TODAY’S READING: DEUTERONOMY 26-27
In Dueteronomy 27, Moses gives a fascinating prophecy. At first glance, the list of curses to those on Mt. Ebal is probably what stands out to most. But, I think a careful study will show that Moses’ prophecy was about stones, the building material of God.
Because I’m not going to quote specific passages from the chapter, I suggest you read Deuteronomy 27 before continuing so that it is fresh in your mind.
First, we will look at the outline of the prophecy. Then, we will look at when the prophecy was first fulfilled. Finally, we will look at what the prophecy could mean for us.
MOSES’ PROPHECY ABOUT STONES
Israel would fulfill the prophecy that Moses gave after they crossed over the Jordan into the promised land. What would Israel do?
Moses told Israel to set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. Israel was to write all the words of the law on the plaster of the stones. The stones that were plastered and had the law written on them were to be set up on Mt. Ebal.
Also on Mt. Ebal, Israel was to build an altar of stones. But, they were not allowed to wield an iron tool on the stones of the altar. Therefore, the altar was to be built of uncut stones. On the altar, Israel was to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings.
Next, Moses and the Levitical priests told Israel to keep silent because this day they had become the people of God. Therefore, they would obey the voice of the Lord.
Then, Moses told Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin to stand on Mt. Gerizim to bless the people. And, he told Rueben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali to stand on Mt. Ebal for the curse.
Finally, the Levites were told to declare in a loud voice to all the men of Israel 12 curses that would fall on the disobedient. Each time the people were to say, “Amen,” or so be it.
FULFILLING THE PROPHECY ABOUT STONES
In Joshua 6, the Lord told Joshua that he was giving Jericho into the hand of Joshua. The Lord told Joshua exactly how they were to take the city. Israel followed the commands exactly and the Lord gave them the city just as he said. The people were devoted to destruction and the city burned, but there was no mention of Israel killing anyone.
In Joshua 7 and 8, Israel attempts to take the city Ai. The first time Joshua and Israel set out to take the city on their own. They fail. In the second attempt to take Ai, the Lord tells Joshua that Israel should do to Ai just as they did Jericho. Instead of following the battle plan for Jericho, Joshua hatches his own plan of ambush to capture Ai. Like Jericho, the people were devoted to destruction and the city burned. But, in this battle, there were specific statements that Israel killed 12,000 inhabitants of Ai by striking them down with the edge of the sword.
So, Israel took Jericho with the Lord’s battle plan. There was no specific reference to Israel killing anyone. Jericho means a place of fragrance or his sweet smell. Did Israel offer up a pleasing aroma to the Lord by obeying his command exactly?
But, they took Ai with their own battle plan. We are specifically told that Israel killed 12,000 with the sword. The name Ai comes from the root word awa, which means to twist, to do wrong, to be bent, irritated, or confused. (This root word will be important later). Therefore, the name Ai means a heap of ruins or stones. By creating their own battle plan without hearing the voice of the Lord, did Israel become twisted and bent, which resulted in the actual killing of people and creating a heap of ruins?
It is just after the battle at Ai, where Israel raised over the city a great heap of stones, that Joshua and Israel fulfilled the prophecy of Moses about stones. This is important background to keep in mind as we meditate on what Moses’ prophecy means.
MT. EBAL AND MT. GERIZIM
Mountains are high places. As high places, mountains are believed to put you closer to God. Therefore, throughout the Bible, mountains are viewed as places of worship.
We can start to understand Moses’ prophecy by first understanding the meaning of the names of these two mountains.
Ebal means bulky or stout. Something that is bulky or stout is hard to carry. Ebal possibly has the meaning of bald or bare too. Baldness throughout the Bible is a sign of mourning. Finally, Ebal comes from the same root word, awa, as Ai. So, the name Ebal carries the connotation of twisting, doing wrong, being bent, irritated, or confused.
Gerizim means cut up or cutters. It comes from the root word garaz, which means cut of cut off.
THE TRIBES ON MT. EBAL
The tribes that stood on Mt. Ebal for the curse were Rueben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. This is an interesting collection of tribes.
Reuben was the first born while Zebulun was the sixth, the last, of Leah’s sons. All of the other tribes on Mt. Ebal came from Zilpah and Bilhah, Leah’s and Rachel’s maidservants.
It’s interesting that Leah’s firstborn was on Mt. Ebal. Throughout the Bible, the firstborn is typically passed over so that the second born (or later) son receives the blessing of the father. A few examples are Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, and Manasseh and Ephraim.
