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Deuteronomy: The Second Law - Speech 8

A commentary on the eighth speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 27-28. The book of Deuteronomy is a series of 12 speeches that Moses gave just before his death at the end of Israel's wilderness journey.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 3

Blessing and Cursing

The joint statement between Moses and the elders of the tribes instructs Israel to make a vow after they entered the land of Canaan. We read in Deut. 27:11-13,

11 Moses also charged the people on that day, saying, 12 When you cross the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerazim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And for the curse, these shall stand on Mount Ebal: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.

Scripture does not give us the precise wording of this command, but only tells us that this is what Moses charged Israel to do in the future, after securing their place in the land of Canaan.

The Meaning of Mount Gerizim

First, let us look at the meaning of Mount Gerizim. Gerizim is plural for garaz, “to cut off.” Why did God choose Gerizim, and why was it a blessing to be “cut off”? The question is, cut off from what?

The key, I believe, is seen when we break down the precise meaning of garaz. The word is spelled in Hebrew:

gimel (camel, signifying pride)

resh (head)

zayin (weapon).

The “weapon” is the Sword of the Spirit, which is used to cut off the head of pride. That appears to be the blessing of obedience, for pride is the root of iniquity. The law was given to teach us humility and obedience in order to cut off the head of pride.

There is also another angle in our approach to the meaning of this word. If we take gimel and resh as letters of a single word, it spells ger (Strong’s #1616). It means “foreigner, alien, or guest.” In this case, it would refer to cutting off contact with the gods of foreigners in order to serve the God of Israel.

In later years, many adopted the attitude of racial, intellectual, and spiritual superiority over the other nations. Such a view cannot be supported by our view of Mount Gerizim, because we are told that many foreigners were present when the blessings and curses of the law were read from the law. Joshua 8:33 lists “the stranger [ger] as well as the native” who were called to bear witness by saying “Amen, Amen.”

In other words, Israel was not being cut off from those non-Israelites who had placed their faith in the God of Israel. Instead, they had renounced the gods of their fathers and had turned to the God of Israel, enjoying full citizenship rights with the equal responsibility to be obedient to the law. In fact, Joshua 8:35 concludes, saying,

35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel with the women and the little ones and the strangers who were living among them.

The law was never given exclusively to the physical descendants of Israel. The law is the moral standard of the mind of God, which defines the full stature of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:13). All of mankind will be held to this standard, for all are part of God's creation. This is prophesied, too, by the fact that it was Joshua (Yeshua-Jesus) who read this law and fulfilled all that Moses had commanded. Hence, when the true Yeshua appeared, He corrected men's views by treating foreigners with equal respect and love.

The Meaning of Mount Ebal

Ebal is a Hebrew name that means “stone, bare mountain, bald.” It signifies a place that has “nothing” on it, for it was devoid of trees and other signs of life. Gesenius Lexicon also gives the meaning, “void of leaves” in its explanation.

If we break down the name into the basic meaning of its letters, we see that it is spelled:

ayin (eye, seeing or manifesting)

yod (work or deed)

beth (house or household)

lamed (ox goad, authority)

Thus, it conveys the idea of seeing the work of the house of authority.

The meaning is clearer, however, if we combine the last two letters, beth and lamed, for this spells bal or baal. In other words, Mount Ebal conveys the idea of seeing or manifesting the works of Baal. There is also another Hebrew word, bal, which means “failure,” implying “nothing.” (See Strong’s #1077) Those works devoted to false gods (baals) are “nothing,” for they are “void of leaves” and fail to bring forth life.

This is the place of the curse of the law. The law looks for fruitfulness, but finds only a bare rock with no sign of life. Inversely, we may say that when men are continually faithless and disobedient to the law, their works amount to nothing, for they are fruitless and produce only death. Such works are judged by "the curse of the law."

