The Jerusalem Debate – Objection Number 6: Jerusalem is too far for you to go! | The Lamb’s Servant
Response by Bob Parham
The first thing that came to my mind when I heard this teaching was the scripture that tells us about King Jeroboam’s politically-motivated betrayal of YHWH:
I Kings 12:26-29 – [Jeroboam speaking] If this people [the Israelites] go up to do sacrifice in the house of YHWH at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king [Jeroboam] took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them [the people of Israel], IT IS TOO MUCH FOR YOU TO GO UP TO JERUSALEM: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan.
Bethel was only a few miles from Jerusalem!! Jeroboam’s teaching had nothing to do with making life easier, and it obviously had nothing to do with obedience to God’s commands – it was inspired by the enemy and was effective in drawing the people AWAY from meeting with YHWH in His appointed place at His appointed times.
The following is a passage that I recently heard used to teach this idea that “if Jerusalem is too far (not practical) for you to go, then celebrate the feasts (and by implication, the sacrifices) in any of your towns where you live.” Where does this concept come from? It comes from a misunderstanding of passages in Deuteronomy 12:
Deuteronomy 12 – (20) When the Lord your God has enlarged your territory as he promised you, and you crave meat and say, “I would like some meat,” then you may eat as much of it as you want. (21) If the place where the Lord your God chooses to put his Name is TOO FAR AWAY FROM YOU, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and in your own towns you may eat as much of them as you want. (22) Eat them as you would gazelle or deer. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat. (23) But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. (24) You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. (25) Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord.
Now, when you take a look at this passage and give special attention to the bold underlined verses (vs. 21 & 22), it could at first appear to some that Yah is giving an alternative to going to Jerusalem for the feasts. But what does the passage actually say?
If Jerusalem is “too far away from you”, WHAT may you do in your own towns? Does it say you can offer your sacred offerings to Yah at your home? Or is the reference to being able to SLAUGHTER MEAT to eat as ordinary food, like you would as a gazelle or deer?
The reference to slaughtering “in your own towns” is about slaughtering ‘dinner’ meat!
The first rule of exegesis is to read in context. Deuteronomy 12 (the whole chapter) identifies TWO reasons for killing your cows and/or sheep (herds and flocks): (1) killing for sacred offerings and (2) killing for common meat because ‘you want to eat.’
Verses five through fourteen are identifying the first kind of killing – every kind of offering that would come from your herds and flocks.
- In Verse 5 and 6, Yah is stressing the importance of offering sacrifices ONLY “at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. (6) There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. (Deut 12:5-6)
- Yah continues in verse 8 stressing that we must STOP DOING WHAT SEEMS PRACTICAL IN OUR OWN EYES! Take a look: “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes...” This caution is inserted here because Yah knew that people would be tempted to offer sacrifices in their own home towns – like they had previously done – contrary to Yah’s new instructions.
- Verse 11 is a repeat of verses 5 and 6: 11 – “…then it shall come about that the place in which the Lord your God will choose for His name to dwell, THERE you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the Lord.”
- Verse 12 stresses WHO is to go to the place Yah will choose – Jerusalem. It clearly identifies more than just the men: “And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.”
- Verse 14 closes this theme of the chapter by stressing the importance of going to the place YAH chooses. THERE you can make your offerings AS HE COMMANDED YOU: . . .but in the place which the Lord chooses in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.
Deuteronomy 12:15 begins a new theme – the second kind of killing – that of slaughtered meat intended for every-day food. Even meat for every-day food must be slaughtered according to the way that Yah has commanded, so the instructions are inserted here. Yah wants to make it perfectly clear that we must not confuse the commands concerning our offerings with the commands for slaughtered meat.
Take a look at a quick outline of verses 15 – 28:
15 – 16 – Slaughtered meat – you may kill and eat in any of your towns; even the unclean can eat.
17 – 18 – OFFERINGS are not allowed to be eaten in any of your towns; only in the place YAH has chosen.
20 – 22 – Slaughtered meat – you may kill and eat in any of your towns; even the unclean can eat.
26 – 28 – OFFERINGS are not allowed to be eaten in any of your towns; only in the place YAH has chosen.
As mentioned at the beginning of this section, the teaching that “If Jerusalem is too far from you and it’s not practical to go to Jerusalem, then just do the feast in any of your towns” comes from Chapter 12: 20 – 22. Here’s that passage again:
Deut 12 – (20) When the Lord your God has enlarged your territory as he promised you, and you crave meat and say, “I would like some meat,” then you may eat as much of it as you want. (21) If the place where the Lord your God chooses to put his Name is too far away from you, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and in your own towns you may eat as much of them as you want. (22) Eat them as you would gazelle or deer. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat. (23) But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. (24) You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. (25) Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you and your children after you,
The (erroneous) teaching is that, because Yah used the words (vs 21), “If the place which the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you,” He must be referring to sacrifice offerings for the feasts because these words are generally tied to the Pilgrimage Feasts. I would say that that is correct! Yah says that if it’s too far to go to Jerusalem then you can “slaughter” your animals “in your own towns as I have commanded you.” The error comes when people don’t make the connection between Chapters 12 and 14.
