Geography matters, especially when studying the bible.. The writer of Joshua provides a shocking interruption to the story of conquest in Chapter 8. If you have a set of maps in your bible, turn to what is probably the third map of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and their land allotment. After the defeat of Jericho in chapter 6, the Israelites move 10 miles WNW to Ai where they were defeated due to Achan’s sin (see chapter 7). Now, having been cleansed from their sin, they proceed to defeat Ai by ambush. Suddenly, in v. 30, we are transported over 20 miles to the north to Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerazim where Joshua leads the nation in a covenant renewal ceremony. In other words, we suddenly have the scene shifted from a war story to a worship service. As one commentator put it, its like having your regularly scheduled television program interrupted for a special news bulletin. This passage appears so topically and geographically misplaced that some commentators don’t even think it was originally included in this section of the book of Joshua. But if we stop to think for a moment, its inclusion here makes perfect sense. Back in chapter 5, the people prepare to enter the land by participating in the covenant signs of circumcision and Passover. God defeats Jericho but the unfaithfulness of Israel results in their defeat at the hands of Ai. By shifting the scene to Ebal and Gerazim, the writer is letting us know that covenant obedience is more important than military conquest. In fact, as we will continue to see, it is the obedience of the nation that results in victory over their enemies. Israel’s first priority (and ours) is obedience to God’s word.
Chapter 9 has a simple message for us: we must always seek the Lord’s guidance before acting. Why were the nation’s leaders fooled by the Gibeon ruse? Because they acted foolishly, not seeking wisdom from God. This rash act would have continuing negative consequences for the people as they would never completely displace the wicked nations from the Promised Land. May we develop the habit of seeking guidance from God, through prayer and through his Word, before we make any decisions.