“This Book of the Law Shall Not Depart” — 8:30-35

The previous entry can be read here.

Lynn DeShazo wrote the following words for the hymn, “Ancient Words”:[1]

Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world,
They resound with God’s own heart
Oh, let the Ancient words impart.

Words of Life, words of Hope
Give us strength, help us cope
In this world, where e’er we roam
Ancient words will guide us Home.

Ancient words ever true
Changing me, and changing you.
We have come with open hearts
Oh let the ancient words impart.

These lyrics are especially poignant when we look at Joshua 8:30-35.

Today’s Text

Our historian writes, “At that time Joshua built an altar on Mount Ebal to the LORD, the God of Israel, just as Moses the LORD’s servant had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the book of the law of Moses: an altar of uncut stones on which no iron tool has been used. Then they offered burnt offerings to the LORD and sacrificed fellowship offerings on it. There on the stones, Joshua copied the law of Moses, which he had written in the presence of the Israelites. All Israel, foreigner and citizen alike, with their elders, officers, and judges, stood on either side of the ark of the LORD’s covenant facing the Levitical priests who carried it. As Moses the LORD’s servant had commanded earlier, half of them were in front of Mount Gerizim and half in front of Mount Ebal, to bless the people of Israel. Afterward, Joshua read aloud all the words of the law—the blessings as well as the curses—according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read before the entire assembly of Israel, including the women, the little children, and the foreigners who were with them.”

Where we’ve been…

Thus far in our study of this portion of God’s Word, we have seen God overwhelmingly fight for His people. The Jordan River was dried up and the nation crossed it easily. Jericho fell as the people obeyed God’s commands in their siege of that city. Ai fell (on the second attack) as the people sought God’s leading. Even before attacking Jericho, God fought for His people by keeping them from being attacked as the majority of the fighting force languished in pain post-circumcision.

However, despite the glorious fact that God overwhelmingly proved Himself faithful to His people, God’s Word is clear that God must remain faithful to Himself even more. This explains the happenings in Joshua 7. God is holy. He cannot turn a blind eye to sin. The sin had to be removed from Israel’s presence before they could be victorious over Ai. After it was removed, God granted them victory over Ai.

And that is where we find ourselves today. Ai has been defeated. There are still many cities to take over. But Joshua—rather than leading Israel to attack the next city—seemingly takes the whole nation twenty miles north from Ai to a valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. Victor Hamilton notes, “Gerizim, approximately 2,600 feet high, rises above the city of Shechem on the south. Ebal, approximately 2,800 feet high, rises above the city of Shechem on the north. . . . Gerizim is more lush and fertile than Ebal. Since both hills are composed of monolithic limestone, there would be plenteous stone available for Joshua on which to inscribe the Torah.”[2]

There is a question as to the exact order of events where today’s passage is concerned. David Howard notes,

The episode found here (vv. 30–35) is located in three different places in manuscript traditions, such that it sometimes is called a “floating pericope.” In the MT, it is found here, just following the victory at Ai. At Qumran, it is found just before the observances of circumcision and Passover, between 5:1 and 5:2. In the Old Greek, it is found just after the notice of a Canaanite coalition that came against the Israelites, after 9:2. We can see, then, that this account is not too firmly anchored in its present position. Syntactically, the episode is set off from its surroundings as well.[3]

For this reason, it is possible that the events of today’s text did not actually occur at this point in chronological progression of the conquest of the Promised Land.

Above, i wrote that Joshua seemingly takes the whole nation twenty miles north. If we look forward to 9:6, we see that the people are still in the camp at Gilgal, near Jericho. If we look closely at 8:30-35 we will see that all twelve tribes—and all the people of all twelve tribes—are present, though according to Joshua 1:14 the women and children of the eastern tribes remained on the other side of the Jordan River during the conquest. Also, if we look forward to chapter 24, we will see several parallels, especially in verses 25-27:

On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people at Shechem and established a statute and ordinance for them. Joshua recorded these things in the book of the law of God; he also took a large stone and set it up there under the oak next to the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, “You see this stone—it will be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words the LORD said to us, and it will be a witness against you, so that you will not deny your God.”

Our historian purposefully placed it out of chronological order[4] in order to help us better grasp the overall goal for his writing. Our historian wants us to know that “the right of possessing the promised land is tied to the proclamation of, and subjection to, God’s covenant claims upon his people.”[5] He placed it here, rather than at the end of the book, because he wanted to remind his readers then—and us today—of the blessings for obeying God’s Word and the curses for disobeying God’s Word (especially in light of the Achan situation in the prior chapter).

God’s People Must Be Committed to Worship (8:30-31)

The first thing we see is that God’s people are committed to worship. We read in verses 30-31, “At that time Joshua built an altar on Mount Ebal to the LORD, the God of Israel, just as Moses the LORD’s servant had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the book of the law of Moses: an altar of uncut stones on which no iron tool has been used. Then they offered burnt offerings to the LORD and sacrificed fellowship offerings on it.”

