Deuteronomy 12 Bible Commentary

John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible

(Read all of Deuteronomy 12)
In this chapter orders are given to destroy all altars, pillars, groves, and images, made for the worship of idols in the land of Canaan, Deuteronomy 12:1 and to bring all sacrifices and holy things unto the place which the Lord should choose for his habitation, and not do as they then did, not being come to their rest, Deuteronomy 12:4, flesh for their common food might be killed and eaten in their own houses, provided they did not eat the blood, but poured it out upon the earth, Deuteronomy 12:15, tithes, vows, and freewill offerings, were to be eaten in the holy place, Deuteronomy 12:17 and burnt offerings to be offered on the altar of the Lord and the blood of them to be poured out upon the altar, Deuteronomy 12:26, all which they were carefully to observe, Deuteronomy 12:29, and they are cautioned against idolatry, and inquiring after the manner of it, as practised by the old inhabitants of the land, and introducing their customs into the service of God, Deuteronomy 12:30.

Verse 1. These are the statutes and judgments which ye shall observe to do,.... Which are recorded in this and the following chapters; here a new discourse begins, and which perhaps was delivered at another time, and respects things that were to be observed:

in the land which the Lord God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it; the land of Canaan, often described by this circumlocution, to put them in mind that it was promised to their fathers by their covenant God, was his gift to them, and which they would quickly be in the possession of; and therefore when in it should be careful to observe the statutes and judgments of God constantly:

[even] all the days that ye live upon the earth; or land, the land of Canaan; for though there were some laws binding upon them, live where they would, there were others peculiar to the land of Canaan, which they were to observe as long as they and their posterity lived there; see 1 Kings 8:40.

Verse 2. Ye shall utterly destroy all the places wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods,.... The temples erected for the worship of them by the Canaanites, of which there were many, as appears by the various names of places given them from the temples in them, as Bethshemesh, Bethbaalmeon, Bethpeor, and others:

upon the high mountains and upon the hills: which they chose to worship on, being nearer the heavens, and which they thought most acceptable to their gods; and some of them had their names from hence, as Baalpeor, in like manner as Jupiter Olympius was called by the Greeks; see Jeremiah 2:20,

and under every green tree; which being shady and solitary, and pleasant to the sight, they fancied their gods delighted in, and this notion prevailed among other nations; and there is scarcely any deity but what had some tree or another devoted to it; as the oak to Jupiter, the laurel to Apollo, the ivy to Bacchus, the olive to Minerva, the myrtle to Venus, &c. see Jeremiah 2:20.

Verse 3. And you shall overthrow their altars,.... Which were of stone, as Jarchi observes; whereas the altar ordered to be made by the Lord, before the altar of burnt offering in the tabernacle was made, was of earth, Exodus 20:24 these were to be demolished, lest the Israelites should be tempted to make use of them; and besides, the Lord would not have any remains of idolatry in the land where his tabernacle and worship were, as being abominable to him:

and break down their pillars; or statues erected to the honour of their idols; according to Jarchi it was a single stone hewed out at first for the basis of a statue {y}; perhaps such as were called Baetulia, in imitation of the stone Jacob set up for a pillar at Bethel, Genesis 28:18

and burn their groves with fire; which were planted about their temples, and under which also their idols were placed, and where they privately committed the most abominable lewdness under the notion of religion. The Targum of Jonathan renders the word "abominations," meaning idols; and so Jarchi interprets it by a tree that is worshipped; See Gill on "De 7:5"

and you shall hew down the graven images of their gods; which were made of wood:

and destroy the names of them out of the place; by never making any mention of them in common discourse, and by changing the names of places called from them; and especially by destroying all the relics of them, and whatever appertained to them, which might lead to the mention of them; see Hosea 2:17.

{y} Misn. Avodah Zarah, c. 3. sect. 7.

Verse 4. Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God. Not sacrifice to him on hills and mountains, and under green trees; though the Jews commonly refer this to the destruction of the names of God, and of any thing appertaining to the temple; that though the temples and the altars of the Heathens were to be overthrown, yet not a stone was to be taken from the house of God, or that belonged to it, nor any of his names to be blotted out; so the Targum of Jonathan and Maimonides {z}, who also observes {a}, that whoever removes a stone by way of destruction from the altar, or from the temple, or from the court, is to be beaten; so he that burns the holy wood.

{z} Yesode Hattorah, c. 6. sect. 7, 9. {a} Ibid. sect. 8.

