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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 27

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Deuteronomy 27:0


The Law Inscribed on StoneThe Shechem CeremonyGod's Laws Written on StonesThe Writing of the Law and Religious Ceremonies
Deuteronomy 27:1-8Deuteronomy 27:1-8Deuteronomy 27:1-8Deuteronomy 27:1-3
Deuteronomy 27:4-8
Deuteronomy 27:9-10Deuteronomy 27:9-10Deuteronomy 27:9-10Deuteronomy 27:9-10
Curses Pronounced from Mount Ebal The Curses on Disobedience
Deuteronomy 27:11-13Deuteronomy 27:11-14Deuteronomy 2:11-14Deuteronomy 27:11-14
Deuteronomy 27:14-26
Deuteronomy 27:15Deuteronomy 27:1527;15
Deuteronomy 27:16Deuteronomy 27:16Deuteronomy 27:16
Deuteronomy 27:17Deuteronomy 27:17Deuteronomy 27:17
Deuteronomy 27:18Deuteronomy 27:18Deuteronomy 27:18
Deuteronomy 27:19Deuteronomy 27:19Deuteronomy 27:19
Deuteronomy 27:20Deuteronomy 27:20Deuteronomy 27:20
Deuteronomy 27:21Deuteronomy 27:21Deuteronomy 27:21
Deuteronomy 27:22Deuteronomy 27:22Deuteronomy 27:22
Deuteronomy 27:23Deuteronomy 27:23Deuteronomy 27:23
Deuteronomy 27:24Deuteronomy 27:24Deuteronomy 27:24
Deuteronomy 27:25Deuteronomy 27:25Deuteronomy 27:25
Deuteronomy 27:26Deuteronomy 27:26Deuteronomy 27:26

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Moses is mentioned in the third person (Deuteronomy 27:1). Does this imply a literary variety or a scribe (contemporary or later)? Moderns must admit that the structure and process of the formation of OT books is unknown to us.

There seems to be textual evidence for an editor (contemporary or later). Some examples in Deuteronomy of this editor or third voice (narrator) are Deut. 1:1-5; 2:10-12,20-23; 3:9,11,13b-14; 4:41-5:1a; 10:6-7,9; 27:1a,9a,11; 28:69; 29:1; 31:3,7a,9-10a,14a, Deuteronomy 27:14-16a, Deuteronomy 27:22-23a, Deuteronomy 27:24-25,30; Deuteronomy 32:44-45, Deuteronomy 32:48; Deuteronomy 33:1; Deuteronomy 34:1-4a, Deuteronomy 34:5-12 (see An Introduction to the Old Testament by Raymond B. Dillard and Fremper Longman III, p. 100).

B. An initial covenant ceremony at Shechem does not fit a supposed later date to support the concept of a centralized sanctuary in Jerusalem. Much of the Pentateuch is contemporary with Moses' day. It is obvious that editors have had a part in its formation (one clear example is Numbers 12:3).

C. There is an obvious literary parallel between Deuteronomy 11:26-32 and Deuteronomy 27:0. This covenant renewal ceremony forms a literary structure which divides Deuteronomy into legislation and narrative and identifies the different sermons of Moses.

D. This chapter describes a royal land-grant treaty following the pattern of Hittite treaties (i.e., Deuteronomy as a whole and Joshua 24:0). Ebal, the highest point in the center of the land of Canaan symbolically shows the transfer of land to the Israelites. However, to maintain the rights and privileges of occupation, covenant obedience and loyalty to YHWH is demanded.

E. Israel's stormy history can be seen through the lens of Deut. 27-29. Her repeated covenant disobedience reaped the judgment of YHWH. She was to be a beacon of a happy and prosperous society (righteous brotherhood), but she reaped the whirlwind of YHWH's curses! YHWH's promises are only applicable to a repentant, believing, obedient, covenant people. Election does not replace obedience (cf. Galatians 3:0).

Verses 1-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:1-8 1Then Moses and the elders of Israel charged the people, saying, “Keep all the commandments which I command you today. 2So it shall be on the day when you cross the Jordan to the land which the LORD your God gives you, that you shall set up for yourself large stones and coat them with lime 3and write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over, so that you may enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you. 4So it shall be when you cross the Jordan, you shall set up on Mount Ebal, these stones, as I am commanding you today, and you shall coat them with lime. 5Moreover, you shall build there an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones; you shall not wield an iron tool on them. 6You shall build the altar of the LORD your God of uncut stones, and you shall offer on it burnt offerings to the LORD your God; 7and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and eat there, and rejoice before the LORD your God. 8You shall write on the stones all the words of this law very distinctly.”

Deuteronomy 27:1 “and the elders of Israel” Moses knew that soon the people would go into the Promised Land and that he would not be able to go (cf. Numbers 20:12; Numbers 27:12-14; Deuteronomy 3:26-27). He was trying to empower the tribal leadership group.

“Keep all the commandments” This is a recurrent theme (cf. Deuteronomy 27:10) and condition for Israel's stay in the land.

Deuteronomy 27:2 “on the day when you cross the Jordan. . .set up for yourself large stones” There were three sets of stones:

1. at Gilgal (Deuteronomy 27:1-3, cf. Joshua 4:0)

2. at Shechem (Deuteronomy 27:4-8)

3. after the conquest and division of the land God's law was written on a large stone and on a book/scroll (BDB 706, cf. Joshua 24:26-27)

It is possible that the phrase “on the day” can be understood as “when,” meaning both refer to Shechem.

Exactly what was written on the stones is debated. They were large stones so they could hold a considerable amount of text. Many assume it is Deuteronomy 12-26 or 27-28 or Deuteronomy 5:8-21 or even Exodus 20:22-33.

“coat them with lime” This VERB (BDB 966, KB 1319, Qal PERFECT) is found only in the OT in Deuteronomy 27:2 and 4. This was an Egyptian method of preparation for writing. It was a long lasting way for writing to stay visible. The reason for writing the Law down was so that each person could read it for themselves (cf. Deuteronomy 27:8).

Deuteronomy 27:3 “write on them” There are several references in the Pentateuch which mention Moses' writing:

1. Exodus 17:14; Exodus 24:4; Exodus 34:27, Exodus 34:28

2. Numbers 33:2

3. Deuteronomy 27:3, Deuteronomy 27:8; Deuteronomy 28:58; Deuteronomy 29:21; Deuteronomy 30:10; Deuteronomy 31:9, Deuteronomy 31:22, Deuteronomy 31:24-26

“as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you” (cf. Deuteronomy 27:12) Shechem [Mt. Gerizim] is the place where Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:6-9) and Jacob (cf. Genesis 33:18-20) built altars. This showed the fulfillment of God's earlier promises to them.

Deuteronomy 27:4 “Mount Ebal” There are two mountains (i.e., 3,080 feet high) on either side of the city of Shechem (i.e., shoulder blade). This was one of them. Shechem was the first place Abraham had earlier built an altar (cf. Genesis 12:6-7).

Deuteronomy 27:5 “you shall not wield an iron tool on them” This is possibly related to the structure of Canaanite altars (cf. Exodus 20:24-25). God required that His altars had to be different from the manmade Canaanite altars (i.e., cut stones, Deuteronomy 27:6). This account reflects Joshua 8:30-35.

Deuteronomy 27:6 “burnt offerings” A burnt offering is one that is totally consumed (i.e., given completely to YHWH, Leviticus 1:1-7).

Deuteronomy 27:7 “peace offering” This is partially burnt on the altar, part is given to priests, part is given back to the offerer for a communal meal (cf. Leviticus 3:1, Leviticus 3:7).

“you shall... rejoice” This is a theme in Deuteronomy (BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal perfect, cf. Deuteronomy 12:7, Deuteronomy 12:12, Deuteronomy 12:18; Deuteronomy 14:26; Deuteronomy 16:11, Deuteronomy 16:14; Deuteronomy 26:11; Deuteronomy 27:7). YHWH wanted to bless Israel so as to attract the attention of the surrounding nations.

Deuteronomy 27:8

NASB“very distinctly” NKJV“very plainly” NRSV“very clearly” TEV“write clearly” NJB“carefully”

This English translation is made up of two Hebrew INFINITIVE ABSOLUTES:

1. BDB 91, KB 106, Piel

2. BDB 405, KB 408, Hiphil

This is saying that these words, each and every word, are important.

