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Deuteronomy 12


A Prescribed Place of Worship The Centralization of Worship The One Place for Worship The Deuteronomic Code (12:1-26:15)
12:1-28 12:1 12:1-3 12:1
      The Place of Worship
  12:2-7   12:2-3
    12:4-7 12:4-7
  12:8-12 12:8-14 12:8-12
      Sacrificial Regulations
  12:13-14   12:13-14
  12:15-19 12:15-19 12:15-16
  12:20-27 12:20-28 12:20-28
Beware of False Gods   Warning Against Idolatry (12:29-13:18) Against Canaanite Cults
12:29-32 12:29-32 12:29-31 12:29-13:1
  Warning Against Idolatry (12:32-13:18) 12:32  

READING CYCLE THREE (see introductory section)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. This starts the amplification of the Ten Words into daily regulations (i.e., chapters 12-26), which cover Israel's secular and sacred life. If one follows the outline of the Hittite Treaties, then (1) 4:1-11:32 contains the foundational laws and (2) 12:1-26:19 is the characteristic expansion and explanation of those laws.

Scholars have delineated four "Law Codes" in the Pentateuch:

1. Book of the covenant, Exod. 20:22-23:33

2. Priestly Code, Exodus 25-31 and 34:29 through Leviticus 16

3. Holiness Code, Leviticus 17-26

4. Deuteronomic Code, Deuteronomy chapters 12-26 and 28

However, this listing is more effected by Julius Wellhausen's source critical approach (i.e., J=YHWH; E=Elohim; D=Deuteronomy; and P=priestly writers) to the Pentateuch than contemporary, second millennium b.c. parallels (cf. R. K. Harrison, Old Testament times and John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature In Its Cultural Context).

B. This is the chapter where the controversy concerning the date of Deuteronomy rages. It centers around vv. 1-7 which call for one central worship altar (later Jerusalem).

C. It seems that this text relates to two separate periods and purposes: (1) in the wilderness (i.e., tabernacle) and (2) in the Promised Land. The purpose of all laws is proper worship of YHWH in place, motive and form. Idolatry and its worship sites are rejected. The tension seems to be between legitimate local places of worship (Exod. 20:24; Deut. 16:21) and a central place of Israeli worship. Local and special altars (cf. Deuteronomy 27) were allowed (e.g., I Kgs. 3:3-5), but the Ark, tabernacle, and later the Temple are emphasized.

D.  Historically it is to be noted that Hezekiah's reform was more oriented toward a central worship site than was Josiah's reform, which is usually used as the supposed historical occasion for the writing of Deuteronomy (i.e., 621 b.c., cf. II Kgs. 18:22; II Chr. 32:12 and Isa. 36:7). Josiah's reform primarily dealt with idolatry not centralized worship! I personally reject the JEDP theory of Pentateuch source criticism (cf. Josh McDowell More Evidence That Demands A Verdict).



1"These are the statutes and the judgments which you shall carefully observe in the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess as long as you live on the earth. 2You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. 3You shall tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and burn their Asherim with fire, and you shall cut down the engraved images of their gods and obliterate their name from that place. 4You shall not act like this toward the Lord your God. 5But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. 6There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. 7There also you and your households shall eat before the Lord your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you."

12:1 "the statutes and judgments" See Special Topic at 4:1.

▣ "you shall carefully observe" This is a combination of a verb, "keep watch" (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperfect) and a Qal infinitive construct, (BDB 793, KB 889). This is a recurrent theme (e.g., Exod. 23:13,21; 34:11-12; Lev. 18:4-5,26,30; Deut. 4:6,9,15,23,40; and many more especially in Deuteronomy and Wisdom Literature).

▣ "which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you" The verb shows completed action (BDB 678, KB 733, Qal perfect), yet the events are future. It is a Hebrew way of showing certainty (i.e., Prophetic Perfect). This is a recurrent theme in Deuteronomy (cf. 1:8,20,21,25,35,36,39; 2:29; 3:18,20; 4:1,21,38,40; 5:16,31; 6:10,23; 7:13,16; 8:10; 9:6,23; 10:11; 11:9,17,21,31; 12:1,9; 15:4; 17:14; 18:9; 19:1,2,8,14; 21:23; 24:4; 25:15,19; 26:1,2,3,6,9,10,15; 27:3; 28:8,11,52; 31:7; 32:49; 34:4). It shows YHWH's gracious choice and provision for Israel.

▣ "to possess" The verb (BDB 439, KB 441, Qal infinitive construct) is a recurrent promise. See SPECIAL TOPIC: POSSESS THE LAND at 8:1.

