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Deuteronomy 27


The Law Inscribed on Stone The Shechem Ceremony God's Laws Written on Stones The Writing of the Law and Religious Ceremonies
27:1-8 27:1-8 27:1-8 27:1-3
27:9-10 27:9-10 27:9-10 27:9-10
Curses Pronounced from Mount Ebal   The Curses on Disobedience  
27:11-13 27:11-14 2:11-14 27:11-14
  27:15 27:15 27;15
  27:16 27:16 27:16
  27:17 27:17 27:17
  27:18 27:18 27:18
  27:19 27:19 27:19
  27:20 27:20 27:20
  27:21 27:21 27:21
  27:22 27:22 27:22
  27:23 27:23 27:23
  27:24 27:24 27:24
  27:25 27:25 27:25
  27:26 27:26 27:26

READING CYCLE THREE (see introductory section)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. Moses is mentioned in the third person (v. 1). Does this imply a literary variety or a scribe (contemporary or later)? Moderns must admit that the structure and process of the formation of OT books is unknown to us.

There seems to be textual evidence for an editor (contemporary or later). Some examples in Deuteronomy of this editor or third voice (narrator) are 1:1-5; 2:10-12,20-23; 3:9,11,13b-14; 4:41-5:1a; 10:6-7,9; 27:1a,9a,11; 28:69; 29:1; 31:3,7a,9-10a,14a,14c-16a,22-23a,24-25,30; 32:44-45,48; 33:1; 34:1-4a,5-12 (see An Introduction to the Old Testament by Raymond B. Dillard and Fremper Longman III, p. 100).

B. An initial covenant ceremony at Shechem does not fit a supposed later date to support the concept of a centralized sanctuary in Jerusalem. Much of the Pentateuch is contemporary with Moses' day. It is obvious that editors have had a part in its formation (one clear example is Num. 12:3).

C. There is an obvious literary parallel between Deut. 11:26-32 and Deuteronomy 27. This covenant renewal ceremony forms a literary structure which divides Deuteronomy into legislation and narrative and identifies the different sermons of Moses.

D. This chapter describes a royal land-grant treaty following the pattern of Hittite treaties (i.e., Deuteronomy as a whole and Joshua 24). Ebal, the highest point in the center of the land of Canaan symbolically shows the transfer of land to the Israelites. However, to maintain the rights and privileges of occupation, covenant obedience and loyalty to YHWH is demanded.

E. Israel's stormy history can be seen through the lens of Deuteronomy 27-29. Her repeated covenant disobedience reaped the judgment of YHWH. She was to be a beacon of a happy and prosperous society (righteous brotherhood), but she reaped the whirlwind of YHWH's curses! YHWH's promises are only applicable to a repentant, believing, obedient, covenant people. Election does not replace obedience (cf. Galatians 3).



1Then 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 lime 3and 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."

27:1 "and the elders of Israel" Moses knew that soon the people would go into the Promised Land and that he would not be able to go (cf. Num. 20:12; 27:12-14; Deut. 3:26-27). He was trying to empower the tribal leadership group.

▣ "Keep all the commandments" This is a recurrent theme (cf. v. 10) and condition for Israel's stay in the land.

27:2 "on the day when you cross the Jordan. . .set up for yourself large stones" There were three sets of stones:

1. at Gilgal (vv. 1-3, cf. Joshua 4)

2. at Shechem (vv. 4-8)

3. after the conquest and division of the land God's law was written on a large stone and on a book/scroll (BDB 706, cf. Josh. 24:26-27)

It is possible that the phrase "on the day" can be understood as "when," meaning both refer to Shechem.

Exactly what was written on the stones is debated. They were large stones so they could hold a considerable amount of text. Many assume it is Deuteronomy 12-26 or 27-28 or 5:8-21 or even Exod. 20:22-23:33.

