Deuteronomy 27-28
(Truth or Consequences)
March 1st

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

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. Obey the Lord your God and follow his commands and decrees that I give you today.”

- Deuteronomy 27:9-10 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

These two chapters conclude the second of three farewell speeches delivered by Moses in Deuteronomy. At first reading, it might be hard to recognize chapter 28 as part of Moses’ speech because he is referred to in the second person. However, this could just be considered as a change in perspective of the narrator.

Chapter 28 consists of instructions for a ceremony that the Israelites were instructed to hold at the time they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land (not necessarily on the exact day, but during that general period of time). Moses explained that the ceremony should take place on a pair of adjoining mountains, Ebal and Gerizim. The next commandment was for six of the tribes to stand on Gerizim to declare blessings and six to stand on Ebal to declare curses. The six that were chosen to declare blessings were the tribes who descended from the children of Leah and Rachel, the wives of Jacob. There was one exception: The tribe of Reuben was instructed to stand with the tribes of the descendants of the children of the maidservants of Leah and Rachel because Reuben had committed incest by sleeping with his father’s concubine Bilhah (Genesis 35:21). His father, Israel (Jacob) remembered this as he gave the final blessings to his sons:

    “Reuben, you are my firstborn,
       my might, the first sign of my strength,
       excelling in honor, excelling in power.
    Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel,
       for you went up onto your father’s bed,
       onto my couch and defiled it."

    - Genesis 49:3-4 (NIV)

The curses were recorded as a call and response sequence in which the Levite Priests were instructed to announce twelve curses that are intended to represent all the commandments. They cannot be mapped one-to-one to the Ten Commandments, but do represent the entire set. The first curse addresses the breaking of the first commandment, “ ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3).” The next ten curses address relations between people and the final one curses “ ‘anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out’ (27:26).”

Chapter 28 continues the dual theme of blessings and consequences for disobedience. If the Israelites accept God’s word as the truth and follow it, then they will be blessed in all respects: Family life, agriculture, and national security. If they don’t uphold the word of God, then they will be cursed for their disobedience. The first part of the disobedience section parallels the blessings by describing the inverse outcome. For example, instead of being blessed when they come and when they go they will be cursed when they come and when they go. The second part of the disobedience section is a relatively long, and in some parts, horrifically gruesome dissertation on the consequences of disobedience. Moses prophesizes regarding extensive depravation, suffering, and indignities in order to make clear that this would not be a minor curse but would be one of the most severe punishments possible.

    Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you.

    - Deuteronomy 28:63 (NIV)

Reflection and Application

There was an east-west highway that passed between the two mountains described in chapter 27, with Ebal on the north side of the highway and Gerizim on the south side. The first part of the ceremony would be the creation of an altar using uncut fieldstones and plaster to be placed on Mount Ebal The reason the LORD wanted uncut stones is so that the Israelites would not be dependent on other nations to create the altar, for they did not yet have the capabilities to cut stone on their own. The people were instructed to write the words of the law (perhaps referring to the Ten Commandments) on the altar.

The next part of the ceremony would be the blessings and curses from the two mountains. The Levites were instructed to shout from the valley. Was this realistic without any acoustical enhancements from our modern age? It would help that there would be a whole team of Levites shouting together, but it still seems improbable. Here is a spoiler alert: The official ceremony is recorded in Joshua 8:30-35, which we will read in a few days. In this rendering, Joshua takes over the role of calling out the curses and blessings from the valley - as a consequence, it seems even less likely that the people on the mountaintops could have heard him. With this question of doubt in mind, a number of scholars have investigated the site and confirmed that the unique acoustics would have enabled a single man to be heard from the valley to both mountain tops prior to any modern development at that site. One such investigation took place in the 19th century and is recorded at the link below:

"Acoustics of Mounts Gerazim and Ebal"

In the English translations of verse 20:1, Moses is reported to have told the people to keep every commandment. However, the original Hebrew word was torah, which is another one of the eight words for law. Torah also means teaching or instruction (1). Therefore, this verse means that anyone who does not uphold the overall teaching or set of laws will be cursed. The blessings were not recorded in this chapter, but presumably they had a similar structure.

The words in these blessings and curses are ancient and some of the themes are outdated, but the basic principles are as valid and important today as in the day Moses delivered this speech. We are commanded to follow the one true God and love one another. The twin mountains and twin sets of points on blessings and curses remind us that we have a choice between these two paths. We can obey and receive God’s blessings or disobey and be cursed.

Life can be deceiving. We read a story that seems improbable given our context of experiences and then find out that it was quite conceivable. Likewise, we may be able to live our lives in disobedience without repentance while gathering material goods and earthly accolades and reckon that everything is right. However, there would be a gnawing discomfort - perhaps subtle, perhaps not so subtle. We may have everything, but realize we have nothing. This discomfort should signal us to turn to God and receive his blessings. Otherwise, the long arm of the law of God will eventually catch up to us.

We might find a few parallels between our modern forms of communication and this ancient speech by Moses. The ceremony described in chapter 27 may have been the first use of a call and response, a technique that is used regularly in worship. In addition, we might have recognized the three-part essay form used by Moses. Many of us learned the basic three-part form of an essay as a fundamental writing practice in high school or other places: Introduction, body, and conclusion. But we may have not learned that Moses may have been the father of this form. His speech can be decomposed as follows:

    Chapters 5-11 represented the introduction - Moses tells the people to remember the words he is about to tell them and teach these words to their children
    Chapters 12 – 26 was the body of the speech, consisting of specific stipulations known as the Deuteronomic Code
    Chapters 27-28 was the concluding section that summarized the blessings and curses for following or not following the content of the speech

We have followed Moses’ style, so let us also follow the substance.

Notice the point in chapter 27 in which Moses says “Be silent, Israel, and listen (verse 9)!" If we want to hear God's message for us we must first be silent. It's one thing to stop talking out loud, but if we want to be truly silent before God we also have to turn off all external distractions and all internal talking in our own minds. This is the type of silence that Moses was looking for and is the type silence that we need to create for ourselves when we seek to fully understand God's word for us or when we enter into prayer with him.

Do you think the Israelites sang as they walked back down the mountain after this experience? Here is a song that would have been fitting:

"Holy is the LORD," performed by Chris Tomlin:

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What has been one of your memorable mountain-top views?
    2. What are the blessings that you have received in your family life, vocation, and nation?
    3. What can we do to uphold the law of God today?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, please help us to uphold your word today.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Park Rangers and others who protect natural resources


    (1) Thompson, J.A., Deuteronomy, An Introduction and Commentary, Intervarsity Press, Leicester England, Downers Grove, IL, 1974, p.267

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Deuteronomy 29-30 (Call to Commitment)

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