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. — Joshua 8:30
After the Israelites had come into the promised land and won a couple of battles, Joshua built an altar to the Lord and offered sacrifices – the burnt offering and the fellowship offering. It struck me as kind of weird that God commanded Joshua to build the altar there on Mount Ebal because it was the mountain of cursing.
When the LORD your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses. Deuteronomy 11:29
Half of the tribes were to stand on Mount Ebal and call out the curses that would incur to those who failed to obey the commandments (Deuteronomy 27:14-26). And half were to stand on Mount Gerizim and call out the blessings. Wouldn’t God want the altar to be built on the place of blessings?
But then I saw that this is the whole point.
God didn’t turn his back on those who committed sin. He didn’t say that he would only receive sacrifices from the ones who perfectly kept the commandments. He knew that the blessing was unattainable without the altar of repentance. But mostly, it was unattainable without the One to whom the sacrifices pointed. God left room for mercy, looking forward to the final sacrifice for sin, to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who would set us free from the curse forever.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Galatians 3:13
Don’t cover over your sins and try with all your might to obtain the blessing through self-righteousness. Go to the mountain of cursing. Admit your failures before God. That is where the altar is.
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Luke 5:32
Image, Mount Ebal (Eival) in Samaria, by Bukvoed in Wikimedia Commons