Stephen Caswell © 1999
Renewing The Covenant
Illustration Of Renewing Your Wedding Vows
The story is told of a couple who had been married for some time. One day, the husband came into the lounge room to find his wife crying. He asked, what was wrong. She said Mike, do you love me? The husband replied of course I love you; Why do you ask? Because you never tell me that you love. Mike quite upset about this, replied “ I told you I loved you when we got married twenty five years ago, if anything changes I will let you know. ” Unfortunately some people don’t express their love or commitment to their spouses very well. While others constantly express their love for their husband or wife, and this is good. In fact some people who have been married for twenty-five years or more renew their commitment. They take their vows again renewing their marriage covenant. They commit themselves afresh to each other. But their coveanant is motivated by love!
Last time we looked at Joshua, we observed how Israel had victory at Ai. They had put things right with the Lord and received His assistance again. God’s providence used the defeat at Ai to assist in their ultimate victory. Joshua and Israel were again confident that they would inherit all the land. With God on their side they were invincible. I am sure that they would have been keen to secure more territory in the central sector. Yet that is not what happens. Instead, Joshua lead Israel on a spiritual pilgrimage. Joshua 8:30 says: Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,
Why does he do this? This is military foolishness. Human logic and wisdom are never God’s ways. God considers the spiritual to be far more important than the physical. So after the victory at Ai, Joshua lead the children of Israel to Mount Ebal in Central Palestine. This was a journey of some thirty miles northwards along the Jordan Valley. Once Jericho, Ai and Bethel were conquered Israel was able to make this journey safely. Joshua obeyed the Lord’s command and brought Israel to this designated place to observe the Renewal of the Covenant.
Firstly he lead the people To Remember Their Saviour
Joshua 8:30-31 says: Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal, As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.
a. Joshua Built An Altar
Joshua built the altar in Mount Ebal according to the commandments in the Law of Moses. By doing this he was claiming the land of Canaan for the Lord. Abraham did the same thing when God promised to give him the land in Genesis 12:7. The Canaanite gods of Jerciho, Ai and Bethel had fallen. God was proclaimed as the Lord of Canaan. Israel would serve Him and must obey His laws. But why at this point? Why didn’t Israel go back to their camp at Gilgal? After all, they celebrated the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread there. Israel was circumcised here. At Gilgal they even set up an altar to remember crossing the Jordan.
The Significance of Mount Ebal
Why here? Why now? What is the significance of all this? Joshua was a man under God’s command. His actions were therefore the right ones. God had commanded Israel to come to this place once they had crossed the Jordan. Deuteronomy 27:4-6 says: Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaister them with plaister. And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them. Thou shalt build the altar of the LORD thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD thy God: God brought them here for many reasons. This place was the in centre of Canaan, it was strategically placed.
1. From Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim you can see most of the land of Canaan.
2. Investigation there today reveals a natural amphitheatre.
3. Whatever is said in the valley could be heard on the mountains on each side.
4. The stones set up there would be a permanent reminder to all in the centre of Israel.
5. God wanted all Israel to be a part of this solemn occasion.
6. The Covenant Renewal was for all Israel.
After Joshua had completed the altar Israel offered 2 types of sacrifices upon it. They brought Burnt offerings and peace offerings. Moses offered these same two sacrifices at Mount Sinai when the Law was given. This was when Israel first entered into a covenant with the Lord.
b. Joshua Presented Burnt Offerings - Atonement For Sin
Firstly they offered burnt offerings. The burnt offering is described in detail in Leviticus ch 1
1. Firstly the people brought their bullock, lamb or goat to the priests.
2. The person then placed their hands upon its head, being identified with the sacrifice.
3. The animal was killed and cut up into parts.
4. Some it had to be cleansed first but the entire sacrifice was offered on the altar.
5. This sacrifice speaks of atonement and expiation.
6. This is a solemn occasion pointing to the price required to pay for sin.
The sacrificed animal took the place of the guilty sinner. The sinner identified Himself with the sacrifice by placing his hands on its head. This would have reminded them of their deliverance from Egypt. The angel of the Lord passed over their sin because the blood of the lamb was shed for them. The lamb was their substitute. God had saved them and brought them to Canaan to receive an inheritance. This sacrifice reminded them of the price of their salvation. The death of a substitute was required.
This Sacrifice Points To Christ’s Substitution
This sacrifice points to Christ. He is our substitute. He took our place on the cross. He offered Himself totally to God who was satisfied. Christ brought atonement for our sin by paying the debt. He redeemed us. Christ also made expiation for us sin by removing our sin, and guilt. Our sin also made us enemies of God. Our relationship needed reconciling. We were saved because someone died in our place. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God.
