The Scriptorium

No Pagan Worship

Worship God His way. Deuteronomy 12.1-4

Concerning Worship: Deuteronomy 12 (1)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 122.1-4
I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go into the house of the LORD.”
Our feet have been standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Jerusalem is built
As a city that is compact together,
Where the tribes go up,
The tribes of the LORD,
To the Testimony of Israel,
To give thanks to the name of the LORD.

Psalm 122.1-4

(Nettleton: Come, Thou Found of Every Blessing)
I was glad when they said to me, “To the Lord’s house let us go!”
Holy City, let our feet be firmly planted in your soil.
Jesus builds His Church forever, where His people sing His praise!
As Your Word decrees forever, we will thank You all our days.

Today’s Text: Deuteronomy 12.1-4

1. What does God forbid in worship?

2. How should the people of God avoid this practice?

Deuteronomy 12 is meant to encapsulate and include the “statutes and judgments” of God concerning worship – all those various religious ceremonies and protocols given in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. In this chapter, Moses concentrates only on the most important and most foundational aspects of the worship of God.

The writer of Hebrews explains (chapters 7-9) that all the particular practices related to the work of priests have been fulfilled and eclipsed by our great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Yet, as Paul shows in 1 Corinthians 9 and elsewhere, valid principles still exist in these “religious” or “ceremonial” laws which can help us in knowing how to worship the Lord as His holy people.

So in the first place, Moses declared, no pagan components, practices, themes, or protocols were to be included in the worship of the one true God. Pagan worship was sensual, self-serving, and frequently violent. It included illicit sexual relations, the slaughter of children, cutting the body, and working oneself up into a mindless frenzy, all for the purpose of placating or enlisting gruesome false deities in human projects.

All the multitudinous sites where the pagan peoples of Canaan worshiped their false gods were to be sought out and destroyed (v. 2). All the components they employed in their worship – altars, sacred pillars, wooden images, and more – were to be completely destroyed and burned. No trace of pagan practice was to be introduced into the worship of God. Moses was emphatic: “You shall not worship the LORD your God with such things” (v. 4).

Notice the emphasis on the perpetuity of these instructions: “all the days that you live on the earth” (v. 1). We worship God truly, in Spirit and in truth (Jn. 4.24), by looking to every word He has spoken on this subject, seeking a pattern for the practice of worship that fits the prescriptions God gives us in His Word. Moses will elaborate more fully on this throughout the rest of this chapter. For now, we must begin to reflect on our own practice of worship. How confident are you that your worship is completely in line with what God has revealed as the pattern of sound worship?

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
This, not that. Here, not there. Then, not now. These, not those. Decisions made about commands given can have eternal consequences. God clearly states, “These” (Deut. 5.6-21; Ex. 20.1-17), not those. And those God wanted them to destroy utterly – break, burn, and cut down. Not much to wonder about there! He has not left us on earth without guidance. He has told us exactly what He wants to see happen. All of these commandments are important. Jesus says to us, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5.17, 18). No pagan worship for the Israelites, nor for us! Definitely “these” and not those.


1. What would be some examples of pagan practices that might find their way into our worship of God?

2. Should we expect the Bible to be a sufficient guide for us in how to worship God (2 Tim. 3.16, 17)?

3. What can you do to better hide the commandments of God in your heart and mind?

The Israelites are charged not to bring the rites and usages of idolaters into the worship of God; not under color of making it better. We cannot serve God and mammon; nor worship the true God and idols; nor depend upon Christ Jesus and upon superstitious or self-righteous confidences.
Matthew Henry (1622-1714) Commentary on Deuteronomy 12.1-4

Thank You, Lord, for showing us how we must worship You. Help me to worship You truly today as I…

Closing Prayer: Psalm 122.5-9
Pray for unity in your church and among the churches in your community. Pray that God’s peace will prevail among His people over all the earth.

Psalm 122.5-9
(Nettleton: Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing)
On the throne of David, Jesus sits to judge the nations all.
As our holy peace increases, we are safe who on You call.
Grant us peace, Lord, by Your favor; for Your people’s sake we pray.
For the Church’s sake, O Savior, we will seek Your good today.

T. M. and Susie Moore

Listen to our summary of last week’s study in Deuteronomy by clicking here. You can download all the studies in the series by clicking here.

Our book, The Law of God, brings together the statutes, precepts, judgments, and testimonies of all the Law of God under their appropriate number of the Ten Commandments. It’s a great resource for daily meditation, to help you let the Word of God dwell in you richly. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Ancient Christian Commentary Series III, Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. ed. in collaboration with Ronnie J. Rombs, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). All quotations from John Calvin from John Calvin, Commentaries on The Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Order of A Harmony, Rev. Charles William Bingham M. A., tr. and ed. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1863. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore