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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-
The word so often used for "keeping" / "diligently observing" Yahweh's commandments is from the word meaning a thorn hedge; the idea originally was to hedge in. Taking this too literally led Judaism to all their endless fences around the law, i.e. forbidding this or that because it might lead to doing that or this, which in turn would then lead to breaking an actual commandment. And those various fences become elevated to the level of commandments. But this is not the idea. We are indeed to hedge ourselves in ("take heed to yourself", Dt. 11:16; 12:13,19,30,32 s.w.), so that we may keep / hedge ourselves in to keep the commandments of God (Lev. 18:4,5,26,30; 19:19,37; 20:8,22; 22:9,31; 25:18; 26:3; Num. 28:2;   Dt. 7:11,12; 8:1,11 [s.w. "beware"]; 10:13; 11:1,8,22,32; 12:1; 13:4,18; 15:5,9 ["beware"]; 17:19; 19:9; 23:9 ["keep yourself"]; 24:8; 26:16-18; 27:1; 28:1,9,13; 29:9; 30:10,16; 31:12; 32:46). And without falling into the legalism of Judaism, self discipline does require a degree of fencing ourselves in to the one way. Thus the man struggling with alcoholism avoids the supermarket where alcohol is pushed in front of the eyes of the shoppers; the married woman struggling with attraction to another man makes little laws for herself about avoiding his company. And if we do this, then the Lord will "keep" us, will hedge us in to keeping His way (s.w. Num. 6:24).

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 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-
Israel came to describe the Egypt they had been called out from as the land flowing with milk and honey (Num. 16:12), and denied that the Kingdom was in fact like that. And so we have the same tendency to be deceived into thinking that the kingdoms of this world, the world around us, is effectively the Kingdom of God, the only thing worth striving after.

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. Israel had lived generations in Egypt, and had taken the idols of Egypt with them through the Red Sea (Ez. 20:7,8). The Egyptian altars were all of hewed stones, with images of their gods engraved upon them. Perhaps the insistence that "cut stones" must not be used was in order to strengthen them against the temptation to engrave images upon the sides of the altar, as they had seen in Egypt. We see how God's laws are designed not as a burden, but to ease our overall obedience to His ways

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. Again we note how the Mosaic law associates rejoicing with giving, for truly it is more blessed or happy to give than to receive. The Lord's teaching about this was clearly reflective of this major Mosaic theme (Acts 20:35).

Deu 27:8 You must write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly-
"All the words" may be used as in Ex. 15:22, and might refer just to Dt. 26:16-19. "Plainly" is literally 'dug' or 'engraved'. As the old covenant was engraved upon stones, both on the tables of the covenant and here again, so Paul draws the contrast with how under the new covenant, God's law is engraved or dug in to our heart: "written... with the Spirit of the living God. Not in tablets of stone, but in tablets that are hearts of flesh" (2 Cor. 3:3; Rom. 2:15). There is implied here a direct working of God upon the human heart, in order to dig in or engrave His law there, just as He will do to latter day Israel when they too enter the new covenant (Jer. 31:33). He instills His word and ways into the hearts or minds of His people. This is all part of blessing under the new covenant, the gift of the holy Spirit within our human spirit or mind.  

Deu 27:9 Moses and the priests and Levites spoke to all Israel, saying, Keep silence and listen, Israel-
"Keep silence" is AV "take heed". 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).

This day you have become the people of Yahweh your God-
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-
As noted on :9, they were to become God's people if they were obedient (Ex. 19:5). They had been disobedient, but still they were counted as His people (:9). But the response to such grace was that they should therefore be obedient- not in order to gain God's acceptance as His people, for He had already given them that, by grace. But instead their obedience was to be a sign of their gratitude for that grace. And so the commandments given them were a channel, an opportunity, through which to express gratitude for God's salvation by grace rather than legal obedience.

Deu 27:11 Moses commanded the people the same day saying-
"The same day... this day" runs as a refrain throughout Deuteronomy. Although "I tell you this day" can be read as merely a way of making a solemn statement, verses like this ["the same day"] suggest we would be justified in reading them literally. Thus Deuteronomy would be a transcript of Moses' final address to Israel on the last day of his life.

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-
Josh. 8:33 says that "All Israel, their elders and officers and their judges, stood on both sides of the ark before the priests the Levites who carried the ark of Yahweh’s covenant". So we can assume that the ark remained in the very narrow valley between the two mountains, with Israel as it were like the wings of the cherubim on both sides of it. Ezekiel's visions likewise use the cherubim to represent Israel. The departure and return of the cherubim spoke of Israel with their representative Angels leaving and then returning to the land and temple. 

We note that generally the sons of Rachel and Leah said "Amen" to the blessings, whilst the cursed Reuben and the sons of the concubines said "Amen" to the curses (:13).

Deu 27:13 These shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali-
Reuben had been the firstborn but had been demoted from that for sleeping with his father's wife, which was one of the curses (:20). This was a reminder to the people that their own honoured ancestors had done the very things they were now cursing (see on :18,22). They were a people who stood before God blessed by grace, rather than because of their obedience.

Deu 27:14 The Levites shall answer and tell all the men of Israel with a loud voice-
The Levites were in the narrow valley in between the two mountains (see on :12). They would turn to Ebal and pronounce the curses, and the tribes standing there would shout "Amen". Just as they had turned to Gerazim and pronounced the blessings, and the tribes there had shouted "Amen".

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’-
As noted on :15,23, the context here is of things done in the heart, or unperceived by others. This "dishonour" of parents may therefore refer to hidden mental attitudes and curses of parents, which [unrepented of] we will be held culpable for in the last day.

