There is a distinction between the foregoing and what we read in the coming chapters. In the foregoing, the people are seen in a certain state of blessing, a people also subject to certain responsibilities in order to be able to enjoy that blessing. From Deuteronomy 27 up to and including Deuteronomy 33 we find a lot that relates to the history of Israel. From this are lessons to be learned regarding the history of Christianity on earth.
History is the sequence of events. The people, here, start to deviate. It is a story of decay. Deuteronomy 28 starts with that. Deuteronomy 27 is a transitional chapter, in which we have two themes. Mount Ebal is central to both themes. In the first part, the theme is the erection of memorial stones and an altar on Mount Ebal. In the second section, the second theme comes up. It consists of curses that are pronounced on the same mountain Ebal. Explicitly, Ebal is the mountain of the curse.
The Samaritans choose Mount Gerizim as a place of worship (Jn 4:20a), because it is the place of blessing (Deu 8:11; Jos 8:30-35). However, there is no question of Gerizim, or blessing, here. The blessings mentioned in the first verses of Deuteronomy 28 are in contrast with the then following verses and not in connection with Deuteronomy 27.
Notwithstanding that, Deuteronomy 27 and Deuteronomy 28 belong together. They represent a people in the blessing of the land, with a monument as a sign of it. Then we hear a series of curses. And in Deuteronomy 28 we see the blessing contrasted with the curse. In Deuteronomy 27 the curses are personal and eternal, while in Deuteronomy 28 they are not, there they are national. There we see what God will do in their history should they deviate and the curse of God strike them, while He, when they convert, will give a change for the better.
1 - 8 Set up of Memorial Stones and an Altar
1 Then Moses and the elders of Israel charged the people, saying, “Keep all the commandments which I command you today. 2 So it shall be on the day when you cross the Jordan to the land which the LORD your God gives you, that you shall set up for yourself large stones and coat them with lime 3 and write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over, so that you may enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you. 4 So it shall be when you cross the Jordan, you shall set up on Mount Ebal, these stones, as I am commanding you today, and you shall coat them with lime. 5 Moreover, you shall build there an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones; you shall not wield an iron [tool] on them. 6 You shall build the altar of the LORD your God of uncut stones, and you shall offer on it burnt offerings to the LORD your God; 7 and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and eat there, and rejoice before the LORD your God. 8 You shall write on the stones all the words of this law very distinctly.”
Moses, together with the elders, underlines once again the necessity of keeping the commandments. As an aid he says that the people should set up stones and coat them with lime. These stones serve as a memorial on which everything that Moses has spoken must be written. When entering the land, as the first act a remembrance of the law must be set up. All further actions in the land must be based on the law. If the people remember this, it is the guarantee that they will continually enjoy the blessings that God has given.
In addition to a monument in memory of the law, an altar made of natural stone is also built on Mount Ebal. On it can be sacrificed as a response of gratitude. It points to the goal that God has in mind once His people are in the land.
The law of God comes to us here in three aspects. The first aspect we see in verses 1-10. It is the meaning of the law, as described in Deuteronomy 4-26, in order to enjoy the blessings of the land. We can apply that aspect to us in its spiritual scope. There are also commandments for us as conditions to enjoy the blessings.
The second aspect is found in verses 11-26. There the law is applied to those who are on the basis of the law. The principle of law is that every man who bases himself on law to produce works for God comes under the curse (Gal 3:10).
In Deuteronomy 28 we meet the law in a third meaning. It is not the spiritual meaning of the law, not even its formal meaning for every human being, but the law as the norm of God for His people on earth to experience the blessing or the curse in the reign of God.
For us, the place of curse is the place where we found the altar. Our altar is the Lord Jesus. He became a curse on Calvary.
Verse 4 is fulfilled in Joshua 8 (Jos 8:30-34). We hear here for the third time about writing the law. The first and second time the writing of the law is mentioned in Deuteronomy 10: the first time as a referral back to Horeb (Deu 10:2), the second time in connection with the tablets cut out by Moses (Deu 10:4).
Here the people write. Thereby they say ‘yes’ to the commandments of God. You have to be in the land for it, surrounded by the blessings of God. Then it is not difficult to say ‘yes’ to what God has said. Then there is care to write down the words of the law “very distinctly” (verse 8), so that those who pass by can read what is written without difficulty (Hab 2:2). It also means that nothing is taken away from it or forgotten, but that the people will keep what is as God has given it.
