The curses (Deut 27:11-27:26)

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

Half the tribes bless on Mt. Gerizim, while the other half curse on Mt. Ebal. Instead of the tribal names, this episode uses the original names of the 12 sons of Jacob. The tribe of Joseph is not split up, while Levi is mentioned as 1 of the 12 tribes. These are the 12 negative curses like the 10 Commandments that correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel. They all end with an ‘All the people shall say, Amen!’ so that this must have been a liturgical celebration that everyone joined in.

“Cursed be anyone who makes an idol, anything abhorrent to Yahweh, the work of an artisan, and sets it up in secret. All the people shall say, ‘Amen!’”

1)      Anyone who makes an idol, even though the work of a craftsman is secret, is cursed.   This is like the 1st or 2nd commandment. Everyone agrees with this by saying ‘Amen!’

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

2)      Anyone who dishonors his father or his mother is cursed, like the 4th commandment. Everyone agrees with this by saying ‘Amen!’

“Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark. All the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

3)      Anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark is cursed. This is more like the 10th commandment, coveting your neighbor’s goods. Everyone agrees with this by saying ‘Amen!’

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

4)      Anyone who misleads a blind man on the road is cursed. This might apply to the 8th commandment about lying. Everyone agrees with this by saying ‘Amen!’

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

5)      Anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice is cursed. The Israelites had a very strong sense of justice and fairness, especially to the outcasts and the weak on their society. This might refer to the 7th commandment about stealing. Everyone agrees with this by saying ‘Amen!’

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

6)      Anyone who lies with his father’s wife is cursed because he has violated his father’s rights. This might pertain to the 6th commandment about adultery. Everyone agrees with this by saying ‘Amen!’

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

7)      Anyone who lies with any animal is cursed because this is a sexual deviation pertaining to the 6th commandment. Everyone agrees with this by saying ‘Amen!’

“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’”

8)      Anyone who lies with his sister is cursed, whether it is the daughter of his father or his mother. There seems to be a hang up on sexual problems. Everyone agrees with this by saying ‘Amen!’

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

9)      Anyone who lies with his mother-in-law is cursed. We continue with the sexual taboos, although it is hard to image a mother-in-law as a sexual partner, but here it is. Everyone agrees with this by saying ‘Amen!’

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

10)  Anyone who strikes down a neighbor in secret is cursed. This clearly is about the 5th commandment, killing others. Everyone agrees with this by saying ‘Amen!’

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

11)  Anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood is cursed because this is about the 5th commandment and killing others. Everyone agrees with this by saying ‘Amen!’

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

12)  Anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by observing them is cursed. This is a simple summary. Obey Yahweh or be cursed. Everyone agrees with this by saying ‘Amen!’

This is an interesting list because it includes things that must have been happening in order to forbid them. Some were common sense, about the images, parents, neighbors, blind, aliens, orphans, and widows. However the lying with the father’s wife, animals, sisters, and mother-in-law seem a little strange. Was this a common practice? Why was there such an emphasis on these sexual activities?

The writing of the laws (Deut 27:1-27:10)

“Then Moses and the elders of Israel charged all the people, as follows. ‘Keep the entire commandment that I am commanding you today. On the day that you cross over the Jordan into the land that Yahweh your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and cover them with plaster. You shall write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land that Yahweh your God is giving you. This is a land flowing with milk and honey, as Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, promised you. So when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I am commanding you today, on Mount Ebal. You shall cover them with plaster. You will build up an altar there to Yahweh your God, an altar of stones on which you have not used an iron tool. You must build the altar of Yahweh your God of un-hewn stones. Then offer up burnt offerings on it to Yahweh your God. Make sacrifices of well-being. Eat them there, rejoicing before Yahweh your God. You shall write on the stones all the words of this law very clearly.’”

There is a change of tone. Moses is used in the third person, not the first person ‘I’. These large stone are plastered so that you can write on them. They are to build a stone altar without iron tools, which had been forbidden. This takes place at Mount Ebal, not a place chosen by Yahweh for his name. Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim are the two mountains that surround the Samarian area of the Nabulus valley. The writing of the law commandments takes place here on the plaster.

“Then Moses and the Levitical priests spoke to all Israel. ‘Keep silence. Hear, O Israel! This very day you have become the people of Yahweh your God. Therefore obey Yahweh your God, observing his commandments and his statutes, that I am commanding you today.”

Moses and the Levitical priests talk about today as the day that they become the people of Yahweh, a clear sign of a covenant between Yahweh and Israel.