ALTHOUGH THE BOOK OF Deuteronomy constantly looks backward to the Exodus and years of wilderness wanderings, it also looks forward: the people are about to enter the Promised Land, and certain things will change. In times of transition, one must grasp the distinction between what should change and what should not.
Yesterday’s chapter includes the word today: “Remember today that your children were not the ones . . .” (Deut. 11:2). That word is important throughout this book. A proper grasp of the past prepares the way for the changes today, on the verge of entry into the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 12, the biggest change that is envisaged is the establishment within the land of a place where God will choose “to put his Name” and establish his dwelling (Deut. 12:5, 11). In other words the chapter anticipates the time when neither independent sacrifices offered wherever the worshiper happens to be (Deut. 12:8), nor the mobile tabernacle of the years of pilgrimage, will be acceptable; rather, God will establish a stable center in the land. “To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts. . . . There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you” (Deut. 12:5-7). In due course the tabernacle was situated at Shiloh, Bethel, and finally at Jerusalem, where it was replaced by the temple in the days of Solomon.
The changed circumstances bring points of both continuity and discontinuity. Moses insists that then, as now, there will be no tolerance for the pagan worship practices of the surrounding nations and of those they purge from the land (Deut. 12:29-31). But the sheer distance that most people will live from the central sanctuary means that they cannot be expected to have all meat slaughtered in its precincts, nor to observe the fine distinctions between what is the priest’s part and what is their part. Now it will be entirely appropriate to slaughter their animals and eat them as they would wild game killed in the field (Deut. 12:15-22). Even so, three points continue in full force. (1) They must not forget to provide for the Levites (many of whom depended on the service of the tabernacle/temple for their sustenance – Deut. 12:19); (2) they must not eat the blood of the animals they slaughter (Deut. 12:23-25); (3) they are still expected to offer the consecrated sacrifices at the central shrine on the high feast days, when every family is expected to present itself to the Lord (Deut. 12:26-28).
Other transitions follow in the history of redemption and demand our thoughtful meditation (e.g., Ps. 95:7-11; Mark 7:19; John 16:5-11; Heb. 3:7 — 4:11).