Another Bad Churchy Phrase

And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

Deuteronomy 27:9-26

Over the past few weeks, we have been looking at “bad Churchy phrases” that we often hear.  We looked at the phrase “it was a God thing” to see how it implies there are things God does not control.  And we learned that the Lord Jesus Christ holds everything together.  He ordains, sustains, and controls all things.  So everything is a “God a thing.”

Then, we looked at the phrase “God showed up in the end” by reading Psalm 139.  David taught us that God is everywhere all at once. There was never a time when God was not present, since God created time. There was never a point when God didn’t ordain and sustain David’s life, or your life, or my life. That means that God writes our stories; he writes our happy endings and our sad endings for his glory and our greater and greater trust into Christ.  So he doesn’t just “show up in the end.”

Next, we looked at the well-meaning-but-utterly-wrong phrase, “God will never give you more than you can bear.” We read 2 Corinthians chapter 12 about the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Three times he asked God to remove this unbearable messenger of Satan sent to harass me. God said no, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The issue was not what PAUL could bear because the Christian life is NOT about OUR strength; it’s about OUR WEAKNESS and Christ’s strength. We don’t “gut out” our troubles; we rest in dependence upon the God who is always present and who ordains and sustains all things. Why? Because, “See step one; it’s all about Jesus.”

Then, Paul Gonzales took us through God’s promise of prosperity in Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. We learned that God’s promise to prosper Israel (it’s a prophetic word to the Jews in Babylonian exile) was fulfilled in the coming of Messiah Jesus – not in the cheap “health and wealth” ways the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day promised.

Last week, Mike Simpson looked at the context of Jesus promise in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” We learned Jesus was not teaching two or three people could get together and call themselves a “church.” Jesus was not giving us an excuse to stay home from worship and call it “home church” – there is no such animal. He wasn’t commissioning para-church ministry as a substitute for the local church. Jesus was not promoting a culture of individualism. He was promising his presence and authority in matters where it is necessary to correct and/or discipline believers caught up in sin. It’s a redemptive promise. Jesus is present even in the midst of our conflict-creating sin. He is present in his church to reclaim the repentant and to cast out the unrepentant. He is present to preserve and defend his people.

So, this morning we have another biblical phrase that’s often used out of its context: “And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’” Don’t misunderstand; there is nothing wrong with saying, “Amen.” It’s a Hebrew word (used in Greek as well) conveying the ideas of “truly, surely, let it be so.” Jesus uses it many times to make truth claims: “Truly, truly I say to you all” (Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι).

The quote often winds up as a part of unofficial church liturgy. Pastors use it to let people know when a prayer is over. Worship leaders use it to encourage people to add their approval to a musical offering.  “And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’” is a command repeated 12 times in Deuteronomy 27 as a part of the covenant renewal ceremony Joshua and the Israelites are commanded to hold immediately after entering the promised land.

The Israelites are agreeing to all the terms of God’s Covenant of Works in the land God is giving them. This renewal ceremony takes place on the twin mountains: Ebal and Gerazim. Let’s look at the text and the context in Deut. 27:9-26.

Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the Lord your God. 10 You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.”

11 That day Moses charged the people, saying, 12 “When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. 14 And the Levites shall declare to all the men of Israel in a loud voice:

15 “‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’

16 “‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

17 “‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

18 “‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

19 “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

20 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s nakedness.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

21 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with any kind of animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

22 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

23 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

24 “‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

25 “‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

26 “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

The Ebal-Gerazim site had historical significance to Israel.

  • When Joshua and the Israelites crossed over the Jordan and entered into God’s promised land, the logical thing for them to do would have been to head south towards Hebron and Salem (Jerusalem) where Abraham had lived.

  • Instead, Moses left instructions that the Israelites head north to Ebal-Gerazim, the place Abraham entered the promised land and built his fist altar to the Lord because God met him there (Gen. 12:4-9).

  • Abraham’s grandson, Jacob/Israel, settled there after escaping with his wives from his father-in-law Laban (Gen. 33:19; 48:22). Jacob dug a well in that area. The Israelites would bury Jacob’s bones here once they completed conquering the land (Josh. 24:32).

  • One day, Jesus would come to Jacob’s well, in the sight of Ebal-Gerazim to speak to a Samaritan woman about living water and true worship of the Lord (Jn. 4:6).

  • It’s in between these two mountains, in a valley that forms a natural amphitheater (in which the village of Schechem sits), that God through Moses commands the Israelites to hold this ceremony renewing their relationship to God as their Great King.

  • Moses would die before entering the land; Joshua would lead this new generation of Israelites into the land after all their parents and grandparents had died while wandering in the wilderness as a punishment for their breaking covenant with God.

  • So Ebal-Gerazim becomes the ceremonial “starting place” of Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land (like it had been for Abraham) as this new generation swears allegiance to God as their Great King, the conqueror of this land He is giving them.

God, through Moses, demands that all Israel give their agreement to the great King’s treaty by saying, “Amen.”

  • This new generation of Israelites must and shall bind themselves and their offspring to the Great King’s treaty if they wish to continue on in the Promised Land. No person is to remain silent. EVERYONE must say, “Amen.”

  • Young people and elderly must say, “Amen.” Important people and commoners, tribal elders, the wealthy, the poor, even non-Jews who have thrown their lot in with the Israelites – EVERYONE must say, “Amen.” “And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’

Notice that only the covenant curses are recorded, but the blessings are not. God is demanding that every person call down curses upon themselves when they say, “Amen.”

  • Can you see why this oft-quoted bible verse can be used as a bad churchy phrase?

  • The true context of this Bible verse is that God must and shall punish sin because sin is rebellion against the Great King and his treaty with his subjects.

