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.”