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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 27

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1


Moses now gave the new generation its instructions concerning fresh commitment to the covenant when Israel would enter the land.

"The ratification of the new covenant which Moses was making with the second generation was to unfold in two stages. That was customary procedure in securing the throne succession to the appointed royal heir. When death was imminent, the suzerain required his vassals to pledge obedience to his son; 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. Hence the succession of Joshua, which symbolized the continuing lordship of Israel’s God, was ensured by the oath elicited from Israel before Moses died, and again later by a ratification ceremony after Joshua’s accession. The pronouncing of curses and blessings is prominent in each of these ratification rituals." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," pp. 190-91.]

Verses 1-8

Upon entering Canaan the Israelites were to assemble at Mt. Ebal (the hill that flanked Shechem to the north) near the center of the land and set up several large stones as monuments (cf. Exodus 24:4-8). They were to plaster these with lime (or gypsum) and then write the law on the monuments. This was a common way of posting important public announcements in Canaan. [Note: J. Hoftijzer and G. van der Kooij, Aramaic Texts from Deir ’Alla, pp. 23-28.] They probably copied the Ten Commandments, [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 342.] but they may have copied the blessings and curses, [Note: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 4:8:44.] the legal parts of the law, [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:431.] the salient parts of the laws reiterated in Deuteronomy, [Note: Kalland, p. 160.] or the entire Book of Deuteronomy. [Note: Deere, p. 309.] The purpose of this act was to declare to all people, Canaanites as well as Israelites, that the Mosaic Law was Israel’s standard of faith and practice, its national constitution.

"The practice of writing laws on a plastered surface was known in other lands, notably Egypt, where the texts were painted rather than engraved." [Note: Thompson, p. 262. Cf. Driver, p. 296.]

The people were also to build an altar on Mt. Ebal at the same time (Deuteronomy 27:5-7). They were to fashion it of uncut stones (cf. Exodus 20:25). Then the nation was to offer burnt and peace offerings of worship to Yahweh thereby committing themselves to Him as their Lord. Abraham received God’s promise of the land and built his first altar in the land at this site (Genesis 12:6-7).

Verses 1-13

A. The ceremony at Shechem 27:1-13

When the people entered the Promised Land they were to assemble at Shechem (Deuteronomy 27:1-8; cf. Deuteronomy 11:29-30). This would be the second stage of the covenant renewal, to be conducted in Canaan. Moses exhorted the Israelites to obey the covenant requirements then (Deuteronomy 27:9-10) and prepared them to invoke the covenant sanctions there (Deuteronomy 27:11-13).

Verses 9-10

The new generation of Israelites would become a people for Yahweh (Deuteronomy 27:9) when they took on themselves the responsibilities and privileges of the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 27:10). As their fathers had done at Mt. Horeb (Exodus 19:8), so the new generation would do at Mt. Ebal.

"The ceremonial feast was usually part of the ratification activities when suzerainty treaties were signed in countries neighboring Israel during the Mosaic era." [Note: Schultz, p. 85.]

"This day" (Deuteronomy 27:9) refers to the day the people would fulfill these instructions in the land (Joshua 8; cf. Joshua 24).

Verses 11-13

We should read the instructions for this ceremony with Joshua 8:30-35, where God recorded the fulfillment of Moses’ commands. Mt. Gerizim was the southern of the two hills and Mt. Ebal the northern on either side of Shechem. As Israel faced east, Mt. Gerizim would have been on her right hand, the traditional place of blessing, and Mt. Ebal on her left. The representatives of the six tribes who stood on Mt. Gerizim were all sons of Leah and Rachel. The tribes on Mt. Ebal were descendants of the maids of these women (Gad, Asher, Dan, and Naphtali) plus Reuben and Zebulun. Reuben was the son of Leah who had lost his birthright because of his sin, and Zebulun was the youngest son of Leah.

Verses 14-26

B. The curses that follow disobedience to specific stipulations 27:14-26

This is the first of two sections of curses (cf. Deuteronomy 28:15-68) that sandwich one section of blessings (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). The present group of curses explains the consequences of disobedience to specific stipulations of the covenant whereas the second group of curses clarifies the consequences of disobedience to general stipulations of the covenant.

The twelve curses that a group of Levites was to repeat probably represented the twelve tribes. The idea was not that the practice mentioned in each curse had been a besetting sin of one of the tribes. Each tribe received a warning against disobeying the whole Mosaic Law by receiving one specific injunction. God seems to have selected the warnings somewhat at random. They dealt with idolatry (Deuteronomy 27:15), breaches of love for one’s neighbor (Deuteronomy 27:16-19), sexual irregularities (Deuteronomy 27:20-23), and bodily injuries (Deuteronomy 27:24-25).

"The matters taken up are not a neat, ordered collection; they deal with fundamental aspects of the order of Israel’s existence: the exclusive worship of the Lord, honor of parents, protection of life and property, justice for the weak and powerless, and sexual relations. These curses have often been regarded as a kind of ancient collection of laws analogous to the Ten Commandments, which have no curse expressions attached but do seem to have a sense of absoluteness implied and in other contexts are given the penalty of death." [Note: Miller, p. 195.]

The last verse includes violation of any other command in the law (Deuteronomy 27:26). Paul used this verse to emphasize the fact that no one can obey God perfectly (Galatians 3:10-14). The unifying theme seems to be that these were all sins the Israelites could commit in secret. [Note: Craigie, The Book . . ., p. 331.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 27". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/deuteronomy-27.html. 2012.
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