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The Inscribed Stones and Altar on Mount Ebal


Then Moses and the elders of Israel charged all the people as follows: Keep the entire commandment that I am commanding you today. 2On the day that you cross over the Jordan into the land that the L ord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and cover them with plaster. 3You shall write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over, to enter the land that the L ord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the L ord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. 4So when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I am commanding you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall cover them with plaster. 5And you shall build an altar there to the L ord your God, an altar of stones on which you have not used an iron tool. 6You must build the altar of the L ord your God of unhewn stones. Then offer up burnt offerings on it to the L ord your God, 7make sacrifices of well-being, and eat them there, rejoicing before the L ord your God. 8You shall write on the stones all the words of this law very clearly.

9 Then Moses and the levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying: Keep silence and hear, O Israel! This very day you have become the people of the L ord your God. 10Therefore obey the L ord your God, observing his commandments and his statutes that I am commanding you today.

Twelve Curses

11 The same day Moses charged the people as follows: 12When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim for the blessing of the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. 14Then the Levites shall declare in a loud voice to all the Israelites:

15 “Cursed be anyone who makes an idol or casts an image, anything abhorrent to the L ord, the work of an artisan, and sets it up in secret.” All the people shall respond, saying, “Amen!”

16 “Cursed be anyone who dishonors father or mother.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

17 “Cursed be anyone who moves a neighbor’s boundary marker.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

18 “Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind person on the road.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

19 “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

20 “Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has violated his father’s rights.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

21 “Cursed be anyone who lies with any animal.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

22 “Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

23 “Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

24 “Cursed be anyone who strikes down a neighbor in secret.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

25 “Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

26 “Cursed be anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by observing them.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

1. And Moses, with the elders. This precept is of the same character as those that have preceded it; for, as God would have His precepts written on the door-posts, and on the borders of their garments, so that they might constantly meet their eyes, so also would He have a monument existing at the very entrance of their land, from which the people might learn that they dwelt in it, in order that they might worship God purely. Wherefore, lest by the people’s carelessness the knowledge of the Law should be obscured, or in any way obliterated, God would have its sum inscribed in a conspicuous place. Hence may be gathered the similarity I have adverted to between the private houses of individuals and the whole land. When the precepts were written on the doors, every one was admonished that his house was sacred to God, and the same was the case with the whole land, so that whosoever entered it might know that it was, as it were, the sanctuary of heavenly doctrine, and thus their zeal might be stirred up to the pure worship of God. The object of the plain and distinct writing of the Scripture, referred to in verse 8, was to take away (the excuse of237237     Added from the French. ) ignorance.

5 And there shalt thou build an altar. At their first entrance into the land, God commands that a sacrifice of thanksgiving should be offered to Him; and this Joshua performed, as is related in Joshua 8:30-31

"Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal;
as Moses the servant of the Lord commanded the children of Israel,
an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron."

First of all, then, this testimony of their gratitude is required, that the children of Israel, as soon as they have begun to set foot in the land of Canaan, might celebrate the praises of the Lord; secondly, he forbids all artificial work, because, if the altar had been permanent, it would have been an occasion of superstition, and this exceptional instance would have been more regarded than the perpetual Law of God. Hence the nine tribes and half were so greatly wroth against the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and half Manasseh, on account of the altar which was built on the bank of Jordan, (Joshua 22,) insomuch that they determined utterly to destroy their brethren, until they had cleared themselves by alleging that they had only built it as a memorial of their brotherly union, and not for sacrifice. Assuredly they were good expounders of the Law who accounted it an inexpiable crime, that an altar should be left for posterity, to withdraw the people from the one sanctuary, and thus to destroy the unity of faith.

The ground of his exhortation is again taken from the special favor of adoption, wherewith the God of Abraham had honored them; for there was nothing which should have more effectually stimulated them to obedience, than that more than paternal love, and the gratuitous kindness with which He had prevented them. Although, at the same time, they were admonished in these words of the object for which they were separated from other nations; for the conclusion he draws is, that because they were received by God as His people, they, therefore, lay under an obligation to keep His statutes; as Paul more plainly teaches us that we are redeemed from all iniquity, that Christ might purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14.) Moreover, since the priests were now appointed, from whose lips the doctrine of the law was to be sought, they here come forward in God’s own name, and engage the people to respond to His generous calls upon them; and not only this, but also to obey His ministers.

