THEME: Curses and Blessings Fulfilled
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.
Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim are in the high country about 25 miles north of Ai and a little bit to the west. Now Ai, as we saw when we were studying these initial battles, was at the high end of the approach road that Joshua and the armies used as they moved into the country from the Jordan. Jericho, that great fortified city, stood at the lower, eastern end of the road. And Ai, a smaller fortified city, stood at the higher western end. After they had taken Ai, the Jewish armies possessed the high country. And they were free to proceed either to the north or to the south in establishing an even stronger hold upon the country. That’s what they would have been expected to do.
But before going south to attack the fortified cities in that area, they did something that was unexpected. Instead of going south, they turned north for a distance of about 25 miles and then slightly to the west, finally making camp in this rather remote area of Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. It didn’t make sense in terms of a military conquest, but in terms of obedience to the law of God, it was precisely what had been prescribed. There they divided up according to Moses’ command, as we see in Deuteronomy 27: “When you have crossed the Jordan, these tribes shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people—Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. And these tribes shall stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses—Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.” The Levites were to recite the curses:
Cursed is the man who carves an image or casts an idol, a thing detestable to the Lord, the work of the craftsman’s hands, and sets it up in secret. Cursed is the man who dishonors his father or his mother. Cursed is the man who moves his neighbor’s boundary stone. Cursed is the man who leads the blind astray on the road. Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless, or the widow. Cursed is the man who sleeps with his father’s wife for he dishonors his father’s bed. Cursed is the man who has sexual relations with any animal. Cursed is the man who sleeps with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother. Cursed is the man who sleeps with his mother-in-law. Cursed is the man who kills his neighbor secretly. Cursed is the man who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person. Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.
After every one of those twelve curses, the people on the mountainside were to say, “Amen.”
And then the blessings were read, recorded in Deuteronomy 28:
If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all His commands I give you this day, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God. You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, the crops of your land, and the young of your livestock, the calves of your herds, and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come after you from one direction. And they will flee from you in seven.
No doubt, after each of those blessings, the people also said, “Amen.”
After Israel conquered Ai, what would be the normal course of military action to take? What did Joshua do? Why did he do it?
Why do think Israel was to voice their “amen” to both the curses and the blessings?