Moses spent a great deal of time speaking to the Israelites about the true worship of the Lord; in fact, it is the main subject of this and the next four chapters. He began this chapter by charging them to utterly destroy and abolish everything connected with the Canaanites’ idolatrous system of worship; all of their images and high places of idol-worship were to be obliterated forever. Even the very names of the idols that they worshipped were to be buried in oblivion; they were not to be remembered at all. This total and complete destruction of idolatry would show that the people of Israel abhorred it so much that they were ashamed to even have a memorial of it in their land. And this utter destruction would also prevent future generations from downgrading the true worship of the Lord by making use of these idolatrous things in the service of God. In addition to this, the Israelites were charged to not even bring the ceremonies or customs of idolaters into the worship of the Lord. Our God is not to be worshipped as idols are. We cannot serve Him and mammon at the same time, nor can we simultaneously depend upon Christ and upon superstitious or self-righteous confidences. Moses began his discourse about the Lord’s worship with these words concerning false worship because there must first be an abhorrence of that which is evil, before there can be a steady adherence to that which is good (Rom. 12:9). The kingdom of God must be built upon the ruins of the devil’s empire; for they cannot stand together, nor can there be any communion between Christ and the things of darkness.
Perhaps no other particular precept in all the law of Moses was so often spoken of as the directive which enjoined the people of Israel to bring their sacrifices to the one altar that would be set up in the place where the Lord would choose in Canaan. Of course, the people could worship God in prayer and praise anywhere; but their sacrifices and offerings had to be brought to that one altar alone. Now under the Gospel, we have no temple or altar that sanctifies our offerings, except Christ alone. And as for the places of our worship, the prophets foretold that in every place, spiritual incense would be offered (Mal. 1:11). Our Savior declared that true worshipers are those who worship the Lord in sincerity and truth, not those who restrict their worship to “this mountain” or “Jerusalem” or any other physical location (John 4:21).
Why, then, were the people of Israel required to bring all their offerings to one place? First, because there is a strange proneness in the hearts of mankind to idolatry and superstition, and the necessity of gathering to one place to make an offering to the Lord would help prevent the introduction of corrupt customs in their worship. It would also help to unite the people closer together in brotherly love, as they worshiped their God all together. Furthermore, their obedience to this command of the Lord would express their belief in the great truth that there is only one God, and only one Mediator between that God and sinful men (1 Tim. 2:5). There is only one way of enjoying communion with Him, and that is through Jesus – the promised Messiah! The Israelites’ offerings received their virtue purely from that altar upon which they were offered, since it represented Christ; and their prayers and praises were to be offered up every day, wherever they were. This represents the obligation that we Christians are under to offer up all our spiritual sacrifices to God in the name of Jesus, for we find acceptance only upon the score of His mediation (1 Pet. 2:5).
This chapter concludes with Moses telling the people that they must not worship the Lord by any of the customs or ceremonies which the idolaters of Canaan had made use of in the service of their false gods. They must not even so much as enquire into the modes and forms of such idolatrous worship. What good would it do them to know those depths of Satan? It is best to be ignorant of that which there is danger of being infected by. Some of these idolatrous ceremonies were barbarous and inhuman in the extreme. The wicked Canaanites not only trampled upon the light and law of nature, but also upon natural affection itself, as was shown in their burning alive their own sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods (verse 31) – the very mention of which makes us shudder with horror. In addition to this, these idolatrous customs were an abomination to the Lord; and the incorporating of them into His worship would have been an abomination and an affront to Him.
In verse 32, Moses gave the same kind of caution concerning the worship of God, which he had given before concerning the Word of God (chapter 4:2): “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” They were not permitted to add any inventions of their own, under pretense of making the ordinances more significant or magnificent; nor were they allowed to diminish from it, under pretense of making it more easy and achievable, or of setting aside that which they thought could be spared. They were commanded to observe all that God had commanded; and like them, we may also hope for the Lord’s acceptance when we come into His presence in the way that He has appointed – namely, through Jesus, our Mediator!
Dearest Lord! Through Jesus – our altar, our offering, and our High Priest – we bring our poor offerings and sacrifices, seeking acceptance in Him and His precious righteousness. Until the veil is removed, help us to walk more by faith and less by sight, so that we may not do according to what the world is doing (which is whatever seems right in a man’s own eyes); but instead, may we forget the things that are behind, and reach forth to those which are before – pressing on toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus! Amen.
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