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Monday, April 27, 2015

Delay

Please forgive me for getting a new Bible study out later than usual. Our family has been beset with illness and injury.

Get ready, though, because the new Bible study, covering Deuteronomy 28:15-68 is a very full study and will blow your mind as to its depth.

Thank you for your prayers.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Blessings and God's Glory - Deuteronomy 28:1-14

Introduction

Deuteronomy 28 is the chapter where God explicitly told the Israelites what faithfulness and unfaithfulness to their covenant with Him will bring upon them. From Deuteronomy 5 when God gave the Ten Commandments, Moses taught, exhorted, encouraged, and beseeched the Israelites to be faithful to the covenant they made with God at Mount Sinai. Deuteronomy is not the only place in the Pentateuch where we read of Moses teaching the Israelites diligently to obey (shama) the LORD. Exodus and Leviticus both record this teaching and command from Mount Sinai.

Deuteronomy 28 is a long and exhaustive chapter that covers God’s blessings and curses for the Israelites for their faithfulness or unfaithfulness to their covenant with Him. This Bible study covers verses one through fourteen, God’s blessings. Within these verses, we read the magnitude of God’s blessings on those who were faithful to Him and His commands, statutes, decrees, and laws. If we read the verses with care, we can see the prelude to the Beatitudes of the Gospel of Matthew. While reading Deuteronomy 28, we must keep in mind what David said about the LORD in Psalm 145:8. He said, “The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.” God did not want to dwell on disobedience and the curses. He wants to be in a love relationship with people and show His mercy, which explains why Moses started Deuteronomy 28 with God’s blessings for faithfulness to Him.

The Scope and Outline

When God blesses a person, it affects the whole life of the person. Healing brings the ability to work and provide for one’s family. It affects the mental, emotional, and spiritual parts of a person, not just the physical. When Jesus provided more wine at a wedding, His first miracle, it brought goodwill and a good reputation to the father of the bride. That could affect he father’s standing in the community and then his income level. It could contribute to the father providing for his family. These could affect the family’s worship of God and their mental and emotional well-being. When we consider this, we know then that blessings given in one part of life can affect many or every other area of life.

Regarding Deuteronomy 28, we read the blessings God would give the faithful Israelites and note He covers every aspect of human life from farming and herding to trade, from bodily to proprietary, from large scale (produce) to daily provision (food for meals), and from national to international life. Added to this, the first fourteen verses answer the main six questions people ask – what, where, when, who, why, and how. Finally, this section of chapter 28 begins by telling us what the blessings shall be to reminding us who will give them. We will learn what being blessed means and how God’s children should react to Him because of receiving from Him. Below is the outline of Deuteronomy 28:1-14.
Vs. 1 - If/Shama’ the people obey, keep, and do God’s commandments
               Then they will be set high above other nations (same as vs. 9 and 13. This will be
               done by God’s blessings)
               Vs. 2 - Then blessings will come if they obey the LORD
               What are the blessings? (implied the LORD will do them)
                     Vs. 3 - In the cities and towns (Where)
                     Vs. 4 – Fertile womb
                                 Fertile ground
                                 Fertile animals – cattle, sheep, goat, etc.
                    Vs. 5 – Plentiful daily food
                    Vs. 6 – When come and go
                    Vs. 7 – The LORD shall cause their enemies to be defeated
Who gives the blessings: The LORD will command the blessings (come from their success in keeping their covenant, not by their skill)
                    Vs. 8– The LORD will command the blessing on
                                    the barns and
                                    their trade and
                                    the land He gives them
Vs. 9b – If/Shama’ keep and walk
                  Then LORD will establish them as holy to Himself (vs. 9a)
                  Vs. 10 – Why? So the nations will see you are God’s holy people and will be
                                 afraid and in awe
                  Vs. 11 – LORD will make abound in prosperity in land LORD gave to Israelites:
                                   Fertile wombs
                                   Fertile animals
                                   Fertile ground
                  Vs. 12 – How? LORD will open His storehouse (heavens) to give them rain at
                                the right time, which will bless their work. (Their prosperity came from
                                God’s rains who blessed the work of their hands.
                  Prosperity Idioms –
1.      Lenders and not borrowers – vs. 12
2.      Head and not the tail – vs. 13
3.      Above and not underneath – vs. 13           
Vs. 13b – If/Shama’ do not turn aside from God’s commands to go after and serve other
                gods.
                Then they will be greater and more prosperous.

      Notice in these fourteen verses God reminded the Israelites of their covenant to Him and His to them. He then told them of His blessings to them because of their faithfulness. Next, God reminded the Israelites again they were His holy people and He is the one who would bless them. Finally, using a negative format, God reminded the Israelites again in verses 13b through 14 to stay faithful to Him and His commandments. In each of these four verses (1, 9, 13b-14) Moses used the if/then legal treatise format. In Near Eastern cultures treatises/covenants ended with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. This method was a common practice of that day. Another point we should note about these verses is the LORD is the implied giver of the blessings of verses three through six, but in verses seven through twelve, Moses specified the LORD was the giver of blessings. Now we made note of these, let us understand the text.

God’s Blessings

The first thing we should note is the contractual nature of the first two verses. Moses used if/then statements when he spoke to the Israelites about their covenant with the LORD. As stated earlier, it was a common format used during that time in the Near East. He used his most often stated word when speaking to the Israelites in this chapter. That word is shamar/shama’. Remember, shamar/shama’ mean to hear, listen, and obey.

Moses used this word twice in the first part of verse one. He was adamant that the Israelites stayed committed to God as they covenanted with Him. Moses strengthened the command of shama’ both times in verse one by adding modifiers – the words diligently and careful. He stressed they were to do God’s commands. The word “do” in verse one is from the Hebrew word ‘asah. It means to accomplish, act with effect, and do. This word and definition is in line with the meaning of the word shama’. The Israelites’ faithfulness to their covenant with God, Moses said, brought them blessings. Moses stated the blessing from the LORD when he said, “The LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” This meant the LORD would consecrate and exalt the Israelites highest above the nations of the earth. The purpose of their elevation by God was to draw the other people of the world to Him.

This covenant was not new to the Israelites. Moses reminded them of the covenant they made with God at Mount Sinai in his writings in Exodus 15:26 & 23:22, Leviticus 26:3-13, and Deuteronomy 7:12-26 & 11:13. The foundation of the Israelites’ relationship with Yahweh God began with God’s promise to Abraham. It continued with His choosing them as His people and they covenanting with Him to follow and obey Him.

Moses reiterated God’s command to keep His commands. He said in verse two, “All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God.” For the Israelites’ obedience, God would give them His blessings. The blessings would not come from their own hands. The Israelites could not give them to themselves. God gives blessings. Zechariah 1:6 says, “But did not My words and MY statutes, which I commanded My servants the prophets, overtake your fathers? Then they repented and said, ‘As the LORD of hosts purposed to do to us in accordance with our ways and our deeds, so He has dealt with us.’” The Israelites recognized the LORD gave them their blessings based on their deeds, their faithfulness. They had motivation to be faithful to their covenant with the LORD.

      As stated by Moses before in the earlier texts of the Pentateuch and as the Israelites remembered, “keeping” (hearing, listening, and obeying) their covenant with God brought blessing. Earlier in Deuteronomy, they learned that faithfulness to their covenant brought them life. Obedience brought blessings. Alongside that, disobedience brought them death. Hence, life is the blessing and death is the curse from the LORD God. This theme continues throughout the Bible.

      In verses three though seven, Moses explained the blessings God would give them for their faithfulness to Him. He would bless every part of their lives. Verse 3 says, “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.” The word “blessed” comes from the Hebrew word barak and means to kneel, praise, or salute. To be blessed means kneeling before the one who blesses. That act acknowledges the giver of the blessing as greater than the recipient. Hence, the blesser is worthy of praise, honor, and glory. Glory for the blessing and the ability to bless should return to the blesser. In this chapter, the blesser is the LORD God. In this verse, God would bless both farmers and tradesmen , Moses said. This means the blessing was universal - for every Israelite.

      Verse 4 says blessed be the Israelites by the increase of the offspring of their bodies, ground, and animals. The words “offspring” and “produce” come from the Hebrew word priy that means fruit. The word “beasts” comes from the Hebrew word behemeh that means beast. God explicitly stated these beasts are the herd and the young (cattle, ewe, flock, sheep, and goats). Every aspect of their nation God would bless. The blessing was all-encompassing, covering every part of their existence.

      God brought it closer to home. Moses said in verse five, “Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.” They would have plentiful crops for the nation as verse four stated. In this verse, each family would have enough food to eat. No one would be hungry or starve in Israel. Food would always be on the tables of the Israelites. This blessing was for families while the previous one was national.

      In verse 6, Moses said, “Blessed shall you be when you come in and blessed shall you be when you go out.” David said this in Psalm 121:8 when he said, “The LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” This phrase is a Hebraic idiom. It means God blessed every part of the Israelites’ life in the land He gave them. In everything the Israelites put their hand to, God blessed them. To this point, Moses spoke of God’s blessings on their food, agriculture, herds, wombs, and every other physical thing.

      In verse 7, Moses spoke of the Israelites’ international relationships. Moses said, “The LORD shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.” This showed God’s grace and might to fight the Israelites’ enemies. Their enemies might come against them with a strong show of force, but they would scramble to leave in any way they could to get away from the Israelites. They arrived in battle formation and left in fear by any route they could find by which to escape. When the Israelites’ obeyed God’s commands, their enemies were God’s enemies. If they disobeyed God’s commands, the Israelites became enemies of God and He would curse them, too. God would take care of the enemies of His children and every physical aspect of their lives. The Israelites’ obedience of Him acknowledged His greatness. The Israelites’ receiving God’s blessings acknowledged their unworthiness of praise and His worthiness. From the LORD God’s mighty hand blessings came.

      In verse 8, Moses reminded the Israelites that every blessing comes from God. God commands them to occur. None of the blessings came from the Israelites’ own hands. Moses said, “The LORD will command the blessings upon you in your barns and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land, which the LORD God gives you.” Moses’ first line of this verse said what he wanted the Israelites to understand. The LORD would command the blessings upon them. Blessings originate with the LORD. In this verse, the word “barns” comes from the Hebrew word ‘acam, which means grain storehouses. God would bless the work of their hands in farming and trade, individually and as a nation. He gave the land to them based on His promise to Abraham and would bless their work on and in the land if they obeyed Him and His commands.

