Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses—an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the LORD burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses. All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the LORD, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel. Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses—just as it is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners who lived among them. – Joshua 8:30-35
The Hebrew word translated “then,” at the beginning of today’s passage, can have either a temporal meaning (i.e. this is the next thing that happened) or a logical force (i.e. as a result of the victories at Jericho and Ai, interrupted by covenant unfaithfulness and the initial defeat at Ai). Both ideas may be present here, as the connection between Israel’s faith and faithfulness and receiving the unmerited favor and blessings of God are celebrated through public worship.
Adolph Harstad writes:
After the victories at Jericho and Ai, we might expect Israel to keep on striking its enemies “while the bronze is still hot.” (It’s the Late Bronze Age, not yet the Iron Age.) Success will not vanish, however, if the nation takes time for worship. Quite the opposite is true! Success for God’s people is always contingent on their relationship with their LORD, which He maintains with them through His appointed means of grace – His word and sacraments – in [corporate worship]. Therefore this passage pertains to the church militant, which throughout its spiritual battles must make [corporate worship] its highest priority. Through God’s word and sacraments, the church is created and sustained, and given the strength to persevere in fighting the fight of faith in Jesus Christ.
Even though the Israelites are still unsettled, without houses and fields, God’s covenant comes first. The idea that we should wait to put our spiritual house in order until we are established in our new community, school, or employment finds no support in the Scriptures. Illustrated in these verses is the truth of Jesus:
Do not worry saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” … Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:31, 33).
What Israel carries out here is likewise in concord with the exhortation of David:
Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and tend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:3-4)
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 46
Q. 46. What is required in the first commandment?
A. The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly.