A Picturesque Ceremony
Dr. Joe Temple


We want to remind you of the analysis of the book of Deuteronomy which we have presented to you consistently. We are actually going to begin the discussion of a new section of the book of Deuteronomy, and that being true, I think it would be wise for us to fix in our mind the manner in which the book has been divided or has been analyzed. Keep in mind that we have suggested to you that the book is made up of three discourses. The first discourse, chapters 1-4, represented a review of the past failures of the nation of Israel while they were in Egypt, while they were in the wilderness. The second discourse is a repetition of God's law and it is found in chapters 5-26. We have just completed a discussion of that second discourse, so it would follow that we are going to begin a discussion of the third discourse which begins with chapter 27 and goes through chapter 31.

Keep in mind that these are discourses which were delivered by Moses as the children of Israel dwelt in the plains of Moab this side of Jordan. The purpose of these discourses was to prepare their hearts to enter into the land of Canaan in complete and full and unreserved obedience.

We pointed out to you that this period of time in which the discourses were delivered constituted forty days. This is not to say that Moses spoke forty days and nights without stopping, but it was something like some of our old fashioned, protracted meetings or some of our old camp meetings—a period of meeting which extended over a period of time.

The third discourse was followed by The Song of Moses . This is the song that Moses sang, celebrating the victory that God had given concerning the deliverance of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt and their proposed entrance into the promised land.

In chapter 33, we have what we refer to as a blessing because it constituted a blessing which Moses pronounced upon each of the twelve tribes. It was of a prophetic nature.

Then in chapter 34 we have what we refer to as the obituary because it tells the manner in which Moses died, how God was the only Person Who attended his funeral and how God is the only individual Who knows where the body of Moses is buried even to this day. There will be some interesting reasons for that which will come to light as we discuss that particular chapter.

An Analysis of the Third Discourse

As we begin our study of the third discourse, we would like to present an analysis of it because we are not going to cover the entire discourse. That would be more meat than I think would be good for us and certainly more than we would have time for. As we offer this analysis of the third discourse, we might remind you that in chapter 27, we find what I have been pleased to call A Picturesque Ceremony , and that is what we will be discussing.

It is an interesting thing to notice that the second discourse ended with the ceremony which we described to you last week. The third discourse begins with a very picturesque and impressive ceremony. Chapter 28 deals with prophetic blessings and cursing . When we make that statement, we would like for you to keep in mind that the prophecy or the prophetic character not only related to prophecy as far as Moses was concerned, but it is related to prophecy as far as we are concerned, for there is some of it yet to be fulfilled.

As I have suggested to you any number of times, we are living in what I believe to be an exciting generation because we are seeing in this generation the fulfillment of some of the prophecies in this chapter which have lain dormant for centuries. It is our privilege in this generation to see the beginning of their fulfillment.

In chapters 29-30, we have the third part of this third discourse which I have referred to as the Palestinian Covenant . This is a phrase that is familiar to you if you have sat under the teaching of the Word of God in any measure at all. There are a number of covenants in the Scripture, as you know, the Edenic Covenant being the first one, and the Adamic Covenant, the Noahic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant and the Palestinian Covenant are among those that are the better known. The one under which we live at the present time is called the New Covenant . Covenant simply means “an agreement.” The Palestinian Covenant, which is discussed in chapters 29-30, is going to describe for us the agreement that God made with the children of Israel concerning the land of Palestine.

This portion of the third discourse will answer some of the questions that the United Nations is going to have to face and will have to make decisions about unless something is done because the United Nations is going to have to decide whether Palestine has a right to the land which she has taken from the Arabs. The Arabs say she hasn't and the Israelites say they have. We are going to have to agree with the Israelites, but not for the same reasons. The Israelites say they have a right to this land because they have captured it. We say they have a right to it because God has promised it to them.

We must keep in mind as we make that statement that the Bible plans and prepares for the possession of that land not by the means of force, but by His own provision and in His own time, though He will use and does use the means of men quite often to accomplish His purpose and plan. The only reason we bring this up is to remind you that we are living in an age when the groundwork is being laid for the fulfillment of the prophetic Word.

This last portion of this third discourse will be found in chapter 31. For the sake of alliteration and as an aid to your memory, we have referred to it as Personal Charges . These are personal charges which Moses delivered to the children of Israel just before they went into the land of promise when they were warned of what God would expect of them and would demand of them.

