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Gerald Gerbrandt: Summary Outline

Covenant Renewal at Shechem, 27:1–26

27:1–8A Commemorative Monument and an Altar

27:9–10 Exhortation to Obey

27:11–26 Prohibitions in Curse Form

Covenant Blessings and Curses, 28:1–68

28:1–14 Blessings

28:15–68 Curses

Michael Grisanti: Moses exhorts the children of Israel to renew their covenant with the Lord, commands that they provide for the preservation of the covenantal stipulations, and charges that they symbolically place themselves under the suzerainty of the stipulations of the covenant with the Lord by means of a ceremony on Mounts Ebal and Gerizim. The nation is to “act out” this covenant-renewal ceremony shortly after they entered the land God has promised them.

Peter Craigie: The main section of specific stipulations (Deut. 12–26) is sandwiched between two sections in which the future renewal of the covenant is anticipated: 11:26–32 and 27:1–26. The structure at this point is significant for understanding the nature of the covenant relationship and the renewing of that relationship on the plains of Moab. The renewal of the covenant in Moab has two focal points: (1) the remembrance of the past, specifically the forming of the covenant at Horeb (Sinai); (2) the anticipation of the future, when again the covenant would be renewed. This perspective is a part of the Hebrew understanding of history; it is not simply that the Hebrews had a linear concept of time. Rather, they believed that there was a close relationship between the present moment, the events leading up to that moment, and those events still lying in the future, when the essence of God’s ancient promise to the patriarchs would be fulfilled. Thus, throughout the renewal of the covenant in Moab, which had its roots in the past, the focal point and indeed the purpose of the renewal lay in the anticipation of the future. The specific details concerning the continuity of leadership in the covenant community are stated in chs. 29–30, but in ch. 27 the general principle is given, namely, that in the future there would have to be a further renewal of obedience and commitment to God’s law, which had just been declared and expounded (chs. 12–26).

Eugene Merrill: The Introduction has already set forth the case for Deuteronomy as a sovereign-vassal treaty text and for this section as the curses and blessings element. The peculiar fact that there are two sections of curses and only one of blessings was there explained as a literary device in which the latter is sandwiched between the former. The curses appear to relate to the specific stipulations and general stipulations respectively, whereas the blessings do double duty, referring to both bodies. The reason for the brevity of the list of blessings is not apparent though one will recall that the later Neo-Assyrian treaty texts contained no blessings section at all. It might be that the blessings section in Deuteronomy is, in effect, the self-imposed obligations of the Lord to his people and, as such, there is no need to spell those out in great detail. A good and gracious God need do no more than pledge himself to the well-being of his chosen ones as they submit to his dominion over them.

The nature of Deuteronomy as a covenant renewal document designed especially for life in the Promised Land is evident from this set of instructions given by Moses to the people. They had received the covenant in the here and now of the plains of Moab, but they had to wait until they arrived in Canaan to formalize its implementation by a mass ceremony of commitment. This would include the erection of a monument containing the fundamental principles of the Lord-Israel relationship, a covenant meal signifying the harmony of that relationship, and a catalog of curses and blessings appropriate to the maintenance and/or disruption of that relationship.


“Then Moses and the elders of Israel charged the people, saying,”

Earl Kalland: Chapter 27 has an unusual introduction. Not Moses alone, but Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people. Nowhere else in Deuteronomy are the elders associated with Moses as spokesmen to the people. Perhaps this is due to the prospect of the imminent death of Moses and, consequently, to his absence when the ceremony at Gerizim and Ebal was to be enacted. Perhaps it was to enhance their authority at the coming covenant renewal in the land.

Eugene Merrill: The so-called abruptness of the reference to Moses by name in 27:1 loses its force when it is recognized that the great stipulation section of chaps. 5–26 is enveloped not only by the introduction to and conclusion of that section that shares technical terms and other common devices (Deut 5:1-5; cf. 26:16-19) but by the very name Moses itself. Thus Deut 5:1 (the last time the name was mentioned) has Moses commanding obedience to the “decrees and laws” of the covenant, and here (27:1) he instructs that they keep all the covenant “commands.” The linkage seems quite apparent.

Duane Christensen: This is the only place in which Moses is joined by the elders in commanding the people to observe “the commandment” (cf. also v 9, where Moses is joined by the Levitical priests).

A. (:1b) Commanding Future Obedience

“Keep all the commandments which I command you today.”

