Altar and Law - RR187BB99

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Professor: Rushdoony, Dr. R. J.
Title: Altar and Law
Course: Course - Deuteronomy
Subject: Subject:Pentateuch
Lesson#: 99
Length: 0:27:21
TapeCode: RR187BB99
Audio: Chalcedon Archive
Transcript: .docx Format

This transcript is unedited. It was:
Archived by the Mt. Olive Tape Library
Digitized, transcribed, and published by Christ Rules
Posted by with permission

Let us worship God. Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord is in His holy temple let all the earth keep silence before Him. God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Let us pray.

Oh Lord our God unto whom all glory and honor belongs. We give thanks unto Thee that in Thy sovereign grace Thou hast made us Thine for time and for eternity. Give us grace day by day so to walk that in all things we may do that which is right and pleasing in Thy sight. That we may rejoice in Thee knowing that Thou dost make all things including our griefs, our sorrows, and all the ills that befall us work together for good in Thee. Grant us oh Lord joyful and contented hearts in Christ’s name, Amen.

Our scripture is Deuteronomy 27:1-13. Our subject: Altar and Law. Deuteronomy 27:1-13.

“And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day.

2 And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaister them with plaister:

3 And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over, that thou mayest go in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the Lord God of thy fathers hath promised thee.

4 Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaister them with plaister.

5 And there shalt thou build an altar unto the Lord thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them.

6 Thou shalt build the altar of the Lord thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord thy God:

7 And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the Lord thy God.

8 And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly.

9 And Moses and the priests the Levites spake unto all Israel, saying, Take heed, and hearken, O Israel; this day thou art become the people of the Lord thy God.

10 Thou shalt therefore obey the voice of the Lord thy God, and do his commandments and his statutes, which I command thee this day.

11 And Moses charged the people the same day, saying,

12 These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are come over Jordan; Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin:

13 And these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.”


Our translation while it’s accurate, loses some of

Our translation while it’s accurate, loses some of its bluntness because the English of the Authorized Version is old fashioned, it therefore sounds more polite than it is. In verse nine: take heed and hearken, we can perhaps better get the flavor of it if we render it ‘shut up and listen’. Moses is laying down the law; he orders them now to take heed to what he is going to say. The restatement of the law is now finished and the time for its ratification has come. The covenant law is the gift of God’s grace and they must hear and obey. No option to pick and choose is given. There are three sections to our text, first, the law is to be written on stones, plastered to make it possible to write on it. This was a common practice in antiquity but where it was normally done you had an extremely dry climate as in Babylon and Egypt which made it possible for such writings of the law to survive indefinitely. But Palestine as we see it now has no resemblance to what it was at this time. It was then a well forested country, there were many streams flowing year round. As a result, there was a great deal of humidity, dampness and before long it would cause plaster to disintegrate. This is an important fact. We can go to Babylon and Egypt and uncover old inscriptions writing on plaster, still readable, but in Palestine in those days and for centuries thereafter until the Turks took it over, stripped it of forests, the streams dried up and it became like a desert, there was humidity. The dampness would cause the plaster to disintegrate. This means that the renewal of these public inscriptions was necessary from time to time. [00:06:58]

And this was a practical test of the concern of the

And this was a practical test of the concern of the people for the law. With the moral indifference this public posting of the law would disappear. There’s another interesting factor. Such public postings of the law in various nations in antiquity and for centuries, means that literacy was then higher than we are ready to admit that it was. Well into the latter part of the last century most scholars were skeptical and unwilling to admit any literacy in mosaic Israel. Now we know better, but this has not created any humility on the part of the scholars, so they are none the wiser. But consider the implications of the public posting of the law. In some countries its several places so that everyone would see the law, first there wasn’t that much to the body of law, and second, they always read it as they went by certain public places. Then second an altar of uncut stones was to be erected also. Wherever atonement or salvation was set forth in scripture man was not allowed to contribute anything, so he could not even contribute in the way of any design to the altar. Man’s part is to receive what God in His sovereign grace gives to him. Atonement is entirely God’s work so the altar of atonement could not be man’s handiwork. This altar was, like the stones inscribed with the law, kind of boundary mark to the land. Because the land was the covenant peoples realm under God it was marked by God’s altars signifying atonement and salvation and by God’s law, the way of holiness or sanctification. This meant that the land was the altar land and therefore the law land. Then third, the twin mountains, Ebal and Gerizim, were to be used to set forth this fact as we shall see next week. [00:10:02]

Curses would be pronounced from Ebal and blessings

Curses would be pronounced from Ebal and blessings from Gerizim for disobedience and obedience. Because the earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof the world and all of they that dwell therein, the whole earth is an altar land and a law land. There is no place where you can go where sin becomes a virtue. The whole earth is subject God’s blessings and cursing’s, now no less than in Moses’s day. Because God is the creator and because God commands His use of the earth all of the world is therefore His altar land and law land and the great commission of our Lord requires that it be restored to His dominion by means of the altar and atonement. We have here a ritual that all the clans and tribes are involved. In our time public rituals have little place and church rituals are diminishing in their importance, but ritual at the very least is a form of manners, of courtesy and respect. This is why ritual, taking it at its minimal meaning, is necessary to life. It means much more than religious ceremonies in the church. To illustrate, it’s a well-documented fact that marital unions that begin with a religious ceremony rather than living together have a very remarkably higher survival rate. Why? Because the rite implies a respect. The couple getting married say there is more to this then our mutual consent. When I was in my twenties I encountered a family at first glance very impressive but they seemed very strange to me. Common courtesies were lacking, no good morning, no goodbye, only a very casual association. They would walk in and out of the home and say nothing to one another unless they wanted something of each other or to the maid they had unless they wanted her to do something. [00:13:10]

