Deuteronomy 12:2
Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree:
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(2) Ye shall utterly destroy.—First of all these requirements is the destruction of every vestige of idolatry. In the land of Jehovah there must be no trace of any other god but Him. The non-fulfilment of this command in the early history of Israel has led some to suppose that the command itself belongs to later times. But it must be observed that the destruction of these things is inextricably connected with the conquest of the country in detail. It was part of the work assigned to the several tribes of Israel when the land had been divided by Joshua. His work was to conquer the Canaanitish armies, and give Israel possession of their chief cities. He then assigned the land to the several tribes, to make it their own throughout. Obviously, if every tribe had insisted upon destroying all monuments of idolatry in its own territory, one of two results must have followed: either the remnant of the Canaanitish nations must have been excited to fresh acts of rebellion and hostility, resulting in their extermination, or else they must have yielded themselves entirely to the worship of Jehovah. But Israel disobeyed the order. They did not themselves yield to idolatry in Joshua’s time. The disturbance made respecting the altar Ed (see Joshua 22) is quite sufficient of itself to prove the strictness of the law against strange altars. But the Canaanites being left undisturbed after they ceased to resist openly, and their objects of worship being left unmolested, there were constant temptations to idolatry, to which Israel yielded. And thus it was not until the times of Heze-kiah and Josiah that these laws were carried out. But this does not prove the law to have come into existence then, any more than the present condition of the human race proves that man was not made in God’s image in Paradise.

Deuteronomy 12:2. Ye shall destroy all the places — Temples, chapels, altars, groves, as appears from other scriptures. Green tree — As the Gentiles consecrated divers trees to their false gods, so they worshipped these under them. Pillars — Upon which their images were set. Names — That is, all the memorials of them, and the very names given to the places from the idols. Not do so — That is, not worship him in several places, mountains, and groves.

12:1-4 Moses comes to the statutes he had to give in charge to Israel; and begins with such as relate to the worship of God. The Israelites are charged not to bring the rites and usages of idolaters into the worship of God; not under colour of making it better. We cannot serve God and mammon; nor worship the true God and idols; nor depend upon Christ Jesus and upon superstitious or self-righteous confidences.Moses now passes on to apply Deuteronomy 12-26 the leading principles of the Decalogue to the ecclesiastical, civil, and social life of the people. Particulars will be noticed which are unique to the Law as given in Deuteronomy; and even in laws repeated from the earlier books various new circumstances and details are introduced. This is only natural. The Sinaitic legislation was nearly 40 years old and had been given under conditions of time, place, and circumstance different and distant from those now present. Yet the Sinaitic system, far from being set aside or in any way abrogated, is on the contrary throughout presupposed and assumed. Its existence and authority are taken as the starting-point for what is here prescribed, and an accurate acquaintance with it on the part of the people is taken for granted. 2. Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods—This divine command was founded on the tendencies of human nature; for to remove out of sight everything that had been associated with idolatry, that it might never be spoken of and no vestige of it remain, was the only effectual way to keep the Israelites from temptations to it. It is observable that Moses does not make any mention of temples, for such buildings were not in existence at that early period. The "places" chosen as the scene of heathen worship were situated either on the summit of a lofty mountain, or on some artificial mound, or in a grove, planted with particular trees, such as oaks, poplars, and elms (Isa 57:5-7; Ho 4:13). The reason for the selection of such sites was both to secure retirement and to direct the attention upward to heaven; and the "place" was nothing else than a consecrated enclosure, or at most, a canopy or screen from the weather. All the places; temples, chapels, altars, groves, as appears from other scriptures. The Gentiles used to employ the

high mountains for their idolatry; {see Isaiah 57:5,7 Eze 6:13 Hosea 4:13} and as they consecrated divers trees to their false gods, so they worshipped these under them:

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.

Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree:
2–7. First Statement of the Law of the One Altar

In the Pl. address, with one later insertion, Deuteronomy 12:3, and possibly another Deuteronomy 12:5 b; the rest is a unity. It appropriately opens with the command to destroy all the places at which the nations worship, whom Israel is about to dispossess; for it was the use of these sanctuaries for the worship of Jehovah and the consequent confusion of Him with the Canaanite deities that produced the evils from which the only practical escape was by concentrating His worship. The preface to this first form of the law differs from that to the second which is also Pl.

