Deuteronomy 27

 

 

 

INSTRUCTIONS AS TO THE PUBLISHING OF THE LAW IN CANAAN

 

 

HAVING set forth the laws and rights of Israel with special reference to the settlement

of the people in Canaan, Moses proceeds to dwell more particularly on the sanctions by

which obedience to the Divine institute was enforced. Before entering on these, however,

he gives some instructions regarding the setting up and proclamation of the Law when

they should have entered Canaan. These instructions Moses gives in conjunction with

the elders of Israel, who are associated with him here, because on them would devolve

the obligation to see to the fulfillment of what the Law enjoined after Moses had ceased

to be the ruler and leader of the people.

 

 

The first instruction  (vs. 1-8) respects the setting up of pillars on which the Law was to

be inscribed. Such a mode of publishing laws or edicts was common in ancient times.

Pillars of stone or metal, on which laws were inscribed, are frequently mentioned by the

classical writers.

 

1 “And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Keep

all the commandments which I command you this day.” All that up to this time I

have enjoined upon you. The reference is to the entire Law as given by Moses.

 

2 “And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan”- i.e. at the time;

day is here used in a wide sense (compare Genesis 2:4; Numbers 3:1; II Samuel

22:1; Ecclesiastes 12:3; Isaiah 11:10).  unto the land which the LORD thy God

giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with

plaster:”  The stones, the number of which is not specified, were to be large, because

much was to be inscribed upon them, and they were to be covered with a

coating of lime or gypsum (dy"ci), in order to secure a smooth white surface on

which the inscription might be clearly depicted. That the words were not cut in the

stone, and afterwards covered with plaster in order to preserve them, is plain

from its being enjoined that they were to be written upon (l[") the stones

so prepared; and besides, as this was intended to be a proclamation of the

Law, the main purpose of the erection would have been frustrated had the

inscription been concealed by such a covering as that supposed. Among the

ancient Egyptians the practice of depicting records on walls or monuments

covered with a coating of plaster was common (see Hengstenberg,

‘Authentic des Pent.,’ 1:464, English translation, 1:433); from them,

doubtless, it was borrowed by the Hebrews. It has been suggested by

Kennicott that the writing was to be in relieve, and that the spaces between

the letters were filled up by the mortar or cement. This is possible, but it is

not such a process as this that the words of the text suggest. “A careful

examination of vs.4, 8, and Joshua 8:20-22, will lead to the opinion that the

Law was written upon or in the plaster with which these pillars were coated.

This could easily be done, and such writing was common in ancient times. I have

seen specimens of it certainly more than two thousand years old, and still as

distinct as when they were first inscribed on the plaster” (Thomson, ‘Land and

the Book,’ it. p. 204).

 

3 “And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law,” - i.e. all the purely

legislative parts of the Mosaic institute. By the “Law” here cannot be intended merely the

blessings and the curses afterwards mentioned (vs. 14-26); nor is there any reason why

this term should be restricted to the precepts of this Book of Deuteronomy, as if they

only were to be inscribed on the stones: the term must be extended so as to cover all

that Moses had at any time delivered to Israel as a law from God. It is not necessary,

however, to suppose that all the reasons and exhortations with which the delivery of

these, as recorded in the Pentateuch, was accompanied were to be inscribed along

with the Law; still less that the historical details amidst which the record of these laws

is embedded should be given. It may be questioned even whether each and all of the

legislative enactments of the Torah, reckoned by the Jews to be 613, were to be

recorded; for it might be deemed enough that the substance and essence of the Law

should be thus presented. But even if the whole was to be inscribed, there would be no

serious difficulty in the way of carrying this into effect, seeing there is no limitation as

to the number of the stones to be set up - “when thou art passed over, that thou

mayest go in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land that

floweth with milk and honey; as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised

thee.”

 

4 “Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up

these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt

plaster them with plaster.” The stones were to be set up on Mount Ebal (compare

ch.11:29).

 

5 “And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of

 stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them.  6 Thou shalt build the

altar of the LORD thy God of whole stones:  and thou shalt offer burnt

offerings thereon unto the LORD thy God:  7 And thou shalt offer peace

offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the LORD thy God.”

