Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Two Mountains

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss says you can’t enjoy all the benefits of walking with God without obeying God.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: So God says that’s the choice. I want to bless you, but you’ve got to walk in accordance with Me. Two cannot walk together except they be agreed. You’ve got to agree with Me. You’ve got to surrender your lives to obey My law that you see set before you today.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, October 21, 2014.

Have you given any thought to God’s role in your day? Nancy will explain the joy of living every moment for God's glory, as she continues in the series "Lessons from the Life of Joshua (Part 11): Waging and Winning Spiritual Battles."

Nancy: In the last session we saw Joshua and the Israelites finally having a victory over Ai. Remember, the first time they went against the town of Ai they were overconfident. They didn't ask the Lord for direction. Achan had sinned. And for all of these reasons, certainly the last one, God had caused them to be defeated at Ai. They were just stunned, and God showed them what the problem was. They dealt with the situation with Achan. You can't just move on when there's an issue in your life. You need to stop and deal with it before you can move into victory.

Then they went up against Ai. God gave them a battle plan that was quite different than the one He gave them at Jericho. That's why it's important that we seek God for what should be the battleplan for each battle in our lives. God granted them a victory. God fought for them.

That victory at Ai concludes the initial campaign of the conquest of Canaan. The initial campaign was in the central part of the nation. They actually just split the nation at Jericho and at Ai. What we’re going to see in these next few days at Gibeon, that’s the central campaign. Then they’re going to move to the south and then to the north in a systematic conquest of the land as the Lord directs them.

But there’s a paragraph that we find in Joshua 8 beginning at verse 30 that I don’t want us to skip over. I started to make this the last part of the last session, but I thought, No, this is worth giving a whole day to its own. It's a passage that is not as familiar perhaps to many of us, but it's become precious to me.

Let me pray and then we'll get started.

Lord, thank You so much for Your Word. Thank You for Your Holy Spirit who makes it understandable to us and applies it to our lives. Thank You that these things that were written in the past were written for our instruction and as examples to us that we might walk in faith and obedience as Joshua learned to do.

Lord, open our hearts, our eyes, our ears, and may we be saying, "Yes, Lord" as we respond to Your Word, I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Joshua 8, verse 30, the first three words of that verse: “At that time . . .” Now when you study the Scripture and you see a phrase like that, you don’t want to just pass over it. You want to say, “At what time?”

Well, that time was right after this intense battle and victory at Ai. It’s interesting that at that time, rather than just moving on to the next battle, as they had done when they went from Jericho to Ai, this time they did something that militarily was foolish. They’re on a roll here. They’ve got a string of victories. They’ve got some momentum. The Canaanite nations are terrified of them at this point.

But rather than just moving on, they took a selah. They took time to recalibrate spiritually. Some of you raised your eyebrows when I said selah. You know that phrase that is used in the psalms? It's a Hebrew word that means, "Stop and think about what just happened. Think about what you just heard. Pause. Recalibrate spiritually."

That's what they did. They paused to acknowledge the Lord, who was the source of their life, the source of their victory and their strength. They paused to have a ceremony. At this ceremony, the Children of Israel ratified the covenant that they had with God for the first time. They ratified this covenant since they had actually gotten into the land.

In that covenant and in that ceremony, they affirmed the principle, the truth, that obedience brings blessing and that disobedience brings a curse. It’s brings the judgment of God. They stopped to agree with God: “We will obey. We know Your Word. It's our life and our strength and our hope. We will obey it.”

Now in order to have this ceremony, they journeyed about thirty-five miles north of Ai to the Valley of Shechem. Shechem is an important place in the history of Israel. It’s located in central Israel, the region that we know as Samaria. It is about two miles wide. It separates two important mountains. On the north is Mount Ebal and on the south is Mount Gerizim.

These may not be everyday terms to you, but these are two of the highest peaks in the West Bank in Palestine. Mount Ebal is the higher of the two, the mountain on the north. It rises to about 3000 feet above sea level, or about 1500 feet above the valley floor. It's not a huge mountain, but it is a significant peak in that area.

