21. The Word of Jehovah Established in Canaan.
"Whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected.'' — 1 John 2:5.
Jericho and Ai each represent the world — their conquest by Joshua, Christ's victory and kingdom — and the overthrow of their kings, the final overthrow of the power of Satan. Our Joshua's victory is complete, and soon the time shall come when the "sun" of this day of rebellion against the Lord shall go "down," and the end of the god of this world shall come. Then the risen, but once crucified, Jesus shall cast down the ruler of the darkness of this world from his seat, subject all foes, and bring all under His reign of righteousness. On this being accomplished, the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters the sea, and His word shall be established where it was despised.
After the record of the end of the king of Ai, the grand event of the land being placed under the law of the Lord is brought forward. "Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal, 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. 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" (Joshua 8:30-32). The significance of this action, as a sequence to the overthrow of Jericho, Ai, and their kings, is very marked, The judgment and the overthrow of the heathen powers, introduced God's worship and His rule.
All Israel — armed men, women, and children — gathered together, and publicly recognized Jehovah as the Lord God of Israel, exalted His laws, and sanctified His Name in the midst of the hostile country. The hand of the Lord was with them, even as it had been on leaving Egypt, when not so much as a dog moved his tongue against them; and as it had been in Gilgal on their circumcision, when the terror of God was upon their foes. They now built the altar, and inscribed the law upon the stones in obedience to the Lord, who had said — "On the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the Lord thy God gives thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaister them with plaister: and thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law . . . And there shalt thou build an altar unto the Lord thy God, in Mount Ebal. And thou shalt offer burnt offerings . . . and peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the Lord thy God." (See Deut. 27:2-7.)
This immense gathering together of the nation of Israel is a most impressive event in their history. The whole of the people, brought into God's holy habitation, with one voice, calmly and solemnly gave their Amens to His commandments.
The steep mountain sides of Ebal and Gerizim were held by the twelve tribes, six on each mount, and the narrow plain between was, we should suppose, occupied by the Levites, who spoke and said with a loud voice unto all the people both the curses and the blessings of God. (Deut. 27:11-14.) Infants as well as warriors were present, "the stranger, as he that was born among them;" none were left out. And in the clear atmosphere of Canaan the words of the law would be easily heard, rising from the valley up the slopes of the mountains.
So "all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges," stood around the ark of God, and placed themselves under the commandments of the Lord, while Joshua read "all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law." They hallowed His Name, in the land where the enemy and the idols still were. As a nation they avowed by their Amens to the commandments of God and His law — by their "So be it!" to its curses and its blessings — that their prosperity, or discomfiture, in the promised land, depended upon their obedience or disobedience to God. It may be truthfully said, Israel's history, including their present condition, is but a comment upon their Amens uttered at Ebal.
The Christian is not under a covenant of law, he does not stand in his blessings save in Christ; but it is not to be forgotten that the very portions of the Word which unfold the deepest grace are filled with exhortations as to his walk and ways.
A child is under even greater responsibility to obey than is a servant, and the Lord, by whom we stand, says to us, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." Love calls for obedience on its own condition — love! while Law calls for obedience on the condition of reward; but the voice of Love is more powerful than that of Law. Further, the Christian's successful career on earth is dependent on his obedience to the Word of his God, and though it cannot be said we resemble Israel as to the covenant under which they stood in Canaan, it is but the truth that the spiritual history of each Christian is but a comment on his obedience or disobedience to God's word. The springs of our prosperity or discomfiture lie in adherence to, or in disregard of, our God's "It is written."
The emphatic alls connected with the Scriptures, and recorded by the Holy Spirit in the scene now before us, should be observed. All Israel heard "read all the words of the law, according to all that is written." There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel. May every heart be stirred up to follow "all" the truth of the Scriptures.
"It is written" was emblazoned upon the standard of victory raised by Israel in the centre of the land of Canaan. The words of the Lord were plainly inscribed upon the stones for all eyes to behold, and the written word was loudly read for all ears to hear, and it was assented to by the nation.
Upon Ebal the altar was reared. It was erected to Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel. He was recognized as the Lord God of the nation, and Israel owned thereby their relationship with Him. Around this altar the entire nation assembled; and Christ is the altar and the centre of the circle of God's people, around Whom the saints gather. "An altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron," was set up, that that sacred altar might not have upon it the touch of man's tool, for to shape its stones with human hand was to "pollute" it; for Christ is the altar, and He is perfect, and the working of man's hands, man's thoughts respecting Him, do but produce infidelity and dishonour to His Name.
The offering upon the altar was first that of sweet savour. "They offered thereon burnt offerings unto the Lord." Now, our first thoughts of the sacrifice of Jesus are such as pertain to the sense of our need of Him; but God's first thoughts relate to the perfection of the Lord's work, and to what He is to God and the Father, and this is wholly a sweet savour unto Him. Israel had come into Jehovah's presence to worship Him, and the first voice, as it were, that arose in Canaan from the altar of the Lord God of Israel, spoke of the sweetness of the sacrifice, all of which was burned upon the altar, and the savour arose to heaven.
