1) TIMING AND LOCATION
The writer tells us that the events in our text took place “at that time” (vs. 30).
- Scholars are unclear if this happened right after Ai or at some other time.
- The LXX (after 9:2) and a Dead Sea Scroll (between 5:1 and 5:2) have the text in a different part of Joshua.
Most agree it can seem out of place in its current location.
- (1) Military Standpoint
- David Howard suggests that “as a military strategy” this journey “does not make good sense” if it happened right after Ai.
- A twenty-mile journey North through the hill country.
- (2) Literary Standpoint
- Another reason it seems out of place is because of what Dale Davis calls a “literary jolt”.
- He describes it as being “wrenched from conquest to covenant”.
So could there be a good reason for the “jolt” given by its current location?
- If, in fact, the events happened at another time in the Conquest would there be good reason for the editor of Joshua to move it to here?
- “By placing this covenant renewal ceremony here, the writer is saying that Israel’s success does not primarily consist in knocking off Canaanites but in everyone’s total submission to the word of God” – Dale Davis.
BTW – “Such arrangement of historical material would not be out of accord with the principles of biblical historiography…one must recognize that the biblical narrative performs a function beyond that of the chronological recording of history” – Marten Woudstra.
Covenant is foundational to Conquest!
- Israel had, by the power and presence of Yahweh, crossed the Jordan, destroyed Jericho and defeated Bethel and Ai.
- But, by the covenant breaking of one man, they also lost the first Battle of Ai.
- We cannot run from the fact that Covenant is central to Israel’s success and to the book of Joshua.
- The elect of God – Israel – were to act a certain way.
- So the location of this ceremony in our text is saturated with covenant significance.
Do Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim have any special significance?
(1) This is the place that Moses told Joshua and the Israelites to have a ceremony.
- Deuteronomy 27:4 (ESV) — 4 And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster.
- Deuteronomy 27:12–13 (ESV) — 12 “When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.
(2) This is the location of Shechem.
Shechem is where Abraham first came into the land and received a covenant word from God.
- Genesis 12:6–7 (ESV) — 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
- Jacob also built an altar at Shechem and called it “God – the God of Israel”.
BTW – the location is also evidence of God’s covenant faithfulness.
- How so?
So along with the text’s location, even the geographical place is saturated with Covenantal significance.
- This leads us to the main point of our text – Covenant Renewal.
2) BLESSINGS AND CURSES
The covenant renewal in our text finds its impetus in Deuteronomy 27 and 28.
- Deuteronomy 27:1–3 (ESV) — 1 Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today. 2 And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. 3 And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you.
And the purpose Moses gives for this covenant renewal?
Blessings for Obedience –
- Deuteronomy 28:1–3 (ESV) — 1 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. 3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.
Curses for Disobedience –
- Deuteronomy 28:15 (ESV) — 15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.
Before we dig deeper into this, we need to take a look at what Joshua did to acknowledge, affirm and commit to the words of God through Moses.
- They erected “an altar of uncut stones” – vs. 31
- Why are the “uncut stones” significant?
- “It is a denial of the thought that human beings can add anything at all to salvation” – James Boice.
- They offered “burnt offerings” and “sacrificed peace offerings” on the altar – vs. 31
- Burnt offerings “entirely consumed the animals”; were an aroma pleasing to God; and it was to atone for sins (Lev 1:4) – David Howard.
- Peace offerings were also know as “fellowship offerings”; some of the animals sacrificed were eaten together in fellowship – David Howard.
- Both were offered at Sinai and so allude to the Mosaic Covenant – Woudstra.
- Joshua “wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses” – vs. 32
- “All Israel” participated – sojourners, native born, women, little ones, elders, officers, judges, priests – vs. 33 & 35
- “sojourners” were foreign converts to Yahweh – like Rahab.
- The “ark of the covenant of the Lord” was present – vs. 33
- Representative of the presence and promises of God
- Joshua “read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse” – vs. 34
- We don’t know if this was the 10 Commandments or the specific B&C from Deut. 28.
So what covenant were the Israelites renewing by their actions at Shechem?
- Marten Woudstra provides great insight into this question.
- All of Israel “is confronted with the demands of the Lord of the covenant as they enter upon a new phase of their existence in the land of promise. If these demands are responded to in covenant obedience, Israel’s future happiness will be secured”.
And the meaning behind the covenantal acts in our text is expressive of two necessities.
- Woudstra says “…the right of possessing the promise land is tied to the proclamation of, and subjection to God’s covenant claims upon his people (and the world)”.
- So the two necessities are:
- (1) Proclamation of God’s Covenant Requirements
- (2) Subjection to God’s Covenant Requirements
So we don’t take the importance of the Covenantal blessing/curse motif in the wrong way, we need to keep something very important in mind.
- Though it is true that “blessing and cursing are the two poles around which the history of the covenant revolves” – Woudstra.
- The B&C of the Sinai Covenant as revealed in Deuteronomy “presupposes the unconditional covenant of God with Abraham by which the Jews were chosen to be God’s people”.
- Remember, along with His commands, God also gave the concept of atonement.
- The “Thou shalt not” but “I know you will” – James Boice.
- As we said in our OT Gospel lesson, we are speaking about the conforming use of the law for the Elect – Israel.
God’s elect are not their own.
- They are to live in obedience to Him and His covenant requirements.
- But not simply for their own sake and the blessings that come from obedience.
- But also because they have been given a greater purpose than just their own history.
- They are the recipients of a global redemptive history.
- (1) Through them the promised seed will come.
- (2) Through them the Davidic king will come.
- (3) Through them the covenant claims of God on His creation are made known – Woustra.
So to proclaim and submit to Covenant is to participate in the greater purposes of God for the world.
- Including, but not limited to, Israel receiving the Promised Land.
- This is definitely something worth proclaiming and subjecting oneself to!