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offences specified to be the subjects of so many imprecations, in preference to all others, would seem to me at once more important and more perplexing, did I believe the received opinion to be correct, that the inscription of them was intended to compose a permanent monument. I apprehend, on the contrary, that, being made upon a frail material, it was designed only to serve a temporary use, which use was served rather by the solemnity of the ceremonial, in which wickedness in various forms was condemned, than by any exact selection of such forms, on the principle of taking those, which were most criminal, or otherwise most dangerous. It is not said, that the altar was to be built of twelve stones, — the number of the tribes;- but as, on a former occasion of a similar solemnity, that number had been expressly prescribed, * it is natural to suppose that the same would be now adopted. If twelve stones were to form the altar, it follows, that each was to be provided with an inscription, having reference to some crime of serious magnitude. Why, in this collection, precisely those which we find should have been included, to the exclusion of some others, is a question, which, it is true, we cannot answer; but, also, it is a question which the circumstances do not call upon us to entertain. The ceremony was not intended to embody a denunciation of crimes, which law, in the common course of its administration, would be able to punish, but to go further, and, by force of a religious dread, to create an aversion to acts, which, being done in secret, only that God, whose vengeance was imprecated upon them, might be able to detect. Accordingly, each of the curses recorded may be observed to relate to some evil-doer of that class. They concern not the bold idolatrous worshipper, but “the man that maketh any graven or molten image, and putteth it in a secret place”; not the undutiful child, guilty of outrage or insult, but him “ that setteth light by his father or his mother.” They concern him who stealthily “removeth his neighbour's landmark"; who deceives the blind, that are helpless either to escape or expose his treachery; the secret hired assassin; the ruffian, who watches for a clandestine opportunity to assault the weak; the perfidious judge, whom none but his own conscience can convict. They concern throughout the perpetrator of some deed of darkness. The spirit of the whole transaction is a national adjuration, to this effect; Be the land, where Jehovah has now planted his people, unstained henceforward, not only by any crime which its law may punish, but by any which the all-seeing eye of its God may discern.*
site of an altar erected for a solemn form of cursing, as well as that the picturesque beauty of Gerizim might decide their choice; and that Jotham was not in circumstances to choose his position, and, if he had chosen it for the reason supposed, would have lost all the advantage thus obtained, if he omitted, as he does, to advert to the fact. — “ Thou shalt build an altar unto the Lord thy God, an altar of stones ; . . . . . and thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law" (5-8). I could not undertake to demonstrate that the stones inscribed were not, as many suppose, one thing, and the altar another; but the natural and probable interpretation appears to me to be decidedly that which represents them as the same. (Compare Josh. viii. 30-32.) – In xxvii. 9-13, I find the beginning of the direction for that further ceremonial to which the next chapter relates. Why the twelve tribes should have been distributed as they are (12, 13), to take the respective parts in it, I suppose that we have now no means to explain. Some of the commentators remark, that the tribes selected to bless, are all descendants of Leah and Rachel, the free wives of Jacob, while the other party is composed of the posterity of his bond-women, along with that of Reuben, who had fallen into disgrace with his father, and that of Zebulun, the youngest son of Leah.
* Ex. xxiv. 4, 5.
In the twenty-eighth chapter, we have what I understand to be Moses' directory for the second part of the
* Deut. xxvii. 14-26.
ceremonial, intended by him to be gone through by the tribes, on their first occupation of the country. The Levites, reading from the stones of the altar, having first uttered a course of maledictions against the perpetrators of a particular class of sins, to each of which, the people, as one body, was with one acclamation to respond, - the tribes, ranged in two equal divisions on the declivities of two opposite mountains, where the vast array of each was visible to the other, were themselves, with their foot on the recovered soil of their fathers, and in the open face of Heaven, to pronounce alternate benedictions and curses on themselves and their posterity, according as their divinely given law should be observed or transgressed. It may strike the reader, that in giving these directions, Moses intended in the first place to study brevity and point, saying no more than what would be suitable, from its length, to be repeated on the proposed occasion ; and accordingly the benedictions in this list * are reducible, by a natural division, to the same number with the curses, just spoken of, designed to be uttered by the Levites, and are, at the beginning, equally concise. But as he proceeds, his heart seems to warm with the subject; he cannot restrain his thronging thoughts and overpowering emotions within such limits; and, when he comes to that part of his arrangement where he is to direct the denunciation of those calamities, which he knew that national apostasy would entail, his whole mind appears to be possessed and overwhelmed by the awful prospect, and he rather pours out his own strongly excited feelings, than adheres to the plan with which his discourse had begun.f So that the latter part of these directions, at least, it would seem we should rather understand as a statement of the topics, which the proposed solemnity was to bring to view, than of the form in which they were to be presented,
* Deut. xxviii. 2-14.
