), that they were not to eat the tithe of corn, new wine, and oil within their gates (in the towns of the land), any more than the first-born of oxen and sheep, but only at the place of the sanctuary chosen by the Lord; and that if the distance was too great for the whole to be transported thither, they were to sell the tithes and firstlings at home, and then purchase at the sanctuary whatever might be required for the sacrificial meals. From these instructions it is very apparent that sacrificial meals were associated with the delivery of the tithes and firstlings to the Lord, to which a tenth part of the corn, must, and oil was applied, as well as the flesh of the first-born of edible cattle. This tenth formed the so-called second tithe (δευτέραν δεκάτην, Tob. 1:7), which is mentioned here for the first time, but not introduced as a new rule or an appendix to the former laws. It is rather taken for granted as a custom founded upon tradition, and brought into harmony with the law relating to the oneness of the sanctuary and worship.
(Note: The arguments employed by De Wette and Vater against this arrangement with regard to the vegetable tithe, which is established beyond all question by the custom of the Jews themselves, have been so fully met by Hengstenberg (Dissertations, ii. 334ff.), that Riehm has nothing to adduce in reply, except the assertion that in Deut 18, where the revenues of the priests and Levites are given, there is nothing said about the tithe, and the tithe of the tithe, and also that the people would have been overburdened by a second tithe. But, apart from the fact that argumenta e silentio generally do not prove much, the first assertion rests upon the erroneous assumption that in Deut 18 all the revenues of the priests are given separately; whereas Moses confines himself to this general summary of the revenues of the priests and Levites enumerated singly in Num 18, “The firings of Jehovah shall be the inheritance of the tribe of Levi, these they shall eat,” and then urges upon the people in Num 18:3-5 an addition to the revenues already established. The second objection is refuted by history. For if in later times, when the people of Israel had to pay very considerable taxes to the foreign kings under whose rule they were living, they could give a second tenth of the fruits of the ground in addition to the priests' tithe, as we may see from Tobit 1:7, such a tax could not have been too grievous a burden for the nation in the time of its independence; to say nothing of the fact that this second tenth belonged in great part to the donors themselves, since it was consumed in sacrificial meals, to which only poor and needy persons were invited, and therefore could not be regarded as an actual tax.)
“The heave-offerings of your hand,” which are mentioned again in Mal 3:8 along with the tithes, are not to be restricted to the first-fruits, as we may see from Eze 20:40, where the terumoth are mentioned along with the first-fruits. We should rather understand them as being free gifts of love, which were consecrated to the Lord in addition to the legal first-fruits and tithes without being actual sacrifices, and which were then applied to sacrificial meals. - The other gifts were (3) נְדָרִים and נְדָבֹות, sacrifices which were offered partly in consequence of vows and partly of their own free will (see at Lev 23:38, compared with Lev 7:16; Lev 22:21, and Num 15:3; Num 29:39); and lastly (4), “firstlings of your herds and of your flocks,” viz., those commanded in Exo 13:2, Exo 13:12., and Num 18:15.
According to Exo 13:15, the Israelites were to sacrifice the firstlings to the Lord; and according to Num 13:8. they belonged to the holy gifts, which the Lord assigned to the priests for their maintenance, with the more precise instructions in Deu 12:17, Deu 12:18, that the first-born of oxen, sheep, and goats were not to be redeemed, but being holy were to be burned upon the altar in the same manner as the shelamim, and that the flesh was to belong to the priests, like the wave-breast and right leg of the shelamim. These last words, it is true, are not to be understood as signifying that the only portions of the flesh of the firstlings which were to be given to the priest were the wave-breast and heave-leg, and that the remainder of the flesh was to be left to the offerer to be applied to a sacrificial meal (Hengstenberg); but they state most unequivocally that the priest was to apply the flesh to a sacrificial meal, like the wave-breast and heave-leg of all the peace-offerings, which the priest was not even allowed to consume with his own family at home, like ordinary flesh, but to which the instructions given for all the sacrificial meals were applicable, namely, that “whoever was clean in the priest's family” might eat of it (Num 18:11), and that the flesh was to be eaten on the day when the sacrifice was offered (Lev 7:15), or at the latest on the following morning, as in the case of the votive offering (Lev 7:16), and that whatever was left was to be burnt. These instructions concerning the flesh of the firstlings to be offered to the Lord no more prohibit the priest from allowing the persons who presented the firstlings to take part in the sacrificial meals, or handing over to them some portion of the flesh which belonged to himself to hold a sacrificial meal, than any other law does; on the contrary, the duty of doing this was made very plain by the fact that the presentation of firstlings is described as לַיהֹוָה זָבַח in Exo 13:15, in the very first of the general instructions for their sanctification, since even in the patriarchal times the זֶבַח was always connected with a sacrificial meal in which the offerer participated. Consequently it cannot be shown that there is any contradiction between Deuteronomy and the earlier laws with regard to the appropriation of the first-born. The command to bring the firstlings of the sacrificial animal, like all the rest of the sacrifices, to the place of His sanctuary which the Lord would choose, and to hold sacrificial meals there with the tithes of corn, new wine, and oil, and also with the firstlings of the flocks, and herds, is given not merely to the laity of Israel, but to the whole of the people, including the priests and Levites, without the distinction between the tribe of Levi and the other tribes, established in the earlier laws, being even altered, much less abrogated. The Israelites were to bring all their sacrificial gifts to the place of the sanctuary to be chosen by the Lord, and there, not in all their towns, they were to eat their votive and free-will offerings in sacrificial meals. This, and only this, is what Moses commands the people both here in Deu 12:7 and Deu 12:17, Deu 12:18, and also in Deu 14:22. and Deu 15:19.
