All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17
(March 2017)
Spiritual Renewal
Based on Joshua 8:30–35

After the Lord gives Israel victories at Jericho and Ai, it is time to deal with spiritual matters to cement their relationship with Him. In Deuteronomy 27 and 28, the Lord gave instructions on what should be done once they crossed over the River Jordan into Canaan.

The people travel about 25 miles from Gilgal, where they are camping, to the valley between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim—the site of the modern city of Nablus. Here, Joshua builds an altar of uncut stones, according to Moses’ instructions and then offers burnt offerings and peace offerings. By doing this, Joshua acknowledges that the Lord is the source of all their victories and blessings, and claims the territory of Canaan in His name.

This is an ideal place and time to worship the Lord, now that a foothold has been established in the central highlands that divide the northern and southern parts of the country. Some critics have questioned how that many people can pass through unconquered land, however, they seem to forget that the inhabitants of the land were terrified after hearing and seeing what the Lord has done to Jericho and Ai.

An Enormous Monument

Another thing of great moment happens next. Following the instructions given by Moses in Deuteronomy 28:2–8, Joshua takes large uncut stones and erects a monument next to the altar of sacrifice. Then he plasters (or whitewashes) it, and carefully writes the Ten Commandments on it; the entire Law of Moses; and finally, the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience. The thinking of the ancients is that when words are written down, they are made permanent.

This enormous monument serves as a public marker for the people to remind them of their Lord and what He expects of them, and undoubtedly lasts for centuries as a witness to all of Israel, and to those who pass it.

Mt. Gerizim is located just to the south of Mt. Ebal. Their summits are about two miles apart, but the green valley that runs east and west between them is about one third of a mile wide. Moses instructs them in Deuteronomy 31 to read the covenant before the people every seven years, and this valley is the ideal place for this. The two mountains serve to represent the covenant blessings and the covenant curses. Mt. Gerizim represents the blessings, and Mt. Ebal, the covenant curses.

The twelve tribes are divided into two groups; six tribes are gathered on Mt. Gerizim and six are stationed on Mt. Ebal. Those on Mt. Gerizim (the mountain of blessings) are all descendants of Leah and Rachel, while those on Mt. Ebal are the offspring of the two handmaids of the two sisters, together with Reuben and Zebulun. One might wonder why these two were appointed to be on the mountain of curses.

One probable explanation is that Reuben (and consequently, his tribe) was characterized by his father Jacob as “unstable [uncontrolled, or turbulent] as water.” Genesis 49:4. Although he was Jacob’s firstborn, his moral sin of defiling his father’s bed brought the curse that he would never excel, or regain his preeminence again. The tribe of Zebulun, on the other hand, failed to drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron and Nahalol, subjecting them instead to forced labor (Judges 1:30).

Joshua stands by the Ark of the Covenant as a symbol of the Lord’s presence as he reads the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses. Around him are the attending priests, and all of Israel. One wonders how they might all have heard him, but according to audio experts, this geographical setting provides perfect acoustics for crowd. In ancient times, all reading is done out loud. The vast majority of them cannot read so for a group, there is always a public reader. When the blessings are read, those on Mt. Gerizim respond with a loud “Amen!” And when the curses are read, those on Mt. Ebal respond with an “Amen!” of their own.

Curses sound harsh to us, but in God’s design, they are full of grace and mercy. When Israel goes astray, the curses are designed to redirect them and bring them back to the Lord so they may again partake of His salvation and blessings. The full reading of the Law makes clear their responsibility to the Lord. Since the Law is the Lord’s Divine Covenant, they’re entering into an agreement and relationship with the Lord in which they must verbally respond. The Law, or Covenant, is extremely significant for them because it reveals their means of salvation.

This covenant renewal marks the first opportunity they have to hear the full covenant since they’ve come out of the wilderness. It is the fullest revelation of the Lord that they have every received. The Scripture states that the audience for the Covenant renewal is all-inclusive because it mentions women, little ones, and strangers living among them.

Joshua and the people of Israel follow the Lord’s commands, given through Moses, to the letter, and this renewal of His covenant confirms that they are His chosen people. It also proves that His word is reliable, since He has fulfilled His promise to Abraham to lead his descendants out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. The lesson for the people is also clear—that the blessings of inheritance must be preceded by constant spiritual commitment.

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