Verse 5. But unto the place which the Lord your God,.... The Targum of Jonathan is, that the Word of the Lord your God:

shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there; to place his tabernacle, set up his worship, take up his residence, and cause the Shechinah, or his divine Majesty, to dwell there, as the next clause explains it; out of what tribe it should be chosen, and where it should be, is not said. Maimomides {b} gives three reasons for it; he says there are three great mysteries why the place is not clearly, but obscurely mentioned;

1) lest the Gentiles should seize upon it, and make war for the sake of it, supposing this place to be the end of the law; 2) lest they in whose hands the place then was should by all means waste and destroy it; 3) which is the chief, lest every tribe should desire to have it in its own lot and jurisdiction; and so strifes might arise among them on account of it, as happened to the priesthood:

[even] unto his habitation shall ye seek; the temple at Jerusalem is meant, where the Lord took up his dwelling, and whither men were to come and seek unto him by prayer and supplication for whatsoever they needed, and to inquire of him in matters doubtful, and they wanted counsel in:

and thither thou shall come: with sacrifices of every sort, where they were to be slain and offered to the Lord, and become acceptable to him, as is more largely declared in the following part of this chapter.

{b} Moreh Nevochim, par. 3. c. 45. p. 475.

Verse 6. And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings,.... For the daily sacrifice, and upon any other account whatsoever; this was before ordered to be brought to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and now to the place where that should be fixed, Leviticus 17:8

and your sacrifices: all other distinct from burnt offerings, as sin offerings, trespass offerings, and peace offerings, especially the latter. Jarchi interprets them of peace offerings of debt, such as a man was obliged to bring; but as the distance of some persons from Jerusalem was very great, and it was troublesome and expensive, they might, according to the Jewish writers, bring them the next grand festival, when all the males were obliged to appear there; so says Maimonides {c}, all offerings of a man, whether by obligation (such as he was bound to bring) or freewill offerings, he must bring at the first feast that comes; and another of their writers observes {d}, that if only one feast has passed, and he has not brought his vow, he transgresses an affirmative precept, Deuteronomy 12:6 the first feast on which thou comest thither, thou must needs bring it; and if three have passed, he transgresses a negative precept, Deuteronomy 23:21

and your tithes; tithes of beasts, and the second tithes, according to Jarchi:

and heave offerings of your hand; these according to the same writer were the firstfruits, and so it is rendered in the Septuagint version; and thus Maimonides {e} says, the firstfruits are called Trumot, or heave offerings; see Exodus 22:29

and your vows and your freewill offerings; which were a type of peace offerings, Leviticus 7:16

and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks; which were sanctified and devoted to the Lord, Exodus 13:2.

{c} Praefat. ad Yad Chazakah. {d} Bartenora in Misn. Roshhashanah, c. 1. sect. 1. & in Misn. Ediot, c. 7. sect. 6. {e} In Misn. Meilah, c. 4. sect. 2.

Verse 7. And there ye shall eat before the Lord your God,.... The priests and the Levites, what was their portion, so Aben Ezra; but the people also are included, and by what follows seem chiefly designed, who were to eat their part of the sacrifices, particularly of the tithes and peace offerings, in the holy place that should be chosen and appointed; see Deuteronomy 14:22

and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto; in all the labours of their hands, and what they got thereby, which they were cheerfully to enjoy, and express their thankfulness for it in this way; see Ecclesiastes 5:18

ye and your households; their wives, sons, daughters, men and maid servants; yea, with them Levites, strangers, fatherless, and widows, were to partake of some of their freewill offerings, Deuteronomy 16:10

wherein the Lord thy God hath blessed thee; and these offerings were eucharistical, and by way of thanksgiving for the blessing of God upon their labours, for it is that which maketh rich, Proverbs 10:22.

Verse 8. Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here,.... In the wilderness, where they had no abiding, but were continually removing from place to place, and could not always observe punctually and precisely the exact order and time of their sacrifices and other things, nor offer them at any certain place, and many were doubtless neglected by them; see Amos 5:25

every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes; that did he, brought the above things when and where he pleased; not that there was no regard had to the laws and rules given, as if there was no priest in Israel; but they were not so exactly in all circumstances conformed to as they would be obliged to when they came into the land of Canaan, and had a certain place to bring their offerings to; so some in Aben Ezra observe, that one would give the firstling, another not, because it depended on the land, or was what they were obliged to only when they came into the land of Canaan; see Exodus 13:11 but he thinks the sense is, that they did not all fear God, and so did not do their duty.