Next, they "sacrificed peace offerings." The burnt offerings were wholly consumed, an atonement they were for man; but they were wholly burnt unto God — "the priest shall burn all on the altar." But the peace offerings were eaten in part by the offerer, for in them the offerer had communion with God; in them man had his portion to feed upon, he ate of the victim which had been sacrificed. And according to what the soul really feeds upon of Christ by the Spirit, there is communion with God. Then do God's people "rejoice before the Lord our God." Delight in Christ on the part of the saints is the next great fact presented by this great gathering together of Israel, and by their offerings.
"The stones" were erected "in Mount Ebal" by the commandment of Moses, and were inscribed "very plainly" (Deut. 27:4-8) with the words of the law. Ebal being the mount whereon the six tribes were stationed who gave the Amens to the curses attached to disobedience of God's word, "the stones" were placed upon the basis of the mountain of man's "So be it" to the loss of his favours should he disobey God's laws! The words of the law, thus written, would remain visible to all eyes for a long period of time, and probably did so remain, longer than Israel abode in obedience.
Joshua declared all the words of Jehovah their God to the people; not the blessings only, as we at times select our favourite portions, but all the words of the Lord. Their whole prosperity in Canaan hung upon their adherence to these words; the one condition, on which the enjoyment of the land of promise, with its milk and honey, should continue to be theirs, was obedience (Deut. 27:3). This never should be forgotten, for what we sow, we reap.
The curses were read with a loud voice by the Levites, and, as each curse for disobedience sounded in Israel's ears, the hundreds of thousands, assembled upon Mount Ebal, responded with unanimous Amens. Twelve times said they "Amen" to the twelve-times-uttered curses, and the twelfth — "Cursed be he that confirms not all the words of this law to do them" — included every possible neglect or failure of which they could be capable. Blessings also were read (Joshua 8:33, 34); but concerning the Amens, sounding from Mount Gerizim, Scripture is silent. It records not one responsive "So be it" to blessings earned by the obedience of fallen man (Deut. 27). Man may justly assent to all "the judgments" (Ex. 24:3) of God's law, but they who remain under the law must remain under its curse (Gal. 3:10).
Christians are not under a covenant whereby blessings are theirs according to their obedience, for we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places IN Christ, and these blessings are ours, not according to our behaviour, but, according as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has chosen us IN Him. Unbounded grace secures us our privileges, and unbounded grace has placed us IN Christ, IN Whom our privileges are secured. If we build our altar of worship, it is because "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree; that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ." (Gal. 3:13, 14.) Ours are blessings all of grace, not of works. "We are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." (Rom. 7:6.)
The foothold of the Christian presents a striking contrast to that of Israel in this scene. Christ has, by His death, made His people free, for they have died to the law in Him, and His cross has severed them from the law's power and dominion, for it addresses not its demands to men who are dead — "My brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ." (Rom. 7:4.) Can we doubt that the altar was erected on Ebal, the mount wherefrom the Amens to the curses proceeded, to teach that Christ has redeemed us by His sacrifice from the curse of the law?
The covenant inscribed upon the plaster-covered stones, St. Paul said, eighteen hundred years ago, "decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:13); but the covenant of grace is changeless and eternal. "If that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second." (Heb. 8:7.) That of grace is perfect before God, for the Lord Jesus is the mediator thereof. His own precious blood has confirmed it, and our blessings are not entrusted to our own custody, for they are in the safe and eternal keeping of God our Father Himself. They are not written on stones, to remind us that our Amen follows the divine and faithful Yea, but are written in the Scriptures, which teach us that all are both yea and amen for us in Christ.
Yet, while our spiritual privileges are indeed, through infinite grace, secured for ever to us in Christ, in Whom we are, let us never make light of responsibility. The greater our blessing, the greater our responsibility; the injunctions under grace are incomparably more urgent for holiness than are the commands of the law. And the call to follow the Lord from Himself in Heaven is a more separating one from the world than was that which thundered forth from Sinai. We may read over and over again Moses's words to Israel, and take their spirit to ourselves, even while rejoicing that we stand not upon such terms as did Israel. And are there not witnesses around us, who proclaim the bitterness of departing from the living God? Are not many of God's people at this day in captivity? May it not be said of such, "Thou shalt find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest"? and in their captivity have they not "a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind" (Deut. 28:65)? Are there not many in a like state to Israel when the Philistines and the Midianites got the mastery over them, so that they scarce dared show their faces, and reaped and threshed their very food with trembling?
God is not mocked. While all things are ours in Christ we retain the enjoyment of them upon our obedience to His word: "If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love." (John 15:10.)