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.
Ver 1. - These are the statutes and judgments (cf. Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 6:1). Moses, as the servant of God, had taught Israel statutes and rights, as God had commanded him (Deuteronomy 4:5); and now he recapitulates the principal of these for their guidance in the way of obedience. These they were to observe all the days of their life upon the land that was to be given them; the land was the Lord's, and there, as long as they possessed it, the Law of the Lord was to be paramount.
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:
Verses 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).
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.
Ye shall not do so unto the LORD your God.
Verses 4-6. - The heathen placed their altars and offered their worship wherever they thought fit, according to their notions of the deity and his service; but Israel was not to do so unto Jehovah their God: he himself would choose the places where he was to be worshipped, and there alone might they come with offering and service. As the revealed God - the God whose being and perfections had been made known, not by a vague revelation of him in nature merely, but expressly by his putting or recording his Name historically and locally among men (cf. Exodus 20:24) - so should there be a definite place chosen and appointed by him where he would come to receive the worship of his people, where he would record his Name, and where he would be known for a Refuge and a Helper to all who put their trust in him (Psalm 48:3; Psalm 76:1, etc.; Daniel 9:18). The Name of God is God himself as revealed; and he puts his Name on any place where he specially manifests himself as present (cf. 1 Kings 8:29), and which is consequently to be regarded as his habitation or dwelling-place. Hence the temple at Jerusalem was in later times known as the place of the Name of Jehovah (Isaiah 18:7), the dwelling-place of his glory (Psalm 26:8). But he is the God of the whole earth, and therefore, wherever he is pleased to reveal himself, in whatever place he makes his Name to be known, there he is to be worshipped. There is no reference in this passage to the temple at Jerusalem specially, as some have supposed; what is here enjoined is only a practical application of the Divine promise, that in all places where God would record his Name, there he would come to bless his people (Exodus 20:24). The reference here, therefore, is quite general, and applies to any place where, by the Divine appointment, the tabernacle might be set up and the worship of Jehovah instituted. Unto his habitation shall ye seek. To seek to any place means, primarily, to resort to it, to frequent it (cf. 2 Chronicles 1:5), but with the implied purpose of inquiring there for something, as for responses or oracles, when the place resorted to was that in which God had put his Name.
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:
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:
Verse 6. - To the appointed place all their sacrificial gifts and offerings were to be brought, and there they were to keep their holy feasts. The gifts are classified in groups.
1. Burnt offerings and sacrifices, the two principal kinds of altar offerings, with which meal offerings and drink offerings were united (Numbers 15:4, etc.).
2. Tithes and heave offerings (cf. Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-24). The heave offerings are described as of your hand, either because offered by the offerer's own hand, or to indicate such gifts as were made off-hand (so to speak), voluntary offerings made in addition to the legal offerings from an immediate impulse of grateful emotion.
3. Vows and freewill offerings, sacrifices which were offered in consequence of vows or of spontaneous impulse (cf. Leviticus 7:16; Leviticus 22:21; Leviticus 23:38; Numbers 15:3; Numbers 29:39).
4. Firstlings of their herds and of their flocks (cf. Exodus 13:2, 12, etc.; Numbers 18:15, etc.).
And there ye shall eat before the LORD your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto, ye and your households, wherein the LORD thy God hath blessed thee.