Verse 9. For ye are not yet come to the rest,.... The land of Canaan, which was typical of the rest which remains for the people of God in heaven; for though they now enter into a spiritual rest in Christ, they are not yet come to their eternal rest; they are in a world of trouble, through sin, Satan, and wicked men; but they shall come to it, as Israel did to Canaan; for God has promised and prepared it, and it remains for them; Christ prayed for it, is also gone to prepare it, and the Spirit is the seal and earnest of it, and works up the saints, and makes them meet for it:

and to the inheritance which the Lord your God giveth you; and the land of Canaan being an inheritance, and the gift of God, was also a type of the heavenly inheritance; which saints are now born unto, and have both a right unto, and meetness for, through the righteousness of Christ, and grace of God; but as yet are not entered on it, but that is reserved for them in heaven, and they are preserved and kept for that; and ere long shall inherit it, as the free gift of God their Father to them, and which is peculiar to them as children. Jarchi and Ben Melech by the "rest" understand Shiloh, and by the inheritance Jerusalem; so in the Misnah {f}; see 1 Chronicles 23:25 the Targum of Jonathan is, "ye are not come to the house of the sanctuary, which is the house of rest, and to the inheritance of the land."

{f} Zebachim, c. 14. sect. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. & Bartenora in ib.

Verse 10. But when ye go over Jordan,.... Which lay between the place where they now were, and the land of Canaan, and which they would quickly go over:

and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit; the land of Canaan, and which shows that that is meant by the inheritance: and when

he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about: which was done when the land was subdued, and divided among the tribes of Israel, Joshua 22:4 and which confirms the sense of Canaan being the rest; though this was more completely fulfilled in the days of David, when he and Israel had rest from all their enemies round about, 2 Samuel 7:1 and who brought the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem; and into whose heart the Lord put it to prepare to build a temple at Jerusalem for him, and which was erected and finished in the days of his son Solomon:

so that ye dwell in safety; from their enemies, as they more especially did in the reigns of David and Solomon; which seems plainly to describe the time when the place not named should appear to be chosen by the Lord to put his name in, as follows.

Verse 11. Then there shall be a place,.... Fixed and settled, and will be known to be the place:

which the Lord your God shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there: where he himself would dwell, and where his name would be called, and he would be worshipped:

thither shall ye bring all that I command you, your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offerings of your hands; of which See Gill on "De 12:6"

and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the Lord; or, "the choice of your vows" {g}; which, as Jarchi observes, was brought of their choicest things, as they ought to be; see Malachi 1:14.

{g} Mkyrdn rxbm eklekton twn dwrwn umwn, Sept. "optima votorum vestrorum," Fagius.

Verse 12. And ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God,.... In the place chosen and fixed, where a temple would be built for him, and he would take up his residence; eating with joy and gladness that part of the offerings which belonged to them, keeping as it were a feast before the Lord, in token of gratitude for what they had received from him:

ye and your sons, and your daughters, and your menservants, and your maidservants; which explains what is meant by their household, Deuteronomy 12:7 wives are not mentioned, because it could not be thought they would eat and rejoice, or keep such a feast, without them, and therefore needless to name them:

and the Levite that is within your gates; such also were to partake of this entertainment, who were useful in instructing their families in the knowledge of divine things, and serviceable to them on many accounts in the worship of God:

forasmuch as he hath no part nor inheritance with you; in the division of the land, and so having nothing to manure and cultivate, was destitute of the fruits of the earth, and could make no improvement and increase of his substance, as they could.

Verse 13. Take heed to thyself, that thou offer not thy burnt offerings,.... And so any other, this is put for all the rest:

in every place that thou seest; which might take with their fancy, seem pleasant, and so a proper and suitable place to sacrifice in, as on high places, and under green trees; but they were not to indulge their own fancies and imaginations, or follow the customs of others, but keep to the rules prescribed them by the Lord, and to the place fixed by him for his worship.

Verse 14. But in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes,.... Which tribe is not named, nor what place in that tribe; See Gill on "De 12:5,"

there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings; on the altar of burnt offering there placed:

and there shalt thou do all that I command thee; respecting sanctuary service, and particularly those things observed in Deuteronomy 12:6.

