Deuteronomy - 16:21

21 You shall not plant for yourselves an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of Yahweh your God, which you shall make for yourselves.

Verse In-Depth

Explanation and meaning of Deuteronomy 16:21.

Differing Translations

Compare verses for better understanding.
Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the LORD thy God, which thou shalt make thee.
Thou shalt plant no grove, nor any tree near the altar of the Lord thy God:
Thou shalt not plant thyself an Asherah of any wood near unto the altar of Jehovah thy God, which thou shalt make thee.
'Thou dost not plant for thee a shrine of any trees near the altar of Jehovah thy God, which thou makest for thyself,
Let no holy tree of any sort be planted by the altar of the Lord your God which you will make.
You shall not plant a sacred grove, nor shall you plant any tree near the altar of the Lord your God;
Non plantabis tibi lucum quarumvis arborum apud altare Jehovae Dei tui, quod facies tibi.

*Minor differences ignored. Grouped by changes, with first version listed as example.

Historical Commentaries

Scholarly Analysis and Interpretation.

Thou shalt not plant thee. It is plain from the end of this verse that it is part of the Second Commandment. We know [1] that amongst the heathen nations groves were sacred, so that with them no religious object would receive due reverence, except under the shade of trees. Wherefore lest conformity with this general custom should vitiate the pure worship of God, this distinction was made; and this then is the intent of the prohibition, that the Jews should fly from all strange rites, lest by too closely approaching the Gentiles, they should introduce a sinful medley. But how necessary this prohibition was, appears from their eager imitation (of the heathen), of which mention is constantly made in the sacred history. For there was scarcely any period in which they abstained from "high places." Nor is it without reason that Isaiah and Jeremiah reprove them for "playing the harlot under every green tree." (Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah 2:20; 3:6.)


1 - See Lucian in Dea Syria, sub initium; Protoi men on anthropon, ton hemeis idmen, Aiguptioi legontai theon te ennoian labein, kai hira eisasthai, kai temenea, k. t. l., -- Tacitus Germ. 9. "Lucos et nemora consecrant." Virgil. Eccl. 6:73. "Ne quis sit lucus, quo plus se jactet Apollo."

A grove - Render, Thou shalt not plant for thee any tree as an idol: literally as an Asherah," "i. e." an image of Astarte or Ashtaroth, the Phoenician goddess (compare Deuteronomy 7:5 note, Deuteronomy 7:13 note). The word is rendered "grove" by the King James Version also in Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:3; Exodus 34:13; Judges 6:25, but cannot be maintained, for the word is connected with various verbs which are quite inapplicable to a grove. The wooden idol in question was the stem of a tree, stripped of its boughs, set upright in the ground, and rudely carved with emblems.

Thou shalt not plant thee a grove, etc. - We have already seen that groves were planted about idol temples for the purpose of the obscene worship performed in them. (See on Deuteronomy 12:3 (note)). On this account God would have no groves or thickets about his altar, that there might be no room for suspicion that any thing contrary to the strictest purity was transacted there. Every part of the Divine worship was publicly performed, for the purpose of general edification.

Thou shall not plant thee a grove of any trees,.... Of any sort of trees, as oaks or any other; not but that it was lawful to plant trees and groves of them, but not for a religious or idolatrous use: particularly
near unto the altar of the Lord thy God, which thou shalt make thee; as the Heathens did near their altars, lest it should be thought to be done for a like superstitious and idolatrous use; which evil the Jews sometimes fell into in the times of wicked reigns, and which their good and pious kings removed and destroyed; see 2-Kings 18:4 and Hecataeus (b), an Heathen historian, relates of the city of Jerusalem, that there were there no image, nor plantation, nor grove, nor any such thing.
(b) Apud Euseb. Praepar. Evangel. l. 9. c. 4. p. 408.

Thou shalt not plant thee a grove--A grove has in Scripture a variety of significations--a group of overshadowing trees, or a grove adorned with altars dedicated to a particular deity, or a wooden image in a grove (Judges 6:25; 2-Kings 23:4-6). They might be placed near the earthen and temporary altars erected in the wilderness, but they could not exist either at the tabernacle or temples. They were places, which, with their usual accompaniments, presented strong allurements to idolatry; and therefore the Israelites were prohibited from planting them.

"Thou shalt not plant thee as asherah any wood beside the altar of Jehovah." נטע, to plant, used figuratively, to plant up or erect, as in Ecclesiastes 12:11; Daniel 11:25; cf. Isaiah 51:16. Asherah, the symbol of Astarte (see at Exodus 34:13), cannot mean either a green tree or a grove (as Movers, Relig. der Phnizier, p. 572, supposes), for the simple reason that in other passages we find the words עשׂה, make (1-Kings 14:15; 1-Kings 16:33; 2-Kings 17:16; 2-Kings 21:3; 2-Chronicles 33:3), or הצּיב, set up (2-Kings 17:10), העמיד, stand up (2-Chronicles 33:19), and בּנה, build (1-Kings 14:23), used to denote the erection of an asherah, not one of which is at all suitable to a tree or grove. But what is quite decisive is the fact that in 1-Kings 14:23; 2-Kings 17:10; Jeremiah 17:2, the asherah is spoken of as being set up under, or by the side of, the green tree. This idol generally consisted of a wooden column; and a favourite place for setting it up was by the side of the altars of Baal.

Thou shalt not plant - Because this was the practice of idolaters, and might be an occasion of reviving idolatry.

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