Covenant Renewal on Ebal
“There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them” (v. 35).- Joshua 8:30–35
With the capture of Jericho and Ai, the Israelites established a firm foothold in the promised land and began to experience the fulfillment of God’s promise to give Canaan to them (Josh. 6; 8:1–29; see Deut. 9:6). Yet the taking of these cities was not without a loss, for thirty-six Israelite fighters died when Achan disobeyed God at Ai (Josh. 7). Since the Israelites had much to be thankful for and had been reminded of the consequences for not keeping covenant, it was an appropriate time to worship. Today’s passage tells us that worship is just what the Israelites did immediately after the conquest of Jericho and Ai (8:30–35).
The worship occurred in the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal (v. 33). This valley lay twenty miles north of Ai, in the hill country, and the city of Shechem was located there. God appeared to Abram at Shechem centuries earlier, promising to give his descendants the land (Gen. 12:6–7). Jacob later owned land and dwelled near the city of Shechem (33:18–20). God was indeed keeping His promise to give Israel the land of Canaan, for Joshua and the nation stood in the very place pledged to the descendants of the patriarchs.
God had commanded the Israelites, while Moses was still alive, to build an altar on Mount Ebal and there issue a reminder of the law with its blessings and cursings (Deut. 27:1–8). So, the worship that Joshua led near Shechem and Mount Ebal was an act of obedience to an explicit command of the Lord (Josh. 8:30–35). The liturgy for the occasion, in fact, shows that the worship was a covenant renewal ceremony. Just before entering the promised land, the Israelites gathered to hear the law, the curses for disobeying it, and the blessings for obeying it (Deut. 27:9–28:68). In so doing, the Israelites recommitted themselves to the covenant, pledging to obey God under penalty of curse. With the disobedience at Jericho occurring just before the worship under Joshua, it was time for the nation to commit itself to God again. It was time to be reminded of the consequences associated with the covenant and to worship the Lord, for worship and covenant faithfulness are to be priorities for God’s people.
Worship continues as a covenant renewal ceremony. Weekly, we gather with God’s people on the Lord’s Day to hear the blessings and curses of God’s Word—curses for those who fail to turn to Christ and blessings for those who believe. And we commit ourselves again to Christ as our Lord, trusting Him for eternal life.
Matthew Henry sees in today’s passage and its covenant renewal worship service a model for our participation in worship. Given that all Israel was there, even the children, Henry says that “all that are capable of learning must come to be taught out of the law.” All of God’s people—children and adults—should participate in the corporate worship of our God.
Passages for Further Study