March 25th, 2018 Palm Sunday
Aux Text: Luke 19:28-44
Call to Worship: Psa 19:7-14
Service Orientation: Remember, God’s ways are life. We need to do whatever we need to do so we don’t forget to remember to remain faithful to God and His ways.
Bible Memory Verse for the Week: God’s Laws are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess. Deuteronomy 32:47
- The success or failure of God’s people depended upon their response to God’s law. They could choose either to live by it or to disobey it. Neutrality was not an option. In this section of Scripture, Moses concentrates on consequences: what his people choose to sow, that shall they also reap. (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 273)
- (v. 1) Chapter 27 has an unusual introduction. Not Moses alone, but Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people. Nowhere else in Deuteronomy are the elders associated with Moses as spokesmen to the people. Perhaps this is due to the prospect of the imminent death of Moses and, consequently, to his absence when the ceremony at Gerizim and Ebal was to be enacted. Perhaps it was to enhance their authority at the coming covenant renewal in the land. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 160)
- (v. 2) The use of the verb “to set up, erect” suggests that the stones in question are vertical pillars. Finding an analogue in later Greek traditions of colonization, some scholars propose the pillars served as monuments to the conclusion of a journey. Others argue that Ebal is the “place” that Yahweh would choose for his name to dwell, and that the stone monument here is a victory stela on which is inscribed Yahweh’s name. However, the plural in verses 2-3 seems to call for the erection of more than one pillar. While the text does not specify their exact number, the number of tribes involved in the liturgical imprecations may suggest twelve (vv. 12-13), in which case this part of the ritual would echo the original covenant ratification ceremony celebrated at Sinai (Ex 24:4). (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 625-6)
- (v. 2) Mount Ebal lies some distance north-northwest of Jericho. So Jericho must be first defeated before the altar is built, as the record of this event in Josh 8:30-35 shows. When Moses says that this must be done “on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land” (Dt 27:2a), he refers “not necessarily [to] the precise day” that they cross over, “on the day” “simply meaning ‘when’” here. (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 577)
- (v. 2) The plaster probably involved a white alkaline compound consisting of water and calcium oxide–derived from limestone readily available in the vicinity of Ebal and Gerizim–and readily applied to surfaces. As the moisture evaporates, the plaster hardens, leaving a smooth coating over the object. While the scribes would probably etch the text of the Torah on the stone pillars with a sharp object, they could also write it with ink or paint. In either case, exposed to the elements the text would quickly wear away, and all that would be left as a memorial to this event were pillars themselves. Though these could have been reused as a rallying point, these instructions call for a one-time ritual use involving the text of the Torah Moses has been promulgating. (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 626)
- (v. 3) Writing laws on stones (or even sides of mountains as the later inscriptions of Darius I and on the Behistun Rock attest) was common in the ancient Near East. Whitewashing stones before writing on them was a practice in Egypt. Large writing stones, some eight feet high, from before Moses’ time have been found at Byblos. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 160)
- (v. 4) This location is logical on several counts. (1) If one plots a straight line between the northernmost and southernmost borders of the land, Mounts Ebal and Gerizim appear precisely at the midpoint. (2) Mount Ebal is one of the highest mountains in the region; from its peak one could see most of the Promised Land. (3) Located near Shechem, the region of Ebal and Gerizim was extremely important in Israel’s history and tradition (Gn 12:6-7; 33:18-20). This ceremony invites the nation to acknowledge God’s faithfulness in finally fulfilling his promise to the ancestors. (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 627)
- (v. 4) Mount Ebal was in central Canaan, about halfway between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea, five miles northwest of Shechem. There the Lord promised Abram, “To you offspring I will give this land,” and Abram built an altar there to the Lord (Gn 12:7). (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 249)
- (v. 4) The stones were to be coated with lime, which would create a plastered surface on which one could write legibly. Lime was produced by the burning of bones (Amos 2:1). The practice of plastering and painting on stone was Egyptian, where the custom was to coat porous stones with a chalky composition before the paint was applied. (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 740)
- (v. 4) Mount Ebal. One of two mountains rising above Shechem, situated north of the pass; the mountain south of the pass is Mount Gerizim. In vv. 12-13 Gerizim is designated the mountain of blessing and Ebal the mountain of curse. From Mount Ebal will be spoken the curses of vv. 15-26. The Sam has “Gerizim” instead of “Ebal,” which has generated considerable discussion in light of the schism later developing between the Samaritans and the Jews (Josephus Ant. 13.74-9; cf. Jn 4:20). (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 740-1)
- (v. 4) Ancient and modern interpreters have found it odd that the covenantal memorial should have been erected on Mt Ebal, the mountain of the curse (cf. 13), and have therefore been persuaded that “Gerizim” was original here. The present text can hardly have arisen purely as a matter of anti-Samaritan polemic, however, especially if the setting of the ceremony on the mountain of the curse was likely to be found theologically inappropriate. The symbolism of the location may have the effect of emphasizing that the covenant implies Israel’s agreement to accept the curse for failure to keep it. This is in line with the idea of the law as a witness against Israel, in texts that suggest that it will fail to keep the law (31:16-17, 26; P. Barker 1998, 286-9). (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 388-9)
- (v. 5) In agreement with the rule for altars of stones in Ex 20:25, no iron tool was to be used in building this altar (v. 5). Iron tools normally would be used to shape the stones, which was prohibited here. So the limitation of the material to fieldstones is similar to the prohibition in the use of dressed (cut) stones in Ex 20:25.
