When the LORD your God shall enlarge your border, as he has promised you, and you shall say, I will eat flesh, because your soul longs to eat flesh; you may eat flesh, whatever your soul lusts after.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border. . . .—This and the following verses (20-25) are perfectly intelligible as an expansion of Deuteronomy 12:15-16, and a modification of the strict rule introduced in Leviticus 18:2, &c. The distance from the central place of worship to the borders of the land would be manifestly too great for all feasting to be limited to that one spot.Deuteronomy 12:20-21. Enlarge thy border — Which will make it impossible to bring all the cattle thou usest to the tabernacle. If the place be too far — Being obliged to carry their sacrifices to the place of worship, they might think themselves obliged to carry their other cattle thither to be killed. They are therefore released from all such obligations, and left at liberty to kill them at home whether they lived nearer that place, or farther from it; only the latter is here mentioned, as being the matter of the scruple. As I have commanded — In such a manner as the blood may be poured forth.Leviticus 17:3, etc.) must be adhered to as regards animals slain in sacrifice, yet permission is now given to slaughter at home what was necessary for the table. The ceremonial distinctions did not apply in such cases, anymore than to "the roebuck" (or gazelle) "and hart," animals allowed for food but not for sacrifice.
16. ye shall not eat the blood; ye shall pour it upon the earth as water—The prohibition against eating or drinking blood as an unnatural custom accompanied the announcement of the divine grant of animal flesh for food (Ge 9:4), and the prohibition was repeatedly renewed by Moses with reference to the great objects of the law (Le 17:12), the prevention of idolatry, and the consecration of the sacrificial blood to God. In regard, however, to the blood of animals slain for food, it might be shed without ceremony and poured on the ground as a common thing like water—only for the sake of decency, as well as for preventing all risk of idolatry, it was to be covered over with earth (Le 17:13), in opposition to the practice of heathen sportsmen, who left it exposed as an offering to the god of the chase.When the Lord shall enlarge thy border, which will make it inconvenient and impossible to do what now thou dost, and because of the narrow bounds of thy camp canst conveniently do, to wit, to bring all the cattle thou usest to the tabernacle, which it seems probable they did, to prevent their eating of blood. Compare Leviticus 17:3 1 Samuel 14:34.
and thou shalt say, I will eat flesh; which they were shorts of, or ate but little of in the wilderness, lest their herds and their flocks should be consumed; but now having room to feed them, and an increase of them, they would give themselves a greater liberty of eating flesh:
because thy soul longeth to eat flesh; would have a craving appetite unto it, having so long ate none, or very little:When the LORD thy God shall enlarge thy border, as he hath promised thee, and thou shalt say, I will eat flesh, because thy soul longeth to eat flesh; thou mayest eat flesh, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Originally among the Semites as among some other races all slaughter of domestic animals was sacramental1: cp. the Heb. and Arab. word ‘for altar, lit. slaughter-place (see on Deuteronomy 12:3). But if this law was still to prevail when sacrifice was limited to one altar the flesh of these animals could only be enjoyed at it, and the lawful or ‘clean’ enjoyment of flesh became impossible to all who lived out of reach of the altar. Compare the analogy in Hosea 9:3 f. where it is said that when Israel are exiled and cease to dwell in Jehovah’s land, where alone sacrifice is legal for them, they must eat unclean food, and become polluted for their food has not first come into a house of Jehovah (cp. Amos 7:17). The confinement of sacrifice to one place therefore rendered it necessary to sanction non-ritual slaughter and eating of animals. This is done in the following verses but on two conditions, (1) that God shall have enlarged Israel’s territory, and (2) that the eaters do not live in the neighbourhood of the altar. On these conditions the eating of domestic animals shall be as that of game, in need of no ritual sanction (Deuteronomy 12:22). Only their blood must be poured on the ground (Deuteronomy 12:23-25). And all holy things, specially consecrated, must be brought to the one altar, and the ‘olôth and the blood of the zebaḥim put upon it (Deuteronomy 12:26 f.). The section closes with a general injunction of obedience (Deuteronomy 12:28).—There appears no reason to doubt the unity of this supplement to the law of the one sanctuary (apart from small, possibly editorial, insertions). It is throughout in the Sg. address, and logical in its arrangement. The return to the keynote of the law is natural. Note the religious advance which it involves. By separating the enjoyment of animal food from religious rites (as well as by directing the blood of the animals to be poured on the ground), the law cut off the ancient primitive superstitions of the physical kinship of a tribe and their god with their animals, and rendered less possible the animal idolatry which these engendered.
 For the argument that this practice was due to belief in the kinship of the tribe (and its god) with its animals and that in consequence these were too sacred to be slain except with solemn rites and in the presence and with the consent of the whole family, clan or tribe, who all partook of the flesh and set apart certain portions and the blood for their god, see W. R. Smith, Rel. Sem. Lects. viii., ix.
Deuteronomy 12:20. shall enlarge thy border] So Deuteronomy 19:8, also Exodus 34:24, probably editorial.
as he hath promised thee] Heb. has said. To regard this as an editorial addition, on the ground that it anticipates 21 b (Steuern., Berth.), is precarious. The spirit of such a promise is in several previous passages: e.g. Deuteronomy 1:21.
thy soul desireth] On the soul as seat of the appetite see Deuteronomy 14:26, Deuteronomy 24:15; Genesis 27:9; Proverbs 27:7. The frankness of this statement is noteworthy.
after all the (or every) desire of thy soul] The utmost freedom is granted. But the whole passage implies that flesh was eaten only seldom in early Israel, which is confirmed by Nathan’s parable and the Book of Ruth (W. R. Smith, OTJC2, 249 n.).
Deuteronomy 12:21. If] Rather, Because.
the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, etc.] See on Deuteronomy 12:5.
thou shalt kill] The same vb. as is used of sacrifice but here in a non-ritual sense.
as I have commanded thee] Can only refer to Deuteronomy 12:15 and if that, as we have seen probable, is a later insertion, this must be of the same character (Steuern., Bertholet).
within thy gates] See on Deuteronomy 12:17.
Deuteronomy 12:22. Even as the gazelle and as the hart is eaten] Gazelle. Heb. Ṣebî, and Ar. ẓaby or thobby (Doughty, Ar. Des. ii. 468) are both properly the gazella Dorcas, a horned animal about the size of a roebuck, but more graceful, numerous in Arabia and Syria; but as ẓaby was used as the more general term for ghazâl or gazelle (Lane), so ṣebî probably covered several species of gazelle and antelope. Hart, Heb. ’ayyal, from ’ul to precede, as leader of the herd, perhaps the fallow deer cervus dama; but Ar. ’iyyal is mountain-goat (Lane). The two names occurring together here, Deuteronomy 12:15, Deuteronomy 14:5, Deuteronomy 15:22, are not to be taken specifically, but generally of many kinds of gazelle, antelope and deer eaten by Israel and the Arabs, but not allowed for sacrifice (except in certain cases among the Arabs, Wellh. Reste d. Arab. Heid. 112). The reason was that wild animals taken in hunting were not akin to man, and therefore needed not to be eaten sacramentally. Hence the following clause—
unclean and clean shall eat thereof alike] Both adj., used also in physical and ethical sense, here mean ritually unclean and clean: the injunction is found elsewhere in D, Deuteronomy 12:15, Deuteronomy 15:22, and in P. Sam., LXX add among thee. Alike, Heb. together, the one as well as the other.
so thou shalt eat thereof] i.e. of domestic animals: out of reach of the sanctuary they may be slain and eaten without rites. What freedom the deuteronomic law thus effected, in contrast to petty and embarrassing scrupulousness engendered by the legislation of P and its elaboration in later Judaism, can be appreciated only by a study of the N.T. texts on the question of meats. Cp. Acts 10:15, what God hath cleansed make not thou common; 1 Corinthians 10:25; 1 Corinthians 11:20 ff.; Romans 14:20; 1 Timothy 4:4, and for the expression of a still higher principle Matthew 15:11.