Deuteronomy 12:2. surely destroy] A form of the vb. used only with Pl. address, Deuteronomy 11:4, Deuteronomy 12:2-3. Another form of the same vb. is used both with Sg. and Pl., Deuteronomy 7:24, Deuteronomy 8:20, etc.

all the places] The Heb. maḳôm, lit. place of standing up but used in the widest sense of spot or locality, is to be understood throughout this ch. as holy or sacred place (cp. Genesis 12:6, the maḳôm of Shechem); like its Ar. form, maḳâm, ‘sacred place,’ whether as the place where one stands up to pray (one of the special senses of the vb. kâm) or, with the name of a saint attached to it, as the place of his burial which he still haunts, or at which he once stood, e.g. ‘maḳâm ’Ibrahim’ (Pocock, Specimen Hist. Arabum, 124). But in this restricted sense the Heb. maḳôm is rather the place of the Deity, His habitation: cp. Deuteronomy 12:5, Isaiah 60:13, place of my sanctuary = place of my feet; Ezekiel 43:7, place of my throne, of the soles of my feet, where I dwell, etc.; Acts 6:13, this holy place, 14, this place.

wherein the nations which ye are to dispossess worshipped their gods] On dispossess see Deuteronomy 9:1. Worshipped or have worshipped may be a sign of the writer’s own time when the Canaanites were no more; yet it is not incompatible with the standpoint of the speaker.

upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree] A frequent combination in O.T. The part of a hill selected for a shrine was not the top but either one of the lower promontories (so, and not tops, in Hosea 4:13; Ezekiel 6:13), or a hollow below the summit or between two summits (e.g. the high-place at Gezer discovered by Mr Macalister) within reach of water. Green can hardly be the meaning of the Heb. ra‘ănân, which is either luxuriant, branching and overshadowing, or mobile and wavy, or full of sound; as variously appears from the forms of the same root in Ar. (= loose, with much motion, quickly changing, but also redundant and bulging), from the LXX translations of the Heb. (leafy, overshadowing, and the like), and from such passages as Hosea 4:13 (they sacrifice under oaks, poplars, and terebinths, for their shade is good), Ezekiel 6:13 (under every spreading tree and thick oak), Ezekiel 20:28 (every thick tree). ‘The luxury of the trees’ (Bacon), ‘her leafy arms with such extent were spread’ (Dryden). The presence of a god was suggested not merely by the power of life manifest in the greenness of the tree (W. K. Smith, Rel. Sem. 173) nor only by its conspicuousness in the landscape and the shade it gave from a glowing atmosphere, but also by the mobility (cp. the N.H. ra‘al, to wave, and the Syr. r‘ula, shaking) and the rustling of the tree which suggested the movement or speech of the deity; the sound of a marching in the tops of the mulberry trees … Jehovah gone forth before thee (2 Samuel 5:24), the sound of Jehovah God walking in the garden in the wind (Genesis 3:8), and terebinths of Moreh, i.e. Revealer, oracle-giver (Deuteronomy 11:30; Genesis 12:6). It is among these ideas of luxuriance, shade, mobility and sound that the meaning of ra‘ănân is to be found. That it cannot mean green is also proved by its application to oil, Psalm 92:10 (11), where LXX renders it by rich.

