Then Joshua built an altar to the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(30) Then Joshua built.—The word then is not “and” in the Hebrew; as is too often the case where “then” occurs in our English Old Testament. It is a note of time. Josephus places this transaction later. The LXX. places Joshua 8:1-2 of Joshua 9 before this passage. But there seems no reason for moving the transaction from the place where we find it in the text. By the capture of Ai, Joshua had obtained command over the road to Shechem. We hear of no strong place north of Beth-el in that part of the country. From other passages (see on Joshua 17:18) there seems reason to think that a large part of this district was wooded and uncleared. The confederacy of the southern kings had its centre far to the south of this, and there was a considerable distance between Shechem and the strong places to the north. It is in keeping with what we have already observed regarding the purpose of the conquest of Canaan, that the law of the God of Israel should be as soon as possible proclaimed and set up in the heart of the country, to be thenceforward the law of the land. For the enactment that was here carried out, see Deuteronomy 11:26-30; Deuteronomy 27:2, &c. Observe also that the command there given required the work to be done as soon after the passing of Jordan as possible. The possibility of reading the law from this position, so as to be heard by the whole congregation, has been proved by actual experiment.
(30, 31) An altar . . . in mount Ebal . . .—This was explicitly commanded in Deuteronomy. The blessing was put on mount Gerizim, the altar and the curse on mount Ebal. We do not hear elsewhere of any sacrifice on Ebal. But it is certain that God accepted sacrifices in many places in Canaan. (Cf. Exodus 19:24.)Joshua 8:30. Then Joshua built an altar — Namely, after the taking of Ai. For they were obliged to do this when they were brought over Jordan into the land of Canaan, Deuteronomy 11:29; Deuteronomy 27:2-3. But this is not to be understood strictly, as if it were to be done the same day; for it is manifest they were first to be circumcised, and to eat the passover, which they did, and which was the work of some days; but as soon as they had opportunity to do it, which was now when these two great frontier cities were taken and destroyed, and thereby the coast cleared, and the bordering people were under great consternation, so that all the Israelites might securely march thither. Built an altar — Namely, for the offering of sacrifices, as appears from the following verse. Mount Ebal — God’s altar was to be put in one place, (Deuteronomy 12:13-14,) and this place was appointed to be mount Ebal, Deuteronomy 27:4-5; which also seems to have been most proper, that in that place whence the curses of the law were denounced against sinners, there might also be the tokens and means of grace, and of peace and reconciliation with God, for the removing of the curses, and the procuring of God’s blessing to sinners.Deuteronomy 27 is evidently presupposed; and the three several acts of which the solemnity consisted are only so far distinctly named as is necessary to show that the commands of Moses there given were fully carried out by Joshua.
It is difficult to escape the conviction that these verses are here out of their proper and original place. The connection between Joshua 8:29, and Joshua 9:1, is natural and obvious; and in Joshua 9:3, the fraud of the Gibeonites is represented as growing out of the alarm caused by the fall of Jericho and Ai. It is, moreover, extremely unlikely that a solemnity of this nature in the very center of the country should be undertaken by Joshua while the whole surrounding district was in the hands of the enemy; or that, if undertaken, it would have been carried out unmolested. "And the strangers that were conversant among them" Joshua 8:35, were present at it. The distance fromm Gilgal in the Jordan valley to Mount Ebal is fully 30 miles, unless - as is unlikely - another Gilgal (Deuteronomy 11:29 note) be meant; and so vast a host, with its non-effective followers Joshua 8:35, could certainly not have accomplished a march like this through a difficult country and a hostile population in less than three days. Moreover in Joshua 9:6; Joshua 10:6, Joshua 10:15, Joshua 10:43, the Israelites are spoken of as still encamping at Gilgal.
It is on the whole likely that, for these and other reasons, this passage does not, in our present Bible, stand in its proper context; and it has been conjectured that the place from which these six verses have been transferred is the end of Joshua 11:The "then" with which Joshua 8:30 opens in our present text may well have served to introduce the account of the solemnity on Gerizim and Ebal at the end of the record of Joshua's victories, to which indeed it forms a suitable climax.
30, 31. Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in mount Ebal—(See on De 27:11). This spot was little short of twenty miles from Ai. The march through a hostile country and the unmolested performance of the religious ceremonial observed at this mountain, would be greatly facilitated, through the blessing of God, by the disastrous fall of Ai. The solemn duty was to be attended to at the first convenient opportunity after the entrance into Canaan (De 27:2); and with this in view Joshua seems to have conducted the people through the mountainous region that intervened though no details of the journey have been recorded. Ebal was on the north, opposite to Gerizim, which was on the south side of the town Sichem (Nablous).Then, to wit, after the taking of Ai. For they were obliged to do this when they were brought over Jordan into the land of Canaan, Deu 11:29 27:2,3, which is not to be understood strictly, as if it were to be done the same moment or day; for it is manifest they were first to be circumcised, and to eat the passover, which they did, and which was the work of some days; but as soon as they had opportunity to do it, which was now when these two great frontier cities were taken and destroyed, and thereby the coast cleared, and the bordering people under great consternation and confusion, that all the Israelites might securely march thither. And indeed this work was fit to be done as soon as might be, that thereby they might renew their covenant with, and profess their subjection to, that God by whose help alone they could expect success in their great and difficult enterprise.
Built an altar, to wit, for the offering of sacrifices, as appears from the following verse, and from Deu 27:5-7.
In Mount Ebal. Why not on Mount Gerizim also?
Answ. Because God’s altar was to be but in one place, Deu 12:13,14, and this place was appointed to be Mount Ebal, Deu 27:4,5, which also seems most proper for it, that in that place whence the curses of the law were denounced against sinners, there might also be the tokens and means of grace, and peace and reconciliation with God, for the removing of the curses, and the procuring of God’s blessing unto sinners. Deuteronomy 27:5. The Samaritan Chronicle says, it was built in Mount Gerizim; but there is a difficulty arises, when this was done by Joshua; it should seem by inserting the account here, that it was done immediately after the destruction of Ai; and Mercator endeavours to prove that Ebal was near to Ai, but what he has said does not give satisfaction; for certain it is, that Ebal and Gerizim were near Shechem in Samaria, at a great distance from Ai, see Judges 9:6. The Jews (a) generally are of opinion, that this was done as soon as Israel, even the very day, they passed over Jordan, which they think the letter of the command required, Deuteronomy 11:29; though it does not, only that it should be done after they were passed over it; Ebal being at too great a distance from Jordan for them to accomplish it on that day, being, as they themselves say (b), sixty miles from Jordan; so that they are obliged to make Israel travel that day an hundred twenty miles, and as they assert they did (c) and which they must do, if what they say was true, it being sixty miles to Ebal, and sixty more to return again to Gilgal that night, where they encamped, but this is incredible: and as this account of Joshua's building the altar is too soon after he had passed Jordan, what R. Ishmael (d) has pitched upon is too late, who says this was not done till after fourteen years, when the land was conquered, which was seven years doing, and when it was divided, which were seven years more; what Josephus says (e) is more probable than either, which is, that Joshua, five years after he had entered Canaan, when he had placed the tabernacle at Shiloh, went from thence and built an altar at Ebal; as for what R. Eliezer suggests (f), that Ebal and Gerizim here mentioned are not the Ebal and Gerizim of the Samaritans, only two hills were made, and they were called by these names, cannot merit any belief or regard.
(a) Misn. Sotah, c. 7. sect. 5. Seder Olam Rabba, c. 11. p. 30. Jarchi in loc. (b) T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 36. 1.((c) T. Hieros. Sotah, fol. 21. 3.((d) Apud ib. (e) Antiqu. l. 5. c. 1. sect. 14. (f) In T. Hieros. Sotah, ut supra. (c))Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
30. Then Joshua built] The passes being now secured, and the interior of the country rendered accessible, Joshua resolved to take advantage of the terror which the success of his arms had inspired in the hearts of the Canaanites, and to carry out the command of Moses respecting the ratification of the Law with solemn ceremonies (Deuteronomy 27:2-8). By a grand national act it was to be declared “in what character Israel meant to hold what it had received of God.” This act was to consist of three parts:—
(a) The Law was to be inscribed on “great stones” (Deuteronomy 27:2) which had been “plaistered with plaister;” and these as Memorial Stones were to be set up on “mount Ebal” (Deuteronomy 27:4);
(b) An altar of “whole stones” (Deuteronomy 27:5-6) was to be erected on the same spot and solemn sacrifices offered thereon;
(c) The priests with the Ark were to occupy the valley between Ebal and Gerizim, surrounded by the elders, officers, and judges; the curses of the Law were then to be read aloud by the Levites, to which half the tribes on Ebal were to respond with a loud Amen, and to the blessings of the Law the other half on Gerizim were similarly to testify their acquiescence.
