Deuteronomy for Disciples – Deuteronomy 27

(An excerpt from Deuteronomy for Disciples by Alfred Nicholls)

The Divine account records only the cursings, and for a good reason, or so it seems to us: on the threshold of inheritance of the blessings it was the consequences of disobedience, every aspect of which described here was distinctively Canaanitish, which needed spelling out clearly. In accepting this aspect of the law as the sanctions of the covenant, the people were witnessing against themselves, as they were to do later in the learning of the Song. See 31:19–22, noting especially the “therefore” of verse 19, which links the Song with the people’s disobedience foretold in the preceding verses.

Jacob blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, by Benjamin West, 1766-68

What significance can be found in the disposition of the tribes on the mountains, or in their particular rôle in the ceremony? It should first be noted that they are the ancestral tribes, those who were the actual twelve sons of Jacob. Levi is therefore included and Joseph counts as one tribe, whereas in the usual numbering of Israel he is represented by his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. In the patriarchal blessing a “double portion” centred on Shechem was granted to Joseph (Genesis 48:21,22). The ceremony of taking possession – the performing of “the truth to Jacob and the mercy to Abraham” which the Lord had sworn unto their fathers from the days of old – was therefore appropriately in the hands of the representatives of Jacob’s sons.

Moreover, the pronouncing of the blessings upon the people was committed to the more honourable of Jacob’s sons, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin, all with one exception sons of Jacob’s wives Leah and Rachel. The exception is Zebulun, Leah’s youngest son, whose tribe is joined with the four sons of the handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah. Again, appropriately enough in the context of a ceremony marking inheritance, Reuben the firstborn of Jacob is on the mount of the curses, in partial fulfilment of his father’s prophecy that he should not excel. He had forfeited his birthright and put himself on the side of Bilhah’s sons by lying with her (Genesis 35:22; 49:3,4; 1 Chronicles 5:1).

Is there any pattern to the list of sins which came under the formal cursing? We have suggested one above – they were all Canaanite abominations. It is a worthwhile exercise to consider them, the Dodecalogue (the “Twelve Commandments”) as they have been called, in the light of the Decalogue itself. It will be seen that in sum they represent the exact opposite of the conduct of the man in whose heart is the Law of the Lord and who will love his neighbour as himself. This chapter describes the Enactment forcefully, stage by stage until the final curse sets the seal upon it all: “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen”.

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Preceding

Fragments from the Book of Job #4: chapters 27-31

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Additional reading

  1. Only six of ten commandments of God still important to British Christians
  2. Israel Gods people
  3. Holiday making and dreaming
  4. Beautiful feet of those who announce the good news
  5. 1,500 to 1,700 years old Chiselled tablet with commandments sold at auction

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