Deuteronomy 12-16
(Review - Holy Worship)
February 25th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

These are the rules and regulations that you must diligently observe for as long as you live in this country that God, the God-of-Your-Fathers, has given you to possess.

- Deuteronomy 12:1 (MSG)

Summary of Chapters

The Israelites have been in the desert for nearly 40 years after escaping from Egypt. They are now on the brink of entering the land that had been promised to the descendants of their ancestor Abraham. It is at this stage that Moses is delivering a final series of speeches that are recorded in the book of Deuteronomy. Moses knows he will not be allowed by God to join his fellow Israelites into their homeland so he is providing the guidance that they will need in the days and generations ahead.

Chapter 12 begins a subset of Moses’ second speech that reviews specific stipulations of rules. This subset of laws continues through chapter 26, and is referred to as the Deuteronomic Code (1). The Code can be broken down into several sections, the first of which spans chapters 12-15, focusing primarily on worship. In the first of these chapters Moses describes the places and practices for sacrifice and worship. The LORD is very clear about only worshipping in a place that he has specified. At the end of chapter 12 and into chapter 13, Moses warns abut worshipping other gods:

    When the Lord your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land, take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, “How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.” You must not do the same for the Lord your God, because every abhorrent thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. You must diligently observe everything that I command you; do not add to it or take anything from it.

    - Deuteronomy 12:29-32 (NRSV)

In the 14th chapter, he reviews the list of clean and unclean foods that had been described in Leviticus 11. In the 15th chapter Moses describes the seventh year as the one in which debts are cancelled. Chapter 16 concludes the holy worship section describing the primary feasts that are to be celebrated in the central place defined by God.

Reflection and Application

Moses repeats previously documented rules to ensure that they are remembered by the next generation and then passed on to the subsequent one. Only through repetitive telling of the stories and laws could he be assured that he had done his job of educating the youth.

As part of his review, Moses expanded on each theme to drive the point home, in a style very similar to modern sermons. There is a methodical pattern of explanations that we can observe throughout this second speech of Moses. When he addresses a topic he begins by stating the basic principle, such as no false idols. Then he provides an interpretation of the rule so that everyone understands what it means. Finally, he gives contemporary examples so that the folks know how to apply it (2). We might have seen other people use this method, but it turns out that the idea is as old as Moses.

The concept of a designated place for worship was important because the LORD wanted to distinguish real worship from the pagan worship. The Canaanites set up many places of worship to their false idols: Under trees, on top of hills, or anywhere they wanted. Therefore, the LORD told Moses and the Israelites to destroy all the pagan centers of worship, and instructed them to only conduct worship in the places and ways that he commands.

A true God decides where and how the worship takes place – a false god has no such power. We will see in later books how this rule was not followed and will read about the kings who sought to remove every last center of false worship. Only Josiah was completely successful in this regard, but even that success was short-lived.

We are not exempt from this call to remove false gods. We also should remove any centers of false worship in our lives and focus our worship on the one true God. We might not always recognize that we are worshipping false idols, but we can identify them, if they exist, when we take an honest look at where our hearts are focused.

In his Bible Study series on Moses and Mark, the Rev. Greg Doll reminded his audience that the first two commandments were directed at idolatry because idolatry is "the most difficult and entangling sin." Doll quoted from the Rev. Tim Keller's observations on this sin. Keller had said that when there is something besides Jesus that is more important and is enslaving us through inordinate desires, then it's important to identify what those things are. Keller had provided a substantial list of examples of modern idols by which we define ourselves.

For example, if we believe that life only has meaning, and we only have worth if we have power and influence, then that is one of our idols. If we are a bit more modest, and are only seeking approval, but believe that life only has meaning and we only have worth when we have approval, then that is our idol. Other examples from Keller included comfort, control, independence, work, wealth, achievement, ideology, and children and parents (3). Any of these pursuits can be worthy when kept in balance, but if we allow one or more to define us, then these are our idols. And, as God warns us, all of these come to an end eventually. By contrast, if we define our identity with Christ, who is eternal, then we can live in a perpetual state of peace, joy, and contentment (4), even when the situation with our work, wealth, achievement, etc, is not in a perfect state.

The commandments against idolatry are as important and pertinent for modern people as it was for Moses and his contemporaries. However, we can be relieved to know that we are freed from Old Testament restrictions on food, as described in the book of Acts:

    About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

    “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

    The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

    This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

    - Acts 10:9-16 (NIV)

However, we can still seek to bring holiness to all parts of our lives. The point of these chow commandments was not just about the food but rather to require an attitude of willingness to be loyal to Yahweh, regardless of what everyone else was doing (5). We can apply this attitude to anything that is important for God. For example, when we go to work, we can work as if working for God, in whatever we do, because it glorifies him.

Moses also discussed relationships among the people in this section. For example, he said “Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your poor brother (Deuteronomy 15:7).” This is a good declaration for our modern times. It’s easy for us to assume that we can figure out how other people ended up they way they are. However, we should be careful to not try to assume how others have become poor, but instead should care for them as God commands.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What are some of your favorite family stories that have been repeated over and over?
    2. What are some of the commonly observed areas of false worship in our culture?
    3. How do we cleanse our lives of false idols?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, please help us recognize the false idols in our lives and remove them.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    People who own and work in grocery stores


    (1) Thompson, J.A., Deuteronomy, An Introduction and Commentary, Intervarsity Press, Leicester England, Downers Grove, IL, 1974, p.160
    (2) Ibid, p. 159-160
    (3) Doll, Rev. Gregory, "Moses and Mark: A Modern Conversation," Noroton Presbyterian Church, September 2012 - May 2013 and September 2013 - May 2014, study topic on February 25th, 2014
    (4) Ibid
    (5) Thompson, p.178

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Deuteronomy 17-20 (Organization of the State)

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