THEME: An Important Principle
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.
This is precisely what we have recorded as being fulfilled in Joshua 8. All Israel were standing on both sides of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, facing the priests who carried it. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses, the servant of the Lord, had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel. Afterwards, Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses just as it is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women, children, and the aliens who lived among then. It must have been a most stirring moment. All these people, perhaps two million of them, assembled on the sides of these two mountains in an area which is somewhat like an amphitheater, reading the law of God and pronouncing blessings upon those who obey it and curses upon those who do not.
Now, the very fact that this is something that was repeated twice, that is, once under the command of Moses and the second time under Joshua, should suggest that this is a lasting principle of God’s dealings based upon His character. But of course, it had already been demonstrated in the story. I’m referring to what we have been studying about Achan and the first initial, unsuccessful attempt to defeat the mountain stronghold of Ai. There, the people were expecting God’s blessing, and for four reasons. The first is that God had said He was going to give them the land. The second reason is that they were obeying God’s directions for taking it. Third, God was a benevolent God working on their behalf. Fourth, He was all-powerful. Given those four factors, it was inevitable that blessing would follow when this fortress of Ai was attacked.
And yet it didn’t follow; they were defeated. And when they searched for the cause, they discovered that the cause was disobedience on the part of Achan. It took some time to discover where the problem lay; but when God showed it to them, Achan was brought out. The sin was uncovered and Achan was judged. Then, after that the blessing flowed again. Israel had just lived through this. Now at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, the principle was engraved once again forcefully on their minds: “If you obey me, you will be blessed. If you do not obey my law, you will not be blessed.”
That principle continues throughout the history of the nation of Israel, and it also explains many of our experiences today. Some time ago I was speaking in another church, and after I had finished a woman came up to me who had been at Tenth Presbyterian Church quite a few years before that. She had been very active in one of our youth groups and, at that time, had declared her intention of marrying a man who was not a Christian. Her friends all warned her against that. I had several opportunities to talk to her. And yet, in spite of that counsel, she went ahead and married him. She moved away and we lost contact. And all of a sudden, there she was again. I didn’t recognize her at first, but she identified herself. And then she began to talk and explain some of the things that had happened in her life over the years. She was very unhappy, and she said to me just before we parted, “You know, you were absolutely right. I was disobeying God, and I should never have married him.” This is a painful illustration of the principle. When we obey God, regardless of the way it seems to us or the desires we have at the time, blessing follows. But when we disobey Him, we inevitably bring much misery upon ourselves.
What was it that was done under Moses, and repeated under Joshua? What does this repetition suggest?
What four reasons were given for why Israel expected to be victorious over Ai the first time?
When we obey God, regardless of the way it seems to us or the desires we have at the time, blessing follows. But when we disobey Him, we inevitably bring much misery upon ourselves.
The principle of blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience is familiar to all of us. When in your life did you experience both sides of this principle? When you experienced punishment for disobedience, did it help to produce a greater obedience the next time you faced a similar situation or temptation?