Moses' third speech, Part 14
Oct 16, 2012
In Deuteronomy 11:26-28, Moses says,
26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you listen to [shema] the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; 28 and the curse, if you do not listen to [shema] the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known.
The list of blessings for obedience is found in Deuteronomy 28:2-14. The curses for disobedience are found in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. We will look more closely at them at the appropriate time.
Moses equates listening, or hearing, with obedience, because the Hebrew word shema can be translated either to hear or to obey. So the King James Version translates it “obey,” while the NASB translates it “listen.” Both are correct.
Moses also tells us that to disobey the commandments is to follow other gods, thus violating the First Commandment. In the New Testament, Paul tells us that the old man of flesh obeys “the law of sin,” while the New Creation Man obeys the law of God (Romans 7:25). Sin is thus personified as another god which the believer is forbidden to follow or to obey, for his commands contradict the law of God.
Paul also speaks of the curse of the law in Galatians 3:10 and 11,
10 For 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. 11 Now that no one is justified by the law before God is evident, for “The righteous man shall live by faith.”
In other words, those who believe that they can find justification before the law by virtue of their good deeds and their desire to be obedient will always find themselves cursed by the law for disobedience. Why? Because the law will always find fault with mortal men, for “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23).
Paul was not advocating disobedience to the law, but was showing that the law cannot justify sinners, for it cannot condone sin in any form. Some have taken Paul’s statements to mean that one must avoid following the laws of God. Such people advocate sin as a means of attaining righteousness. Some over the years have been proud of their sin, for they use it to demonstrate their immunity to the law’s prosecution. They believe that faith gives them immunity from the disciplines of God.
Such people do not understand either Moses or Paul. Jesus did not die on the cross so that we may continue in sin with immunity. Neither does the Holy Spirit indwell us in order to lead us into sin, but rather into conformity to the mind and character of Christ.
Some have taught that to make any attempt to be obedient to the law is to invite the curse of God. Moses, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says precisely the opposite. The curse of the law comes upon the disobedient—not upon the obedient. God never judges us for our obedience, but for our disobedience.
The curse of the law is upon those sinners who come before the law with their portfolio of righteous deeds, not knowing that these cannot negate their sins or prevent the law from judging them as sinners. It requires faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross to be justified. Only then is the law satisfied, for the sinner can claim that the full penalty for his sin has already been paid at the cross. The law is just and will not exact a second penalty from the believer, as if to say that Christ’s payment was insufficient to cover the legal requirement.
And so Moses set before Israel the choice of a blessing for obedience, or a curse for disobedience. The curse of the law is simply the divine judgment incurred for any sin.
He then continues,
29 And it shall come about, when the Lord your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, that you shall place the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal. 30 Are they not across the Jordan, west of the way toward the sunset, in the land of the Canaanites who live in the Arabah, opposite Gilgal, beside the oaks of Moreh?
Moses later gave further instructions in Deuteronomy 27:12 and 13, saying,
12 When you cross the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim 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.
Hence, six tribes were called to bear witness to the blessings of God while standing on Mount Gerizim, while the other six tribes were called to stand on Mount Ebal and bear witness of the curses for disobedience. This was finally done after Jericho and Ai had been conquered. We read in Joshua 8:30-35 (in part),
30 Then Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, in Mount Ebal, 31 just 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. . . 32 And he wrote there on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written, in the presence of the sons of Israel. 33 And all 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. . . 34 Then afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law.
Other than to review the blessings and curses of the law, what was the point of doing it in this particular manner? Why did they have to go to this location? Why did God divide up the twelve tribes into two parts? Was it important that specific tribes be assigned to each mountain?
I believe so.
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)
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 his explanation.
If we break down the name into the basic meaning of its letters, we see that it is spelled: ayin (eye, seeing), yod (work or deed), beth (house), and 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 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”)
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 is the reward of coming into 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”)
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 Chronicles 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 Corinthians 15:54, “death is swallowed up in victory.” Death does not have the final say in the matter.
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” (Romans 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).
Moses concludes by saying in Deuteronomy 11:31 and 32,
31 For you are about to cross the Jordan to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall possess it and live in it, 32 and you shall be careful to do all the statutes and the judgments which I am setting before you today.
This is the fourteenth part of a series titled "Moses' Third Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones