Moses having very largely and fully set before the people their duty,
both to God and one another, in general and in particular
instances,--having shown them plainly what is good, and what the law
requires of them,--and having in the close of the foregoing chapter laid
them under the obligation both of the command and the covenant, he
comes in this chapter to prescribe outward means,
I. For the helping of their memories, that they might not forget the
law as a strange thing. They must write all the words of this law upon
II. For the moving of their affections, that they might not be
indifferent to the law as a light thing. Whey they came into Canaan,
the blessings and curses which were the sanctions of the law, were to
be solemnly pronounced in the hearing of all Israel, who were to say
Amen to them,
And if such a solemnity as this would not make a deep impression upon
them, and affect them with the great things of God's law, nothing
|The Exhibition of the Law.
||B. C. 1451.|
1 And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people,
saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day.
2 And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan
unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt
set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster:
3 And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law,
when thou art passed over, that thou mayest go in unto the land
which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk
and honey; as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee.
4 Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye
shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount
Ebal, and thou shalt plaster them with plaster.
5 And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an
altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon
6 Thou shalt build the altar of the LORD thy God of whole
stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the
LORD thy God:
7 And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there,
and rejoice before the LORD thy God.
8 And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this
law very plainly.
9 And Moses and the priests the Levites spake unto all Israel,
saying, Take heed, and hearken, O Israel; this day thou art
become the people of the LORD thy God.
10 Thou shalt therefore obey the voice of the LORD thy God, and
do his commandments and his statutes, which I command thee this
I. A general charge to the people to keep God's commandments; for in
vain did they know them, unless they would do them. This is pressed
1. With all authority. Moses with the elders of Israel, the
rulers of each tribe
and again, Moses and the priests the Levites
so that the charge is given by Moses who was king in Jeshurun, and by
their lords, both spiritual and temporal, in concurrence with him. Lest
they should think that it was Moses only, an old and dying man, that
made such ado about religion, or the priests and Levites only, whose
trade it was to attend religion and who had their maintenance out of
it, the elders of Israel, whom God had placed in honour and power over
them, and who were men of business in the world and likely to be so
long so when Moses was gone, they commanded their people to
keep God's law. Moses, having put some of his honour upon them,
joins them in commission with himself, in giving this charge, as Paul
sometimes in his epistles joins with himself Silvanus and Timotheus.
Note, All that have any interest in others, or power over them, should
use it for the support and furtherance of religion among them. Though
the supreme power of a nation provide ever so good laws for this
purpose, if inferior magistrates in their places, and ministers in
theirs, and masters of families in theirs, do not execute their
offices, it will all be to little effect.
2. With all importunity. They press it upon them with the utmost
Take heed and hearken, O Israel. It is a thing that requires and
deserves the highest degree of caution and attention. They tell them of
their privilege and honour: "This day thou hast become the people of
the Lord thy God, the Lord having avouched thee to be his own, and
being now about to put thee in possession of Canaan which he had long
promised as thy God
and which if he had failed to do in due time, he would have been
ashamed to be called thy God,
Now thou art more than ever his people, therefore obey his
voice." Privileges should be improved as engagements to duty.
Should not a people be ruled by their God?
II. A particular direction to them with great solemnity to register
the words of this law, as soon as they came into Canaan. It was
to be done but once, and at their entrance into the land of promise, in
token of their taking possession of it under the several provisos and
conditions contained in this law. There was a solemn ratification of
the covenant between God and Israel at Mount Sinai, when an altar was
erected, with twelve pillars, and the book of the covenant was
That which is here appointed is a somewhat similar solemnity.
1. They must set up a monument on which they must write the words of
(1.) The monument itself was to be very mean, only rough unhewn stone
plastered over; not polished marble or alabaster, nor brass tables, but
common plaster upon stone,
The command is repeated
and orders are given that it be written, not very finely, to be admired
by the curious, but very plainly, that he who runs may read it,
The word of God needs not to be set off by the art of man, nor
embellished with the enticing words of man's wisdom. But,
(2.) The inscription was to be very great: All the words of this
Some understand it only of the covenant between God and Israel,
Let this help be set up for a witness, like that memorial of the
covenant between Laban and Jacob, which was nothing but a heap of
stones thrown hastily together, upon which they did eat together in
token of friendship
and that stone which Joshua set up,
Others think that the curses of the covenant in this chapter were
written upon this monument, the rather because it was set up in Mount
Others think that the whole book of Deuteronomy was written upon this
monument, or at least the statutes and judgments from
to the end of ch. xxvi.
