James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
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.Deuteronomy 12:1-16:22
CONDITIONS OF BLESSING
PLACES OF WORSHIP (Deuteronomy 12)
In Canaan, what were the Israelites to destroy and how thoroughly was the work to be done (Deuteronomy 12:1-3)? What contrast were they to place between themselves and the heathen in public worship (Deuteronomy 12:4-7)? Did this apply to the same extent in the wilderness, and if not, why not (Deuteronomy 12:8-14)? What exception was made as to their private and domestic affairs (Deuteronomy 12:15-16)? What were they not at liberty to eat in their own homes (Deuteronomy 12:17-19)? Against what snare were they to be on their guard (Deuteronomy 12:29-32)?
In explanation of the foregoing it should be observed that no mention is made of heathen temples in Canaan at this time, and doubtless none were in existence. The places chosen for worship were the mountain tops, or groves, in order to direct attention toward heaven and secure retirement.
Note that while God promises to choose a place for the worship of Himself in the land, yet He does not divulge it in advance. Was this to prevent the Canaanites from concentrating their opposition there, or to prevent a course of strife among the Israelites themselves?
Notice from verse 12 that while the males only were commanded to appear before God at the annual feasts (i.e., at Jerusalem), yet the women were at liberty to accompany them.
The heathen believed in local deities who expected their dues from all who came to inhabit the country they protected.
This explains the caution in the closing verses of the chapter.
FALSE PROPHETS (Deuteronomy 13)
How were they to regard the teachings of false prophets (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)? How were they to deal with the prophets themselves (Deuteronomy 13:5)? Did it make any difference even if the wonders of the prophet had a show of reality? Does God ever permit such wonders to be done by false prophets, and if so, for what purpose? How are God’s people to be preserved from such temptations (Deuteronomy 13:4)? Compare Isaiah 7:19-20 and 1 John 4:1-6. The student will see the bearing of this upon the false teachings of the present day, such as Theosophy, the New Age, Spiritualism, Christian Science, and anything else, no matter how fair it appears, that is not in accord with the Gospel (see Galatians 1:8).
In the case of these false teachers should it make any difference if they were friends or relations (Deuteronomy 13:6-11)? Suppose a whole city should have been led away into idolatry thus, what then (Deuteronomy 13:12-16)? Might this action be taken hastily, or only after investigation?
The Jews appeal to this chapter as justifying their crucifixion of Jesus Christ, but it is replied that “to Him gave all the prophets witness.” He had all the characteristics of the true prophet and was the fulfillment of all that had been written in the scriptures concerning the Coming One. Moreover so far from alienating the people from Jehovah and His worship, He honored Him by observing His worship, and the purpose of His life was to fulfill the law and the prophets and put away the reproach of sin.
DIETARY MATTERS (Deuteronomy 14)
This chapter is taken up chiefly with dietary matters, but before they are touched upon what prohibition is laid in Deuteronomy 14:1-2 and for what cause? It was an idolatrous practice on certain occasions (1 Kings 18:28; Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 41:5), to make cuttings on the face and other parts of the body with the finger nails or sharp instruments. To make a large bare space between the eyebrows was another such custom in honor of the dead (see Leviticus 19). These usages were degrading and inconsistent with the people of God (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Coming to the dietary matters, the student must be referred to what was said in earlier lessons, particularly in Leviticus.
No misunderstanding of Deuteronomy 14:21 should be allowed as though what was not good enough in the physical sense for the Jew might do for the Gentile. The explanation has been shown previously, that it was for ceremonial and spiritual reasons.
THE SABBATIC YEAR (Deuteronomy 15)
The subject of this chapter has been dealt with in Exodus and Leviticus (see marginal references), but a few features call for particular notice.
The first matter is release from debt in the Sabbatic year (Deuteronomy 15:1-11). What is every creditor obliged to do, and why (Deuteronomy 15:2)? It is not necessary to suppose that this was an absolute discharge of the debt, but a suspension of payment for the period named; and this, because in that period there was a suspension of agricultural labor which might have made it a hardship to pay a debt. We have seen that the underlying idea of the Sabbatic year was to impress all with the fact that they held their property from God and that supreme gratitude was due to Him.
From whom might such civil rights and privileges be withheld (Deuteronomy 15:3)? What further qualifying thought is in verse 4? This seems to mean that in the case of well-to-do Israelites debts might be collected even in the Sabbatic year. But some think the words should be: “In order that there may be no poor among you,” which would preclude any exception.
What promise does God renew unto Israel (Deuteronomy 15:6)? Remember that this is to be literally fulfilled unto Israel in that day when, obedient and penitent, they shall return unto God and Jesus as their Messiah.
Read carefully Deuteronomy 15:7-11, and observe the detail with which God as the theocratic King of His people would watch over their welfare. The foregoing law of release might prevent some covetous Hebrew from lending to the poor, hence the warning and the promise.
The second matter is release from slavery. For the former treatment see Leviticus 25. What provision is made for enabling such an one to regain his original status in society (Deuteronomy 15:13-14)? For the ceremony of the awl boring, also see Leviticus 25. The meaning of verse 18 seems to be that such a servant is entitled to double wages because his service was more advantageous on the ground that he was serving without wages and for a length of time, while hired servants were commonly engaged only by the year.
THE FEASTS (Deuteronomy 16)
There is nothing in this chapter calling for particular attention. Students will find the feasts treated in Exodus and Leviticus where they are first mentioned. See the marginal references in your Bibles for these places.
1. Why were groves or mountains chosen by the heathen as places of worship?
2. Why presumably did not God reveal His intended place of worship?
3. Have you examined the New Testament references in this lesson?
4. What argument offsets the present Jewish appeal to chapter 13?
5. How would you explain Deuteronomy 14:21?
6. Does Deuteronomy 15:2 contemplate an absolute discharge of debt?
7. When will the promise of Deuteronomy 15:6 be fulfilled?
8. Give the probable meaning of Deuteronomy 15:18.
9. Are you observing the marginal references in your Bible?