11. A Blessing and a Curse (11:26–32)
26 Listen! Today I am going to set before you a blessing and a curse:
27 the blessing for those of you who listen to the commandments of the Lord your God which I am going to command you today;
28 and the curse if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God and you turn aside from the way which I am going to command you today, in order to go after other gods whom you have not known.
29 And it shall be that when the Lord your God brings you into the land, which you are about to enter in order to take possession of it, then you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.
30 Surely they are beyond the Jordan, beyond the western road, in the land of the Canaanites who inhabit the Arabah, in the vicinity of Gilgal, beside the oaks of Moreh.
31 For you are about to cross over the Jordan, to go in, to take possession of the land which the Lord your God is going to give to you; and you shall take possession of it and you shall inhabit it.
32 And you shall take care to do all the statutes and the judgments which I am about to set before you today.
The context of this passage is important. It serves as a conclusion to the preceding part of the address in that it places the audience in a position of decision which will soon have to be made. Today I am going to set before you a blessing and a curse—the alternatives will be set before the people as the basis upon which the decision has to be made. The blessing and the curse, however, are contingent upon obedience to the law, which was about to be presented to the people in its detailed specifications. Thus the passage serves not only as a conclusion to the preceding part of the address, but also as an introduction to what follows, which sets the subsequent chapters within their immediate and proper perspective.
The framework within which the detailed presentation of the law is set can be seen in the following outline:
(a) The blessing and curse in the present renewal of the covenant (11:26–28).
(b) The blessing and curse in the future renewal of the covenant (11:29–32).
(c) The specific legislation (12:1–26:19).
(d) The blessing and curse in the future renewal of the covenant (27:1–26).
(e) The blessing and curse in the present renewal of the covenant (28:1–29:1).
Thus it can be seen that the specific legislation is set in a chiastic framework, stressing the importance of the blessing and curse contingent upon obedience to the legislation both in the present and in the future.
26–28 For fuller details, see ch. 28 and commentary and also the Introduction, section VIII/5. The nature of the commandments emerges in a striking manner in v. 28: if you do not listen to the commandments … and you turn aside from the way.… Again it becomes clear that the commandments were not simply a body of legislation which was to be obeyed for its own sake. The commandments reflected a way of life, the good way of life which God determined for his people; therefore, to disobey (or not listen to) the commandments was to turn aside from the way that alone could lead to happiness and prosperity in relationship with God, and to take a false trail that could lead only to separation from God and disaster. Thus, in the exposition of the details of the law that follows, Moses’ role was not that of a great legalist or jurist, but was that of a man deeply concerned that the people who were under his charge should enter into the fullness of life that was potential in the covenant relationship with God.
29–32 For a fuller account of the future renewal of the covenant mentioned briefly here, see 27:1–26 and commentary. 1 The location of the two mountains is specified in v. 30. Beyond the western road 2 —while the reference of the words is not absolutely certain, they may indicate the road that lay to the west of the Jordan, linking Jericho in the south with Bethshan in the north. In the vicinity of Gilgal—since there are several different Gilgals mentioned in the OT, 3 the particular location is uncertain, but it may have been located near Shechem, toward the Jordan. The oaks 4 of Moreh—see also Gen. 12:6 for Abram’s association with this vicinity.
1 For a study of 11:26–32 in relation to Deut. 27 and Josh. 8:30–35, see O. Eissfeldt, “Gilgal and Shechem,” in J. I. Durham and J. R. Porter, eds., Proclamation and Presence (1970). pp. 90–101. However, Eissfeldt’s argument that some of the passages relate to Gilgai and some relate to Shechem seems, from the perspective of the present writer, to be based on a rather artificial analysis of the texts. On the authenticity and antiquity of 11:26–32 and ch. 27, see the Introduction, section IX. 3 (c).
3 See K. A. Kitchen, “Gilgal,” NBD. pp. 469f.
4 ʾēlônē (plur.)—probably a singular should be read (as in Gen. 12:6), for which the majority of the versions offer good support.