THEME: Setting Up the Stones
This week’s lessons recount the renewal of the covenant under Joshua, in fulfillment of God’s words to Moses.
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.
There is also something else we need to see. This matter of the reading of the law at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim was not only given to teach the principle that blessing follows obedience and judgment follows disobedience; it was also given to explain the way of finding God’s favor when we do disobey. If you’ve read this section of Joshua 8 carefully, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the portion of it that deals with the reading of the law is preceded by a section which tells about the setting up of an altar of uncut stones on the mountain. This, too, was in direct fulfillment of the words that Moses had given and which are recorded in Deuteronomy. This is what Moses said:
When you have crossed the Jordan into the land, the land the Lord your God has given you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. Write on them all the words of this law when you’ve crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God has given you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you. And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal as I command you today and coat them with plaster. Build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not use any iron tool upon them. Build the altar of the Lord your God with field stones, and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. Sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the Lord your God. And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on the stones you have set up.
So that’s what Joshua did.
This is an absolutely marvelous thing and for these reasons. The first reason is that here God is showing the solution to the sin problem. I would imagine on that occasion, with the defeat of Ai fresh in their minds because of the sin of Achan, they might well have said, “Well, yes, it’s a wonderful thing to be talking about the blessings of God which come from obedience and to be remembering the curses of God that follow upon disobedience. But what is going to happen when we disobey? We’re sinful human beings, and so certainly we’re going to disobey, just as Achan did. No doubt we can learn from his experience. But the time is going to come when sin will enter in again, and then judgment is going to follow. Does that put us in a position where we are never, ever again going to experience the blessings of our God?”
God gives instructions for the setting up of an altar in which the principle is demonstrated that when we sin, there is, nevertheless, an approach to God by the means of sacrifice. Of course, that’s a principle that God had been teaching all along. On Mount Sinai God had thundered out the words of His law, declaring what the people of Israel shall not do. But at the same time that God was giving the law, telling the people what things to avoid, God was also giving the instructions for the sacrifices. At the same time He sent Moses as the lawgiver, He also sent Aaron as the high priest. It is as if God were saying, “Thou shalt not, but I know that you’re going to do it. And when you sin, here’s the way to escape sin’s condemnation.”
So, here as the people stood upon the mountainsides looking down into the valley where the priests stood with the ark, there was also the altar. And they couldn’t help but see the principle that sin brings death. But it is possible to come to God on the basis of the innocent substitute who dies in place of the sinner. In those days, it was an animal—a lamb, a bull, or some such thing. But it pointed forward to Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
From the lesson, what other principle emerges about our disobedience from the setting up of the altar?
What is the first reason given for why Joshua’s erection of the altar of stones is so significant?
In looking down into the valley where the priests stood with both the Ark of the Covenant and the altar of stones, the Israelites couldn’t help but see the principle that sin brings death. But it is possible to come to God on the basis of the innocent substitute who dies in place of the sinner. In those days, it was an animal—a lamb, a bull, or some such thing. But it pointed forward to Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.