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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Deuteronomy 27

Verse 1

And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day.

Keep all the commandments which I command you this day. This chapter should have commenced at Deuteronomy 26:16, for there Moses enters on the concluding part of the discourse which he pronounced on the plains of Moab; and having put the people in remembrance of the national covenant which had been mutually established between the Lord and Israel, by which He chose them for His people and they engaged to serve Him as their God, he proceeds to found on that solemn transaction a general but earnest exhortation to obedience.

Moses was surrounded, while giving his address, by the elders, or principal authorities in Israel, who by their presence, gestures, or audible declaration, not only approved of its strain, but united with him in enforcing fidelity to the divine service. Some further means, however, were thought necessary to promote the remembrance and observance of the divine laws.

Verse 2

And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaister them with plaister:

It shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan. Day is often put for time; and the meaning is, 'about the time;' for it was not until some days after the passage, though the earliest practicable opportunity, that the following instructions were acted upon.

Thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster. These stones were to be taken in their natural state, unhewn and unpolished-the occasion on which they were used not admitting of long or elaborate preparation; and they were to be daubed over with paint or white cement, to render them more conspicuous.

Stones and even rocks are seen in Egypt and the peninsula of Sinai, containing inscriptions made 3,000 years ago, in paint or plaster, of which, owing to the serenity of the climate, the coating is as firm and the colour as fresh as if it had been put on yesterday. The sphinx is covered with inscriptions, in black paint upon the red surface of the statue; and there are numerous ancient inscriptions found on sandstone, or even granite slabs, the surface of which is overlaid with stucco, or some similar composition (Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egyptians,'

iii., p. 300). By some similar method, or, as Michaelis ('Commentary on Laws of Moses,' No. 49:) supposes, by the letters being in relievo, while the spaces were filled up by paint or mortar, those stones may have been inscribed; and it is most probable that Moses learned the art from the Egyptians.

Verse 3

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 the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee.

Thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law - not certainly the whole five books of Moses, nor even the abridgment of it given in this book of Deuteronomy. It might be, as Kennicott thinks, the Decalogue; but a greater probability is, that it was the 'blessings and curses'-which comprised, in fact, an epitome of the law (Joshua 8:34).

That thou mayest go in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. This public and solemn ceremonial was evidently intended as a national expression, at the moment of Israel's entering into possession of the promised land, of their obligation to keep with faithfulness all the laws of God.

Verse 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 plaister them with plaister.

Ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal. The Samaritan version has, 'in mount Gerizim'-a reading which, though supported with great zeal by Kennicott ('Dissert.,' ii), was most satisfactorily refuted, and the correctness of the Hebrew text established by Verschuir (Dissept. 'Exeget. Philologicae,' 1773: see Moses Stuart, 'On the Samaritan Pentateuch and Literature,' in 'American Biblical Repository,' vol. 2:, p. 681-724).

Verses 5-6

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.

There shalt thou build an altar ... of whole stones. The stones were to be in their natural state, as if a chisel would communicate pollution to them. It is not certain whether the same stones formed the monument on the sides of which the words of the law were inscribed, as well as the altar on which the victims were sacrificed that signalized its renewed ratification (see the note at Joshua 8:30). At all events, the stony pile was so large as to contain all the conditions of the covenant, so elevated as to be visible to the whole congregation of Israel; and the religious ceremonial performed around it on the occasion was solemn and impressive, consisting, first, of the elementary worship needed for sinful men; and secondly, of the peace offerings, or lively social feasts that were suited to the happy people whose God was the Lord. There were thus the law which condemned and the typical expiation-the two great principles of revealed religion.

Verses 7-11

And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the LORD thy God.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 12-13

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:

These shall stand upon mount Gerizim ... these shall stand upon mount Ebal. Those gigantic masses of limestone rock are the highest peaks of a mountain-range which, in various diverging branches, stretches out far both to the east and west. Ebal and Gerizim stand isolated, reaching apparently from 800 to 1,000 feet above the town of Shechem (Nablous), which lies in the intermediate valley. Van de Velde's barometrical measurement was-for Gerizim, 2,000 feet above the sea level, and 928 feet above Shechem; for Ebal, 2,700 feet above the level of the sea, and 1,028 feet above the town.

