Blessings and Curses
Moses now commands the people that upon entering the Land — which they would do in only few weeks without him — to commit themselves anew to God. They were to assemble at two mountains — Gerizim and Ebal — for a new acceptance of the Torah. There, twelve commandments would be enumerated, and the people would acknowledge publicly that blessings await those who observe them and curses will befall those who spurn them. Six tribes would stand on one mountain and six tribes on the other, with the Ark, the Kohanim, and the elders of the Levites in the valley between them. The Levites in the valley would loudly pronounce the blessings and curses and the tribes on the mountaintops would call out, “Amen!” But, before they were to do this, they were to build an altar on Mount Ebal, the Mount from which the curses were to be acknowledged, on which they were to bring burnt offerings to Yehovah.
"Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “It shall be on the day when you shall pass over the Jordan to the land which the Lord your God gives you, that you shall set up great stones, and plaster them. And you shall write upon them all the words of this Torah and you shall set up these stones in Mount Ebal. And there shall you build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones; you shall not lift up any iron tool upon them. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, and shall eat there, and rejoice before the Lord your God.” And Moses and the priests, the Levites, spoke to all Israel, saying, “Take heed, and listen, O Israel; this day you have become the people of the Lord your God. You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, and do His commandments and His statutes, which I command you this day.” And Moses charged the people, saying, “These shall stand upon Mount Gerizim to bless the people, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. And these shall stand upon Mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali...
And it shall come to pass, if you shall give heed diligently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe and to do all His commandments which I command you this day, that the Lord your God will set you on high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come on you, and overtake you. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field... The Lord shall command the blessing upon you in your storehouses, and in all that you set your hand to; and He shall bless you in the land which the Lord your God gives you. The Lord shall establish you as a holy people to Himself... And all people of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord."
It is significant that the altar was not built on Mount Gerizim, the mountain of blessings, but on Ebal, the mountain of the curses. God, being outside of our space/time constrains and seeing everything from beginning to end, knew, therefore, that the Jewish people would not be perfect in keeping His commandments, His teachings, the Torah, so, while He warned them of what would occur when they sinned, He also taught them that there would be a way to return to Him, through the altar. Salvation is not through keeping the commandments of the Torah but through the way of the altar. God's commandments are His statements about His character. They are not arbitrary. God has a character, and His character is the law of the universe. Torah is grace in that it reveals a glimpse of God's character. Torah is grace in that it shows us that we are sinners - we look at Torah like in a mirror and see how sinful we are, but we cannot cleanse our sins with the mirror. Torah is grace because it tells us what it is needed to be cleansed - a sacrifice, and Torah is grace because it shows us how to live our life - after we have been cleansed - in a way in which it would be pleasing in the eyes of a Holy God. God was telling the people that if they lived in the light of His character, then would come the blessing. If they failed to do so, then the blessing would stop and it would seem like a curse.
In the reading of the blessings and curses we see not only a continuity of the authority of the written Scriptures — the New Covenant does not contradict or replace the Old Covenant, it is a continuation - but also an emphasis on the fact that bare knowledge is not enough. It was not that the Torah gave these people knowledge, and that was the end of it. This knowledge demanded action. God’s covenant with Israel has two parts, an unconditional promise and a conditional blessing. The unconditional promise is based on God's dealing with the Jewish people not based on their actions but on the promise given to and for the sake of the forefathers. Just as when we give our life to Yeshua, our salvation is not based on our actions but on the promise that Yeshua made: "I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand" John 10:28. In this Parashah, the conditional portion of the covenant is being emphasized. It is wonderful for God's people to have the Torah, but we are then called upon "to do," to live in the light of the Torah. We want to obey these commandments not to be saved, but because we are saved. The spirit within us will convict us and make us desirous to do good deeds.
The altar was on the mount of cursing, for salvation cannot come by man's doing good works. We cannot come to God on the basis of humanistic, religious, or moral works. God is an infinite and Holy God, and we have sinned against Him. There was only one way for the Israelites to come in front of Him, and that was through the altar. According to Old and New Covenants alike — according to the unconditional spiritual portions of the Avrahamic covenant — once we have come to God — namely, through the sacrifice of Yeshua — we stand in unconditional blessing. Once we have become believers, we have entered, by faith, by the grace of God, into the spiritual portion of the Avrahamic covenant; and the unconditional promise applies to us — we will never be lost again. While this is true, the New Covenant makes it clear that for the believer there is also a conditional aspect. Torah is the expression of God's character, and we are not to set it aside when we become believers. Our obedience to it will make a difference in what happens to us both in this present life and in the believers’ judgment in the future, in front of the judgment seat of Messiah, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad"2 Corinthians 5:10.
Our salvation is secure in the hands of our Messiah, but the heavenly rewards are based on our actions in this world. Let us diligently study the Torah and not neglect the smallest of the commandments, because all of them are godly teachings. May we all be found busy working for His Glory, for His Kingdom, storing up good deeds in heaven.
Shabbat joy, peace, and blessings! Shabbat Shalom!
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