Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Moses in a third discourse Deut. 27-30, proceeds more specifically to dwell upon the sanctions of the Law. In these chapters he sets before Israel in striking and elaborate detail the blessings which would ensue upon faithfulness to the covenant, and the curses which disobedience would involve. Deut. 27 introduces this portion of the book by enjoining the erection of a stone monument on which the Law should be inscribed as soon as the people took possession of the promised inheritance Deu 27:1-10; and by next prescribing the liturgical form after which the blessings and cursings should be pronounced Deut. 27:11-26.
The stones here named are not those of which the altar Deu 27:5 was to be built, but are to serve as a separate monument witnessing to the fact that the people took possession of the land by virtue of the Law inscribed on them and with an acknowledgment of its obligations.
All the words of this law - i. e. all the laws revealed from God to the people by Moses, regarded by the Jews as 613 (compare Num 15:38 note). The exhibition of laws in this manner on stones, pillars, or tables, was familiar to the ancients. The laws were probably graven in the stone ("very plainly," Deu 27:8 is by some rendered "scoop it out well"), as are for the most part the Egyptian hieroglyphics, the "plaister" being afterward added to protect the inscription from the weather.
In mount Ebal - Compare the marginal references. The Samaritan Pentateuch and Version read here Gerizim instead of Ebal; but the original text was probably, as nearly all modern authorities hold, altered in order to lend a show of scriptural sanction to the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim.
The erection of the altar, the offering thereon burnt-offerings and peace-offerings Deu 27:6-7, the publication of the Law in writing, form altogether a solemn renewal of the covenant on the entrance of the people into the promised land, and recall the ceremonies observed on the original grant of the covenant at Sinai (compare Exo 24:5). And Ebal (the mount of "barrenness "),the mount of cursing, was the fitting spot on which to celebrate them. For the curses were the penalties under which the children of Israel bound themselves to keep the Law. Suitably also was the same place selected as that in which were to be set up both the monumental stones containing the Law, and the altar at which the covenant was to be renewed. We must note too the fact that Deu 27:15 ff set out verbatim the curses only, the blessings being omitted. The law because of man's sinfulness brings on him first and chiefly a curse: compare Deu 31:16-17; Gal 3:10.
Compare Jos 8:32-35. The solemnity was apparently designed only for the single occasion on which it actually took place.
Deu 27:12, Deu 27:13
The tribes appointed to stand on Gerizim to bless the people all sprang from the two wives of Jacob, Leah and Rachel. All the four tribes which sprang from the handmaids Zilpah and Bilhah are located on Ebal. But in order, as it would seem, to effect an equal division, two tribes are added to the latter from the descendants of the wives, that of Reuben, probably because he forfeited his primogeniture Gen 49:4; and of Zebulun, apparently because he was the youngest son of Leah.
The transaction presents itself as a solemn renewal of the covenant made by God with Abraham and Isaac, but more especially with Jacob and his family. Accordingly the genealogical basis of the "twelve patriarchs" (compare Act 7:12; Rev 7:4 ff), the sons of Jacob, is here assumed. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh are merged in the name of Joseph, their father; and Levi regains on this occasion his place collaterally with the others. "The Levites" of Deu 27:14 are no doubt "the priests the Levites" (compare Jos 8:33), in whom the ministerial character attaching to the tribe was more particularly manifested. It is noteworthy that the group of tribes which stood on Gerizim far exceeded the other in numbers and in importance, thus perhaps indicating that even by the Law the blessing should at length prevail.
The "Amen" attested the conviction of the utterers that the sentences to which they responded were true, just, and certain; so in Num 5:22, and in our own Commination Office, which is modelled after this ordinance of Moses.
Twelve curses against transgressions of the covenant. The first eleven are directed against special sins which are selected by way of example, the last comprehensively sums up in general terms and condemns all and every offence against God's Law. Compare the marginal references.