Location of the Ceremony

Open your Bibles, please, to Deuteronomy, chapter 27, which describes this picturesque ceremony to which I have referred. When you read chapter 27, you should always read Joshua, chapter 8, because this chapter represents the fulfillment of the suggestion of Deuteronomy, chapter 27, and in the fulfillment you find some additional information which answers some of the questions which naturally arise in the presentation in Deuteronomy, chapter 27. We read from verse 1:

Deuteronomy 27:

1And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day.
2And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaister them with plaister:
3And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over, that thou mayest go in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the Lord God of thy fathers hath promised thee.
4Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaister them with plaister.
5And there shalt thou build an altar unto the Lord thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them.
6Thou shalt build the altar of the Lord thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord thy God:
7And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the Lord thy God.
8And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly.
9And Moses and the priests the Levites spake unto all Israel, saying, Take heed, and hearken, O Israel; this day thou art become the people of the Lord thy God.
10Thou shalt therefore obey the voice of the Lord thy God, and do his commandments and his statutes, which I command thee this day.
11And Moses charged the people the same day, saying,

Then there are listed for us twelve things that are related to acts of disobedience, which we are not going to read for purposes which should be evident if you have read the chapter. We will have something to say about them in a few moments.

Turn to the book of Joshua, chapter 8, and notice a reference to this same thing that we are describing here in Deuteronomy, chapter 27. Notice this same thing and notice some additional information. In Joshua, chapter 8, verse 30, we see that the people of Ai had been defeated by the victorious army of Joshua, so we read in verse 30:

Joshua 8:

30Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in mount Ebal,
31As Moses the servant of the Lord commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings.
32And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.
33And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side before the priests the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, as well the stranger, as he that was born among them; half of them over against mount Gerizim, and half of them over against mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel.
34And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law.
35There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.

Back over to Deuteronomy, chapter 27. We remind you that if you were listening carefully to the passage of Scripture, you discovered some information that was not revealed in Deuteronomy, chapter 27. I think it would be wise for us to fix in our minds geographically exactly where all of this was taking place. Close to the Red Sea in the land of Moab were the children of Israel as they listened to these discourses to which we have referred over this period of forty days. As they got ready to enter into the land, they were told that they should leave this area where they were and go across the River Jordan and go to these two mountains called Ebal and Gerizim. There was a valley between the two. These two mountains on this side of Jordan were the geographical location of the events that are described in this chapter.

I would like for us to summarize all of the material that we have read so that we will have in our minds exactly what we did read about and after we have summarized the material attempt to learn the spiritual lessons which God would have us learn. Between the two mountains, there were gathered the Levites whose responsibility it was to carry the Ark of the Covenant. It was in this place that Joshua stood and read portions of the Word of God. It was in this place that the Levites stood with the Ark of the Covenant, symbol of the presence of God in their midst, indicating that all that was being done was being done in the presence of God. On Mount Ebal there were gathered six of the tribes of Israel. These six tribes were all the sons of the wives of Jacob. Over on Mount Gerizim were six other tribes of the children of Israel. Four of these were related to the sons of Jacob's concubines. Two of his sons belonging to his wives were on this mountain. One of them was Reuben, who because of his sin had forfeited his life to the blessings of the firstborn, and the other was Zerubbabel who was the youngest of all the sons. In the particular economy of the day, the youngest son had no particular representative life. I would not insist that there is any significance that this is the manner in which they were presented, but there may be.

On Mount Ebal there were two things built, as you probably remember from the reading of the Word. One of them was a monument made of stone upon which was engraved the law. Then, after the engraving, the plaster was put on. It is an interesting thing to notice how the critics harp and make fun and say, “The idea of God's telling them to write the law on plastered stone. Plaster would stand up in a land like Egypt, but it wouldn't stand up in a land like Palestine.”

What they did not know or are evidently ignoring is that it was the habit in that day to write laws on tables of stone and then plaster over the engraving as a means of preservation. The plaster was not the same as what we might refer to as plaster today. All of you in history have studied of the laws of Hammurabi which were on tables of stone and indicated the advancement of the thinking of the people of that day.

On this mountain, as well as the tables of stone, was an altar made out of old stones upon which the various sacrifices were offered. From Mount Ebal were pronounced all of the curses that are included in the passage of Scripture which we read and as we recall what we read in Joshua, chapter 8, perhaps other curses as well. This is probably a sampling of what was read from Mount Ebal as far as cursing is concerned.

God said that blessing should be read from Mount Gerizim, but the interesting thing is that though the blessings were supposed to have been read, they were not read. Is there any significance to that? Is there any lesson God would have us learn?