The first thing to point out about all six verses as a whole is that the Word of God—spoken to and recorded by Moses—is on full display. Butler notes fifty-four allusions to passages from the Torah alone.[6] In addition, he notes an allusion to Joshua 1:8 in 8:31. “This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do.” It is from the Word of God that we learn how to worship, why we worship, how to be committed to God’s Word, and why we must be committed to God’s Word.

Joshua builds an altar on Mount Ebal. He does this because God commanded it (cf. Deuteronomy 27:4-5). He builds it in exactly the manner God’s law commanded (cf. Exodus 20:25). After it is built, this altar is used to worship God. Worship—in this context—takes the form of offering sacrifices. Burnt offerings. Fellowship offerings.

Allan Moseley explains these sacrifices well. “The first means of atonement mentioned in Leviticus is the burnt offering, described throughout the first chapter.”[7] Therefore, offering burnt offerings on the altar on Mount Ebal was done to remove sin from the presence of the people. Moseley writes, “In the fellowship offering, people celebrated that they were on friendly terms with God.”[8] Therefore, because the peoples’ sins had been atoned for, the people celebrated their reconciliation to God in the fellowship offerings.

Christian worship looks different today, but at the same time it still centers around sacrifice. Do you gather for worship at a local church on Sunday mornings to celebrate the life and death of Jesus who died as our burnt offering and fellowship offering so that we could have both forgiveness of sin and fellowship with God? Find a local church and attend tomorrow morning! The Word of God commands that we worship. Even the Law of Moses commanded that the people of Israel gather for worship in the way described in our passage today. We have no excuse not to worship God as the church!

God’s People Must Be Committed to His Word (8:32-35)

God’s Word is written down for all (32)

Second we see that God’s people are committed to His Word. The text gives three examples of this. First, we see Joshua make a copy of the Law. Verse 32 says, “There on the stones, Joshua copied the law of Moses, which he had written in the presence of the Israelites.”

We are so blessed today to own multiple copies of God’s Word. Joshua—here in approximately 1406 B.C.—writes one of the first copies of the Word of God. At this point only five books existed, but it was still the Word of God. Joshua was committed to the Word of God because God told him not to let it depart from his mouth (cf. Joshua 1:8). How committed are we to God’s Word?

It has been written down for thousands of years and in A.D. 2018 we have no excuse not to study and read and memorize that which has been preserved for us by God. When was the last time you sat down and read God’s Word? How many copies of His Word do you own—whether physical or electronic? Why do you not read it more often since you have so many copies? We must be committed to the Word of God that has been preserved for us!

God’s Word is to be internalized by all (33-34)

Next, we see the Law made personal to the people. Verses 33-34 say, “All Israel, foreigner and citizen alike, with their elders, officers, and judges, stood on either side of the ark of the LORD’s covenant facing the Levitical priests who carried it. As Moses the LORD’s servant had commanded earlier, half of them were in front of Mount Gerizim and half in front of Mount Ebal, to bless the people of Israel. Afterward, Joshua read aloud all the words of the law—the blessings as well as the curses—according to all that is written in the book of the law.”

Two things need to be said about these two verses.

First, the text is clear that all of God’s people are involved in this ceremony. It specifies both foreigners and citizens as part of Israel. The blessings and curses that followed were not only for the naturally born Israelites, but also for the Rahabs and Egyptians (cf. Joshua 2 & Exodus 12:38). No one is exempt from God’s Law.

Second, what is briefly described here is laid out in much detail in Deuteronomy 27:2-28:26.

