Chapter 27


Third Address: Ratification of the Covenant (27:1- 28:68)

Covenant Curses and Blessings (27:1- 28:68)

The Altar on Mount Ebal

        • Then Moses and the Israelite elders commanded the people:

          • Obey every command that I am giving to you today. When you cross the Jordan River and enter into the land the Lord you God is giving to you, you must set up large stones, cover them with plaster, and write this whole body of instruction on them. These stones are to be set up on Mount Ebal. You are to build an altar there to the Lord your God using only natural, uncut stones. Don’t use any tools to shape the stones. Use this altar to offer burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord your God. You are to eat and rejoice here in the presence of the Lord your God.”

          • Having a plaster memorial law code is actually not unique to Israel at all. In fact, as the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “This method and type of writing and this peculiar preparation reflects Egyptian influence.” The same source documents, “Several such inscriptions are known at Sukkoth and Kuntillet Ajrud…These stones were whitewashed with an application of lime plaster, and then the laws were written on them (cf. Daniel 5:5)…In Egypt, Syria, and Canaan, stone was used for permanence and for public display. Plaster was used to improve the writing quality of the stone.”

          • Many commentaries take the view that the “law” written on these stones was likely only the 10 commandments. In most cases the logic for this stance seems to be based on how much writing would or would not fit on the stone. However, I find myself in agreement with the HCSB commentary on this issue simply because it more accurately reflects what the text actually says without unnecessary assumptions, “The instruction to write upon one monument ‘all the words of this law’ has seemed impossible to many critics. However, the size of the stele (inscribed monument) is not mentioned, nor is ‘law’ clearly defined…’This law’ refers to Deuteronomy, Moses’ summary of the Sinai covenant. Though lengthy, it is not much longer than the Code of Hammurabi whose prologue, epilogue, and 282 laws are all inscribed on one stone monument.”

Image of the Code of Hammurabi stele. Close-up portion of writing demonstrates my point above regarding size/amount of writing that could potentially have been featured on the stone monument of Deuteronomy 27.

        • Then Moses and the Levitical priests addressed all of Israel saying, “Israel, be quiet and listen! Today you have become the people of the Lord your God. Obey Him by keeping all of the commands and statutes that I am giving you today.”

          • HCSB clarifies, “The assembly became the people of the Lord that very day, in the sense that they had assembled in order to reaffirm their commitment to Him. This was not their initial relationship with Him, for that had taken place at Sinai (Exodus 24:3-8). By renewing the covenant they became the Lord’s people in a new and fresh way; as though they themselves had been present at the original events.”

The Covenant Curses

            • The instructions that follow are best understood when one has the appropriate visual of the scenario described in the text:

        • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Mount Gerizim lies just west of Mount Ebal, and Shechem lies in the valley between (see Deuteronomy 11:29; Joshua 8:30-35) The tribes or their representatives were carefully placed so that as the Levites read the covenant from the valley below, the other tribes antiphonally proclaimed their adherence to its terms by shouting Amen, a Hebrew term that means ‘May it be so.’ By invoking curses on themselves if they disobeyed the terms of the covenant, these tribes served as witnesses and judges of their own future disobedience. The Levites as a group were stationed on Mount Gerizim. The Ark of the Covenant accompanied them, and they offered sacrifices (Joshua 8:30-35). It was part of the Levites’ role to teach and proclaim the Torah (Deuteronomy 33:10).”

        • That same day, Moses gave the following commands to the people:

        • When you cross the Jordan River, the tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin are to go stand on Mount Gerizim to proclaim a blessing over the people. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali are to go stand on Mount Ebal to proclaim a curse. The Levites will shout in a loud voice so that every Israelite hears:

          • Anyone who makes an idol (carved or cast) and sets it up in secret is cursed. These idols made by craftsmen are detestable to the Lord. And all the people will reply, “Amen!”

          • Anyone who dishonors their parents is cursed. And all the people will reply, “Amen!”

          • Anyone who moves his neighbor’s land boundary marker is cursed. And all the people will reply, “Amen!”

          • Anyone who leads a blind person astray on the road is cursed. And all the people will reply “Amen!”

          • Anyone who denies justice to foreigners living among you, orphans, or widows is cursed. And all the people will reply, “Amen!”

            • Anyone who has sexual intercourse with his father’s wife is cursed because he has violated his father’s marriage bed. And all the people will reply, “Amen!”

          • Anyone who has sexual intercourse with an animal is cursed. And all the people will reply, “Amen!”

            • Anyone who has sexual intercourse with his sister, regardless of whether she is the daughter of only one of his parents, is cursed. And all the people will reply, “Amen!”

          • Anyone who has sexual intercourse with his mother-in-law is cursed. And all the people will reply, “Amen!”

            • Anyone who secretly kills their neighbor is cursed. And all the people will reply, “Amen!”

          • Anyone who accepts payment to kill an innocent person is cursed. And all the people will reply, “Amen!”

          • Anyone who doesn’t uphold the words of this law by putting them into practice is cursed. And all the people will reply, “Amen!”

            • Guzik notes, “This dramatic scene was fulfilled in Joshua 8:32-35. In Joshua’s day, it happened after a bitter defeat, then a dramatic repentance and recovery at Ai (Joshua chapters 7 and 8). After the victory at Ai, Joshua wanted to do everything he could to walk in obedience, so he led the nation in obedience to this command in Deuteronomy 27.”

          • Guzik writes, “When all are found guilty before the law, and it is clear that they cannot conform to all the words of this law, there is still hope. A clue to this hope is found in the beginning of the chapter, where God declared that an altar be built – not upon Mount Gerizim, the mountain of blessing, but upon Mount Ebal, the mountain of cursing. We need the covering and atoning sacrifice exactly at the point where our sin and failures are revealed and God’s curse is pronounced on our sin.”