EBAL AND GERIZIM
The Scriptures recount “for our learning” (Rom 15:4), the experiences of Israel’s Children as they were led out from Egypt, through a 40 year sojourn in the desert, to the land which Yahweh promised that he would give them for an inheritance. It was their rebellion in the wilderness, that led to their extended wilderness as they waited for the rebels to die in order that the generation which followed might enter the Land (Num 14:29). This was the generation that were to learn from their fathers’ example of unbelief, and who were to always have in remembrance the graciousness of Yahweh in suffering their manners in the wilderness, and in making provision for all their needs. And immediately prior to their entry into the land, this generation were warned that their prosperity depended entirely upon their faithfulness:
“it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of Yahweh thy Elohim, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that Yahweh thy Elohim will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: and all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of Yahweh thy Elohim …” (Deut 28:1-2).
Likewise, curses were promised should they fail to heed the words of their Redeemer:
“But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of Yahweh thy Elohim, to observe and to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee …” (Deut 28:15).
So it was, that Moses set before the people “life and good, and death and evil” (Deut 30:15), and it was their part to choose which they would follow.
BLESSING AND CURSING
Immediately upon their entry into the land, the people were to be reminded of the blessings and cursings which would come according to their deeds, by enacting certain things upon the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim. These two mountains were selected to be memorials of the two ways which the people could choose, Mount Ebal speaking of cursing and Gerizim of blessing. So the commandment was given:
“There 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.” (Deut 27:12,13).
The ark of the Covenant was to be placed in the middle, between the mountains, with the Levites who carried it, and the people were assembled either side, upon their respective standing points. Joshua chapter 8 describes how it was done:
“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 Yahweh, 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 Yahweh had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel.” (Josh 8:33).
12 cursings were pronounced, and the people were to give their assent to each one, by repeating the word “Amen”, culminating in the final words, “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen” (Deut 27:26). So it was, that all the people entered into a national covenant with Yahweh to remember and to do all that had been commanded them, through His servant Moses.
The tragic events of history plainly declare the people’s failure to hearken to the voice of Yahweh. Through persistent and incurable rebellion against their Maker, they brought themselves under the curse to which they had said “Amen” to, so that as Daniel declared in his prayer before the Almighty: “all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him” (Dan 9:11). Living under the law, they became cursed by the law – it could not save them, but instead condemned them to national destruction.
THE MEANS OF REDEMPTION
But it was not the Father’s purpose to redeem a people from Egypt only that they might fall under a perpetual curse. What was to be the means of their redemption? The Law could not save them – but the Lord Jesus Christ could. He died, it is written, “for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament” (Heb 9:15), or as the Apostle expresses it, “Christ 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 … “ (Gal 3:13). The Lord Jesus Christ was himself cursed by the mode of his death, in order that he could redeem those who were under the curse.
This was foreshadowed in a most remarkable way at the events of Ebal and Gerizim. Moses commanded that an Altar be constructed from selected stones, and placed upon mount Ebal – in the place of cursing:
“therefore 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. And there shalt thou build an altar unto Yahweh thy Elohim, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them” (Deut 27:4,5).
Here then, was an altar erected from unhewn stones in the place of cursing. Here was the place of sacrifice – not upon the mount of blessing, for that spoke of man’s obedience, and the rewards for faithfulness. But upon the mount of cursing, for that is the place where those who recognised the righteousness of the Law in cursing them belonged. They, being cursed, could go to the place of cursing, but in the place of sacrifice erected there, they would find mercy and forgiveness, for in that place mercy rejoiced against judgment. Though they rightly deserved cursing, they could obtain blessing through their sacrifices at the altar.
OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
The altar, speaking of our Lord Jesus Christ, was made of unhewn stones covered with plaster. Moreover, upon that plaster was written the words of the Law: “thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaister them with plaister: And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over …” (Deut 27:2,3). The stones then were under the law, under the plaster upon which the Law was written. Even so, our Lord Jesus Christ was not born after the will of man, but by Divine intervention upon the womb of Mary. He was, as it were, an unhewn living stone, not carved out by men according to their preferred shape – and made under the law.
“when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law …” (Gal 4:5).
So it is, that we repair to the Christ-Altar to find mercy and forgiveness, and help in time of need.
At the time of our Master’s cursing, we find a most remarkable situation. At Ebal and Gerizim we noted, the ark was placed in the very centre of things, with the mount of cursing on the one hand, and the mount of blessing on the other. Even so, at the time of our Master’s lifting up, we find on the one side a thief who remains cursed, and a thief who was blessed. So Luke records, “one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss” (Luke 23:39-41).
Here was a man who recognised that he rightly belonged under condemnation – in the mount of cursing. But there was One under the same condemnation as he – in the mount of cursing with him – who had done no sin. Here was the Christ-altar through whom acceptable worship might be offered – crucified outside the camp, and outside of the favour of men. Here was the greatest sacrifice of all being offered – under cursing, to redeem those who were under the curse. And through faith in him, one of the thieves who died under cursing with him found life and forgiveness.
We are similarly among those who have died with the Lord Jesus Christ. Not literally of course, but symbolically through the waters of Baptism. In baptism, we are “buried with him … into death” and “planted together in the likeness of his death,” that “we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection”. In baptism we make a covenant with our Maker to hearken unto the voice of His Word, knowing that at the appointed time, we shall come forth to give account of ourselves before him. Let us therefore repair unto the Christ-altar, that we may no longer live under condemnation, but by being partakers of the death of Christ, we might walk in newness of life in him. Let us give heed to the voice of Yahweh our Redeemer, hearkening to the warnings of Ebal and Gerizim, that we may receive blessing at his hand, as we offer upon the basis of his sacrifice the sacrifice of praise continually, even the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.