New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


Deu 27:1 Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day.

Deu 27:2 On the day when you pass over the Jordan to the land which Yahweh your God gives you, you must set up great stones and plaster them with plaster-

Dt. 27:2-8 had commanded that "in the day" Israel passed over Jordan, they were to set up plastered stones with the law written upon them [perhaps just the ten commandments], and put them "in mount Ebal". But when Joshua fulfilled it in Josh. 8:30, this was not "in the day" that Israel passed over Jordan. They had indeed taken stones with them from the Jordan, but had not used them as intended. They didn't plaster them nor write the law upon them. And so perhaps God ammended His intention- which was initially that they would set those stones up in mount Ebal immediately. Instead, He sent the people against Jericho, and then against Ai. Perhaps an instant conquest of Jericho had been originally intended, so that they could proceed to mount Ebal immediately. For later in Joshua we will read of God giving His people unnaturally speedy progress against their enemies, all in the same day. Or maybe His intention was that firstly they ought to have gone to mount Ebal with the plastered stones, and only then attacked Jericho. But they didn't plaster the stones nor wish to proceed immediately to Ebal. And so He arranged the campaign against Jericho and then Ai. We see how God is so eager to accommodate His programs to the weakness of men.   

Deu 27:3 and write on them all the words of this law, when you have passed over, that you may go in to the land which Yahweh your God gives you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as Yahweh, the God of your fathers has promised you.
Deu 27:4 When you have passed over the Jordan, I command you this day that you shall set up these stones, in Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster-
The word "commandments" occurs 43 times in Deuteronomy, and only 19 times in the other three records; "remember" occurs 16 times compared to 8 times in the other three. And yet Moses commanded Israel specifically to engrave the law on tables of plaster, not stone, knowing that they would soon be washed away; thus he wished to teach Israel [or try to] the temporary nature of the Law (Dt. 27:4-8). Like Paul in his time of dying, Moses saw the importance of obedience, the harder side of God; yet he also saw in real depth the surpassing love of God, and the grace that was to come, beyond Law.

Deu 27:5 There you shall build an altar to Yahweh your God, an altar of stones. You shall lift up no iron on them-

Ex. 20:25 says that the use of any tool upon an altar would defile it (also see Dt. 27:5). This is how strongly God despises chic externality, and wants us to offer to Him as we are, uncut stones. He wants us, as we are, and not covered by cosmetics. In this we see the deep unspirituality of the altars in the temple, as designed by David and Solomon. I have suggested that although Solomon claims all this was commanded by God, in fact that was merely His assumption. Solomon attempted to get around this law by ensuring that the stones were cut away from the temple construction site (1 Kings 6:7). But this surely was breaking the spirit of the law.

Deu 27:6 You shall build the altar of Yahweh your God of uncut stones and you shall offer burnt offerings thereon to Yahweh your God-
God wants us to serve Him in simplicity without trying to make our altars externally beautiful as if to impress a human eye.

Deu 27:7 You shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there and you shall rejoice before Yahweh your God-
Eating upon a heap of unhewn stones was understood as a sign of having made a covenant on mutually agreed terms and being at peace with each other (Gen. 31:46,47). Our eating before God at the breaking of bread meeting is something similar.

Deu 27:8 You must write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.

Deu 27:9 Moses and the priests and Levites spoke to all Israel, saying, Keep silence and listen, Israel: this day you have become the people of Yahweh your God-

Paul warned the new Israel that after his death ("after my departing", Acts 20:29) there would be serious apostasy. This is the spirit of his very last words, in 2 Tim. 4. it is exactly the spirit of Moses' farewell speech throughout the book of Deuteronomy, and throughout his final song (Dt. 32) and Dt. 31:29: "After my death you will utterly corrupt yourselves". Paul's "Take heed therefore unto yourselves" (Acts 20:28) is quoted from many places in Deuteronomy (e.g. Dt. 2:4; 4:9,15,23; 11:16; 12:13,19,30; 24:8; 27:9).

At this time, God saw no iniquity in Israel (Num. 23:21). He fulfilled His promise at Sinai that if they were obedient, He would make them His people; and He did, counting them as obedient. Yet the events of the intervening forty years hardly sound like Israel being obedient; He "suffered their manners" forty years (Ps. 95:10; Acts 13:18). And yet at the end of that period, they were counted as having been sufficiently obedient to be made God’s people (Ex. 19:5 cp. Dt. 27:9).

Deu 27:10 You must therefore obey the voice of Yahweh your God and do His commandments and His statutes which I command you this day.

Deu 27:11 Moses commanded the people the same day saying,
Deu 27:12 These shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people when you have passed over the Jordan: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin.
Deu 27:13 These shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali.
Deu 27:14 The Levites shall answer and tell all the men of Israel with a loud voice,
Deu 27:15 ‘Cursed is the man who makes an engraved or molten image, an abomination to Yahweh, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and secretly sets it up’. All the people shall answer and say ‘Amen’-
The list of sins which follow in :15-25 are all matters of the heart or things which are not seen by others. The people were confirming their acceptance of the fact that God sees and knows all things, and there really would be a judgment for them.

Deu 27:16 ‘Cursed is he who dishonours his father or his mother’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’.
Deu 27:17 ‘Cursed is he who removes his neighbour’s landmark’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’.
Deu 27:18 ‘Cursed is he who makes the blind wander out of the way’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’.
Deu 27:19 ‘Cursed is he who deprives the foreigner, fatherless and widow of justice’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’.
Deu 27:20 ‘Cursed is he who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s skirt’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’.
Deu 27:21 ‘Cursed is he who lies with any kind of animal’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’.
Deu 27:22 ‘Cursed is he who lies with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’.
Deu 27:23 ‘Cursed is he who lies with his mother-in-law’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’.
Deu 27:24 ‘Cursed is he who strikes his neighbour in secret’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’.
Deu 27:25 ‘Cursed is he who takes a bribe to kill an innocent person’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’.
Deu 27:26 ‘Cursed is he who doesn’t confirm the words of this law to do them’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’.