Deuteronomy 9-12: Your disobedience, centralization of worship

Hear, Israel!  You are about to cross the Jordan and dispossess nations greater than you, conquering cities built by giants, with walls sky-high.  The LORD himself will lead you.  Remember that he is not doing this because you are virtuous, but because the Canaanites are wicked.  Remember your multiple instances of disobedience–at Horeb with the golden calf, at Taberah, at Massah, at Kibroth-hattaavah, and at Kadesh, when you refused to take possession of the land.

Remember the Ten Commandments, which God inscribed on stone tablets.  I broke the tablets upon discovering your golden calf, but God inscribed new ones identical to the originals.  Now, you must cut away the thickening about your hearts and revere God, worshiping him alone.  Keep all the instructions that I enjoin upon you today, so that you may have strength to conquer Canaan.  When you conquer Canaan, you may not sacrifice animals anywhere, but must only worship at a central site which the LORD will designate.  You may slaughter animals and eat them anywhere, without bringing them to the central site.  Your burnt offerings, other sacrifices, tithes, contributions, and firstlings must all be brought to this site.

Commentary:

  • Deuteronomy 12 is mostly about the centralization of worship at one site, almost certainly intended to be Jerusalem.  Worshiping at other altars is prohibited.  This is a key aspect of king Josiah’s religious reform.   This centralization contrasts sharply with earlier Biblical law, which guaranteed God’s blessing at multiple sacrificial altars (Exodus 20:21), “in every place”.  In earlier Biblical narrative, it was common to sacrifice at other altars (i.e. Gen 12:7, 35:1-7).
  • Due to this centralization of worship, it became impractical to forbid the non-ritual slaughter of animals.  Previously, all slaughter had to occur on an altar, at whose bottom the animal’s blood would be dumped (Lev 17:3-7).  Deut 12:15 removes this requirement, departing sharply from previous law.
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