Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, May 26th, 2024
Trinity Sunday
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 27

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-26




HAVING set forth the laws and rights of Israel with special reference to the settlement of the people in Canaan, Hoses 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.

Deuteronomy 27:1-8

The first instruction 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. Lysias quotes a law from such a pillar in the Areopagus at Athens ('Eratosth.,' 31, 12); at Eleusis there were pillars on which laws were inscribed (Pollux, 10, 97); Plato speaks of pillars set up in the market-place, on which were laws for the regulation of traffic; and Polybius even uses the word 'pillar' (στήλη) as synonymous with "law" or "conditions of treaty".

Deuteronomy 27:1

All the commandments, etc.; all that up to this time I have enjoined upon you. The reference is to the entire Law as given by Moses.

Deuteronomy 27:2

On the day when ye shall pass over Jordan; i.e. at the time; "day" is here used in a wide sense (cf. Genesis 2:4; Numbers 3:1; 2 Samuel 22:1; Ecclesiastes 12:3; Isaiah 11:10, etc.). 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 (שִׂיַד), in order to secure a smooth white surface on which the inscription might be clearly depicted. That the words were not, as Michaelis, Rosenmüller, and others suppose, 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 (עַל) 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 Deuteronomy 27:4, Deuteronomy 27:8, and Joshua 8:30-32, 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".

Deuteronomy 27:3

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 (Deuteronomy 27:14-26); 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.

Deuteronomy 27:4

The stones were to be set up on Mount Ebal (cf. Deuteronomy 11:29). The Samaritan Codex and Version have Gerizim here, in place of Ebal; but though some critics have accepted this, it is generally regarded as an arbitrary alteration introduced to favor Samaritan pretensions (see the exhaustive and conclusive Dissertation of Gesenius, 'De Pentat. Samarit'). All the ancient versions, as well as all the Hebrew manuscripts, support the received text.

Deuteronomy 27:5-7

Besides the monumental stones, an altar of whole stones, on which no tool had passed (cf. Exodus 20:22) 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 (cf. Exodus 24:5).

Deuteronomy 27:8

The injunction to write the Law on the stones is repeated, with the addition that it was to be done very plainly (LXX; σαφῶς σφόδρα: Vulgate, plane et lucide), which shows that the main purpose of setting up the stones was that the Law might be easily known by the people (cf. 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" (2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:9), and of that Law which, though in itself "holy, just, and good," can only, because of man's perversity and sinfulness, bring on those who are under it a curse (Galatians 3:10).

Deuteronomy 27:9, Deuteronomy 27:10

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 (cf. Deuteronomy 26:17, Deuteronomy 26:18; Micah 4:5).

Deuteronomy 27:9

Take heed; literally, Be silent; LXX; σιώπα, with silent attention listen (cf. Zechariah 2:13).

Deuteronomy 27:11-14

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 Deuteronomy 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. (On the situation of these two mountains, see at eh. Deuteronomy 11:29.) 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 from Bilhah, Rachel's maid, viz. Dan and Naphtali; with Zebulun and Reuben, both descended from Leah. As, in order to ob-rain 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).

Deuteronomy 27:13

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.

Deuteronomy 27:14

The Levites—standing probably in some convenient spot midway between the two mountains (cf. 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 (cf. Joshua 8:33).

Deuteronomy 27:15-26

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. 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. 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 pro-seeding from a body of priests stationed apparently in the midst between the two companies (cf. Joshua 8:33), and chanting in unison the words of each blessing or curse.

Deuteronomy 27:15-26

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.

Deuteronomy 27:15

(Cf. Exodus 20:4; Le Exodus 26:1.)

Deuteronomy 27:16

(Cf. Exodus 21:17.)

Deuteronomy 27:17

(Cf. Deuteronomy 19:14.)

Deuteronomy 27:18

(Cf. Le Deuteronomy 19:14.)

Deuteronomy 27:19

(Cf. Deuteronomy 24:17.)

Deuteronomy 27:20

(Cf. Le Deuteronomy 18:8; Deuteronomy 22:30.)

Deuteronomy 27:21

(Cf. Leviticus 18:23; Deuteronomy 20:15.)

Deuteronomy 27:22, Deuteronomy 27:23

.—(Cf. Le Deuteronomy 18:9, Deuteronomy 18:17.)

Deuteronomy 27:24

(Cf. Exodus 20:13; Numbers 35:16, etc.)

Deuteronomy 27:25

(Cf. Exodus 23:7, Exodus 23:8.)

Deuteronomy 27:26

(Cf. Deuteronomy 28:15; Jeremiah 11:3, Jeremiah 11:4.)


Deuteronomy 27:1-10

Very plainly.

These words, "very plainly," suggest three lines of thought.

I. THEY SHOW SOMETHING THAT WAS ORDERED TO BE, viz. that the Law of God was to be written very plainly, as the 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," need not err therein.

II. 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.

1. In the books which Moses left behind him there was a revelation of the Divine mind and win 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.

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

(1) Those of the prophets.

(2) Of our Lord.

(3) 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."


1. 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.

2. 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.

3. With such a Book before us, let us walk

(1) intelligently, as if we understood the meaning of life;

(2) thankfully, as if we apprehended the glory of life;

(3) earnestly, as if we knew the solemnity of life;

(4) hopefully, as those who are advancing towards the goal of life.

Deuteronomy 27:11-26

A grand

"Amen!" 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 3:1-29; 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 by the holy cross to swear eternal war against sin. This may be worked out in seven consecutive lines of thought.

I. God's people now are a divinely chosen commonwealth.

II. In subjection to God alone, this commonwealth is a self-governing body.

III. The only law for life which they accept is that of righteousness—righteousness, of course, all round, both as regards God and man.

IV. 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.

V. 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.

VI. The penitent is set free from the curse of Law, that he may ever after co-operate with God in honoring the Law from whose curse he has been redeemed.

VII. 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.

VIII. 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, Vex populi, vex Dei.


Deuteronomy 27:1-8

The stones on Ebal.

This chapter is significant, as letting in light on the design of the Law, and on the nature of the Jewish covenant. We see from it:

1. That the Law could not give life.

2. That it was not designed to give life.

3. That its real aim was to convince of sin, and so to shut men up to the faith that would afterwards be revealed (Galatians 3:23).

Three topics in these verses—

I. THE ERECTION OF THE STONES. (Deuteronomy 27:2, Deuteronomy 27:8.) Stones were to be set up, coated with plaster (a custom of Egypt), on which were to be written, "very plainly," "all the words of this Law" (Deuteronomy 27:8)—either the Law in Deuteronomy, or the Pentateuchal laws generally. The stones were:

1. Significant reminders of the tenure on which the land was held.

2. Witnesses against the people in case of disobedience.

3. A testimony to the plainness with which the Law had been made known to them. The last point reminds us of our own privilege in possessing a clear and full revelation of the will of God in the Bible. Copies of the Bible are like these stones, witnesses against us if we disobey the gospel. "Light has come into the world" (John 3:19). We are not left to the natural conscience, sufficient though that be to convict men of sin (Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15). We are servants who know our Lord's will (Luke 12:47). We have the light both of Law and gospel. Supremely great are our privileges, and equally great are our responsibilities.

II. THE STONES ERECTED ON EBAL. (Verse 4.) But why on Ebal? Why on the mount of cursing? Had there been a Law which could have given life, "verily," Paul says, "righteousness should have been by the Law" (Galatians 3:21). In that case, the appropriate place for the erection of the stones would have been Gerizim—the mount of blessing. But the Law could not give life. In itself considered, as requiring perfect obedience, it could only condemn. Its principal function—its economic scope and purpose—was not to bless, but to give "knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:19, Romans 3:20; Romans 7:9-14; Galatians 3:1-29.). Hence the appropriate place for the stones being planted was on the mount of cursing.


1. As the Law testified to sin, so the sacrifices testified to grace—to the provision in mercy which lay within the covenant for the removal of guilt. Burnt offerings and peace offerings, as well as the sin offerings, included the idea of propitiation. This was shown at the first forming of the covenant by the action of sprinkling the blood (Exodus 22:6-8; cf. Hebrews 9:19-28). Without sacrifice, without the means of removing, or at least covering guilt, Israel's position under the Law would have been a mockery.

2. The altar of unhewn stones testifies to the subordinate place which art ought to have in the worship of God. There was a special suitableness in the altar of propitiation being built of undesecrated materials. Himself sinful, man's art would have polluted it. Only when propitiation had been made was art permitted to resume its function of ministering to the beauty of Divine service. But art, in religion, needs to be carefully guarded. It is false art when it drowns other thoughts in admiration of the finish, injuring worship by that which draws away the mind from worship.