The Six Tribes on Mount Gerizim

The six tribes called to pronounce the blessings for obedience were:

Simeon (“hearing; obeying”)

Levi (“joiner”)

Judah (“praise”)

Issachar (“hire; there is recompense or reward”)

Joseph (“he will add”)

Benjamin (“son of my right hand”)

Why were these tribes chosen to pronounce the blessing from Mount Gerizim? It may have to do with the prophetic meaning of their names, for if we string them together, it may read something like this:

Hearing and obeying (the law), joined with praise, will be rewarded, for He will add (a blessing) making him a son of my right hand.

In other words, while faith results in justification, obedience results in Sonship. Keep in mind that Passover requires faith; Pentecost requires obedience; and Tabernacles requires agreement with the character of Christ and His plan. The reward is to receive full authority of the sons of God to exercise the Dominion Mandate in the earth.

The Six Tribes on Mount Ebal

The six tribes called to warn of the curses of the law are:

Reuben (“Behold, a son”)

Gad (“a troop; overrun; have victory”)

Asher (“happy; blessed”)

Zebulun (“dwelling; habitation”)

Dan (“judge”)

Naphtali (“my wrestling”)

At first glance, it seems strange that Reuben would be placed in the lead at Mount Ebal, for one would think he would be listed in the blessings of Sonship. However, remember that although he was the oldest son, he lost the birthright for defiling his father’s bed (1 Chron. 5:1). Hence, he is positioned as a warning for the curses of disobedience.

Secondly, why would Gad be in this group, for his name signifies victory? Is there victory in the curse of the law?

Thirdly, we may wonder why Asher would be listed here, for his name indicates blessing. Can the curse of the law be a blessing?

The apparent contradictions are resolved only when we understand the nature of the curse of the law and the nature of God’s judgments. God is love, and He judges us according to His nature. As a father, His judgments (“curses of the law”) are remedial and corrective, and are not meant to be destructive in the long run.

Though the judgments upon Israel became increasingly severe until the nation was finally destroyed, the death of the nation itself was to end in resurrection (Ezekiel 37:12). Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 15:54, “death is swallowed up in victory.” Death does not have the final say in the matter. In addition to this, we showed in Book 7 of this series that the death penalty is rooted in the law of devotion, by which the guilty are placed under the direct authority of Jesus Christ, the Judge of the High Court. This is the mercy factor in the midst of judgment, for Jesus Christ is able to work all things for their good and to turn their hearts by means of judgment, so that they can be saved.

And so, if we string together the names of these six tribes, we see not merely a terrifying message of fear and cursing, but a message of hope in the midst of divine judgment:

Behold, a Son, victorious and blessed, in a sure habitation of rest in the presence of divine judgment and wrestling (against the old man).

In a very real way, all aspiring Sons of God can attest to this witness on Mount Ebal. Have we not all wrestled as Jacob wrestled, to enter into God’s rest? When Jacob overcame the old carnal man that had been a deceiver and supplanter, he was given a new name, Israel, to reflect his new nature and his greater understanding of the sovereignty of God.

In other words, the purpose of the curse of the law is to bring correction as God judges the old man within us. That old man is finally crucified with Christ, that we might be justified and “no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6).

Such is the true nature of God’s curses and judgments upon the man of sin. His curses do not cause Him to lose 99% of mankind, but to bring judgment upon all sin so “that the world should be saved through Him” (John 3:17).

The Curse and the Blessing

Moses says that after the tribes (or tribal leaders representing them) had gathered on the two mountains, each side was to say Amen to ratify the curses for disobedience and the blessings for obedience. The series of curses were to be ratified first by the six tribes on Mount Ebal. Then the other six tribes were to ratify the blessings from Mount Gerazim. Moses tells us in Deut. 27:14, 15,

14 The Levites shall then answer and say to all the men of Israel with a loud voice, 15 “Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsmen, and sets it up in secret.” And all the people shall answer and say, “Amen.”

This is a restatement of the First and Second Commandments found in Deut. 5:7-10.

16 “Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”

This restates the Fifth Commandment (Deut. 5:16).

17 “Cursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”

This restates the law in Deut. 19:14, but it is part of the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not steal” (Deut. 5:19). To move a boundary marker was to steal land from one’s neighbor.

