Deuteronomy 27 (English Standard Version)
The Altar on Mount Ebal
1Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today. 2And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. 3 And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you. 4And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. 5And there you shall build an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; 6you shall build an altar to the LORD your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God, 7and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God. 8And you shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.”
Curses from Mount Ebal
9Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the LORD your God. 10You shall therefore obey the voice of the LORD your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.”
11That day Moses charged the people, saying, 12“When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. 14And the Levites shall declare to all the men of Israel in a loud voice:
As a teacher myself, I love how God uses many methods to get his lessons into the hearts and minds of the people: laws, examples, stories, experiences. Can you imagine the crowds listening — in stereo from the two hilltops! — to this list of curses and blessings, and by their “Amen” agreeing with God’s evaluation.
And over and over again (another good teaching tool — repetition!), the first thing God says is the First Thing: “I AM the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods.” It was so important, in God’s mind, to drill that into their heads! One of the most poignant and telling verses in all the Bible, I think, is 2 Kings 17:15 — They worshiped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves.
God help us, as we read these curses, to thank Jesus for becoming a curse for us and setting us free from our sins, free to be obedient and worthy of our calling!
15 “‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the LORD, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’
Gods made with hands are not gods.
16 “‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Honor your father and mother.
17 “‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.
18 “‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Be kind and compassionate to one another.
19 “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.
20 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s nakedness.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
21 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with any kind of animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
22 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
23 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
24 “‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
25 “‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Proverbs 17:23 (New International Version)
A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret
to pervert the course of justice.
26 “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
If you love me, keep my commandments.
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.
It is important to recognize that we, in Jesus Christ, do not have an Old Covenant relationship with God. We expect to be blessed, not because of our obedience, but because of our position in Jesus. The curse we deserved was laid upon Him (Galatians 3:10-14). Though there may be an inherent curse of consequences in our disobedience, or even the correcting hand of God, under the New Covenant, He does not punish us or curse us — because all that we deserved, past, present, and future, was poured out upon Jesus.
Every “Amen” the Israelites called out was an affirmation of the lyrics of this song — “I Will Worship,” sung HERE by Ingrid Dumosch and the London Fox Singers. The back-and-forth between the men and women singers in this song reminds me of the back-and-forth between the priests and the people in our chapter of Deuteronomy today.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.