Verses of Deuteronomy 16


Deuteronomy 16:21 Commentary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Deu 16:21-22. Against the Use of ’Asherim and Maṣṣeboth

21. Thou shalt not plant thee an Asherah ] plant, because the ’Asherah (see general note following) was either a mast or artificial tree.

of any kind of tree ] The Heb. construction is not in the genitive but in apposition; translate therefore: an ’Asherah, any tree or any timber.

beside the altar of the Lord thy God ] No doubt, the Heb. may mean either the ( one), or any, altar (for the latter see Exo 20:26, where my altar in the light of Exo 20:24 must mean any of my altars). Yet the former meaning being the more natural, and there being no trace elsewhere in D of the permission of other altars after the settlement of Israel in Canaan was achieved, it is precarious to suppose (Steuernagel) that we have here the expression of a different school of deuteron. reform from that which appears in ch. 12: one viz. which permitted more than one sanctuary and sought only to secure the purity of worship at these.

22. Neither shalt thou set thee up a pillar ] raise for thyself a Maṣṣebah (see general note following) or standing-stone.

which the Lord thy God hateth ] Similarly Deu 12:31, but with the addition there of abomination, which is wanting here but found in the next verse.

General Note on the ’Asherah and Maṣṣebah

Two symbols or inhabitations of deity erected in sanctuaries throughout the Semitic world: frequently combined in the O.T. as present in Canaanite sanctuaries, and at first erected also by Israel but afterwards forbidden to them.

1. The ’Ashçrah (plur. ’Ashçrim, see Deu 12:3 and elsewhere, but ’Ashçrôth 2Ch 19:3; 2Ch 33:3), artificial tree or mast set up like the maṣṣeboth by the altars of Semitic sanctuaries, a work of man’s fingers (Isa 17:8: cp. 1Ki 14:15; 1Ki 16:13, 2Ki 21:3), wooden (Deu 16:21, Jdg 6:26, the wood of the ’A.; cp. the verbs used of it: plant, Deu 16:21, rise, Isa 27:9, pluck up, Mic 5:14, cut down, Deu 7:5, Jdg 6:25 f., Jdg 6:30, 2Ki 18:4; 2Ki 23:14, 2Ch 14:2, burn, here, 2Ki 23:6; 2Ki 23:15, in distinction from the breaking of the stone maṣṣebôth). Unlike the maṣṣebah the ’Asherah is never described as a sanctioned or tolerated part of Jehovah’s sanctuaries. There was one by the altar of the Ba‘al belonging to his father, which Gideon cut down (Jdg 6:25 ff.); Ahab made the or an ’Asherah for the altar of the Ba‘al in Samaria (1Ki 16:33), which appears to have been left by Jehu when he burned the maṣṣeboth there (2Ki 10:26 ff.; see however end of this note), for it still stood under Jehoahaz (2Ki 13:6). The deuteronomic editor of Kings says that in Judah Rehoboam raised maṣṣeboth and ’Asherim on every high hill and under every spreading tree (1Ki 14:23): Jehoshaphat is said to have removed them (2Ch 14:2; 2Ch 17:6; 2Ch 19:3), but they were restored by Joash ( id. Deu 24:18). Their removal is stated as part of Hezekiah’s reforms (2Ki 18:4), but Manasseh, besides building altars to the Ba‘al, made an ’Asherah ( id. Deu 21:3), and by the prophets they are counted among the idolatrous sins of Israel (Mic 5:14, Jer 17:2, Isa 27:9). That they were dedicated to Jehovah is implied in the prohibition, Deu 16:21. The command to cut them down in Exo 34:13 is a later insertion: there is no record of a law against them before D. Like the standing-stone the mast (or tree for which it stood) was frequently identified with the deity, and was probably the female counterpart to the stone. Several passages seem to imply that there was a goddess called ’Asherah ( prophets of the ’A., 1Ki 18:19, image of the ’A., id. Deu 15:13, 2Ki 21:7, vessels of the ’A., id. Deu 23:4, and even houses, i.e. tents or deckings, id. Deu 23:7: cp. the veiled ‘Asherah below). Her existence has been denied by, among others, W. R. Smith ( Rel. Sem. 171 f.). But his reason, that every altar, to whatever deity it belonged, had an ’Asherah is hardly sufficient to prove an exclusively generic meaning for the name. Recent Assyriology appears to put beyond doubt the name ’Asherah as that of a Canaanite goddess and to give good reasons for her identification with ’Ashtoreth (cp. Jdg 3:7, 1Ki 18:19). The Ass. name is Ashratu or Ashirtu, and in the Tell-el-Amarna letters we find a man’s name ‘Abd-’Ashratum, ‘the worshipper of ’Asherah.’

‘The double meaning which ’Asherah has as “sacred pole” and as the name of the goddess (= ‘Ashtoreth) is now placed beyond doubt by the witness of the Tell-el-Amarna tablets (Ashirtu = Ishtar) and finds its explanation in a representation of the veiled Ishtar-Ashera, as a bust running into a pillar in the fashion of the Hermes, discovered by von Oppenheim at Ras el-‘Ain, the source of the Khabur’ (Winckler and Jensen, 3rd ed. of Schrader’s KAT 276, see also deut 245, 248, 258, 421, 432 f.).

That the ’Asherah represented a female deity (in distinction from the male character of the maṣṣeboth) is perhaps the reason of the less tolerance which it received in Israel.