We are going to make some suggestions to you without being dogmatic about them. Perhaps they will bring to mind some blessings that are related to the law and to grace. The people who were standing on these two mountains, Ebal and Gerizim, were to shout “amen” after the reading of each of the laws. You can imagine what a tremendous ceremony this must have been and what a thrilling ceremony it must have been as the law was read, and immediately after each portion of the law was read, the people on each mountain, something like antiphonal choirs, shouting “amen” to what was said. The purpose of that “amen,” we will see by and by, but this is but a brief summary of what we have read together in the chapter.

I would be willing to say to you that if we stopped right here, you would have some information. If you read this chapter and did not ask the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart in any particular way about it, you would have some information that would be of interest, but I don't know that you would have anything that would be of real spiritual benefit to you. As we have pursued the study of the Old Testament through the years and the teaching of the Old Testament, we have endeavored to glean from it that which could be related to our own spiritual lives, that which would be what we have sometimes called reminders of spiritual truths. So I would like to take this lesson, which we have considered, and notice some of the spiritual truths which have been brought to my mind from this very practical lesson.

Names of the Mountains

One of the first spiritual truths that has been brought to my mind might be related to the names of the mountains, the names of the mountains that are related to the story. These names we have already noticed.

Why these two mountains particularly, above all the other mountains that might have been chosen in the land? I have suggested to you that the names of places and people in the Old Testament are not given by accident. They were always given because they bore some significance.

Mount Ebal was the name of one of the mountains and that particular mountain had for its name a Hebrew word which means barren . I suppose if you wanted to consider this purely from a physical, material standpoint, you would say, “I guess the reason that it was called barren is that it was a rocky mountain and it had a rocky mountain top upon which nothing of any particular value could grow.”

In a sense, I suppose that is true; and yet, I see an interesting lesson in the fact that this Mount Ebal, which was called barren, was the place upon which the tables of the law were placed. It was the location from which the curses were pronounced. I find in that an interesting suggestion borne out by the rest of the Word of God—namely, that the law can only be the source of cursing, never the source of blessing, and the individual who is legalistic in his outlook and approach is an individual who lives as barren a life as the barrenness of this mountain top upon which the law was placed.

Turn in your Bibles, please, to the book of Galatians, chapter 4, for re-emphasis of the fact that the law can bring no blessing into the hearts and lives of individuals. The Apostle Paul was greatly concerned that the Galatians, who had tasted of the liberty which was in Christ, because they were mistaught were falling back into a legalistic approach to the truth. We do the same thing today. We see individuals in this age of grace forcing themselves to live under the law, depriving themselves of all of the blessings that God intended for men of grace to enjoy. Notice these words in verse 10:

Galatians 3:

10For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
11But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

If people take the Scripture at its face value, we wonder why anyone would be interested at all in going back under the law. It would be just as foolish, as far as we are concerned, as trying to live on top of Mount Ebal in a barren, empty place.

The name of the other mountain attracts our attention. It was Mount Gerizim. Mount Gerizim literally means “cut off.” I suppose that one of the reasons physically that this mountain was given this name was that it was somewhat inaccessible. It was of difficult approach. It was cut off, but I see the wisdom of the Spirit of God in choosing this particular mountain as the place (listen carefully now) from which the blessings of God should be pronounced. Remember, the blessings of God were not pronounced from Ebal, the barren mountain. They were pronounced from Gerizim, the mountain which means “cut off.”

The reason that this holds interest for me is that this is the very phrase which is used in Isaiah, chapter 53, concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, Who made possible our blessing without the means of the law, for it is recorded in Isaiah, chapter 53, that the Lord Jesus Christ, in bearing our sins, was cut off in the midst of His own generation. He died for our sins. Glance down at Galatians, chapter 3, verse 13, for a New Testament verification of that truth, where you read:

Galatians 3:

13Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

So as we look, we trust without overstretching the matter for reminders of spiritual truths in this particular section of the Word of God, we are reminded that there is a wonderful truth revealed in the very names of the mountains upon which this picturesque ceremony took place. There is on Ebal, where the law was, nothing but barrenness. There is on Gerizim, from which the blessings came, nothing but peace.

Objects on the Mountain

Let's keep that in mind as we continue thinking of the reminders of spiritual truths which we yet might find on this particular occasion as I suggest to you that I find some interesting spiritual truths in the objects which were on the mountain. Remember that on Mount Ebal, there were certain objects; on Mount Gerizim, there were no objects.

The first thing that is brought to our attention on Mount Ebal is what we have designated the tables of stone . The tables of stone were that upon which the law of God was written. Go back to Deuteronomy, chapter 27, and you will recall that we pointed out to you some things about the manner in which the law was written on the stones. It was engraven in the stones, we learned. Then it was plastered over with plaster to insure its permanency. We emphasize that because the law of God is just as real today as it was when it was given on Mount Sinai.

I emphasize that because sometimes in our teaching, we leave the wrong impression. We say, for example, that the law has been done away with, and that is absolutely true as a manner of life for you as a believer. The law was done away with. We say that the law was weak, and we leave the impression that there was something wrong with the law. Yet God never had anything to do with any imperfection.

Paul's letter to the Romans tells us why the law was weak. It wasn't because anything was wrong with the law. It was because it was weak through the flesh—our flesh, for what we could not do in the flesh, God's sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the law.

What we are suggesting to you is that God's moral law is everlasting. I think one of the illustrations related to that is that every one of the Ten Commandments, with the exception of the one related to the Sabbath day, is repeated in the New Testament as one of the works accomplished by the Holy Spirit in the life of believers. For example, one of the Ten Commandments is, “Thou shalt not steal.” In Ephesians, chapter 4, among other places, we are told that the individual who is controlled by the Holy Spirit will not steal, but should he steal, then he is grieving the Holy Spirit.

The point that I am trying to make is that though we are not under law and are under grace, and thank God we are, it does not mean that we should use our liberty as an occasion to the flesh. I am of the opinion that a great many people misinterpret grace for anarchy and have no real discipline in their lives at all. The discipline of the law I would not recommend in this age of grace because it would be like putting old wine in new wine skins, but I would emphasize, recommend and encourage the discipline of the Spirit.

I believe that is why you find another object on top of that mountain. You recall that right beside the tables of stone was placed the altar. The tables of stone would have kept Ebal a barren mountain forever with the curse and condemnation of men being an extended, eternal thing, but the altar there by the tables of stone reminds us that God, as certainly as He wrote down the law on tables of stone, provided an altar whereby all the requirements written on the law would be met. Glance with me again at chapter 27 and you will notice some things about this altar that should be of interest to you. Notice in verse 5:

Deuteronomy 27:

5And there shalt thou build an altar unto the Lord thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them.
6Thou shalt build the altar of the Lord thy God of whole stones…

This altar could not be built with anything that had been tainted by human effort. If they had quarried these stones and shaped them with any iron tool, then they could have stood to their feet around the altar and rejoiced in their craftsmanship. So, God said, “The altar must be built, but it must be built out of stones as you find them, not any stones upon which you have done any work at all.” Then you will notice in verse 6:

Deuteronomy 27:

6Thou shalt build the altar of the Lord thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord thy God:
7And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and [now notice] rejoice before the Lord thy God.

Isn't it an interesting thing that God did not suggest that they rejoice at the foot of the tables of stone which were erected? No suggestion of rejoicing there, because there is no rejoicing in the law. If the altar had not been built, there would not have been any rejoicing whatsoever on Mount Ebal, but because the altar was there, the people, even though the curses were pronounced from that altar, could gather round the altar itself and rejoice, not in the law that condemned, but in the sacrifice offered upon the altar which eliminated the condemnation.

Pronouncements from the Mountain

The third thing that I want to suggest to you that might be a reminder of spiritual truths as we have looked at our story could be considered under what we have termed the pronouncements from the mountain . What were the things which were said from the top of the mountain? As we have emphasized repeatedly, from Mount Ebal there came the curses which are listed in chapter 27 which, if you have observed carefully, number twelve.

If you are interested in the numerics of the Scripture, you will find a significance in that. There were twelve tribes. That might have been one reason. But the more significant reason is that twelve is the number of government, and curses are always related to government. They are never related to grace. You see, if God dealt with us according to the law, then every disobedience would receive its just recompense of reward. You wouldn't get by doing what some of you have formed the habit of doing before you slip into bed, saying, “Lord, if I have committed any sin today, I acknowledge it to you and I confess it.” You wouldn't get by with that. As soon as you had committed that sin, judgment would fall because when God deals in government, every disobedience receives a just recompense of reward. That could be the reason for the twelve curses.

