Deuteronomy 12—Where to Worship, the Religion of the Wilderness, Beware of False Gods

Deuteronomy 12:2ff, You shall utterly destroy. What are the present-day high placeswhere the world has placed its altars to its gods that as a called-out people and a set-apart nation YHVH is calling us to cast down and to destroy? Idols be they physical or material, emotional, and psychological in nature that form strongholds in our hearts and minds are things that hinder or prevent us from serving and obeying YHVH fully. What prevents you from keeping YHVH’s Sabbath and appointed times annual festivals (moedim)? What keeps you from prayer and intimate and set-apart times with him? What keeps you from hearing the voice of Yeshua and from loving him fully by keeping all of his commands? How about television, sports, your job and work schedule, family and peer pressure, fear, sinful habits and addictions, lust, greed, materialism and so on? What are you going to do about it?

Deuteronomy 12:3, You shall obliterate [destroy, put to death] their names [i.e. the names of pagan gods]. As The ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash points out, not only was Israel to remove the idols themselves, but they were not even to refer to them by their proper names (p. 1000). Rashi, the ancient Jewish sage, says that names of ridicule were to be coined for the pagan gods and used instead. He points out in his commentary on this verse that Jews would actually formulate derisive wordplay names based on the original names of the gods. For example, the pagan temple called, “the house of the crest” became “the house of the ditch” in that the words crest and ditch were similar in Hebrew. Or the idol “everyone’s eye” became “thorn in the eye.” A similar example of this occurred during the Second Jewish Revolt of A.D. 135. The leader of that revolt, Simon bar Kosiba, was given the name Simon bar Kochba (meaning “star”), but when his revolt failed at the hands of the Romans his detractors nicknamed him Simon bar Koziba meaning “Son of a Lie” (Rabbi Akiba’s Messiah, by Daniel Gruber, p. 165). Coming up with names of ridicule for pagan deities and concepts may seem like a silly child’s game to some, but could it not serve to indelibly imprint on the minds of YHVH’s people the seriousness of idolatry and idolatrous practices? Could this not be a means of guiding the younger generation away from the ways of evil and into the paths of righteousness? In following the Jewish interpretation on this Torah command, what are some present day “gods,” “goddesses” or modern-day idols that could use renaming?

Deuteronomy 12:5ff, Put his name. Where has YHVH chosen to place his name spiritually? Are you bringing your tithes and offerings to that place so that YHVH can bless you?

Honour YHVH with your substance, and with the first fruits of all your increase so that your barns be filled with plenty …(Prov 3:9–10)

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use it shall be measured to you again. (Luke 6:38)

“‘Will a man rob Elohim? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How have we robbed you?” In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation [of you!] Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and test me now in this,’ says YHVH of Hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast [its grapes,],’ says YHVH of hosts.” (Mal 3:8–11)

Giving (through tithes and offerings) is a spiritual, kingdom principle and a key to obtaining blessings and success.

Deuteronomy 12:5, Only at the place that YHVH will choose … to place his name there … shall you seek out his Presence [habitation] and come there.The word presence (as translated in The ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash) is the Hebrew word sheken (IFA) and as a verb means “to dwell or tabernacle,” and as a noun it means “dwelling, or tabernacle.” According to The TWOT, the verb is used 129 times in the Tanakh (OT) of which 43 times YHVH is the subject; that is, it describes where he dwells (e.g. on Mount Zion [Ps 74:2], among his people [Exod 25:8], or in Jerusalem [Zech 8:3]). On several occasions, it refers to his divine and glorious presence dwelling among his people (e.g. Exod 24:16; Ps 85:9). The word mishkan, which was the portable tabernacle, sanctuary or earthly dwelling place of the glorious presence of YHVH among his people, is derived from this word. What is YHVH saying in this verse? Namely, he is telling his people NOT to go just anywhere to worship him, but to go only where he has placed his name. How do we know where that is? It will be where his manifest glory and presence is to be found! Where you fellowship and worship him collectively with other believers is the manifest glory and presence of YHVH there to confirm that YHVH has placed his name there? If not, why not? Now let’s read Psalm 63:1–4,

O Elohim, you re my El; early will I seek you: my soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see your power and thy glory, so as I have seen you in the sanctuary. Because your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise you. Thus will I bless you while I live. I will lift up my hands in your name. (emphasis added)

Let us briefly analyze the bolded portion of this psalm of David in light of the above discussion. To see is the generic Hebrew verb ra’ah meaning literally “to see.” The word power (Heb. oz) means “might, power and strength.” This too is a generic term.

The next word is glory, which is the Hebrew word kavod literally meaning “heavy or weighty.”In this instance, in reference to YHVH, it refers to “the visible manifestation of God” and his glory and is often associated with his visible manifest presence within the tabernacle (TWOT, vol. 2, p. 943).

The next word in verse two to analyze is have seen, which is an entirely different word in the Hebrew, even though it is the same English word (to see) as used earlier in the verse. Seen is the Hebrew word chazah meaningto see as a seer/prophet in an ecstatic way with intelligence, to prophesy, to have a vision, to gain spiritual understanding.”

The last word is sanctuary, which is the Hebrew word kodesh and is the name of two rooms in the mishkan/tabernacle: the Kodesh (Set-apart/Holy Place) and the Kodesh haKodashim (Most Set-Apart Place/Holy of Holies).

What can we gather from the wealth of information found in this Psalm? When David hungered and thirsted for YHVH as if he were about to die of thirst, he talked about seeking the presence of YHVH in the Set-Apart Place where YHVH’s name and glorious and manifest presence were to be found. There he could literally experience the presence of YHVH and gain prophetic insight and understanding. 

Again, are you experiencing this kind of breakthrough in your daily walk with YHVH, and in the congregation or fellowship where you attend each Sabbath and at YHVH’s appointed-time feasts? If not, why not? What can you do to experience the intimacy with the Father that David experienced and describes here?

Deuteronomy 12:8, Right in his own eyes. Doing what is right in our own eyes while outside the land of Israel is the religion of the wilderness. That is to say, it is impossible to keep Torah exactly as YHVH prescribed while living outside the land of Israel. Some people interpret this to mean that since it is impossible to properly tithe or celebrate the biblical feasts, for example, outside the Promised Land as the Torah prescribes, then why do these things at all? Others take the attitude that we are to serve and obey YHVH and keep his commandments the best we can no matter where we are. The former is a minimalist approach when it comes to obeying YHVH while the latter takes the maximalist approach. I choose the latter, for I don’t want to be that wicked servant in Yeshua’s Parable of the Talents who buried his talent in the soil and did nothing. Moreover, there is always much to be learned and blessing to be had when our hearts are inclined toward obedience rather than disobedience. Either way, whether we choose to obey YHVH’s commands or not, when living outside the land of Israel, we are still, to one degree or another, doing what’s right in our own eyes. For those of us who are doing our best to follow YHVH’s Torah outside the Promised Land may Nehemiah’s prayer also be ours, “Remember me, my Elohim, for good, according to all that I have done…and do not wipe  my good deeds that I have done…and spare me according to the greatness of your mercy…remember mne for good” (Neh 5:19; 13:14, 22, 30).

Deuteronomy 12:30ff, Ensnared to follow them. Many well-meaning believers have been snared by heathen-based rituals that have been “Christianized” and called by names such as Christmas, Easter, etc. Have these celebrations of pagan origin snared your heart and mind as well?


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