Deuteronomy 12 - "One Place of Devotion"
One of the misconceptions about Christianity is that we’re a bunch of fuddy duddies. That is, we like to spoil people’s fun by heaping up a litany of to-dos and making sure that everyone is toeing the line. Perhaps you find yourself feeling that way sometimes. Perhaps, if you’re like me, you’ve had church experiences where these stereotypes are true. You were told that if you love Jesus, then you won’t talk to a certain kind of person. You won’t drink alcohol. You won’t play cards. You won’t dance.
And if you really love Jesus, you’ll come to our church. That church down the street really doesn’t teach the Bible. // Don’t get me wrong. There are many churches that don’t teach the Bible. And like we've seen in Deuteronomy already, there are parameters to what love looks like. There are rules because there is love—Don’t play in the street. Don’t go to strangers’ houses. // The indictment against Israel once they got into the land (in the book of Judges) is that everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
There are specific lines God has drawn so that we aren’t left wondering what we’re supposed to be doing. The key difference is that all those bad examples I gave. Those are people’s convictions and not God’s way of choosing. There is much in the Bible that is left to our consciences. But where there is clarity, you can bet there is a reason.
I asked in my weekly email: Why one place of devotion? Well, I came up with 10 different reasons. I’ll share all of them in this coming week’s email. But I want to focus on one. The main reason given in our text—Deuteronomy 12. And then a sub-reason or derivative reason. This is the overarching reason for this chapter and the next 14 chapters [12-26]. It is the overarching reason for all the other 9 reasons I came up with. Main Point: There is one place because there is one God.
What follows in chs 12-26 of Deuteronomy is a detailed explanation of the Ten Commandments given in ch. 5 at Mt. Sinai. We see here in this chapter the first two: You shall have no other gods before me; You shall have no idols.
This may not appear like a great revelation to you right now sitting in the pews of a church in 2019. But it was magnificent and beautiful and gracious to the original hearers—3700 years ago. Imagine all the gods swirling around Egypt. Imagine all the gods and idols inhabiting the Land of Promise. There is a need to draw a line in the sand. To plant a flag in the ground and declare that others may worship these gods, but it shall not be so among God’s people.
1) There is One God. We see this implicit in the first paragraph of our passage. God has given the land to his people. How can he give them anything unless it is his to give. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” [Psalm 24].
This is not very popular right now. (!) “You-do-as-you-see-fit” culture. It is popular to make people who believe that there is one God and one way to know him into bigots and out of touch with reality. A bit of a fanatic. But when we speak about God, we’re not talking about our favorite sports team. We’re not talking about an ice cream flavor. We’re talking about the Creator of the universe who has graciously condescended and revealed himself to us. None of us were looking for him, but he graciously revealed himself to us as he revealed himself to Israel.
There really is no other way to understand the God of the Bible unless you start here. He is not a god just of the Israelites and they happened to win the most battles and had their documents survive. He stands over all peoples as their Creator and calls all people everywhere from all tribes, tongues, and ethnicities to worship him and him alone. If he is one among other gods, then he has no right to say that they should be destroyed. But he wants them destroyed to open eyes and free people from slavery.
There was a story of Creation swirling around the Ancient Near East called Enuma Elish. In this story, we hear about Apsu and Tiamat creating all the gods. Ansar, Kisar, Anu, Nudimuud. There was chaos and the gods created more chaos. The people were subject to that chaos. This is the story that the Creation account in Genesis is confronting. Saying: This is how it actually happened.
Like lightning from the sky, God cracks open the heavens and reveals himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He says, leave your country and your place and go to the place I will show you. Trust me. Listen to me. Know that I stand over all this chaos and will bless you in the Promised Place. Do not worship me in the way you saw your parents. Worship me in the way that I will choose.
But then why is God so adamant to just one place that he will choose (v. 5)? This isn’t something to breeze over. It’s said 7x in this passage. Place = god. Many God’s = many places. Where did all these gods come from? They didn’t reveal themselves…
I am convinced that all the idolatry and stories of multiple gods is a result of people making gods in their own images. Their ancestors knew the story of how the God of the Bible created all things from nothing by the word of his mouth. They heard of the first man and first woman God created. But if they did not seek God. If they did listen to him. Then they decided to worship in whatever way they wanted. Look at V.2: You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods—on the mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. V.8: You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes. V.13: Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see. V.29: “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31 You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way.
They forgot the Lord’s mercy and grace [one of the streams of disobedience]. Indicted by the prophets [Jeremiah we’ll see in a few weeks].
(2) One Place to Preserve. It is clear that the reason for cleansing the land was not only due to the abominable practices of the Canaanites, but because of the tendency of each of us to run after other things. To make them into gods of our own making.
Is this not essentially what was going on in the parable of the Good Samaritan we just heard? Two religious leaders passed by the injured man. Two people who should have known. In fact, they did know. But they walked on by because they had prioritized their lives over the life that God had orchestrated for them. They said in their hearts, “I must go to work. I must go sacrifice. I must go here.” SO when God placed a man there in need of mercy, they did not stop.
They had made an idol of their agendas. They had made an idol to serve them. Serving that man would have been inconvenient. But they knew it was right. Having the one place to go to sacrifice was intended to keep their hearts anchored in the truth. But they were to go and be a blessing to others. They come to the Temple, but they have to go home. They don’t live in the Temple. They live in the world…that God Created.
There’s no pride in saying this one God is THE God over all. This is loving and gracious. We have to understand that when we talk to our neighbors and co-workers and family members and friends, when we remain silent about this One God who has revealed himself. This God who died to reconcile us to himself. When we remain silent we are no better than the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who walked on by.
We are the Almighty’s Ambassadors pleading with people to be reconciled with their Maker.
I pray we would be so convinced as a church that we serve the one true and only God that we would seek ways to love those we claim to love by telling them the way. The way God has shown us to walk and worship. We welcome people into the freedom of knowing this merciful God who is not under a green tree or on every hill. He is always present, but he is not always to our liking.
There is one place and one hill we invite people. There is one hill that had one cross among three. There is one man who was perfect. There is one cry of pain and suffering that was for you. One place that God calls you to again and again to stand under the shadow. To feel the weight of your sin. And then to feel it lifted off. One place of devotion he calls to to come to again and again. And then go and tell others to come with you.