Deuteronomy 27 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Deuteronomy 27
Pulpit Commentary
And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day.
Verse 1. - All the commandments, etc.; all that up to this time I have enjoined upon you. The reference is to the entire Law as given by Moses.
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:
Verse 2. - On the day when ye shall pass over Jordan; i.e. at the time; "day" is here used in a wide sense (cf. Genesis 2:4; Numbers 3:1; 2 Samuel 22:1; Ecclesiastes 12:3; Isaiah 11:10, etc.). Thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster, The stones, the number of which is not specified, were to be large, because much was to be inscribed upon them, and they were to be covered with a coating of lime or gypsum (שִׂיַד), in order to secure a smooth white surface on which the inscription might be clearly depicted. That the words were not, as Michaelis, Rosenmüller, and others suppose, cut in the stone, and afterwards covered with plaster in order to preserve them, is plain from its being enjoined that they were to be written upon (עַל) the stones so prepared; and besides, as this was intended to be a proclamation of the Law, the main purpose of the erection would have been frustrated had the inscription been concealed by such a covering as that supposed. Among the ancient Egyptians the practice of depicting records on walls or monuments covered with a coating of plaster was common (see Hengstenberg, 'Authentic des Pent.,' 1:464, English translation, 1:433); from them, doubtless, it was borrowed by the Hebrews. It has been suggested by Kennicott that the writing was to be in relieve, and that the spaces between the letters were filled up by the mortar or cement. This is possible, but it is not such a process as this that the words of the text suggest. "A careful examination of Deuteronomy 27:4, 8, and Joshua 8:30-22, will lead to the opinion that the Law was written upon or in the plaster with which these pillars were coated. This could easily be done, and such writing was common in ancient times. I have seen specimens of it certainly more than two thousand years old, and still as distinct as when they were first inscribed on the plaster" (Thomson, 'Land and the Book,' it. p. 204).
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.
Verse 3. - All the words of this law; i.e. all the purely legislative parts of the Mosaic institute. By the "Law" here cannot be intended merely the blessings and the curses afterwards mentioned (vers. 14-26); nor is there any reason why this term should be restricted to the precepts of this Book of Deuteronomy, as if they only were to be inscribed on the stones: the term must be extended so as to cover all that Moses had at any time delivered to Israel as a law from God. It is not necessary, however, to suppose that all the reasons and exhortations with which the delivery of these, as recorded in the Pentateuch, was accompanied were to be inscribed along with the Law; still less that the historical details amidst which the record of these laws is embedded should be given. It may be questioned even whether each and all of the legislative enactments of the Torah, reckoned by the Jews to be 613, were to be recorded; for it might be deemed enough that the substance and essence of the Law should be thus presented. But even if the whole was to be inscribed, there would be no serious difficulty in the way of carrying this into effect, seeing there is no limitation as to the number of the stones to be set up.
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.
Verse 4. - The stones were to be set up on Mount Ebal (cf. Deuteronomy 11:29). The Samaritan Codex and Version have Gerizim here, in place of Ebal; but though some critics have accepted this, it is generally regarded as an arbitrary alteration introduced to favor Samaritan pretensions (see the exhaustive and conclusive Dissertation of Gesenius, 'De Pentat. Samarit'). All the ancient versions, as well as all the Hebrew manuscripts, support the received text.
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.
Verses 5-7. - Besides the monumental stones, an altar of whole stones, on which no tool had passed (cf. Exodus 20:22) was to be erected, and burnt offerings and peace offerings were to be presented as at the establishment of the covenant at Sinai, followed by the statutory festive entertainment (cf. Exodus 24:5).
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.
Verse 8. - The injunction to write the Law on the stones is repeated, with the addition that it was to be done very plainly (LXX., σαφῶς σφόδρα: Vulgate, plane et lucide), which shows that the main purpose of setting up the stones was that the Law might be easily known by the people (cf. Habakkuk 2:2). The stones and the altar were fittingly placed on Ebal, the mount of cursing. For the setting up of the stones on which the Law was inscribed, and the building beside them of the altar, was the symbolical renewal of the covenant of God with Israel, and the establishment in Canaan of that dispensation which was "the ministration of condemnation and of death" (2 Corinthians 3:7, 9), and of that Law which, though in itself "holy, just, and good," can only, because of man's perversity and sinfulness, bring on those who are under it a curse (Galatians 3:10).