(Note: If, therefore, the supposed discrepancies between the law of Deuteronomy and that of Exodus and Leviticus concerning the tithes and firstlings vanish into mere appearance when the passages in Deuteronomy are correctly explained, the conclusions to which Riehm comes (pp. 43ff.), - viz., that in Deuteronomy the tithes and firstlings are no longer the property of the priests and Levites, and that all the laws concerning the redemption and sale of them are abrogated there-are groundless assertions, founded upon the unproved and unfounded assumption, that Deuteronomy was intended to contain a repetition of the whole of the earlier law.)
“Rejoice in all that your hand has acquired.” The phrase יָד מִשְׁלַח (cf. Deu 12:18; Deu 15:10; Deu 23:21; Deu 28:8, Deu 28:20) signifies that to which the hand is stretched out, that which a man undertakes (synonymous with מַעֲשֶׂה), and also what a man acquires by his activity: hence Isa 11:14, יָד מִשְׁלֹוחַ, what a man appropriates to himself with his hand, or takes possession of. אֲשֶׁר before בֵּרַכְךָ is dependent upon יֶדְכֶם מִשְׁלַה, and בֵּרֵךְ is construed with a double accusative, as in Gen 49:25. The reason for these instructions is given in Deu 12:8, Deu 12:9, namely, that this had not hitherto taken place, but that up to this day every one had done what he thought right, because they had not yet come to the rest and to the inheritance which the Lord was about to give them. The phrase, “whatsoever is right in his own eyes,” is applied to actions performed according to a man's own judgment, rather than according to the standard of objective right and the law of God (cf. Jdg 17:6; Jdg 21:25). The reference is probably not so much to open idolatry, which was actually practised, according to Lev 17:7; Num 25:1; Eze 20:16-17; Amo 5:25-26, as to acts of illegality, for which some excuse might be found in the circumstances in which they were placed when wandering through the desert, - such, for example, as the omission of the daily sacrifice when the tabernacle was not set up, and others of a similar kind.
But when the Israelites had crossed over the Jordan, and dwelt peaceably in Canaan, secured against their enemies round about, these irregularities were not to occur any more; but all the sacrifices were to be offered at the place chosen by the Lord for the dwelling-place of His name, and there the sacrificial meals were to be held with joy before the Lord. “The choice of your vows,” equivalent to your chosen vows, inasmuch as every vow was something special, as the standing phrase נֶדֶר פַּלֵּא (Lev 22:21, and Num 15:3, Num 15:8) distinctly shows. - “Rejoicing before the Lord,” which is the phrase applied in Lev 23:40 to the celebration of the feast of Tabernacles, was to be the distinctive feature of all the sacrificial meals held by the people at the sanctuary, as is repeatedly affirmed (Deu 14:26; Deu 16:11; Deu 26:11; Deu 27:7). This holy joy in the participation of the blessing bestowed by the Lord was to be shared not only by sons and daughters, but also by salve (men-servants and maid-servants), that they too might taste the friendliness of their God, and also by “the Levite that is in your gates” (i.e., your towns and hamlets; see at Exo 20:10). This frequently recurring description of the Levites (cf. Deu 12:18; Deu 14:27; Deu 16:11, Deu 16:14; Deu 18:6; Deu 26:12) does not assume that they were homeless, which would be at variance with the allotment of towns for them to dwell in (Num 35); but simply implies what is frequently added in explanation, that the Levites had “no part nor inheritance,” no share of the land as their hereditary property, and in this respect resembled strangers (Deu 14:21, Deu 14:29; Deu 16:11, etc.).
(Note: The explanation given by De Wette, and adopted by Riehm, of the expression, “the Levite that is within thy gates,” is perfectly arbitrary and unfounded: viz., that “the Levites did not live any longer in the towns assigned them by the earlier laws, but were scattered about in the different towns of the other tribes.”)
And the repeated injunction to invite the Levites to the sacrificial meals is not at variance with Num 18:21, where the tithes are assigned to the tribe of Levi for their maintenance. For however ample this revenue may have been according to the law, it was so entirely dependent, upon the honesty and conscientiousness of the people, that the Levites might very easily be brought into a straitened condition, if indifference towards the Lord and His servants should prevail throughout the nation. - In Deu 12:13, Deu 12:14, Moses concludes by once more summing up these instructions in the admonition to beware of offering sacrifices in every place that they might choose, the burnt-offering, as the leading sacrifice, being mentioned instar omnium.