“You must not worship the Lord your God in their way” (Deut. 12:31).Worship is the way we express intimacy in our corporate and personal relationship with God. Because God is special, worship is to be special too.
Definition of Key Terms
Worship. Moderns tend to think of worship simply as singing hymns and praising God on Sundays. Hebrew and Greek words translated “worship,” however, mean to “bow down” or “prostrate oneself.” The image is one of showing utmost respect. Broadly understood, any act by which we express deep respect for God is an act of worship. These chapters in Deuteronomy review some of the ways that Israel was to show respect for the Lord when they entered the Promised Land.
Worshiping Israel was to establish a central sanctuary (12:1–32), to reject idolatry (13:1–18) and pagan rites (14:1–2), honor dietary laws (vv. 3–21), faithfully pay tithes (vv. 22–29), and to forgive debts and release Hebrew slaves every seventh year (15:1–18). The Israelites were also to set firstborn animals apart to the Lord (vv. 19–23) and faithfully observe religious festivals (16:1–17).
Understanding the Text
“Seek the place the Lord your God will choose” Deut. 12:1–32. The people of Canaan had sacred sites scattered throughout the land. They offered sacrifices at these sites, held orgiastic rites, and practiced various kinds of magic intended to influence their gods. Israel’s rites of worship, such as sacrifice, were to be held at one place alone. The text promised that after Israel had taken the land, God would choose a particular site, and identify Himself with it (“put His Name” there). That site, not selected until the time of David, was Jerusalem. Emphasis on a single worship center reflects a common Old Testament theme. There was only one entrance into Israel’s tabernacle court, and one way to enter the tabernacle. Later the temple followed this plan.
There was to be only one altar of sacrifice, one high priest, one mercy seat where sacrificial blood was poured out each year on the Day of Atonement. The truth these things symbolized was expressed by Jesus, who told His disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). It may be popular these days to be broad-minded and say there are “many roads to God.” But it is not biblical. Scripture supports that chorus: “One way, and only one.”
“He tried to turn you away from the Lord your God” Deut. 13:1–18. Modern history shows how vulnerable people are to cults. How do we respond when someone knocks on our door with the message of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, Moonies, or some other cult? If anyone incites us to abandon the Lord for a cult, we will “not listen to [his] words” (v. 3). Rather we will remember that “it is the Lord your God you must follow, and Him you must revere” (v. 4). God deserves our total allegiance. Worshiping Him as He has revealed Himself in Scripture is to be our first priority. “Do not cut yourselves” Deut. 14:1–2. God’s people are not to adopt the practices that reflect the attitude of the surrounding pagan peoples toward death. “Do not eat any detestable thing” Deut. 14:3–21. Some have argued that Hebrew dietary laws prohibited the use of disease-carrying animals as food. The real explanation is more profound.
God wanted to remind His people that He is involved in every aspect of their lives. In everything we do we can demonstrate respect for the Lord. Everything we do can thus be an act of worship. “Bring all the tithes” Deut. 14:22–29. Israel’s economy was to be agricultural, and her wealth was the land and its products. God, the Giver of the land, claimed a 10th of its bounty as His share of every crop. Showing respect for God by giving has been an integral part of worship from the very first. “Do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother” Deut. 15:1–18. The depth of a person’s relationship with God is displayed in the way he or she treats others. This principle, woven throughout Scripture, is particularly evident in laws explaining how to treat the poor. Those in need are to be helped willingly. Every seventh year, the debt of all who have not been able to repay loans is to be forgiven.
And any Hebrew who has been forced to sell himself into slavery is to be released. Helping the poor is an act of worship which is especially pleasing to the Lord. The passage says, “Because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to” (v. 10), and again, “The Lord your God will bless you in everything you do” (v. 18). “Observe the month” Deut. 16:1–17. When Israel conquered the land the people were to hold annual worship festivals, attended by all. The chart on the next page shows the religious calendar of Israel. For the meaning of each festival, see Reading 28, Leviticus. Israel’s religious calendar
God’s Share (Deut. 14:22–15:18)
“Bring your tithes into the storehouse,” Pastor L. used to preach. “Then you can give to others.” What he meant, of course, was that the local church ought to get the Christian’s tithe. All other giving was over and above the 10 percent our pastor thought the local church deserved. I understand his message. But I question his exegesis. Particularly when I read chapters like these in Deuteronomy. Here one thing links the tithe, which Israel was obligated to give, and generosity, which Israelites were urged to display. Why is that? Both required that giving and optional giving were intended primarily to meet human need. The regular tithe was delivered to the temple to be used to support the Levites and priests who served God there. Then, every third year, the tithe was stored locally so that “the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied” (14:29). Both the giving God required and optional contributions He encouraged went to meet human needs. If you were to look at my income tax forms for the past few years, you’d see an interesting pattern. Our local church receives regular support. But a greater percent of our giving is directed to ministries like Prison Fellowship, which minister directly to the powerless in our society. And some goes to nondeductible and even “secular” causes. Certainly at the very least this important passage in Deuteronomy gives us fresh insight into the loving heart of our God. And perhaps cause to stop and evaluate the way we worship Him with our giving.
In what ways do you show your reverence for God on weekdays?