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.
Verses 9, 10. - When Israel renewed the covenant with the Lord, by solemnly setting up the Law in Canaan, it became thereby the nation of God, and bound itself at the same time to hearken to the voice of the Lord, and keep his commandments, as it had already done (cf. Deuteronomy 26:17, 18; Micah 4:5). Verse 9. - Take heed; literally, Be silent; LXX., σιώπα, with silent attention listen (cf. Zechariah 2:13).
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,
Verses 11-14. - Having set up the Law and renewed the covenant in Canaan, Israel was to proclaim upon the land the blessing and the curse of the Law, as already commanded (see Deuteronomy 11:29). For this purpose six tribes were to station themselves on Mount Gerizim, and six on Mount Ebal, the former to pronounce the blessing, the latter the curse. (On the situation of these two mountains, see at ch. Deuteronomy 11:29.) The six tribes by whom the blessing was to be pronounced were Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin, all descended from the two wives of Jacob - Leah and Rachel. The tribes by whom the curse was to be uttered were those descended from Zilpah, Leah's maid, viz. Gad and Asher; those descended from Bilhah, Rachel's maid, viz. Dan and Naphtali; with Zebulun and Reuben, both descended from Leah. As, in order to obtain a division of the tribes into two equal portions, two of the sons of Leah must be assigned to the second half, Zebulun and Reuben were chosen, probably because the former was the youngest of Leah's sons, and the latter had by his sin forfeited his birthright (Genesis 49:4).
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:
And these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.
Verse 13. - These shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; literally, These shall stand upon the curse on Mount Ebal; i.e. it shall belong to them to utter the curse.
And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice,
Verse 14. - The Levites - standing probably in some convenient spot midway between the two mountains (cf. Joshua 8:33) - were to pronounce with a loud voice the blessing and the curse, so that all might hear; and the people were to give their assent, and take to themselves, as it were, the blessing or the curse as uttered, by a solemn Amen. By the Levites here are intended, not the sons of Levi generally, but that portion of them which belonged to the priesthood, and bare the ark of the covenant (cf. Joshua 8:33).
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.
Verses 15-26. - The curses to be pronounced were twelve in number, probably to correspond with the number of the tribes. The blessings are not here recorded; but when the injunction here given was fulfilled by Joshua, the blessing as well as the curse was pronounced (Joshua 8:34). And probably, as the Jews report, each, the blessing and the curse, was pronounced alternately (Talmud Bab., 'Sotah,' p. 7; Targum Hieros., in loc.; Surcnhus., 'Mishna,' 3:262). It has sometimes been doubted whether any human voice could be audible over so wide a stretch as that between these two mountains; but this need be no longer matter of doubt, for the experiment has been repeatedly tried in recent times with success (Tristram, 'Land of Israel,' p. 150; Bonar, p. 371; Stanley, 'Syr. and Pal.,' p. 13). In the clear atmosphere of the East sounds travel far. It is to be borne in mind also that it was not a single voice that had to make itself heard across the valley on this occasion, but a chorus of voices pro-seeding from a body of priests stationed apparently in the midst between the two companies (cf. Joshua 8:33), and chanting in unison the words of each blessing or curse. Verses 15-26. - Each of the first eleven curses is directed against some particular sin already denounced in the Law. The twelfth curse is directed generally against all breaches of the Law, against those who fail or refuse to set up the whole Law and follow it as the rule of life and conduct. This shows that the sins specially denounced are selected by way of specimen, and also, perhaps, because they are such as could for the most part be easily concealed from judicial inspection. Verse 15. - (Cf. Exodus 20:4; Leviticus 26:1.) Verse 16. - (Cf. Exodus 21:17.) Verse 17. - (Cf. Deuteronomy 19:14.) Verse 18. - (Cf. Leviticus 19:14.) Verse 19. - (Cf. Deuteronomy 24:17.) Verse 20. - (Cf. Leviticus 18:8; Deuteronomy 22:30.) Verse 21. - (Cf. Leviticus 18:23; Leviticus 20:15.) Verses 22, 23. - (Cf. Leviticus 18:9, 17.) Verse 24. - (Cf. Exodus 20:13; Numbers 35:16, etc.) Verse 25. - (Cf. Exodus 23:7, 8.) Verse 26. - (Cf. Deuteronomy 28:15; Jeremiah 11:3, 4.)

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.
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