Deuteronomy 27-30: The Third Address

The third address of Moses focuses on the blessings and curses of Israel. Also included is information on the twin mountains Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal.

Introduction

Identifying the beginning of the 3rd address is little more difficult than the 1st and 2nd. Moses does not call the people together this time, or provide location details. Instead we are told that he and the elders "command the people" in Deuteronomy 27:1. Most scholars use this to denote the start of the 3rd address.
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Israel to Build an Altar

An example of calligraphy.
Photocredit: Behance/Pokras Lampas
The Israelites were to take great stones, plaster them together, and write the words of the law upon them. They were assured that the stones would be found in the promised land as soon as they crossed the Jordan. The stones were to be set up on Mt. Ebal as an altar to God. They are forbidden from using iron tools on the altar and the stones were not to be broken.

Upon this altar, they were to offer burnt offerings to God, as well as, peace offerings. There they would eat and rejoice before God—seems to me like a victory/thank you party. God had delivered them as promised, which seems like the perfect time for a thank you and celebration. God also specifies that His laws are to be written plainly on the stones. I don't necessarily know if this is a condemnation of decoration so much as a command for practicality. Ornate calligraphy, particularly that of Arabic (which is also a semitic language and spoken in many Middle Eastern countries), is very difficult to read. God wanted a functional list of the commandments, not something for decoration. He wanted the text plain enough for people to be able to read. God requests this because obedience to His law is a requirement of being His chosen people.
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Twin Mountains: Gerizim & Ebal

Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal are first mentioned in Deuteronomy 11:29. Ebal is also the name of a descendant of Esau (see Genesis 36). Interestingly the mountain God instructs them to place the altar upon, is the "cursed" mountain.
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Mount Gerizim

Moses announces 6 tribes that are to bless the people from Mt. Gerizim. These tribes are Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin.
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Mount Ebal

From Mt. Ebal, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali were to curse the people. The listing of curses found Deuteronomy 27:15-26 remind me of the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 (except theses are curses instead of blessings). The curses were to fall on those who disobeyed God's law, whether the person sinned against God or their neighbor. The Levites were to speak the curses (even though they were assigned to stand on Mt. Gerizim), and everyone was to respond with "Amen" after each curse. It is thought that on both mountains the tribes stood near the base of the mountain so that they could hear each other shout. Some suggest the Levites announced both the blessings and curses. Based on the text, I would assume the Levites only spoke the curses listed, with the tribes on both mountains responding "Amen" and the division representing the ability to be blessed by avoiding the behavior the Levites cursed.[1]

Today

The mountains of Gerizim and Ebal are located at Jeel-et-Tur and Imad-el-Deen, respectively.[1] Despite arguments that the altar may have been placed on Mt. Gerizim,[2] evidence of the altar on Mt. Ebal has been found![3] It is said that Mt. Ebal, was barren, while Mt. Gerizim was full of life. Perhaps (and this is just a thought) God chose Mt. Ebal for the altar so that as they made their sacrifices, they were reminded of death and the purpose of the sacrifices.

God Will Bless Israel

As usual, the pronouncement of blessings in the beginning of Deuteronomy 28 was contingent upon the Israelites following God's commands. God promised to blessed them in fruit (harvest, livestock, and offspring) regardless of their location or activity. In addition, He promises that strong armies would be scattered upon attacking the Israelites. Another blessing God gives is to their basket and kneading bowl (plentiful food). All the Israelites had to do was follow God and He would exalt them above all nations, allowing them to prosper.

Land of Plenty

Once again, we are told that the promised land was to be a land of plenty. God would send water from the heavens when it was needed and would bless the labors of the Israelites. He promised that they would always be the head, never the tail, and always above, never below. Idolatry was strictly forbidden; only the God of Abraham is deserving of our full attention.

Curses

The same blessings God promised for obedience, became curses if Israel disobeyed. God would send pestilence and plagues to devour the people; the would receive dust instead of rain, and the ground would be like iron. The severity of punishment should Israel fail to comply with God's commandments was intense.

Captivity & Plaques

Ailments that could not be cured would ravage them and they would suffer madness. Note, problems such as these are abundant in today's society: people are plagued with incurable diseases both physically and mentally. In addition to these sicknesses, God says they will lose their betrothed women to other men, their children to foreign lands, and themselves. They would end up in strange, unknown lands, worshipping unknown gods.

Land Failing to Produce

God says that their fields will still produce crops under this curse, but they won't get to enjoy the crops. The worms and insects would devour the crops instead, leaving Israel with nothing. The Israelites would lose their place as head, becoming tail; they would be forced to borrow instead of lend. The consequences of disobedience were clearly laid out and quite an incentive to remain obedient to God.

Enslaved

The next verses tell us that a nation they had never heard of would seize them as part of the curse. The warring would be so bad that they would resort to cannibalism! This is also foretold in Leviticus 26:29. These atrocities came to pass eventually. The nation from afar that they knew nothing of is said to be Assyria, who fought a gruesome battle for Israel's capital. The battle lasted for 3 years! Eventually the Israelites were forced to surrender. 2 Kings 6:24-30 confirms that cannibalism occurred in an by the king of Syria.[4] Failing to uphold God's Word not only brought failure and pain, it brought madness and desperation, as well.

More Plagues

God warns of ghastly plagues to befall the Israelites should they abandon His Word. These plagues would cull their population to low numbers. Today, those who can trace their lineage back to the Israelites is very small, roughly .2% of the population.[5] Many of the Israelites lost their identity long before even Jesus was born, but among the Jews of today, the Holocaust is estimated to have killed 2/3 of the population in countries under German occupation. In some countries this number was as high as 90%![6] Death in the concentration camps were from both Nazi gas chambers and diseases (such as Typhus). Today, Ashkenazi Jews have higher risks for a number of diseases.[7] The population is on the rise today, but clearly the number of Israelites today is not what it could be.

Scattered

Just as God would be happy and rejoice to bless an obedient Israel, God would rejoice in destroying the disobedient Israel. God promised to scatter them across the world to places where they would serve false gods. Approximately 10 of the 12 tribes were in fact scattered across the planet and can no longer be identified as Israelites; they lost their identity just as God said.

No Rest For Israel

The Israelites would not find peace in these foreign places. They would suffer, be fearful, and be in a constant state of unhappiness. Eventually they would be sold back into slavery through Egypt. Some scholars believe the name Egypt was merely a figure of speech to represent a bad place due to the reference to ships.[4]

An Interesting Theory

Many people can easily see parallels in the curses listed in Deuteronomy 28 and the plight of African-Americans today. From the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and selling of children and spouses during slavery to modern discrimination. In fact, there are African Jews in both Ethiopia and South Africa, as well as, a group claiming Jewish ancestry in Nigeria. I am covering this theory in a separate post due to its length.

God's Covenant

The Israelites had been walking with God for 40 years in the wilderness, they had overcome temptations, but they still had a choice when it came to believing. God did not give them a heart to perceive Him, because He wanted to show them who He was and have them choose to follow Him. They had abstained from wine, alcohol, and bread while in the wilderness, relying on on the manna given to them by God. Not only had God provided them with food, but He defeated the attacking armies of Sihon and Og. The Israelites had no reason to reject God's covenant. In these verses, He reminds them that after all He had done and shown, it was in their best interest to obey His commands.

The time for Israel to officially take the oath of keeping the covenant came just before they crossed the Jordan. Everyone in the family, including servants and strangers, were to enter into the covenant with God. God would then accept the people as His chosen people. It is unclear wether this was simply a renewal or the official acceptance (likely it was a renewal, since their parents accepted the commandments at Mt. Sinai 38 years prior). It is also possible that the agreement at Mt. Sinai was like an engagement and this was the official marriage ceremony. Either way, the covenant was binding on everyone who stood before God that day, as well as, all future generations born to those people.

Warnings

Once again, God warns the Israelites not to take on the idols of the nations around them. These idols came in the form of wood, stone, silver, and gold. Those who embraced idolatry would be cursed according to the curses in the book of Deuteronomy. There would be sickness and destruction, which is likened to Sodom and Gomorrah. When other nations saw the devastation, they would wonder why God had done such a thing and what had angered Him. The answer to this question, of course, would be that the Israelites had forsaken the covenant. Moses says that God has secrets which belong to God, but that He has revealed things to His chosen people and they were not to forget. That which was revealed is said to be the law.

God's Mercy

The punishment would not be forever. Once the Israelites repented and submitted themselves back to God, He would receive them. Once again they would be blessed an all the curses would befall their enemies. God would not forget His covenant. Again, obedience to God is coupled with circumcision of the heart. God expected the Israelites to keep the commandments in their hearts. He had given it to them directly so that there was no need to travel far and wide, it was always with them. This meant it was freely available and they were to be able to keep it because it wasn't secret knowledge.[4] This is even more true for us today, with the invention of the internet and abundance of books.

Choices

God gave Israel 2 choices: life (good) or death (evil). He set the earth and heaven to witness this choice and hoped that they would choose life. If the Israelites chose evil and idolatry, He would let them perish. Only those who chose Him (good and life) would flourish. We have the same choice today.

References

  1. "Deuteronomy 27". Bible Study Tools. 2014
  2. Clarke, Adam. "Deuteronomy Chapter 27". Sacred Texts. 1831
  3. Rudd, Steve. "Joshua's Altar". Bible.ca. 2016
  4. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 346-347. 2014
  5. "Jewish Population". Jewish Virtual Library. 2016
  6. "The "Final Solution": Estimated Number of Jews Killed". Jewish Virtual Library. 2016
  7. "Ashkenazi Jewish Genetic Panel (AJGP) - What Are Ashkenazi Jewish Genetic Diseases?". WebMD. 2016

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About

Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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