Romans 3:23-25 says: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
Illustration of Appeasing the King
If you went into the kings field and ruined his crops he would be angry at you. You have brought him a financial loss. To put things right the debt must be paid for. Even if you pay it, he will still be upset at you every time he looks at the ruined field. The field must be repaired for total forgiveness to happen. The damaged plants need to be removed. This is what Christ has done. He paid our debt to God by repairing the relationship. He also removed our sin.
Have you accepted Christ as your substitute? Only His sacrifice can make atonement for your sin. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only one able to pay the debt of your sin to a holy God. The way of salvation is the same for. All need Christ to save them since all are sinners. Have you believed in Jesus Christ? Have you called on the Lord to save you?
c. Joshua Offered Peace Offerings - Fellowship with God
Israel also sacrificed peace offerings. Why? How were these different to the burnt offerings?
1. The person brought a sheep, goat or ox to the priests.
2. The blood was poured out around the edges of the altar.
3. The fat and entrails were burned on the altar to the Lord.
4. The remainder was eaten by the priests and worshippers.
5. This sacrifice speaks of Israel’s fellowship with God and each other.
6. This sacrifice was one of joy and thanksgiving because of their peace with God.
7. They ate both leavened and unleavened cakes with this sacrifice.
The Lord had commanded this through Moses also. Deuteronomy 27:7 And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the LORD thy God. The people brought these sacrifices to show their common fellowship before the Lord. They thanked Him for their salvation, shown in the burnt offerings. The unleavened bread symbolised cleansing from sin. The leavened cakes showed that although they were saved evil was still present in them. This sacrifice expressed their desire to give thanks or praise to God. This was a joyful time of worship in the Lord’s presence. They were thankful for their salvation.
Peace Offerings Point To Christ
Jesus Christ has made peace between God and man. He has taken away the enmity between us and God. He has reconciled us to God making it possible for us to have fellowship with Him. We have access before God’s throne because of Christ’s work. Romans 5:1-2 says: Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Jesus Christ has removed all that hinders our fellowship with God. Our salvation is complete. Are you enjoying fellowship with the Lord? Do you come before Him with thanksgiving and praise? He has made it possible for us to come into His presence confidently. Do you thank Him for this fellowship? Is worship a time of rejoicing for you?
Worship Comes Before Renewal
Before God renewed the covenant, Israel brought these sacrifices first. They reminded them of their salvation. The Lord had saved Israel from bondage in Egypt. They believed that God would save them when they sacrificed the Passover Lamb as they were commanded to. Faith and obedience were involved in their deliverance from Egypt. The sacrifices they offered at Mount Ebal reminded them of atonement for their sin and joyful fellowship with God. Faith and salvation always comes before holy living. The law came after they were saved. The Lord desires that our commitment be grounded in thanksgiving and joy for His salvation. Obedience is far easier when we adore and love the person we are submitting to. Love is the right motive for obedience.
Secondly Joshua urged the people to: Obey God's Covenant Law
Joshua 8:32-33 says: And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.
a. Joshua Wrote It Out
Joshua wrote out a copy of the Law of Moses. Why? They already had a copy of the law. Why didn’t Joshua assign this task to someone else? Because it was important. If Israel’s leader took the time to write the Law out it must be important. Joshua did this in the presence of all Israel. No doubt the Levites helped him, but Joshua did it. He followed God’s command given by Moses in Deuteronomy 27:2-4.
1. The Stone Stood For All Time
Joshua wrote out the Law on great stones covered with plaster. Why did he use stone? Why not papyrus which was more portable. Stone is permanent. It would provide an enduring testimony for Israel’s future generations. The Laws of God were not like today’s laws that constantly change, like the politicians that make them. God’s Law was for all time. Israel had a standard that would not change. The fact that the stones were set up in the centre of Israel showed that the Law was to be the central focus in Israel’s life. Placing the stones in the centre of the country meant that they were accessible to all the people. Now Israel had started to inherit the promised land God reminded them of the law of Moses. God’s Law was to be the Law of the land.
2. The Same Law For All Israel
Joshua wrote out the Law before all Israel. He stood near the ark of the covenant, whilst the people stood all about. Half the people stood on Mount Ebal, half on Mount Gerizim.
Joshua 8:33 says: And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side before the priests the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, as well the stranger, as he that was born among them; half of them over against mount Gerizim, and half of them over against mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel.