18 “Cursed is he who misleads a blind person on the road.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”

This enlarges upon the law in Lev. 19:14, which says,

14 You shall not curse the deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.

In other words, putting a stumbling block before the blind was just a sample of the mind of God in such matters. There are many today who are spiritually blind and deaf. We are not to use any doctrinal truth as a stumbling block, nor are we to mislead them with a lie. Many have used truth as a weapon to threaten the blind and the deaf, even though they are incapable of healing their own blindness and deafness. Our tactic should be to present them with truth and pray that God will heal them, for in Exodus 4:11 God says,

11 … Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?

The prophet Isaiah tells us that God blinded the eyes of Israel (Isaiah 29:10), in the same manner that He blinded Isaac (Genesis 27:1), who was His consecrated servant. God had purpose in doing this, for He intended to raise up blind witnesses to testify of Him. So Isaiah speaks of Israel in 42:18, 19,

19 Who is blind but My servant, or so deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me, or so blind as the servant of the Lord?

Isaiah saw these blind Israelites carried into captivity by the Assyrians. They became the so-called “ten lost tribes,” for they were too blind to find the path to return to the old land. God blinded them so that they would inherit better promises in the end after He would heal their eyes and ears. Blindness has also afflicted Judah, but their calling and destiny is somewhat different, as I have shown in other writings.

Moses continues in Deut. 27:19,

19 “Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”

God’s concern was expressed earlier in Deut. 10:16-19,

16 Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more. 17 For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe. 18 He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. 19 So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Num. 15:16 says that there was to be one law for all people living in His Kingdom, and there was to be no partiality in the application of the law. So in Deuteronomy 27 we see the curse of God placed upon those who distort justice, which God says is “due an alien, orphan, and widow.” Moses continues in Deut. 27:20,

20 “Cursed is he who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s skirt.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”

This is one example of many laws forbidding incest, which are recorded in Leviticus 18. The example here is from Lev. 18:8,

8 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness.

Moses gives the next curse in Deut. 27:21,

21 “Cursed is he who lies with any animal.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”

Bestiality was forbidden in Exodus 22:19, which says,

19 Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death.

A longer version of this is found in Lev. 18:23, which says,

23 Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.

While there are those today who advocate the legalization of such bestiality, such activity brings the curse of God, who calls it “a perversion.” So regardless of how men may legalize such sin according to human ideas of “freedom,” God calls it perversion.

Moses continues in Deut. 27:22,

22 “Cursed is he who lies with his sister, the daughter of his father or of his mother.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”

This again refers to another law of incest in Lev. 18:9, 11,

9 The nakedness of your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether born at home or born outside, their nakedness you shall not uncover…. 11 The nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, born to your father, she is your sister, you shall not uncover her nakedness.

In those days the men often had multiple wives, some of them widows with children from a previous marriage. God was careful to specify all types of sibling, so that men would not be able to legalize certain forms of incest by taking Moses’ words too literally and applying them too narrowly.

Moses continues in Deut. 27:23,

23 “Cursed is he who lies with his mother-in-law.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”

This is expressed in reverse in Lev. 18:15, which says,

15 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness.

So a man may not lie with his mother-in-law, but neither can a man lie with his daughter-in-law. Even if they are not directly related by blood, it is biblical incest.

Moses continues in Deut. 27:24,

24 “Cursed is he who strikes [Heb., nakah] his neighbor in secret.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”

The intent of this verse is to lay a curse upon those who would attack their neighbor with the intent of killing or doing bodily harm. The fact that such an act might be done “in secret” shows that the intent is probably to commit murder without being caught. This restated the Sixth Commandment. A parallel law is found in Exodus 21:12,

12 He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.

Moses continues in Deut. 27:25,

25 “Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”

This was also legislated in Moses’ instructions about true justice in Exodus 23:8,

8 And you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.

Bribery runs rampant in most countries among government officials. Many seek positions of authority in order to become wealthy through bribes. Whenever someone is given authority to decide the fate of others, or to decide who obtains a privilege or license to do business, there is danger of bribery. In many countries this has become an accepted way of life, and even carnal Christians have participated in it.