15. Cursed be the man that maketh any graven. Hence it appears that Moses is silent as to the half (of what he had spoken of before; 199199     Added from Fr. ) for no mention is made of the blessings 200200     “Howbeit, though Moses appointed these to bless, yet he expresseth not the blessings; by such silence leading his prudent reader to look for them by another, which is Christ. John 1:17, Acts 3:26. For silence in the holy story often implieth great mysteries, as the Apostle (in Hebrews 7.) teacheth from the narration of Melchisedek, in Genesis 14.” — Ainsworth. which occupied before the first place. Perhaps the Spirit would indirectly rebuke the wickedness of the people, from whence it arose that He was not at liberty to proclaim the praises conveyed in the blessings; for, when they ought to have embraced cheerfully the reward promised to them, their ungodliness deprived them of this honor; and nothing remained but that they should submit themselves to the just punishment of their iniquities. Meanwhile, it cannot be doubted but that they were taught by the forms of cursing which we here read what course was to be observed in blessing. For, when God pronounces His condemnation of transgressors, we may hence infer that the hope of blessedness is laid up for His true servants, if any fulfill His law. Besides, in the list of curses here recorded, a synecdoche is to be observed, since no special curse is separately denounced against blasphemers, perjurers, Sabbath-breakers, slanderers, and adulterers. It is plain, therefore, that some kinds of crime which were worthy of the greatest abomination, were selected, in order that the people might learn from hence that transgression against any particular of the Law would not be unpunished; for, by speaking of graven images, God undoubtedly defends His worship from all pollutions; and thus this curse extends to every breach of the First Table. Moreover, when He threatens to punish secret sins, we may readily infer that, although offenders might be hidden from earthly judges, and escape from their hands a hundred times, still God would be the avenger of His polluted worship. If any had put an idol in a secret place, or had smitten his neighbor secretly, he will not suffer the punishment which cannot be inflicted unless his crime be detected, and he is convicted of the offense; but, lest impunity should encourage any one to become obdurate in sin, the people are summoned before the heavenly tribunal of God, that they may be retained in the path of duty, not only by the fear of punishment, but for conscience-sake. Whence, again, it is clear that God did not only deliver a political Law, which should merely direct their outward morals, but one which would require true sincerity of heart.

16. Cursed be he that setteth light by his father. What follows refers to the Second Table of the Law; and, first, He pronounces those cursed who should be undutiful (impii) to their parents; for the word קלל, kalal, 201201     He assumes, what is scarcely tenable, that מקלה is derived from קלל rather than from קלהW which means to despise, as well as to curse, is put in opposition to the honor which, by the Fifth Commandment, is due to our father and mother. Then He mentions such thefts as generally escape the knowledge of men; as also, He only adverts to those acts of fornication which are anxiously concealed on account of their filthiness. To have connection with a beast, with one’s mother-in-law, or step-mother, or sister, is so unnatural and detestable a crime, that it is generally concealed more carefully. But God admonishes us that, whatever modes of concealment the sinner shall adopt, they will profit him nothing, but that, when He shall at length ascend His judgment-seat, their shame shall be discovered. For the same reason he does not curse all murderers, but only such as have shed innocent blood for hire, which nefarious compact cannot easily be discovered so as to be punished by laws. 202202     “Des hommes.” — Fr.

26. Cursed is he that confirmeth not. Although it was God’s purpose to summon the consciences of all men before Him, and, in order that they might not only fear human judgments, He designedly threatened them with the punishment of secret sins, yet the conclusion, which is now added, extends the same judgment to all iniquities of whatever kind. Nay, He briefly declares, that whosoever shall not perform what the Law requires, are accursed. From whence Paul rightly infers, that “as many as are of the works of the Law are under the curse.” (Galatians 3:10.) For let the most perfect man come forward, and, although he may have striven ever so diligently to keep the Law, he will have at least offended in some point or other; since the declaration of James must be borne in mind, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all;” for he that forbade murder and adultery, forbade theft also. (James 2:10, 11.) Paul indeed does not quote the very words of Moses, for he thus cites his testimony;

“Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them,” (Galatians 3:10;)

but there is no difference in the sense, since all are here condemned without exception, who have not confirmed the Law of God, so as to fulfill to the uttermost whatever it contains. Whence if is clear that, in whatever respect the deficiency betrays itself, it brings men under the curse; and to this the Israelites are commanded to assent, so as to acknowledge that they were all without exception lost, since they were involved in the curse. And now-a-days, also, it is necessary that we should all to a man be struck with the same despair, in order that, embracing the grace of Christ, we should be delivered from this melancholy state of guilt; since he was made accursed for us, that He might redeem us from the curse of the Law. (Galatians 3:13.)

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