Verses 9-10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:9-10 9Then Moses and the Levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying, “Be silent and listen, O Israel! This day you have become a people for the LORD your God. 10You shall therefore obey the LORD your God, and do His commandments and His statutes which I command you today.”

Deuteronomy 27:9-10 In these verses Moses and the priests spoke to all Israel. The people were commanded to be quiet (BDB 698, KB 756, Hiphil IMPERATIVE) and listen (BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERATIVE) with a view toward obedience (cf. Deuteronomy 27:10).

Deuteronomy 27:9 “This day you have become a people” There is some discussion on exactly when the covenant begins:

1. at Israel leaving Egypt, Exodus 6:6-7

2. at Mt. Sinai/Horeb, Deuteronomy 4:20; Exodus 19:5-6

3. on the Plains of Moab, Deuteronomy 27:9; Deuteronomy 28:1

4. at the crossing of the Jordan, Joshua 4:19-24

5. at Gilgal (first camp site)

6. at Shechem (covenant renewal), Joshua 8:30-35

Verses 11-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:11-14 11 Moses also charged the people on that day, saying, 12 “When you cross the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13For the curse, these shall stand on Mount Ebal: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. 14The Levites shall then answer and say to all the men of Israel with a loud voice,”

Deuteronomy 27:11 This verse begins the section on the cursings and blessings. The blessings are not specifically listed. in this chapter, but in chapter 28.

Deuteronomy 27:12-13 Half of the tribes of Israel would be on Mt. Gerizim (speak blessing, cf. Deuteronomy 28:1-14) the other half would be on Mt. Ebal (speak curses, cf. Deuteronomy 28:15-68), Gerizim being the southern mountain, Ebal the northern. The priests stood between the two mountains with the Ark of the Covenant (cf. Joshua 8:30, Joshua 8:35).

“Joseph” Notice the division of Joseph into Ephraim and Manesseh had not yet been documented (cf. Genesis 49:22-26; Exodus 1:5; Deuteronomy 33:13-17).

Deuteronomy 27:14 “The Levites” It must refer to keepers of the Ark. All priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests. Obviously, some Levites (i.e., from the tribe of Levi, Deuteronomy 27:12) were up on the mountain (cf. Deuteronomy 27:12).

Verse 15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:15 15 “Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret. And all the people shall answer and say, 'Amen.'“

Deuteronomy 27:15-26 “Cursed” “Cursed” is a word that means, “Cursed by YHWH” (BDB 76). There are twelve curses (the term is used 39 times in Deuteronomy 27-29). All are in the form of Qal passive participles (Deuteronomy 27:15, Deuteronomy 27:16, Deuteronomy 27:17, Deuteronomy 27:18, Deuteronomy 27:19, Deuteronomy 27:20, Deuteronomy 27:21, Deuteronomy 27:22, Deuteronomy 27:23, Deuteronomy 27:24, Deuteronomy 27:25, Deuteronomy 27:26; see also Deuteronomy 28:16-19). The first is a curse against idolatry (cf. Deuteronomy 4:15-18; Deuteronomy 5:8-9; Exodus 20:3-4, Exodus 20:23; Exodus 34:17). Many, if not all, of the Mosaic laws can be seen in their contrast to Canaanite society.

Deuteronomy 27:15 “sets it up in secret” The VERB (BDB 962, KB 1321is Qal PERFECT, cf. Deuteronomy 27:24). Usually it is used of wicked activity.

“Amen” This repeated liturgical formula shows acceptance of the laws by the people (cf. Deuteronomy 27:15-26). Note the Jewish concept of corporality.


Verse 16

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:16 16”Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.” And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'“

Deuteronomy 27:16 “dishonors” To make small or of little weight (BDB 885 II, KB 1101, Hiphil PARTICIPLE). It is the opposite of the Hebrew word “honor” (BDB 457, cf. Deuteronomy 5:16; Exodus 20:12). It may specifically refer to a child “cursing” his parents (cf. Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9), but the term itself means lack of respect and honor, which could denote disobedience. Religious instruction came through the parents (cf. Deuteronomy 4:9, Deuteronomy 4:10, Deuteronomy 4:20-25; Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 11:19; Deuteronomy 32:46). Rejection of parents resulted in defective faith!