This would have given them a good view of this solemn occasion. The elders of the people were present along with the officers and the judges and the priests and levites. Those who held positions of authority were answerable to the law just as much as the ordinary citizen. There was no distinction. All witnessed the ceremony. All were accountable to obey the law. No one was exempt from the law. The leaders of the people must rule according to the law. All saw Joshua copy this law onto stones from the original law given at Mount Sinai.
The law was authentic. It was now the law of the land. This was the standard for Israel. Now Israel had begun to possess the land, they must obey God’s law. God gave them the land and was entitled to lay down the rules. The Canaanite nations were being judged for their wickedness, their lawlessness. Israel must not make the same mistake. In fact obedience to God’s law was necessary if they desired to remain in the land. God’s blessings on Israel were conditional upon their obedience to the law. If they disobeyed the law, they would forsake the Lord and follow other gods. History shows that this happened time and again.
b. Joshua Read It Out
Joshua 8:34-35 says: And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.
After writing out the Law, Joshua read it out to all the people. Because this was a natural amphitheatre, not only did they see everything, they also heard everything. Joshua read out the entire law to Israel and charged them to obey it. He didn’t miss any of it. All was relevant! There were many strangers living amongst Israel at this time. Some had come out of Egypt with Israel. They had seen God’s great works and chosen to follow the Lord. Others may have joined along the way like Rahab. They too were to obey the law of the Lord. There was truly one law for all the people. The same law applied to rich and poor, men and women, small and great, Jew or foreigner. All must obey God’s law. It was the standard.
Becoming A Soldier
When someone joins the army they have a special induction service where they pledge allegiance to the King or Queen. After this they take the recruits through an intensive training program. They teach the soldiers a code of conduct. Soldiers need to know how to behave on and off the battlefield. They have certain obligations to keep. They are no longer free to choose how they live and where they go, what they do. They are now answerable to their commanding officer. They must obey his orders, live by his rules, keep his code. They are informed of this before they enlist. There are certain privileges to being a soldier, but there are also many responsibilities too.
In the same way believers have a code of conduct to live by. When God saves us from our sin, He sets us free from sin. We receive many privileges as God’s children, but also many responsibilities too. We have to obey our Saviour and Lord. We must observe His code of conduct. If we don’t the next generation rejects the faith. We bring shame upon our God.
1. The Covenant Blessings
Part of the law was the blessings and cursings. These were the consequences for obedience or disobedience. If Israel observed the Law then she would receive God’s blessing. The old Covenant is a conditional covenant. God would fulfil His promises to Israel, only if they kept their part of the bargain. Holiness would enable Israel to magnify their God before the nations. He would bless them if they obeyed the law. Deut 27:11-12 speaks of this: and Moses charged the people the same day, saying, These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are come over Jordan; Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin:
Six of the tribes stood on Mount Gerizim to bless the people. Deuteronomy 11:29 gives further details: And it shall come to pass, when the LORD thy God hath brought thee in unto the land whither thou goest to possess it, that thou shalt put the blessing upon mount Gerizim, and the curse upon mount Ebal. When Joshua read the blessings of the law these tribes on Mount Gerizim would say amen. They affirmed God’s blessings for Israel as long as they obeyed.
Deuteronomy 28:1-4 says: And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
2. The Covenant Cursings
Deuteronomy 27:13-16 says: And these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice, Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen. Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen. The six remaining tribes stood on Mount Ebal to curse the people. After each curse was pronounced the people said Amen, which means, truly or so be it. They bound themselves to the Lord’s covenant. God’s law was indeed the law of the land. Israel entered this covenant of their own free will. They were obliged to keep it.
What was the purpose for the curses? As well as the blessings for obedience God warned of cursings for disobedience. God warned Israel of the consequences of disobedience to the law. Israel was informed of the consequences before they renewed their covenant. Why was this so important? Because if Israel disobeyed the law they would serve other god’s and forsake the Lord. The cursings were disciplinary to bring Israel back to God. God delights to bless His people. He reluctantly curses them to bring them to repentance. This is why Joshua highlights only the blessings in verse 33. But both blessings and cursings took place. Verse 34 says this.
What Did The Law Accomplish?
