Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy 27

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Deuteronomy 27

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Law Inscribed on Massive Stones; Curses From Mount Ebal 

God commands Israel to set up an altar and write all the words of the Book of the Law on large plastered stones, virtual walls of stone, when they cross over the Jordan River to occupy the land (verses 1-10). Joshua 8:30-35 records that Joshua obeyed this command. Paul later refers to what was written on the massive stones as the "ministry of death, written and engraved on stones" (2 Corinthians 3:7). This "ministry" or, in more current terminology, "administration" of death refers to the civil law code which administered the penalties, including the death penalty, for certain violations, as spelled out in the statutes and judgments. The Church today is not to carry out the death penalty. This is the job of civil authorities (Romans 13:1-4). Rather, the ministry of the Church is to preach reconciliation and eternal life (compare 2 Corinthians 3:1-18; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

God commanded Israel to proclaim the blessings for obedience on Mount Gerizim, and the curses for disobedience on Mount Ebal (verses 11-13). The Nelson Study Bible notes: "Mount Ebal was north of Mount Gerizim (vv. 12, 13). Between the two mountains was the city of Shechem (Genesis 12:6, 7; Genesis 33:18-20). Shechem and its two mountains are roughly in the center of the land of Canaan" (note on 27:4). Adding more detail: "Ebal and Gerizim are two important peaks in central Canaan flanking an east-west pass through the north-central hill country. Almost the entire Promised Land is visible from the top of Mount Ebal" (note on Joshua 8:30). Revealing more: "The Lord used the topography of the land for dramatic, visual effect. Mount Ebal, because of topographical and climatic conditions, is normally a barren peak while Mount Gerizim is usually covered with vegetation. Consequently, Mount Ebal was an ideal place for the curses to be recited, and Mount Gerizim was suitable for the blessings. The association of the place and the word would have been unforgettable. Furthermore, the two mountains are quite close [rising up on opposite sides of Shechem], so they would serve as a natural amphitheater for the recitation of the curses and blessings by the Levites" (note on Deuteronomy 24:11-14).

This is also where the massive engraved stones and accompanying altar would be set up (Joshua 8:30-35). Disobedience would bring "curses" or punishment from God. Twelve curses were proclaimed to which the people were to respond. Disobedient conduct included: idolatry (verse 15); disrespectful conduct towards parents (verse 16; compare verses 20, 22); dishonest, deceitful and violent conduct toward one's neighbor (verses 17, 24-25); improper conduct towards the handicapped or the poor (verses 18-19); and sexual perversions (verses 20-23). The people were to confirm that these actions were in fact worthy of punishment—not just in responding with "Amen" but, more importantly, by living in accordance with the law that forbade them (verse 26).