Topical Studies

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What the Bible says about Mount Ebal, Curses from
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Deuteronomy 27:1-8

What God says is perplexing for at least three reasons:

1. Why did God command the building of the altar on Ebal, the mountain of cursing?

2. Why were the stones on which the law was written to go on Ebal and not on the mountain of blessing, Mount Gerizim?

3. Why did God limit the type of sacrifices to be offered on that altar to burnt and peace (fellowship) sacrifices? Why no sin offerings? After all, in the symbology, Mount Ebal is related to disobedience, the cause of the curse. Symbolically, Ebal relates to rebellion and sin, but no sin offering was to be offered there.

In considering the puzzle, notice Matthew 25:12, where Christ tells the five unwise virgins, “I do not know you.” They were running out of oil—short of God's Holy Spirit. In I Corinthians 2:14, Paul avers that individuals lacking God's Spirit are unable “to see spiritual things” (The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition). The devout among such individuals may be able to keep the law (to a degree, at least) in its letter, that is, the law written on stones, but not in its deeper intent, not in its spirit, written as it is on hearts, as God puts it in Jeremiah 31:33.

Symbolically, those on Mount Ebal are cousins to the unwise virgins, lacking the oil necessary to get them to the marriage feast, as Christ says in Matthew 25:10. Unable to discern spiritual things, they have access only to the law written on stones. In His providence, God supplied those laws to them, there on Ebal.

On the other hand, those standing on Mount Gerizim represent those who have God's laws written on their hearts. There are no stones on Gerizim. There does not need to be.

Reflect on this, too: The people on Gerizim represent those in God's church who are fully at peace with God, enjoying fellowship with Him. For them, there is no need for a further peace offering. They need not offer peace offerings on an altar.

Also, Christ's comment in Luke 14:33 pertains to them: “[A]ny one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.” Those on Gerizim symbolize those who are Christ's disciples, truly repentant and fully committed to God, living sacrifices in His service. They have held back nothing. The burnt offering represents such a life, one lived in total dedication to God. Those on Gerizim need not offer burnt offerings anew. They do not need a stone altar, for they have already committed their lives to God.

Consequently, there is no more need that an altar be built on Mount Gerizim than there is for plastered stones inscribed with God's laws to be there. Both stones and altar are superfluous to those on Gerizim. Conversely, those standing on Mount Ebal, not at peace with God, not committed fully to His service, need an altar. That is why God provided one for them—if they will make use of it.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Three)

Deuteronomy 27:11-13

Plain as day, here is a fifty-fifty division of God's people. The six tribes God selects to stand on Ebal were those who descended from Jacob's concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah, plus the descendants of Reuben and Zebulun, the oldest and youngest sons of Leah, respectively. Together, they received the curses. God probably chose Reuben to stand on the mountain of the curse because of his incestuous relationship with his father's concubine, Bilhah (Genesis 35:22). As a result, Reuben became cursed with the loss of his right of the firstborn (the right of primogeniture), as his father, Jacob, mentions (Genesis 49:4).

The remaining six tribes, situated on Mount Gerizim and representing the blessings that naturally result from obedience, were the tribes descended from Rachel, that is, Joseph and Benjamin, as well as the tribes descended from Leah—save, as mentioned above, those descended from Reuben and Zebulun. (The listing of the tribes on Mount Gerizim appears in their forebears' birth order, while the listing of the tribes on Mount Ebal does not; see Genesis 29-30). It makes sense that the blessings should go to the tribes descended from the actual wives of Jacob, Leah and Rachel.

We see developing, then, the blessing-curse dichotomy, which strictly corresponds to another dichotomy, obedience-disobedience. The blessings and curses are just as much opposites as are their respective causes, obedience and disobedience. They are mutually exclusive. Try as one might, an individual cannot obey and disobey the same rule simultaneously.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Three)

Deuteronomy 27:11-13

Both Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal lie west of the Jordan River, Gerizim a bit to the south of Ebal. The peaks of the two mountains are about two miles apart. The Valley of Shechem, which runs between them, is about three miles long and 1,600 feet wide. In this straitened valley, next to the Ark of the Covenant, the priests stood, pronouncing blessings toward Gerizim, curses toward Ebal.

