1. Christocentric focus

Covenant renewal in Christ

Joshua 8:30–35 (ESV)

30 At that time Joshua built an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal,

Given God’s commitment to his Word of promise, the covenant renewal ceremony itself is actually very frightening. Israel knows that God always does what he says he will. If he promised blessing for obedience, he will bring blessing. If he promised curses for disobedience, he will bring curses (see Deuteronomy 28:1–68).

Israel is busy renewing the Mosaic covenant, recommitting itself to the terms of the Mosaic law, and doing so only a short while after an incident where the sin of one man resulted in the curse of God upon the whole nation (Joshua 7:1–26). Israel is committing itself to the Mosaic covenant despite the fact that the people have sinful natures, and therefore the certainty that the sin of Achan will only be repeated by someone else in the future. They have no hope of fully and completely obeying God’s commandments.

Israel’s inability to perfectly obey the Mosaic covenant is confirmed by Deuteronomy 4:26–27. Basically, Moses told the people of Israel that they had no hope of fully obeying God’s promises and that they could be certain that the covenant curses would come down upon them.

Given the fact that God is faithful to his promises and Israel is unable to obey the terms of the Mosaic covenant, why would the Israelites willingly commit themselves to the certain threat of poverty, disease and expulsion from the land?

Israel commits itself to the terms of the Mosaic covenant, because the people know that God will certainly keep the promises he made to Abraham.

Under the Mosaic covenant, Israel was able to enjoy real fellowship with God. The burnt offerings allowed them to approach the Lord. The fellowship offerings allowed them to enjoy something of a meal with God. These ceremonies were types and shadows pointing forward to Christ (Hebrews 10:1), but they were types and shadows that allowed for real communion with God. Yet in living with these types and shadows, Israel also lived with the continual threat of covenant curses resulting in its exile from the land and from God’s presence.

Under the terms of the Mosaic covenant, Israel’s life and fellowship with God in the land of Canaan was to a degree dependent on their obedience. But their future in God’s presence was not. Their future in the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (Hebrews 11:8–10), was dependent on their faith in the promises that God made to Abraham: the promise of a righteousness that comes by faith (Genesis 15:6,2), the promise that the death and curse that their sins deserved would be paid by another.

In the garden of Eden, God made a promise in seed form that he would one day curse his only Son. The seed of the serpent would strike his heel even as he crushes the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). This promise looked forward to the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, where he was hung on a tree, stricken by God so that the curse that God’s people deserve would be paid by another (see Galatians 3:10–14).

The people of Israel trusted that they would be freed from God’s curse and the eternal death that their sins deserved through the death of a coming mediator. They trusted God to be faithful to the promises he made to Abraham even as they knew God would be faithful to the Mosaic covenant.