These curses are for private, unseen sins – the stuff you hide from family, friends, and neighbors.

  • When God gave Moses the Covenant of Works (his Law) at Mount Sinai, that first generation of redeemed Israelites heard the Law and spoke their own version of “Amen.”

  • Exodus 24:7-8, “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (emphasis added).

  • Following those verses, you might recall Moses writes of ascending Mt. Sinai for 40 days to receive God’s covenant while the people down below grew scared and bored and decided to hold a “Golden Calf Orgy.”

  • So great was their ultimate grumbling and rebellion that God told them the trip into the promised land that would have taken three to four weeks was now going to last 40 years until all the people of that generation died in the wilderness and a new generation was ready to enter the land.

  • So, in our Deuteronomy 27 passage, as the Great King’s treaty is renewed with this new generation, God doesn’t simply want them to recite his Law; He wants them to understand that his Law is more than a pledge to look good on the outside; it’s more than “outside the cup righteousness.”

  • The Great King’s demands are more than national, collective, political demands. They reach down into individual hearts to demand perfection even when we are alone, when no other people are around to watch.

  • God is demanding every Israelite, great and small, must and shall be absolutely perfect in every circumstance because the Great King sees all and knows all. God doesn’t merely show up in the end, he is ALWAYS present and ALWAYS watching.

  • God is the divine witness to their oath. He demands respect to himself (v. 15), to rightful authority (v. 16), to truth (vv. 17–19), to family (vv. 20–23), to human life (vv. 24, 25), and in sum to his entire covenant (v. 26).1
  • EVERYONE who enters into his Promised Land must be publically and privately perfect (in their thoughts, their words, and their public and private actions) or curses will fall on the nation, on the land, on families, on the individual sinners.

  • All sins, public and private, are summed up in the curse of 27:26, “26 ‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

  • Calvin writes, God “threatened them with the punishment of secret sins, yet the conclusion, which is now added, extends the same judgment to all iniquities of whatever kind. …He briefly declares, that whosoever shall not perform what the Law requires, are accursed.”2
  • That’s why Jesus could say to the teachers of the Law in John 5:45-46, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.

Mount Ebal was the “mountain of cursing.” So all the “Amens” God commands are to be recited on Mount Ebal where Joshua is to build a sacrificial altar made from uncut stones.

  • Before the blessings and curses are read, Joshua was to build an altar on the mountain of curses.

  • Paul wrote in Gal. 3:10, “10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

  • Notice the altar was to be built with uncut stones; God was telling them there was NOTHING man could add to the Great King’s offer of forgiveness through blood sacrifice. Any attempt to make the alter prettier was an offense to God.

  • When Abraham built his altar to God in this area, it was not the altar that made Abraham right with God. It was Abraham’s trust in God’s promise of the Seed. Paul wrote, “Abraham trusted God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3).

  • God offers salvation on the mountain of curses, NOT on the mountain of blessing. Joshua is to give thanks to God by spilling innocent animal blood on an altar on the mountain of cursing. Joshua is to thank God for choosing a people under the curse of sin.

  • Can you see what the “Amens” mean on the mountain of cursing? God does not love you because you’re worthy. God doesn’t choose good people; he chooses cursed people. “Good people” don’t need saving. Healthy people don’t need the Great Physician.

  • Remember I mentioned Jesus came to Ebal-Gerazim and spoke to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well? The Samaritans were a mixed race of Jews the Assyrian considered too worthless to be taken into captivity and of foreigners relocated into the area by the conquering Assyrians army.

  • Over the centuries, as this mixed race became a nation, they decided to worship the god of that land. The poor Jewish descendants knew important things had happened at Ebal and Gerizim so they decided to build a temple there and make sacrifices to the Jewish god of the land.

  • Do you know where the Samaritans put the temple? They put it on Mt. Gerazim, the mountain of blessing, to represent their desire to earn God’s blessing from their obedience.

  • They thought if they sacrificed on the mountain of blessing, on the mountain of covenant obedience, they would be okay. That’s why the Samaritan woman asked Jesus about the Gerazim temple in John 4:19-21,

19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

Ebal was the mountain of cursing for the Old Covenant. Calvary is the mountain of cursing AND blessing in the New Covenant.

  • What Jesus was saying to the Samaritan woman was that no human system could work to make human beings right with God. No sacrifice offered on Mt. Gerazim or the temple mount in Jerusalem could make man right with God.

  • Only one specific sacrifice on one specific mountain could take away the covenant curse that falls upon sinners.

  • When Jesus, Abraham’s Seed, came and offered himself as the perfect, final sacrifice for the sins of his people a new mountain became the place of worship – a place of cursing and blessing.

  • Jesus took upon himself the all the curses of the Law covenant and earned for his people all the blessings he freely and fully gives to those who will but trust into him.

  • Way back when Abraham entered into the land to which God had sent him, God made a covenant with Abraham to give him a land, a people, and blessing. Unlike the curses the Israelites agreed to on Mt. Ebal, God took a curse upon himself for Abraham.

  • God promised if his relationship with Abraham and his descendants was ever broken by his people, God would take upon himself the curse of the covenant-breaking.

  • That’s what Mount Calvary is all about: God taking upon himself all the curse due us for our sin, dying the death that you and I deserve.

God offers all of us the opportunity to say, “Amen” to the curse of Mt. Calvary and to receive all Christ’s perfection deposited into our account. When we say, “Amen” to Jesus’ work, we become Abraham’s children. We receive more blessings than those who stood on Mt. Gerazim could have ever known.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:7-13).

1 Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy: Studies and Commentary (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2012), 124.

2 John Calvin and Charles William Bingham, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 208.