      With verse 9, Moses reminded the Israelites of their special relationship with the LORD. Because of their relationship with Him, the blessings He gave had meaning. The first part of verse nine explained this. Moses said, “The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself as He swore to you.” The word “establish” comes from the Hebrew word quwm and means to cause to arise. This word was a metaphor that meant to establish something. We see this in Deuteronomy 25:7 and 29:13. God’s choosing of the Israelites was His blessing of them. He caused them to be a holy people because He chose them and set them apart to be holy to Him. All His commandments, laws, statues, and decrees led them to Him so they would stay in a right relationship with Him. God’s commands led the Israelites to live in a right way so they would be righteous. Being right with God, meant they became righteous and, hence, holy. God’s choosing them and their obedience to His commands established and kept them holy/consecrated/set apart for Him. God called the Israelites to be His own people to show the people of the world His love and mercy – to lead them to Him. For doing this, choosing the Israelites and making them holy, God deserved glory. He chose a sinful people to be His holy people. The covenant with God was two-sided: God to the Israelites and they to Him. He chose them as His holy people. The Israelites agreed to covenant with God. They chose to worship Him only and to follow His commands. The second half of verse nine says that. Moses finished the verse this way, “If you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways.” The covenant with God was conditional. God chose the Israelites and they had to choose Him, which they showed by worshipping and obeying Him. They had a special relationship with God and Moses wanted to make sure they remembered that before they entered the Promised Land. God’s blessings to the Israelites were conditional upon them worshipping and obeying Him only.

      In the previous paragraph, I alluded to verse ten. Moses explained why God called the Israelites as His own. He stated God’s reason, “So all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will be afraid of you.” This sounds like the taunt children throw at each other. They may say, “You better leave me alone because my daddy is bigger than yours.” God wanted the other nations to see His strength. He wanted them to see His love and mercy, too. The word “called” in this verse comes from the Hebrew word qara’. It means to call out or proclaim aloud. The word “name” comes from the Hebrew word shem, which means name, reputation, fame, and glory. The Hebrew definition for the word “afraid” is reverence and awe. God expected His covenant with Israel and their obedience in word and action would proclaim aloud His name, give Him a reputation, and proclaim His glory. He wants every nation, tribe, and tongue of the world to hear about Him. God wanted the nations around Israel to be afraid to cross them in battle. Most importantly, He wanted His relationship with the Israelites to lead them to Him so they were awed and reverenced Him. He wanted the Israelites to be a means of revelation to the world about Him so each person would come to know Him. God, from the beginning of time, wanted to have a relationship with humankind. He chose at the time of the Israelites to begin concertedly seeking to bring people back to Himself. God’s purpose for blessing Israel was greater than just blessing them. It was to glorify Himself through blessing them. We see in the Bible an example of this when, in 1 Kings 10:1-13, the queen of Sheba recognized God through His blessings on the nation of Israel.

      In case the Israelites forgot the blessings they experienced came from the LORD God, Moses reminded them in summary in verse eleven they did not bring about their own blessings/prosperity. He said, “The LORD will make you abound in prosperity in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your beast and in the produce of your ground, in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give you.” The word “abound” comes from the Hebrew word yather and means to excel, have excess, and have more than enough. “Prosperity” comes from the Hebrew word towb Adoniyahahuw, which means the goodness of God. This means, Moses told them, “The LORD will make you excel and have more than enough through the goodness of God.” With verse eleven repeating verse three in a different order, He explained to them how they would experience God’s goodness. Moses added as a reminder that the land God was giving them did not come from anything they did, but from God’s promise/oath to their forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The prosperity of the Israelites came from God as part of the faithfulness of covenant-keeping. God gave the blessings. The Israelites received them; they earned them. The greater of the two covenant parties was God because He showed His power by His ability to give them each of the stated blessings – the ability to make wombs and ground fruitful, the ability to give victory against enemies, the ability to give the Promised Land. These were and are in God’s control.

      Moses made that point clear in verse twelve when He told the Israelites, “The LORD will open His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.” No matter how much work the Israelites put into their work to have good things, God is the one who controls its growth. Moses gave the example that the rains come from God’s heavens, His storehouse. Without His rains - His blessings – the Israelites received no fruit, be it of the womb, land, from their trade, or in victory. Moses made the point that besides having enough food for themselves as a family and nation, they would have excess they could loan to other nations. The Israelites would not have to borrow from nations. God’s blessing of them would be that great if they kept their covenant with Him. His blessing was life.

      Moses used three idioms of prosperity to make his point about God’s blessings. The first he noted in verse twelve - the Israelites would be lenders and not borrowers. In verse 13, Moses said they would be the head and not the tail. This meant they would be the head, the chief, not the last or follower. Because God chose them, made them holy, and blessed them, this was so. The last idiom of prosperity Moses used to speak of the blessed Israelites is they would be above and not underneath. “Above” comes from the Hebrew word ma’al and means on higher ground. “Underneath” comes from mattah and means below. The Israelites would be on higher ground because of the prosperity God’s blessings brought to them. Other nations and people would look up to them as an example of right living, blessings, and having the most powerful God. They would watch and want to know about the God of the Israelites.

      Moses reminded the Israelites once again, God’s blessings came from Him when they were faithful to their covenant with Him. With the second half of verse thirteen through verse fourteen, he told them God blessings would come if they remained faithful to the LORD. Moses said, “If you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I charge you today, to observe them carefully and do not turn aside from any of the words which I command you today, to the right or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.” This if/then statement began with the “then” part (the first half of verse thirteen) and moved to the “if.” In this last reminder to the Israelites of their covenant with God, Moses added a defining addendum. By doing that, they would understand without doubt that God wanted purity of their worship and obedience. He told them to shama’ (hear, listen, and obey) to the commandments of the LORD as he earlier said. Moses reinforced this by adamantly stating that the Israelites observe (do and accomplish) God’s commands carefully. He did that so  would not think they were just to hear and listen to them. He made sure they understood shama’ meant doing what God commanded.

      As icing on the top of the cake, Moses stated that being in covenant with the LORD God meant the Israelites walked only in His path, the ways He laid out. If the Israelites walked to the left or right of God’s path and followed other gods, they deviated from God’s marked path. When they followed other gods, they would serve them and that God called idolatry. God taught against idolatry in Deuteronomy 5:7-9 & 27:15 and Exodus 20:23 & 34:17. If the Israelites followed other gods, they were unfaithful to the LORD God and would not receive His blessings.  They would receive His curses. Later, after Moses’ death, God told Joshua in Joshua 1:7 to follow the law Moses commanded them. In this verse, He said, “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.” Sometimes following God requires strength of character and courage. Every person of the world did not follow the LORD. Some of them taunted and persecuted God’s people. Yet going around what God said instead of following His commands exactly meant the Israelites were unfaithful to Him. By circumventing what God commanded them, they sinned and became His enemies.

Recap

The Israelites willingly covenanted/pledged themselves to the LORD God at Mount Sinai. They agreed that the LORD would be their only God and they would obey Him. God told them if they were faithful to their covenant with Him, He would bless them. If the Israelites were unfaithful, He would curse them. Throughout Deuteronomy Moses reminded them many times of their covenant with God. He reminded them God’s blessing was life, now and in the future. Moses told them God’s curse was death. The Israelites agreed and pledged themselves to God and this covenant.

In the first fourteen verses of Deuteronomy 28, Moses explained what God’s blessings would be for the Israelites’ faithfulness to Him. He explained that the blessings would increase the offspring of their wombs and their animals’ wombs and make their land and trades profitable. Moses continued to explain God would give victory to the Israelites from their enemies. The most important part of these fourteen verses comes in verse ten when God explains why He would bless them. He would bless the Israelites so people of other nations would see and know the LORD called and blessed them. By this, the other people would want what the Israelites had – a covenant with the LORD God. The other nations would see the Israelites’ awesome God and want Him to proclaimed them as His people, too. Those people wanted to revere and glorify the God who protected and provided for them. They wanted a covenant, a relationship, with the loving LORD God.

Relevance and Conclusion

When God chose the people of Israel to be His holy, set apart people, He chose to be more active in bringing sinful humankind back to Himself. God actively and visibly sought to be in relationship with humans. When He created Adam and Eve, He did it because He wanted relationship. The Father loved the relationship with the Son and Holy Spirit so much, He wanted to grow that love and share it. God created humankind to share in His love. When Adam and Eve sinned - when anyone sins - separation from God occurs.

When God called the people of Israel His people and consecrated them as His holy people, He began to show His redemption of humankind from their sinful, self-centered selves. God’s commandments to the Israelites led them to Him, to seek to stay in relationship with Him. With their mutual covenant, the Israelites would draw closer to God, the One who created them for relationship with Himself. In this covenant, the LORD, through His blessings, would show His love for them when they were faithful to Him. By blessing the Israelites, people of other nations would see and hear of His might and love and would want to draw close to Him. The LORD would bring more people back from sinfulness. To them He could show His love and be in a relationship.

Lest we forget, being blessed is two separate actions – blessing and receiving. It requires two persons – blesser (giver) and blessed (recipient). Remember the word “blessed” comes from the Hebrew word barak, which means to praise, salute, kneel, and bless. The person receiving the blessing kneels in thanks to the giver of the blessing. This is profound. So often, we look only at the gift and the recipient. We most need to look at the giver, the blesser. To this blesser is due praise, thanks, and glory. Kneeling is showing the honor due to the one blessing. That person provided something the recipient did not have and which the recipient could not provide for him or herself. The giver is the originator of that blessing. For the gift, for the provision, and for being chosen to receive blessing, the giver (blesser) should be praised and glorified. Honor should go to that person. When the glory refers to the giver instead of staying with the recipient, the people watching or hearing about the blessing have their attention refocused onto the one who is more important. In the case of the Israelites receiving blessings from God for faithfulness to Him, God rightly commended them for their obedience. More importantly, God should be praised and glorified for having provided that which the Israelites could not give themselves – life. God is the originator, creator, and sustainer of life. His gift of life was reward for faithfulness to Him. The Israelites could not have created life. Because God is the creator and author of life as well as the blesser of more life and that abundantly, He is the one worthy of praise and glory.

This takes us now to our response. We each must ask ourselves the question, “Am I in a relationship with God?” The next question to arise is, “Am I faithful to Him?” Finally, “Have I thanked God for His faithfulness to me and have I given Him glory for His blessings?” It would be easy for each of us to say thanks and then run off or to just accept God’s blessings and not say thanks at all. None of us can provide for our own lives without God’s providing the means. That means we each owe God thanks as well as praise and glory for His blessings. Giving God glory for His blessings is a proclamation aloud that we are God’s children. God proclaimed the people of Israel as being His holy people in verse nine, of which Moses reminded them. This idea was not new. He proclaimed it in Exodus 19:5.

Just as God wanted the Israelites’ lives to show His power, mercy, and love, He wants the same from His children today. Do our lives show God to the people around us? Will the way we live and speak reflect praise back to God so other people will want to become children of God? When God blesses us, do we proclaim aloud God’s love so He is glorified? We have two purposes in life – to love the LORD with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We do the first by being in a loving and faithful relationship with God. For the second, the praise we give for our blessings must reflect back as glory to Him. By doing this, we glorify and love God and we lead our neighbor’s to Him. They will want to know, just as Israel’s neighbors would want to know, about the God we serve and the one who blesses us. God is the blesser. Until we glorify Him for blessings in our lives, we will not love Him with all we are. We will not love our neighbors well nor lead them to Him either. What kind of child of God would that make us?
We have choices to make.
Who will you choose to thank, praise, and glorify?

To whom are you leading your neighbor to follow?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Covenant Renewal Ceremony - Deuteronomy 27

Introduction

With Deuteronomy 26, Moses started ending his second speech. He reminded the Israelites of the most important things – God chose them to be His people and their response to His love (their offerings and obeying His commands). In chapter 27, Moses reminded them of the rewards for obeying and disobeying God’s commandments and statutes. He taught them, too, about a one-time ceremony God commanded they hold when they entered the Promised Land.
Chapter 27 differs from the rest of Moses’ second speech/sermon. In it, the writer spoke of Moses in the third person using past tense. This gives chapter 27 a narrative feel just as Deuteronomy 4:44-46, 5:1, and chapters 31-34. Because of this, many scholars believe another person added to Moses’ writing of Deuteronomy. It would make sense to hold this understanding. Perhaps Joshua added more to the book of Deuteronomy than just the last chapter, which chronicles Moses’ death.

Another thing to notice, it looks like it comprised of three sections - vs. 1-8, vs. 9-10, and vs. 11-26. A few scholars believe verses nine and ten have no direct connection with the rest of the chapter. They consider it the transition between chapter twenty-six and chapter twenty-eight. If that is the case, then these scholars state another writer added verses 1-8 and 11-26 after Moses and Joshua penned the original book of Deuteronomy. After studying the text, I agree with scholars such as Matthew Henry and John Wesley. Verses nine and ten start the ceremony Moses taught the Israelites for when they entered the Promised Land. The silence at the time of Moses’ teaching applied, too, because he just reminded them of God’s love to them. Any time a person is reminded of God’s love and mercy, a moment of silence is good to reflect on it and return thanks, reverence, and love to Him. Because verses nine and ten fit into the whole of the ceremony, I feel just two distinct parts to this chapter occur with four distinct groups of players – Moses, elders, priests, and Israelites.


Ceremony for Covenant Renewal

The altar.

In verses 1 through 8, Moses and the elders ordered the Israelites to follow God’s commands about writing His laws in plaster upon stones and setting up an altar made of unhewn stones. In the beginning of this speech, Moses told them when they crossed the Jordan River into the land that God gives them they were to set up stones. From verse two, Moses said the Israelites were to set up the stones as soon as they crossed the river at Gilgal, yet verse four told them they were to set up the stones at Mount Ebal, which was further north in Shechem. Most people believe they set up the altar and stones after Gilgal when they reached Shechem
God’s gave specific commands on how to set up the stones. Verses 2-3 say they were to use large stones, coat them with lime, and write on them all the words of the law. Verse 4 reiterates this. Later in verse 8, Moses commanded the Israelites write the law in a distinct manner on the stones. The word “write” in verses three and eight comes from the Hebrew word kathab and means to inscribe or engrave. This marker was to be a permanent reminder of the Israelites’ covenant with God. Many scholars over the millennia have queried which “laws” God commanded them to write on the stones. Did “laws” mean the Ten Commandments, all the commands, statutes, and decrees of God in the book of Deuteronomy, or a shortened version of it? No definitive thought has emerged as to which is correct, but we must consider that if the Israelites engraved Deuteronomy 4:44-26 on the stones, the engraving would have taken many months to finish. Some scholars believe the “laws” to be engraved were the Ten Commandments of Deuteronomy 5. Others think God could have meant a much shorter version such as what Moses wrote in Exodus 24:4 or Joshua in Joshua 24:26.

Besides setting up stones and engraving God’s laws upon them, Moses commanded they set up an altar on Mount Ebal. Verses 5-7 say,
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. You shall build the altar of the LORD your God and you shall offer on it burnt offerings to the LORD your God; and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and eat there and rejoice before the LORD your God. [NASB]

The Israelites were to stack and plaster stones to hold the engraving of God’s laws as a way to renew their vows with God. In addition, God commanded them to build and altar in a specific way. Then they were to offer a peace offering on it while rejoicing before the LORD God. God gave a specific command about the altar. The Israelites were not to shape the stones, but stack them unhewn into an altar. Moses used the English word “uncut” in verse six to describe the stones God commanded the Israelites to use. The Hebrew word for “uncut” is shalem, which comes from the same root word as shalom (peace). Shalem means complete, whole, and perfect. The stones that man may consider imperfect and try to shape, God called perfect for His altar. This reminds us that Jesus, the chief cornerstone, was a stone the builders cast away, but God called Him the perfect cornerstone upon which to build His church. God had the Israelites build this altar out of uncut stones He considered perfect for such a task.

      After building the altar on Mount Ebal, Moses commanded the Israelites to offer burnt and peace offerings to the LORD. Of the peace offerings, they were to eat and rejoice at the site of the altar before the LORD. If you remember from the Bible study that dealt with offerings, burnt offerings were the offerings the Israelites gave to God for Him only (Leviticus 1). None of them ate from that part. The peace offerings were a means of offering thanks to God praising Him for His goodness. It comprised unleavened cakes/bread and flesh of animals. In Leviticus 7:11-21, a part of what the Israelites gave to the LORD belonged to the Priests. The Israelites could eat the rest of the offering. Notice in Deuteronomy 27:7 the Israelites were to eat the peace offering before the LORD while rejoicing. The opportunity to worship and praise God came with rejoicing and thanks by each person as they each brought their sacrifices and by the community when they ate and rejoiced together.

      We must not forget the purpose of sacrifices lest we lose the meaning of setting up the altar and engraving God’s laws on stone. When people of Bible times made a covenant, they offered sacrifices to seal the covenant between the two people. For people of God, they laid out the sacrifices and God’s tongue of fire walked between the pieces of the sacrifice as an avowal to the validity of the covenant. Hence, God was part of the covenant of the two parties because He was a witness to the covenant. When a person places his or her hand on the Bible when taking and oath, that is a vow/pledge/covenant before God. From this then, we see the burnt and peace offerings were the seal on the covenant the Israelites made with God and God with them. This action professed the absolute validity of the covenant. The Israelites’ renewed their covenant with God on Mount Ebal when they entered the Promised Land by writing His laws on the stones. They sealed it with their burnt and peace offerings on the altar. From Deuteronomy 27:15 through 28:67, the Israelites pledged to follow God’s laws and to be His people.


The Silence.

Moses no longer spoke using the elders, but the priests. Here, as verse nine says, he and the priests spoke and commanded the Israelites, “Be silent and listen, O Israel!” Scholars have debated the purpose and placement of verses nine and ten. They said based on the future purpose of the rest of the chapter, these verses should be a command to do something in the future, too. Yet, they appear to be a command for the present time when Moses gave God’s commands to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land. “Which is it, present or future?” scholars have wondered.

Priests often used silence in worship. They used it as a way for the people to prepare to be in the presence of God – to still themselves. I think Moses and the priests intentionally used verses nine and ten for their present time. Moses did not mean for these verses to be at the end of chapter twenty-six. Moses and the priests used the verses to silence the people. This enabled the Israelites to still their restless minds, remember who they were because of God, and consider what their response should be to Him. The priests used this call to worship perhaps when the Israelites worshipped God at Mount Ebal, too.

Moses and the priests called the people to be silent (still their inner and outer voices) and listen. Pastors do this today at the beginning of a worship service. They offer a call to worship with communal prayer. It stills the voices of the people before the LORD. The people can then become attune to God’s speaking to them.

Besides being a call to worship, Moses highlighted two other significant things in verses nine and  ten. The first significant part of these two verses is that Moses and the priests called the people to worship – to be silent and listen – as we understand from the aforementioned paragraphs. The second significant part is that Moses and the priests called the people to obedience man times. In verses 9 and 10, Moses said “listen” and “obey.” Both come from the Hebrew word shama. Remember, shama means to hear, listen, and obey. Within Hebrew society, an automatic response to hearing is listening and obeying. The first cannot be separated from the other two. Hearing calls a person to act, which is what Moses commanded the Israelites do in verse ten. Three words in these two verses call the Israelites to action – listen, obey, and do. Moses emphasized obedience by stating it three times in these two verses. That leads us to the third significant part of these two verses.

The third significant part of these two verses is Moses told the Israelites who and what to listen to and obey. They were to obey God. Moses gave them the reason in verse nine. He said, “This day you have become a people for the LORD your God.” Because God chose them and loved them, their response to Him should be obedience. God’s covenant with them was a gift to the Israelites. Their obedience was not a condition that preceded the covenant, but should result from it out of gratitude. That is the important part. Obedience is not required as part of the covenant, but is the response of the person out of gratitude to God. It comes as part of their worship, lives, praise, and thanks. What God commanded of the Israelites should have been the automatic and natural response because of thanks to Him for His saving and loving them. Obedience to God today should come because of thanks to God, too. It should be the natural action in return to God who loves us.

Moses used these two verses at this place in the chapter to still the voices in and around the Israelites so they could remember the love and salvation of God for them. Mentally, from verses one through eight, they were ready to worship and thank the LORD. In commanding them to set up an altar to God and engrave on stone His laws, the Israelites remembered God’s actions for them. Moses’ call to silence emphasized the call to return to God. His use of silence at the time of his commands about what to do when they entered the Promised Land taught them how to calm and silence themselves before the LORD at their first worship and consecration service in Israel. It helped them focus their minds and hearts on the magnitude of their vow renewal before God on Mounts Ebal and Gerizim.


The Participants.

Scholars have considered Moses’ third speech of this chapter began with verse eleven. Remember, I and other scholars such as Henry and Wesley consider this section as part of the second speech of the chapter, verses nine and ten. In this section of the chapter, Moses spoke alone, without elders or priests as in the earlier parts of this chapter. In verses one through eight, Moses told them what to build, how to build, what to engrave, and how to worship as people of the LORD, but  in verses eleven through thirteen, he divided the Israelites into two groups to speak different parts of the renewal ceremony.

Moses commanded one group of the Israelites stand on Mount Gerizim and the other on Mount Ebal. These two mountains were in Shechem. The valley formed between the base of these two mountains was about one mile long. Moses commanded six tribes to stand upon each mountain. He told the tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin to stand upon Mount Gerizim to bless the people. Moses then told the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali to say the “Amen” to the curses. Some scholars say the tribes who said the “Amen” for the blessings all came from the free women, so it was right for them to say “Amen.” That reasoning does not hold for the tribes who say the “Amen” to the curses because Leah and Rachel, free women, bore Reuben and Zebulun. Some scholars have tried to understand why God chose Mount Gerizim to be the place of blessing and Mount Ebal for the curses. Several have said it was because Mt. Gerizim was more green and produced vegetation while Mt. Ebal was rocky and barren. We do not know for a fact why God chose specific tribes to offer the blessing or curse “Amen.” We, too, do not know for a fact why He chose one mountain as the site for the “Amen” to blessings and the other for curses. What we know is that God commanded this ceremony by the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land to renew their covenant with Him.

