As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man has lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings to the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)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.
over which no man hath lifted up any iron—that is, iron tool. The reason for this was that every altar of the true God ought properly to have been built of earth (Ex 20:24); and if it was constructed of stone, rough, unhewn stones were to be employed that it might retain both the appearance and nature of earth, since every bloody sacrifice was connected with sin and death, by which man, the creature of earth, is brought to earth again [Keil].
they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings—This had been done when the covenant was established (Ex 24:5); and by the observance of these rites (De 27:6), the covenant was solemnly renewed—the people were reconciled to God by the burnt offering, and this feast accompanying the peace or thank offering, a happy communion with God was enjoyed by all the families in Israel.Deuteronomy 27:5,
and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings; by way of thanksgiving for the good land they were introduced into, and this was what they were ordered to do by Moses, Deuteronomy 27:6.As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)31. an altar of whole (or, “unhewn”) stones] Thus the Law required in general (Exodus 20:25), and in this case it had been specially ordained.Verse 31. - As Moses the servant of the Lord commanded (see Exodus 20:25; Deuteronomy 27:4, 5). Here, and in ver. 33, we find the writer making an extract from the Book of Deuteronomy. As has been before said, the natural explanation is that the Book of Joshua was written after the Book of Deuteronomy, and that the Book of Deuteronomy was written by Moses, or how could Joshua have carried out instructions which had never been given? The Elohist, Jehovist, and Denteronomist theory supposes the compiler of the Book of Joshua to have done his work in so perfunctory a fashion, that it is quite possible for critics living at a distance of three thousand years and more to detect the various fragments of which his mosaic is constructed. He is so void of common sense as to have inserted this narrative in a place so obviously unsuitable that it involves a palpable contradiction to probability and common sense, and this when he could have placed it in a dozen other parts of the book where no such improbability would be involved. Yet, in spite of the incredible carelessness with which he put his materials together, we are required to believe that "the Deuteronomist" had the foresight to insert the fulfilment of the command of Moses which he had invented in Deuteronomy 11:26-30; Deuteronomy 27:1-26; and that in so doing he abbreviated the narrative so as to leave out many details of his own invention. Now, under the supposition of a later fabrication of supplementary observances to be imposed upon the children of Israel, it is hardly probable that the account of the plaster with which the stones were to be plastered, and the enumeration of the tribes and the curses, would be omitted, since by the hypothesis the object of the Deuteronomist was to secure implicit obedience to the sacerdotal enactments he was inventing. But on the hypothesis of the genuineness of both writings everything fits in naturally enough. An altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron. As though to intimate (see Exodus 20:25) that all should be natural and spontaneous in the worship of God, and that as little of human devising should be introduced as possible. The altar must be raised by man, but the principles of the worship must not be devised by him. This interpretation, however, is rejected by Calvin, who thinks that all that was meant was to preclude the perpetual existence of the altar (though how the substitution of whole for hewn stones could effect this is not apparent); and Keil and Bahr ('Symbolik,' 1. pp. 487, 488),who think that the altar ought (Exodus 20:24) properly to be of earth, since sacrifice is rendered necessary by man's earthly or carnal nature, and that unhewn stone is the only substitute for earth which is allowed. But surely man's handiwork is the offspring of his unregenerate nature, and therefore may, from this point of view, be rightly employed in sacrifice. Hengstenberg ('Gesehichte des Reiches Gottes,' p. 223) thinks that the reason of the command was that, since only one place of worship was permitted for all Israel, an altar had sometimes to be hastily thrown up. But when we consider the symbolic character of the Mosaic worship, we are compelled to reject this interpretation as unsatisfactory. Benjamin of Tudela (see Drusius in loc.) appears to have supposed that these stones were those which had been taken out of Jordan. Masius devotes considerable space to the refutation of this opinion (see also note on last verse). And they offered thereon. Delitzsch remarks on the inversion of the order here, as compared with Deuteronomy 27. But this is obviously the true order. The worship would naturally precede the ceremony rather than follow it.
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