That the law should be strenuously enjoined on Israel is natural in view of its divine character. One of the most interesting of all the interesting incidents connected with Israel's settlement in the Land of Promise, when they came out of Egypt, was the public endorsement of its leading features by the assembled tribes in the valley formed by the two hills of Ebal and Gerizim--as commanded, and the imprecation of a curse on those who should fail to keep it.
The particulars will be found in Deut. 27:2-26; Joshua 8:33-35.
In the presence of the massed multitudes, the Levites, stationed in the hollow, and within hearing of all (as travellers have found who have experimented), briefly recited the principal commandments of the law in rotation, and the whole multitude, at the end of each sentence, ejaculated an endorsing "Amen!" which must have sounded like a wave breaking on the shore. It was also a commandment (Deut. 31:11-13) that, always when Israel should gather at the feasts (which was three times in a year--Deut. 16:16), the law should be read in their hearing.
Law o f Moses Ch 1
1 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 Yahweh thy Elohim 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 Yahweh thy Elohim giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as Yahweh Elohim 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 [mizbe'ach] unto the Yahweh thy elohim, an altar [mizbe'ach] of stones [avanim]: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool [barzel] upon them.
Once for all God would have it known at the very outset of Israel's national life how great a fallacy it was to imagine that "the Godhead is like unto gold or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device" (Acts 17 : 29). He would remind them that God is not the creation of man, but man the creation of God. On the basis of the recognition of that fact alone would God accept man's worship; and it was in brazen defiance of it that Jeroboam the son of Nebat made Israel to sin.
Not even the worship of the heavenly bodies offered specifically in recognition that it was He that made and moved them all would be acceptable to Him (Deut. 4: 19). One representation only would He allow of Himself, one that was necessary for the solemn ritual of the Covenant ratification (Exod. 24 : 4) or other ceremonial occasions such as that when the Law was engraved on stones on Mount Ebal (Deut. 27 : 1-8). This unique object was to be an altar. But even then it was emphatically to be only an adjunct of worship and in no sense an object of worship - "thou shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings and thy peace offerings, thy sheep and thine oxen".
And to stress once again with the utmost emphasis that even such a representation of Himself should not be graven in any way by art or man's device, it was specified, "An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me ... and if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it" (Exod. 20 : 24-25).
That is, its constituent parts were to be God-made not man-made. Finally and even more emphatically, "Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon" (verse 26). Those organs which enable man to procreate might be regarded as endowing him with the same creative power as God Himself, a notion akin to the perverted one which formed the basis of the revolting fertility cults of those and later days.
Such cults were abhorrent to the Creator, and no altar of His was to be, even in the most incidental way, profaned by those who ministered at it, as were the altars at which pagan priesthoods ministered (often in the nude) to the fiendish gods of their own devising.
God thus desired both the exclusive worship of His People, and the offering of it in the spiritual way appointed, "for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God" - jealous not from pique or petty vindictiveness, as in the case of man; but only in vindication of His absolute Holiness.
Hatred of Him is hatred of His Holiness: since He is Holy, out of consistency He must meet the challenge - which He does by "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me". Jesus himself warned the false teachers of his day of the inexorable character of this law (Matt. 23 : 32-35). But love of Him calls forth in turn His transcendent mercy and willingness to forgive, for He is gracious (Exod. 20: 6; 34: 6-7)·
Law and Grace Ch 6
6 Thou shalt build the altar of Yahweh thy Elohim of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto Yahweh thy Elohim:
7 And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before Yahweh thy Elohim.
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 Yahweh thy Elohim.
10 Thou shalt therefore obey the voice of Yahweh thy Elohim, and do his commandments and his statutes, which I command thee this day.
N. M.-Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets will be in the kingdom; and none of them were immersed. Why, then, should we be baptized?
For the simple and only reason that God has required it of us and did not require it of them. God required circumcision of most of them, and without it they would have been lost (Gen. 17:14). He has not required this of us: and we should commit sin if we were to be circumcised (Gal. 5: 3-4).
He required the offering of a son of Abraham, and had Abraham refused, he would have been rejected. He has not required this of us.
He requires baptism of us. This is the all-sufficient reason for obedience in the matter, without asking any vain questions about others. God is supreme. If we honour Him not by implicit obedience, He will dispense with us. He does not need it. We cannot give Him anything.
"Who hath given unto Him and it shall be recompensed unto them again?" (Rom. 9:35).
He has graciously put it in our power to offer Him acceptable service by implicitly believing His promises, and implicitly obeying His commandments.
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.
14 And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice,
15 Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto Yahweh, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen.
16 Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
17 Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen.
18 Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way. And all the people shall say, Amen.
19 Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.
20 Cursed be he that lieth with his father's wife; because he uncovereth his father's skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen.
21 Cursed be he that lieth with any manner of beast. And all the people shall say, Amen.
22 Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
23 Cursed be he that lieth with his mother in law. And all the people shall say, Amen.
24 Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbour secretly. And all the people shall say, Amen.
25 Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say, Amen.
26 Cursed [Arur] be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them [divrei haTorah hazot by doing them]. And all the people [kol HaAm] shall say, Amen [Omein. Gal 3:10].
James's application of this curse is so stringent as to make a man who transgressed one of the commandments an offender against all. His argument is :
"Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all: for he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law" (James 2: 10).
Because, therefore, the Mosaic law condemned to death those who should disobey any of the ten commandments, or their engrafted corollaries, and because no man was capable of a spotless obedience (save Christ), they were in their totality a "ministration of death, written and engraven in stones"; and had they continued in force against men, their condemnation would have been inevitable and their salvation impossible.
Law of Moses Ch 3.