▣ "on the earth" "On the earth" is another way of saying "in the Land" (cf. v. 19). As long as the Israelites kept God's commandments, they could live in the Promised Land. See note at 4:40.

This verse has two different words for "land":

1. "in the land" - BDB 75

2. "on the earth" - BDB 9 

They both refer to the whole earth or to the land of Canaan. They are usually synonyms (cf. 4:38-40; 11:8-9; 12:1; 26:2,15).

12:2 "utterly destroy all the places" "Utterly destroy" comes from a Hebrew word that means "cause to perish" (BDB 1, KB 2, Piel infinitive absolute and Piel imperfect, which show intensity, cf. v. 3; Num. 33:52[twice]; II Kgs. 21:3). God was admonishing the Israelites to destroy the pagan altars so as not to become a part of their fertility worship (cf. Exod. 23:24; 34:13).

▣ "on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree" These are the locations of local Ba'al and Asherah altars where fertility rites were practiced (cf. Jer. 2:20; 3:2,6; 17:2; Isa. 57:5,7; Hosea 4:13).

12:3 "sacred pillars" See Special Topic below.


12:5 "the place which the Lord your God shall choose" God chose (BDB 103, KB 119, Qal imperfect, cf. vv. 11,14,18,21,26; 14:23-25; 15:20; 16:2,6,11,15; 17:8,10; 18:6; 26:2; 31:11) the worship site (cf. Exod. 20:24).

The tabernacle (ark) traveled with Israel:

1. Gilgal, Josh. 4:19; 10:6,15

2. Shechem, Josh 8:33

3. Shiloh, Josh 18:1; Jdgs. 18:31; I Sam. 1:3

4. Bethel, (possible) Jdgs. 20:18,26-28; 21:2

5. Kiriath-jearim, ark, I Sam. 6:21; 7:1-2 (priests at Nob, cf. I Samuel 21-22)

6. Jerusalem

a. David captures the citadel of Jebus (cf. II Sam. 5:1-10)

b. David brings the ark to Jerusalem (cf. II Samuel 6)

c David purchases the site of the temple (II Sam. 24:15-25; II Chr. 3:1)

Many modern scholars have tried to assert that Deuteronomy was written late to accommodate Hezekiah and Josiah's reforms of centralizing Israel's worship. However, Deuteronomy does not name Jerusalem as the specific site that YHWH will choose. In context the theological contrast is between:

1. the local Ba'al shrines and the one shrine of Israel

2. the monotheism of Israel versus the polytheism of Canaan (and the rest of the ancient Near East)


NASB"to establish His name there for His dwelling"
NKJV"to put His name for His habitation"
NRSV"as his habitation to put his name there"
TEV"where the people are to come into his presence"
NJB"there to set his name and give it a home"

The translation of this verse is influenced by v. 11. Verse 5 has "for his dwelling" (BDB 1015), while v. 11 has "to make dwell" (BDB 1014, KB 1496, Piel infinitive construct). In meaning they are very similar and have no theological difference or connotation.

The Jews substituted God's name for God's presence. This is a direct reference to the Tabernacle in the early days.


12:6 This verse lists several kinds of offerings:

1. "burnt offerings" This meant wholly burnt offerings (BDB 750 II). This was a way of showing total, complete dedication to God. It was a voluntary sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 1).

2. "sacrifices" This refers to partially burnt, partially consumed offering (BDB 257). These were sin offerings, peace offerings, thanksgiving offerings, etc. These were any offerings which had blood involved (cf. Leviticus 7).

3. "tithes" The tithe was Israel's way of supporting the priests, who were given no land inheritance. There seem to be three tithes (BDB 798):

a. for the central sanctuary

b. for the local Levites, with the possibility of a

c. every three years for the local poor (Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:21-22)

4. "contributions of your hand" This is the Hebrew word for "heave-offerings" (BDB 929, cf. Lev. 7:32). This refers to a sacrifice where some part of the animal is lifted off for the priests to eat.

5. "votive offerings" This (BDB 623) is an example of a conditional vow to God, "I'll do this, if You will do that." This is the Jews keeping their part of the vow (Lev. 7:16-18).

6. "freewill offerings" This (BDB 621) refers to an offering in thanks or praise from one who was overwhelmed with the goodness of God (cf. Lev. 22:18ff).

7. "first-born" This (BDB 114) is a reference to the Death Angel going through Egypt killing the first born of cattle and mankind. In light of this event all the first born of cattle and humans belonged uniquely to God (cf. Exod.13; Lev. 27:26-27)!


