And he wrote there on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.…
I. WHERE WE GO. We go to a distant place; about a week's journey from Gilgal. Why do we go there? To take some strong fortress? To fight some great battle? No, but to worship Jehovah, and to take formal possession of the land in His name. But it is a for midable thing to move all the host of Israel so far as that. It is; but no trouble is too great that serves to show our loyalty to Jehovah. What a reproof is this to those whose religion costs them nothing! who seek to serve God with the miserable fag-ends of time — the odd intervals of a busy life, or the poor dregs of the evil days of nature's decay. There is no fear of any man's temporal interests suffering by due attention to the spiritual. Turning again to Israel, we notice that they went to a dangerous place. Why march a company of religious worshippers to that distant valley, instead of a mighty army to destroy every foe? Surely prompt action, preventing their enemies from amalgamating their forces, is their only policy. Nay, to wait on God is better. Man is only weak when he disobeys. And they go to an appointed place. This makes the march wise and profitable. This journey had a special bearing on the formal possession of the land in Jehovah's name. From being defiled Canaan, resting under God's curse, it is to become the inheritance of Jehovah, the holy land which He delights to bless. As Noah's first act was to take possession of the new world in the name of God, so at the first opportunity Joshua took possession of Canaan in Jehovah's name. Still further, this was an appropriate place to which Israel marched. It was appropriate, whether we consider its past associations or look at its position in the land. It was here that Abraham, the father of Israel, built his first altar in the land that God had promised. What more appropriate, then, than that his children should first come here, and as inheritors of his faith and piety, as well as of his promise, rear their altar and worship the unchanging Jehovah? It was here that Jacob bought ground and dug a well which remains to this day, leaving it in faith a heritage to his children's children. And here they come, the possessors of all that was promised; their feet shall stand on this earnest of the inheritance; they and their little ones and their flocks shall drink of their father's well. This rendezvous was also appropriate because it was so central and so beautiful. Mahomed called it the fairest spot on earth; and many have named it the paradise of the Holy Land. No greater contrast could be conceived than that presented by the scenery of Mount Sinai, where the law was first given, and that of Ebal and Gerizim, where it was repeated. The former is stern, still, and forbidding, without speck of green or sign of life. This is smiling and verdant, vocal with the songs of innumerable birds, laden with the fatness of the olive, the sweetness of the fig, the luscious richness of the vine — the most inviting spot the heart of man can conceive. Here the traveller, enchanted by the indescribable air of tranquillity and repose which hang over the scene, pitches his tent beside the purling and pellucid rills, and however anxious to renew his journey, feels he would gladly linger days and weeks in such a paradise. Such is it even now, as described by those whose eyes have rested on it- what must it have been in those days of Joshua?
II. WHAT WE SEE. First of all we behold the ark, as conspicuously prominent as on the day that Israel crossed the Jordan. The Holy Presence of which the ark speaks has never failed them, has never forsaken them. We also behold an altar here. The altar is for the ark. The blood of the one sprinkles the mercy-seat of the other, and thus sin is purged; God can dwell among the people, and say to the sinful, "There will I meet with thee." This altar was constructed of rough stones, untouched by any instrument of iron, and therefore spoke of the work of Christ as divinely finished, requiring not any addition or improvement that man's wisdom could suggest or man's skill accomplish. This altar was pitched on Ebal, the loftier height, from which the curses came. There it was set to remove the curse; for apart from the sacrifice of the altar which God has provided all flesh are under the curse of the law. On this altar were offered up burnt-offerings and peace-offerings. The burnt-offerings spoke of Christ offered to God, a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour; yielding a perfect and glorious obedience to all that law which He thus magnified and made honourable. The peace-offering spoke of Christ as the centre and substance of rest, delight, and refreshment to God and man; the glorious means whereby communion is restored and maintained. God and man delight in the same sacrifice, are sharers in the same feast. Thus the ark and the altar, the Holy Presence and the Perfect Sacrifice, guarantee to Israel all the glory of God's inheritance. Behold the imposing scene. The elders of the tribes stand with Joshua and Eleazar and the priests in the centre of the valley beside the ark. The tribes stretch outward, like two dark wings, on either side in compact masses. Then, when all were in their places and solemn silence reigned, the Levites read aloud the curses of the law, and the men on Ebal responded with a deep amen, like the sound of many waters. Again the clear notes of the Levites rise as they recite the blessings, and like the sound of harpers harping with their harps comes the joyous amen from the slopes of Gerizim. But there is still another object for our eyes to rest upon. As a lasting monument of that great event, Joshua put up great stones on Mount Ebal, plastered with plaster, and having written upon them "a copy of the law of Moses." The altar spoke of what the Holy Presence in Israel bestowed. These stones spoke of what this Holy Presence demanded. The stones on Jordan's bank spoke of Jehovah's gracious power. The stones of Jericho declare His judgment. The stones of Achor speak of His discipline. The stones of Ai tell His faithfulness. The stones of Ebal are witnesses of His holiness. They tell what is becoming in the people whose God is the Lord. They hold up the standard whereby His people are to walk. Has this standard changed? Are its precepts binding still, or have they become antiquated? Are these ten words the Christian's standard and rule of life? It is a vain morality, it is a false spirituality, which dreams that it can rise above obedience to the law.
(A. B. Mackay.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.