Paul speaks directly to this concept of the first born son being passed over in favor of the second and the reason why. In 1 Corinthians 15:45-49, Paul says, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
Therefore, the fact that Leah’s firstborn son Reuben is on Mt. Ebal is telling us that this is the mountain of the flesh, the mountain of the natural. the mountain of the earthly.
Also, it’s interesting that Leah’s sixth son is on Mt. Ebal. The number six symbolizes work in the Bible. God finished his work of creation in six days and rested on the seventh day. In the law, Israel was told that six days they should labor, but the seventh day was a sabbath, a day of rest. So. Mt Ebal is the mount of work.
Also, we can look at the order the tribes were listed on Mt. Ebal and consider the sentences spoken over these sons of Jacob at their birth. If we strung those sentences together, then it would say something like the following.
The Lord has looked upon my affliction. Good fortune has come. Happy I am! For women have called me happy. God has endowed me with a good endowment. Now my husband will honor me because I have borne him six sons. God has judged me. With many wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.
Affliction is a cause of persistent pain or distress. Interestingly, affliction is associated with the day of atonement. The day of atonement is part of the three feasts of Israel held in the seventh month of the year. These three feasts are a picture of Jesus’ second coming.
Speaking of the day of atonement, Leviticus 16:29-31 says, “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves, it is a statute forever.”
How interesting that the list of these tribes starts with affliction, which calls to mind the second coming of Christ. All those that have not received Christ by that time will be afflicted on the day of atonement, not for punishment, but for cleansing. This will lead to happiness, a good endowment, and honor from God.
Further, there will be a realization that God has judged those on Mt. Ebal. Remember that Mt. Ebal represents the natural, the fleshly, the earthly. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Also, Paul says in Romans 8:7-8, “For the mind that is set to on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Thus those on Mt. Ebal say, “God has judged me.”
Interestingly, it is after the declaration that God has judged those on Mt. Ebal that they recognize they have wrestled and won. This calls to mind Romans 6 and 7 where Paul discusses his wrestling between the flesh and the Spirit.
THE TRIBES ON MT. GERIZIM
The tribes that stood on Mt. Gerizim to bless the people were Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin.
All of these tribes were sons of Jacob from his wives Leah and Rachel.
Just like with the tribes on Mt. Ebal, we can use the order of tribes on Mt. Gerizim to arrange the sentences spoken over the sons of Jacob at their birth. This will help us to understand Mt. Gerizim. The sentences would say something like the following.
The Lord has heard that I am hated. Now this time my husband will be attached to me because I have borne him three sons. I will praise the Lord. God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband. God has taken away my reproach. May the Lord add to me another son! The son of my mourning and strength. The son of God’s right hand.
Instead of acknowledging they are afflicted, the tribes on Mt. Gerizim start by acknowledging that the Lord has heard they are hated. In John 15:18-20, Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” The tribes on Mt. Ebal afflict themselves. But, the tribes on Mt. Gerizim are hated because they are not of the world and follow Christ. They are hated just as he was hated.
We understand that the tribes on Mt. Gerizim are the followers of Christ because of the second sentence above, which was spoken over Levi. The husband was now attached because Levi was the third son of Leah. The number three is the period of time between death and life all throughout the Bible. In the beginning, the earth was without form and void. In other words, it was dead. But, on the third day, the land, from which came all life, rose up out of the seas. On the third day of creation, life came out of death.
If you read carefully, then you will notice that an unbelievably large number of events in the Bible occur on the third day. Why? Because Jesus rose from the grave on the third day. Jesus brought eternal life from death on the third day.
So, the tribes on Mt. Gerizim are a picture of those people that have believed the gospel – Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected on the third day. Those that believe this are now attached to Jesus. They are members of his body.
For this very reason, that they have become members of the Lord’s body, the tribes on Mt. Gerizim praise the Lord.
God has given them their wages, or their inheritance, now because they recognize that the servant, Jesus, gave himself to the husband, God.
This understanding takes away the reproach of the tribes on Mt. Gerizim. They received the forgiveness of God. And, because they are in Christ, they are not under condemnation.
These tribes recognize that they have another son. This son was at first perceived to be a son of mourning. But, the son of mourning was also the son of strength, the son of God’s right hand, Jesus.
The story of the tribes of Mt. Gerizim is certainly different than the story of the tribes on Mt. Ebal.
LARGE STONES COVERED IN PLASTER AND THE LAW ON MT. EBAL
Moses told Israel to set up large stones on Mt. Ebal. Israel was to plaster them with plaster and write the law on them.