12:7 "you and your household shall eat before the Lord" This refers to a fellowship meal, which is a theological precursor of both Passover and Eucharist (cf. vv. 12,18; 14:26; Rev. 3:20). God's people were created to rejoice (BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal perfect) with Him in the physicalness of creation and the intimacy of worship (cf. Lev. 23:40; Num. 10:10; Deut. 12:7,12,18; 14:26; 16:11; 26:11; 27:7; 28:47).

8"You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; 9for you have not as yet come to the resting place and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you. 10When you cross the Jordan and live in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you so that you live in security, 11then it shall come about that the place in which the Lord your God will choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the Lord. 12And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you."

12:8 "You shall not do at all what we are doing here today" Things will be more uniform in the Promised Land. The religious practices during the wilderness wanderings period were simpler than the more organized practices in the Promised Land and, especially at the temple, later located in Jerusalem.

▣ "every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes" This phrase has a neutral connotation here, but in Judges it takes on a sinister connotation of an individual asserting freedom from covenant obligations either through sinful choice or covenant ignorance (cf. 17:6; 21:25).

12:9 See note at 12:1

12:10 "He gives you rest. . .security" YHWH gives you rest (BDB 628, KB 679, Hiphil perfect) from your enemies. This security (BDB 442, KB 444, Qal perfect) was not achieved because of Israel's great military might, but because of the presence of YHWH.

12:11 "the place in which the Lord your God shall choose" This is a reference to the centralized place of worship (i.e., the tabernacle and the ark, cf. vv. 5,14), which was first at Shiloh. See full note at 12:5.

12:12 "you shall rejoice" This is the purpose of God's laws (cf. vv. 7,18; 14:26; 28:47).

▣ "you and" Notice how everyone in the family including servants and the local Levites (cf. v. 19) were to be included! In a sense these were all extended family members. They were loved and provided for, both in life's necessities and for the next life (i.e., worship).

12:12, 19 "Levite who is within your gates" All priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests. Here "Levite" refers to the non-priests of the family of Levi who symbolized the poor and needy (cf. vv. 18,19; 14:27,29; 16:11,14; 26:12-13), because the Levites had been given no land. They were respected local teachers of the Law.


 13"Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every cultic place you see, 14but in the place which the Lord chooses in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you."

12:13 "Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every cultic place you see" God will show you the special places for offering (cf. vv. 5,11,14). Do not use the many local Canaanite altars just because they are there. Don't offer a sacrifice to YHWH on altars erected for Ba'al. However, there were some local altars made for YHWH (cf. Deut. 16:21; I Kgs. 3:4).

This verse has three verbs:

1. "be careful" - BDB 1036, KB 1581, Niphal imperative

2. "do not offer" - BDB 748, KB 828, Hiphil imperfect

3. "see" - BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal imperfect


"However, you may slaughter and eat meat within any of your gates, whatever you desire, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you; the unclean and the clean may eat of it, as of the gazelle and the deer. 16Only you shall not eat the blood; you are to pour it out on the ground like water. 17You are not allowed to eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or new wine or oil, or the firstborn of your herd or flock, or any of your votive offerings which you vow, or your freewill offerings, or the contribution of your hand. 18But you shall eat them before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord your God will choose, you and your son and daughter, and your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all your undertakings. 19Be careful that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land."

12:15, 20-24 "you may slaughter" This shows a widening of the Law (cf. Lev. 17:1ff). If an animal was killed (BDB 256, KB 261, Qal imperfect) for food and not sacrifice, it could be killed anywhere.

12:15 "unclean and the clean" This does not refer to unclean animals as far as food (cf. vv. 20-22; Lev. 11), but unclean animals as far as sacrifice. A blemished sheep could be eaten by humans as could some wild animals like deer, but not pigs, etc.

12:16 "you shall not eat the blood" This relates to the Hebrew reverence for blood as the symbol for life. Even when they killed animals, whether for eating or sacrifice, they poured the blood out (cf. 15:23; Lev. 17:13) and did not eat it, because life belonged to God. The blood represented life, life belongs to God (cf. vv. 23-25; Gen. 9:4; Lev. 7:11-12; 17:10-11)!

12:17-18 This is another warning about only using the central shrine for worship (cf. v. 26).

12:17 "the tithe" This verse lists several things that were to be tithed (BDB 798 cf. 14:23; 18:4; Num. 18:12):

1. "grain" - BDB 186

2. "wine" - BDB 440

3. "oil" - BDB 850

This was an agricultural society.

12:19 See note at v. 12.