2. The Maṣṣebah (thing set upright) standing-stone (plural maṣṣeboth, Deu 12:3), such as that raised by Jacob as the witness of his bargain with Laban (Gen 31:49; Gen 31:51) and at Rachel’s grave ( id. Gen 35:20), or by Absalom in his own memory (2Sa 18:18); but usually of the large monoliths (R.V. marg. obelisks) beside the altars of Semitic shrines. They were regarded as the habitation of a deity (see Gen 28:22 below), but in the sense of being his embodiment; and so in ritual ‘spoken of and treated as the God himself’ (W. R. Smith, Rel. Sem. 85); ‘in them one saw the deity present at the altar, and to them the worshippers directed their hands and their prayers’ (Nowack, Hebr. Arch. ii. 18). That they stood in Canaanite sanctuaries is frequently stated in the O.T. (here, Deu 7:5, Exo 23:24; and for the house of the Ba‘al in Samaria, 2Ki 10:26 f.).

Specimens were recently discovered at Gezer by Mr R. A. S. Macalister in one high place a row of 10, divided into 7 and 3, of which only the stumps of two remain, and the rest vary in height from 5 ft 5 ins. to 10 ft 6 ins., the largest being 4 ft 7 ins. broad by 2 ft 6 ins. thick, and in another high place a row of 4 with the stump of a fifth; at Ta‘anak by Prof. Sellin two rows of 5 each, with a pair at a little distance; and at Megiddo (Tell-el-Mutesellim) by Dr Schumacher one pair. In the high-place at Petra there are 2 great Maṣṣeboth 6 metres high, hewn out of the living rock. Those at Gezer are roughly hewn from (with one exception) the local rock, the upper end of one worked to a sharp point, and the slopes ‘polished by having been kissed, anointed, rubbed or otherwise handled,’ and another ‘carefully shaped to a rounded form’: both probably phallic ( PEF. Quart. Statement, 1903, 25 ff.; Bible Side-lights from Gezer, 57 ff.).

In the earliest times maṣṣeboth were erected by the Hebrews: by Jacob (Gen 28:18; Gen 28:22 E, Gen 35:14 f. J) in memory of God’s appearance to him, and to be God’s-house = Beth-el (cp. Gk βαιτύλιον and βαίτυλος , ‘animated stone,’ through the Phoenician). Because of the verb we should also read maṣṣebah, for the mizbeaḥ, altar, which Jacob set up at Shechem and called God, the God of Israel (Gen 33:20, E). According to E (to whom most of the O.T. notices of maṣṣeboth are due) Moses put up 12 with the altar which he built on Ḥoreb 1 [138] . Hosea (Hos 3:4, Hos 10:1) implies that maṣṣebôth were as regular parts of Jehovah’s sanctuaries in N. Israel as altars and sacrifices 2 [139] . With such a recognition of the maṣṣeboth in the worship of Jehovah the command in Hos 12:3 to destroy the maṣṣeboth of the Canaanite sanctuaries is of course compatible. But the same cannot be said of the injunction in Deu 16:22 not to set up a maṣṣebah beside the altar of Jehovah, which Jehovah thy God hateth (cp. Mic 5:13). This is another of the many marks that the deuteron. legislation is later than Hosea. It is possible, however, that there had never been a maṣṣebah in the Temple of Jerusalem. In 2Ki 10:26 f. Jehu is said to have burned the maṣṣeboth in the house of the Ba‘al in Samaria, but because of the verb some read instead the ’Asherah. On the whole subject see especially W. R. Smith, Rel. Sem., 1st ed., 186 ff., 437 f.; G. F. Moore, ‘Massebah’ in EB.

[138] We read also of great stones set up by Joshua in Jehovah’s sanctuary at Shechem as a witness against the people (Jos 24:26 E) and at Gilgal as memorials of the passage of Jordan ( id. Jos 4:5), at Mizpeh and Gibeon (1Sa 7:12; 2Sa 20:8).

[139] According to Isa 19:19, a maṣṣebah shall be erected in Egypt as a symbol of her people’s acknowledgement of Jehovah; but the date of this prediction is uncertain; and the writer may be speaking metaphorically. The two bronze columns Yakin and Bo‘az (1Ki 7:21) were probably from their names ‘He foundeth’ and ‘In him is strength’ symbols of the Deity, but they did not stand in the inner sanctuary. W. R. Smith, Rel. Sem. 191 n. and 468, takes them as altar-pillars with hearths on their tops.

Deu 16:21 to Deu 17:7. Isolated Group of Laws on Worship

This group of laws against heathen symbols and blemished sacrifices and the worship of other gods all of them abominations to, or hated by, Jehovah is quite isolated, between two sets of laws on judicial procedure, Deu 16:18-20 and Deu 17:8 ff.; and we have seen reasons (above p. 173) for supposing that the whole group originally stood between Deu 12:29-31 and Deu 13:1-18. The notes below will show that there are both similarities and dissimilarities between the two separated sections. The reason which Steuernagel gives for supposing that Deu 16:21 is by another author than that of ch. 12, with a different aim of reform viz. because he speaks only of an altar and does not use the formulas found in 12 for the One Altar is not convincing. With regard to this and the other dissimilarities of the present section from Deu 12:29 to Deu 13:18 it must be remembered that within the latter there are also dissimilarities. Throughout the form of address is in the Sg.: there are some editorial additions.

Verses of Deuteronomy 16


Consult other comments:

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Joseph Benson’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Calvin's Complete Commentary

Deuteronomy 16:21 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Adam Clarke's Commentary and Critical Notes on the Bible

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Companion Bible Notes, Appendices and Graphics

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Old and New Testaments)

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Deuteronomy 16:21 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary (Old and New Testaments)

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Biblical Illustrator Edited by Joseph S. Exell

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Commentary Series on the Bible by Peter Pett

Deuteronomy 16:21 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Scofield Reference Bible Notes

Deuteronomy 16:21 - The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Deuteronomy 16:21 - You Can Understand the Bible: Study Guide Commentary Series by Bob Utley

Deuteronomy 16:21 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges