The Twelfth in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Joshua
Joshua was afraid that this would happen. After Israel’s stunning defeat at Ai, Joshua warned the people of Israel, “for the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it [Israel’s defeat] and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name (Joshua 7:9)?” Now that Israel has entered the heart of Canaan, the military situation will begin to change dramatically. Some of the Canaanite tribes (the Gibeonites) are terrified of Israel and simply lose the will to fight. But a number of Canaanite tribes begin to stiffen in their opposition to Israel’s conquest of the land. Before the debacle at Ai, Israel and Joshua called the shots and advanced upon objectives of their choosing. Now that the Canaanites had learned of Israel’s defeat by a vastly inferior foe at Ai, a number of tribes decide to band together in an attempt to organize a counteroffensive against the Israelite advance into Canaan. YHWH promised to create fear in the hearts of the Canaanites, but now the Canaanites seem to be strengthening in their resolve to fight back. What happened?
We are continuing our study of the Book of Joshua, which is part of a larger series, “I Will Be Your God and You Will Be My People.” Throughout this series, we have been tracing the story of God’s redemption of his people as its unfolds in biblical history. We’ve also been concentrating on the covenant of works and the covenant of grace and how God’s people relate to these two covenants.
Recall that when we left off last time at the end of Joshua chapter 8, the people of God were camped near the city of Shechem in the valley between Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal. Upon reaching Abraham’s and Jacob’s ancient home as instructed by Moses, the entire nation participated in a covenant renewal ceremony. As we read in Joshua 8:30-35, the people of God surrounded the ark of the covenant and the priests. As the people streamed up the slopes of Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal in what amounts to a natural amphitheater, higher up on the Mount Ebal, Israel’s priests offered burnt offerings for the people’s sins, as well as fellowship offerings to commemorate their covenant with YHWH.
The high point of the covenant renewal ceremony was when Joshua read to the assembled people (men women and children, plus all the sojourners in the land) all that was written in the law–including the covenant blessings and curses. We also read of how the priests conducted sacrifices on altar of uncut stones engraved with the words of the law. This was a declaration to the Canaanites that Israel was in covenant relationship with YHWH and therefore entitled to all the covenant blessings–including possession of the land–upon the condition of their obedience. But should Israel disobey the Lord’s commandments, those covenant curses spelled out in the law would come upon the entire nation. This entire ceremony was a testimony to the Canaanites that YHWH is the true and living God, and that this is his land to give to his people. The sacrifices offered on this altar also served to remind both the Israelites and the Canaanites that YHWH is a merciful God and that there was still time to repent before YHWH directs the armies of Israel to bring down his judgment upon all those in Canaan.
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