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No. 55: The Structure of Deuteronomy 12

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 55
November, 1993
Copyright 1993, Biblical Horizons

According to James B. Jordan’s outline of Deuteronomy, the first commandment section runs from 6:1 to 11:32, and the second commandment section begins with 12:1 (Covenant Sequence in Leviticus and Deuteronomy [Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989], pp. 60-61). That this division of the text is sound is confirmed by a comparison of 6:1 with 12:1. Deuteronomy 6:1 announces that "this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it." Similarly, 12:1 states, "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." Parallelism marks out the boundaries of the two sections.

Deuteronomy 12 as a whole is organized chiastically:

A. Observe statutes carefully in land, v. 1

A’. Be careful to do commands, v. 32

The striking thing about this outline is that the central section, normally highlighted in a chiasm, concerns the care of the Levites. Jordan’s suggestion that the second commandment has to do with true and false mediation comes into play here. He notes that "the house of God was the place of mediation" (Covenant Sequence, p. 22). It is appropriate, therefore, that Deuteronomy 12, which begins a section that concentrates on liturgical idolatry and which specifically designates the place of mediation, would also highlight the priestly mediators.

The first fourteen verses of Deuteronomy 12, dealing with the elimination of Canaanite worship and the establishment of true worship in the land, divides into two main sections, each of which may be outlined in a more or less chiastic form:

I. Eliminate Canaanite worship, vv. 1-4

II. Establish true worship, vv. 5-14

As we might expect, the central section of the chiasm of 12:5-14 concerns rest. Rest is highlighted because the centralization of sacrifice becomes effective only after the Lord has brought rest to his people in the land. The Lord takes His sabbath rest in His house only after completing His war against the Canaanites and bringing rest to His people. On the other hand, when the tabernacle was in disarray, as it was in the later period of the judges, the centralized system was suspended in favor of sacrifice at high places (cf. 1 Sam. 9:14).