In Deuteronomy 12-16, we will be reading about laws for proper worship that demonstrated Israel's uniqueness in comparison to the pagan religions of the Canaanites.
The first laws related to a single sanctuary for worship and food for worship and for "secular" meals
In Deuteronomy 12, the Lord specified that there was one place of worship for the Israelites. He wanted a centralized place because the Canaanites had many places of worship, and He wanted the Israelites to be distinct not only in how they worshiped but also in where they worshiped. This one place where God would "establish His name for His dwelling" was the tabernacle. Apparently this did not mean it would stay in one place in Canaan, but it was to be where the Lord commanded it to be. (Eventually it would be in one place when God let David move the tabernacle to Jerusalem where David's son, Solomon, would build the temple.) The important thing is that God is ONE God, and there would be ONE place of worship.
It should be noted that in the New Testament, each Christian has become a sanctuary, a "temple of the living God" (2 Corinthians 6:16). So, there is no single sanctuary for worship now.
The Israelites were not only to have one place of worship, but also they were to destroy the Canaanite places of worship. Thus removing any temptation to worship their gods and pollute the worship of the LORD. There was no room for a partial commitment.
Why was it so important to utterly destroy the Canaanite places of worship? One reason was that their pagan practices were detestable, and the worst of these was child sacrifice (12:31). This practice was associated with the worship of the Ammonite god, Molech (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; 2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 32:35). Sadly, we will see how Solomon (1 Kings 11:7), Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:3), and Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6) all succumbed to the worship of Molech with Ahaz and Manasseh being involved in the sacrifice of their own children.
One other thing that should be noted in this chapter is that it specifies that meat was allowed to be consumed at home for "secular meals" whether the partakers were clean or unclean. The only prohibition: do not eat blood. We learned from Leviticus 17:11 that "the life of the flesh is in the blood" (see an explanation of this in the Leviticus 17 post here). The blood was a ransom price for sins, so blood was sacred and was not to be consumed even in secular meals.
You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods . . . you shall tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars. (12:2,3)
Sadly, we will see that the Israelites did not utterly destroy all the places where the Canaanite nations served other gods, and it had terrible consequences. Stay tuned.
Have you utterly destroyed the idols in your life so that they are no longer a temptation and something you might turn to instead of the Lord? Many Aspire, Few Attain speaks to this issue:
5. Burn bridges and ships
“No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
You’ll never attain if you refuse to burn your boats. When Hernando Cortez took his men to Mexico, his objective was to march on Mexico City and conquer Montezuma. When he landed at Vera Cruz, he put all his men on the beach and sent demolition teams out to destroy their ships. As the men stood on the shore watching the ships burn and sink, they realized they could only go forward into Mexico. They could not turn back.
Have you burned your ships? Have you taken the avenues of retreat that your mind maps and maintains and destroyed them? Take, for example, your career. You began your career with a goal and a hope for the future. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem only arises when the job becomes an end in itself. Have you given your vocational goals and the direction of your life back to God? If the marketplace is a mission field for you to accomplish God’s will, you have a biblical perspective. If it is a means for you to accomplish your own selfish ends, you are living in sin. God wants you to burn that boat.
Have you given your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse back to God? Many people have trouble with this one. They never make it because they are unwilling to commit this area of their lives to God. Many people spend their youth searching for a spouse. If you are single, have you given your desire to marry back to God? This surrender is especially difficult because God may decide never to bring a partner into your life. Are you content to be single for the rest of your life if this is the will of God? Are you willing to wait ten or fifteen years before you get married? It is better to wait for the person of God’s choosing than to marry the wrong person just because you want to get married. If you are married, are you committed irrevocably to your spouse?
Sometime ago, some parents asked me to talk to their 18-year-old daughter. She was a beautiful young girl - sweet and attractive. She was in love with a fellow, and she wanted to marry him. I asked her if it was the will of God. She said, “No”. I asked her if she was willing to give him back to God. Again, she said, “No”. We talked about it until two or three in the morning, but she had made up her mind that she was going to marry this man, which she did.
About a year and a half later, I was talking to her parents, and I asked how their daughter was doing. They kind of dropped their heads and said, “Oh, fine”. I asked what she was doing. “Well, she’s got a baby girl...She’s living in an apartment by herself. Her husband left her. She’s divorced and doesn't know what to do.”
“Be not deceived (Remember what I talked about yesterday?). God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
The only way you can avoid that terrible, terrible plight is to burn your ships and let God make those decisions.
Lord, help us to be aware of the idols in our lives and to destroy them so that nothing will distract us from simplicity and purity of devotion to You. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.