Verse 15. Notwithstanding, thou mayest kill and eat flesh in all thy gates,.... They might kill such cattle that were allowed for food, and eat the flesh of them in theie own cities and houses in which they dwelt; they were not obliged to bring these to the place God should choose, and kill them there, as they had been wont to bring them to the tabernacle while in the wilderness:

whatsoever thy soul lusteth after; whatever they had a mind to, or their appetite craved, and were desirous of, provided it was not any thing forbidden, but was allowed to be eaten:

according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee; which it was in the power of their hands to procure for themselves; they might live according to their abilities, and keep a table answerable to what God had blessed them with; from which they were so far from being restrained, that it was rather commendable in them so to do, provided they did not indulge to luxury and intemperance:

the clean and the unclean may eat thereof; that is, such in their families who laboured under any ceremonial uncleanness by the touch of a dead body, or by reason of issues and menstrues; these, as well as those who were free from anything of this kind, might eat of common food in their houses, though they might not eat of the holy things; see Leviticus 7:20

as of the roebuck, and as of the hart; that is, as those were clean creatures, and allowed for food, Deuteronomy 14:5 so they might eat of oxen or sheep, or lambs or rams, and goats, though they were creatures used in sacrifice.

Verse 16. Only ye shall not eat the blood,.... All manner of blood being forbidden, of fowl or of beasts, whether slain for sacrifice or for common food:

ye shall pour it out upon the earth as water; which cannot be gathered up again for use, but is swallowed up in the earth.

Verse 17. Thou mayest not eat within thy gates the tithe of thy corn, or of thy wine, or of thy oil,.... This cannot be understood of the tithe given to the Levites, or of that which the Levites out of theirs gave to the priests, for that was only eaten by them; but of the tithe which every three years they were to lay up within their gates, and which they were to eat with their families and others; but the other two years they were to carry it to the place the Lord chose, or turn it into money, and when they came thither purchase with it what they pleased, and eat it, they and their household, and others with them, before the Lord; see Deuteronomy 14:22,

the firstlings of thy herds or of thy flocks; these also the firstborn males belonged to the Lord, and so to the priests, and could not be eaten by the people any where; and must be understood either of the next firstlings, which were the people's, or of the female firstlings, which they might devote to the Lord, and so not allowed to eat at home, but in the chosen place:

nor any of thy vows which thou vowest, nor thy freewill offerings; which were species of peace offerings, and so to be eaten not in their own cities, but in the place appointed:

or heave offerings of thine hand; the firstfruits; see Deuteronomy 26:1 these were such they were not bound to bring, but brought them freely.

Verse 18. But thou must eat them before the Lord thy God, in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose,.... Which may be said to be eaten before him, being eaten in the place where his sanctuary stood, in which he dwelt:

thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates; who were all to come with him to this place; See Gill on "De 12:12"

and thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God in all that thou puttest thine hand unto; cheerfully make and keep this feast in the manner directed to, rejoicing with his family and his friends, with the Levites and with the poor, expressing his thankfulness to God for his blessing on his labour.

Verse 19. Take heed to thyself that thou forsake not the Levite,.... By withholding from him the tithes appointed for his maintenance; or rather by neglecting to take him with him in order to partake of the feast or entertainment before spoken of:

as long as thou livest upon the earth; so that it was not one time only, but always; whenever he ate these holy things before the Lord, as long as he lived, he was to be careful he had the Levite with him, for a reason given, Deuteronomy 12:12.

Verse 20. When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border, as he hath promised thee,.... Brought them into the land of Canaan, where they should have large and good pastures for the feeding of their cattle, which they had not in the wilderness, and so a greater increase of them:

and thou shalt say, I will eat flesh; which they were shorts of, or ate but little of in the wilderness, lest their herds and their flocks should be consumed; but now having room to feed them, and an increase of them, they would give themselves a greater liberty of eating flesh:

because thy soul longeth to eat flesh; would have a craving appetite unto it, having so long ate none, or very little:

thou mayest eat flesh, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after; of any sort that is clean, and allowed to be eaten, and as much of it as is craved, only intemperance must be guarded against.

Verse 21. If the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to put his name be too far from thee,.... Or rather "for" {h}, or "seeing" the place will be too far from thee; for it is allowed before that they might kill and eat flesh for common food in their gates, Deuteronomy 12:15

then thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock; of thy oxen and of thy sheep, creatures used in sacrifice; but this was no bar to the use of them for common food also:

which the Lord hath given thee, as I have commanded thee; Deuteronomy 12:15

and thou shalt eat in thy gates whatsoever thy soul lusteth after; flesh of any sort, lawful to be eaten.

{h} yk "cum," Pagninus, Montanus.

Verse 22. Even as the roebuck and the hart is eaten,.... Which were not only clean creatures, as before observed, but were commonly and frequently eaten, there being plenty of them in those parts:

so thou shalt eat them; their oxen and calves, their sheep and lambs, their goats and their kids:

the unclean and the clean shall eat of them alike; no difference being to be made on that account, with respect to common food; See Gill on "De 12:15" which all alike might partake of, notwithstanding any ceremonial uncleanness that any might be attended with.