Verse 7. - And there ye shall eat before the Lord. The injunction here and in ver. 17, respecting the eating by the offerer of the firstlings of his flocks and herds, appears to be inconsistent with the injunction in Numbers 18:18. There it seems as if the whole of the flesh was to be given to the priest. "And the flesh of them shall be thine [the priest's], as the wave breast and as the right shoulder are thine." This may be taken to mean that just as the wave breast and the right shoulder are the perquisites of the priests in the case of other offerings, as e.g., the peace offering, so in the case of the firstling offering the whole flesh shall be the priest's; and thus taken, the passage presents an unquestionable discrepancy to that in Deuteronomy. But probably the passage is not to be so taken. The particle translated "as" (כְּ.) not infrequently occurs in the sense of "according to, after the manner of," implying conformity to some rule or model (Genesis 44:2; Exodus 21:9; Exodus 39:8; Leviticus 5:10; Numbers 8:4; Numbers 9:3; Numbers 29:18; Psalm 7:18 [Psalm 7:17]; Zechariah 2:10 [Zechariah 2:6], etc.). The passage, therefore, may be rendered thus: And the flesh of them shalt thou take after the manner (or according to the rule), of the wave breast, etc., i.e. not the whole of it, but only these parts. So the LXX. seem to have taken the passage: καὶ τα κρεα εὐται κασα καὶ το στηθυνιον του ἐπιθέματος καὶ κατὰ τὸν βραχίονα τὸν δεξιὸν σοι ἔσται. Of some of the offerings the whole was received by the priest, as in the case of the sin offering and trespass offering (Leviticus 6:25, etc.; Leviticus 7:1, etc.); while of others only certain portions, viz. the wave breast and the heave shoulder, were given to him, as in the case of the peace offering (Leviticus 7:28, etc.). The purport of the law in Numbers 18:18 is that, in respect of the firstling offering, the allotment to the priest shall be after the same manner as in the peace offering. There is thus no discrepancy between the two passages. The animal belonged originally to the offerer; when he brought it before the Lord part of it was consumed on the altar, part of it was assigned to the priest, and the rest, as a matter of course, remained with himself. The law in Numbers, addressed to the priest, intimates what he might claim as his portion; the law in Deuteronomy, where the people are addressed, directs them how to use the portion that remained with them. It may be added that, even supposing that all the flesh was given to the priest, yet, as it had to be consumed on the day in which the sacrifice was offered, and as every clean person in the house might partake of it, it is almost certain that the offerer would, as a matter of course, share in the meal, as was usual in the case of sacrificial meals. Rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto; enjoy whatever your hand may gain, whatever you may earn, all the good which the Lord may give you (cf. ver. 18; 15:10; 23. 20; 28:8, 20). The phrase is peculiar to Deuteronomy; but comp. Genesis 3:22; Isaiah 11:14.
Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes.
Verses 8-10. - In the wilderness, while leading a nomadic life, no certain place could be appointed to them for the observance of sacred rites; each man did in that matter as suited his own convenience. But after they were settled in Canaan it should no longer be so; a certain order and fixed locality should be determined for their worship and service; when they had passed over Jordan the Lord would give them rest from all their enemies, and then all irregularity and arbitrariness in the matter of worship must cease, and all their gifts arid offerings must be brought to the place which Jehovah their God should choose. Ye dwell in safety; rather, dwell securely, not only safe from assault, but without fear or anxiety (cf. Judges 8:11; Judges 18:7).
For ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the LORD your God giveth you.
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;
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:
Verse 11. - All your choice vows; i.e. all the vows of your choice, all that ye choose to make; the vow was purely voluntary; it became obligatory only after it was made.
And ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God, ye, and your sons, and your daughters, and your menservants, and your maidservants, and the Levite that is within your gates; forasmuch as he hath no part nor inheritance with you.
Verse 12. - Of their offerings they should make a festive meal for themselves and their household; and of this the Levite who might happen at the time to be resident among them was to partake. Rejoice before the Lord. This phrase occurs frequently in this book (Deuteronomy 14:26; Deuteronomy 16:11, 14; Deuteronomy 26:11; Deuteronomy 27:7); elsewhere it appears only once - Leviticus 23:40, where it is used with reference to the Feast of Tabernacles, Moses now enjoins this festivity to be observed in connection with all the sacrificial meals. The Levite that is within your gates. The Levites had no share in the land as the property of their tribe; but they had towns allotted to them among the different tribes (Numbers 35.), so that in this way they were dispersed through the nation. Hence, perhaps, they are described as "within the gates" of the rest of the people. Or, as the Levites seem to have itinerated in the discharge of various offices among the people, the phrase may designate them as on this account occasionally resident among others in their community; just as "the stranger that is within thy gates" means the person of some other nation who for the time being was resident in any of the towns of Israel.
Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest:
Verses 13-16. - They were to beware of offering sacrifice in any place that might seem to them best; their offerings were to be presented only in that place which God should choose. But this did not imply that they were not to kill and eat in their own abodes whatever they desired for food, according to the blessing of Jehovah their God. Only they were to abstain from eating of blood (cf. Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 7:26); that they were to pour on the earth as if it were water. Burnt offering; this is named instar omnium, as the principal offering. Whatsoever thy soul lusteth after. To "lust," in old English, means simply to will, choose, desire; it is the same word as "list," or, as it is sometimes spelt, "lest," and does not, as now, imply anything evil. As of the roebuck, and as of the hart; probably the gazelle and fallow deer. As these were animals that could not be offered in sacrifice, the distinction between clean and unclean, on the part of the eaters, did not come into consideration.
