When Yahweh delivered His children Israel from Egypt, He showed them clearly how He was different from every other god. For four hundred years they had been immersed in a culture that worshiped the creation. God declared there is One who made all of creation, and they were to lift only His Name on high. Not only did He tell them, He gave them signs and wonders that no other god could do. In order for Israel to “get it,” Yahweh had to provide the evidence of clear separation from all other gods. God’s children had been surrounded by people who lived in ways and practiced many things that were anathema to Yahweh and His way. He used that surrounding culture to distinguish Himself from all Israel had known and gave them commandments, precepts, statutes, rules, and laws by which to live.
The Ten Commandments were the basics of the moral law that demonstrated the virtues and characteristics of this all-consuming God who was new to the Israelites’s understanding. Many of the items on this list were common sense and integral to the conscience God has given each human being, but the commandments in stone solidified what man already innately knew. As the people of Israel were about to cross the Jordan, Moses reiterated the Law to those he had led for so long. But, God wanted them to again have a clear demonstration of how He intended for them to live.
Yahweh instructed Moses, who conveyed to the elders, a physical, literal witness of the Law. Deuteronomy 27:2-3 gives us His command:
“And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter 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.”
Upon Mount Ebal, God had Moses set up large stones and plaster them over. The Ten Commandments were then inscribed on the plaster for all to see. Following that, Moses separated the tribes so that six of the elders of the twelve tribes stood on Mount Ebal and the other six stood on Mount Gerizim. Those on Mount Ebal then called out the curses of the Law.
The picture God painted for the people was that disobeying the Law brought His curses upon them. The Law brings only a curse. By following the Law, one wouldn’t come under its curse, but who could live up to its demands? That was the problem. In their flesh, the Israelites would inevitably fail and realize the curse of the Law. They might be able to avoid building a graven image or refrain from stealing, but who could live every day and not commit an infraction of some kind against such a holy God with His stringent requirements for righteousness?
But, God had a better plan that he would institute at the right time. The Apostle Paul stated in Galatians 3:24:
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
We learn by the law. We see that it is strict with no grace – no leniency. It declares, it judges, and it punishes. How wretched we are if we must live under the Law!
This is why Christ came. The Law was an impossible taskmaster. Jesus showed there’s a better way – the mercy of God. It’s His mercy that enables us to be forgiven for our trespasses under the Law and to live by faith. The grace of God cleanses us from the filth of our sin that accumulates in our human condition living apart from Him.
It is through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that we are given a reprieve from the Law when we believe. Not all choose to accept the free gift of salvation that God offers us through His Son. We who have chosen to receive this can only praise the Lord for His mercy that He convicted us of our great need and have turned to Him.
Thankfully, the stones on Mount Ebal no longer call out their curses to us. We hear a different voice – that of the love of our Savior.