And it is not improbable that the heap might be so large as, taking in
all the sides of it, to contain so copious an inscription, unless we
will suppose (as some do) that the ten commandments only were here
written, as an authentic copy of the close rolls which were laid up in
the ark. They must write this when they had gone into Canaan, and yet
"Write it that thou mayest go in," that is, "that thou mayest go
in with comfort, and assurance of success and settlement, otherwise it
were well for thee not to go in at all. Write it as the conditions of
thy entry, and own that thou comest in upon these terms and no other:
since Canaan is given by promise, it must beheld by obedience."
2. They must also set up an altar. By the words of the law which were
written upon the plaster, God spoke to them; by the altar, and
the sacrifices offered upon it, they spoke to God; and thus was
communion kept up between them and God. The word and prayer must go
together. Though they might not, of their own heads, set up any altar
besides that at the tabernacle, yet, but the appointment of God, they
might upon a special occasion. Elijah built a temporary altar of twelve
unhewn stones, similar to this, when he brought Israel back to the
covenant which was now made,
1 Kings 18:31,32.
(1.) This altar must be made of such stones as they found ready upon
the field, not newly cut out of the rock, much less squared
artificially: Thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them,
Christ, our altar, is a stone cut out of the mountain without
and therefore refused by the builders, as having no form or
comeliness, but accepted of God the Father, and made the head of the
(2.) Burnt-offerings and peace-offerings must be offered upon this
that by them they might give glory to God and obtain favour. Where the
law was written, an altar was set up close by it, to signify that we
could not look with any comfort upon the law, being conscious to
ourselves of the violation of it, if it were not for the great
sacrifice by which atonement is made for sin; and the altar was set up
on Mount Ebal, the mount on which those tribes stood that said
Amen to the curses, to intimate that through Christ we are
redeemed from the curse of the law. In the Old Testament the
words of the law are written, with the curse annexed, which would fill
us with horror and amazement if we had not in the New Testament (which
is bound up with it) an altar erected close by it, which gives us
(3.) They must eat there, and rejoice before the Lord their God,
[1.] The consent they gave to the covenant; for the parties to a
covenant ratified the covenant by feasting together. They were
partakers of the altar, which was God's table, as his servants and
tenants, and such they acknowledged themselves, and, being put in
possession of this good land, bound themselves to pay the rent and to
do the services reserved by the royal grant.
[2.] The comfort they took in the covenant; they had reason to rejoice
in the law, when they had an altar, a remedial law, so near it. It was
a great favour to them, and a token for good, that God gave them his
statutes; and that they were owned as the people of God, and the
children of the promise, was what they had reason to rejoice in,
though, when this solemnity was to be performed, they were not put in
full possession of Canaan; but God has spoken in his holiness,
and then I will rejoice, Gilead is mine, Manasseh is mine; all
|The Curses from Ebal.
||B. C. 1451.|
11 And Moses charged the people the same day, saying,
12 These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people,
when ye are come over Jordan; Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and
Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin:
13 And these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad,
and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.
14 And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all the men of
Israel with a loud voice,
15 Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten
image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the
craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the
people shall answer and say, Amen.
16 Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his
mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
17 Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark. And
all the people shall say, Amen.
18 Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the
way. And all the people shall say, Amen.
19 Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger,
fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.
20 Cursed be he that lieth with his father's wife; because he
uncovereth his father's skirt. And all the people shall say,
21 Cursed be he that lieth with any manner of beast. And all
the people shall say, Amen.
22 Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of
his father, or the daughter of his mother. And all the people
shall say, Amen.
23 Cursed be he that lieth with his mother in law. And all
the people shall say, Amen.
24 Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbour secretly. And all
the people shall say, Amen.
25 Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent
person. And all the people shall say, Amen.
26 Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this
law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.
When the law was written, to be seen and read by all men, the
sanctions of it were to be published, which, to complete the solemnity
of their covenanting with God, they were deliberately to declare their
approbation of. This they were before directed to do
and therefore the appointment here begins somewhat abruptly,
There were, it seems, in Canaan, that part of it which afterwards fell
to the lot of Ephraim (Joshua's tribe), two mountains that lay near
together, with a valley between, one called Gerizim and the
other Ebal. On the sides of these two mountains, which faced one
another, all the tribes were to be drawn up, six on one side and six on
the other, so that in the valley, at the foot of each mountain, they
came pretty near together, so near as that the priests standing betwixt
them might be heard by those that were next them on both sides; then
when silence was proclaimed, and attention commanded, one of the
priests, or perhaps more at some distance from each other, pronounced
with a loud voice one of the curses here following, and all the people
that stood on the side and foot of Mount Ebal (those that stood further
off taking the signal from those that stood nearer and within hearing)
said Amen; then the contrary blessing was pronounced, "Blessed
is he that doth not so or so," and then those that stood on the side,
and at the foot, of Mount Gerizim, said Amen. This could not but
affect them very much with the blessings and curses, the promises and
threatenings, of the law, and not only acquaint all the people with
them, but teach them to apply them to themselves.
I. Something is to be observed, in general, concerning this solemnity,
which was to be done, but once and not repeated, but would be talked of
1. God appointed which tribes should stand upon Mount Gerizim and which
on Mount Ebal
to prevent the disputes that might have arisen if they had been left to
dispose of themselves. The six tribes that were appointed for blessing
were all the children of the free women, for to such the promise
Levi is here put among the rest, to teach ministers to apply to
themselves the blessing and curse which they preach to others, and by
faith to set their own Amen to it.
2. Of those tribes that were to say Amen to the blessings it is
said, They stood to bless the people, but of the other, They
stood to curse, not mentioning the people, as loth to suppose that
any of this people whom God had taken for his own should lay themselves
under the curse. Or, perhaps, the different mode of expression
intimates that there was to be but one blessing pronounced in general
upon the people of Israel, as a happy people, and that should ever be
so, if they were obedient; and to this blessing the tribes on
Mount Gerizim were to say Amen--"Happy art thou, O Israel, and
mayest thou ever be so;" but then the curses come in as exceptions from
the general rule, and we know exceptio firmat regulam--the exception
confirms the rule. Israel is a blessed people, but, if there be any
particular persons even among them that do such and such things as are
mentioned, let them know that they have no part nor lot in the matter,
but are under a curse. This shows how ready God is to bestow the
blessing; if any fall under the curse, they may thank themselves, they
bring it upon their own heads.
3. The Levites or priests, such of them as were appointed for that
purpose, were to pronounce the curses as well as the blessings. They
were ordained to bless
the priests did it daily,
But they must separate between the precious and the vile; they
must not give that blessing promiscuously, but must declare it to whom
it did not belong, lest those who had no right to it themselves should
think to share in it by being in the crowd. Note, Ministers must preach
the terrors of the law as well as the comforts of the gospel; must not
only allure people to their duty with the promises of a blessing, but
awe them to it with the threatenings of a curse.
4. The curses are here expressed, but not the blessings; for as many
as were under the law were under the curse, but it was a honour
reserved for Christ to bless us, and so to do that for us which the
law could not do, in that it was weak. In Christ's sermon upon the
mount, which was the true Mount Gerizim, we have blessings only,
5. To each of the curses the people were to say Amen. It is easy
to understand the meaning of Amen to the blessings. The Jews
have a saying to encourage people to say Amen to the public
prayers, Whosoever answereth Amen, after him that blesseth,
he is as he that blesseth. But how could they say Amen to
(1.) It was a profession of their faith in the truth of them, that
these and the like curses were not bug-bears to frighten children and
fools, but the real declarations of the wrath of God against the
ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, not one iota of which
shall fall to the ground.
(2.) It was an acknowledgment of the equity of these curses; when they
said Amen, they did in effect say, not only, It is certain it
shall be so, but, It is just it should be so. Those who do
such things deserve to fall and lie under the curse.
(3.) It was such an imprecation upon themselves as strongly obliged
them to have nothing to do with those evil practices upon which the
curse is here entailed. "Let God's wrath fall upon us if ever we do
such things." We read of those that entered into a curse (and with us
that is the usual form of a solemn oath) to walk in God's law
Nay, the Jews say (as the learned bishop Patrick quotes them), "All the
people, by saying this Amen, became bound for one another, that
they would observe God's laws, by which every man was obliged, as far
as he could, to prevent his neighbour from breaking these laws, and to
reprove those that had offended, lest they should bear sin and the
curse for them."
II. Let us now observe what are the particular sins against which the
curses are here denounced.
1. Sins against the second commandment. This flaming sword is set to
keep that commandment first,
Those are here cursed, not only that worship images, but that make them
or keep them, if they be such (or like such) as idolaters used in the
service of their gods. Whether it be a graven image or a molten image,
it comes all to one, it is an abomination to the Lord, even
though it be not set up in public, but in a secret place,--though it be
not actually worshipped, nor is it said to be designed for worship, but
reserved there with respect and a constant temptation. He that does
this may perhaps escape punishment from men, but he cannot escape the
curse of God.
2. Against the fifth commandment,
The contempt of parents is a sin so heinous that it is put next to the
contempt of God himself. If a man abused his parents, either in word or
deed, he fell under the sentence of the magistrate, and must be put
But to set light by them in his heart was a thing which the magistrate
could not take cognizance of, and therefore it is here laid under the
curse of God, who knows the heart. Those are cursed children that carry
themselves scornfully and insolently towards their parents.
3. Against the eighth commandment. The curse of God is here fastened,
(1.) Upon an unjust neighbour that removes the land-marks,
Upon an unjust counsellor, who, when his advice is asked, maliciously
directs his friend to that which he knows will be to his prejudice,
which is making the blind to wander out of the way, under
pretence of directing him in the way, than which nothing can be either
more barbarous or more treacherous,
Those that seduce others from the way of God's commandments, and entice
them to sin, bring this curse upon themselves, which our Saviour has
The blind lead the blind, and both shall fall into the ditch.
(3.) Upon an unjust judge, that perverteth the judgment of the
stranger, fatherless, and widow, whom he should protect and
These are supposed to be poor and friendless (nothing to be got by
doing them a kindness, nor any thing lost by disobliging them), and
therefore judges may be tempted to side with their adversaries against
right and equity; but cursed are such judges.
4. Against the seventh commandment. Incest is a cursed sin, with a
sister, a father's wife, or a mother-in-law,
These crimes not only exposed men to the sword of the magistrate
but, which is more dreadful, to the wrath of God; bestiality likewise,
5. Against the sixth commandment. Two of the worst kinds of murder are
(1.) Murder unseen, when a man does not set upon his neighbour as a
fair adversary, giving him an opportunity to defend himself, but
smites him secretly
as by poison or otherwise, when he sees not who hurts him. See
Though such secret murders may go undiscovered and unpunished, yet the
curse of God will follow them.
(2.) Murder under colour of law, which is the greatest affront to God,
for it makes an ordinance of his to patronise the worst of villains,
and the greatest wrong to our neighbour, for it ruins his honour as
well as his life: cursed therefore is he that will be hired, or bribed,
to accuse, or to convict, or to condemn, and so to slay, an innocent
6. The solemnity concludes with a general curse upon him that
confirmeth not, or, as it might be read, that performeth not,
all the words of this law to do them,
By our obedience to the law we set our seal to it, and so confirm it,
as by our disobedience we do what lies in us to disannul it,
The apostle, following all the ancient versions, reads it, Cursed is
every one that continues not,
Lest those who were guilty of other sins, not mentioned in this
commination, should think themselves safe from the curse, this last
reaches all; not only those who do the evil which the law forbids, but
those also who omit the good which the law requires: to this we must
all say Amen, owning ourselves under the curse, justly to have
deserved it, and that we must certainly have perished for ever under
it, if Christ had not redeemed us from the curse of the law, by
being made a curse for us.