3. The burnt offerings and peace offerings testified—the one to the entire consecration of heart and life which is the condition of acceptable service; the other, to the peace and fellowship with God which, on the ground of sacrifice, are attained through consecration and obedience.—J.O.

Deuteronomy 27:9, Deuteronomy 27:10

A people of God.

I. A PEOPLE BOUND TO GOD BY MANY TIES. Both by what God had done for them, and by the vows which, on different occasions, they had taken on themselves. They were his by covenant with the fathers. He had made them his by redemption from Egypt. He had covenanted with them at Sinai. The covenant being broken, he had, at Moses' intercession, graciously renewed it. He had kept covenant with the children, even when rejecting the fathers. Thirty-eight years he had led them in the wilderness, and once more had gathered them together, to hear them renew their vows of obedience. Which things are a figure. They remind us of the many bonds by which numbers of Christ's people are bound to his covenant. By redemption, by dedication of parents, by personal choice of the Savior, by public profession, by repeated visits to his table, by special vows, etc.

II. A PEOPLE REAFFIRMED TO BE GOD'S BY RENEWAL OF COVENANT. We "become" the Lord's by revival and renewal of profession, as well as by original entrance into grace. As Christ's Sonship is from eternity, yet is dated from successive epochs—his birth (Luke 1:32, Luke 1:35), his resurrection (Act 14:1-28 :33; Romans 1:4)—so each new act of self-dedication, each new approach of God to the soul, each renewal of covenant, may be taken by the Christian as a new date from which to reckon his acceptance.

III. A PEOPLE UNDER WEIGHTY RESPONSIBILITIES. The believer's relation to God entails a solemn obligation to obedience. The very name, "people of God," reminds us of our "holy calling"—of the obligation resting on us to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 2:15, 1 Peter 2:16); exhibiting to the world a pattern of good works, and proving our discipleship by likeness of character to him whose Name we bear.—J.O.

Deuteronomy 27:11-26

Ebal and Gerizim.

This ceremony turns on the idea of the Law as primarily entailing a curse. Blessings and curses were both to be recited (Deuteronomy 27:12, Deuteronomy 27:13). 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. Deuteronomy 27:26 shows that, in strictness, none can escape the curse (Psalms 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.


1. The stones are all placed on Ebal.

2. All the sons of the bondwomen are placed on that mount (cf. 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" (1 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. We learn—

I. THAT THE LAW IS COMPREHENSIVE OF EVERY PART OF OUR DUTY. A variety of sins are mentioned as examples. They relate to all departments of duty—duty to God and duty to man. The list is avowedly representative (Deuteronomy 27:26).


1. That it covers a large part of the Decalogue. The first table is fairly represented by the second commandment, and a curse is pronounced on the making and worshipping of images (Deuteronomy 27:15). The precepts of the second table are involved in the other verses—the fifth commandment in the curse on filial disrespect (Deuteronomy 27:16), the sixth in the curse on murder (Deuteronomy 27:24), the seventh in the curses on the grosser forms of uncleanness (Deuteronomy 27:20-23); the eighth in the curse on removing the landmark (Deuteronomy 27:17); the ninth in the, curse on slaying another for reward, which may include perjury (Deuteronomy 27:25); while Deuteronomy 19:19 may be viewed as forbidding breaches of the law of love generally.

2. That the sins against which the curses are directed are mostly secret sins. The Law searches the heart.

3. That the usual care is shown for the interests of the defenseless (Deuteronomy 19:18, Deuteronomy 19:19). It is touching, in the heart of so awful a malediction, to find this tender love for the blind, the stranger, the fatherless, the widow. Wrath and love in God are close of kin.

II. THAT A CURSE WAITS ON EVERY VIOLATION OF THE LAW'S PRECEPTS. The position of Scripture is that every sin, great and small, subjects the sinner to God's wrath and curse. It derives this truth, not, as some have sought to derive it, from the metaphysical notion of sin's infinite demerit, as committed against an infinite God; but from its own deep view of sin, as involving a change, a deflection, an alteration, in its effects of infinite moment, in the very center of man's being. There is no sin of slight turpitude. A holy being, to become capable of sin, must admit a principle into his heart totally foreign to the holy condition, and subversive of it. In this sense, he that offends in one point is guilty of all (James 2:10, James 2:11). Sin is in him, and on a being with sin in him the Law can pronounce but one sentence. His life is polluted, and, being polluted, is forfeited. The curse involves the cutting of the sinner off from life and favor, with subjection to the temporal, spiritual, and eternal penalties of transgression. The denial of this article leaves no single important doctrine of the gospel unaffected; the admission of it carries with it all the rest. It gives its complexion to a whole theology.