▣ "coat them with lime" This verb (BDB 966, KB 1319, Qal perfect) is found only in the OT in vv. 2 and 4. This was an Egyptian method of preparation for writing. It was a long lasting way for writing to stay visible. The reason for writing the Law down was so that each person could read it for themselves (cf. v. 8).

27:3 "write on them" There are several references in the Pentateuch which mention Moses' writing:

1. Exodus - 17:14; 24:4; 34:27,28

2. Numbers - 33:2

3. Deuteronomy - 27:3,8; 28:58; 29:21; 30:10; 31:9,22,24-26


▣ "as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you" (cf. v. 12) Shechem [Mt. Gerizim] is the place where Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:6-9) and Jacob (cf. Gen. 33:18-20) built altars. This showed the fulfillment of God's earlier promises to them.

27:4 "Mount Ebal" There are two mountains (i.e., 3,080 feet high) on either side of the city of Shechem (i.e., shoulder blade). This was one of them. Shechem was the first place Abraham had earlier built an altar (cf. Gen. 12:6-7).

27:5 "you shall not wield an iron tool on them" This is possibly related to the structure of Canaanite altars (cf. Exod. 20:24-25). God required that His altars had to be different from the manmade Canaanite altars (i.e., cut stones, v. 6). This account reflects Josh. 8:30-35.

27:6 "burnt offerings" A burnt offering is one that is totally consumed (i.e., given completely to YHWH, Lev. 1:1-7).

27:7 "peace offering" This is partially burnt on the altar, part is given to priests, part is given back to the offerer for a communal meal (cf. Lev. 3:1,7).

▣ "you shall... rejoice" This is a theme in Deuteronomy (BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal perfect, cf. 12:7,12,18; 14:26; 16:11,14; 26:11; 27:7). YHWH wanted to bless Israel so as to attract the attention of the surrounding nations.


NASB"very distinctly"
NKJV"very plainly"
NRSV"very clearly"
TEV"write clearly"

This English translation is made up of two Hebrew infinitive absolutes:

1. BDB 91, KB 106, Piel

2. BDB 405, KB 408, Hiphil

This is saying that these words, each and every word, are important.

Then 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."

27:9-10 In these verses Moses and the priests spoke to all Israel. The people were commanded to be quiet (BDB 698, KB 756, Hiphil imperative) and listen (BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperative) with a view toward obedience (cf. v. 10).

27:9 "This day you have become a people" There is some discussion on exactly when the covenant begins:

1. at Israel leaving Egypt, Exod. 6:6-7

2. at Mt. Sinai/Horeb, Deut. 4:20; Exod. 19:5-6

3. on the Plains of Moab, v. 9; 28:1

4. at the crossing of the Jordan, Josh. 4:19-24

5. at Gilgal (first camp site)

6. at Shechem (covenant renewal), Josh. 8:30-35


11 Moses 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,"

27:11 This verse begins the section on the cursings and blessings. The blessings are not specifically listed. in this chapter, but in chapter 28.

27:12-13 Half of the tribes of Israel would be on Mt. Gerizim (speak blessing, cf. 28:1-14) the other half would be on Mt. Ebal (speak curses, cf. 28:15-68), Gerizim being the southern mountain, Ebal the northern. The priests stood between the two mountains with the Ark of the Covenant (cf. Josh. 8:30,35).

▣ "Joseph" Notice the division of Joseph into Ephraim and Manesseh had not yet been documented (cf. Gen. 49:22-26; Exod. 1:5; Deut. 33:13-17).

27:14 "The Levites" It must refer to keepers of the Ark. All priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests. Obviously, some Levites (i.e., from the tribe of Levi, v. 12) were up on the mountain (cf. v. 12).

 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.'"

27:15-26 "Cursed" "Cursed" is a word that means, "Cursed by YHWH" (BDB 76). There are twelve curses (the term is used 39 times in Deuteronomy 27-29). All are in the form of Qal passive participles (vv. 15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26; see also 28:16-19). The first is a curse against idolatry (cf. Deut. 4:15-18; 5:8-9; Exod. 20:3-4,23; 34:17). Many, if not all, of the Mosaic laws can be seen in their contrast to Canaanite society.