Besides the monumental stones, an altar of whole stones, on which no tool had

passed (compare Exodus 20:25) was to be erected, and burnt offerings and peace

offerings were to be presented as at the establishment of the covenant at Sinai,

followed by the statutory festive entertainment (Ibid. ch. 24:5).

 

8 “And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very

plainly.” The injunction to write the Law on the stones is repeated, with

the addition that it was to be done very plainly, which shows that the main purpose

of setting up the stones was that the Law might be easily known by the people

(compare Habakkuk 2:2). The stones and the altar were fittingly placed on Ebal,

the mount of cursing. For the setting up of the stones on which the Law

was inscribed, and the building beside them of the altar, was the symbolical

renewal of the covenant of God with Israel, and the establishment in

Canaan of that dispensation which was “the ministration of condemnation

and of death” (II Corinthians 3:7, 9), and of that Law which, though in

itself “holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12), can only, because of man’s

perversity and sinfulness, bring on those who are under it a curse (Galatians 3:10).

 

When Israel renewed the covenant with the Lord, by solemnly setting up the

Law in Canaan, it became thereby the nation of God, and bound itself at the

same time to hearken to the voice of the Lord, and keep his commandments,

as it had already done (ch.26:17-18; Micah 4:5).

 

9 “And Moses and the priests the Levites spake unto all Israel, saying,

Take heed,” - literally, Be silent; Septuagint -  siw>pa siopa -  with silent

attention listen (compare Zechariah 2:13) - “and hearken, O Israel; this day

thou art become the people of the LORD thy God.  10  Thou shalt therefore

obey the voice of the LORD thy God, and do His commandments and His

statutes, which I command thee this day.”

 

 

“Very Plainly” (v. 8)

 

These words, “very plainly,” suggest three lines of thought.

 

  • THEY SHOW SOMETHING THAT WAS ORDERED TO BE, viz.

that THE LAW OF GOD WAS TO BE WRITTEN VERY PLAINLY,

AS A PERMANENT, STANDARD EXPRESSION OF RIGHT,

 to which the people might appeal. It was not to be left to a floating tradition.

To no such risks would God expose His teaching. There was no priesthood

in Israel which had any monopoly of knowledge. The words were to be so

clearly and accurately recorded that, upon all that pertained to life and godliness,

the people might see for themselves what the Lord had spoken, and not be

dependent on any sacerdotal interpretation whatever. How clearly does this fact

indicate the mind and will of Jehovah concerning our race! God would not have

us walk uncertainly. He would have the way of life so plain, that the

wayfaring men, though fools,” (Isaiah 35:8) need not err therein.

 

  • THEY SHOW SOMETHING WHICH HAS BEEN. The injunction

has been carried out, not only in the matter here specially referred to, but in

God’s later disclosures also.

 

Ø      In the books which Moses left behind him there was a revelation of

The Divine mind and will so clear and distinct, that no one

reading even the Pentateuch with a loyal faith need ever have been at

a loss to know that the ground of his trust was THE FORGIVING

LOVE OF GOD and that the duty of life was summed up in love to

God and love to man.

 

Ø      Later teachings are given with equal, yea, with increasing clearness.

 

o       Those of the prophets.

o       Of our Lord.

o       Of the apostles.

 

In all, the main teachings are given very plainly.” Note: The plainness of

Scripture is not of that kind which men outgrow as they get older. Those

very passages which charm childhood with their simplicity, do come to

have a fuller and deeper meaning for the “old disciple.”  “Thy word have

I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against thee.”  (Psalm 119:11)

 

  • THEY SUGGEST SOMETHING WHICH SHOULD BE.

 

Ø      Let us ever regard the Bible as a Book for the people, and let us insist

on its being made the ultimate standard of appeal.

 

Ø      Let us use it as God meant us to use it, not as a book, but as the

Book; not as man’s, but as God’s.

 

Ø      With such a Book before us, let us walk

 

o       intelligently, as if we understood the meaning of life;

o       thankfully, as if we apprehended the glory of life;

o       earnestly, as if we knew the solemnity of life;

o       hopefully, as those who are advancing towards the goal of life.

