The Plastered Altar
Joshua 8:30-31
Then Joshua built an altar to the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,

Let us behold in the story of Joshua's altar in Mount Ebal the mirror of an honest Christian life.

1. It is well to recognise the fact that this world is under the curse, a true Mount Ebal. Is human existence hard? There is sunshine in life, it is true, but think of the shadows. Go into the houses of the rich, where luxury meets yon on every hand. In this mansion the servants go about with noiseless tread; the street in front is thickly strewn with tan bark; often at the door is seen the physician's carriage. Is it a happy household? Enter the next mansion. Here, too, wealth is supreme, everything of the costliest, but the face of the father of the family is clouded with anger, and the mother's eyes are red with weeping. What is the trouble? Shame, dishonour; a child has fouled a parent's noble name, disgraceful deeds have made the son and heir of a great house a byword and a hissing. But thank God there is Mount Gerizim as well as Ebal; the blessings are as rich as the curses are deplorable, and the curses come first, only to give place to the blessings. We may not forget, however, that the great heart altar for God is to be set up in Ebal, in the consciousness of the power of the curse. The first thought we ought to have in our Christian life is that Christ hath redeemed us from the curse.

2. Well, then, Christian, saved by Christ's blood from wrath to come, rear up to thy Lord and Master thine altar. Of what sort shall we make it? The altar in the heart must be of whole stones upon which no man hath lift up any iron. I suppose that no metal enters into our life to the extent that iron does in its myriad forms of using. Is its cold hardness not an appropriate symbol of human selfishness, the occasion of all strife and quarrelling, hatred, and crime? Is there any one who lives his life on earth unselfishly, who is not concerned more with his own interests than with those of his neighbours? If the secret of the worthy heart altar as towards God be humble acquiescence in the Divine ordering of things, the secret of it as towards men is genuine unselfishness. Towards God the "whole" stones, unfashioned by our wilfulness, towards man stones piled up with no help of iron, but erected in brotherly love, self-forgetting generosity.

3. When Joshua had set up the great cairn, he plastered it all over with plaster, that he might engrave thereon the words of the law. In this way the separate stones, without having been fashioned or fitted together by human hand and tool, were in a certain sort made one through human agency. There is a strange factor in our life which is indeed given more than its rightful share of importance in most earthly things, while in the Divine service it seems to be hardly enlisted at all. I mean the purpose or the will. As the plaster covered all those rough stones and gave them a smooth, well-compacted surface, so does a firm and well-set will, a steadfast heart-purpose, make the unhewn circumstances of our lives homogeneous, a shapely altar for the Lord's use. God's law has been revealed in order that we may obey it, and we have no other guide to duty. The end of the Christian life, in the world at least, is obedience. To believe not what we think reasonable, but what God has said; to do not what seems edifying, but what He has enjoined.

4. Thus are we, every one of us, if we be in earnest, raising up altars in our hearts, as we go on through this world; gathering up one by one the circumstances and opportunities of our lives. Great, rough, ill-shaped stones they seem, yet we may not think to trim and fashion them to our own notion, nor to hew them out with iron tools of selfishness and pride. Lay them up, O soul, in a cairn, as they come, plaster them all over with devout purpose and zealous will, then write on them the law of God, that it may be the guiding principle of all thy thoughts and words and deeds, His will not thine own.

(Arthur Ritchie.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,

WEB: Then Joshua built an altar to Yahweh, the God of Israel, in Mount Ebal,

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