Verse 23. Only be sure that thou eat not the blood,.... This is repeated again, that they might be careful to observe the law concerning that:

for the blood is the life: which is the reason given for the prohibition of it, See Gill on "Le 17:11,"

and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh: by which it seems that the meaning of the law was, that the blood might not be eaten in or with the flesh, but to be let out of it, or the fish not to be eaten raw, but dressed; for there were various laws about eating of blood, which are differently expressed.

Verse 24. Thou shalt not eat it,.... Neither with the flesh, nor separately:

thou shall pour it upon the earth as water; as the blood of sacrifices was poured upon the altar, the blood of common flesh was to be poured upon the earth, signifying it was not to be used, and no account to be made of it; See Gill on "De 12:16"

Verse 25. Thou shall not eat it, that it may be well with thee, and with thy children after thee,.... That they and their posterity might be spared, and continue long, and enjoy much prosperity; for those that eat blood, contrary to this command of God, it is threatened that he would set his face against them, and they should be cut off, Leviticus 7:27,

when thou shall do that which is right in the sight of the Lord; not only observe this command, but all others.

Verse 26. Only thy holy things which thou hast,.... Which the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan interpret of the tithe of their holy things, and Aben Ezra of their burnt offerings and peace offerings; they seem to include all in Deuteronomy 12:17

and thy vows thou shalt take, and go unto the place which the Lord shall choose; so often referred to, but not named; see Deuteronomy 12:5.

Verse 27. And thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, upon the altar of the Lord thy God,.... And on that only, even the altar of burnt offering:

and the blood of thy sacrifices; one as well as another, not only of the burnt offerings, but of the sin offerings, trespass offerings, and peace offerings:

shall be poured out upon the altar of the Lord thy God: either sprinkled on it, or poured out at the bottom of it; see Leviticus 1:1,

and thou shalt eat the flesh; that is, of the peace offerings, for of them only might the people eat, and that only before the Lord.

Verse 28. Observe and hear all these words which I command thee,.... Respecting the demolition of all monuments of idolatry, and bringing all holy things to the place the Lord should choose to dwell in; and eating common flesh in their own houses, only to be careful not to eat blood:

that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever; for, as has been often observed, their continuance in the land of Canaan, and enjoyment of all good things in it, depended upon their obedience to the commands of God; see Isaiah 1:19

when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the Lord thy God; which is to do all his commandments; for these are what are good and right in his sight, and it is for the good of men to do them.

Verse 29. When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee,.... The seven nations of the land of Canaan, Deuteronomy 7:1,

whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; or to inherit them, and thou dost inherit them, by dwelling in their land.

Verse 30. Take heed to thyself, that thou be not snared by following them,.... Their examples and customs, and so be drawn into the same idolatrous practices; see Psalm 106:35, after that they be destroyed from before thee; for their idolatries and other sins:

and that thou inquire not after their gods; what they were, their names, forms, and figures:

saying, how did these nations serve their gods? what was the manner of worship they gave them? what rites, customs, and ceremonies did they use in their adoration of them?

even so will I do likewise; or however, if this was not determined on when the inquiries were made, there was danger that this would be the result of them, and therefore the caution is given.

Verse 31. Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God,.... Not serve and worship him after the manner of the Gentiles, nor introduce their rites and customs into his service, used by them in the worship of their gods:

for every abomination which he hateth have they done unto their gods; as murder, adultery, &c. which God has expressed his aversion to, and indignation at; one instance of the former sort is given here:

for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods; not only men have they sacrificed to them, but such near relations; and not only caused them to pass through the fire, but burnt them in it; so the Carthaginians are said to do, who learned this inhuman practice from the Phoenicians; they were a colony of the inhabitants of this land of Canaan. Of the Phoenicians Porphyry says {i}, that in great calamities, as war or pestilence, they sacrificed to Saturn some one of those that were dearest to them, appointed by suffrage. The Phoenician history, adds he, is full of such sacrifices, which Sanchoniatho wrote in the Phoenician language; and Curtius says {k}, this custom of sacrificing a fine boy to Saturn was received by the Carthaginians from their founders (the Tyrians and Phoenicians), and which they continued even to the destruction of their city.

{i} De Abstinentia, l. 2. sect. 56. {k} Hist. l. 4. c. 3.

Verse 32. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it,.... In the manner it is commanded and directed to; the laws of God, both as to matter and manner, were to be obeyed just as they were delivered: thou shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it; neither add any customs and rites of the Heathens to them, nor neglect anything enjoined on them, see Proverbs 30:6.