III. THAT THE SINNER MUST ACKNOWLEDGE THE JUSTICE OF THE LAW'S CLAIMS AGAINST HIM. The people were required to say, "Amen." This "Amen" was:

(1) An assent to the conditions of life proposed.

(2) A recognition of the righteousness of them.

The Law declares God's judgment against sin. And this:

1. Is echoed by the conscience. Fitfully, reluctantly, intermittently, yet truly, even by the natural conscience. The "Amen" is implied in every pang of remorse, in every feeling of self-condemnation. Every time we do that we would not, we consent unto the Law that it is good (Romans 3:16). The very heathen know the "judgment of God, that they which commit such things" as are here specified "are worthy of death" (Romans 1:32). But it needs the spiritually convinced heart to render this "Amen" hearty and sincere. The true penitent justifies God and condemns himself (Psalms 51:1-19.).

2. Was acknowledged by Christ as our Sin-bearer. In Christ's atonement, it has been truly remarked, there "must have been a perfect 'Amen' in humanity to the judgment of God on the sin of man. Such an 'Amen' was due to the truth of things. He who was the Truth could not be in humanity and not utter it—and it was necessarily a first step in dealing with the Father on our behalf" (J. McLeod Campbell).

3. Will yet be joined in by the whole universe (Revelation 15:2; Revelation 17:1, Revelation 17:2).

CONCLUSION. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13). In him no condemnation (Romans 8:1).—J.O.


Deuteronomy 27:1-10

Safeguards for obedience.

The enthusiasm of Moses for God's Law is admirable, and no less admirable is his earnest desire for Israel's prosperity. That self-forgetful zeal for others' good was one main qualification in Moses to be the vehicle of God's revealed will. With singular sagacity, Moses presses into the earliest service, for the promulgation of Divine Law, the people themselves. The very stones of Canaan were to be written over with the substance of the Law, and in this way were to become monuments of the covenant between God and Israel. The people who had taken an active part in publishing that Law would feel bound in self-consistency to maintain it. Their title-deeds to Canaan they set up in sight of heaven and earth; and if afterward they should be disobedient, the very stones of the land would cry out against them.

I. AN OBEDIENT SPIRIT DELIGHTS TO EXALT AND PERPETUATE GOD'S LAW. Moses, instructed by God, was a wise observer of human nature; hence he engages the cooperation of the people in proclaiming the Law in the first flush of conquest. The first stones they touched with their feet on the other side Jordan were to be consecrated to the service of God's Law. Deficient in tools, they were not expected to grave them in stone, but to write them on plaster. This could be expeditiously done, and might serve to remind them how easily were the Divine commands effaced from human hearts. As soon as God had begun to fulfill his part of the covenant, man must fulfill his. The people were to write "all" the precepts; for not one of them, however minute, was needless. What was sufficiently important for God to reveal, we may be sure was important enough for man to preserve. These stones, when inscribed with Divine legislation, were to be set up on a mount central in the land, to indicate the universal honor to which they were entitled. And probably Ebal was selected that the people might be awed by the curses which sprang from disobedience. To magnify the Law of the King is the loyal subject's delight. "Oh, how I love thy Law!"

II. AN OBEDIENT SPIRIT IS QUALIFIED TO ENTER UPON A LARGER INHERITANCE. (Deuteronomy 27:3.) The language is significant. Having passed over Jordan, they were to select and prepare these monumental stones, to the end "thou mayest go in unto the land." Various measures of success were possible. They might destroy the Canaanites, and yet find little advantage or comfort from the inheritance. God could give with one hand and blast with the other. Though in the land, it might not yet open out its resources to them as a "land flowing with milk and honey." Every day they tarried in the land, they might pass into an inner circle of blessing. New waves of sunshine and blessing might sweep over them, so that every morning the inheritance might be to them new. Nature, in its beauties, its wonders, its products, is inexhaustible. With God as our Friend and Teacher, we may find accessions of good and gladness perpetually. Obeying his voice, we enter in; and still, as obedience grows, we enter into fuller possession increasingly.