You will find that some of these curses are dealt with in relation to the Ten Commandments. Some of these curses were dealt with in relation to the civil laws which were discussed when we were thinking about Moses' second discourse. The last one would seem to cover the whole story. They all have this one thing in common which is significant to me and something that I can't overlook; and that is that every single one of them are related to sins which are done in private, sins which are done in secret, sins which no one would be apt to know about unless they were developing keyhole eyes. This is something that only God knows about in relation to these sins.

Perhaps there is another lesson related to the matter of the law and of sin and that is that God knows the very secret things of our hearts. He is omniscient and all that we think or do is naked and open before Him. I don't know how that impresses you, but it reminds me again of how very much we need God's grace.

There is a sense in which you might be very careful about the outward things that you do, so that outwardly your life would be perfect enough that nobody could put their finger on anything, but what about the secret resources of your heart? I wouldn't ask you to stand up and give testimony to this fact, but if I were to ask that, I wonder how many of you could stand up and say, “In the secret recesses of my heart, God cannot find anything to condemn me for.” I very seriously doubt that anybody here could make claim to that. That is why, Beloved, we emphasize again that you need God's grace.

That is the reason for the last word that we call to your attention at the moment. That word is blessings . They were (notice what I am saying) supposed to come from Mount Gerizim, but there was no record of those blessings. You see, there was a record of the curses, but there is no record of the blessings. If they were ever pronounced, nobody ever recorded them, which makes me wonder if they were ever pronounced. If I am right about that, I wonder if there is not a reminder of a spiritual truth in the very absence of the pronouncement of blessing. What blessings could be pronounced so long as the law was the order of the day?

I just throw this out to provoke your thinking. Do you know there is only one mountain in the Bible from which any blessings were pronounced? Notice what I am saying—one mountain from which any blessings were pronounced. Of course you might say, “I know of a mountain in which some blessings were secured.” Well, I do, too, and I thank God for that. That was Mount Calvary. On Mount Calvary, the blessings of the world were secured. There is no question about that, but there were no blessings pronounced from that mountain.

Do you remember in Matthew, chapter 5, how the Lord Jesus Christ went out and sat down on the mountain and said, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for they shall inherit the kingdom of God,” and others that we commonly refer to as The Beatitudes . Though there is a spiritual value in the pronouncement from the Mount of Olives, we have reminded you before and we would re-emphasize again that those blessings will never become realities for the human race until the Lord Jesus Christ has returned to the earth and has set up His millennial reign upon the earth, because what you find in Matthew, chapter 5, very definitely is related to the constitution of the kingdom. Yet, God didn't leave us without a mountain of blessing.

You will recall that in the discussion presented, we said that these individuals stood on the mountains and when the various blessings and cursings were offered, they shouted, “Amen.” Did you know that in the Greek New Testament and in the Hebrew Old Testament, the word amen is transliterated? It is not translated, but it is transliterated—the only word in both Testaments so used. In the Old Testament, the phonetic pronunciation of the Hebrew word is amen . The interesting thing about this transliteration of the word is that it is transliterated because it is so difficult to translate.

I suppose all of you have at some time or other heard someone say, “Amen” in church. At the end of some of our prayers, we may say, “Amen,” and sometimes there are choral responses that say, “Amen.” Some of you who have been in services where folk are a little bit more vocal then they tend to be here, will say, “Amen,” when the preacher says something. When those amens come at the right place and from the right hearts, that is good. There is nothing wrong with that, but I have discovered through the years that sometimes folk use this word amen very carelessly. I remember one time preaching about the glories of Heaven and I got a lot of amens . Then I changed the tenor of the message and began to preach about the horrors of Hell, and I got a lot of amens with the same tone and fervor as I did when I was talking about Heaven.

Why am I saying that to you? Because, Beloved, I want you to realize that in the sacred Word this word, amen, was a very serious word. It was never used lightly. The nearest thing to a translation, or maybe paraphrase would be, “We will be faithful.” So every time that God said, “Cursed be the man that does so-and-so,” and they said, “Amen,” that meant, “We will be faithful. We will not yield to this sin. We will do the thing that needs to be done.” And should the blessings have been pronounced, “God will bless the man who is obedient,” back would come the response, “Amen. We will be obedient because we want the blessing of God.”


May we close our remarks by saying, Beloved, don't say, “Amen,” even in your heart unless you mean what you say, unless you intend to be faithful. Don't make light of sacred language and grieve the heart of God.

Home Bible Studies Books King James
Abilene Bible Church
Dr. Daiqing Yuan Tim Temple Dr. Joe Temple
Some icons on this site used courtesy FatCow Web Hosting