 

Having set up the Law and renewed the covenant in Canaan, Israel was to proclaim

upon the land the blessing and the curse of the Law, as already commanded (see

ch.11:29). For this purpose six tribes were to station themselves on Mount Gerizim,

and six on Mount Ebal, the former to pronounce the blessing, the latter the curse.

The two mountains named stand opposite to  each other, with a valley between,

about two hundred yards broad at the widest part,  in which stood the town of

Shechem, now Nablus. They were selected for the  purpose mentioned, doubtless,

because of their relative position, and probably  also because they stand in the

center of the land both from north to south,  and from east to west. It has

been suggested that Ebal was appointed for the  uttering of the curse, and Gerizim

for the uttering of the blessing, because the  former was barren and rugged, the latter

fertile and smooth; but this is not  borne out by the actual appearance of the two hills,

both being equally  barren-looking, though neither is wholly destitute of culture and

vegetation.  The six tribes by whom the blessing was to be pronounced were Simeon,

Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin, all descended from the two wives of

Jacob — Leah and Rachel. The tribes by whom the curse was to be uttered were

those descended from Zilpah, Leah’s maid, viz. Gad and Asher; those descended

rom Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, viz. Dan and Naphtali; with Zebulun and Reuben, both

descended from Leah. As, in order to obtain a division of the tribes into two equal

portions, two of the sons of Leah must be assigned to the second half, Zebulun and

Reuben were chosen, probably because the former was the youngest of Leah’s sons,

and the latter had by his sin forfeited his birthright (Genesis 49:4).

 

11 “And Moses charged the people the same day, saying,  12 These shall

stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are come over Jordan;

Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin:

13  And these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse;” - literally, These shall

 stand upon the curse on Mount Ebal; i.e. it shall belong to them to utter the curse.

 “Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.”

 

14 “And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all the men of Israel with

a loud voice,” - The Levites — standing probably in some convenient spot

midway between the two mountains (compare Joshua 8:33) — were to

pronounce with a loud voice the blessing and the curse, so that all might

hear; and the people were to give their assent, and take to themselves, as it

were, the blessing or the curse as uttered, by a solemn Amen. By the

Levites here are intended, not the sons of Levi generally, but that portion

of them which belonged to the priesthood, and bare the ark of the covenant

(compare Joshua 8:33).

 

The curses to be pronounced were twelve in number, probably to correspond with

the number of the tribes. The blessings are not here recorded; but when the injunction

here given was fulfilled by Joshua, the blessing as well as the curse was pronounced

(Joshua 8:34). And probably, as the Jews report, each, the blessing and the curse,

Was pronounced alternately (Talmud Bab., ‘Sotah,’ p. 7; Targum Hieros., in

loc.; Surcnhus., ‘Mishna,’ 3:262). It has sometimes been doubted whether

any human voice could be audible over so wide a stretch as that between

these two mountains; but this need be no longer matter of doubt, for the

experiment has been repeatedly tried in recent times with success

(Tristram, ‘Land of Israel,’ p. 150; Bonar, p. 371; Stanley, ‘Syr. and Pal.,’

p. 13). In the clear atmosphere of the East sounds travel far. It is to be

borne in mind also that it was not a single voice that had to make itself

heard across the valley on this occasion, but a chorus of voices proceeding

from a body of priests stationed apparently in the midst between the two

companies (Joshua 8:33), and chanting in unison the words of each blessing

or curse.

 

In vs. 15-26, each of the first eleven curses is directed against some

particular sin already denounced in the Law. The twelfth curse is directed

generally against all breaches of the Law, against those who fail or refuse

to set up the whole Law and follow it as the rule of life and conduct. This

shows that the sins specially denounced are selected by way of specimen,

and also, perhaps, because they are such as could for the most part be

easily concealed from judicial inspection.

 

 15 “Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an

abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the

craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall

answer and say, Amen.”  (Compare Exodus 20:4; Leviticus 26:1.)

 

16 “Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all

the people shall say, Amen.” (Compare Exodus 21:17.)