III. AN OBEDIENT SPIRIT OBTAINS QUICKENING AND STRENGTH AT GOD'S ALTAR. It was forbidden the Hebrews to erect an altar for burnt offering anywhere except the place which God should choose for his abode. So vital, however, to the interests of the nation was this act of proclaiming the Law, that an exception was made in its favor. In the presence of the Law, men would feel their deficiencies and offences; hence provision was specially made for the confession of sin, for the presentation of sacrifice, and for the assurance of mercy. At the altar of burnt offering God and guilty man could meet; here reconciliation could be effected, and here new grace could be obtained. In the somber light of the burnt offering, men would read the august meaning of the Law, and learn to cover that Law with honor.

But why must the altar be built of unhewn stones? We can only conjecture. Was it to symbolize the fact that God can allow no human interference or co-operation in the work of atonement? Was it to indicate that every part of God's will and Law must be kept perfectly intact, if man would be the friend of God? Was it to prevent any kind of graven work, the craft of human imagination, from adorning the altar of God; by which the minds of worshippers might be diverted from the one solemn act to be performed? There may be an element of truth in all these surmises.

IV. AN OBEDIENT SPIRIT FINDS UNEXPECTEDLY A BANQUET OF JOY. "Thou shalt eat, and shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God." On all sides God has provided the materials for a splendid repast, where every desire of the soul may be satisfied; but the pathway to that sumptuous feast is the pathway of hearty obedience. We can secure the annual harvest only by acting along the line of God's law in nature; and active co-operation with the Divine will is essential to our soul's satisfaction. The joy that thrills the heart of God he desires to share with us, but self-will too often robs us of the boon. "The meek shall eat and be satisfied."

V. AN OBEDIENT SPIRIT RECEIVES INSPIRATION FROM THE HIGHEST SOURCE. "Thou art the people of the Lord thy God; therefore thou shalt obey his voice." Service which is done from motives of advantage—to gain favor or promotion from God—is mercenary. A selfish end is in view. The favor of the Most High is not merely the end we seek; it is the source whence all right desire and exertion spring. Thou art the Lord's: this is the chief inspiration of effort. Thou art the Lord's; therefore live as becometh such royal rank. Thou art the Lord's; therefore all his stores of help are at thy command." "Greater is he that is for us than all who can be against us."—D.

Deuteronomy 27:11-26

The Decalogue nationally reciprocated.

It is obvious that the same God who prescribed its Jewish Law is the Creator also of the human conscience; for, just as the sword fits its scabbard, or as cog corresponds with cog in the mechanical wheel, so accord Mosaic Law and human conscience. They are natural counterparts.

I. MEN ARE RULED BY A SYSTEM OF REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS. Notwithstanding the development of the human mind, and the progress of civilization since Moses' day, human nature is still in its minority, still in a state of childhood. We do not yet see into the interior nature of spiritual realities. We do not see the inherent excellence of righteousness. We do not see the native beauty of obedience. Hence we need to be attracted by rewards and awed by punishments. We perceive the glory or the shame of moral conduct chiefly by its fruits. As we grow in piety, we shall value virtue and holiness for their own sakes, and think less about remote effects and consequences. At present we need the attendant pleasure and pain, the promises and threatenings.

II. FINAL SEPARATIONS OF MANKIND ARE HERE PREFIGURED. As the twelve tribes were here divided into two distinct groups, divided by the vale of Shechem; so all the tribes of men shall eventually be separated, and that by an impassable gulf. The principle of classification on Ebal and Gerizim was not personal merit or demerit (as it will be at the final assize), yet even this ultimate principle of separation seems to have been foreshadowed there. 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. As yet, the evil could be averted—the positions might be reversed; these dramatic proceedings were omens both of good and of evil, and were intended to arouse a torpid conscience. To heaven or to hell each man hourly gravitates.

III. GOD'S BLESSING OR CURSE TAKES EFFECT FROM CENTER TO CIRCUMFERENCE. These mountains were situated almost central in the land. Soon this vast congregation would be scattered to their allotted homes, and thus the influence of this scene would be transmitted all over Canaan. Even this external transmission was typical. The blessing and the curse touched every interest and relationship of Jewish life—religion, home, society, government. The curse was invoked upon idolatry, undutifulness, avarice, oppression, unchastity, insubordination. It began in the inner chamber of the heart, and extended to the outermost circle of the social system. It begins at once, follows the crime as the shadow does the object, until it reaches into the most distant cycles of eternity.

