The 50-Yard Line of Israel (Deuteronomy 27:9-26)

(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.

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Put it in Writing on Stone (Deuteronomy 27:1-8)

Background – As we have mentioned in both the sermons connected with this REVIVE series as well as in these devotionals, the book of Deuteronomy consists primarily of a series of four addresses of Moses to the people of Israel. The second of the speeches was a long one from chapters 5 to 26. In this daily readings and devotionals program, we covered chapters 5-11 concerning the general requirements of the Law; and we have then skipped over chapters 12-26 which specified the details of the covenant. Now we begin a shorter section from chapters 27-28 that specifically addresses the nation on the cusp of entering the land. Here commands are given for a “renewal of the covenant” ceremony to occur once they enter the land, along with a rehearsal of the blessings (for obedience) and curses (for disobedience).

When we enter into legal agreements such as a mortgage or a business contract, we draw up documents to clarify the terms of the pact. This is done to be certain that there exists a clear understanding of the mutual obligations to be followed. Additionally, it is not unusual for there to be specified consequence for non-adherence to the agreement – such as penalties and forfeitures.

In this passage today, Moses tells the people of a sort of legal ratification ceremony that they are to perform when they enter the Promised Land. Moses himself will not be with them at this time. God’s faithfulness is seen reiterated here, not only in the fact of their certain entrance and occupation of the land, but even to the detail of the location of this ceremony. It was to be on Mount Ebal, at base of which was located Shechem – the very location where the Lord first appeared to Abraham and where the patriarch had built his first altar to the Lord (Genesis 12:6-7).

The people of Israel where to take stones and stack them – coating them with plaster and writing God’s covenant word upon them. This would serve as both a reminder to the Israelites of God’s promises of blessings and warnings of curses, as well as being a witness to the Canaanite peoples of the majesty of the one true God. And they were to enter into the covenant with God through sacrifices and offerings – eating also joyfully in the presence of God.

Several Sundays ago in the sermon on “response,” I presented to you the idea that worship – both old and new covenants – consists of the word and the table. In the OT, it was this covenant law of God that contained his word, while the table was the altar of sacrifice. In the NT era of the New Covenant by Christ’s sacrifice, the word is the rehearsing of this truth through Scripture, preaching, and song … while the table is the remembrance of the completion of the eternal covenant through the blood Christ – commemorated through the elements and observance of the Lord’s table. This growing understanding among us is why we have elevated the observance of the communion in our services – even as the goal toward which we gather and fellowship with the Lord and one another.

A chart presented in that 4th week sermon is as follows:

Why we worship God

The Way we worship God

Involves the Word

Involves the Table

Israel – Covenant

Israel – Altar

Church – Gospel

Church – Lord’s Table

The Altar on Mount Ebal

27:1   Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today. 2 When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. 3 Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. 4 And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster. 5 Build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not use any iron tool on them. 6 Build the altar of the Lord your God with fieldstones and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. 7 Sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the Lord your God. 8 And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up.”