The other participants in this ceremony were the Levites. In verse 12, Moses commanded the tribe of Levi to stand on Mt. Gerizim and offer blessing for the people. How then can they be on the mountain and in the valley? The Levites of verse fourteen were the priests who bore the ark of the covenant. The Levites of verse 12 were the non-priests of the tribe of Levi who stood on the mountain. Levitical priests’ in this ceremony were to shout to the Israelites the different parts of God’s covenant after which the tribes offered the “Amen” to the blessing or curse.

The ceremony of consecration and renewal began with the writing of God’s laws on the stones, continued with the erecting of the altar and burning of offering, and concluded with the antiphonal agreement by the people to the blessings and curses of God. Those where mental reminders and physical actions. The verbal part of the ceremony occurred the priests stood in the valley shouting (answering/‘anah) to either the tribes on Mt. Gerizim or Mt. Ebal. As they stood at the base of the mountains, the tribes antiphonally replied “Amen” in agreement and acceptance to the curses and blessings of God’s laws.


The Curses.

Moses told the Israelites to affirm the twelve curses in this chapter. These curses carried implied blessings both of which the Israelites were to affirm in the ceremony at Shechem. The implied blessings are what the Levitical priests shouted to the tribes on Mt. Gerizim. Those tribes replied, “Amen,” after the tribes on Mt. Ebal replied, “Amen,” to the curse. Each  of the first eleven curses paralleled at least one of the Ten Commandments. The twelfth curse (vs. 26) is the bubble proviso. It incorporates all God’s laws including the ones not listed in the previous eleven verses so it touches everyone.

In looking at the eleven curses of verses fifteen through twenty-five, we recognize the most important commandments occurred in the first two curses. Verse 15 says, “Cursed is the man who makes an idol or molten image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman and sets it up in secret.” This verse speaks of any image whether carved or molded by the hands of a craftsman. Added to this, it says whether a person hid or displayed the idol, God considered both an abomination. This curse related to the second commandment, but incorporated each of the first four commandments. God said He was to be their only God and they were to worship just Him. As per Moses’ command, after the Levitical priests shouted this curse, the tribes on Mt. Ebal said, “Amen.” “Amen” means “truly” or “so be it.” Their affirmation was an acceptance of God’s terms set up by this command. Once the priests shouted the curse, they turned to face the tribes on Mt. Gerizim and shouted the blessing. They said something like this, “Blessed is the man who does not make images and worships God alone.” To this, those tribes would agree with an “Amen.”

Verse 16 reflected the second most important relationship in the Ten Commandments – the relationship to one’s parents. The fifth commandment addresses this. Verse 16 says, “Cursed is he who dishonors his father and mother.” A person’s relationship with his parents reflects his relationship with the rest of his family and other people. If the two primary relationships in a person’s life were not right, as in the person dishonored God and his parents, then the foundation for good relationships with others was not solid. To this curse, the tribes on Mt. Ebal said, “Amen.” Then the priests shouted to the tribes on Mt. Gerizim, “Blessed is he who honors his parents,” and the tribes said, “Amen.”

Verse 17 reflected a person’s respect for another person’s property. That property was the second person’s inheritance from the LORD and the rightful inheritance for that person’s descendents. By moving a neighbor’s boundary mark (landmark), the person showed his jealousy of a neighbor and coveted the neighbor’s property. The first person stole from the second person. This curse went with the eighth and tenth commandments. To this, the tribes on Mt. Ebal said, “Amen.” The priests then shouted the blessing of not moving a neighbor’s boundary mark, to which the people on Mt. Gerizim answered, “Amen.”

Verse 18 says, “Cursed is he who misleads a blind person on the road.” An unjust person maliciously counsels a person to do something not in the blind person’s best interest. He or she imposes his or her will on the weaker person, a disadvantaged person, for his or her own good fortune. They malicious person could give a false witness against a weaker person to gain the person’s property. He or she could counsel the person to take specific steps when that would be to the person’s detriment. This curse relates to the eighth and ninth commandments, not stealing and not bearing false witness against one’s neighbors. The tribes on Mt. Ebal said, “Amen.” The priests then would shout the blessing, “Blessed is he who does not mislead a blind person on the road,” to which the tribes on Mt. Gerizim answered, “Amen.”

Verse 19 speaks against distorting justice to the weak or low. This verse specifically speaks about the lowest in society – the widow, orphan, and alien. The previous verse could have meant these people or any other member or society. The word “distort” comes from the Hebrew word meaning to pervert or bend. If a person distorted the justice due an alien, widow, or orphan, it showed he or she had no scruples. The ones who were weakest in society were the ones picked on instead of those who could stand up for themselves. The laws and justice of Israel, as given to them by God, were there to protect all Israelites, especially the lowest who had no one else to defend them. This curse relates to the eighth and ninth commandments. To this the tribes on Mt. Ebal said, “Amen.” The priests then turned and shouted, “Blessed are they who do not distort justice to the weak or low,” and the tribes on Mt. Gerizim shouted, “Amen.”

Verses 20, 22, and 23 relate to the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” God’s laws say anyone who slept with his mother, father’s wife, sister, or mother-in-law committed adultery. For this crime, God’s judgment required death (Leviticus 20:11). By lying with a family member, the person exerted his power on a family member to usurp the head of the family. This act showed covetousness of another person’s position and wife, sister, or mother. To this curse, the tribes on Mt. Ebal said, “Amen.” The priests then shouted the blessing, “Blessed is he who does not lie with his mother/sister/mother-in-law,” to which the tribes on Mt. Gerizim said, “Amen.” These three verses relate to the seventh and tenth commandments.

Verse 21 relates to the seventh commandment, too. If you remember that adultery means the unlawful mixing of two things God said not to mix, then lying with animals is adultery. It is against the natural order God established. To this the Mt. Ebal tribes said, “Amen.” The priests shouted, “Blessed is he who does not lie with an animal,” to which the tribes on Mt. Gerizim said, “Amen.”
Verse 24 speaks a curse on anyone who kills a neighbor. Remember, in both Deuteronomy and in Jesus’ teachings, a neighbor is anyone with whom you come in contact. This verse says, “Cursed is he who strikes his neighbor in secret.” Whether the people knew the murderer or not, God knows who killed another person and His judgment will occur even if not administered by people. Secrecy in killing a person does not make a person innocent. God’s curse follows the murderer. God gave this law in the sixth commandment. To this, the tribes on Mt. Ebal said, “Amen.” The priests then shouted, “Blessed is he who does not kill,” to which the tribes on Mt. Gerizim replied, “Amen.”

Verse 25 states, “Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person.” The Hebrew meaning for “strike down” is to kill. The meaning of “innocent person” comes from the Hebrew word naqiy, which means innocent or free from guilt. To kill someone is murder and God forbade that in the sixth commandment. God mandated laws that required the judgment of death for adulterers or murderers. This law does not affect consider adultery. It speaks about killing an innocent person. To this curse, the tribes on Mt. Ebal said, “Amen.” The priests would say to the tribes on Mt. Gerizim, “Blessed is he who does not kill or accept a bribe to kill an innocent person.” To this blessing, the tribes on Mt. Gerizim would say, “Amen.”

In the final verse of this chapter, God commanded through Moses, “Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.” We understand these words, but let us look closer at the word “confirm.” The Hebrew word for this word is quwm. It means to stand up for or to arise. If a person did not do God’s laws mentioned in these twelve verses, His curse rested on that person. This verse has two other deeper meanings. If a person did not stand up for God’s laws, but turned a blind eye when someone committed a forbidden act, God’s curse rested on that person as well as the transgressor. Added to this, the law forbade doing evil omitting doing good implied by the law. This last curse is the bubble proviso mentioned at the beginning of this Bible study. It meant that any person who disobeyed any of God’s laws, whether mentioned above or not, received God’s curse.

Confirming the words of the law required doing them – action as well as words. The first eleven curses came upon a person for disobeying and the tribes agreed. The last law said any person who did not keep any of God’s laws that, not just the above eleven, received His curse. Obedience to the law showed love of God and confirmed acceptance of God’s laws. Each of the twelve tribes agreed to enact God’s laws when they said, “Amen.”

Just agreeing that a law is God’s law is not enough. God required acting upon them by following and obeying them not going against them. Moses had been with the Israelites for about forty years at this point. They were on the verge of entering the Promised Land and receiving the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At this important point in their lives, on the verge of receiving the land gushing with milk and honey, Moses reminded them of God’s covenant with them. He recalled for them their covenant with God resulted in obedience to Him out of love and reverence for Him.


Recap

God understood the Israelites needed to revisit their pledge/covenant with Him before they took possession of the Promised Land otherwise it would be easy to forget Him, the Giver. We recognize this being like a child on Christmas day. When the child sees the mass of toys under the tree, he or she runs with glee to scramble and open the presents without looking at who gave it and thanking the giver. God commanded them to take the time and make a solemn vow renewal, to consecrate themselves anew to Him. Moses reminded the Israelites God chose them. He explained that a covenant needs a sacrifice, which required an altar. He led them to recall God’s laws by engraving them on plaster on the stones and by antiphonally agreeing to them with the shouts of “Amen.” This chapter does not encompass every one of God’s laws with its curses and blessings, but the last curse implies it does. Chapter 28 adds sixty-eight more verses containing more laws as a reminder for the Israelites before they possess the land.


Relevance and Conclusion

We people who live after Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection understand the true curse and blessings of God. Before Jesus, the Israelites had no eternal hope or blessing. Their blessings were earthly – possession of the Promised Land, productive land and livestock, and provision for daily life. They could never completely erase the stain and guilt of their sins and remove the curse. Jesus broke the power of sin with His death and resurrection. He removed the stain of sin and guilt. By Jesus’ resurrection, when He rose back to life on the third day, He beat death, the eternal judgment for sin. Sin has no more power over Christians, people who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. Jesus gives His strength to not sin because He was sinless when He lived on earth. Jesus was the perfect (shalem) cornerstone the builders rejected. The Jews refused to accept Him as the Messiah, but crucified Him instead. They did not receive the fulfillment of the hope of the Messiah because they did not accept the cornerstone for the church God built. God’s chosen people chose not to accept God’s Son, Jesus, the Messiah.

Today we have the choice of believing Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the One whom God sent to be the Savior of the world. Until we die, we have the opportunity to accept Him as our Savior. Until we choose to believe, we are dead because of our sons. Once we take our last breath, our time for deciding is finished. By not accepting Him, we have rejected Him. That means we have rejected His love, salvation, and the gift of eternal life with God in heaven. When we reject Jesus as God’s Son and our Savior, God will judge our sins and mete to us the judgment of our sin – death. Sinning against God is rebelling against Him. For that, the judgment is death – eternal death. Eternal death is eternal separation from God. Eternal death is living separate from God in hell.

Today is your chance to decide to believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God who provides salvation from your sin. Today you can have salvation and accept Jesus’ gift of salvation from sin’s death penalty. By this you will be accepted in God’s presence forever. You will live forever with God because Jesus paid with His death the price for your judgment that your sin required. He died for each of us though He was sinless. Jesus’ death paid the judgment price for everyone’s sins. When you give Him your life and accept Him as your Savior, the one who paid your sin judgment, you are saved from your sin and can live with God forever.

What will you decide today?