Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Moses now passes on to apply Deut. 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.
Their groves - Render their idols of wood: and see the Deu 7:5 note.
i. e., "The idolaters set up their altars and images on any high hill, and under every green tree at their pleasure, but ye shall not do so; the Lord Himself shall determine the spot for your worship, and there only shall ye seek Him." The religion of the Canaanites was human; its modes of worship were of man's devising. It fixed its holy places on the hills in the vain thought of being nearer heaven, or in deep groves where the silence and gloom might overawe the worshipper. But such superstitious appliances were not worthy of the true religion. God had revealed Himself to people in it, and manifested among them His immediate presence and power. He would Himself assign the sanctuary and the ritual of His own service.
"To put his name there" means to manifest to men His divine presence. The Targumists rightly refer to the Shechinah; but the expression comprehends all the various modes in which God vouchsafed to reveal Himself and His attributes to men.
The purpose of the command of the text is to secure the unity, and through unity the purity of the worship of God. That there should be one national center for the religion of the people was obviously essential to the great ends of the whole dispensation. Corruption began as soon as the precepts of the text were relaxed or neglected: Compare the case of Gideon, Jdg 8:27; of Micah, Judg. 18; of Jeroboam, Kg1 12:26 ff.
The words "the place which the Lord shall choose to put His Name there" suggest Jerusalem and Solomon's temple to our minds. But though spoken as they were by a prophet, and interpreted as they are by the Psalms (e. g. Psa 78:67-69), they have a proper application to the temple, yet they must not be referred exclusively to it. The text does not import that God would always from the first choose one and the same locality "to put His Name there," but that there would always be a locality so chosen by Him; and that there the people must bring their sacrifices, and not offer them at their pleasure or convenience elsewhere. Neither does the text forbid the offering of sacrifices to God at other places than the one chosen by Him "to put His Name there" on proper occasions and by proper authority (compare Deu 27:5-6; Jdg 6:24; Jdg 13:16; Kg1 3:4; Kg1 18:31). The text simply prohibits sacrifices at any other locality than that which should be appointed or permitted by God for the purpose.
Some have objected that this command cannot possibly have been ever carried out, at all events until in later (lays the territory which owned obedience to it was narrowed to the little kingdom of Judah. But in these and in other precepts Moses doubtless takes much for granted. He is here, as elsewhere, regulating and defining more precisely institutions which had long been in existence, as to many details of which custom superseded the necessity of specific enactment. No doubt the people well understood what Maimonides expressly tells us in reference to the matter, namely, that where immediate payment could not be made, the debt to God was to be reserved until the next great Feast, and then duly discharged. The thing especially to be observed was that no kind of sacrifice was to be offered except at the sacred spot fixed by God for its acceptance.
An injunction that the feasts which accompanied certain offerings (not specified) were to be also held in the same place.
Moses points out that heretofore they had not observed the prescribed order in their worship, because during their migratory life in the wilderness it had been impossible to do so. During their wanderings there were doubtless times when the tabernacle was not set up for days together, and when the daily sacrifice Num 28:3, together with many other ordinances, were necessarily omitted (compare Jos 5:5). This consideration must be carefully borne in mind throughout Deuteronomy. It illustrates the necessity for a repetition of very much of the Sinaitic legislation, and suggests the reason why some parts are so urgently reiterated and impressed, while others are left unnoticed. Moses now warns the people that as they were about to quit their unsettled mode of life, God's purpose of choosing for Himself a place to set His Name there would be executed, and the whole of the sacred ritual would consequently become obligatory. The "rest and safety" of Canaan is significantly laid down Deu 12:10-11 as the indispensable condition and basis for an entire fulfillment of the Law: the perfection of righteousness coinciding thus with the cessation of wanderings, dangers, and toils.
While a stringent injunction is laid down that the old rule (compare Lev 17:3, etc.) must be adhered to as regards animals slain in sacrifice, yet permission is now given to slaughter at home what was necessary for the table. The ceremonial distinctions did not apply in such cases, anymore than to "the roebuck" (or gazelle) "and hart," animals allowed for food but not for sacrifice.
If the place ... - Rather, "Because, or since, the place will be too far from thee." The permission given in Deu 12:15-16 is repeated, and the reason of it assigned.
This caution is based upon the notion generally entertained in the ancient pagan world, that each country had its own tutelary deities whom it would be perilous to neglect; compare Kg1 20:23; Kg2 17:26. Israel was to shun such superstitions as unworthy of the elect people of God.