B. (:2-4) Constructing a Commemorative Monument

1. (:2a) Marking the Occasion of Entering the Promised Land

“So it shall be on the day when you shall cross the Jordan to the land which the LORD your God gives you,”

2. (:2b-3a) Memorializing the Law as the Key Covenant Document

“that you shall set up for yourself large stones, and coat them with lime

and write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over,”

David Block: The plaster probably involved a white alkaline compound consisting of water and calcium oxide—derived from limestone readily available in the vicinity of Ebal and Gerizim—and readily applied to surfaces. As the moisture evaporates, the plaster hardens, leaving a smooth coating over the object. While the scribes would probably etch the text of the Torah on the stone pillars with a sharp object, they could also write it with ink or paint. In either case, exposed to the elements the text would quickly wear away, and all that would be left as a memorial to this event were the pillars themselves. Though these could have been reused as a rallying point, these instructions call for a one-time ritual use involving the text of the Torah Moses has been promulgating.

Eugene Merrill: The sheer length of the complete covenant text of Deuteronomy seems to preclude its having been in view in the terms “all the words of this law.” What more likely was meant was the Decalogue alone, the very core and foundation of all the law. Such a view is favored by the fact that only the Ten Commandments were engraved on stone by the Lord (cf. Exod 24:4, 12; 32:15-16; 34:1, 4), and only they were laid up in the ark of the covenant for preservation as a witness (Exod 25:16).

3. (:3b) Marveling at the Possession of God’s Promised Blessing

“in order 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. (:4) Marking the Occasion of Entering the Promised Land

“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.”

C. (:5-8) Constructing an Altar for Special Offerings

1. (:5-6a) Building an Altar of Uncut Stones

“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;”

Michael Grisanti: It does appear that the Canaanites, whose religious practices were proscribed for Israel, made their altars of hewn stones (though they also made some altars with unhewn stones; Brevard Childs, The Book of Exodus [OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974], 466; J. Philip Hyatt, Commentary on Exodus [NCBC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980], 226). But beyond that presumably forbidden parallel, the prohibition of hewn stones probably signifies the idea that all human effort (devoted to shaping or “improving” the altar’s stones) is unacceptable as a means of approaching God (J. M. Sprinkle, “The Book of the Covenant”: A Literary Approach [JSOTSup 174; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1994], 48).

2. (:6b-7) Burning Special Sacrificial Offerings in a Joyful Celebration

“and you shall offer on it burnt offerings to the LORD your God;

7 and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and eat there,

and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God.”

Daniel Block: Like the procedure at Sinai, this ceremony is covenantal. Whereas the Sinai event had sealed the bipartite relationship between people and deity, the third party (the land) was missing. The purpose of this ritual was to integrate the land in this complex of relationships and to secure Israel’s title to that which Yahweh promised long ago. By eating the covenant meal in the presence of Yahweh in the land he has given them, the Israelites celebrate the completion of the triangle.

3. (:8) Blazoning the Words of the Law on the Stones

“And you shall write on the stones

all the words of this law very distinctly.”


“Then Moses and the Levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying,”

A. (:9b) Charge to Listen

“Be silent and listen, O Israel!”

B. (:9c) Confession of Covenant Renewal as the People of God

“This day you have become a people for the LORD your God.”

Eugene Merrill: It is obvious that this cannot mean that Israel had to this point not been the Lord’s chosen ones, for the whole history of the covenant relationship up until then said otherwise (cf. Deut 4:20; 7:6-7; 9:26, 29; 10:15; 14:2; 21:8; 26:15, 18-19). What is suggested is that affirmation of that special relationship must be made over and over again, particularly at strategic moments such as that of covenant renewal. On the eve of conquest and in anticipation of the covenant ceremony Moses was outlining, he reminded them that once more they had become God’s people by confession of that reality. In other words, existential awareness of election and redemption must periodically be invoked so as to make the historical facts behind it personal and ongoing. On the basis of that confession as God’s people, they now had to obey his commands and decrees, that is, the covenant stipulations that Moses had been imparting (v. 10).

Peter Craigie: The meaning is that in the renewal of the covenant, the Israelites renewed their status as God’s people. They were already the people of God, of course, but the ceremony on the plains of Moab reminded them of that status and renewed its reality. This consciousness of being God’s people is used here to reinforce the Israelites’ sense of responsibility in renewing again their covenant with God, once they had passed over into the Promised Land.

C. (:10) Charge to Obey

“You shall therefore obey the LORD your God,

and do His commandments and His statutes which I command you today.”

Daniel Block: Moses cautions the people not to assume that formal rituals of devotion are all that Yahweh demands. Covenantal fidelity is demonstrated through listening to Yahweh’s voice (v. 10a) and scrupulously observing the commands expounded upon orally by Moses, transcribed on the pillars of stone, and eventually preserved in written Torah (31:9–13). His instructions are not to be treated merely as museum pieces or literary artifacts, but as guides to life.


“Moses also charged the people on that day, saying,”

A. (:12-13) Twelve Tribes Positioned on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal

1. (:12) Six Tribes on Mount Gerizim to Bless the People

“When you cross the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin.”

MacArthur: The tribe of Levi was to participate in the first group. The tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim were together as the tribe of Joseph.

2. (:13) Six Tribes on Mount Ebal to Curse the People

“And for the curse, these shall stand on Mount Ebal:

Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.”

Daniel Block: The tribal sequence reflects both geography and genealogy. Except for Issachar, the tribes stationed on the northern slope of Gerizim were allocated land to the south of the site of this ritual. Except for Dan, the tribes stationed on the southern slope of Ebal were allocated land either to the north or across the Jordan. The tribes stationed on Gerizim included those descended from Rachel (Joseph and Benjamin), plus the two Leah tribes destined to dominate Israel’s religious and political life (Levi and Judah). To these were added two more Leah tribes, Simeon (closely associated with Judah in the distribution of land) and Issachar, whose territory abutted that of Manasseh (Joseph). The remaining Leah tribes (Reuben and Zebulun) were left to be grouped with the descendants of Jacob’s concubines, Bilhah (Dan, Napthali) and Zilpah (Gad, Asher). . .

Mounts Ebal and Gerizim are present not only as witnesses to the blessings and curses, but as the repository to the Torah itself (the inscribed pillars of uncut stones taken from the region), and the land of Canaan (now Israel) is also engaged as a vital partner in the covenantal relationship.

Michael Grisanti: Shechem is the place of Yahweh’s choice for this important celebration of covenantal renewal. There are at least four potential reasons for the choice of Mounts Ebal and Gerzim as the site for this covenant-renewal ceremony:

– The valley between these two mountains provides a natural amphitheater (the acoustical factor);

– Shechem was an important site throughout biblical history (Ge 12:6–7; Jos 24:32; the historical factor);

– Shechem was centrally located among the tribal allotments (the geographical factor); and

– mountains and hills were often appealed to as witnesses in covenantal contexts (the covenantal factor).

Peter Craigie: On the basis of the description of the ceremony given in Josh. 8:30–35, the ark, together with the Levitical priests who attended it, would be set in the middle of the valley, with the two groups of tribes on either side of it. Although the details of the ceremony are no longer certain, the symbolism seems fairly clear. The ark, containing the covenant tablets, was in the middle. The people were either obedient to the law of the covenant or disobedient; there was no half-way house.

MacArthur: The blessings that were to be recited from Mt. Gerizim were not recorded in this passage, no doubt omitted here to stress that Israel did not prove themselves obedient to the covenant and, therefore, did not enjoy the blessings.

B. (:14-26) Twelve Specific Curses Connected to the Ten Commandments

“The Levites shall then answer

and say to all the men of Israel with a loud voice,”

Eugene Merrill: The scene, as described once before (cf. 11:26-32), would have been that of an antiphony in which the tribes (or more likely their representatives) would affirm the curses and blessings read to them by the officiating Levites (v. 14). This they would do by simply responding “Amen” to each as they heard it. In this manner they were not only pledging themselves to obedience but expressing their willingness to accept whatever judgment might accrue to their disobedience. Thus the representatives did indeed bless and curse their own people as they assented to the covenant requirements (v. 12).

Michael Grisanti: The curses in the present section follow a set formula:

(1) passive participle (“A cursed one is”);

(2) individual address (“the man”);

(3) objective statement of the offense (“who does . . .”);

(4) national recognition (“Amen”).

1. (:15) Private Household Idolatry

“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.’”

Daniel Block: Unlike the golden calf, which served as a public national symbol (9:12, 16), this curse has in mind small household idols that could be clandestinely manufactured and set up within a house.

2. (:16) Dishonoring Parents

“Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.

And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

Michael Grisanti: God gave parents the role of teaching their children, so parents are to be honored as God’s covenantal representatives. To dishonor one’s parents is to disrespect the authority of God.

3. (:17) Moving a Boundary Marker

“Cursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark.

And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

Daniel Block: In Israel moving a boundary stone was viewed not only as a violation of others’ right to their own property, but also as a crime against Yahweh, the ultimate owner of the land (Lev. 25:23), who had through casting the lot personally allotted the land to the respective clans and families.

4. (:18) Exploiting the Handicapped

“Cursed is he who misleads a blind person on the road.