Verse 17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:17 17”Cursed is he who moves his neighbor's boundary mark. And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'“

Deuteronomy 27:17 “moves his neighbors boundary mark” This was serious because it had to do with the theft of the land inheritance of God, given through Joshua (cf. Joshua 12-19; Deuteronomy 19:14; Job 24:2; Proverbs 22:28; Proverbs 23:10; Hosea 5:10).

Verse 18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:18 18”Cursed is he who misleads a blind person on the road. And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'“

Deuteronomy 27:18 “blind person on the road” This may be a Hebrew metaphor for one who gives counsel to someone in an area in which he is not expert and thus gives bad counsel. Because of the compassionate characteristics of Deuteronomy, I think this may simply be saying not to take advantage of the handicapped (cf. Leviticus 19:14).

Verse 19

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:19 19”Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow. And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'“

Deuteronomy 27:19 This is paralleled in Deuteronomy 24:17 and shows no partiality or taking of a bribe in Deuteronomy 1:17; Deuteronomy 10:17; Deuteronomy 16:19. The VERB “distort” (BDB 639, KB 692,Hiphil PARTICIPLE) means “turn,” but here and Deuteronomy 16:19; Deuteronomy 24:17; and Exodus 23:6, it denotes a perverting or twisting of that which is right/just.

Verse 20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:20 20”Cursed is he who lies with his father's wife, because he has uncovered his father's skirt. And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'“

Deuteronomy 27:20 “lies with” This (BDB 1011, KB 1486, Qal PARTICIPLE) is a euphemism for “sexual relationship,” usually of a restricted nature (i.e., incest, bestiality, or homosexuality, cf. Leviticus 20:11, Leviticus 20:12, Leviticus 20:13, Leviticus 20:18, Leviticus 20:20; Deuteronomy 27:20, Deuteronomy 27:21, Deuteronomy 27:22, Deuteronomy 27:23). Human sexuality is both a divine gift and a powerful urge. It must be defined and regulated for a peaceful, long-lasting society. For a good discussion of sexual regulations in ancient Israel see NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 1198-1211.

Incest affected the stability of the home and family as well as the society. The exact persons from whom one is prohibited from marrying changes from culture to culture, but all cultures of the Ancient Near East (except the Egyptian royal family) have rules about incest!

“father's skirt” This is a symbol of the act of marriage (cf. Deuteronomy 22:30; Leviticus 18:8). This is another violation of honor. It typifies sin as more and more for me at any cost!

Verse 21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:21 21”Cursed is he who lies with any animal. And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'“

Deuteronomy 27:21 “Cursed is he who lies with any animal” This is prohibited in Leviticus 18:23; Leviticus 20:15. Exodus 22:19 and Luke 15:23 show contextually this has to do with idolatry (i.e., ritual magic from Ugarit). Hittite texts show cohabiting with sacred animals symbolized unity with deity.

Verse 22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:22 22”Cursed is he who lies with his sister, the daughter of his father or of his mother. And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'“

Deuteronomy 27:22 These are part of the laws of incest (cf. Leviticus 18:0).

Verse 23

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:23 23”Cursed is he who lies with his mother-in-law. And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'“

Deuteronomy 27:23 This prohibition is recorded in Leviticus 18:8; Leviticus 20:14.

Verse 24

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:24 24”Cursed is he who strikes his neighbor in secret. And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'“

Deuteronomy 27:24-25 These verses deal with murder (cf. Deuteronomy 5:17; Exodus 20:13; Exodus 21:12; Leviticus 24:17, Leviticus 24:21). A murder polluted all the land (cf. Deuteronomy 21:1-9).

Verse 25

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:25 25”Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person. And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'“

Deuteronomy 27:25 This is recorded in Exodus 23:6-8. This could refer to (1) an assassin or (2) a bribed judge who has a person put to death.

Verse 26

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 27:26 26”Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them. And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'“

Deuteronomy 27:26 “Cursed. . .who does not confirm the words of this law” This is a summary verse similar to the closing of the Decalogue. It is quoted by Paul in Galatians 3:10.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is Moses mentioned in the third person?

2. Why is such great importance given to Shechem (Mt. Gerizim)?

3. Why are the blessings not mentioned with the cursing?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 27". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/deuteronomy-27.html. 2021.
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