The Curse that Became a Blessing
This year we have seen one of the coolest and oldest Bible-affirming archaeological discoveries ever. It connects back to the book of Joshua.
Joshua Remembers and Obeys God's Command
Joshua recorded the first 40 years of the Israelite conquest of Canaan. In chapters 1-7, the Israelites enter into the land and conquer Jericho. Then in chapter 8, they conquer and destroy the city of Ai.
After this, Joshua commemorated God's victory by building an altar. He then remembered a command God had given Israel for when they enter the land: “And it will be, when Yahweh your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, that you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal." (Deut. 11:9) God wanted Israel to place God's curse for disobedience on Mount Ebal and then put God's blessing for obedience on Mount Gerizim.
Later in Deuteronomy, God explained more about this command, "When you cross the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. For the curse, these shall stand on Mount Ebal: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali." (Deut. 27:11-13) This means that God wanted them to reread the Mosaic covenant to each other and recommit to Him. Half the tribes would stand and read the covenant blessings on Gerizim; the other half would stand on Ebal to read the curses.
Joshua led Israel to do just as the Lord commanded.
First, he built an altar and then copied the Mosaic covenant, "Then Joshua built an altar to Yahweh, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal...and he wrote there on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written, in the presence of the sons of Israel." (Joshua 8:30, 32)
Then the Israelites took their positions in front of both mountains, "And all Israel with their elders and officers and their judges were standing on both sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of Yahweh, the sojourner as well as the native. Half of them stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of Yahweh had given a command at first to bless the people of Israel."
Last, they had the ceremony, "Then 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." (Joshua 8:32-34) Imagine what it must have been like for one group of Israelites shouting God's curses and blessings across a valley to another group of Israelites! Certainly this would be a memorable day for those who experienced it.
Cool Archaeological Discoveries
There are three fascinating discoveries that bring Joshua 8 to life today.
First, click here to see how Mounts Ebal and Gerizim are both shaped like a natural amphitheater, allowing people on either side to hear from the other: https://tinyurl.com/2p8tfdhj. In fact, tourists have tested the acoustics while standing on these two opposing mountains: https://tinyurl.com/2s4axwex.
Second, in the early 1980s, an archaeologist from Israel's Haifa University, Adam Zertal, excavated two altars on Mount Ebal. A large altar dated to about 1200 BC (when Gideon judged Israel). Within that altar, a smaller alter was discovered containing older pottery and Egyptian amulets, called scarabs, dedicated to Thutmose III, who reigned in the late 1400s BC. These items suggest to many that the first altar was built in the Israelite conquest period. Then the altar was renovated and expanded during the period of Israel's judges. Read more about it here: https://tinyurl.com/2c7x2y2f.
Third, later researchers found a small lead tablet by the altar of Mount Ebal. The tablet is inscribed with a short, poetic curse from Yahweh. It says, “Cursed, cursed, cursed - cursed by the God YHW. You will die cursed. Cursed you will surely die. Cursed by YHW – cursed, cursed, cursed.” You can read more about this discovery here: https://tinyurl.com/2zprr5t7. Clearly, the emphasis of this tablet was on the certainty of Yahweh's curse for those who disobey Him. Those who remember Genesis 2 will remember the same language "You will surely die" (Gen 2:17). That phrase is identical in this tablet.
Because it is such a recent discovery, Christians should wait patiently as scientists analyze the amulet. Apparently, there is more writing on it which has yet to be deciphered. It will be interesting to see what is learned in the future as work continues. Nevertheless, the tablet, the altar, and the location of their discovery all correspond to the Biblical account in significant ways.
The two mountains exist in a location that would have functioned effectively for the Joshua 8 ceremony. An altar dating to the time of Joshua exists at the same site where the Bible says Joshua built one. And a tablet representing the curse of Israel's God, Yahweh, was left at the same location where God commanded Joshua to set His curse.
Nearly 3500 years after this event happened, we can appreciate God's faithfulness to deliver His people into His promised land as well as Israel's obedience to God after He delivered them. Praise God that these people worshipped God just as God told them! We are the beneficiaries of their obedient worship. Also, praise God for Jesus Christ suffering the curse on behalf of us, the disobedient ones, so that we could share in the blessings of Christ's obedience!