Meditations in Deuteronomy : 34 : One Chosen Place of Worship
(Focus: Deut 12:8-32)
Deut 12:8-10 You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit, since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the LORD your God is giving you. 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.
Moses has just laid down the requirement that Israel are to clear the land of all signs of past pagan worship and are to only worship before the Lord in one place – where the Tabernacle will be set up. Now he reiterates and expands on that. At the present time, while on the move, they could not follow all the procedures being laid down in the Law for worship, but once they move into and settle in the Land, things will be different.
Once in the Land there will be just that one place to worship: “Then to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name…” (v.11) As we noted before, they are not worship the Lord how they like, when they like. It is to be at the one prescribed place. “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. And there rejoice before the LORD your God, you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns, who have no allotment or inheritance of their own.” (v.11,12) These will be the various expressions of their worship and celebration and the instruction is very clear: “Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the LORD will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.” (v.13,14) Although the instruction was so clear, is also becomes clear when you observe the history of Israel, especially after the land is divided after Solomon, that the Law was not being taught and this particular requirement was ignored and opened the way up to idol worship.
But then there are instructions about ordinarily eating meat at home: “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. But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water.” (v.15,16) i.e. eat at home as much as you like but don’t drink the blood in the meat because, as it says elsewhere, that represents the life of the animal and is to be respected.
However, by contrast, anything that you decide to offer to the Lord must not be eaten at home but only at the chosen place: “You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your grain and new wine and oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts. 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 menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns–and you are to rejoice before the LORD your God in everything you put your hand to.” (v.17,18) What is set aside to be offered to the Lord, whether in penance, thanksgiving or celebration, must only be consumed at the chosen place for otherwise (implied) it will start to be like the pagan worship of the Land as it is at present, and will soon degenerate into pagan, idol worship. There is also a reminder to take care of the tribe that is in charge of the Tabernacle: “Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.” (v.19).
The following verses simply reiterate what he has already just said: if you want to eat at home that’s fine (v.20-22) but don’t drink the blood (v.23-25). However that which you have set aside for the Lord, must only be consumed at the chosen place (v.26-27). This is followed by a further call to obedience (v.28) and a promise that the Lord will drive the inhabitants out before them (v.29). Once that has happened they are to make sure they don’t drift towards seeking their gods (v.30) or even worshipping the Lord in various places like they did (v.31) for their worship was detestable or terrible, even involving sacrificing their children (v.31b). Israel, heed all this just as it is! (v.32)
This is a long and strong exhortation not to have a form of religion where each person did their own thing where they liked. To counter that, their religion was to be holy and observed at the Tabernacle, to stop there being any wrong forms of worship. The truth is important and it is that there is just one God who is worthy of worship and they are to show that by the way they worship. The form of worship reveals much about both worshipper and the One worshipped.