27:15 "sets it up in secret" The verb (BDB 962, KB 1321is Qal perfect, cf. v. 24). Usually it is used of wicked activity.

▣ "Amen" This repeated liturgical formula shows acceptance of the laws by the people (cf. vv. 15-26). Note the Jewish concept of corporality.


"Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother." And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'"

27:16 "dishonors" To make small or of little weight (BDB 885 II, KB 1101, Hiphil participle). It is the opposite of the Hebrew word "honor" (BDB 457, cf. 5:16; Exod. 20:12). It may specifically refer to a child "cursing" his parents (cf. Exod. 21:17; Lev. 20:9), but the term itself means lack of respect and honor, which could denote disobedience. Religious instruction came through the parents (cf. 4:9,10,20-25; 6:7; 11:19; 32:46). Rejection of parents resulted in defective faith!

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

27:17 "moves his neighbors boundary mark" This was serious because it had to do with the theft of the land inheritance of God, given through Joshua (cf. Joshua 12-19; Deut. 19:14; Job 24:2; Pro. 22:28; 23:10; Hosea 5:10).

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

27:18 "blind person on the road" This may be a Hebrew metaphor for one who gives counsel to someone in an area in which he is not expert and thus gives bad counsel. Because of the compassionate characteristics of Deuteronomy, I think this may simply be saying not to take advantage of the handicapped (cf. Lev. 19:14).

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

27:19 This is paralleled in 24:17 and shows no partiality or taking of a bribe in 1:17; 10:17; 16:19. The verb "distort" (BDB 639, KB 692,Hiphil participle) means "turn," but here and 16:19; 24:17; and Exod. 23:6, it denotes a perverting or twisting of that which is right/just.

"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.'"

27:20 "lies with" This (BDB 1011, KB 1486, Qal participle) is a euphemism for "sexual relationship," usually of a restricted nature (i.e., incest, bestiality, or homosexuality, cf. Lev. 20:11,12,13,18,20; Deut. 27:20,21,22,23). Human sexuality is both a divine gift and a powerful urge. It must be defined and regulated for a peaceful, long-lasting society. For a good discussion of sexual regulations in ancient Israel see NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 1198-1211.

Incest affected the stability of the home and family as well as the society. The exact persons from whom one is prohibited from marrying changes from culture to culture, but all cultures of the Ancient Near East (except the Egyptian royal family) have rules about incest!

▣ "father's skirt" This is a symbol of the act of marriage (cf. 22:30; Lev. 18:8). This is another violation of honor. It typifies sin as more and more for me at any cost!

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

27:21 "Cursed is he who lies with any animal" This is prohibited in Lev. 18:23; 20:15. Exodus 22:19 and Luke 15:23 show contextually this has to do with idolatry (i.e., ritual magic from Ugarit). Hittite texts show cohabiting with sacred animals symbolized unity with deity.

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

27:22 These are part of the laws of incest (cf. Leviticus 18).

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

27:23 This prohibition is recorded in Lev. 18:8; 20:14.

"Cursed is he who strikes his neighbor in secret. And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'"

27:24-25 These verses deal with murder (cf. 5:17; Exod. 20:13; 21:12; Lev. 24:17,21). A murder polluted all the land (cf. 21:1-9).

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

27:25 This is recorded in Exod. 23:6-8. This could refer to (1) an assassin or (2) a bribed judge who has a person put to death.

"Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them. And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'"

27:26 "Cursed. . .who does not confirm the words of this law" This is a summary verse similar to the closing of the Decalogue. It is quoted by Paul in Gal. 3:10.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is Moses mentioned in the third person?

2. Why is such great importance given to Shechem (Mt. Gerizim)?

3. Why are the blessings not mentioned with the cursing?


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