 

17 “Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor’s landmark. And all the

people shall say, Amen.” (Compare ch.19:14.)

 

18 “Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way. And

all the people shall say, Amen.”  (Compare Leviticus 19:14.)

 

19 “Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless,

and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.” (Compare ch.24:17.)

 

20 “Cursed be he that lieth with his father’s wife; because he uncovereth

his father’s skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen.”  (Compare Leviticus

18:8; ch. 22:30.)

 

21 “Cursed be he that lieth with any manner of beast. And all the

people shall say, Amen.”  (Compare Leviticus 18:23; 20:15.)

 

22 “Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or

the daughter of his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen. 

23 “Cursed be he that lieth with his mother in law. And all the people

shall say, Amen.”  (Compare Leviticus 18:9,17.)

 

24 “Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbor secretly. And all the people

shall say, Amen.”  (Compare Exodus 20:13; Numbers 35:16)

 

25 “Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person. And all

the people shall say, Amen.”  (Compare Exodus 23:7-8.)

 

26 “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.

And all the people shall say, Amen.”  (Compare ch. 28:15; Jeremiah 11:3-4

 

 

Ebal and Gerizim (vs. 11-26)

 

This ceremony turns on the idea of the Law as primarily entailing a curse.  Blessings

and curses were both to be recited (vs. 12-13). But the curse seems to have been first

pronounced, and it only is given in the record. It has the lead in the transaction. The

explanation is obvious. V. 26 shows that, in strictness, none can escape the curse

(Psalm 130:3; Galatians 3:10). A blessing is pronounced from Gerizim, but it is

abortive, as depending on a condition which no sinner can fulfill.

 

Hence:

 

o       The stones are all placed on Ebal.

o       All the sons of the bondwomen are placed on that mount

(compare Galatians 4:21-31).

 

This is preferable to supposing that prominence is given to the curse,

inasmuch as, under law, fear rather than love is the motive relied on to

secure obedience. The appeal to fear is itself an evidence that “the law is

not made for a righteous man” (I Timothy 1:9). It brings strikingly to

light the inherent weakness of the economy (Romans 8:3). When a

Law, the essence of which is love, requires to lean on curses to enforce it,

the unlikelihood of getting it obeyed is tolerably manifest. As an actually

working system, the Mosaic economy, while availing itself of the Law to

awaken consciousness of sin and to keep men in the path of virtue, drew its

strength for holiness, not from the Law, but from the revelations of love and grace

which lay within and behind it.  Thank God for the solution!  “Christ hath

redeemed us from the curse of the Law, BEING MADE A CURSE

FOR US!  (Galatians 3:13). IN HIM IS NO CODEMNATION!

(Romans 8:1).

 

 

A Grand “Amen!” (vs. 11-26)

 

It is more than possible that, with the strong disposition there is nowadays to look on

Judaism as obsolete, the chapter before us may be very frequently passed over as if

full of curses that no longer have any effect; especially as Paul, in Galatians 3:, says,

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law.” But we are apt, perhaps,

in dealing with the doctrinal aspect of these curses of the Law, in reference to the

Atonement, to lose sight of their primary historical aspect in reference to Israel. But the

significance of both altar and pillar, pillar and altar, should be taken into account. Here,

in the valley between Gerizim and Ebal, the grandest assembly met that was ever

convened. The Law was read in the people’s hearing, and the people were to declare

themselves ready to brand sin with their curse, as God branded it with His.

In a word, they were in a glorious league with the Great King of heaven and earth, that,

whatever He disapproved, they would combine to brand with the infamy of eternal

shame. As Israel was expected then to be in league with God in denouncing wrong,

SO ARE CHRISTIANS EXPECTED TO WAGE ETERNAL WAR AGAINST

SIN!   Consider the following points:

 

  • God’s people now are a divinely chosen commonwealth.

 

  • In subjection to God alone, this commonwealth is a self-governing

body.

 

  • The only law for life which they accept is that of righteousness

righteousness, of course, all round, both as regards God and man.

 

  • It was for this very purpose Israel had been chosen out of the peoples

that, for the world’s sake, there might be one nation in which righteousness

was the supreme law.

