How would you like to take part in a two-million voice choir? How incredible would that be?! I never realized before that this is precisely what was happening at the end of Joshua 8: "All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the Lord, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel." (vs 33)
Moses had laid out the instructions for this mass choir in Deuteronomy 11, and then he actually wrote out the enormous responsive reading—the blessings and curses of the law—in Deuteronomy 27 and 28. And now, after the Israelites have made their first foray into the Land of Canaan (and have two decisive victories under their belts), they are ready to recite the words of the law.
So, there’s about a million people on Mount Ebal and about a million people on Mount Gerizim. The mountains are about a mile away from each other. And these two huge groups of people are literally shouting at the top of their lungs, back and forth, the blessings and curses of the law. Hmmm... why did they do this?
I think God had them do this for a few reasons. First of all, it served as a good reminder to the Israelites not to forget God as they inherited the Promised Land. As an added bonus, I think it would be very hard to forget being part of an event like that. Wouldn’t you remember the day you stood on a mountain with a million people, shouting at the top of your lungs?
Also, I think it was another outreach opportunity to the nations around them. Even before they entered the land, all the nations had heard about the Israelites and their God—and most of them were afraid. Plus, I’m sure word was beginning to get around about the fallen walls of Jericho and the smoldering ash heap of Ai. As the nations were beginning to realize that the God of Israelites was the true God (strength on the battlefield was how they measured that in those days), God decided to announce to them His way of doing things. He wanted them to know, too, how to find blessings and how to avoid curses.
When I imagine being part of a choir made up of two million people, I get goosebumps. One thing’s for sure: God never does anything in a "normal" way. Everything He does is big, bold, and unorthodox!