Mount Gerizim rises about 2,840 feet above sea level, while Mount Ebal stands about 3,650 feet tall. Mount Gerizim later became an important center of worship for the Samaritans, whom the Assyrians imported into the land after the fall of ten-tribed Israel (that is, the Northern Kingdom) in 722 BC. The Samaritans eventually built a temple there, which was reputedly torn down by John Hyrcanus in the second century before Christ.

There is some evidence that Herod the Great later built a major temple on Mount Gerizim, a rival to the one he erected in Jerusalem. Archeologists have found remains of a substantial temple complex built there by Emperor Hadrian in the early second century AD.

When the Samaritan woman told Christ, as recorded in John 4:20, that her forefathers worshipped on “this mountain,” she was referring to Mount Gerizim. To this day, the Samaritans claim (wrongly) that Mount Gerizim is Mount Moriah, the site of Isaac's abortive sacrifice. Samaritans, observing a highly syncretic belief system, still sacrifice lambs on Mount Gerizim on Passover.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Three)

Deuteronomy 27:11-26

Looking at the underlying commonality of the Ebal-curses—that they focus on secret sin—we may conclude that the six tribes on Ebal represent those church members whom we could call “wolves in sheep's clothing,” in whom God finds unrepented sin, individuals living a secret life, closeted in some way, hypocrites.

Conversely, we may conclude that the six tribes atop Mount Gerizim symbolize those people in God's church who exhibit sincerity and wholeness of heart, unwavering commitment to keeping the principle inherent to the Feast of Unleavened Bread—and, by extension, living their entire lives—“not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (I Corinthians 5:8).

Those on Gerizim, unlike their fellows on the Mount of Cursing, represent individuals who break their bread with “singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46), fully committed to abandoning all sin, no matter how stubbornly closeted it may have been at one point in their lives, no matter how tenacious its addiction, no matter how much carnal pleasure it might bring. On Gerizim stand, symbolically, those of God's people who, recognizing the damnation of the charade, have firmly rejected living a double-life. Those who so shun sham and find no pleasure in the mask really do stand on the Mountain of Blessing!

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Five)

Deuteronomy 27:16

The second curse spoken from Mount Ebal revolves around the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12). Exodus 21:17 mandates death for any person cursing either of his parents. It is noteworthy that disobedience to parents is usually not secret, but overt, often blatant. The word here, though, is not “disobey” but “dishonor.” Dishonor can be a disguised response to parents. The hypocrite can feign honor to parents, all the while secretly loathing them.

Along this line, Mark 7:1-13, where hypocrisy is a significant theme, becomes instructive. Some scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem traveled north to ask Christ why His disciples do not follow the oral tradition. They are referring to the halakha, which Peter, addressing the apostles at the Jerusalem Council years later, calls “a yoke . . . that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10).

In His response to the Pharisees, Jesus calls His inquisitors hypocrites, honoring God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him. They worship God in vain, He avers, since they have abandoned “the commandment of God [and hold in its place] the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). The sin of the Jewish leadership is hidden—not obvious to the populous, which frequently considered the Pharisees and scribes to be pious. Nevertheless, their sin remains one of grave consequence. Christ concludes in verse 13: “Thus [you make] void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”

Significant here is the fact that Christ cites the fifth commandment as His example in this discussion (verses 10-12), namely, the tradition that a man is released from the obligation of caring for his aged parents if he dedicates the funds to the Temple. Christ says that doing so is hypocritical and tantamount to dishonoring parents and to violating God's law.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:22-23

These two curses, the third and fourth curses relative to sexual deportment, are related. The fact that God dedicates a third of the Ebal curses to such matters—usually perpetrated surreptitiously—may indicate the stress He places on sexual purity (see also Leviticus 18:9, 17; 20:14).

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)


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