Scripture Text – Joshua 8
Henry Ford defined a mistake as “an opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.” Joshua would also have agreed, because he is about to “begin again, more intelligently” and organize a victory out of his mistakes.
A New Commitment
Please read Joshua 8:30-35 for the background to this section.
At some time following the victory at Ai, Joshua led the people thirty miles north to Shechem, which lies in the valley between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. Here the nation obeyed what Moses had commanded them to do in his farewell speech (Deuteronomy 27:1–8). Joshua interrupted the military activities to give Israel the opportunity to make a new commitment to the authority of Jehovah as expressed in His law.
Joshua built an altar (Joshua 8:30–31). Since Abraham had built an altar at Shechem (Genesis 12:6–7), and Jacob had lived there a short time (Genesis 33–34), the area had strong historic ties to Israel. Joshua’s altar was built on Mt. Ebal, “the mount of cursing,” because only a sacrifice of blood can save sinners from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:10–14).
In building the altar, Joshua was careful to obey Exodus 20:25 and not apply any tool to the stones picked up in the field. No human work was to be associated with the sacrifice lest sinners think their own works can save them (Ephesians 2:8–9). God asked for a simple stone altar, not one that was designed and decorated by human hands, “that no flesh should glory in His presence.” – 1 Corinthians 1:29. It’s not the beauty of man-made religion that gives the sinner forgiveness, but the blood on the altar (Leviticus 17:11). King Ahab replaced God’s altar with a pagan altar, but it didn’t give him acceptance with God or make him a better man (2 Kings 16:9–16).
The priests offered burnt offerings to the Lord as a token of the nation’s total commitment to Him (Leviticus 1). The peace offerings, or “fellowship offerings,” were an expression of gratitude to God for His goodness (Leviticus 3; 7:11–34). A portion of the meat was given to the priests and another portion to the offerer so that he could eat it joyfully with his family in the presence of the Lord (see also Deuteronomy 12:17–18). By these sacrifices, the nation of Israel was assuring God of their commitment to Him and their fellowship with Him.
Joshua wrote the Law on stones (Joshua 8:32–33). This act was in obedience to the command of Moses (Deuteronomy 27:1–8). In the Near East of that day it was customary for kings to celebrate their greatness by writing records of their military exploits on huge stones covered with plaster. But the secret of Israel’s victory was not their leader or their army; it was their obedience to God’s Law (Joshua 1:7–8). In later years, whenever Israel turned away from God’s Law, they got into trouble and had to be disciplined. Moses had put forth the question to the people, “And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this Law which I set before you this day?” – Deuteronomy 4:8.
Believers today have the Word of God written on their hearts by the Holy Spirit of God (Romans 8:1–4; 2 Corinthians 3). The Law written on stones was external, not internal, and could instruct the people but could never change them. Paul makes it clear in the Epistle to the Galatians that while the Law can convict sinners and bring them to Christ (Galatians 3:19–25), it can never convert sinners and make them like Christ. Only the Spirit of God can do that.
This is now the fourth public monument of stones that has been erected. The first was at Gilgal (Joshua 4:20), commemorating Israel’s passage across the Jordan. The second was in the Valley of Achor, a monument to Achan’s sin and God’s judgment (Joshua 7:26). The third was at the entrance to Ai, a reminder of God’s faithfulness to help His people (Joshua 8:29). These stones on Mt. Ebal reminded Israel that their success lie only in their obedience to God’s Law (Joshua 1:7–8).
To Be Continued