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In Deuteronomy 12, Moses turns his attention to the specific laws and statutes that God required Israel to follow in order to establish His dominion in the earth and reassert His right to rule what He created.
1 These are the statutes and the judgments which you shall carefully observe in the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess as long as you live on the earth.
The underlying truth is that God claimed ownership of the land which He was giving to Israel—and not just that land, but the whole earth by right of creation. Israel’s possession of the land, then, was not unconditional. God always claimed the right of eminent domain, as He told them in Leviticus 25:23,
23 The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me.
Israel’s right to the land, then, was conditional upon obedience to Yahweh and His law. Yahweh, of course, was incarnated in Bethlehem as Yeshua-Jesus, and so in the end, their right to live on that land was conditioned upon their recognition of Jesus Christ as their King. In fact, Judah’s rejection of Jesus Christ in the first century was the prime reason for God’s judgment and their dispersion from the land.
Moses then showed how the First Commandment was to be observed. Deuteronomy 12:2-4,
2 You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. 3 And you shall tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and burn their Asherim with fire, and you shall cut down their gods, and you shall obliterate their name from that place. 4 You shall not act like this toward the Lord your God.
In those days most people believed that gods were local deities, and that gods had little or no power outside of their territory. Conquering more land increased the jurisdiction of their own gods, and hence, war was thought of as a sacred duty to bring glory to their gods. No doubt many of the Israelites believed this as well, though Moses taught them otherwise.
One thing is very clear from these verses. God does not tolerate other gods among those who are in a covenant relationship with Him. The first and foremost element of His covenants forbids the worship of other gods. There is only one Creator who owns the heavens and the earth. He has no intention of stepping aside to make room for usurpers who will use and misuse the heavens and the earth for their own purposes.
As long as men are imperfect, there will be differences of opinion. God does indeed tolerate “freedom of conscience,” as they call it, but such freedom is only within the framework of recognizing Yahweh-Jesus as the supreme King and Lawgiver. One may disagree on the meaning of the law and its manner of application, but no one has the right to discard it or replace it with the laws of other religions.
We see this even in the New Testament, where Jesus said of lawless Christians in Matthew 7:23,
23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”
As for the methods by which those other gods are eradicated, it depends upon the nature of the covenant itself.
Under the Old Covenant, where the people had rejected hearing the voice of God at Pentecost (Exodus 20:18-21), they refused the Sword of the Spirit and were left with the default weapon—the physical sword. Hence, armed with that sword, extreme and bloody methods were necessary to establish God’s right to rule the land and eradicate His competitors, the false gods.
Under the New Covenant, however, we see the true heart of God being manifested. False gods are to be eradicated by the Sword of the Spirit, and as long as the power of God rested on them, the believers conquered the minds and hearts of men. However, in later years, when the church lost its first love and the power of the Holy Spirit, they did not hesitate to take up the physical sword in order to win the day by the power of flesh. They should have stopped fighting long enough to seek the presence of the Holy Spirit and its Sword, but this seldom occurred.
Today there are still those who argue the “Cessationist” view that the gifts and power of the Spirit ceased with the last apostle and that the church no longer needs these spiritual gifts. In essence, they have repeated the error in Exodus 20:18-21, rejecting any possibility of hearing God’s voice today, and so their views are manifested by their fleshly attempts to establish the Kingdom of God by doing what is right in their own eyes. Such people would not hesitate to follow Moses’ instructions in the fleshly manner that was required of Israel under the Old Covenant. The ensuing bloodbath would continue until all men had been subjected to the opinion of the winner.
There is a reason why God always removed Israel from its favored position of power whenever they departed too far from the truth. It is the same reason why God has limited the power of the church to carry out its will. God has no intention of giving the church supreme power over the earth while they function in an Old Covenant mindset and believe in converting men by the power of the flesh and by the sword.
There is a much better way, and this way is revealed under the New Covenant. Instead of killing all pagans and infidels with the sword, as seen under the Old Covenant Joshua, we hear the New Covenant Joshua (Yeshua-Jesus) saying in Matthew 28:18-20,
18 . . . All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This is how it is done by the Sword of the Spirit, which Israel had rejected at the Mount. If they had been willing to hear God’s voice at that time, they would have received New Covenant instructions. In fact, they would have fulfilled the feast of Pentecost at that time and would have been endowed with the gifts of the Spirit by which Canaan could have been conquered in a New Covenant manner.
This understanding is very important, because it shapes our entire world view and prevents us from engaging in carnal religious wars against perceived enemies of Christ.
God takes no pleasure in bloodshed, not even when His enemies are killed. This is shown clearly in studying the laws of sacrifice. Moses will speak of this later in Deuteronomy 12:20-28, leading into his instructions about making war on the Canaanites, so I will reserve my comment until then.
Moses continues in Deuteronomy 12:5 and 6,
5 But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God shall choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. 6 And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the first-born of your herd and of your flock.
According to this law, one must seek God and worship Him in a very specific place. Yet that place was not specified under Moses, because it was destined to change over the years. Even in Deuteronomy 16, where this law is applied to keeping the three main feast days, Moses does not specify a location. He identifies it only as “the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name” (16:2, 6, 11, 15, 16). Furthermore, in verses 5 and 6 he prohibits men from keeping those feasts in any other place, saying,
5 You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, 6 but at the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover. . .
God established His name first in the town of Shiloh (Joshua 18:1), which then became a Levite settlement in the tribe of Ephraim. A few centuries later, when the priesthood in that place became corrupted, God “abandoned the dwelling place at Shiloh” (Psalm 78:60) and moved His name to Jerusalem (Psalm 78:68).
A few centuries later, when the priesthood in Jerusalem became corrupted, God abandoned that city in the same manner as He had abandoned Shiloh earlier (Jeremiah 7:12-15). The prophet Ezekiel saw the glory depart as far as the top of the Mount of Olives (Ezekiel 11:23), where it remained until Jesus ascended to heaven from that location (Acts 1:9-12). His ascension occurred on the 40th day since His resurrection (Acts 1:3), and then that same glory returned to the earth ten days later on Pentecost.
Thus, we read in Rev. 22:4 that His name is now in our foreheads. We are the New Jerusalem and the true temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16). This is now the only lawfully acceptable place where one may keep a feast or make sacrifice to God or worship Him.
Hence, it was important that Moses should not specify a single location where God might put His name once and for all time, for it is evident that God intended to move to new locations over time. It is equally important to understand that this law was not put away. We are still required to worship God in the place where He has chosen to establish His name, but He now indwells us, and we worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
Moses continues in Deuteronomy 12:7-9,
7 There also you and your households shall eat before the Lord your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you. 8 You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; 9 for you have not as yet come to the resting place and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you.
To “eat” with God meant having fellowship with Him, communing with Him and sharing heart-to-heart conversation. This is to be done in the place where God has put His name. Hence, it speaks of prayer and meditation, not by “going to church” or some other place on earth, but doing so within one’s “forehead,” where His name is now written.
Moses then sets forth an astonishing truth that is often misunderstood today. He admits that as long as Israel was in the wilderness, they had “not as yet come to the resting place and the inheritance” that they were to receive. Keep in mind that the church under its Pentecostal anointing has also been in its own “wilderness” for forty Jubilee cycles, following its “exodus” from the house of bondage which Jesus accomplished at the cross.
The Age of Pentecost, then, is not the time where believers may fully enjoy the inheritance that God has prepared for us. This does not mean that we have nothing. Even Israel saw the mighty works and miracles of Moses, and they were expected to be led by the Spirit in the fire and the cloud. Much could be appropriated under Pentecost—which, in the days of Moses, extended from the giving of the law until the Jordan crossing.
The wilderness, however, is not the inheritance. It is not the Promised Land. Neither did the church under Pentecost receive the inheritance in Acts 2. They received only an earnest of the Spirit (2 Cor. 5:5) to prepare them for the fullness (Eph. 3:19) that was yet to come through the next great feast, the Feast of Tabernacles.
Moses says in Deut. 12:8 that the wilderness is characterized by the church “doing whatever is right in his own eyes.” With Israel, we find that this extended into their time in Canaan, for it is the theme of the book of Judges. Judges 21:25 is the final statement of the book itself, saying,
25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
This also applies to the church in the Age of Pentecost, for even a brief study of church history shows how the church continued to do what was right in its own eyes. King Jesus has always been present in spirit, but yet He often spoke in parables showing how He would “go into a far country,” as in Luke 19:12. Because He was not visibly present, men could not agree about His will. Hence, everyone had a differing opinion about the meaning or application of Scripture, and so the church became fragmented.
In other words, Christians began to do what was right in their own eyes, following their own opinion (or “leading,” as it were). While the Roman Church (and others on a more limited scale) attempted to force all believers into a single doctrinal viewpoint, their coercion even failed to unite Catholics, as we see to this day.
The day is coming shortly, however, when we will fully enter the inheritance through the Feast of Tabernacles. The King will return in a new way. The overcomers, as the body of Christ, will be the full expression of the mind and will of God, having the authority to determine truth and apply the laws of God in the way that Jesus understands it.
It will take time, but as the Stone Kingdom spreads throughout the earth (Daniel 2:35), the nations will learn the law (Isaiah 2:2-4) and will submit their will to the will of King Jesus. As this happens, men will cease to do what is right in their own eyes, for their views will change and will conform to the mind of Christ.