One word that occurs over and over again, is “eat,” beginning in chapter 12, but also in chapter 14. To understand what is going on, we have to understand something about ancient paganism: in ancient paganism, since it is a polytheistic religion, there were many sacred places. A green tree (an evergreen tree) was a sacred place, because the evergreen was thought to represent the continuation of life in the middle of winter when everything else appeared to be dead. A high hill was a sacred place, because it was the closest spot to the sun, moon, and stars, and ancient paganism revolved around sun worship and astral worship. Groves – an area where certain kinds of trees were found all growing together without mixture – were sacred places. Something having to do with “mother nature” and the characteristics particular trees were supposed to represent.
Suffice it to say, that in ancient paganism, sacrifices were made to idols everywhere. There were as many sacred places as there were gods. Then after an animal was sacrificed to an idol, and worship given to an idol, the animal was eaten with feasting, revelry, and usually immorality (as at Acacia Grove, Num 25:1-2). So this is the cultural norm, not only that Israel was raised in in Egypt (well, the first generation), but also, that the whole world around them followed.
In the culture around Israel, eating involved idol worship. Paul dealt with this issue among the Gentiles where he planted churches quite often in the New Testament. The places where the idols have their names, were to be completely destroyed by Israel. Then God would choose ONE place where His name would dwell, because He is the ONE God, as opposed to the many places where the many names of the many gods that the idolaters worshiped dwelt. It is in that ONE place that Israel was to sacrifice to God, and in so doing, honor His name.
These three chapters form a chiastic structure:
1A: Deu 12:2-19, You shall eat in the place of YHVH’s name + rejoice + do not forsake the Levite;
1B: Deu 12:20-28, What Israel may and may not eat;
1C: Deu 12:29-32, Israel shall not do as the idolaters do;
CENTRAL AXIS: Deu 13:1-18, Israel shall judge prophet + kinsman + city that seeks to serve other gods;
2C: Deu 14:1-2, Israel shall not do as the idolaters do;
2B: Deu 14:3-21, What Israel may and may not eat;
2A: Deu 14:22-29, You shall eat in the place of YHVH’s name + rejoice + do not forsake the Levite.
This entire section of Deuteronomy has as its focus, completely erasing the idolatry the land was polluted with, and establishing the sanctity of the LORD’s worship and His name. In fact, these three chapters explain the 2nd and 3rd Commandments, You shall not worship idols, and You shall not profane the LORD’s name.
For further study: Look up God’s paragraph divisions (the Hebrew Bible in English) and write out their topics. Then write a single paragraph using those topic sentences, explaining what it means to obey You shall not worship idols and You shall not profane the LORD’s name. Torah means instruction! Have we kept the sanctity of the LORD’s worship? If not, now we know. We can repent and sin no more, and our sin will be forgiven us in the blood of Jesus Christ!
“So none of the accursed things shall remain in your hand, that the LORD may turn from the fierceness of His anger and show you mercy, have compassion on you and multiply you, just as He swore to your fathers.” Deu 13:17
The fierceness of the LORD’s anger is reserved for the accursed thing. Isa 53:10 says of Messiah, that it pleased the LORD to crush Him. When Jesus was on the cross, accursed, He drank the cup of the LORD’s wrath, and so turned His fierce anger away from Israel, so that the LORD could show us mercy and compassion, as at this day. This was the cup that Jesus asked to pass from Him if possible in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mat 26:39), because His wrath against sin is fierce.