 

  • Side by side with the records of a Law which demands perfect

righteousness, there is the altar and its sacrifice thereon, speaking to

 the people of a Divine provision for forgiving the penitent.

 

  • The penitent is set free from the curse of Law, that he may ever after

cooperate with God in honoring the Law from whose curse he has been

redeemed.

 

  • The passionate concern for holiness, and the delight in a holy Law,

which are begotten in them who are of “the commonwealth of Israel,”

ensure their entire sympathy with God in the everlasting curse

pronounced against all unrighteousness.

 

  • Thus the pure and just Law of God may serve believers as an

educatory force throughout their whole life. And in their incessant hatred

and condemnation of evil is the saying true in the highest sense, Vox

populi, vox Dei (The voice of the people

 

 

Responses (vs. 11-26)

 

After the writing of the Law, and the sacrifices, there was to be a great congregation, and

half of the people were to assemble on Mount Gerizim to bless, viz. Simeon, Levi, Judah,

Issachar, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin; (Only children of Jacob’s married wives

were placed on the mount of blessing; but Reuben, the firstborn, had forfeited this

privilege by reason of his sin [the repulsive crime which marred his history, and

which turned the blessing of his dying father into a curse {Genesis 49:3-4}– his

adulterous connection with Bilhah – we know from scripture only the fact - Genesis

35:22]) while the other half were to assemble on  Mount Ebal to curse, viz. Reuben,

Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. Now, we know from Numbers that the

order of march was this: Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gershon and Merari with the

tabernacle, Reuben, Simeon, Gad, Kohath with the sanctuary, Ephraim, Manasseh,

Benjamin, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. The order for the arrangement, therefore, was

that the van, consisting of Judah and Issachar, marched to Gerizim; then Zebulun, the

next tribe, marched to Ebal; then the Gershonites and Merarites marched to Gerizim;

then Reuben to Ebal; Simeon to Gerizim; Gad to Ebal; the Kohathites to Gerizim;

followed by Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, who were the followers of the ark;

and lastly the rearguard, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali, to Ebal. No commander-in-chief

ever disposed of his men more impartially than did Moses in this address beyond the

Jordan. Now, we have one or two remarks arising out of this arrangement.

 

  • THE TRIBE OF LEVI, WITH ALL THE APPOINTMENTS FOR

SACRIFICE, PASSED TO GERIZIM TO BLESS. In the march Levi

was divided into two parts — the Gershonites and Merarites going forth

with the tabernacle furniture, while the Kohathites went eighth with the ark

and sanctuary. But they unite at Mount Gerizim. Nothing could more clearly

indicate the mercy and blessing embodied in the whole ceremonial law

which the Levites represented. The Law in its judicial aspect might have

 its penalties and judgments, but it had its ceremonies of mercy to

counterbalance these.

 

  • THE WEIGHT OF THE NATION STOOD ON MOUNT GERIZIM.

When we consider the tribes upon the mount of blessing, we see that they

absorb the heroic in Israel. Reuben, Gad, Asher, Dan, Zebulun, and Naphtali

were nobodies, so far as national heroism is concerned; whereas the other

tribes became famous in the history of Palestine. It is surely significant that

the weight of the nation is assigned to the mount of blessing.

 

  • THE PEOPLE HAD TO SAY “AMEN” TO THE CURSES AS

WELL AS TO THE BLESSINGS PRONOUNCED IN THE NAME

OF GOD. Some are ready with their responses to the blessings; they cannot

get too much of them. But they demur to any curses issuing from God.

They think they are unworthy of Him. It so happens, however, that, in the

great congregation between the mountains, the curses of Ebal had

precedence of the blessings of Gerizim. The emphasis chronologically was

given to the curses. And our consciences must acknowledge that the Law

of God must carry out its penalties punctually, or it will forfeit all respect.

 

  • A REVIEW OF THE CURSES HERE UTTERED SHOWS THAT

THEY ALL REST UPON RIGHT. No one dare take up one of these

curses and suggest its omission or alteration. It is absolute morality which

assigns a malediction to such crimes as these. They have the hearty Amen

of every unbiased conscience.

 

 

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