Some scholars regard the book of Deuteronomy as the heart of the Old Testament, and some call chapters 27-30 the heart of Deuteronomy. In these chapters, Moses forcefully urges on the people the kind of life that is based on what God has done. In chapters 4-26, he has given the chief substance of the teaching. As a preacher, Moses is pressing this point home upon the people. He is about to die and will soon leave the people he has led for decades. He urges the people to choose righteousness and obey God, because that’s the way of blessing. The other way is the way of death.
Incidentally, this is the same thing Joshua will go on to do. At the very end of the book of Joshua, after Joshua has led the people all those years, he himself gives a sermon, and it ends with the same message: “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:14). If the people want to serve those false gods, then by all means serve them, Joshua says. He then says, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:15).
Deuteronomy 27-30 can be outlined in four parts. First is this matter of preparing for the renewal of the covenant. Deuteronomy 27:1-8 describes two preparatory acts. First, the people are to take large stones and set them up on a mountain they are going to come to when they get into the promised land. They were to whitewash these stones and write on them all the words of the law. Second, they are also to construct an altar of unhewn stone, that is, natural stones from the field, and make sacrifices on it.
Now there is some question about how much of the law was to be written on it. Though it says, “all the words of this law” (v. 8), it is unlikely that this means the entire Pentateuch. It may not have included the historical sections, and perhaps not even all of the law codes of the five books were included. It could be that it is referring to the law code in Deuteronomy. However much was to be written down, the important point is that it was to be set up in the land into which the people are entering. This means that it’s not just the law of the desert wanderings, but also the law by which the land is to be governed. Therefore, if the people had any question about the way they should live, all they had to do was go over and read the stones for their instruction. Today, in order to know how we should live, we don’t have to walk up to Mount Ebal; all we have to do is read the Bible.
Second, having written the law on the stones, God also instructed Moses to set up an altar. This, too, is important because the altar is where sacrifices were made for sin. You see, the point of all this is that if the law was stated clearly, and the people read it and understood it, they would come to the inevitable conclusion that they were sinners because they had broken the law. What are they to do when they’ve broken the law? The answer is they are to come to God by means of a sacrifice, where an innocent animal was offered in place of the one who had sinned. When God gave the law on Mount Sinai, He commanded them not to break it; but He also knew that they would break it. So he provided atonement through the sacrifices that were offered by Aaron, the high priest. We know that this points forward to Jesus Christ.