Troublesome Topic: Where Could the Burnt Offering Be Offered?

Lesson 14 of 21

Good question.

At first glance it appears that there was some confusion about that issue. Usually confusion is caused by two aspects of things that do not agree. Confusion can also be caused by multiple factors that need to be considered. In this case we have both types of problems.

Here are the factors that cause confusion:

1. In various places in the Law, God told the Israelites that they could only offer sacrifices at the designated place that He had chosen. Here is an example:

Deuteronomy 12:11


There will be a place where YHVH your ELOHIM (read Adonai your Elohim)  chooses for His name to dwell, and there you must bring everything I commanded you – your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, and the offerings of your hands, and all the offerings of your choice which you vow to YHVH (read Adonai).


The place to which THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD who is your CREATOR AND RULER chooses to attach His name, that is the place where you must bring everything I command you to bring, your it-all-goes-up-in-smoke offerings, your other sacrifices, your tithes, the offerings from the work of your hands, and whatever you choose to give as an offering associated with a vow you have made to THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD.

Deuteronomy 12:13


You must take heed that you do not offer your burnt offerings in any place that you see,


You must be very disciplined to not offer your it-all-goes-up-in-smoke offerings any place you think is a good option,

Deuteronomy 12:14


but in the place which YHVH (read Adonai)  chooses in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings and there you shall do everything that I command you to do.


but only in the place where THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD chooses in one of your tribes; in that place you must offer your it-all-goes-up-in-smoke offerings, and in that place you must do everything that I command you to do.

God was angry that the people worshipped elsewhere because He had specifically commanded them not to do that.

2. The Bible mentions many times that the people worshipped at the high places, or in the shade of a spreading tree. Naturally elevated spots, such as the tops of hills, and large shade trees, were considered special sites for religious rituals by several of the religions of that area.

However, it appears that some of the time the Israelites were worshipping the God of Abraham at the high places, and some of the time they were worshipping idols at those high places. So, just because it says someone was worshipping at the high places does not tell us which deity was being worshipped.

One of the reasons God told them not to worship Him in those places was that He knew it could open the door for them to use those sites for the same activities that the pagans used them for – the worship of false gods.

3. We read various stories in the historical books of the Old Testament of people offering sacrifices in various places away from the tabernacle, such as the high places. Sometimes the results were positive and sometimes they were negative. Sometimes God blessed those sacrifices, or even ordered them, and sometimes God punished the people for them.

 The following people offered sacrifices at alternate locations and did so with God’s blessing: Joshua on Mt Ebal, Gideon, Samson’s parents, Samuel, David, the Levites, and Elijah.

The following people offered sacrifices away from the tabernacle with bad results because it was not seen favorably by God: Jephthah, King Saul, and possibly King Solomon (see below).

 Why were some sacrifices at the high places accepted and some not accepted?

4. To add to the confusion, the tabernacle did not stay in one place during the 400 years from when they entered the Promised Land until they built the temple, it was moved around. To make matters worse, the ark of the covenant was not always in the same location as the rest of the tabernacle with its sacrificial altars.

5. My idea of the key issue involved here is this: If God gave direct instructions through one of His spokesmen, like Samuel, to offer sacrifices in a certain place, then that was the place God had chosen for that window of time. Because it was chosen by God it fit the conditions set out in Dt 12. The problem with the people was not that they worshipped Him at the high places, but that they did so without His permission to do so. Some people think God winked at (i.e. permitted) this small adjustment to His commands without any punishment. I disagree. It is never a good idea for a human to alter God’s commands. I don’t think God changed His mind, rather I think you have to look at each situation individually to see if God gave permission for it or not. So I did just that; I looked up all the instances of people offering sacrifices at alternate locations (such as on the high places) and each time God gave permission for a sacrifice to be offered at a location other than the tabernacle, it brought good results; each time it was done without His permission, there were bad results.

The case of Solomon is an interesting one so let’s take a quick look at it, starting with the context.

1 Kings 3:2


However, the people killed sacrifices at the high places because the “house” for the name of YHVH (read Adonai) had not yet been built in those days.


However, the Jewish people offered sacrifices at the traditional places of religious rituals, and they justified doing so because, in those days, there was not yet any permanent, attractive looking temple that had been built and dedicated to the name of THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD.

This is obviously referring to sacrifices made by the Israelites to YHVH in an attempt to be faithful to Him, except that they were not doing so at the right spot. The tabernacle was in use for 400 years; that is a long time for a tent to remain in good condition. Even though they probably patched it and tried to maintain its appearance and utility, it would be hard to keep it looking nice. Frankly, looking good was not its purpose, but the physical appearance would have affected people’s perception of its importance. You can see why people were inclined to go elsewhere. God had told them not to decide on their own where they wanted to worship Him; it had to be a place He sanctioned through one of His spokesmen. But at least they were worshipping the right God. I won’t say that God winked at the mistaken location, but I will say that it was not as serious a sin as some others they committed.

1 Kings 3:3


SOLOMON loved YHVH (read Adonai), walking in the statutes of his father DAVID, except that he killed sacrificial animals and offered incense at the high places.”


THE PEACEFUL MAN was faithful and obedient to THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD; he lived according to all the religious principles his father, THE ONE WHO WAS LOVED, had passed down to him, with one exception, he offered animal sacrifices and incense offerings to God in places he did not have God’s permission to offer them.

It can be hard to discern whether those sacrifices were sanctioned by God or not, but I think they were not. I perceive in this verse a hint of a problem; Solomon was doing things his own way. He had to know that those same locations were used for worshipping other gods. It was a crack in the door giving opportunity for temptation. It was a small compromise that led to big compromises decades later.  

IN SUMMARY: The Israelites were only allowed to offer sacrifices at the place God had chosen, which was usually the tabernacle (or later the temple) but the people used alternate locations anyway. The biggest problems with this were that it made it harder to have a unified leadership (the priests) leading these events, and it opened the door for temptation as we can see in the case of Solomon. The reason it was sometimes accepted and sometimes not accepted had to do with whether or not it was chosen by God through one of his spokesmen.

The next lesson in all three series on the covenants is Something Strange about the Burnt Offering.