Deu 27:17 ‘Cursed is he who removes his neighbour’s landmark’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’-
This again was likely to be done secretly, bit by bit grabbing small parcels of extra land from your neighbour. Why this was so abhorrent was because each family of Israel had a specific inheritance which was not to be sold or moved outside the family. Hence the sin of Ahab in obtaining Naboth's vineyard. It would seem that there was some unrecorded list made of each family and which land they were to be given. This looks forward to our very personal and unique inheritance in God's Kingdom, possibly based around spiritual family units. This was "The inheritance of fathers", "your possession" (Lev. 25:27,28; Num. 36:7,8). God had given specific inheritances to His people, that this was not to be sold or traded. The division by lot in Josh. 15:1 presumably meant that the tribal areas were defined and then distributed by lot. And then within those areas, each family was given a specific inheritance. So to try to remove another's inheritance was tantamount to removing the inheritance of another in God's Kingdom. Anything which edges another out of their eternal inheritance is abhorrent to God. It is reflected in the Lord's condemnation of any who make their brother stumble from the path to the Kingdom.

Deu 27:18 ‘Cursed is he who makes the blind wander out of the way’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’-
It was Aaron, their revered leader, who had made Israel wander "out of the way" through the golden calf apostacy (Ex. 32:8). Likewise :22 is a clear reference to the wrong behaviour of Abraham. The people surely could not have repeated these words without thinking of Aaron. It was intended, therefore, as a reminder to them of how their very standing with God was by grace alone; and they were not from any wonderful spiritual pedigree, but instead were God's people by grace through faith.

Deu 27:19 ‘Cursed is he who deprives the foreigner, fatherless and widow of justice’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’-
This is in the context of a list of things which were done in secret and would not be judged by men. So the lack of justice in view would mean having a biased, discriminatory attitude, deep within the heart, unseen by men. And this is so easy for us all to slip in to. When our own experience before baptism was like Israel's in Egypt. We were foreigners, the excluded and marginal, who were saved by grace. And this is to affect our mental attitudes to others like that.

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’-
Nakedness should only be uncovered before your wife or husband. Uncovering nakedness is an idiom for the sexual act. The allusion is to Adam and Eve having their nakedness uncovered; we have to accept the situation we are in as a result of the curse, rather than having sexual relations with who we like, as if uncovering nakedness is nothing shameful. Our hope is for the curse put on us in Eden to be lifted at Christ’s return; we can’t lift it in this life, as our own ever insistent mortality reminds us. See on :13.

Deu 27:21 ‘Cursed is he who lies with any kind of animal’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’-
Such was God's desire to teach that we are made in His image, and must not act as animals, bringing ourselves down to their level as if we are equal only to them. So the message for us is that we are to respect ourselves as made in God's image, and not act on a purely animal level.

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’-
This is phrased in such language as to allude to the way that Abraham says of Sarah his wife: "She is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife" (Gen. 20:12). The people surely could not have repeated these words without thinking of their forefather Abraham, whose children they were, originating from a legally cursed relationship. It was intended, therefore, as a reminder to them of how their very standing with God was by grace alone; and they were not from any wonderful spiritual pedigree, but instead were God's people by grace through faith. See on :18.

Deu 27:23 ‘Cursed is he who lies with his mother-in-law’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’-
The implication seems to be, 'And doesn't get caught doing so'. For this kind of inappropriate bonding would have been done in secret. So many of these curses are for sins committed which would never be found out by man, such as taking a bribe (:25). The idea of the curses therefore is that Israel were recognizing that who we are when nobody is watching is significant to God, because He does watch and judge, all the time. And He is therefore invited to "curse" our secret sins, at the last day. No other legal code was like this- criminalizing things which were unseen and would never be discovered by anyone else. Because God is the judge of all, and sees all things and will judge them in His own time.

Deu 27:24 ‘Cursed is he who strikes his neighbour in secret’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’-
This may refer to a man striking his neighbour in his "secrets", i.e. his most vulnerable part, the testicles. In which case we deduce the principle that inappropriate exploitation of another's weakness is as it were a mortal sin. Or the idea may be that if you strike a person secretly with no witness, even though you will not be judged for it by men, you will be by God, and are pronounced "cursed". But the meaning may simply be "in secret". See on :23. 

Deu 27:25 ‘Cursed is he who takes a bribe to kill an innocent person’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’-
The idea of a bribe suggests that this doesn't refer to a contract killer, but to someone taking a bribe to make a false legal statement. But indirect consequence of wrong action is here understood as having performed the action, of murder in this case. For the death penalty would come because of the false statement which was made in return for a bribe. And this is an abiding principle.

Deu 27:26 ‘Cursed is he who doesn’t confirm the words of this law to do them’. All the people shall say ‘Amen’-
When the people ratified their covenant with Yahweh [cp. the breaking of bread], they had to confirm their agreement that they would be cursed for disobedience to it; and “cursed is who doesn't confirm the words...". They couldn’t opt out of bringing this curse upon themselves for disobedience- if they did, they were cursed. Israel were told that because they were the people of God, in covenant with Him, therefore they had to be obedient. If they were disobedient, they would be cursed. And if they backed out of being God’s people, they were also cursed (Dt. 27:9,19,26). There was no way back: total devotion to obedience. God would either rejoice over them to bless them, or rejoice over them to curse them (Dt. 28:63). He isn’t passive; His energy will be expended upon us one way or the other. There are only two types of builder, the wise and the foolish; two types of tree, yielding either good or bad fruit.