Scripture: And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. Joshua 8:32-33 ESV
Observation: Having defeated Ai soundly (carefully following the Lord’s instructions), Joshua also follows Moses’ directive to build an altar of large, uncut stones, plaster them, write the law on them, and renew the covenant (vv.30-31, see Deuteronomy 27-28). Thus, Joshua reads the entire law (blessings and curses) before all the people (Israel and their company of god-fearing sojourners and native-born) with half standing to each side of the ark in the presence of the Levitical priests (above verses).
As mentioned in an earlier Daily Focus devotion, uncut stones distinguished Israel from the pagan nations who fashioned stones into idols. Engraving the stones memorialized the permanence of the covenant. And the participation of alien residents affirmed the Abrahamic covenant: God would bless all the nations through his seed (Genesis 22:15-18). Lastly, as noted throughout our study of the Pentateuch, the ark symbolized God’s presence.
Takeaway: In verse 33 (above), the author adds that the purpose of covenant renewal is to bless the people of Israel (including its Gentile converts). Given that this solemn occasion required reading horrific curses incurred through disobedience to the law, the ceremony may not feel like a blessing to our present-day audience. But God’s curses aim to provide accountability. If we lose sight of the consequences, we will also lose sight of the gifts of confession, repentance, and restoration.
The Bible provides us with an illustration from the book of Nehemiah. Having strayed from God and adopted the pagan culture’s abominable cultic worship of sacrificing children, engaging in ritual prostitution, and other selfish and destructive behaviors, Israel faced the curses of exile and slavery at the hand of their enemies. Over time Israel came to their senses, but only because of the consequences. So God moved in King Artaxerxes’ heart to grant Ezra and Nehemiah permission to return to Jerusalem and begin a restoration process. The first stage involved rebuilding the wall around the city ruins. The second addressed rebuilding the people’s hearts through the entire reading of the law with its blessings and curses, similarly to our story. In its hearing, the people came under conviction and grieved over their sins. Thus, Nehemiah declared, “This day is holy to the Lord your God, do not mourn or weep” (Nehemiah 8:9 ESV). And he commanded them to go and celebrate with the understanding the “joy of the Lord is your strength” (v.10).
So what’s our takeaway? We must immerse ourselves in the entire breadth of Scripture, which reveals a full-orbed view of our God and his desires and expectations for us. Otherwise, if we skip the uncomfortable parts and focus solely on blessings, we will miss the warning signs that help us avoid drifting away from our Lover into enemy territory, where we face inevitable consequences. Moreover, we will miss out on taking our faith to a deeper level of understanding his grace and love for us. But if we see the curses as a loving warning, as a plea to follow the way of our Lord and Savior, then they will prove to be a blessing, and the joy of the Lord will be our strength.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for revealing the extent of your love for us through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son. And we thank you for the resulting reconciliation, restoration, and renewal blessings. So would you please help us read and reflect on your promises and the warning signs that help us stay on track in our faith journeys? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling