(Note – This passage and devotional needs to be read in concert with that of yesterday to have a full understanding.)
At a football game, there is the meeting at the 50-yard line before the contest begins. Here the referees meet with representative captains of the two teams for a coin toss to determine who kicks off and who receives, along with which goal each will defend. The dozens of players on the teams look on with interest, as do the thousands of fans in attendance. Certain specific rules are reiterated, particularly on the occasion of an overtime.
That mental picture of a football game may help in understanding today’s reading. Here we continue with the event to be observed upon the nation of Israel’s occupation of the Promised Land – ratifying the covenant with the Lord God. Six of the tribes were to stand on one mountain named Gerizim, representing the blessings of God in the covenant. Six other tribes were to occupy the opposite hill called Mount Ebal, representing the curses to follow the breaking of the covenant. Between them stood the Levites, who pronounced the truths of the Law, followed by the “Amen” of the representative people.
The picture shows Gerizim on the left and Ebal on the right. Shechem is in the middle. As you may note from the photo, this is not a large area … but it was a sort of natural amphitheater.
Something we need to understand from this passage is that everything about it is representative. Surely several million people did not occupy these hills, and not all the blessings and curses are given – it is all representative. Consider especially the last verse which is a summary statement about the Law and the need to keep it. What is interesting is that the Apostle Paul quotes this verse in Galatians 3:10 to demonstrate the impossible nature of keeping the Law – “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’” We need to understand that the Law was not really about grace, but was rather about showing a man his sin toward the end that he would seek grace in forgiveness through sacrificial atonement – to be ultimately found finally in the work of Christ.
Curses From Mount Ebal
9 Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Be silent, Israel, and listen! You have now become the people of the Lord your God. 10 Obey the Lord your God and follow his commands and decrees that I give you today.”
11 On the same day Moses commanded the people: 12 When you have crossed the Jordan, these tribes shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin. 13 And these tribes shall stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali.
14 The Levites shall recite to all the people of Israel in a loud voice:
15 “Cursed is anyone who makes an idol—a thing detestable to the Lord, the work of skilled hands—and sets it up in secret.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
16 “Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
17 “Cursed is anyone who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
18 “Cursed is anyone who leads the blind astray on the road.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
19 “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
20 “Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his father’s wife, for he dishonors his father’s bed.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
21 “Cursed is anyone who has sexual relations with any animal.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
22 “Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
23 “Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his mother-in-law.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
24 “Cursed is anyone who kills their neighbor secretly.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
25 “Cursed is anyone who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
26 “Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
The fulfillment of this: from Joshua chapter 8:
All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the LORD, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel.