Invitation to a blessing

(Deuteronomy 27:1-14)

The whole book of Deuteronomy is about God’s Covenant with his people, about what it means to live in his presence, enjoying the blessings he has given then, land, protection, provision. It is about how to do this by loving, obeying and worshipping the living God.

The first eleven chapters set out an introduction to the Covenant. There is the historical background of how God had brought them out of Egypt, how we had defeated their enemies and how he brought them to the Land, feeding them along the way and giving them the Law to keep at Sinai. Sadly they had refused that first opportunity to enter the land and so had wandered for 40 years. 

Now they were about to go up and enter the land. Moses would not go with them, Joshua would succeed him as leader. So, Moses now reminds them of the Law, summed up in the command to whole-heartedly love God and set out in ten commandments or words.  Before Moses gets into the detail of the Law, he tells the people that they are to enact a covenant ceremony at Mount Ebal when they do enter the land.[1]

Chapters 12-26 give us a detailed discussion of the law often specific instructions and case law style wisdom on how to obey and love God.  These might be seen as fleshing out the detail of the ten commandments.

Then we pick up in chapter 27 on  the instructions for the covenant ceremony in chapter 11.  This is where we pick up as we begin to find out more about what it means to be God’s Covenant people


V1-8 The people of Israel were to gather stones, plaster them and write out the commandments of the covenant on them. They were to be set up on Mount Ebal. At the same time they were to erect an altar, possibly with different stones for sacrifices. These stones were to be uncut. Cragie notes that it specifies with iron tools, iron may imply dependence upon other cultures around such as with the Philistines later[2] Additionally, this may be a way of reminding the people that their law and worship wasn’t the product of human craftmanship but came from God himself

The monument marks the boundary of the land. It was to be set up as soon as the people arrived in the land and would have presented people entering or leaving Israel with a striking visual image. This offered them a permanent reminder that the land was under God’s rule. Here was to be the first place of worship in the land. Notice that the people are required to bring peace offerings. The people were going to live in peace with God under his protection and blessing and so they are to keep his law

There then follows a covenant ceremony

V9-14 – the tribes are divided in half. One half are to stand on one mountain and pronounce blessings, the others to stand on the mountain opposite and pronounce curses. I was surprised at first when I re-read how the blessings and curses were divided up.  I expected those speaking blessings to do so from Mount Ebal where the monument to the Law had been set up.  However it not on Mount Ebal that this happens but rather, the blessings are announced from Mount  Gerizim.  The curses are announced from Mount Ebal. So, what is happening here? Well, it is possible that those on Mount Gerizim look across and see the Law. Therefore, as the gaze on God’s Law, his righteousness is revealed to them and  they see God’s blessing. They then declare this blessing to those who stand with the Law on Mount Ebal. In return  those standing with the Law are warning those outside of the Law and away from it that departing will lead to curse.  This also means that those standing with the Law are recognising that they will take the obligations of the curse if they don’t obey.[3]

Alternatively, I think that as Christians looking back from the perspective of the New Covenant can see even just a little hint here that the law can only bring the curse.  From that perspective there is already a prophecy here that blessing would be found in the one who is driven outside of God’s covenant people outside of the city and outside of the Temple like the scapegoat and bears the curse upon himself dying in the place of cursed people so that they can be blessed.

Either way, what we do here is a symbolic action where representatives of God’s people stand in the place of all God’s people throughout history and are either blessed or are cursed in our place.

Application for us

When preaching on this passage, there are a couple of things I would want to pick up on. First of all, we cannot avoid the way in which these words point us to Jesus as the one who bore the curse for us so that we could receive the blessing of the Gospel. The New Testament forces the point home that the law could only bring the curse of death.  We need the gospel to bring blessing. So depending on how you look at it, we are either the ones standing on Gerazim and receiving the blessing whilst Christ on Ebal bears the curse of the law, or it is we who stand on Mount Ebal and who hear God’s blessing pronounced. Calvary then is Gerazim  where Christ is mocked and cursed so that in return he can speak blessing over us.

I’d also want to note how the covenant ceremony points us to  the means of grace we have today. At communion, we either eat blessing or damnation/judgement according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 11. This is all about our love for God and neighbour shown in how we discern the body.

As believers we are privileged to enjoy God’s blessing. We should not take this privilege lightly

[1] Deuteronomy 11: 26-32.

[2] Cragie, Deuteronomy, 329.

[3] McConville, 388

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