† xxviii. 15 - 68.
- a form, which, for that use, would need to be more condensed.*
In the two next following chapters, Moses is represented, apparently in a different discourse, as addressing the people again in his own person, in a similar strain, first briefly recalling to their remembrance a few instances of God's goodness, by way of showing his willingness to be always gracious,t and then proceeding to urge upon them, as often elsewhere, the momentous alternative which was submitted to their choice.* The remark, which has before been made upon such passages, needs only to be here repeated in relation to this, and to that which we have just been considering ; viz. that the promises and denunciations, uttered in the bold figurative language of strong emotion, are by no means such as to justify the conclusion, that they were to be fulfilled by any miraculous agency of God, or in any other way than in that regular course of his common providence, which, following causes with their proper effects, would reward a nation with all sorts of prosperity, when it faithfully observed a law divinely and perfectly contrived to advance that prosperity, and punish it, when it neglected or abandoned that rule, by the infliction of those evils which such a departure from the true course of its interest would itself entail. That is to say, the terms of such promises and denunciations by no means sustain the opinion, — whether sustained or not by other facts or considerations, - that a miraculous administration of the Jewish affairs continued through the ages subsequent to that miraculous administration, under which Moses gave the Law, and
* Yet it may have been, that they were intended to be read aloud in their whole length, by some individual, each sentence being appropriated by the tribes appointed for the service, by means of a response at its close. (Compare Josh. viii. 34, 35.) — I have never, heretofore, proposed to illustrate a passage by supposing a transposition of parts of the text. But, in the present instance, I cannot suppress the conjecture, that, as originally written, xxvii. 14 immediately followed xxvii. &, the passages to which they respectively belong being most closely connected in sense ; and that the passage, which now divides them, (9-13) followed verse 26, being the introduction to the second part of the proposed ceremony described above. If this were the case, the abruptness of the transition from the twenty-seventh to the twenty-eighth chapter, would be much less than it now is; and I may add, that the accident, whatever it were, which caused such a dislocation, may also well have occasioned the loss of some connecting words, which seem still to be wanting. Thus much is certain; that benedictions and maledictions were respectively to be “put” (Deut. xi. 29; literally given, — uttered, I would render) on Gerizim and Ebal ; that (xxvii. 12, 13) they were to be uttered on these mountains, by the twelve tribes, six standing on the verge of each; that of the six tribes standing on Gerizim to bless, Levi (xxvii. 12) was one; yet that Levi (xxvii. 14) was to pronounce certain curses from Ebal ; – the obvious way of understanding all which, (since there are two sets of maledictions,) is, that the Levites, in their sacerdotal capacity, were upon Ebal to announce one (xxvii. 14-26), and afterwards to pass over to Gerizim, to assume their office, as one of the tribes, in blessing, leaving the proclamation of the other curses (xxviii. 15–68) to the company of tribes left for the purpose upon Ebal. — The conjecture at the beginning of this note, I present merely as such. My view of the sense of the two chapters does not demand it. It may well have been, that Moses, having first given the outline of his plan in both its parts (xxvii, 1–8, 913) should then revert to the first, to present them successively more in detail (14 – 26; xxviii. 1-68). — At the middle of xxviii. 2, I would close one sentence, and begin another (“If thou shalt hearken” &c.,); with xxviii. 1, compare 15.
+ xxix. 1-16. – Some commentators would make verse l the close of
the preceding passage ; but “the covenant” there spoken of (exhibited, as I think, in the words of Moses which follow) was to be made in “ the land of Moab”; and compare 9, 12, 14. With 5 compare p. 441, note t. — “Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine” (6); that is, regularly and abundantly; for they had had both in the wilderness (Ex. xxix. 40; Lev. vii. 12, 13). — The argument in verses 8 and 9 is as follows; “We took their land” (that of Sihon and Og) by Jehovah's favor; obey him still, “that ye may prosper in all that ye do,” in the similar enterprise which is now before you.
Deut. xxix. 17 – xxx. 20.- I understand xxix. 29, as follows ; The obedience, which, under such sanctions, I demand from you, relates to the revelation which you have received through me. With whatever things God reserves in his own knowledge, it is true that you have no concern; but those which he hath disclosed expressly for your observance, you have no excuse for not observing. VOL. I.