12 Moses: These are the regulations and judgments you must carefully obey in the land the Eternal, the God of your ancestors, is giving you to live in, for as long as you are alive. 2 Completely destroy all the places where the nations you’re going to conquer worshiped their gods—on the mountain heights and hilltops, and under every leafy tree.
Commanding heights are recognized as positions of power and advantage. They are also closer to the sky on mountains and hills, which are thought to be the home of the gods. Nations chose heights and hilltops as places of worship. Leafy trees are also a favored location because of the shelter and shade they provided in a hot climate, and because they reach all realms of creation—the underworld, the physical world, and the heavens. In the absence of trees, carved poles serve as portable tree shrines honoring the goddess Asherah.
Moses: 3 Tear down their altars, smash their monoliths, burn their sacred poles,[a] and shatter their idols! Wipe out every trace of the names of their gods in those places. 4 The Eternal your God doesn’t want you to worship Him in the way these nations worshiped their gods, setting up shrines and altars all over the land. 5 He will choose a place within the territory of one of your tribes to be His home; He will put His Name there. Go there to worship Him. 6 Whenever you have something to offer, take it there: burnt offerings and sacrifices, tithes, uplifted offerings, freewill gifts, payments to fulfill vows, and firstborn animals from your herds and flocks. 7 Eat your sacred meals there in His presence, and celebrate with your whole household how the Eternal your God has blessed everything you’ve done. 8 Right now we’re letting everyone do as he or she sees fit here with unregulated sacrifices, 9 because you aren’t yet living in peace on the land He is going to give you. 10 When you’ve crossed the Jordan River and have settled in the land He is giving you to live in and pass on to your descendants, and you’re living in safety because He’s defeated the enemies all around you and they’re no longer a threat, 11 then bring everything I command you to the place the Eternal, your True God, will choose as a sanctuary, as a place for His name. Bring your burnt offerings and other sacrifices there; bring your tithes, uplifted offerings, and the special gifts you choose to dedicate along with your vow to the Eternal. 12 Celebrate in His presence with your sons and daughters and with your male and female slaves. And be sure to invite any Levites who live in your town, because their tribe won’t have any property as yours does. 13 Be careful! Don’t offer burnt sacrifices just anywhere that you find suitable. 14 Offer your burnt sacrifices only in the place He will choose in the territory of one of your tribes. And that’s the only place you should make any of the burnt offerings and execute everything else I’m telling you.
15 However, if you just want to have meat for a meal, if the Eternal your God has blessed you and you can afford it, you can do that in your own towns. Slaughter the animals and eat them there. It’s not a sacred meal, so people don’t need to be ritually pure to eat it, and it can be a gazelle or a deer. 16 But don’t consume any of the blood; pour it out on the ground like water as you would for any slaughter or sacrifice. 17 And remember you still can’t eat any of the special offerings in your own towns: tithes of grain, new wine, and olive oil; firstborn animals from your herds and flocks, any payments to fulfill vows, or freewill gifts and uplifted offerings. 18 Eat these special offerings in His presence in the place He chooses. Bring your sons, your daughters, and your male and female slaves, and remember to invite the Levites who live in your town. Celebrate together, in His presence, everything you’ve been able to accomplish. 19 (Don’t ever neglect the Levites! Make sharing with them a part of your lifestyle the whole time you’re living in that land.)
20-21 You see, the Eternal your God is going to give you an extensive territory as He’s promised. You may be living at some distance from the place where He chooses to put His name. And there will be times when you say to yourself, “I’m going to have some meat—that’s what I’m craving!” Go right ahead—as often as you wish. If you take from one of the domesticated animals the Eternal has given you from your herd or your flock and eat it in your own town, I’m telling you it’s all right to do that. 22 It’s just like eating a gazelle or a deer. People don’t need to be ritually pure to eat this meat. 23 But discipline yourselves not to eat the blood because the blood is the soul, and you mustn’t eat the soul along with the meat. 24 Don’t eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 25 If you don’t eat it, you’ll be doing what the Eternal considers right, and everything will go well for you and your descendants.
26 But bring anything that will be a sacred meal and any sacrifice that will be offered to pay a vow to the place He will choose. 27 There you will offer both the meat and the blood of your burnt sacrifices on His altar. You must pour out the blood of your sacrifices on the altar, but you will eat the meat. 28 Be very careful to obey all these words I’m telling you. Then you’ll be doing what the Eternal your God considers good and right, and everything will go well for you and your descendants forever.
The people are required to make certain offerings and are invited to make others. All of these offerings are to be handled with special care and not treated as ordinary food. Here Moses is warning specifically against pagan magical practice. It is believed by them that the life force, qualities, and powers of an animal can be taken over by consuming its blood, particularly as it flows from its body. The pagan nations look for power within the created order, and they try to tap into that power through fertility rites and other magical acts. All the blessings of life, fertility, and abundance are to be found in obedient relationship to the Lord. They can’t be obtained by trying to manipulate the forces of the natural world.
Moses: 29 When the Eternal your God has destroyed the nations whose land you’re going to occupy, when you’ve displaced them and settled there, 30 then be very careful! Don’t fall into a deadly trap by doing what those nations did, since they were destroyed when you came into their land! Don’t try to find out about their gods. Don’t ask, “How did these nations worship their gods? I’m going to do the same thing!” 31 Don’t worship the Eternal your God the way those nations worshiped their gods! They did every horrible thing He hates. They even burned up their sons and daughters as sacrifices to those gods. 32 Be very careful to do everything I’m commanding you. Don’t add anything to your worship, and don’t take anything away from it.
- 12:3 Hebrew, Asherim