The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah (“law”). It continues the story of the first 4 books and picks up exactly where the book of Numbers ends (with the people on the plain of Moab). Therefore, as we set the context for the book of Deuteronomy, it is important that we briefly summarize the theme of the previous books to see how the story of God unfolds.
Genesis describes God’s plan to bless the Israelites and the world through one man named Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Exodus focuses on God’s loving act by which He rescued the Israelites from Egypt in order to have a covenant relationship with them. Once the children of Israel are redeemed, Leviticus instructs them to live a holy life that reflects the life of their covenant redeemer (cf. Lev. 19). Since the first generation of the Israelites failed to obey God wholeheartedly, the book of Numbers displays a strong contrast between God’s faithfulness and the nation’s failure. That is why the book of Deuteronomy reiterates and expands on the covenant to a new generation of Israelites poised to enter and conquer the Promised Land. The message of the book is centered around two key terms: love and loyalty (Deut. 6:4-5).
This chapter begins the next major section of the book of Deuteronomy—namely, the specific stipulations of the covenant between Israel and God (Deut. 12:1- 26:15). Moses is still in the midst of his admonition to the nation of Israel prior to their imminent crossing of the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land. He adds to his historical review of lessons they have learned, and now turns to review the terms and stipulations of the covenant Israel agreed to enter with God. It is the format of the ancient Suzerain-Vassal Treaty, but instead of a superior king making a treaty with a lesser king, this is the King of the universe with each Israelite. It is a treaty admonishing them to be self-governing.
These chapters will be presented as mini-seminars within Moses’ discourse to Israel just prior to entering the Promised Land on how and why the Ten Commandments should be kept.
Following that approach, Chapter 12 is a sermon about the first commandment—“You shall have no other gods before me” (Deut. 5:7). In this chapter, Moses exhorts the Israelites to consecrate themselves to their Suzerain (Ruler) God and to live according to His precepts. This entails destroying all the Canaanite religious sites and objects upon entering the Promised Land, thus removing every trace of pagan worship. Unlike the Canaanites who worship their many gods in many places, the Israelites are to worship the one true God (Yahweh) in the place which He chooses for His name to dwell.
Deuteronomy 12 can be outlined as follows: