Joshua 8:32: The Law on Ebal’s Stones

Verse 32:[1] And (Deut. 27:2, 8) he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.

[And he wrote upon the stones] The Talmudists imagine that these are the same stones that were removed from Jordan and set up at Gilgal.[2] But those were both too large, and set up in Gilgal for a permanent monument (Masius). These stones were different from the stones of the altar. For the stones of the altar were rough and rude; these were made smooth with plaster (Drusius out of Masius). According to the multitude of things to be described the number of stones is also to be taken: perhaps there were twelve, according to the number of the Tribes (Menochius); which is probable from the example of Moses at mount Sinai (Masius).

Upon the stones: Not upon the stones of the altar, which were to be rough and unpolished, verse 31, but upon other stones, smooth and plastered, as is manifest from Deuteronomy 27:2.

[A copy of the law, מִשְׁנֵה֙ תּוֹרַ֣ת וגו״] A reproduction of the law (Masius, Grotius, Syriac, Junius and Tremellius); a duplication of the law (Montanus); an exposition of the law (Jonathan). See Deuteronomy 17:18[3] (Vatablus). Question: What is this? Responses: 1. The Jews invent a fable that he wrote the five books of Moses in their entirety, even indeed in the seventy tongues, so that they might be able to be read by all (Masius); and lest any nation be able to excuse their ignorance[4] (Masius on Joshua 9:25). 2. The Book of Deuteronomy (thus the Arabic and Tostatus in Lapide). 3. Many of the Jews understand it of a compendium of all laws, which sort they read yearly in their Synagogues during the feat of Pentecost (Masius). It is plausible that here were written the principal heads of the Law (Drusius). 4. Others understand the Decalogue (thus Lyra, Estius, Grotius, Junius). Law here is the chief of Law (Grotius). 5. Law here denotes that formula of malediction and benediction, which Moses also calls law, Deuteronomy 27:8, thou shalt write all the words of that law. To this purpose, it is next plainly stated the words of what law were to be proclaimed to the people, namely, of benediction and malediction. Now, it is not probable that one law was inscribed on the stones, and another was recited. Perhaps to these were added all those words in the whole of Deuteronomy 28 (Masius). Moreover, on these individual stones individual portions of the Law were written (Serarius). But to me it is more likely that individual examples of the Law were written in full on the individual stones; thus each Tribe was reading the whole Law on its pillar (Masius). But for what reason was the same thing repeated so many times (Serarius)?

A copy of the law of Moses; not certainly the whole five books of Moses, for what stones and time would have sufficed for this! nor the blessings and the curses here following, which never are nor can without great impropriety be called the law of Moses, seeing they presuppose the law, and the observation or transgression thereof, to which they belong, only as rewards of the one, and punishments of the other: but the most weighty and substantial parts of the law, as may be gathered from the laws which are mentioned, and to the violators whereof the curses are applied, Deuteronomy 27:15, and especially the law of the ten commandments.

[Which he had set in order, etc.] Which he wrote before the children of Israel (Jonathan, similarly the Septuagint, Arabic, Montanus). Others refer them to Moses, which he (that is, Moses) had written before the children of Israel. Joshua wrote an epitome of this law on stone (Munster).

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּכְתָּב־שָׁ֖ם עַל־הָאֲבָנִ֑ים אֵ֗ת מִשְׁנֵה֙ תּוֹרַ֣ת מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר כָּתַ֔ב לִפְנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

[2] Babylonian Talmud Sotah 34a.

[3] Deuteronomy 17:18:  “And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law (אֶת־מִשְׁנֵ֙ה הַתּוֹרָ֤ה הַזֹּאת֙) in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites…”

[4] Babylonian Talmud Sotah 7:5; 8:6, 7.

2 thoughts on “Joshua 8:32: The Law on Ebal’s Stones

  1. Matthew Henry: “They received the law from God; and this those must do that would find favour with him, and expect to have their offerings accepted; for, if we turn away our ear from hearing the law, our prayers will be an abomination. When God took Israel into covenant he gave them his law, and they, in token of their consent to the covenant, subjected themselves to the law. Now here…[t]he law of the ten commandments was written upon stones in the presence of all Israel, as an abridgment of the whole, Joshua 8:32. This copy was not graven in the stone, as that which was reserved in the ark: That was to be done only by the finger of God; it is his prerogative to write the law in the heart. But the stones were plastered, and it was written upon the plaster, Deuteronomy 27:4, 8. It was written, that all might see what it was that they consented to, and that it might be a standing remaining testimony to posterity of God’s goodness in giving them such good laws, and a testimony against them if they were disobedient to them. It is a great mercy to any people to have the law of God in writing, and it is fit that the written law should be exposed to common view in a known tongue, that it may be seen and read of all men.”

  2. William Gurnall, “Christian in Complete Armour”: “Our praises are real when they are obediential. God accounts those mercies forgotten which are not written with legible characters in our lives, Psalm 106:21, ‘They forgat God their Saviour.’ That of Joshua is observable, Joshua 8:32. Upon their victory over the city Ai, an altar is built as a monument of that signal mercy. Now mark, what doth God command to be written or engraved on the stones thereof? One would have thought the history of that day’s work should have been the sculpture, but it is ‘the copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel,’ whereby he plainly showed the best way of remembering the mercy was not to forget to keep the law. Saul could not blind Samuel’s eyes with his many good-morrows, that the people saved the best of the cattle for sacrifice: ‘Hath the Lord,’ saith he, ‘as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying his voice? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to obey than the fat of rams,’ 1 Samuel 15:22. As if he had said, ‘What, Saul! thinkest thou to bribe God with a sacrifice, while thou art disobedient to his command? Dost thou take the swan, and stick the feather in the room? deny him thine own heart to obey his word, and give him a beast’s heart in sacrifice for it? Is this the oblation which he hath required, or will accept?’ Truly God riseth hungry from our thanksgiving-dinners, if obedience be not a dish at the table. Without this we and our sacrifices may burn together. God will pluck such from the horns of the altar, and take them off their knees with their hypocritical praises, to pay his debt in another kind. ‘If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land,’ Isaiah 1:19. Then, and not till then, will God eat of your sacrifices, and yourselves taste the sweetness of your enjoyments. ‘He meeteth him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness,’ Isaiah 64:5. Not either apart, but both together are required; not rejoice without working righteousness, nor that without rejoicing in the work. The threatening, Deuteronomy 28, is levelled against Israel not barely because they served not God, but because they served him not ‘with gladness in the abundance of his mercies.’ God delights to have his mercy seen in the cheerful countenance of his servants while they are at his work, which may tell the spectators they serve a good master.”

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