Deuteronomy 12:29
When the LORD your God shall cut off the nations from before you, where you go to possess them, and you succeed them, and dwell in their land;
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12:5-32 The command to bring ALL the sacrifices to the door of the tabernacle, was now explained with reference to the promised land. As to moral service, then, as now, men might pray and worship every where, as they did in their synagogues. The place which God would choose, is said to be the place where he would put his name. It was to be his habitation, where, as King of Israel, he would be found by all who reverently sought him. Now, under the gospel, we have no temple or altar that sanctifies the gift but Christ only: and as to the places of worship, the prophets foretold that in every place the spiritual incense should be offered, Mal 1:11. Our Saviour declared, that those are accepted as true worshippers, who worship God in sincerity and truth, without regard either to this mountain or Jerusalem, Joh 4:21. And a devout Israelite might honour God, keep up communion with him, and obtain mercy from him, though he had no opportunity of bringing a sacrifice to his altar. Work for God should be done with holy joy and cheerfulness. Even children and servants must rejoice before God; the services of religion are to be a pleasure, and not a task or drudgery. It is the duty of people to be kind to their ministers, who teach them well, and set them good examples. As long as we live, we need their assistance, till we come to that world where ordinances will not be needed. Whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we are commanded to do all to the glory of God. And we must do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to the Father through him. They must not even inquire into the modes and forms of idolatrous worship. What good would it do them to know those depths of Satan? And our inward satisfaction will be more and more, as we abound in love and good works, which spring from faith and the in-dwelling Spirit of Christ.If the place ... - Rather, "Because, or since, the place will be too far from thee." The permission given in Deuteronomy 12:15-16 is repeated, and the reason of it assigned. 29, 30. Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them … saying, How did these nations serve their gods?—The Israelites, influenced by superstitious fear, too often endeavored to propitiate the deities of Canaan. Their Egyptian education had early impressed that bugbear notion of a set of local deities, who expected their dues of all who came to inhabit the country which they honored with their protection, and severely resented the neglect of payment in all newcomers [Warburton]. Taking into consideration the prevalence of this idea among them, we see that against an Egyptian influence was directed the full force of the wholesome caution with which this chapter closes. Whither thou goest to possess them; of which phrase see Deu 9:1 11:23 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.

When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land;
29–31. Transition to the Laws in 13 (and those in Deuteronomy 16:21 to Deuteronomy 17:7)

When settled in W. Palestine Israel shall not inquire into the manner of the worship of the local deities, and so be enticed to imitate it in the worship of their own God, for the Canaanites in their worship practise every abomination to Jehovah: they even burn their children to the gods.—Here we meet one of the greater difficulties raised by the order of the laws in the code. For unless this short passage be merely one of the many exhortations, which, like a chorus, break in upon both the narratives and the laws of D, it is meant as an introduction to the laws against seducers to idolatry, which follow in ch. 13. Yet, as such, it is abrupt and incomplete; Deuteronomy 12:31 warns against every abomination to Jehovah, and then, instead of a list of those abominations, gives only one. Now others are given in Deuteronomy 16:21 to Deuteronomy 17:7; and that passage is clearly out of place where it stands, between laws relating to judicial authorities and procedure. The suggestion has therefore been made (first by Dillmann, cp. Driver on Deuteronomy 16:21 and Bertholet on Deuteronomy 12:29 and Marti in Kautzsch’s Heil. Schrift des A.T.) that Deuteronomy 16:21 to Deuteronomy 17:7 originally stood between Deuteronomy 12:29-31 and Deuteronomy 13:2 ff. There is much in favour of this suggestion; Deuteronomy 16:21 to Deuteronomy 17:7 naturally continues Deuteronomy 12:29-31 and has phrases in common with this (which thy God hateth and abomination), while its second part commanding the punishment of idolatrous Israelites as naturally leads up to the three laws in Deuteronomy 13:2 ff. (Deuteronomy 13:1 ff.). On the relation to Deuteronomy 12:29-31 of Deuteronomy 18:9-12, also on the sacrifice of children, see on the latter passage. A further difficulty is Deuteronomy 12:32 (Deuteronomy 13:1), see the note on it.

