shall we escape from these curses and receive God’s blessings when we
can never perfectly obey God’s law? We are to march from the Ebal, the
Mount of Cursing to Gerizim, the Mount of Blessing, through the perfect
obedience of another Man.
Moses on Mount Sinai by Jean-LÃ©on GÃ©rÃ´me, 1824-1904 (click to enlarge)
The issue of hope for the blessings of peace and
prosperity of a nation is nothing new. If it's not governed by a godly
leader what does God's word say might be true? Israel was once such a
nation. It was the only political nation in human history that God
called his chosen people—no one before it, no one after it. As such,
most of God’s civil and ceremonial laws were given exclusively to them.
God’s covenant promises to Israel were clear: “Obey my commandments and
you shall live and be blessed in the Promised Land. Disobey and you
shall be cursed and driven away from the land.”
text takes us forty years after Israel escaped from their slavery in
Egypt and wandered in the wilderness. They are now finally at the River
the gate to the Promised Land of Canaan. On the third month after they
left Egypt, they arrived at Mount Sinai where God gave them the Book of
the Covenant as the rule for their doctrine, worship and life. Now forty
years later, Moses gathers them one last time and renews God’s covenant
reminds them of God’s commandments for their worship, their life as
God’s people, and their life as a nation. Unlike us, they had single
citizenship: their allegiance is only to God, the King of Israel. The
laws of their nation are God’s laws.
commands them that
after they enter and conquer the land, they are to go to Shechem where
there are two mountains: Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. Before these two
mountains, they are to renew their vows to God. At Mount Gerizim, they
will hear God’s blessings for obedience, and at Mount Ebal, they will
hear God’s curses for disobedience.
We will study the implications of these two mountains to Israel and to us today:
1. Ebal: The Mount of Cursing
2. Gerizim: The Mount of Blessing
Ebal: The Mount of CursingIn Joshua 8:30-35,
we read more details about how the covenant renewal at Shechem took
place after they crossed the Jordan River and conquered that part of the
Promised Land. The twelve tribes divided themselves into two groups,
six tribes on the slopes Mount Ebal, and the other six on Mount Gerizim.
The two groups straddled the narrow mountain pass between the two
mountains, with the Ark of the Covenant surrounded by the Levites
in their midst. The tribes on Mount Ebal listened to God’s curses for
disobedience; the tribes before Mount Gerizim listened to God’s
blessings for obedience. In the hearing of all the people, together with
all sojourners, Joshua and the Levites read the whole Book of the
Covenant “with a loud voice” (Deut 27:14), and the people responded with their vows. In the
history and drama of redemption, these places and the ceremony itself
are significant in their symbolism. Shechem is the place where God first
repeated his promises to Abraham when he arrived in Canaan (Gen 12:6-7). Under the leadership of Moses and Joshua, God again makes his promises of blessing to Israel, Abraham’s descendants. Gerizim
is also the site of the temple that the Samaritans built as their
counterpart to the Jerusalem temple. They believed that Joshua built the
altar on Gerizim and not on Ebal. When the Samaritan woman mentioned
that her people worshiped on this mountain, she was probably including
Abraham and Jacob who built altars in the same region. But Jesus
countered by declaring that “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father”¦ “when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and
truth” (John 4:21-24).
higher portions of Mount Ebal are barren rock—the name means “bald
stone”—where only thistles and shrubs grow. Gerizim’s lower slopes are
abundant in fountains and are beautifully cultivated with much olive and
the group to whom the curses where shouted were made to stand on Â the
barren and fruitless slopes of Mount Ebal, while the group to whom
blessings were read stood on the fertile and fruitful slopes of Mount
The list of tribes in Deuteronomy 27:12-13 composing
the two groups is also striking. Those on Mount Ebal, the mount of
cursing, are the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and
Naphtali, sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, slave women of Jacob’s two lawful
wives. Those on Mount Gerizim are Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph,
and Benjamin. Those on Gerizim, the mount of blessing, are children of
Jacob’s lawful wives, Leah and Rachel (Gen 35:23-26).
Reuben is the exception—though he was one of Leah’s legitimate sons, he
was cursed because he had sexual relations with Bilhah, his father’s
(Gen 35:22; 1 Chron
they arrive at Mount Ebal, Joshua was to build an altar for burnt and
peace offerings to the Lord to atone for their sins and to thank God for
his blessings. But God added a
command about the building of the altar, “You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones” (Deut 27:5-6).
Why uncut stones? God is saying that the Israelites should not think
that they could make the worship of God better by making an elaborate
altar. Even one mark of a cutting tool would corrupt the worship of God. At
Mount Ebal, the Levites shouted a list of twelve curses on the people
for disobedience that included idolatry, dishonoring father and mother,
dishonesty, stealing, lying, sexual immorality, and murder
(Deut 27:15-26). Â This is also what we find in the Decalogue. The last curse is a summary of all the other curses, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.“
severity of curses is emphasized in Deuteronomy Chapter 28 where 54
verses (15-68) are devoted to curses, while only 14 verses list the
blessings (1-14). All kinds of curses proceed from
disobedience—pestilence, famine, disease, barrenness, sword—ending in
destruction and exile by Assyria in 722 BC and Babylon in 586 BC. “The
Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and
frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed
and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you
have forsaken me“ (Deut 28:20). Even their Temple was destroyed. Finally, like sheep without a shepherd, they were scattered all throughout the earth:
the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth
to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone,
which neither you nor your fathers have known. And among these nations
you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting placeÂ (verses 64-65).
they became profane and unclean, God spit them out of his holy land.
Their numbers decreased so greatly that only a tiny remnant of 50,000
returned to Canaan after their exile to Babylon and Persia. Such was
Israel’s misery and destruction for disobedience.
the terror and misery of the curses on Israel as a result of God’s
wrath for their disobedience was just a foretaste of the terror and
anguish of hell that our Lord Jesus Christ suffered in his life and
death on the cross. On Mount Ebal, Israel sacrificed burnt offerings for
their sins, a foreshadow of the final sacrifice that God himself will
offer for our sins: Christ’s death on the cross.
We are an accursed people because of our disobedience, “For
all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written,
â€˜Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the
Book of the Law, and do them’” (Gal 3:10).
Like the tribes on Mount Ebal, we are children of slaves, and we
ourselves are slaves of sin. The altar of good works that we build is
not a sacrifice that rises as a pleasing aroma to God, because without
faith in God’s final sacrifice of his only-begotten Son, our good works
are filthy rags, a bad taste, and a repulsive stench before God. But
Christ’s sacrifice removes the curse from us, “Christ redeemed us
from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13), “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2).