The word Ebal comes from a Hebrew word that means "rocky," and that’s descriptive of this mountain. It’s a rocky mountain. It’s just really a mound of rock. It’s a barren mountain. It’s rugged. There’s very little vegetation that grows on Mount Ebal.

As we’re going to see in this text, Mount Ebal is a picture; it’s a symbol; it’s a type. It represents the curse of disobedience to God’s law. That rocky, barren, dry place is going to represent what happens in our lives when we disobey the law of God.

Now in contrast to the barrenness of Mount Ebal, Mount Gerizim, which is on the other side of the valley—it’s on the south—is more wooded. It’s more lush. And it represents the blessings of obedience.

I found on Wikipedia a picture, an aerial view of the two mountains, and you can see the contrast. Mount Ebal, the taller, is much more rugged. Then you see Mount Gerizim with trees and woods, and it's a much more lush place. It represents the blessings of obedience.

Now there are two aspects to this ceremony that takes place in the Valley of Shechem. What we have recorded for us in Joshua 8 indicates that the Children of Israel followed the instructions that Moses had given before his death for this ceremony. In Deuteronomy chapter 27, Moses had said, “When you come into the promised land, here is a ceremony you’re supposed to have” (paraphrased).

As you study Joshua 8, it helps to go back to Deuteronomy chapter 27, which gives some more details that we don’t have in Joshua chapter 8. So I’m going to kind of toggle back and forth between those two passages. You might just want to keep your place in Joshua 8, but realize that there’s more detail that we find in the parallel passage in Deuteronomy chapter 27.

Now the first aspect of this ceremony was the altar. Let me read beginning in verse 30.

At that time, Joshua built an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal [now that’s going to be significant and we’ll see that as we get into this as to why he built it on that mountain rather than the other one], just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, "an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool." And they offered on it burnt offerings to the LORD and sacrificed peace offerings.

Two kinds of offerings—burnt offerings and peace offerings. Some of your translations will say fellowship offerings. Now this altar was a simple stone altar. There was no showmanship about it. God was not trying to be impressed, and they were not trying to impress Him. It was simple. There were no tools used on the stones. These were stones they just had to pick up and use as they were to make this altar.

I think that’s a picture of the fact that when we worship God, He’s not looking for showmanship, and He’s not looking for us to have self-effort or self-righteousness in order to meet with Him. We cannot be saved by our works of righteousness. There’s no human effort involved in our having access to God. This was a simple stone altar. No human effort or man’s work involved. They offered sacrifices as an expression of their worship.

The burnt offerings were a picture of total consecration to God. As you go into the book of Exodus and Leviticus, you see this concept of burnt offerings where the whole sacrifice is consumed on the altar. It’s a picture of Romans 12:1 and 2. Offer up yourselves, your bodies, as a sacrifice to the Lord. Totally consecrated to Him, recognizing that we totally belong to Him.

Then they offered peace offerings or fellowship offerings. Those offerings were an expression of gratitude to God for the victories that He had achieved, the victories He had given them.

As you study the peace offering in the Scripture, you learn that a portion of that peace offering or that fellowship offering was given to the priests. The offering was not consumed. It was offered up and then a portion of the meat was given to the priest and another portion was given to the ones who were offering the sacrifices.

Then they would have a meal, a fellowship meal. Fellowship with God and fellowship with one another. In Deuteronomy 27 that is telling the Children of Israel that they are to have this ceremony when they come into the land, it adds this detail that you don’t find here in Joshua chapter 8. It says, “And when you offer the sacrifice, you shall eat there and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God” (Deut. 27:7 paraphrased).

So they took time to have a meal together, to fellowship, to thank God for what He had done, to rejoice in the victory that He had given. I want to just say that as God gives us victories in the Christian life, as there are occasions where we see the power of God displayed, it’s important that we stop and acknowledge what God has done, that we thank Him, that we rejoice, that we fellowship with Him, that we fellowship with others. And we celebrate the victory together. That’s what they were doing here at this altar.

Then we have a second part of this ceremony which involves the stones. Verse 32: “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.” So Joshua writes the law of Moses on some large stones.