It was a very casual marriage

It was a very casual marriage. It was not a good nor an enduring union. That was unusual then but such things are more common today more than half a century later. The simple matter of courtesy, a minor ritual of family life, good morning, good bye, please, thank you, are lacking, there is a fundamental lack of respect. Ritual belongs in all of life and its observance tells us that the forms are respected, that their meaning is understood and valued. In verse one we are told that the elders of Israel were united in Moses in issuing these requirements. In other words, they were united in seeing their importance. Some nations of antiquity inscribe their laws on stone by engraving it. All regarded it as important that the law be known by everyone. The Code of Hammurabi discovered in 1902 has three thousand, six hundred and fourteen lines that have been recovered and not many more besides that that are not decipherable now. And those three thousand some lines are not three thousand laws but various lines of a single law. In other words, in antiquity even the pagan nations had a limited number of laws dealing with some fundamental facts but it is impossible for modern man to know the law because it filled thousands of volumes with many more regulations added to it by bureaucracies. So now no matter what the crime it’s the technical factors that weigh more heavily at the courts than he or she do it or did they not. In chapter twenty eight we have a catalogue of covenant blessings and cursings. [00:16:01]

What we have in the second half of this chapter which

What we have in the second half of this chapter which we will deal with next week, Deuteronomy 27:14-26 are curses on specific actions twelve in number. The law has beneficial affects when it is remembered and obeyed. Hence blessings and curses are basic to the bible and to God’s dealings with us. We are to remember our past under God but see the past in the light of His law as a step towards our future in Him. Some scholars have wondered whether or not the whole of Deuteronomy’s laws was here written on law or simply the Ten Commandments. But the text seems to indicate all of the law and it fits in with the practices of antiquity. To see every item of the law would remind the people of their obligation to God. The public hosting of law in antiquity had in mind a people who knew all the law, something no longer possible. Something which makes for increasing lawlessness. In verse nine there is a reference to the priests, the Levites, that is all the tribe of Levi was associated with Moses and the seventy elders in proclaiming this requirement. The teaching function of the Levites, the clerisy of Israel, made it very important for them to be connected with the law. The Levites were scattered later throughout the land and were therefore very important in their influence in all parts of the land. Verse nine is important because by declaring that all the people had become the people of the Lord thy God the covenants law is binding upon all. According to Samson Raphael Hirsch all had been appointed thereby to be the representatives and keepers of the law and responsible for it. They were made also guardians to the inscribed stones of the law. The covenant people are simultaneously the law people and the grace people. Biblical language seems very strange to many people today because it speaks constantly of blessings and cursing’s and assumes that these are our alternatives in life. [00:19:11]

Which we believe is true

Which we believe is true! Modern man insists on seeing more and more of life as morally neutral. As a result we have a world that is increasingly devoid of meaning and character. Because God is, no area of life and thought is neutral, by Him were all things made, without Him was anything made and therefore His nature and His law govern everything and His word prevails in every sphere. We are always moving according to the Bible in realms of potential blessings or potential curses. And none can escape into a morally neutral realm. As Cornelius Van Till wrote:

“If man could fly to a corner of the universe and find a button to press which would block out God and His word or a closet to hide in which would be morally neutral he would always have his finger on that button and always be in that closet.”

But there is no such place. One of the deadliest illusions common to our time is the belief that one can escape judgment, that one can evade consequences. Life is a matter of time and eternity and there is no evading of God’s judgments. There is no realm of neutrality in the universe nor any hiding place from our God. Let us pray.

Our Father we thank Thee that Thy word is truth. That we have continually in this world a moral choice. A moral blessing or judgment. And that Thy blessings and judgments are for time and eternity and that though we live in an evil time amidst an evil generation Thou art He that dost make all things work together for good for them that love Thee, to them who are the called according to Thy purpose. How great Thou art oh Lord and we praise Thee. In Christ’s name, Amen.


Are there any questions now about our lesson? Yes?...

Are there any questions now about our lesson? Yes?

[Question unintelligible]

[Rushdoony] Ignorance of the law is no excuse. That is a saying that comes out of the Bible and out of the world of antiquity because when you had God’s law which was written on the tables of your heart and all your being or when you had whether you were in Egypt or Babylon or in Israel the law on rocks that you had to walk by constantly you couldn’t escape seeing what the law was. You were not ignorant of it and ignorance of the law was no excuse. And of course that proverb held good in this country up until fairly recent times because for a long, long time judges would be instructed, would instruct juries out of the bible and juries would decide cases out of the bible. Therefore ignorance of the law was no excuse, they were taught the bible in school and in church and at home. Any other questions or comments? Yes?

[Question unintelligible]

[Rushdoony] That’s a statement from Paul in Romans but the generation that died in the wilderness knew the law and all but two perished because they despised God’s grace and mercy and were continually whining. It was a generation of whiners and God brought judgment upon them. What Paul meant by that was that we may not have known this book but God has written his law on, well on every atom of our being. So he says the things visible and invisible are known to them but they hold them in unrighteousness or in more modern terminology they suppress it in their wickedness, their injustice. So they know it but they hold it down, they push it back in their mind because they don’t want to know it. [00:25:48]

Any other questions or comments? Well if not let us

Any other questions or comments? Well if not let us close with prayer.

Our Father, we thank Thee that we live and move and have our being indeed. That it is Thy government and not ours that prevails. We thank Thee that in Thy providential grace and mercy Thou hast guided us, that had we indeed had nothing but our own wisdom we would have been of all men most miserable. But Thou hast preserved us from ourselves and from the malice of others to make us Thine. Our Father we thank Thee, And now go in peace, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, bless you and keep you, guide and protect you, this day and always, Amen.

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