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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 27

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


THE THIRD ADDRESS OF MOSES (Deuteronomy 27-30)

That this chapter is properly placed, that it is indeed from Moses, as is specifically claimed three different times in the chapter, and that it is a logical and necessary continuation of what has preceded - all of this is now considered a certainty by orthodox Christian scholars. It has been only a few short years since the critics were declaiming that: “This chapter, in the third person, is an interruption, a later addition, etc.”(F1) “It is clearly not part of Moses’ speech.”(F2) “This chapter has probably been misplaced… it breaks the connection.”(F3) “It seems clear that this chapter was not originally intended for this place”(F4) etc., etc. All such NONSENSE has been thoroughly refuted and discredited by the discovery of what the chapter really is! The following words from Kline make it clear:

“The fourth standard division in the ancient suzerainty treaties contained the curses and blessings, the woe and weal sanctions of the covenant. In Deuteronomy, this section is found in Deuteronomy 27-30. It was the customary procedure in securing the throne succession to the appointed royal heir, that when death was eminent, the suzerain required his vassals to pledge obedience to his son; and then soon after the son’s accession, the vassals’ commitment was repeated. “Similarly, Moses and Joshua formed a dynasty of mediatorial representatives of the Lord’s suzerainty over Israel.
“In full keeping with that pattern, the continuing lordship of Israel’s God, was ensured by the oath required before Moses died (Deuteronomy 26), and again by another ratification ceremony after Joshua’s succession! (The one outlined here in Deuteronomy 27, and fulfilled in Joshua 8). Of course, the pronouncement of curses and blessings is prominent in both.”(F5)

In this light, it is perfectly clear that this chapter is indeed from Moses, as is repeatedly stated, and that it is located exactly where it belongs. We must therefore view Deuteronomy 27 as an integral part of Deuteronomy, and not as a later addition.

Verses 1-8

“And Moses and the elders of Israel summoned the people, saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day. And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over the Jordan unto the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster: and thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over; that thou mayest go in unto the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, as Jehovah, the God of thy fathers, hath promised thee. And it shall be, when ye are passed over the Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaster them with plaster. And there shalt thou build an altar unto Jehovah thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt lift up no iron tool upon them. Thou shalt build the altar of Jehovah thy God of unhewn stones; and thou shalt offer burnt-offerings thereon unto Jehovah thy God: and thou shalt sacrifice peace-offerings, and shall eat there; and thou shalt rejoice before Jehovah thy God. And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly.”

“And Moses” The third person was often used by the sacred writers, and the use of it in this chapter does not change the fact that Moses is the speaker throughout.

Moses in this passage associated himself with the elders, an unusual arrangement. “But this joint address has particular significance. At the renewal of the covenant which was here commanded, Moses would not be present, because he would die before Israel entered Canaan.”(F6)

Another feature of this paragraph is the repetition occurring in it. Cousins noted that this is characteristic of Hebrew style,(F7) and we might add that this is particularly true of the times of Moses.

“And it shall be on the day” (Deuteronomy 27:3). This does not mean within 24 hours, for the expression as used here “is a generalized indication of time.”(F8) We might paraphrase by reading, “When you have passed over Jordan, etc.”

“Write… all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 27:3). This presupposes literacy among the Hebrew people, for in Deuteronomy 27:8, it is commanded that it should be written plainly, indicating that people were expected to read it. Furthermore, there is an overwhelming presupposition here to the effect that there was indeed a law containing many words, and that this law existed in written form! The commandment here was not limited to the specific examples of the law cited here, but included “all the law of God, as recorded in Exodus, etc.”

It has been objected that “all the words of this law” would be too long for the kind of inscription commanded here, but this is an unlearned objection. “Ancient inscriptions varied in length. The one on the rockface at Behistun is nearly three times as long as the entire Book of Deuteronomy!”(F9)

“Set up these stones… in mount Ebal… and there shalt thou build an altar” (Deuteronomy 27:4-5). Well, well, isn’t it a shame that Moses knew nothing about the critical claims that “the altar” in Deuteronomy ALWAYS means Jerusalem? The critical community will NEVER understand Deuteronomy as long as that error concerning the “central sanctuary” in Jerusalem is promulgated.

Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim were twin mountains facing each other and enclosing a natural amphitheater in which a vast audience would be able to hear distinctly a favorably located speaker. These mountains were “forty miles north of Jerusalem and twenty miles west of Jordan.”(F10) “Ebal was on the north and Gerizim on the south, and the principal trade mute of that era went between the mountains. Shechem on the east was prominent in early Hebrew history.”(F11) These mountains were of considerable height. “Ebal was 3,075 feet in altitude, and Gerizim was 2,850 feet.”(F12)

Instructions on building the altar correspond exactly, as should have been expected, with the commandment of God through Moses in Exodus 20:25. (See the comment in my commentary, volume II (Exodus) under that reference.) Countless passages such as these make it impossible to receive any theories about seventh century priests being involved in any manner whatever with the production of the Pentateuch. Of course, the critics know this, and therefore they hail this chapter as “pre-Deuteronomic!”(F13) Of course, the passage is Deuteronomic, the only “pre-” we have here being found in the fact that it is most certainly pre-7th-century-priests, as is the whole of the Pentateuch!

“The Samaritan Pentateuch translated `Gerizim’ instead of `Ebal’ in Deuteronomy 27:4, but all the ancient versions, as well as all the Hebrew manuscripts support the received text.”(F14) In light of this, it seems incredible that Von Rad would read Gerizim here instead of Ebal.(F15)

Ebal near the north end of the city of Shechem was an especially appropriate place for the ratification of the covenant near the beginning of Joshua’s succession to the leadership of Israel. Abraham had built an altar there, and from the time of the patriarchs, it had been associated with the Lord’s promise to give Israel the land of Canaan. Jacob also had built an altar in the vicinity of the place (Genesis 33:18-20), and when the children of Israel left Egypt carrying the bones of Joseph, they buried his bones at Shechem (Joshua 24:32).

Verses 9-10

“And Moses and the priests the Levites spake unto all Israel, saying, Keep silence, and hearken, O Israel: This day thou art become the people of God. Thou shalt therefore obey the voice of Jehovah thy God, and do his commandments and his statutes, which I command thee this day.”

“This day thou art become the people of God” This indicates that these two verses were spoken by Moses and the Levites upon the same day as the oath of ratification reported in Deuteronomy 26. It was that oath that made Israel God’s people:

“Israel became a nation, not by virtue of acquiring a land or language of their own, but by taking on itself the yoke of the Torah even while it was still in the wilderness, without a land or the other tangible attributes of nationhood.”(F16)

“The silence commanded in this passage marked the climax of the ceremonies just concluded. Nehemiah 8:11; Zephaniah 1:7; Zechariah 2:13 record examples of the use of silence in such a manner. See also Habakkuk 2:20.”(F17)

This silence was also symbolical of a very important fact: “In the covenant relationship, the parties were by no means equal: God issued the commands, but Israel could not command God in any manner.”(F18) The silence dramatically symbolized that truth.

“Thou shalt therefore obey” (Deuteronomy 27:10). Many Protestant commentators insist on misconstruing this order to “obey.” Again from Cousins: “Obedience is fundamental to the covenant, but as a consequence, not as a condition of the covenant.”(F19) But, of course, obedience was indeed a condition of the covenant, as proved by the fact that when Israel disobeyed, God commanded Zechariah to break Beauty and to break Bands, dramatically indicating that God abrogated the covenant on the grounds of Israel’s disobedience. As Phillips accurately stated it, “It was obedience to the law which not only determined Israel’s physical welfare, but ultimately possession of the land itself.”(F20)

Not satisfied with attempting to shout the command for OBEDIENCE out of the N.T., some would like to eliminate it from the O.T. as well. The history of Israel is the only refutation that such theories require. When Israel obeyed God they prospered; when they disobeyed they suffered. And when they finally rebelled against God they were rejected as the chosen people and removed from the promised land.

Verses 11-14

“And Moses charged the people the same day, saying, These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are passed over the Jordan: Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin. These shall stand upon mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. And the Levites shall answer, and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice.”