For the believer, the will of God is everything. The people’s writing of the law is the people’s answer to God that they would like to know His will. In the application to us we can read about this in some letters in the New Testament (Eph 1:9; Col 1:9; 4:12; Heb 13:21). In the land one gets a special impression of that will.
Next to that monument stands an altar. Whoever has so wholeheartedly said ‘yes’ to God’s Word, will want to sacrifice. Through what is written on the monument God speaks to man. Through the altar man directs to God. On the monument God asks for obedience as a condition of blessing. Through the altar man worships God for the blessings which He has given in Christ, the Sacrifice.
The altar must be built in the manner prescribed by God. No human activity is allowed (cf. Exo 20:25). The stones only need to be stacked, they may not be cut. Human reworking of that place leads to catastrophe. Thus we may fulfill God’s Word, we may establish and maintain a testimony for Him, but we may not rework it according to our own thoughts.
There is no talk of sin offerings, but of burnt offerings and peace offerings. The sacrifices on this altar are an expression of gratitude toward God as the Giver of all blessings. The sin offering determines us by our sins and that is not what we are talking about here. Burnt offerings represent Christ in His work on the cross, as completely dedicated to God. Peace offerings represent Christ in His work on the cross by which fellowship has become possible between God and His people and between the members of God’s people.
9 - 10 Israel Has Become God’s People
9 Then Moses and the Levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying, “Be silent and listen, O Israel! This day you have become a people for the LORD your God. 10 You shall therefore obey the LORD your God, and do His commandments and His statutes which I command you today.”
Here Moses, together with the Levitical priests, speaks to the whole people. In verse 1 Moses speaks together with the elders. There it is about obedience to God’s commandments. That is what we are talking about here as well, but the priests are more involved in its observance. Obedience affects the fellowship between God and His people. Here God declares Israel to be His people. This is a special moment of the nearness of God. Priests play an important role in this. For us, it is about priestly feelings.
11 - 12 Blessing on Mount Gerizim
11 Moses also charged the people on that day, saying, 12 “When you cross the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin.
God first presents blessing to His people. It is always in His heart to bless His people. At the same time it becomes clear that His people do not want this blessing. What the blessing contains is not elaborated here. The emphasis is placed on the curse that is pronounced on various sins in the following verses. God knows the heart of His people. That is what He tells His people, for He wants them to recognize it.
The tribes standing on the mountain of blessing are all descendants of Lea (four sons) and Rachel (two sons). There are no sons of the slaves. They are, so to speak, only descendants of the ’free’ (Gal 4:31).
13 - 26 Curse on Mount Ebal
13 For the curse, these shall stand on Mount Ebal: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. 14 The Levites shall then answer and say to all the men of Israel with a loud voice, 15 ‘Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets [it] up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’ 16 ‘Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ 17 ‘Cursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ 18 ‘Cursed is he who misleads a blind [person] on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ 19 ‘Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ 20 ‘Cursed is he who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s skirt.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ 21 ‘Cursed is he who lies with any animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ 22 ‘Cursed is he who lies with his sister, the daughter of his father or of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ 23 ‘Cursed is he who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ 24 ‘Cursed is he who strikes his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ 25 ‘Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ 26 ‘Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Man has to deal with the curse as soon as he expects something from himself. If that is the case, he always will fail. He forfeits the blessing and receives the curse he has called about himself in case he fails. The six sons who have to pronounce the curse are four sons of the female slaves, and Reuben and Zebulun, who are born of Lea. Reuben probably belongs to this category because he has forfeited his birthright (1Chr 5:1). There is nothing known about Zebulun that would indicate that he should belong to this group.
In verse 14 come the Levites. They serve, read the law and explain it. They point out the consequences of disobedience. Disobedience is never without consequences. Even if a disobedience takes place secretly (verses 15,24), the curse will hit its mark. No sin remains without righteous punishment. That applies to each of the twelve sins mentioned here.
The last-mentioned curse (verse 26) concerns any violation of the law and not only the more or less horrible sins mentioned above. Anyone who does not persevere in all that the law says is under the curse (Gal 3:10). There is no escape clause.