These sites, naturally sympathetic to worship, were used by the Semites as by other races. On mountains, as especially places of burnt offering, see W. R. Smith, Rel. Sem. 99, III, 470 f.; on trees as objects of worship, id. 125 f., 169; and believed by modern Arabs to be inhabited by spirits, Musil, Ethn. Bericht, 325 f. So frequently in the O.T. of the Canaanite cults. But the same sites were indicated by God to the Hebrew Patriarchs:—Abraham was bidden to offer Isaac on a mountain (J, Genesis 22:2), Jehovah appeared to him at the place of Shechem, the oak or terebinth of Moreh, and there he built an altar to Jehovah (J, Genesis 12:6 f.), similarly at the oak of Mamre (J, Genesis 13:18); while at Be’ersheba he planted a tamarisk and called on God’s name (J, Genesis 21:33). At Sinai Moses went up into the Mount to meet God (JE, Exodus 19 ff.). So too after Israel’s entrance into Canaan:—an oak stood in the sanctuary of Jehovah at Shechem (E, Joshua 24:26). As in Abraham’s time, Gideon was bidden build an altar on the top of the stronghold, and Jehovah’s angel appeared to him under the oak in ‘Ophrah and there Gideon presented offerings and built an altar to Jehovah (Jdg 6:11; Jdg 6:19; Jdg 6:24; Jdg 6:26); under Samuel the ark of Jehovah was taken to the house of Abinadab on the hill (1 Samuel 7:1), and Israel sacrificed at Miṣpah, Gilgal, and Ramah at the high place there (1 Samuel 7:5 ff., 1 Samuel 7:16 f., 1 Samuel 9:12 f.,1 Samuel 9:19), on the hill of God with a high place (1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 10:13), and Nob (1 Samuel 21:1 ff.); cp. the altars built by Saul on the field of a victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:35) and by David on the threshing floor of Araunah, where the angel had appeared (2 Samuel 24:21; 2 Samuel 24:25) and the yearly sacrifice by David’s family at Beth-lehem (1 Samuel 20:6; 1 Samuel 20:29), and Solomon’s sacrifices at Gibeon, the great high place (1 Kings 3:4). Elijah was bidden to go to Carmel, and build there an altar to Jehovah (1 Kings 18:19 f., 1Ki18:32), and again went to Ḥoreb the Mount of God (1 Kings 19:8 ff.). Deut. itself repeats the account of Moses’ intercourse with Jehovah on the Mount (9, 10) and contains (Deuteronomy 27:4 ff., partly from E?) the command to put up stones inscribed with the Law and an altar upon Mt Ebal. Therefore down at least to the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, it was the custom in Judah and Benjamin to worship Jehovah on such high places as those at which the Canaanites worshipped their gods, and this custom was continued in N. Israel by Elijah. By the 8th century Israel appears to have promiscuously adopted the Canaanite shrines, and the prophets complain of their apostasy and licentious rites on the headlands of the mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree with special mention of oaks, poplars, and terebinths and predict the futility and disappointment of their trust in such places (Hosea 4:12 f.; Isaiah 1:29; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 3:8; Jeremiah 3:13; Jeremiah 3:23; Jeremiah 17:1 f.; Ezekiel 6:13; Ezekiel 18:5 f., Ezekiel 20:28; Isaiah 57:5; Isaiah 65:7). The prophets regard all this as a backsliding from the pure worship of earlier times. Israel ought to have known better than sink to such traitorous and degrading practices. But the prophets appeal to no law on the subject and it is clear that their objections to sites so natural for worship, and used by the Patriarchs and leaders of Israel with the sanction of Israel’s God, is due both to the emergence with prophecy of a purer religion and to the experience throughout the intervening centuries of the evil effect on Israel of the associations of these sites with the immoral practices of the Canaanites and of the trust in purely material objects which they engendered in the worshippers. Nothing could overcome these evils except the destruction of the high places and the concentration of the worship of Jehovah upon one altar. Hence the rise of D’s law, clearly unknown to the Judges, Prophets, and Kings of Israel at least down to Solomon and also to Elijah. The law is therefore the result of the teaching of the prophets of the 8th century; but this conclusion does not preclude the possibility of earlier sporadic attempts, especially in Judah, to do away with the heathen sanctuaries (see Introd. § 11).

Deuteronomy 12:3. Destruction of altars, and other sacred objects in the Canaanite places. Similarly Deuteronomy 8:5; cp. Exodus 34:13. But here the verse is evidently a later intrusion; it breaks the connection between Deuteronomy 12:2; Deuteronomy 12:4.

break down] Rather, tear down; in O.T. of altars, high places, walls.

altars] Lit. positions for slaughter and sacrifice. See Driver on Exodus 20:24.

pillarsAsherim] For these see on Deuteronomy 16:21-22. The verbs burn and hew down ought probably to be transposed (Grätz), cp. LXX and Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 7:25.

graven images of their gods] Apparently distinct from the pillars and ’Ashçrîm. Heb. pasîI as in Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 7:25 (also in Hos. and Mic.) another form of pesel, Deuteronomy 4:16; Deuteronomy 4:23Verses 2, 3. - In order to this, Israel was, as soon as the land was possessed, to destroy all the objects and means of idolatrous worship in the land. Upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree (cf. Isaiah 57:7; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 17:2; Hosea 4:13; 2 Kings 16:4; 2 Kings 17:10). The heathen had their places of worship on lofty elevations, probably because they imagined they were thus nearer to the object of their worship; and they sought also the shade of woods or thick-foliaged trees (Ezekiel 6:13), under which to perform their rites, as tending to inspire awe, and as in keeping with the mysterious character of their rites. These places of heathen worship in Canaan the Israelites were utterly to destroy, along with the images of their deities and other objects of idolatrous worship. Burn their groves; their asherahs, idol-pillars of wood (cf. Deuteronomy 7:5). Deuteronomy 12:2Ye shall destroy all the places where the Canaanites worship their gods, upon the high mountains, upon the hills, and under every green tree (cf. Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 17:2; 2 Kings 16:4; 2 Kings 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 (Ezekiel 6:13; Ezekiel 20:28), such as the vigorous oak, which attains a great age, the evergreen terebinth (Isaiah 1:29-30; Isaiah 57:5), and the poplar or osier, which continues green even in the heat of summer (Hosea 4:13), and whose deep shade is adapted to dispose the mind to devotion.
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