Moses here set up the procedure for that second ratification of the covenant that was scheduled to take place very early after Joshua succeeded to the leadership following Moses’ death. The particular part of the ceremony in review here was that of the blessings and cursing, standard feature of all the suzerainty treaties of that period. Many scholars have commented on the appropriateness of the location of this great ratification ceremony in which a major portion of the host of Israel would participate. The natural amphitheater afforded by the favorable contour of the two mountains made it easy to hear voices for an incredibly long distance, and to help out, the Levites were commanded to speak in a certain way. The words in Deuteronomy 27:14 are, literally, “recite in a high-pitched voice!”(F21)

Regarding the division of the tribes, six on Gerizim, and six on Ebal, Cook pointed out that, “Those on the mount of blessing were all sons of Jacob’s legitimate wives; and those on the mount of cursing were the sons of the concubines, with the renegade Reuben (who for his incest lost his primogeniture, Gen. 49:41), and in order to make up the required six, Zebulun the youngest.”(F22)

The identification of these tribes, six with each mountain, has no suggestion in it that, “the six tribes on Ebal were under the curse. All twelve tribes had been favored by God with the gift of the land. The curses were against individuals who broke God’s laws, not against tribes.”(F23)

Verses 15-26

“Cursed be the man that maketh a graven or molten image, an abomination unto Jehovah, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and setteth it up in secret. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen. “Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen. “Cursed be he that moveth his neighbor’s landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen. “Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way. And all the people shall say, Amen. “Cursed be he that wresteth the justice due to the sojourner, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen. “Cursed be he that lieth with his father’s wife, because he hath uncovered his father’s skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen. “Cursed be he that lieth with any manner of beast. And all the people shall say, Amen. “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. “Cursed be he that lieth with his mother-in-law. And all the people shall say, Amen. “Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbor in secret. And all the people shall say, Amen. “Cursed be he that taketh a bribe to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say, Amen. “Cursed be he that confirmeth not the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.”

Note that there are exactly twelve of these regulations, one for each of the twelve tribes, and strongly suggesting the symbolical nature of the laws here cited. These should not be understood as exclusive, but as symbolical of all of God’s laws, as surely indicated by Deuteronomy 27:26. Remember, this was a ceremony, but regardless of specific segments of it, all of God’s law is in view throughout.

Searching for some kind of a pattern in the list, we find that most of the things mentioned here would have been secret violations of God’s law. Some of them, however, do not fall into such a classification. It is also obvious that several of these relate directly to the Decalogue itself.

The big surprise is that the blessings are not here enumerated. Keil thought it was unnecessary to specify the blessings, since, “It is easy to single out the corresponding blessings,”(F24) the same being the opposite of the violations mentioned along with the curses. Thus, the blessing would pertain to him that “honors father and mother.” and the curse pertained to him who did not do so. Also, there are blessing in large numbers before this ceremony is completed.

We have already made full comment on each one of the stipulations here mentioned with respect to the curses, under the references where each occurs in previous portions of the Bible. “Each of the first eleven curses here is directed against some particular sin already denounced in the Law; and the twelfth is directed generally against all breaches of the Law.(F25) This, coupled with the fact of there being exactly twelve of these, corresponding to the twelve tribes, “shows that they were selected by way of specimens.”(F26) We might say, that as they stand here, they are symbolical indications of the entire Law of Moses. The repetition of the phrase, “all the words of this law,” a number of times in the chapter is further proof of this.

Here is a checklist for where these forbidden things are previously mentioned, and where additional comment is available:

  • Deuteronomy 27:15Exodus 20:4; Leviticus 26:1 Deuteronomy 27:16Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9

  • Deuteronomy 27:17Deuteronomy 19:14

  • Deuteronomy 27:18Leviticus 19:14

  • Deuteronomy 27:19Exodus 22:21-23; Exodus 23:3; Deuteronomy 24:17

  • Deuteronomy 27:20Leviticus 18:8; Deuteronomy 22:30

  • Deuteronomy 27:21Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 18:23; Leviticus 20:15

  • Deuteronomy 27:22Leviticus 18:9; Leviticus 18:17

  • Deuteronomy 27:23Leviticus 18:9; Leviticus 18:17

  • Deuteronomy 27:24Exodus 21:12; Exodus 20:13; Numbers 35:16

  • Deuteronomy 27:25Exodus 23:7-8

  • Deuteronomy 27:26Deuteronomy 28:15

Watts suggested that the appearance of a number of forbidden actions here which would normally be indulged secretly indicates that, “God sees all things, even those in the secret places of the heart.”(F27)

Joshua, the faithful leader who followed Moses, dutifully carried out the orders which Moses delivered here; and the account of that obedience is in Joshua 8:30-35.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 27". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-27.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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