The Kingdom of God forbids such bribery. Those who are called to rule with Christ in the Kingdom of God will be those who live by a higher standard. If they prove themselves unworthy in this life, they will be barred from positions of authority in the age to come.

Moses then summarizes the curses in Deut. 27:26,

26 “Cursed is he who does not confirm [quwm, “rise up; stand for, establish, perform”] the words of this law by doing them.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”

This ended the instructions for the six tribes that were to stand on Mount Ebal a few years later. Though only six tribes said “Amen” to agree with the curses of the law for disobedience, their agreement applied to all of the tribes. All were equally responsible to love their neighbors as themselves.

New Covenant Application

All Kingdom citizens are accountable to the law of God. Even those whose sins (violation of the law) have been forgiven do not have the right to continue in sin that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1). Those who do will be held accountable to God as He disciplines His children in order to write the law in their hearts.

On the other hand, let us remember that the law was never given to SAVE mankind, for it is not allowed to acquit the guilty (Exodus 23:7). It was meant to establish the character of God as the righteous standard. Yet because “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23), all have come under the curse of the law and are in need of a Savior to give them grace.

Christ has therefore come to pay the full penalty that the law demands for the sin of the world. The law is thus satisfied, and the Court justifies us on account of the payment that Christ made on the cross. Our faith in Him—that is, in His work on our behalf—is the only thing that can justify us. If our appeal for justification is based upon any of our own works, our own righteousness, our own ability to keep the law, then we will lose our case in the Divine Court.

Either our appeal is for the grace given through Christ’s payment for our sin, or we appeal for salvation by claiming full compliance to the vows on Mount Ebal.

This was also the choice that Paul gave to the Galatians church. They were being pulled in both directions. Either they believed Paul’s message of justification by faith in Christ alone, or they believed the Judaizers of the Jewish Christians, who taught that the men must come under the Old Covenant in order to be saved.

The primary issue was about circumcision. The sign of the Old Covenant was physical circumcision; the sign of the New Covenant was heart circumcision. Whichever sign one took upon himself reflected his faith in one of these covenants.

Paul, therefore, wrote in Gal. 3:9-14,

9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer [“faithful one”]. 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written [in Deut. 27:26], “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all the things written in the book of the law, to perform them.”

This is the final curse of the law that we have just studied. Paul was telling the Galatians that if they attached themselves to the Old Covenant by complying with the demands of the Christians from Jerusalem, they are obligated by that covenant to be saved by their own perfect obedience. This would be good if it were possible to be saved by one’s own ability to be obedient. However, that method will not work, Paul insists, because “all have sinned,” and no one can ever pay the full penalty for his own sin. Hence, Paul says in Gal. 3:11,

11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith” [quoted from Hab. 2:4].

In other words, even under the Old Covenant, men could be justified only by faith. The prophet Habakkuk was an Old Testament prophet advocating the New Covenant. Even in those days men were justified by faith, and obedience was a secondary consequence of their justification. Paul continues in Gal. 3:12,

12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them” [Lev. 18:5].

The “Law method” of justification is not the same as the “Faith method.” The Law method says that those who fulfill the law perfectly shall be given immortal life. This is very different from the Faith method, which says that those who have faith in Christ’s sacrifice (payment for sin) shall be given immortal life. Gal. 3:13, 14 says,

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written [in Deut. 21:23], “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”], so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Because “all have sinned,” all have been sentenced to death by the law. Christ came to die in our place, taking the curse of the law upon Himself in order to give us life. He was hanged on a tree (the cross) in order that we might receive the blessing of Abraham. In other words, the only way that the Abrahamic covenant could be fulfilled—which was to extend the blessings to all families of the earth—Christ had to die for the sin of the world.

It is important to know that we have been delivered from the curse of the law—that is, the sentence of the law that was imposed upon us because of sin. This did not mean that the law was set aside. If God had set aside the law in order to save us, Jesus would not have had to die to pay its penalty. But instead, God upheld the law by sending His Son to pay its penalty. In doing so, He upheld the law’s righteous standard and His own holiness.