THEME: Blessing by Grace through Faith
This week’s lessons recount the renewal of the covenant under Joshua, in fulfillment of God’s words to Moses.
SCRIPTURE:Joshua 8:30-35
At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.

The other reason why this passage is tremendous is because this altar of uncut stores was not constructed, as we might suspect, in the valley between the two mountains. Rather, they were told to build it on Mount Ebal, the mountain of the curses. Why was it built on the mountain of the curses? It was built there because that was the mountain upon which sinners stood. It was a way of saying that if you’re going to come to God by means of the sacrifice, you come not as one who views himself as righteous, but as a sinner. Jesus Christ said, “I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” The altar was for anyone part of the community of Israel who sinned. That’s the meaning of the story. 
However, an interesting footnote to this is that by the first century the Samaritans, who were living in the area, also constructed an altar. The woman of Samaria, whom Jesus met at the well, referred to it. But the Samaritans constructed their altar on Mt. Gerizim, the mountain of blessing, the mountain of the righteous. It was as if the Samaritans were saying as a very self-righteous people that they were not going to come as sinners. They didn’t want to stand on Mount Ebal. They wanted to come as the righteous and thus stand on Mount Gerizim. The woman knew about a dispute between Jews and Samaritans over the proper place to worship.  The Jews’ worship was centered in Jerusalem, while she and her people’s worship was centered on Mount Gerizim.  She wanted to know which one was right. Jesus responded that it’s not going to be on Gerizim, nor even in Jerusalem. What He meant was that through His death and His resurrection, the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth—that is, upon the basis of the sacrifice which He provided. 
We need to see one more thing from this covenant renewal ceremony. Not only were they to come to the altar of sacrifice as sinners, receiving what was done for them on their behalf on the altar; they were also to come claiming no contribution to that matter of salvation by themselves. This is what’s involved in the altar being made of uncut stones on which no iron tool had been used. There are people, no doubt, who are willing to admit they are not perfect and so will confess to being sinners to that extent. And there are people who will quite readily welcome help that may be given to them by other human beings, or, perhaps if the situation is really desperate, by God. But they do not want to relinquish their ability to do something. They say, “Well, God, it may be true, if you say so, that I need a Savior. And I’m certainly glad to have the Lord Jesus Christ help me. But, you see, I want you to know that I am capable of doing something for myself in this matter of salvation and, moreover, that I insist upon doing it.” 
And when Moses gave the instructions and Joshua carried them out to set up this altar of uncut stones to which human ingenuity, ability, and skills had contributed nothing at all, he was teaching a great lesson. He was saying that if we would come to God and be saved by that sacrifice, we must come with empty hands, relying 100% upon what God Himself does for us. This is the principle of the Reformation. The Reformers talked about sola fide and sola gratia. Sola fide means by “faith alone.” It means by faith without any human works added to it. Sola gratia means by “grace alone.” This means that salvation is all of grace entirely apart from human merit. Augustus Toplady saw this and expressed it in one of his great hymns:  
Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling;Naked, come to thee for dress, helpless, look to thee for grace.Foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.
We can’t come to that rock, and we can’t be cleansed by that fountain, if we come thinking that somehow we’re achieving it for ourselves. But if we come with empty hands, we’ll find a place of refuge in that rock, and a place of cleansing at that fountain, and by God the Holy Spirit we’ll come to live in a way that actually brings a full measure of blessing in our lives.  


What is important about the place where the altar was constructed?
What is important about the material used to build the altar?
What do the two Reformation terms sola fide and sola gratia mean?  What is the theological significance of each term?

In what ways do people around you demonstrate an attitude of self-righteousness before God?  Pray for opportunities to show them their absolute dependence upon God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ.

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