Deuteronomy 12:23. Only] Heb. raḳ, see on Deuteronomy 10:15, and Deuteronomy 12:15-16.
be sure] Lit. be firm or strong: usually in D with another verb—be strong and courageous; see on Deuteronomy 1:38, Deuteronomy 3:28.
that thou eat not the blood] That there was at once a strong temptation to partake of the blood and from the earliest times a national conscience against doing so, is seen in 1 Samuel 14:32 ff., according to which the people flew upon the spoil—sheep, oxen and calves—and slew them on the ground, without altar or rites, and ate them with the blood.… So the people sin against Jehovah in that they eat with the blood, and he said, Ye have transgressed. For a similar conscience, and violation of it, among the Arabs, see Doughty, Ar. Des. ii. 238.
for the blood is the life] The identification of blood and life was a matter of ordinary observation; as the one ebbed so did the other. As life, the blood belonged to the Deity. Cp. P (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:11; Leviticus 17:14), in which, however, the belief was strengthened by the stress that P lays on the expiatory value of sacrifice. Other Semitic peoples shared the same belief. ‘In all Arabian sacrifices, except the holocaust … the godward side of the ritual is summed up in the shedding of the victim’s blood, so that it flows over the sacred symbol, or gathers in a pit (ghabghab) at the foot of the altar idol.… What enters the pit is held to be conveyed to the deity’ (W. R. Smith, Rel. Sem. 321). The same authority points out that the practice existed also in some Syrian sanctuaries. That it was still older than the Semites is proved by Mr R. A. S. Macalister’s discovery of the neolithic sanctuary at Gezer. Note, however, that D (unlike P) sets no atoning value on the shedding of the blood or life, nor any ritual significance on the slaughter of animals apart from the one altar, but simply states—
Deuteronomy 12:24. Thou shalt not eat it; thou shalt pour it out upon the earth as water] It shall have no other significance than that!
Deuteronomy 12:26-27. The return to the fact that solemn sacrifices shall nevertheless be made at the one altar is natural. On holy things cp. Numbers 5:9 f., Deuteronomy 18:19. On burnt offerings which, of course, included the blood, and on sacrifices see on Deuteronomy 12:6. Of both the blood had a religious significance.
Deuteronomy 12:28. A closing injunction to keep the whole law of the One Sanctuary.
Observe and hear] See on Deuteronomy 6:3, Deuteronomy 7:12.
that it may go well with thee] Deuteronomy 4:40.Verse 20. - When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border. These laws were to continue in force even when God should, according to his promise (Genesis 15:18; Exodus 23:27-31), extend the boundaries of their land. Leviticus 22:21, and Numbers 15:3, Numbers 15:8) distinctly shows. - "Rejoicing before the Lord," which is the phrase applied in Leviticus 23:40 to the celebration of the feast of Tabernacles, was to be the distinctive feature of all the sacrificial meals held by the people at the sanctuary, as is repeatedly affirmed (Deuteronomy 14:26; Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 26:11; Deuteronomy 27:7). This holy joy in the participation of the blessing bestowed by the Lord was to be shared not only by sons and daughters, but also by salve (men-servants and maid-servants), that they too might taste the friendliness of their God, and also by "the Levite that is in your gates" (i.e., your towns and hamlets; see at Exodus 20:10). This frequently recurring description of the Levites (cf. Deuteronomy 12:18; Deuteronomy 14:27; Deuteronomy 16:11, Deuteronomy 16:14; Deuteronomy 18:6; Deuteronomy 26:12) does not assume that they were homeless, which would be at variance with the allotment of towns for them to dwell in (Numbers 35); but simply implies what is frequently added in explanation, that the Levites had "no part nor inheritance," no share of the land as their hereditary property, and in this respect resembled strangers (Deuteronomy 14:21, Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:11, etc.).
(Note: The explanation given by De Wette, and adopted by Riehm, of the expression, "the Levite that is within thy gates," is perfectly arbitrary and unfounded: viz., that "the Levites did not live any longer in the towns assigned them by the earlier laws, but were scattered about in the different towns of the other tribes.")
And the repeated injunction to invite the Levites to the sacrificial meals is not at variance with Numbers 18:21, where the tithes are assigned to the tribe of Levi for their maintenance. For however ample this revenue may have been according to the law, it was so entirely dependent, upon the honesty and conscientiousness of the people, that the Levites might very easily be brought into a straitened condition, if indifference towards the Lord and His servants should prevail throughout the nation. - In Deuteronomy 12:13, Deuteronomy 12:14, Moses concludes by once more summing up these instructions in the admonition to beware of offering sacrifices in every place that they might choose, the burnt-offering, as the leading sacrifice, being mentioned instar omnium.
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