They stand, Ebal on the north, Gerizim on the south, of a fertile, verdant, and well-watered valley, which extends to a width of about 300 yards, though at the opening of the ravine, where the town of Shechem is situated, the plain is much narrower. The adjoining sides of the two mounts give to the valley an air of pleasant, and at the same time of complete, seclusion.

The people of Israel were here divided into two parts. On mount Gerizim (now Jebel-et-Tur) were stationed the descendants of Rachel and Leah, the two principal wives of Jacob; and to them was assigned the most pleasant and honourable office of pronouncing the benedictions; while on the twin hill of Ebal (now Imad-el-Deen, according to Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' p. 233, note; but according to most other travelers, Sitti Salamiyah, called after a Mohammedan saint) were placed the posterity of the two secondary wives, Zilpah and Bilhah, with those of Reuben, who had lost the primogeniture, and Zebulun, who was Leah's youngest son; to them was committed the necessary but painful duty of pronouncing the maledictions. Thus, one-half the Hebrew people were ranged on the one hill, the mount of blessing, and the other half on the opposite, Ebal, where the awful maledictions were pronounced on those who should violate the precepts of the divine code of laws (see the note at Judges 9:7). The ceremony might have taken place on the lower spurs of the mountains, where they approach more closely to each other; and although the account given here of the proceedings is very brief, the curses only being recorded, the course observed was as follows: Amid the silent expectations of the solemn assembly, the priests, standing round the ark in the valley below, said aloud, looking to Gerizim, 'Blessed is the man that maketh not any graven image,' when the people ranged on that hill responded in full simultaneous shouts of 'Amen,' expressing their cordial assent; then, turning round to Ebal, they cried, not 'Cursed be'-as there was no imprecation, but a denunciation of the divine displeasure against those who had been or should be guilty of the following enumerated sins-but 'Cursed the man,' or, 'Cursed is the man that maketh any graven image;' to which those that covered the ridge answered, 'Amen.' The same course at every pause was followed with all the blessings and curses (see the notes at Joshua 8:33-34).

Verses 14-15

And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice,

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 16

Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.

Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. To this day every Jew, as well as Mussulman, who passes the tomb of Absalom, in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, casts a stone at it, repeating along with the act the words of this malediction. These blessings and curses, attendant on disobedience to the divine will, which had been revealed as a law from heaven, be it observed, are given in the form of a declaration, not a wish, as the words should be rendered, 'Cursed is he,' and not "Cursed be he." The physical character and appearance of these remarkable mountains did not determine the choice of which should be the mount of blessing and which that of cursing. [ `Eeybaal (H5858), indeed, is derived by Gesenius from 'aabal, to strip a tree of its leaves, as if it were a bare, rugged, and desolate hill. Gªriziy (H1630), ought, according to this etymological principle, to be traceable to some root indicating its smiling and flowery appearance.] But it is generally supposed to have obtained its name from an aboriginal tribe-the Gerizzi (1 Samuel 27:8, margin) - being 'mount of the Gerizzites' (cf. Judges 12:15).

The two mounts are not very different in point of character: parts of them exhibit the appearance of bare rocks, while other parts of them appear richly dressed with artificial culture-Ebal covered with cactus gardens, and Gerizim clad with olive trees. Objections have been urged against the alleged physical impossibility of the mighty multitude, ranged in equal divisions on opposite hills, being able to hear and understand the precepts as they were successively enunciated. In answer to this allegation, it may be sufficient understand the precepts as they were successively enunciated. In answer to this allegation, it may be sufficient here to say:

(1) That people standing on these two hills can, in the clear, elastic atmosphere of Palestine, be perfectly heard by each other conversing or reading, without any extraordinary straining of voice;

and

(2) That the Levites, who were stationed at the head of different companies (Deuteronomy 27:9; Deuteronomy 27:14) repeated the blessings and curses as they were pronounced. (See further the notes at Joshua 8:30-35.)

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 27". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/deuteronomy-27.html. 1871-8.