Making the Law Known in the Promised Land
Deuteronomy 27-30 contain the third message of Moses to the Israelites. In his first sermon (1:6-4:40) Moses exhorted the people to remember and learn from the past. In his second sermon (4:41-26:19) Moses reviewed the laws the people were to live by in the Promised Land. In this final sermon (27:1-30:20) Moses exhorted the people to keep the covenant. He called upon them to renew their commitment to obey the covenant. The people had to choose what they were going to do: obey and experience blessings or disobey and experience a curse.
According to Deuteronomy 27:1, both Moses and the elders addressed the people. Since Moses would not enter the Promised Land it would become the responsibility of the elders to make certain that the people abided by the terms of the covenant. Moses instructed the people to do two things upon entering the Promised Land.
First (27:2-4), they were to write the words of the law on stones coated with lime (a type of plaster). The large stones on which the words of the law were to be inscribed were to be set up on Mount Ebal. These stones would serve as “billboards” reminding the Israelites to obey God.
Second (27:5-8), they were to build an altar to the Lord and offer sacrifices. The stones were to be uncut. The people were instructed to offer “burnt offerings” (offerings totally consumed on the altar) and “peace offerings” (offerings of thanksgiving that were to be eaten communally).
Practical Consideration: We need both the stones and the altar. Upon entering the Promised Land the Israelites were to erect billboards of stone inscribed with the words of God’s law. They would serve to remind the people that God’s law was to be the standard by which they were to order and measure their lives in the land. The people were also instructed to build an altar upon which sacrifices were to be offered. The altar represented the place where pardon for sin was secured. Through the message on the stones God spoke to the people. Through the altar and sacrifices the people spoke to God. The Israelites needed to be constantly reminded of the need to obey God and a place to go when they did not obey Him. They needed both the stones and the altar.
Provisions for Pronouncing the Blessing and Cursing
Moses asked the people to be silent and reminded them that they had “become a people for the Lord your God” (27:9), a phrase that expressed the recommitment of the people to the covenant. They were also to be obedient to the terms of the covenant (27:10).
Moses instructed the people to stand on two mountains upon entering the Promised Land. He instructed that six tribes assemble on Mount Gerizim to bless the people (27:12) and six on Mount Ebal to curse (27:13).
The Cursing for Disobeying God
The Levites were to stand between the two mountains to recite the blessings and curses (27:14) to which the people were to answer “Amen” (“Let it be so”), indicating that they both understood and agreed with what the Levites recited. John D.W. Watts comments, “The word ‘cursed’ can only be used of an affliction administered by God.” Twelve curses are listed in this section.
First, a curse was pronounced upon idolatry and the idolater (27:15). This was a violation of the first and second commandments (see Deuteronomy 5:7-10 and comments on page 10 of these notes). God desired the exclusive and undivided devotion of His people and would under no circumstances tolerate idolatry.
Second, a curse was pronounced upon any individual who dishonored his parents (27:16) in violation of the fifth commandment (see Deuteronomy 5:16 and comments on page 11 of these notes).
Third, a curse was pronounced on any individual who tried to enlarge his own property by moving his neighbor’s boundary mark (27:17 and see also Deuteronomy 19:14). This was an act of selfishness, covetousness, and thievery that demonstrated a complete disregard for the rights of another.
Fourth, a curse was pronounced upon any individual who took advantage of a weaker member of society (27:18).
Fifth, (an elaboration of 27:18) a curse was pronounced upon any individual who took advantage of the weak and helpless members of society (27:19).
Sixth through Ninth, a curse was pronounced upon any individual committing specified sexual sins (27:20-23).
Tenth and Eleventh, a curse was pronounced upon any individual who secretly tried to harm another person, either through physical or non-physical means (27:24-25).
Twelfth, a curse was pronounced upon any individual who did not wholeheartedly obey the law of God both in public and in private (27:26).
Practical Consideration: God knows secret sins. Most of the sins listed in Deuteronomy 27:15-26 are sins that are done in secret. They are sins which man may commit out of the sight of his fellowman. Men may take every precaution to insure that their sins are not discovered by their fellowmen, but they can take no precaution to insure that their sins are unnoticed by God. All sin is committed in the sight of God. Job 34:21-22 state, “For His eyes are upon the ways of a man, and He sees all his steps. There is no darkness or deep shadow where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.”