Then Joshua built an altar to the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,…
This religious solemnity is a fulfilment of the command given by Moses in Deuteronomy 27. It is expressive of the fidelity of Joshua to the sacred traditions of the past, and his loyalty to the Divine order and the Divine authority. The time is appropriate for such public homage to be paid to the God of Israel. It is the "right hand of the Lord" that has done so valiantly in the recent victories; to Him be all the glory. The land has been taken possession of in His name; let it be consecrated henceforth to Him by this solemn act of worship. The solemnity consists of two parts -
(1) the building of an altar and offering of sacrifice,
(2) the inscription and proclamation of the law.
I. SACRIFICE. This was at once an acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God, and a renewal of the covenant by which the people and their inheritance were devoted to Him. There were two kinds of sacrifice, "burnt offerings" and "peace offerings." It is doubtful how far the distinction between these can, in this case, be clearly defined. But we at least discern in them a double element,
1. Eucharistic. There was thanksgiving for victories and deliverances thus far vouchsafed. Well might the hearts of the people rise to God with the smoke of their sacrifices, after such proofs as He had given them of His favour. Every fresh manifestation of Divine goodness demands a fresh ascription of praise; the providence that "redeems our life from destruction and crowns us with loving kindness" calls for daily acknowledgment. Gratitude is a perpetual obligation, because God's love is ever assuming some new phase of benediction. Let every stage in our career, every vantage ground gained, every difficulty surmounted, every peril passed, every victory won, be signalised by some new expression of personal devotion. To the devout spirit life will be a continual thank, offering, a ceaseless hymn of praise.
"If oh our daily course our mind
Be set to hallow all we find,
New treasure still of countless price
God will provide for sacrifice."
2. Propitiatory. These oft-repeated sacrifices kept the grand truth of atonement by expiation continually before the minds of the people. We need to keep it continually before our minds, inasmuch as we live by the mercy of God through the self immolation of a sinless victim. Every revelation of God is fitted to awaken the sense of our own sinfulness, and so prompts a constant reference, in penitence and faith, to the "Great Propitiation." Daily life should be a perpetual presentation in spirit before the mercy seat of the sacrifice of Him by whom we "receive the atonement? But such trust in the sacrifice of Christ is of no avail unless coupled with a personal surrender that draws its inspiration from His. The "burnt offering" and the "peace offering" must go together. "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price: therefore," etc. (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).
II. THE PROCLAMATION OF THE LAW. There was a peculiar fitness in this, inasmuch as the people had now gained a firm footing in the land which was to be the scene of their organised national life. They are made to understand the fundamental moral conditions of that life. Observe -
1. The supremacy of the law of God over all human law. The commonwealth of Israel was emphatically a theocracy. But every commonwealth is a theocracy in the sense that harmony with the Divine will is the secret of its order and prosperity. As righteousness alone "exalteth a nation," so the public assertion and vindication of God's law is essential to the well being of any land and people. Human law has enduring authority in proportion as it accords with the Divine (Proverbs 8:15, 16).
2. The breadth of the law of God as embracing all relations of life, all classes and conditions of men. "The whole congregation of Israel" heard the law, with the "elders, officers, and judges," the "women, little ones, and strangers." All social relations, all official functions, all periods and conditions of life are amenable to this supreme authority, this impartial Judge.
3. The weal or woe of every man depends on his relation to the law of God. Here lies the alternative of blessing or cursing, life or death (Deuteronomy 30:19). What was read may have been only that summary of the law contained in Deuteronomy 27, and 28. But of the whole law, in its essential principles, this is true: moral and practical harmony with it is the condition of blessedness.
4. Men are brought into their true relation to the law only by the gospel of Christ. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness," etc. (Romans 10:4). Faith in Him disdains the law of its terrors. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law," etc. (Galatians 3:13). In Him the blessing overcomes the curse, the voice of Gerizim prevails over that of Ebal, "mercy rejoieeth against judgment." Christ engraves the law not on tables of stone, but on the living hearts of men (Jeremiah 31:31, 84; Hebrews 8:19, 12). In Him the law is not, as in Moses, literal, local, adapted to special circumstances and the moral needs of a particular people, but spiritual and universal. Not that Christianity has less to do in shaping the relative duties of human life, or enters less minutely into its details, but rather has so much to do with everything that, like the all-pervading atmosphere and the gladdened sunshine, it is the very vital air of every social problem, and the guiding light in the determination of every question between man and man. - W.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,