And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

Michael Grisanti: Although the expression “leads the blind astray on the road” can be taken literally, it seems more likely to refer to any treatment of a blind person for personal gain that exploits his lack of sight.

5. (:19) Perverting Justice for the Vulnerable

“Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.

And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

Michael Grisanti: The final curse in this trio condemns the perversion of justice, commonly directed against aliens, orphans, and widows (cf. 16:19; 24:17). Lacking ethnic belonging, a father, or a husband, respectively, these needy people served as tempting targets for unscrupulous Israelites who seek their own gain at whatever cost to others. Not only is any such conduct heartless, it also represents treachery against God’s intentions for his covenantal nation, the relationships between whose members God desires to be characterized by equity and justice (e.g. Mic 6:8). Yahweh presents himself as the protector of the disadvantaged (Dt 10:18).

6. (:20) Incest with One’s Father’s Wife

“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.’”

Eugene Merrill: Since it was so apparent that incest involving one’s own mother was unspeakably evil, the curse does not address that possibility. The reference here to “his father’s wife” (v. 20) means stepmother or, less likely, a second wife in addition to the mother.

7. (:21) Sexual Intercourse with Animals

“Cursed is he who lies with any animal.

And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

Daniel Block: Whereas Leviticus 18:23 condemns such acts, whether committed by a man or woman, as defiling and perverse, other texts expressly declare them capital crimes (Ex. 22:19[18]; Lev. 20:15–16). Apparently bestiality was deemed such a heinous offense because it blurs the boundaries between the creaturely world and humankind created as image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:26–28). The roots of this disposition go back to Eden, where God created woman because none of the animals was an appropriate counterpart for the man (Gen. 2:18–25).

8. (:22) Sexual Intercourse with One’s Half-Sister

“Cursed is he who lies with his sister,

the daughter of his father or of his mother.

And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

Eugene Merrill: Again this refers not to a blood kin, or certainly not to a full sister, but to a foster sibling or half-sister. Such relations between full brothers and sisters are not explicitly proscribed here or elsewhere in the law, but if they are forbidden between less closely related siblings, then a fortiori they would be all the more intolerable within more closely defined kinships. In any case, such sin borders on incest, a most abominable practice in the Lord’s eyes (cf. Lev 18:6-18) but one widely carried on in Israel’s cultural environment, especially in Egyptian royal circles.

9. (:23) Sexual Intercourse with One’s Mother-in-law

“Cursed is he who lies with his mother-in-law.

And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

10. (:24) Striking One’s Neighbor in Secret

“Cursed is he who strikes his neighbor in secret.

And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

Peter Craigie: The tenth and eleventh curses have to do with various ways in which murder might be committed, thereby breaking the sixth commandment. First a man might kill his neighbor in secret and therefore he might never be brought to trial for his crime. Second, a man might take a bribe in order to kill an innocent person; a paid assassin of this kind naturally would not commit the crime unless he thought he could avoid the penalty of the law, for otherwise his bribe would be of little value to him. Both types of murder come under the curse.

11. (:25) Accepting a Bribe to Strike Down an Innocent Person

“Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person.

And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

Daniel Block: Here the case involves either paying a bribe to a witness in court to ensure testimony supporting fallacious charges against an innocent person that lead ultimately to his death, or paying a bribe to a judge so he condemns an innocent person to death—in which case this curse strengthens the ordinance in Exodus 23:6–7.

12. (:26) General Transgression of the Torah

“Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.

And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

Eugene Merrill: The present curse section ends, finally, with a general malediction against anyone who fails to uphold (Heb. h qîm, “carry out, give effect to”) “the words of this law,” namely, the entire covenant text (cf. Deut 17:19; 27:3, 8; 28:58; 29:29; 31:12; 32:46). This warning both covers any and all possible covenant infractions not spelled out in the preceding list and serves as a fitting conclusion to this series that began with an admonition to recognize and serve the Lord alone as God (v. 15). The best way one can acknowledge the Lord’s sovereignty is to carry out fully his covenant expectations.

Jack Deere: This last curse demonstrates that the preceding list was representative. Perhaps the 11 examples were chosen, as stated earlier, because most of them could be done in secret and therefore the offender might not be as easily detected as he would when violating other laws. The summary nature of the 12th curse, however, indicates that God desired a wholehearted obedience to the Law both in public and in private. Paul used this verse to teach that no one could find eternal life by obeying the Law (Gal. 3:10). Eternal life is received only through God’s grace when one places his faith in Jesus Christ as his substitutionary sacrifice for sin (Rom. 3:24-25; Eph. 2:8-9).