This altar did not take the place of the altar in front of the Tent of Meeting. This kind of altar was for temporary use on a special occasion, like the altars erected by the patriarchs. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 161)
- (v. 5) The centerpiece of this celebration was to be an altar that would be dedicated to Yahweh. This altar was not to be a permanent fixture of Israel’s worship, since God would eventually choose a city to serve as the home of a central sanctuary (Dt 12). As a legitimate temporary place of worship, however, it had to be constructed according to divine principles. It had to be made of stones that were free from human fashioning. No iron tool could be used in fashioning them. The Lord apparently intended Israel to understand that the only valid approach to him was to be made with gifts that he had provided: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9). (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 310)
- (v. 5) While this altar is distinguished from the altar used in worship at the tabernacle or temple, the proscription recalls Ex 20:25. Apparently, just as animals to be sacrificed were to be “without defect” (Lv 1:3) and without “any serious flaw” (Dt 15:21), so the stones of this altar were to be whole and complete. To improve on them with human effort and man-made tools was to defile them. (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 627)
- (v. 6) We aren’t sure why the Lord prohibited carved stones on his worship altars; possibly, cut stones were characteristic of Canaanite worship sites. Such a prohibition would eliminate any hint that this altar was meant to represent a pagan god. (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 249)
- (v. 7) He forbids all artificial work, because, if the altar had been permanent, it would have been an occasion of superstition, and this exceptional instance would have been more regarded than the perpetual Law of God. Hence the nine tribes and half were so greatly wroth against the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and half Manasseh, on account of the altar which was built on the bank of Jordan, (Josh 22,) insomuch that they determined utterly to destroy their brethren, until they had cleared themselves by alleging that they had only built it as a memorial of their brotherly union, and not for sacrifice. Assuredly they were good expounders of the Law who accounted it an inexpiable crime, that an altar should be left for posterity, to withdraw the people from the one sanctuary, and thus to destroy the unity of faith. (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. II, 140)
- This directive to set up large (free-standing) stones, coat them with lime, and write the law on them when Israel crosses the Jordan seems not to have been carried out as commanded. On the day of the crossing, people picked stones from the Jordan and set them up at Gilgal, opposite Jericho (Josh 4:19-20), but these stones being neither large nor suitable for writing were not a fulfillment of the present command (pace Rashi; Moran). (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 739)
The question to be answered is . . . What is God through Moses having the people do in this passage?
Answer: He is establishing the ethical and moral standards that everyone must agree upon when they enter the Promised Land. God knows they will never survive without them.
The Word for the Day is . . . Recall
What is God through Moses having the people do in this passage?:
I- Moses wants the people to memorialize so they never forget God’s loving law by which they are to live. (Dt 27:2-8; see also: Gn 9:15-16; Nm 15:39-40; Dt 8:3; 28:45; 32:47; Josh 1:13; 4:3-21; 8:30-35; Ps 1; 19:7-14; 103:17-18; 105:5; ch 119; Mal 4:4; 2 Tm 3:15-17; Heb 4:12)
The writing of the law upon stones, which were erected on a mountain in the midst of the land, with the solemn proclamation of blessings and curses, was a practical acknowledgment of the law of the Lord on the part of Israel,–a substantial declaration that they would make the law the rule and standard of their life and conduct in the land which the Lord had given them for an inheritance. (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT Vol 1, 430)
The object of this writing was not to hand down the law in this manner to posterity without alteration, but, as has already been stated, simply to set forth a public acknowledgment of the law on the part of the people, first of all for the sake of the generation which took possession of the land, and for posterity, only so far as this act was recorded in the book of Joshua and thus transmitted to future generations. (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT Vol 1, 430-1)
Moses is soon to pass from the scene. But the preservation and administration of the law he has given will become the responsibility of precisely these groups of people–priests and elders. Setting up large stones with writing was a common ancient Near Eastern practice for preserving significant public documents. (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 275)
CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: How is this passage applicable to 21st Century Christians?
