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.
These verses are closely connected in subject with the following chapter, and introduce certain directions for the administration of justice and the carrying on of the civil government of the people in Canaan. During the lifetime of Moses, he himself, especially inspired and guided by God, was sufficient, with the aid of the subordinate judges (compare Exodus 18:13 ff), for the duties in question. But now that Moses was to be withdrawn, and the people would soon be scattered up and down the land of Canaan, regular and permanent provision must be made for civil and social order and good government.
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.