Moses, together with the elders, underlines once again the necessity of keeping the commandments. As an aid he says that the people should erect stones and coat them with lime. These erected stones serve as a memorial on which everything that Moses has spoken must be written. When entering the land, as the first act a remembrance of the law must be established. All further actions in the land must be based on the law. If the people remember this, it is the guarantee that they will continually enjoy the blessings that God has given.
In addition to a monument in memory of the law, an altar made of natural stone is also built on Mount Ebal. On it can be sacrificed as a response of gratitude. It points to the goal that God has in mind once His people are in the land.
The law of God comes to us here in three aspects. The first aspect we see in verses 1-101Then Moses and the elders of Israel charged the people, saying, “Keep all the commandments which I command you today.2So it shall be on the day when you cross the Jordan to the land which the LORD your God gives you, that you shall set up for yourself large stones and coat them with lime3and write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over, so that you may enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.4So it shall be when you cross the Jordan, you shall set up on Mount Ebal, these stones, as I am commanding you today, and you shall coat them with lime.5Moreover, you shall build there an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones; you shall not wield an iron [tool] on them.6You shall build the altar of the LORD your God of uncut stones, and you shall offer on it burnt offerings to the LORD your God;7and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and eat there, and rejoice before the LORD your God.8You shall write on the stones all the words of this law very distinctly.”9Then Moses and the Levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying, “Be silent and listen, O Israel! This day you have become a people for the LORD your God.10You shall therefore obey the LORD your God, and do His commandments and His statutes which I command you today.”. It is the meaning of the law, as described in Deuteronomy 4-26, in order to enjoy the blessings of the land. We can apply that aspect to us in its spiritual scope. There are also commandments for us as conditions to enjoy the blessings.
The second aspect is found in verses 11-2611Moses also charged the people on that day, saying,12“When you cross the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin.13For the curse, these shall stand on Mount Ebal: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.14The 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 craftsman, and sets [it] up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’16‘Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’17‘Cursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’18‘Cursed is he who misleads a blind [person] on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’19‘Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’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.’21‘Cursed is he who lies with any animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’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.’23‘Cursed is he who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’24‘Cursed is he who strikes his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’25‘Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’26‘Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’. There the law is applied to those who are on the basis of the law. The principle of law is that every man who bases himself on law to produce works for God comes under the curse (Gal 3:1010For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.”).
In Deuteronomy 28 we meet the law in a third meaning. It is not the spiritual meaning of the law, not even its formal meaning for every human being, but the law as the norm of God for His people on earth to experience the blessing or the curse in the reign of God.
For us, the place of curse is the place where we found the altar. Our altar is the Lord Jesus. He became a curse on Calvary.
Verse 44So it shall be when you cross the Jordan, you shall set up on Mount Ebal, these stones, as I am commanding you today, and you shall coat them with lime. is fulfilled in Joshua 8 (Jos 8:30-3430Then Joshua built an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, in Mount Ebal,31just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of uncut stones on which no man had wielded an iron [tool]; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.32He wrote there on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written, in the presence of the sons of Israel.33All Israel with their elders and officers and their judges were standing on both sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, the stranger as well as the native. Half of them [stood] in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had given command at first to bless the people of Israel.34Then afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law.). We hear here for the third time about writing the law. The first and second times the writing of the law is mentioned in Deuteronomy 10: the first time as a referral back to the Horeb (Deu 10:22I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered, and you shall put them in the ark.’), the second time in connection with the tablets cut out by Moses (Deu 10:44He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me.).
Here the people write. Thereby they say ‘yes’ to the commandments of God. You have to be in the land for it, surrounded by the blessings of God. Then it is not difficult to say ‘yes’ to what God has said. Then there is care to write down the words of the law “very distinctly” (verse 88You shall write on the stones all the words of this law very distinctly.”), so that those who pass by can read what is written without difficulty (Hab 2:22Then the LORD answered me and said,
“Record the vision
And inscribe [it] on tablets,
That the one who reads it may run.
). It also means that nothing is taken away from it or forgotten, but that the people will keep what is as God has given it.
For the believer, the will of God is everything. The people’s writing of the law is the people’s answer to God that they would like to know His will. In the application to us we can read about this in some letters in the New Testament (Eph 1:99He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him; Col 1:99For this reason also, since the day we heard [of it], we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,; 4:1212Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you maystandperfect andfully assured in all the will of God.; Heb 13:2121equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom [be] the glory forever and ever. Amen.). In the land you get a special impression of that will.
Next to that monument stands an altar. Whoever has so wholeheartedly said ‘yes’ to God’s Word, will want to sacrifice. Through the monument God speaks to man. In the altar man directs to God. On the monument God asks for obedience as a condition of blessing. In the altar man worships God for the blessings which He has given in Christ, the Sacrifice.
The altar must be built in the manner prescribed by God. No human activity shall be involved (cf. Exo 20:2525If you make an altar of stone for Me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for if you wield your tool on it, you will profane it.). The stones only need to be stacked, they may not be reworked. Human reworking of that place leads to catastrophe. Thus we may execute God’s Word, may we establish and maintain a testimony for Him, but we may not rework it according to our own thoughts.
There is no talk of sin offerings, but of burnt offerings and peace offerings. The sacrifices at this altar are an expression of gratitude toward God as the Giver of all blessings. The sin offering determines us in our sins and that is not what we are talking about here. Burnt offerings represent Christ in His work on the cross, as completely dedicated to God. Peace offerings represent Christ in His work on the cross by which fellowship has become possible between God and His people and between the members of God’s people.