The exposition of each of the ten commandments has now been concluded. Once the terms are established and made clear, the covenant is made (Dt. 27-30). One of the great features of covenants, the blessings and curses, is now set plainly before the people. The blessings and curses are mountains on either side of the traveler. “And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying . . .” (Dt. 27:1-19).
When Israel crosses over into the land, they are to set up stones with the law inscribed on them (vv. 1-4). Then an altar is established and sacrifices made (vv. 5-7). The law is to be inscribed plainly (v. 8). This done, the people are told they have become (in renewal) the people of God. Obedience is the necessary result (vv. 9-10). Then Moses assigns the liturgy they must use—six tribes on each mountain, and twelve curses (vv. 11-26).
When Israel crossed over Jordan, they were to set up great stones on Mt. Ebal, and they were to plaster them over. The law was then to be inscribed on the stones. This showed the permanence of the law (v. 4). The law was also to be inscribed clearly (v. 8). But the location of the law showed the necessity of Christ (v. 26).
All sacrifices are of course offered to God. But at the same time, different sacrifices have different emphases. The altar is built and ascension offerings (burnt offering) are sacrificed (v. 6). This is a vertically-oriented sacrifice. The whole animal ascends to God in the smoke of the offering, as a sign of consecration. But after this has occurred, a peace offering is made. This is a horizontally-oriented sacrifice (v. 7). The people of God eat together, and rejoice before the Lord their God.
But secret sin has to be addressed. All the sins listed here are either expressly said to be done in secret, or the nature of the sin would indicate secrecy. The people of God are called to pronounce a curse on the sons of Belial in their midst. Curse the secret idolater (v. 15). Curse the man who treats father or mother lightly (v. 16). Curse the man who changes the boundary line (v. 17). Curse the man who leads the blind astray (v. 18). Curse the man who rips off the defenseless (v. 19). Curse the man who sleeps with his stepmother (v. 20). Curse the bestial man who mates with a beast (v. 21). Curse the man who sleeps with his sister (v. 22). Curse the man who sleeps with his mother-in-law (v. 23). Curse the man who strikes his neighbor secretly (v. 24). Curse the hit man (v. 25). And curse the man who does not do the words of this law (v. 26). God sees the heart, and every secret place.
For many reasons this passage is rich in typological associations. What was done here was intended to be remembered—and it became a central part of Israel’s mental furniture. These mountains were in the center of Israel, near Shechem. First, consider the plaster—the monuments became a figure of hypocrisy. Paul calls Ananias a “whited wall” (Acts 23:3). Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being whited sepulchres (Matt. 23:27). Then there is the facing east—when facing east, the mount of blessing is the one on the right. The wise man’s heart inclines to the right (Ecc. 10:2). At the last day, those who are blessed take their place on the right (Matt. 25:33-34). Those who are cursed are on the left. Then consider the sons of the free women. The tribes are not divided up randomly. The tribes on the mountain of blessing are the sons of Rachel and Leah, the free women. Those on the mountain of curses are sons of the handmaidens, Reuben and Zebulun excepted. Reuben had slept with his father’s wife, and Zebulun was the youngest. Then there is the fact that the standing memorial of the law was set up on the mount of cursing. As we will see later in Deuteronomy. Moses had every expectation that the people would fall away, and would fall under the curses. The placement of the monument here is a type of need for the gospel. Cursed be he—the last verse in this chapter is quoted by Paul (Gal. 3:10) in his great exposition of the failure of justification through the law. He did not just seize upon this verse out of its context.
The Word of God raises up two great mountains on the right and left side of your mind. Repent of secret sin—God sees all it. The work of the Holy Spirit is not limited to what is public and known. Pursue blessing and life—we do not want too much, but far too little. And yet we live in the times of fulfillment.