IV. THE HUMAN CONSCIENCE IS THE RECIPROCAL OF THE MORAL LAW, THE ECHO OF ITS SANCTIONS AND ITS PENALTIES. Every healthy conscience utters its sincere "Amen" to every dictate of God's Law. When free from the mists and storms of guilty passion, it reflects, with the fidelity of a mirror, the decisions of God's royal will. Even when a man is the victim of judicial sentence, his conscience admits the justice of the doom. The culprit, in his calmer moods, is self-convicted and self-condemned. When God, by the lips of Moses, required all the tribes to affirm thus solemnly the curses due to disobedience, he knew that every man would heartily take his part in that august deed.

V. MEN BECOME THE ADMINISTRATORS OF GOD'S LAW. We cannot doubt that one reason why God required this public assent to the sanctions of his Law, was that each man might feel more deeply his responsibility toward himself and toward his neigh-bouts. In proportion to our reverential regard for God becomes our concern for others' obedience. The Levites more than once had girded on their swords, and, fired with zeal for their God, had slain their own countrymen. No resistance was attempted, for conscience had made cowards of the culprits. To the same end, David prays, "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness." Moved by this impulse, men would seek "to please their neighbors for their good unto edification." Possessed with a pious disposition, they endeavor to make known on every side God's will, to preserve its remembrance among those disposed to grow oblivious, and to exalt its authority on every hand. Self-consistency required that those who had publicly pronounced the curses of the Law should jealously watch their own conduct—should tenderly caution others!—D.


Deuteronomy 27:1-10

Law-abiding people.

We have here a direction about writing, upon great stones in Mount Ebal, the words of the Divine Law. Whether this meant only the blessings and curses, as Josephus thinks, or an abstract of Deuteronomy, or only the ten commandments, we cannot tell. But the idea implied is similar to the writing of the Decalogue in stone; it was to render fixed the Law on which the national policy was to rest. In other words, it was a symbolic way of declaring that Israel will be a Law-abiding people. In connection with this display of the Law, there was to be an altar erected, on which burnt offerings and peace offerings were to be presented, and the people were to realize, as they had never before done, that they have "become the people of the Lord their God." The following ideas are, among others, suggested:—

I. THE LORD'S PEOPLE WILL GREATLY HONOR HIS LAW. All disrespect shown to the Divine Law argues superficiality both in thought and in feeling. Even suppose it were not most practical and just and good, it ought to be held in high honor as proceeding from the Lord. How much more when it is so wise and so thorough in dealing with human and national life! The great business, therefore, of getting the Law written on the rocks of Mount Ebal must have impressed its sacredness upon the people, and have constituted a standing witness of their undertaking to obey it. It was the acceptance and the publication of Divine Law as that by which, as a nation, they would abide.

II. THE BURNT OFFERINGS INDICATED THEIR PERSONAL CONSECRATION TO GOD. A reference to this sacrifice £ will show that the idea emphasized in the burnt offering is consecration. The fire is emblematic of the sublimating influence of the Holy Spirit, by which the whole being, the entire personality, is lifted heavenward. When, then, the Israelites gathered round the altar between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, and had plentiful burnt offerings presented by their priests, it was surely dedicating their persons unto God, vowing to be a holy people unto him. Just as the burnt offering comes first in Leviticus to indicate the consecrated attitude of a people redeemed from Egyptian bondage, so it comes first on their entrance into the land of promise. It was Israel asserting that they were not their own, but "bought with a price," and therefore bound to glorify God with their bodies, and their spirits, which are God's (1 Corinthians 6:20).

III. THE PEACE OFFERINGS INDICATED FELLOWSHIP BEFORE GOD. After the burnt offerings came the peace offerings, part of which was laid on the altar, part appropriated by the priests, and the remainder the portion of the people. It was a feast of fellowship between God and his people. It was the sacrament of the land of promise. It indicated peace and unity between God and man. What a precious and interesting service it must have been! The most magnificent congregation the world ever saw, and the most impressive service! Communion is based upon unity of mind and of will on the part of the covenant-keeping God and his Law-abiding people.—R.M.E.

Deuteronomy 27:11-26


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; 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.

I. 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 fourth 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.

II. THE WEIGHT OF THE NATION STOOD ON MOUNT GERIZIM. When we consider the tribes that defiled 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.

III. 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.

IV. 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.—R.M.E.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 27". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/deuteronomy-27.html. 1897.
Ads FreeProfile