Throughout the Bible, we see man building with brick – think Pharaoh and Egypt and Nimrod and the city of Babylon. In contrast, we see God that is always building with stone.
These large stones that were to be set up on Mt. Ebal were to represent the people on Mt. Ebal.
So, what does it mean that Israel was to plaster these large stones with plaster?
The Hebrew word for plaster is sid. It is only used six times in the Old Testament. As a verb it means to paint with lime. And, as a verb, sid is only found in Deuteronomy 27. Four times it is used as noun. Twice in Deuteronomy 27 where it means limestone. The other two uses are related to burning, which is interesting because limestone is the only stone that you can actually burn (keep this in mind).
So, these stones were painted with limestone. And, on the limestone, on the outside, was written all the words of the law. Does this remind you of anything Jesus said?
To paint something with limestone is to white wash it. In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So, you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Jesus’ statement exactly describes the large stones painted with limestone and the law written on the outside, which exactly describes the people on Mt. Ebal. They appear outwardly beautiful, outwardly righteous, through their keeping of the law, but inwardly they are full of death, uncleanness, and hypocrisy.
In Matthew 23, Jesus speaks seven “woes” to the scribes and Pharisees. I believe this is a complete (the number seven represents completion) warning to them of the 12 curses spoken to the tribes on Mt. Ebal.
Now, we see why these tribes are standing on Mt. Ebal. Remember, Mt. Ebal means bulky and stout. The law is a heavy burden that is difficult to carry around. In Romans 7:24, Paul says, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul is speaking of the old man that was beholden to the law but crucified that he is still carrying around. Those on Mt. Ebal are still carrying the bulkiness of this body themselves.
Also, Mt. Ebal is associated with baldness. And, baldness is associated with mourning. To constantly attempt to meet the demands of the law on your own will leave you in a state of mourning.
The tribes on Mt. Ebal are associated with the fleshly or carnal man and work. The carnal man still strives through his own work to achieve the righteousness of the law. In Galatians 2:16, Paul says, “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law.” And, Galatians 3:10 says, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.” This is why the Levites spoke loudly curses for the tribes on Mt. Ebal. These tribes stand as picture for the curse of the law.
AN ALTAR OF UNCUT STONES
Israel was told to build an altar of uncut stones on Mt. Ebal for burnt offerings and peace offerings. The stones were not to be worked by an iron tool. Therefore, they were not to be worked by the hands of men.
This speaks to Christ and his work as the burnt and peace offering. The cross, the altar of Christ, was the work of God alone. The cross was an uncut stone. No man has a hand in the work of acceptance and peace with God that Jesus brought by laying down his life for us.
How amazing that this altar is on Mt. Ebal, specifically for those that remain under the curse of the law and yet to be afflicted on the day of atonement and judged by God. Jesus became the curse for them. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”
CUT STONES ON MT. GERIZIM
Recall that Mt. Gerizim means cut or cutters.
Also, recall that the tribes on Mt. Gerizim picture those that have come to Jesus.
1 Peter 2:4-5 says, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians 2:19-22 says, “You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
All those on Mt. Gerizim are living stones. And, in order for them to be built up a spiritual house, to be joined together, they had to be cut. These stones had to be chiseled and scraped in order that they would fit together smoothly to become the temple of the Spirit.
This is in contrast to the stones on Mt. Ebal that were large and bulky. Stones that aren’t cut can only be heaped into a pile. Just like Israel did at the city of Ai after their disobedience to God and just before they fulfilled Moses’ prophecy about stones in Joshua 8.
ALL THE STONES BECOME THE PEOPLE OF GOD
There’s an interesting facet to Moses’ prophecy about the stones though.
Deuteronomy 27:9-10 says, “Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the Lord your God. You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.”
Did you see it?
Moses says to all Israel that they have become the people of God. He doesn’t limit the people of God to the tribes on Mt. Gerizim, which are the picture of those who have received Christ and were called to bless the people. No, Moses even includes those on Mt. Ebal, those large, whitewashed stones that had the law written on them and stood for the curse, in the people of God.
Remember that I said limestone was the only stone that can burn?
At Christ’s second coming, the whitewash, the plaster with the law written on it, will be burned away so that the large stone underneath will be all that remains. God can build with that stone.
It brings to my mind what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.
“Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
So, which are you?
Are you the large, bulky stone under the plaster with the law written on it still working to achieve the righteousness of the law through your own work?
Or, are you the cut stone that has received Christ to be built into a spiritual house to bless the people?