20"When the Lord your God extends your border as He has promised you, and you say, 'I will eat meat,' because you desire to eat meat, then you may eat meat, whatever you desire. 21If the place which the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, then you may slaughter of your herd and flock which the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you; and you may eat within your gates whatever you desire. 22Just as a gazelle or a deer is eaten, so you will eat it; the unclean and the clean alike may eat of it. 23Only be sure not to eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. 24You shall not eat it; you shall pour it out on the ground like water. 25You shall not eat it, so that it may be well with you and your sons after you, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of the Lord. 26Only your holy things which you may have and your votive offerings, you shall take and go to the place which the Lord chooses. 27And you shall offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, on the altar of the Lord your God; and the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the Lord your God, and you shall eat the flesh. 28Be careful to listen to all these words which I command you, in order that it may be well with you and your sons after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God."

12:20 "I will eat meat" This verb (BDB 37, KB 46) is repeated three times:

1. Qal cohortative

2. Qal infinitive construct

3. Qal imperfect


If they desire to eat meat in the Promised Land they may surely do it:

1. right kind of meat (vv. 17,22)

2. killed at the right place (vv. 15,18,21,27)

3. killed in the right way (vv. 16,23-25)


12:23 "be sure" This verb (BDB 304, KB 302, Qal imperative) means "be strong" (cf. 31:6,7,23) in the sense of firmly refrain from something (cf. I Chr. 28:7).

12:26 "holy things" This refers to the things mentioned in v. 17.

12:28 "Be careful" This verb (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperative) is used repeatedly in Deuteronomy (cf. 4:9,15,23; 6:12; 8:11; 11:16; 12:13,19,28,30; 15:9; 24:8) to encourage obedience to YHWH's covenant.

▣ "in order that it may be well with you and your sons after you forever" The verb (BDB 405, KB 408, Qal imperfect) is used several times in Deuteronomy (cf. 4:40; 5:16,29,33; 6:3,18; 12:25,28; 22:7) and in Jeremiah (cf. 7:23; 38:20; 42:6) and refers to the blessed, happy, wholesome life of YHWH's people. Again, covenant obedience is linked to blessing and longevity in the land. This total obedience is admonished to successive generations i.e., forever). See Special Topic: Forever ('Olam) at 4:40.

▣ "for you will be doing what is good and right"

1. "good" BDB 373 II

a. in God's eyes, 6:18; 13:18; II Chr. 14:2

b. in man's eyes, Josh. 9:25; Jdgs. 19:24; Jer. 26:14

2. "right" BDB 449, same as above, but also Deut. 12:25; 13:18; I Kgs. 11:38; 14:8; 15:11; 22:43; II Kgs. 12:2 (for a parallel to 1. b. above, see 12:8).


29"When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?' 31You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods."

12:29 "before the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations" The verb (BDB 503, KB 500, Hiphil imperfect) means YHWH eliminated people by killing them (cf. 19:1; Josh. 23:4; II Sam. 7:9; Jer. 44:8). This indicates that YHWH is fighting Israel's battles.

12:30 "beware" See note at v. 28.

▣ "that you are not ensnared" The verb (BDB 669, KB 723, Niphal imperfect), in its Qal stem, literally means, "to bring down with a stick" (cf. Ps. 9:16). The Niphal stem, used only here, is a metaphorical extension implying "throw a stick at a target."

▣ "do not inquire after their gods" The verb (BDB 205, KB 233, Qal imperfect) means "to seek after":

1. YHWH in 12:5; 4:29; Jer. 10:21; 29:13

2. Canaanite gods in 12:30; II Chr. 25:15,20; Jer. 8:2


12:31 YHWH is clearly saying to Israel that if they practice the same abominable fertility rites, He will remove them from the land (cf. 7:4; Lev. 18:24-30) as He did the Canaanites (cf. Gen. 15:16-21). YHWH "hates" (BDB 971, KB 1338, Qal perfect) idolatry (cf. 12:31; 16:22; see Special Topic: God Described as a Human [Anthropomorphic Language] at 2:15). See Special Topic below.


32"Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it."

12:32 "you shall not add nor take away from it" God is serious about obedience to His word (see note at 4:2). However, Deuteronomy shows some adaptation of the laws of the desert period. We must apply the truths of the Bible for every new age and culture. God revealed Himself to a particular culture at a particular time. Some of it is related only to that time and people (e.g., holy war, polygamy, slavery, subjugation of women), but much of it is timeless truth to be applied to every age (for a discussion of how to distinguish between the eternal and the cultural, see Fee and Stuart, How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth, pp. 149-164 and Gordon Fee, Gospel and Spirit, pp. 1-36).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is there so much emphasis on a central worship site?

2. Why did some of the laws change?

3. Why is the blood so important to the Hebrews?

4. Why are these rules so detailed?