And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day.
Moses in a third discourse Deuteronomy 27-30, proceeds more specifically to dwell upon the sanctions of the Law. In these chapters he sets before Israel in striking and elaborate detail the blessings which would ensue upon faithfulness to the covenant, and the curses which disobedience would involve. Deuteronomy 27 introduces this portion of the book by enjoining the erection of a stone monument on which the Law should be inscribed as soon as the people took possession of the promised inheritance Deuteronomy 27:1-10; and by next prescribing the liturgical form after which the blessings and cursings should be pronounced Deuteronomy 27:11-26.
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:
The stones here named are not those of which the altar Deuteronomy 27:5 was to be built, but are to serve as a separate monument witnessing to the fact that the people took possession of the land by virtue of the Law inscribed on them and with an acknowledgment of its obligations.
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.
All the words of this law - i. e. all the laws revealed from God to the people by Moses, regarded by the Jews as 613 (compare Numbers 15:38 note). The exhibition of laws in this manner on stones, pillars, or tables, was familiar to the ancients. The laws were probably graven in the stone ("very plainly," Deuteronomy 27:8 is by some rendered "scoop it out well"), as are for the most part the Egyptian hieroglyphics, the "plaister" being afterward added to protect the inscription from the weather.
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.
In mount Ebal - Compare the marginal references. The Samaritan Pentateuch and Version read here Gerizim instead of Ebal; but the original text was probably, as nearly all modern authorities hold, altered in order to lend a show of scriptural sanction to the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim.
The erection of the altar, the offering thereon burnt-offerings and peace-offerings Deuteronomy 27:6-7, the publication of the Law in writing, form altogether a solemn renewal of the covenant on the entrance of the people into the promised land, and recall the ceremonies observed on the original grant of the covenant at Sinai (compare Exodus 24:5). And Ebal (the mount of "barrenness "),the mount of cursing, was the fitting spot on which to celebrate them. For the curses were the penalties under which the children of Israel bound themselves to keep the Law. Suitably also was the same place selected as that in which were to be set up both the monumental stones containing the Law, and the altar at which the covenant was to be renewed. We must note too the fact that Deuteronomy 27:15 ff set out verbatim the curses only, the blessings being omitted. The law because of man's sinfulness brings on him first and chiefly a curse: compare Deuteronomy 31:16-17; Galatians 3:10.
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.
Thou shalt build the altar of the LORD thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD thy God:
And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the LORD thy God.
And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly.
And Moses and the priests the Levites spake unto all Israel, saying, Take heed, and hearken, O Israel; this day thou art become the people of the LORD thy God.
Thou shalt therefore obey the voice of the LORD thy God, and do his commandments and his statutes, which I command thee this day.
And Moses charged the people the same day, saying,
Compare Joshua 8:32-35. The solemnity was apparently designed only for the single occasion on which it actually took place.
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:
The tribes appointed to stand on Gerizim to bless the people all sprang from the two wives of Jacob, Leah and Rachel. All the four tribes which sprang from the handmaids Zilpah and Bilhah are located on Ebal. But in order, as it would seem, to effect an equal division, two tribes are added to the latter from the descendants of the wives, that of Reuben, probably because he forfeited his primogeniture Genesis 49:4; and of Zebulun, apparently because he was the youngest son of Leah.
The transaction presents itself as a solemn renewal of the covenant made by God with Abraham and Isaac, but more especially with Jacob and his family. Accordingly the genealogical basis of the "twelve patriarchs" (compare Acts 7:12; Revelation 7:4 ff), the sons of Jacob, is here assumed. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh are merged in the name of Joseph, their father; and Levi regains on this occasion his place collaterally with the others. "The Levites" of Deuteronomy 27:14 are no doubt "the priests the Levites" (compare Joshua 8:33), in whom the ministerial character attaching to the tribe was more particularly manifested. It is noteworthy that the group of tribes which stood on Gerizim far exceeded the other in numbers and in importance, thus perhaps indicating that even by the Law the blessing should at length prevail.
And these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.
And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice,
Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen.
The "Amen" attested the conviction of the utterers that the sentences to which they responded were true, just, and certain; so in Numbers 5:22, and in our own Commination Office, which is modelled after this ordinance of Moses.
Twelve curses against transgressions of the covenant. The first eleven are directed against special sins which are selected by way of example, the last comprehensively sums up in general terms and condemns all and every offence against God's Law. Compare the marginal references.
Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lieth with his father's wife; because he uncovereth his father's skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lieth with any manner of beast. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lieth with his mother in law. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbour secretly. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.