in mount Ebal] To carry out this solemn function, the first step taken by Joshua was to advance with the people from Ai and Beth-el northwards towards Shechem, to the valley bounded on the south by the range of Gerizim, and on the north by that of Ebal, “the most beautiful, perhaps it might be said the only very beautiful spot in central Palestine.” Two events consecrated the valley in the memory of every Israelite. (a) It was here that Abraham halted on his journey from Chaldæa and erected his first altar to the Lord (Genesis 12:6-7); (b) It was here that Jacob settled on his return from the same region of Mesopotamia, and bought the parcel of the field, where he had spread his tent, of the children of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for a hundred pieces of money (Genesis 33:19).Verse 30. - Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal. This passage has been pronounced to be an interpolation by Meyer, De Wette, Maurer, Rosenmuller, Knobel, and others. The LXX. does not introduce it here, but after Joshua 9:2. For other authorities see below. It is very easy to see why its genuineness has been disputed. The Book of Joshua has many marks of having been written not so very long after the events described in it. But it has been a favourite opinion with the school which disputes the authenticity of the books of the Bible, that Deuteronomy was a late revision by Ezra of the law of Moses, though this (see Introduction) has lately been discarded for another hypothesis. But we have, if the present passage be genuine, a distinct proof that the Book of Joshua was written after the Book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is here quoted as the "book of the law of Moses" (cf. Deuteronomy 31:9, 24, 26). The grounds on which the genuine. ness of the passage has been denied are these: First, the passage begins with אָז followed by an imperfect, or future, as does the interpolated passage in Deuteronomy 4:41-43. This is Maurer's theory. But in this case we must reject every passage which begins thus, and certainly we should do so on grounds which, to say the least, are very slender. Next, we are told that Joshua could not have ventured to trust himself so far in the heart of a hostile country. But why not? Gerizim was not more than twenty miles from Ai. The Canaanites, we are told, were panic stricken at Joshua's success. The Gibeonites were not disposed to offer any hindrance to his progress; on the contrary, they hastened to form an alliance with him. And these solemn religious rites, performed by a people so clearly under the protection of the Most High, were more likely to increase than lessen the awe felt by the surrounding tribes. The only difficulty is that the women and children (v. 35) are expressly said to have gone thither also, and it seems improbable that they, whom we have supposed to have been left under a guard at Gilgal, should have been brought so far while the country was as yet unsubdued. And the difficulty is increased by finding Joshua again at Gilgal in Joshua 9:6. But there is the hypothesis that this was another Gilgal to fall back upon, and this (see note on the passage just mentioned) is an extremely probable one. The suggestion of many commentators, that the passage has been transposed, is of course possible. We can only leave the difficulty unsolved, as one which a fuller knowledge of the facts, could we obtain it, would clear up at once. But we may be sure that if the passage were an interpolation, some explanation would have been given of the circumstances which seem to us so perplexing. And on the other hand we must remember that, as has been already contended, the notion that the whole camp of Israel performed this journey at a time when stupefaction had seized upon the Canaanitish tribes, though involving some amount of impossibility, is by no means impossible. (See also note on ver. 33). A number of extraordinary interpretations of this passage have been given. A favourite Rabbinical interpretation (see note on next verse) was that this altar was erected on the very day on which the Israelites crossed the Jordan. This was of course a physical impossibility. Josephus, on the contrary, supposes that five years elapsed before its erection, while Rabbi Israel, in the Jerusalem Talmud, thinks that it was deferred until after the expiration of fourteen years, and after the land had been divided. So Masius in loc. In Mount Ebal. Between it and Gerizim stood the city of Shechem, or Sychar, as it is called in St. John 4. Gerizim was close to this city, as Judges 9:6, 7 and St. John 4:20 testify, as well as Deuteronomy 11:30, compared with Genesis 12:6. Dr. Maclear, in the 'Cambridge Bible for Schools,' suggests that the Israelites took this opportunity of interring the bones of Joseph (Genesis 1:25, 26) in the piece of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor (Genesis 33:19). (See Exodus 13:19).
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