At the time you cross the Jordan into the land the LORD your God is giving you, you must set up large stones and cover them with plaster. Write all the words of this law on the stones after you cross to enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has promised you. When you have crossed the Jordan, you are to set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I am commanding you today, and you are to cover them with plaster. Build an altar of stones there to the LORD your God—you must not use any iron tool on them. Use uncut stones to build the altar of the LORD your God and offer burnt offerings to the LORD your God on it. There you are to sacrifice fellowship offerings, eat, and rejoice in the presence of the LORD your God. Write clearly all the words of this law on the ⌊plastered⌋ stones.” Moses and the Levitical priests spoke to all Israel, “Be silent, Israel, and listen! This day you have become the people of the LORD your God. Obey the LORD your God and follow His commands and statutes I am giving you today.” On that day Moses commanded the people, “When you have crossed the Jordan, these ⌊tribes⌋ will stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. And these ⌊tribes⌋ will stand on Mount Ebal to deliver the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. The Levites will proclaim in a loud voice to every Israelite: ‘The person who makes a carved idol or cast image, which is detestable to the LORD, the work of a craftsman, and sets ⌊it⌋ up in secret is cursed.’ And all the people will reply, ‘Amen!’ ‘The one who dishonors his father or mother is cursed.’ And all the people will say, ‘Amen!’ ‘The one who moves his neighbor’s boundary marker is cursed.’ And all the people will say, ‘Amen!’ ‘The one who leads a blind person astray on the road is cursed.’ And all the people will say, ‘Amen!’ ‘The one who denies justice to a foreigner, a fatherless child, or a widow is cursed.’ And all the people will say, ‘Amen!’ ‘The one who sleeps with his father’s wife is cursed, for he has violated his father’s marriage bed.’ And all the people will say, ‘Amen!’ ‘The one who has sexual intercourse with any animal is cursed.’ And all the people will say, ‘Amen!’ ‘The one who sleeps with his sister, whether his father’s daughter or his mother’s daughter is cursed.’ And all the people will say, ‘Amen!’ ‘The one who sleeps with his mother-in-law is cursed.’ And all the people will say, ‘Amen!’ ‘The one who secretly kills his neighbor is cursed.’ And all the people will say, ‘Amen!’ ‘The one who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person is cursed.’ And all the people will say, ‘Amen!’ ‘Anyone who does not put the words of this law into practice is cursed.’ And all the people will say, ‘Amen!’

“Now if you faithfully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all His commands I am giving you today, the LORD your God will put you far above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come and overtake you, because you obey the LORD your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. Your descendants will be blessed, and your land’s produce, and the offspring of your livestock, including the young of your herds and the newborn of your flocks. Your basket and kneading bowl will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. “The LORD will cause the enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you. They will march out against you from one direction but flee from you in seven directions. The LORD will grant you a blessing on your storehouses and on everything you do; He will bless you in the land the LORD your God is giving you. The LORD will establish you as His holy people, as He swore to you, if you obey the commands of the LORD your God and walk in His ways. Then all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by Yahweh’s name, and they will stand in awe of you. The LORD will make you prosper abundantly with children, the offspring of your livestock, and your land’s produce in the land the LORD swore to your fathers to give you. The LORD will open for you His abundant storehouse, the sky, to give your land rain in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. The LORD will make you the head and not the tail; you will only move upward and never downward if you listen to the LORD your God’s commands I am giving you today and are careful to follow ⌊them⌋. Do not turn aside to the right or the left from all the things I am commanding you today, and do not go after other gods to worship them.

“But if you do not obey the LORD your God by carefully following all His commands and statutes I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and kneading bowl will be cursed. Your descendants will be cursed, and your land’s produce, the young of your herds, and the newborn of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. The LORD will send against you curses, confusion, and rebuke in everything you do until you are destroyed and quickly perish, because of the wickedness of your actions in abandoning Me. The LORD will make pestilence cling to you until He has exterminated you from the land you are entering to possess. The LORD will afflict you with wasting disease, fever, inflammation, burning heat, drought, blight, and mildew; these will pursue you until you perish. The sky above you will be bronze, and the earth beneath you iron. The LORD will turn the rain of your land into falling dust; it will descend on you from the sky until you are destroyed. The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will march out against them from one direction but flee from them in seven directions. You will be an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. Your corpses will be food for all the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the land, with no one to scare them away.”

The actual account continues through Deuteronomy 30:20. It concludes with these words, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, love the LORD your God, obey Him, and remain faithful to Him. For He is your life, and He will prolong your life in the land the LORD swore to give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

The people were to be involved in accepting the responsibility for their actions by affirming the truth of the blessings and curses. When we hear preaching and think—or verbally shout—“Amen!” we are proclaiming both that we agree with what was said and that we accept the responsibility placed upon us. The Word of God must be internalized in us, both by our heeding what it says and feeling the responsibility it calls us to, both of which can only be done by reading and hearing it regularly.

Do you internalize God’s Word? When was the last time you read it? When was the last time you heard it preached?

God’s Word is to be heard by all (35)

Finally, we see Joshua read the Law to all the people. Verse 35 says, “There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read before the entire assembly of Israel, including the women, the little children, and the foreigners who were with them.”

Joshua read all of the Law to all of Israel. The same Hebrew word is used in both the phrase “all that Moses had commanded” and the phrase “the entire assembly of Israel.” This does not necessarily mean that Joshua read Genesis 1:1 through Deuteronomy 34:12, but it could easily mean that Joshua read all of Deuteronomy to the people. This means that there is no part of the Word of God that is not important. We must be immersed in all of it. There should be no such thing as a Christian who has not read the whole Bible at least once (especially if said Christian has been a believer for at least two years). What portions do you still need to read? Why not start today?