But in the place which the LORD shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee.
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.
Only ye shall not eat the blood; ye shall pour it upon the earth as water.
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:
Verses 17-19. - (Cf. vers. 6, 7, 12.) Thou mayest not eat; literally, thou art not able to eat; i.e. there is a legal inability to this. So the verb to be able (יָכֹל) is frequently used (cf. Genesis 43; Numbers 9:6; Deuteronomy 16:5; Deuteronomy 17:15, etc.).
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.
Take heed to thyself that thou forsake not the Levite as long as thou livest upon the earth.
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.
Verse 20. - When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border. These laws were to continue in force even when God should, according to his promise (Genesis 15:18; Exodus 23:27-31), extend the boundaries of their land.
If the place which the LORD thy God hath chosen to put his name there be too far from thee, then thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock, which the LORD hath given thee, as I have commanded thee, and thou shalt eat in thy gates whatsoever thy soul lusteth after.
Verses 21-23. - If the place.., be too far from thee; this supplies the reason for the alteration of the law in Leviticus 17:3. Only be sure; literally, only be strong; i.e. be firm and resolute, steadfastly resisting the temptation to eat it. The blood is the life (cf. Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 11:1; Leviticus 17:11). The word used is nephesh (נֶפֶשׁ). By this word the Hebrews designated the animal life-principle in men and in beasts; and as without this the body was a mere inert mass, the word came to be used for "life" generally. Of this life the blood was believed to be the seat, and was regarded as the symbol, so that to shed blood was tantamount to the taking away of life. As the blood, moreover, was the life, in it was supposed to lie the propitiatory power - the power, when shed, of atoning for sin, as the giving of life for life. The prohibition of eating it doubtless had respect to this. It was not merely to prevent ferocity in men towards the lower animals (as Rosenmüller suggests) that the eating of blood was interdicted, but specially because there was in this a sort of profanation, a putting to a common use of what appertained to a sacred rite.
Even as the roebuck and the hart is eaten, so thou shalt eat them: the unclean and the clean shall eat of them alike.
Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh.
Thou shalt not eat it; thou shalt pour it upon the earth as water.
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.
Only thy holy things which thou hast, and thy vows, thou shalt take, and go unto the place which the LORD shall choose:
Verses 26, 27. - The holy things; i.e. the offerings prescribed by the Law; "hallowed things" (Numbers 18:8; cf. Leviticus 21:22). Which thou hast; literally, which are to thee; i.e. which are binding on thee. Thy burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood; i.e. the flesh and the blood of the burnt offerings which were to be laid upon the altar (Leviticus 1:5-9). The blood of thy sacrifices (zebachim) shall be poured out upon the altar. This refers to the ritual of the shelamim, or peace offering (Leviticus 3:2, 8, 13). The word zebach (זֶבַה) is never used in the Pentateuch of an atoning sacrifice (Oehler, 'Theology of the Old Testament,' 2:2); it is used only of such offerings as furnished a sacrificial meal; hence it is added here, and thou shalt eat the flesh.
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.
Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the LORD thy God.
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;
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,
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.
Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.
Verse 31. - For even their sons and their daughters have they burnt in the fire to their gods. Elsewhere the phrase used is "make to pass through the fire "(Deuteronomy 18:10), or simply "make to pass through to Molech" (Leviticus 18:21; Jeremiah 32:35). This has led some to maintain that the ceremony described was merely a februation, a lustration by fire, and not an actual burning alive of these victims; but there can be no doubt that both among the Ammonites and the Phoenicians, and indeed wherever the worship of Baal or Molech was followed, the offering of children in sacrifice by burning prevailed (Munter, 'Religion der Karthager,' p. 18, 2nd edit.; Selden, 'De Diis Syris Syntag,' i.e. 6, pp. 93, 257, edit. Beyer, Amst., 1680).
What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
Verse 32. - The admonition in this verse is best regarded as forming an intermediate link between this chapter and the following, "closing what goes before and introductory to what follows" (Keil).