Now if you were just reading this passage, it’s a little confusing. It could look like it was the stones of the altar, but actually, it was a different set of stones when you put Deuteronomy 27 with it. In those ancient times there were stones that were known as steles. You may have read about this in ancient history. A stele was an upright stone, slab or pillar with an inscription. That pillar, that stone, could serve as a monument, a memorial, a marker.

One example of this that you might be familiar with is the ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, which was written a couple hundred years earlier. It was a collection of laws that were written on an eight-foot high pillar. It was a huge pillar. You’ve perhaps seen pictures of it. That stone has more than 3,600 lines of text. So you can write a lot of copy on these stones.

Those laws, the laws of Hammurabi, were written in stone. That’s where you get this phrase. That meant that they were immutable. They were permanent. They were unchangeable. They were displayed there for everyone to see so no one could claim ignorance of the law.

Well, I think that’s a part of the point of Joshua writing the law of God on these large stones. In fact, in Deuteronomy chapter 27, God had said through Moses,

On the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this law. . . . And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal (Deut. 27:2–4).

So they were following through with that instruction that Moses had given—write the law of God on large stones so people will be reminded. They didn’t have their own copies of the Old Testament and this was the reminder that God’s law is engraved in stone.

  • He has given it to you.
  • You are to obey it.
  • It is your source of life and strength and hope.
  • It’s very, very important.

Now we don’t know how much of the law of Moses was inscribed on these stones, but it’s likely that it included significant portions of what we have now as the book of Deuteronomy where Moses had retold the law to the people and each new generation needed fresh reminders of God’s law so they would be a people of the Book.

In fact, four times in this paragraph beginning at verse 30, verses 30–35 in Joshua 8, you have references to the law of Moses or the Book of the Law. Let me encourage you as you are reading the Scripture, if you want to understand it, highlight phrases or words that are repeated, because they give you a sense of what's important in that passage.

The fact that there are four references in these six verses to the Book of the Law or the Book of Moses says that the Word of God was the central part of the life of the people of God. It was the central part of Joshua’s life. Remember, at the beginning of his ministry he was told, if you meditate on the Law of God day and night, what will happen? You will have success in everything you do. So they’re recognizing here our success depends on our obedience to the law.

Now what comes next in this passage reminds us that it’s not enough to just have the Word of God. It’s not enough to just have it displayed in our churches or our courthouses or our homes or our schools. It’s important that we read the Word of God and that we do it.

Let me pick up beginning in verse 33:

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. . . .

And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 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.

So the corporate readings of God’s Word, they’re saying we are a people of the Book. It’s not enough to have the Word of God in our homes and in our churches. We need to be reading the Word of God. You need to read it to your children, and let me say your children are never too young for you to be reading the Word of God to them. I advise women who are carrying young in the womb—be reading the Word of God to the child in the womb. From earliest childhood you want your children to be exposed to the Word of God. Not just kids, all of us need to be hearing the Word of God.

Now as you look at this setting, several things stand out to me. First of all, the fact that the Ark of the Covenant was placed there in between the two mountains, and this ceremony centered around the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is a symbol of the presence of God. And around the Ark, close to the Ark, Moses wrote on these large stones the list of curses and blessings that we find beginning in Deuteronomy chapter 27.

Half of the tribes stood at the base of Mount Ebal. The other stood in front of Mount Gerizim. Now those two mountains and the valley in between form a natural amphitheater. I’m told that there are tremendous acoustics in that facility there. You can stand on one of those mountains and speak and be heard on the other mountain. It’s just a great natural amphitheater. So it was a perfect setting for this ceremony.

We read that this is what they were to do back in Deuteronomy 27. Moses charged the people, saying, “When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people” (v. 12). And that lists six of the tribes. Half of the tribes were to stand on Mount Gerizim for the blessings part of the ceremony. And Deuteronomy chapter 27, tells us that they were read with a loud voice. Didn’t want anybody to mistake or not to be familiar with these.

And then the blessings were read. And as each was read, the people affirmed their acceptance of God’s covenant by saying, “Amen, amen, amen.”

Let me read a few of these from Deuteronomy chapter 27.

Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the LORD, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret. And all the people shall answer and say, "Amen."

Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, "Amen.”

Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. And all the people shall say, "Amen."

Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s nakedness. And all the people shall say, "Amen" (vv. 15–16, 19–20).

There’s a whole string of these. The people are saying we’ve heard, we acknowledge. It’s like when you say to your children, “Look in my eyes and say, ‘Yes, Mommy, I heard you.’ Did you understand my instructions? ‘Yes, Mommy. Yes, ma’am.’” That’s in essence what the people are saying to God. “We’ve heard it. We agree with it. We affirm it. And we agree that You will be righteous if we disobey You and You bring these consequences about.”

Now as you think about these two mountains and the people gathered there in the valley and at the base of these two mountains for this ceremony, this is quite a visual aid. It’s something I think these people never forgot. You had the people who were gathered at the base of Mount Ebal, and that mountain became a picture of disobedience and the curse that would come from breaking the law.

Mount Gerizim became a symbol of obedience and the blessing that would come if the people would keep God’s law. Those two mountains are something God wanted the people to keep in mind. “If you obey me, you’ll be blessed. If you disobey me, you will suffer conflict.”

And that concept of those two choices, those two ways of life, is summarized in Deuteronomy chapter 30, beginning at verse 15. Let me read this to you and you can just picture these two mountains as the symbols of these two choices. God says:

See, I have set before you today life and good [that’s Mount Gerizim, the fruitful mountain, the mountain that is lush and good], death and evil [Mount Ebal, the mount of cursing]. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse [Gerizim and Ebal]. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them (vv. 15–20).

So God says that’s the choice. I want to bless you, but you’ve got to walk in accordance with Me. Two cannot walk together except they be agreed. You’ve got to agree with Me. You’ve got to surrender your lives to obey My law that you see set before you today.

Now as we wrap up this session, I want you to notice the location of two aspects of this ceremony. First of all, the location of the stones with the law written on them. Where were those stones located? They were placed not at Mount Gerizim where the blessing was pronounced, but the law was placed at the base of Mount Ebal where the curses of disobedience were pronounced.

You see, God gave the law knowing that His people could not obey it, that they would break it and that they would be cursed and that they would come under His judgment. God knew. God gave them the law so they could see where they had violated God’s character and God’s holiness. The law was placed symbolically at Mount Ebal—that’s the mountain of cursing, the mountain of disobedience.

But look also in verse 30 at the position of the altar. Where was the altar where the sacrifices were made? It was right next to the law at the base of Mount Ebal. It was at the foot of the mount of judgment.

The altar is a picture of God’s provision for our sin. We have broken God’s law and the altar points us to the cross. It points us to Christ who perfectly obeyed the law of God, to Christ who went to Calvary, went to the cross, shed His blood and bore the curse for our disobedience.

We are lawbreakers. We deserve to die. “Cursed be everyone who breaks the law. And all the people said, ‘Amen.’” We’re all lawbreakers. We’re all under God’s judgment. Thank God for the cross. Thank God for Christ. For Christ who bore the curse of our disobedience.

By positioning the altar right there next to the law, the law which we were quick to break, God is saying I’m making it possible for lawbreakers—those who live at the base of Mount Ebal, those who are under the curse, those who are under My judgment, which is all of us—God says I’m making it possible for lawbreakers who are under the curse to be reconciled to a holy God.

Sinners can be made holy. Those who are recipients of the curse can now through Christ receive all the blessings that are ours in Christ. So God says you don’t have to stay at the foot of Mount Ebal. Through Christ, through the shed blood, you who are lawbreakers, you who are under the curse, Christ has offered up His life as a sacrifice and now you can camp at Mount Gerizim and experience there the blessings of obedience.

Christ obeyed the law and now Christ by His Holy Spirit lives within you to fulfill that law. And all God’s people said, “Amen.” Amen.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss knows how to make stories in the Bible come alive. It’s amazing how a sweeping tale of two mountains can lead me to a quiet examination of my own heart. I’m thankful for Revive Our Hearts and the way it points me daily to holiness and grace. If you appreciate Revive Our Hearts for similar reasons, we need to hear from you. Nancy’s here to explain why.

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Most people make judgements on people based on outside appearances. Joshua judged some visitors based on the way they looked, and it turned out to be a mistake. Find out why Monday on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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