It is extremely interesting that Joshua read this to “the entire assembly of Israel, including the women, the little children, and the foreigners who were with them” (emphasis added). Lest anyone ever try to convince you that God is sexist because of primarily male pronouns in the Bible or because of commands like that found in 1 Timothy 2:12 (which i will be writing on soon [ link here]), i offer this verse as a counter. Joshua 8:35 not only screams, “Let the little children come to Me,” but also screams, “Let the women and the foreigners come to Me!” God wants all of His people to be well-versed in the Scriptures. He wants His people to be united to each other in the Scriptures and in the worship of Him regardless of gender, age, or nationality.

If we refuse to take the time to study the Scriptures, or at least to spend much time reading the Scriptures, we will miss out on so much that God has for us. We must refuse to let “the Book of the Law depart from [our mouths].” What do you need to do today to keep God’s Word in your mouth and heart and mind?

Peaks and Propitiation

In one sense this whole text is about fulfilling the Law. There are repeated references to “the Law of Moses,” to doing what was “written in the Law of Moses,” etc. However, there was someone else who fulfilled the Law in an even greater way. James Boice explains,

When the altar was constructed by Joshua in obedience to the commands of Moses, it was not constructed in the valley between the two mountains, or on Mount Gerizim, but on Mount Ebal. . . . Ebal was the mountain from which the curses were to be read, while Gerizim was the mountain from which the blessings on the upright were declared. In other words, the altar was for sinners. It was for those who acknowledged their sin and who came, not as the righteous, but as sinners to the place of sacrifice.[9]

This is ultimately what the Law accomplishes. And not just the Law, but the entirety of the Christian Scriptures. It shows us our utter need for Christ. It shows us how far short we fall of God’s glory. It shows us our lack of love, both toward God and toward His people (believers in the Lord Jesus Christ). It shows us that we are sinners, and that apart from the grace of God we are cursed and cursed alone—for eternity.

However, just over twenty miles south of Mount Ebal stood another mountain. On this mountain the city of Jerusalem would eventually sit as the capital of the nation. On a hill outside of this city a man would hang on a cross. He hung there, dying the death we deserved to die for breaking God’s Law. He had kept God’s Law perfectly His entire life, so He did not deserve to die. But He hung on the cross for three hours, taking God’s wrath for sin upon Himself. At the end of those three hours He cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) because the Law had finally been fulfilled. His was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. His was the propitiation of propitiation. God’s wrath was swallowed.

My plea with you today is that you place your faith in Jesus. Read the Bible and learn about Him. Find hints and glimmers of Him in the 39 books of the Old Testament. Find Him in 4K HD in the 27 books of the New Testament. He is the fulfillment of the Law. He wants you to know Him. He pleads with you to trust Him.

If you refuse Him, God’s wrath remains on you. He drank the wrath of God for those who trust Him. He is the umbrella that covers us from the rain of God’s wrath. Hide in Him or be outside of grace!

In closing i would simply like to quote the entirety of the hymn, “Ancient Words,” written by Lynn DeShazo,[10] in an effort to spur us on to love God’s Word even more than we already do.

Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world,
They resound with God’s own heart
Oh, let the Ancient words impart.

Words of Life, words of Hope
Give us strength, help us cope
In this world, where e’er we roam
Ancient words will guide us Home.

Ancient words ever true
Changing me, and changing you.
We have come with open hearts
Oh let the ancient words impart.

Holy words of our Faith
Handed down to this age.
Came to us through sacrifice
Oh heed the faithful words of Christ.

Martyr’s blood stains each page
They have died for this faith.
Hear them cry through the years
Heed these words and hold them dear.

Ancient words ever true
Changing me, and changing you.
We have come with open hearts
Oh let the ancient words impart.

People have given their lives so that we could have access to the Bibles we have today. We are spurning their sacrifice if we refuse to dive into God’s Word regularly.

Soli Deo Gloria
Sola Scriptura

The next post can be found here.

 

[1] Lynn DeShazo, “Ancient Words,” in Hymns of Grace (Los Angeles, CA: The Master’s Seminary Press, 2015), #365.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001), 46.

[3] David M. Howard, New American Commentary – Volume 5: Joshua, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 212.

[4] Ibid., 213.
Howard describes liberal scholars when he writes, “Most such scholars associate the episode with the covenant renewal ceremony described in chap. 24. Indeed, one scholar relocates these verses immediately after the account of that ceremony, after 24:27, even though there is no manuscript tradition supporting this.”
I believe the text belongs where it currently sits, although i believe a strong case can be made for saying it didn’t happen chronologically until chapter 24.

[5] Marten H. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1981), 144.

[6] Trent C. Butler, Joshua, WBC (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), 90.

[7] Allan Moseley, Exalting Jesus in Leviticus, CCE (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2015), 14.

[8] Ibid., 36.

[9] James Montgomery Boice, Joshua (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1989), 69.

[10] Lynn DeShazo, “Ancient Words,” in Hymns of Grace (Los Angeles, CA: The Master’s Seminary Press, 2015), #365.

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