“And Moses charged the people the same day, saying, “These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are come over Jordan; Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin:
“And these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.” – Deuteronomy 27:11-13
The importance and the necessity of perpetual obedience to the law is evinced by the solemnity and majesty with which it was originally promulgated from Mount Sinai.
That the children of Israel might have this in mind it was commanded that when they crossed the Jordan into the Holy Land they were to read the law at Gerizim and Ebal. And after the victory at Ai Joshua assembled the tribes, half of them on Gerizim and half on Ebal in obedience to this command, and built an altar and offered burnt offerings.
“And 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. And 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.”
Mounts Gerizim and Ebal are near the spot where the Lord gave His promise to Abraham while Abraham was yet childless that his seed would increase as the sands of the sea for multitude, and that the land of Canaan would be given to them. The prophecy was now being fulfilled. The descendants of Abraham had increased to a great multitude, and they were about to take possession of the land of Canaan.
This, like all parts of the Word, is a symbol story. The commandments are the laws of life, and obedience to them enables one to acquire a far richer inheritance than the land of Canaan. Obedience to these laws enables one to obtain a blessing and to escape a curse far greater than any that can be experienced in this world.
This rehearsing of the law given at Sinai represents the confirmation in the life of the Divine laws first received in the mind. Mountains represent states of love, and Gerizim and Ebal represent love to the Lord and love to man. Love to the Lord is the primary good of religion and resides in the inmost of the will, and love to men, the secondary good of religion, has its seat also in the will, but in the love of truth. Gerizim is the primary love, Ebal the secondary. Gerizim is the higher mountain and is on the south side and Ebal on the north of a narrow valley, the south indicating greater enlightenment. Also Gerizim as a name expresses the idea that the mountain was or once had been wooded, while Ebal signifies a stony mountain. The altar was built on Mount Ebal and there, as a memorial, stones were set up on which the law was written very plainly. The law should be plain to our understanding.
Then, too, the arrangement of the tribes has its special meaning. The twelve tribes represent all the good affections and truths of the heart and mind. The six tribes which were to stand on Gerizim have relation to principles of love or goodness, and those to stand on Ebal represent principles of faith.
When the general meaning of the six tribes on Gerzim and the six on Ebal is recognized, it can be seen that it is the quality of goodness – those tribes on Gerizim – that brings blessings to us, while it is the understanding that enables us to see the false and wrong things which would bring a curse.
This whole scene is a picture of the mind which has received the law of the Lord, passed through the wilderness state of reformation, and through purification by trials has come into the Holy Land. It pictures the state when the law is written in the heart, and when the commandments and precepts of the Word are the light of the mind. The priests represent the higher principles, the elders, officers, and judges the principles of good and truth which are subordinate to these, and the multitude of people the innumerable affections of goodness and perceptions of truth in the natural plane of the mind. Thus the priests, judges, and people picture the various Christian principles as they stand in harmonious relation to each other in the mind which is in a state of heavenly order.
A similar picture is given in the fifth chapter of Revelation, where we read of John’s vision of the throne in heaven on which the Lord sat, and of the four beasts and after that the four and twenty elders about the throne, and beyond them a multitude of the heavenly host, the number of whom was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.
A further similarity is found in the response to the chorus of the angels who glorified the Lord: “And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.” In the seventh chapter of Revelation, where the sealing of the twelve tribes is described, this same ceremonial is repeated.
Thus the assembly of the tribes on Gerizim and Ebal, as well as that of the multitudes seen by John in vision, is a representation of the order, harmony, peace, and joy of heaven.
During the period of reformation or the bringing of the outward life into order – the wilderness journey – the spiritual and natural minds are at variance, and even at enmity with each other, but in the regenerate state foreshadowed by our text the spiritual and natural minds are in agreement and act in unity.
When the law was given at Sinai the people trembled and stood afar off, a true picture of the natural mind not yet in agreement with the spiritual, but here at Gerizim and Ebel the simultaneous and unanimous response of the people to the law as read to them by the priests pictures the assent and the cooperation of the natural mind with the spiritual, and the unity and harmony resulting from it.
We must be born again. To enter the Holy Land we, too, spiritually must leave Egypt, the plane of natural living, and wander in the wilderness until through temptations we have rid ourselves of the desire to live for this world only.
We remember that all those who rebelled at the report of Joshua and Caleb when they returned from spying out the land perished in the wilderness. It was an entirely new generation who were assembled on Gerizim and Ebal.
The lesson for us is that when, through self-denial and regeneration, we have overcome our natural selfish inclinations, we should renew our covenant with the Lord by whose truth we have been led and by whose mercy we have been sustained in our spiritual journey. For then every Divine law that we have learned, inwardly received, and applied to life will teach us of the goodness of the Lord. The affections of the heart will respond to the blessings and the perceptions of truth will respond to the curses, for it is the truth which enables us to see the curse that follows upon disobedience.
All protection and blessing come from the Lord, but they come as His love and truth find place in our hearts and minds. Love and goodness enable us to feel how blessed it is to live according to Divine order, and our understanding of truth enables us to see how disastrous it is to live in disobedience to it. Love brings us into possession of good; truth warns us against evil.
So through our faithful renewal of the covenant may the Divine law be inscribed in our hearts and minds as an everlasting memorial.