WHERE did He command them about slaughtering in their own towns? What are the commands concerning this second kind of slaughtering? They come in Deuteronomy 14, AFTER the passage in Chapter 12, so many do not see the connection with Chapter 12, resulting in erroneous teaching.
Deut 14: (22) Be sure to save one-tenth of all your crops each year. (23) Take it to the place the Lord your God will choose where he is to be worshiped. There, where you will be together with the Lord, eat the tenth of your grain, new wine, and oil, and eat the animals born first to your herds and flocks. Do this so that you will learn to respect the Lord your God always. (24) But if the place the Lord will choose to be worshiped is too far away and he has blessed you so much you cannot carry a tenth, (25) exchange your one-tenth for silver. Then take the silver with you to the place the Lord your God shall choose. (26) Use the silver to buy anything you wish—cattle, sheep, wine, beer, or anything you wish. Then you and your family will eat and celebrate there before the Lord your God.
Did you notice that Deuteronomy 14:24 and Deuteronomy 12:21 have the same phrase? Both are talking about what to do when Jerusalem is “too far away.”
Deuteronomy 14:25-26 gives the commands as to WHAT TO DO with that animal spoken of in Chapter 12 that was intended to be an “offering.” Jerusalem might be very far from your home. Your yearling animal might not make it all the way to Jerusalem still unblemished and fit for sacrifice. What shall you do?
You don’t kill it and eat it “in any of your towns” as a sacrifice!
Instead, you slaughter the animal (according to Yah’s instructions for slaughtering food animals – Ch 14) BUT THEN YOU EXCHANGE THE MEAT FOR MONEY AND BRING THE MONEY TO JERUSALEM. Then you use the money to buy your sacrificial animal from the Levitical herds. THAT animal gets sacrificed – in Jerusalem.
Notice that Yah never says, “You don’t have to go to Jerusalem.” He just makes it easier to go to Jerusalem. You don’t have to drive a young animal for many miles, risking its health and life (and exhausting yourself).
Notice, too, that the goat, sheep or cow you killed at home is no longer considered holy or as an offering. It can be eaten “in any of your towns just as a deer or a gazelle.” As with ANY meat slaughtered for every-day food, Deuteronomy 12:23-25 says you must pour the blood onto the ground. It doesn’t get placed on the altar like the blood of the animal you purchase in Jerusalem. Why? BECAUSE IT’S NOT AN OFFERING.
WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS INVOLVED IN USING DEUT 12 TO TEACH “If it’s not practical for you to go to Jerusalem, then just celebrate the Pilgrimage Feasts in any of your towns?”
- It makes Yah appear to be self-contradicting or schizophrenic. “You must ONLY go to the place I choose, but if it’s too far for you then offer them any where you want, but be sure to only offer them ONLY in the place I choose!”
- This mindset would also make the reader believe he could or should build an altar and “sacrifice” in his own town, whereas Yah says that sacrificing “in any of your towns” other than Jerusalem would be like offering sacrifices to goat demons. (Leviticus 17:1-7) We don’t want to be responsible for leading the brethren into such behavior!
- This erroneous teaching endangers our brethren by tempting them to treat their Passover meal and other feast ‘offerings’ as genuine sacrifices. This slaughtered meat is in NO WAY to be treated AS HOLY! It can be eaten by the clean and the unclean as well. It has become comparable to deer or gazelle, which are clean, but not ordained for sacrifice. This teaching obscures and denigrates the obligation we all have to be obedient to EVERY command, not just the ones that grab our attention. EVERY command indicates that unauthorized and improper sacrifices bring very heavy discipline – even death.
His Way or the highway!
Yah is NOT teaching us to keep the command to appear in Jerusalem only if it seems practical to us. And if we truly believe that Torah has not “been done away with,” then we must acknowledge that we have no authority to override His commands.
Consider: If He were giving us such an alternative, who would get to make the decision as to what is ‘practical’? How far away from Jerusalem would one need to be to decide for himself if it’s practical to go up to the place Yah chose or not? This mindset literally forces us back to ‘every man doing what seems right in his own eyes.’
You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes. (Deut. 12:8)
Be careful to listen to all these words which I command you, so that it may be well with you and your sons after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God. (Deut. 12:28)
If the holy sacrifices cannot be made ‘in any of your towns,’ then obviously the Pilgrimage Feasts are connected to Jerusalem.
If the commands to appear in Jerusalem are not dependent on ‘convenience’, they certainly have not been abrogated in this age of comparatively easy travel!
Beloved, I am aware that this still leaves questions like, “What if my situation prevents me from going to Jerusalem?” Well, if you make it to the end of this series, I make an effort to answer these questions. 🙂 [See Bob’s final article, But What Shall We Do??]