Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land, which the LORD God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it, all the days that ye live upon the earth.XII.
(1) These are the statutes and judgments.—The word Mitzvah—commandment, or duty—is not used here. Particular institutions and requirements are now before us.
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) 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.
And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.(3) Destroy the names.—The substitution in later times of bosheth for baal in the names Jerubbaal (Jerubbesheth), Eshbaal (Ishbosheth), Meribbaal (Mephibosheth), is a curious example of the literal fulfilment of this command, or, perhaps, rather of the command in Exodus 23:13, of which the spirit and purport agree with this.
Ye shall not do so unto the LORD your God.(4) Ye shall not do so—i.e. shall not serve Him upon the high mountains, and hills, and under every green tree, after the manner of the nations.
But unto the place which the LORD your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come:(5) But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes.—The very form of the order proves its antiquity. No one who was acquainted with the removal of that “place” from Shiloh to Nob, from Nob to Gibeon, from Gibeon to Jerusalem, could have written with such utter unconsciousness of later history as these words imply. It is noticeable that in the reading of this precept in the times of our Lord, the Jews seem to have arrived at the came state of unconsciousness. They could not conseive of the presence or worship of Jehovah anywhere but at Jerusalem. (See on this topic St. Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, and the incidental proofs it contains of God’s presence with Israel in many places, in reply to the accusation made against Stephen of preaching the destruction of the one idolized seat of worship at Jerusalem.)
And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks:(6) And thither ye shall bring . . . your tithes—i.e., what the Jews understand as the “second tithe;” on which see Deuteronomy 12:17.
Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes.(8) Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day.—Another precept strongly marked with the condition of Israel in the wilderness. It has been too much overlooked by recent commentators that the law of Moses has a prophetic side. It was given to him and to Israel at a time when they were not in a position to keep it. It was the law of the land which God would give them. In many ways its observance depended on the completion of the conquest of the land, and upon the quietness of the times in which they lived. This prophetic aspect was certainly not unrecognised by the Jews, or they would not (for example) have neglected to dwell in booths at the Feast of Tabernacles from the time of Joshua to Nehemiah. (See Nehemiah 8:17.)
 And compare the curious position of the Jaw in Leviticus which required them to dwell in booths. It occurs as an appendix outside the regular laws of that festival (Leviticus 23:37-43).
For ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the LORD your God giveth you.(9) Ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance.—Nor would the passage of Jordan and the conquest of Joshua bring them to it.
But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the LORD your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety;(10) When he giveth you rest.—Rashi observes, “This was not until the days of David.” He cite 2Samuel 7:1 : “It came to pass when the king sat in his house, and the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies.”
Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the LORD:(11) Then there shall be a place.—The building of Jerusalem and of the Temple brought with it in due time the accomplishment of the law which is appended to the prophecy.
Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest:(13, 14) Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: But in the place which the Lord shall choose.—An attempt is made by some modern writers to establish a contradiction between this precept and the one in Exodus 20:24 : “In all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.” But they are not really contradictory. The choice of Jehovah makes the place of acceptance. He need not always choose the same spot-Either this law in Deuteronomy was written by Moses or it was not. If it was, it must be taken in the same sense as Exodus 20:24. If it was the work of later times, the writer must have known perfectly that Jehovah had varied His choice from time to time, and therefore the injunction must still have the same sense. Rashi remarks upon the words “Take heed that thou offer not . . . in every place that thou seest”—i.e. which comes into thy mind—“but thou must offer at the command of a prophet, as, for instance, Elijah on Mount Carmel.” It seems clear that the general principle inculcated here is the same with that of Exodus 20 and of Leviticus 17. The choice of Jehovah makes the place of worship. Details may safely be left to the direction of the authorised Divine representatives at any given time. If the Jews themselves saw no difficulty or discrepancy in these Scriptures, is it any proof of wisdom for us to make difficulties? Do we not rather prove the imperfection of our own understanding?
Notwithstanding thou mayest kill and eat flesh in all thy gates, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, according to the blessing of the LORD thy God which he hath given thee: the unclean and the clean may eat thereof, as of the roebuck, and as of the hart.(15) Notwithstanding thou mayest kill and eat flesh.—This may very possibly be intended as a slight modification of a law made for the wilderness journey (Leviticus 17:3-4). There the “killing” of an ox, or lamb, or goat is forbidden anywhere except at the door of the tabernacle. The word “kill,” though often used sacrificially, cannot be limited to sacrifice in that place, although the animals mentioned are all sacrificial animals. It would seem that the practice of sacrificing those animals elsewhere, very possibly for the sake of the feast which followed, had become so common that it was necessary to forbid the killing of them anywhere but at the door of the tabernacle. But the continuance of this precept in Canaan would stop the eating of flesh altogether. Hence the exception made here.
As of the roebuck, and as of the hart.—The frequent mention of these animals in this connection suggests the idea that the hunting and catching of them may not have been an uncommon thing in the wilderness.
Only ye shall not eat the blood; ye shall pour it upon the earth as water.(16) Ye shall pour it upon the earth.—This act was a necessary part of every slaughter of an animal for food. The blood, which is the life, must be poured upon the earth for God, whether the victim was consigned to the altar or not. It was a continual reminder of the necessity for the sacrifice of the death of Christ, to be continued until He should come. Thus the act was, in a sense, sacramental.
Thou mayest not eat within thy gates the tithe of thy corn, or of thy wine, or of thy oil, or the firstlings of thy herds or of thy flock, nor any of thy vows which thou vowest, nor thy freewill offerings, or heave offering of thine hand:(17) The tithe.—This is understood by Jewish commentators of what is called “the second tithe.” The disposal of it is more particularly specified in Deuteronomy 14:22-29. (See also on Deuteronomy 26:12, &c.)
But thou must eat them before the LORD thy God in the place which the LORD thy God shall choose, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates: and thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God in all that thou puttest thine hands unto.(18) The Levite that is within thy gates.—The distribution of the Levites throughout the several tribes (ordered in Numbers 35:1-8), and carried out by Joshua (Deuteronomy 21), is here anticipated. The Levites had this provision in Israel until Jeroboam and his sons cast them off, when they migrated to the kingdom of Judah (2Chronicles 11:13-14).
When the LORD thy God shall enlarge thy border, as he hath promised thee, and thou shalt say, I will eat flesh, because thy soul longeth to eat flesh; thou mayest eat flesh, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after.(20) When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border. . . .—This and the following verses (20-25) are perfectly intelligible as an expansion of Deuteronomy 12:15-16, and a modification of the strict rule introduced in Leviticus 18:2, &c. The distance from the central place of worship to the borders of the land would be manifestly too great for all feasting to be limited to that one spot.
Thou shalt not eat it; that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the LORD.(25) That it may go well with thee.—Very possibly, the physical as well as the moral effect of the rule is contemplated here.
Only thy holy things which thou hast, and thy vows, thou shalt take, and go unto the place which the LORD shall choose:(26) Only thy holy things . . . and thy vows.—The holy things probably mean the firstlings, which were necessarily holy, and must be made burnt offerings (Deuteronomy 12:6). The second tithe was also considered holy. The first tithe, or ordinary provision for the Levites (see Numbers 18), was not considered holy. The vows might be either burnt offerings or peace offerings.
And thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, upon the altar of the LORD thy God: and the blood of thy sacrifices shall be poured out upon the altar of the LORD thy God, and thou shalt eat the flesh.(27) The blood of thy sacrifices—i.e., peace offerings, the only kind of which the worshipper as well as the priest might partake.
Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.(30) Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared.—A necessary caution. “The fear” of heathen deities often attached itself to their seats of worship. It was found necessary to caution Israel against the fear of them and the dread of them in much later times. (See Jeremiah 10:2-5.)
What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.(32) What thing soever I command you.—No later writer could put these words into the mouth of Moses, if he had altered the precepts of Moses to any appreciable extent.