A- Do all you can to remember who you are, Who God is, and what you are living for. (Ex 20:23-25; Dt 6:7-19; ch 8; Josh 4:19-20; 24:15)
This precept is of the same character as those that have preceded it; for, as God would have His precepts written on the door-posts, and on the borders of their garments, so that they might constantly meet their eyes, so also would He have a monument existing at the very entrance of their land, from which the people might learn that they dwelt in it, in order that they might worship God purely. Wherefore, lest by the people’s carelessness the knowledge of the Law should be obscured, or in any way obliterated, God would have its sum inscribed in a conspicuous place. (John Calvin, Commentaries, vol. I, 369-70)
The land itself will be an even greater monument to God’s grace than the stones erected upon it. The stones will bear witness to God’s covenant law. The land they stand on will bear witness to God’s covenant faithfulness. Even in physical symbolism, the law is grounded in grace. (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 276)
B- A nation needs a set of mutually agreed upon ethical and cultural standards to be sustainable. (Dt 4:25-26, 40; 5:16; 7:2-16; 8:19-20; 13:15; 19:1-2; 20:17; 25:15; 28:48-63; 30:15-20; 31:15-18; Josh 8:32ff; 24:15; Prv 3:1-3; Mt 6:24; 12:25-26; Mk 3:24-26; Lk 11:17-18; )
in order that you may enter into the land that Yahweh your God is giving to you. Setting up stones gives Israel its warrant to occupy the land. In the modern day, we raise the flag. (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 740)
By connecting the sacrificial ceremony with the setting up of the law, Israel gave a practical testimony to the fact that its life and blessedness were founded upon its observance of the law. The sacrifices and the sacrificial meal have the same signification here as at the conclusion of the covenant at Sinai (Ex 24:11). (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT Vol 1, 432)
Worship Point: Remember and worship Jesus, Who perfectly fulfilled the entirety of the Law so He could credit His righteousness to everyone who believes in Him. (Mt 5:17; Rom 3: ; 10:3-4; Phil 3:8-10)
Gospel Application: Palm Sunday, as the beginning of Holy Week, is a great time to recall the mission of Jesus: To seek and to save those who are lost . . . whatever it may cost. (Lk 19:10; Jn 3:16; Rom 3:21-26; 5:6-19; Eph 4:12-15; 5:2; Phil 2:1-11; Heb 2:17; 5:1-3; 7:27; 9:23-10:18; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10)
These rituals signify Israel’s security and hope in Yahweh. Of course, the peace they celebrate is made possible only through the work of Jesus Christ, whose sacrificial work underlies all these rituals. And the peace they will celebrate at Gerizim and Ebal expresses in microcosm the peace we enjoy and the heavenly inheritance we will one day claim in the very presence of God. We who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ, for he himself is our peace, having destroyed the barrier between Israel and us, and created in himself one new person out of two (Eph 4:12-15). (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 639-40)
The reading of the Law would bring guilt over sin. The sacrifices would bring forgiveness for those sins. (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 578)
If the inscription of the Torah on the stone pillars symbolizes Yahweh’s gracious revelation of his will, then the altar symbolizes his gracious presence among them and his desire to have the Israelites before him. (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 639)
Spiritual Challenge: Seek to understand the importance of never forgetting to remember how God demonstrates His love to us in Jesus. Especially with the work He accomplished during Holy Week.
Moses’ aim in these farewell messages was to help the people to be faithful to their covenant with God after they settled in the promised land. We have said that because of this Deuteronomy is structured like a typical covenant-making ritual from that period. (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 575)
So What?: Do you want to lay up treasure for yourself as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life? (1 Tm 6:19) Then remember to trust in the Lord and follow His ways. (Dt 8:3; 32;47; Prv 3:5-6)
Obedience is a key theme of this book. As Moses gets ready to leave, his greatest desire seems to be to motivate the people to obey God’s will, so they will not forfeit God’s promised blessings. (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 575-6)
As is often the case in Deuteronomy, the commands to obedience are given in the context of the promise of God’s blessing for obedience. Here Moses points to the blessing by describing the promised land as “. . . the land that the LORD your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you” (27:3b). There is a message here for us. When we think of obedience and when we urge others to obedience, we should not simply do it as a motivation to duties we have to perform for God. We must emphasize the fact that this is the wisest and best thing for us to do. Obedience opens the door to God’s blessings, and disobedience results in our forfeiting those blessings. (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 576)