Deuteronomy 12:29. When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations] So Deuteronomy 19:1 (cp. deuter. Joshua 23:4 f.); beyond this the verses differ.

whither thou goest in to dispossess them] Characteristic of the Sg. passages, cp. Deuteronomy 9:5; Deuteronomy 19:1 has whose land the Lord thy God is about to give thee.

and thou shalt have dispossessed them] So Deuteronomy 19:1 : R.V. succeedest them.

and dwellest in their land] Deuteronomy 19:1, their cities.

Deuteronomy 12:30. take heed to thyself] See Deuteronomy 6:12.

ensnared to follow them] snared away after them; cp. Deuteronomy 7:16; Deuteronomy 7:25.

inquire not after] See on seek, Deuteronomy 12:5.

How do these nations, serve, etc.] Rather How used these nations to worship.

so will I do, I also or in my turn] The lighter form of the pronoun, ’anî, used in the Song 32 and throughout P, is found in D (which elsewhere uses the heavier form ’ânôki) only here and Deuteronomy 29:5; and is to he explained by the common O.T. usage of preferring ’anî when the pronoun is employed in emphasis as here.

The whole verse is true to the religious situation in which Israel found themselves after settlement in Canaan. They came under the belief, prevalent in antiquity, that not only must the gods of a land be propitiated by its invaders, but that worship must be offered only after the local mishpat or ritual (1 Samuel 26:19; 2 Kings 17:25 ff.). So they inquired what that mishpat was and conformed to it the worship of their own God, with the result of confusing Him with the gods of the land.

for even their sons and their daughters do they burn] or used to burn. That the Semites (as well as other ancient races) sacrificed children has been amply proved. Mesha of Moab, hard pressed by Israel, slew his first-born to Kemosh (2 Kings 3:27) just as we know, through the Greeks (Diod. Sic. xx. 14, Porph. apud Euseb. Praep. Evang. iv. (64, 4), was the practice of Phoenicians and Carthaginians in times of national danger or disaster. On human sacrifices among them, the Syrians, and ancient Arabs see notes to pp. 346 ff. of W. R. Smith’s Rel. Sem. For the Canaanites the evidence of the sacrifice of children by slaughter and burning is conclusive, both from the O.T. texts, and recent discoveries:—

At Gezer round the feet of the maṣṣeboth (see on Deuteronomy 16:22) and ‘over the whole area of the High Place the earth was discovered to be a regular cemetery in which the skeletons of young infants were buried. These infants were never more than a week old. Two at least showed marks of fire.’ They were buried in jars, each with a lamp and a bowl, as if symbols of fire and blood (R. A. S. Macalister, PEFQ, 1903, Bible Side Lights etc., 73 f.). At Ta‘anak Sellin found jars with the remains of 20 infants, some up to 5 years of age close to a rock altar (Tell Ta‘annek, 35 ff.). At Megiddo (Tell el-Mutesellim) under the corner of a temple four jars with remains of infants were dug up from a stratum probably of the late Israelite period. Others have been found under the walls of houses, but whether these were of still-born infants or of such as died naturally is not known; in Egypt, as the present writer has been informed by the American missionaries, the still-born children of Copts are buried in the house (whether with the hope that they may be re-born into it?). See further Frazer, Adonis, Attis etc. 78. But there can be no doubt of the fate of those found in the sanctuaries; the marks of fire on some and the presence of lamps and bowls prove slaughter and sacrifice by fire. So too the vb. burn used here and in Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5, as well as the story of Abraham and Isaac, indicates a full sacrifice, slaughter and at least partial consumption by fire on an altar. On this Ezekiel 16:21 (cp. Ezekiel 23:39) is explicit: thou hast slain my children and didst deliver them up in causing them to pass through (sc. the fire) to them. The fire was the means of their conveyance to the deity. Therefore the expression to make son or daughter pass through the fire (Deuteronomy 18:10) cannot he explained as merely a consecration or ordeal by fire. The data do not enable us to determine whether at any time the practice of devoting the firstborn was binding and universal among the Canaanites, or was confined to periods of calamity. That even among the Canaanites there was a revolt from it is proved by Mr Macalister’s discovery (op. cit. 170 f., PEFQ, 1903, 8 f.), in some strata of the pre-Israelite period, of lamps and bowls buried with the jars instead of children and as if in substitution for these.

The practice by Israel of sacrificing children after the same fashion and from the same motives is proved by the narratives and laws of the Old Testament as well as by the prophets:—

The story, which is found in E, Genesis 22, that the divine word bade Abraham sacrifice Isaac and then revealed a substitute in the ram, is evidence that at one time among the Hebrews the belief had prevailed in the duty of fathers to slay their children, if required, us proof of their fidelity to their God, but that by His mercy a substitute was allowed. This is confirmed by the form of the law in J, Exodus 13:12. Though this sanctions the redemption of the firstborn son by an animal, the way in which it opens—thou shalt cause to pass over unto Jehovah all that openeth the womb and every firstling which thou hast that Cometh of a beast—indicates that the original principle, on which Israel acted, was that the firstborn of men, equally with those of animals, were due to the deity by sacrifice. In Judah in the 7th century the popular belief was that Jehovah Himself had given a law obliging the burning of children, for Jeremiah (or a deuteronomic writer whose words have been here placed among his prophecies) emphatically denies the existence of such a law: which I commanded not, neither came it into my mind (Jeremiah 7:31, Jeremiah 19:5). On the other hand Ezekiel supports the opinion that Israel’s God had given such a law and explains that this was in order to punish the second generation in the wilderness. 20:25: moreover I gave them also statutes not good and judgements whereby they should not live, and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through (sc. the fire) all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate (see A. B. Davidson’s note on this passage in Ezekiel in this series).

There was therefore a memory in Israel that the fathers of the race had shared the general Semitic conscience that the sacrifice of children was sanctioned or even expressly commanded by God, but that from an early time He had permitted the substitution of an animal, which permission, J tells us, was expressly dictated by Moses at the Exodus. In the early centuries after the settlement there are no instances of child-sacrifice in Israel except in the story of Jephthah (and more doubtfully in that of Hiel, the re-builder of Jericho). And the cases which recur later are all explicable by the bad influence of the neighbouring heathen, and the panic produced by national disaster, either actual or threatened. So in the case of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:4), the historical character of which there is no reason to doubt (see as against Moore, E.B. art. ‘Molech’ the present writer’s Jerusalem, ii. 127, 264); and so with the recrudescence of the practice in the 7th century under Manasseh, and the use of the horrible Topheth or Tephath in the valley of Hinnom (Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5; ‘Mi.’ Deuteronomy 6:6 f.; Ezekiel 16:21; Ezekiel 20:18 ff; Ezekiel 23:39). The present Hebrew text of Jer. says that these sacrifices were offered to ‘Molech,’ but ‘there are grounds for believing that this was a divine title, Melek or King, rather than a name; and that the awful despot who demanded such a propitiation was regarded by the Jews as none other than their own God’ (Jerusalem, ii. 264). This is clear, as we have seen above, from the passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. And the reason is plain why D, a work of the 7th century, should alone of all Israel’s law-books be ardent, equally with the great prophets of the time, in repudiating child-sacrifice.Verses 29, 30. - Here the speaker reverts to the admonition with which he began this part of his address (ver. 2); and warns the people against having any intercourse with the Canaanites in their idolatrous practices. That thou enquire not after their gods. It was a general belief among the heathen that to ignore or neglect the deities of a country was sure to bring calamity (cf. 2 Kings 17:26); hence the need of cautioning the Israelites against inquiring after the gods of the Canaanites when they should be settled in their land, The law relating to the blood, as in Deuteronomy 12:16. - "Be strong not to eat the blood," i.e., stedfastly resist the temptation to eat it.
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