What did the law accomplish? What was its purpose? Did it make Israel righteous? No! The law did not make them righteous. Romans 3:20 says: Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Passover in Egypt was Israel’s day of salvation. This event happened before they The received the law at Mount Sinai. Israel was saved by sprinkling the blood of the lamb on their doorposts through faith. Afterward she received the law. So what was the purpose of the law? After God saved Israel she became His special people. She received many privileges and responsibilities from God. Because Israel was God’s people, the Lord expected them to live holy lives. Their behaviour should be distinctive. We don’t live holy lives to gain salvation. We live holy lives because we have received salvation. This is where the law comes in. The law provided a righteous standard for Israel.
1. It provided justice for all Israelites.
2. It would keep them faithful to God.
3. It would limit sin in the nation of Israel.
4. It gave a solid foundation for Israel's future generations, too lead them to the Lord.
5. It enabled Israel to bring blessing to the other nations also. Their faith would show all the nations how they could have a relationship with God.
6. It prepared them for the Saviour, that God would one day send.
God’s Word - A Mirror
A mirror reveals what we look like. Men use it when they comb their hair or have a shave. Ladies use a mirror to style their hair and put their make up on. They seem to spend longer in front of it then men do. But a mirror doesn’t actually do any of these things. It simply shows us what we are like. The same is true of the law. The law is called God’s mirror in James 1:23-24. It reveals God’s standard. The law shows us what we are like, how we are measuring up. To the unsaved person the law shows Him his sin and need for a Saviour. To the saved person the law points out sin so that he can confess it and receive God's forgiveness. The law doesn’t make us righteous, it just reveals the standard. It either condemns or justifies our actions. The law could not bring blessing to Israel. Only obedience to the law could do that. The law revealed God’s standard of perfection.
3. The Choice Now - And Later
Deuteronomy 30:19-20 : I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
Moses gave this challenge after he proclaimed the blessings and cursings on the other side of the Jordan. Since Joshua read out all of the Law of Moses with its blessings and cursings I am sure he too finished with this challenge. Israel had listened to the law and bound themselves to the covenant with their word. However each new generation had to make the same choice. Israel must teach the subsequent generations of God’s law. They must pass on the covenant to their children. Obedience to the law brought blessing. Not just hearing it.
Driving on the Road
Just having a drivers licence doesn’t guarantee we will be a good driver. Knowing the rules and knowing how to drive lawfully won’t ensure that we do. We have to choose to obey what we know to be right. When we are running late for school do we speed to get the kids there on time. Or when the light turns yellow and we don’t want to wait, do we stop or go through on the yellow light? Knowing the law does not mean we keep it. We have to choose to obey. If all drivers obeyed the rules then the police wouldn’t need speed cameras or breathelisers.
If all drivers obeyed the law there would be no need for speeding fines and parking tickets. The road laws have no ability to enable people to obey them they just set the standard. We have to choose to obey the road laws. Disobedience to the road laws has consequences. Those who drive whilst drunk cause accidents that hurt themselves and others. People who speed cause fatal accidents also. This is why the government gives out the fines. In the same way Israel needed to both know the law and keep it. Only then would they receive God’s blessing.
Conclusion - Christians Must Be Distinctive
As Christians we must live distinctively. Our salvation is gained on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. But faith is more than a mental consent and desire of the heart. Saving faith also involves a commitment of the will. It is Because we are saved, that our lives shouldbe different. It is because we are saved that we can obey God’s word through the help of the Holy Spirit. Faith leads to works. Paul says this in Titus 3:8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.
Why does God require us to live holy lives? Because then He can bless us. Every sin comes with its own consequences. Our sin affects us and those around us. Drunken drivers hurt themselves and others.
This is why Christians should be distinctive! God blesses our obedience. We become a blessing to those around us and future generations, our children. They follow our example. And most importantly God is glorified. What sort of example are you leaving your Children? Are you living a holy life for the Lord who has saved you? Do you read His word so that you can live to please Him?
Sometimes Christians Need Recommitment
However sometimes we let our standard slip. We do things that we know are wrong. This is when we need to repent of our sin and recommit our lives to Him. Have you remembered your commitment to the Lord? Or have you forsaken Him? If this is your situation may I encourage you to confess your sin and receive God’s cleansing.
Perhaps You Need To Receive Christ's Salvation
Have you been trying to obey God's word to gain His favour without first giving your life to Him? The law cannot make anyone right with God. It only reveals His standard. Through the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. If that is your case can I encourage you to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour today. In these last days God has spoken to us through His Son. We do well to listen to Him. Hebrews 2:3 says: How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; Have you taken the gospel seriously? Have you obeyed the Gospel? God holds accountable any who neglect His salvation. Will you accept Christ today?
The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.