“Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal, As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings. And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.” (Joshua 8:30-32)
In Deuteronomy 11:26-30, Moses had instructed Israel to build a memorial on Mount Ebal. In Deuteronomy 27:4-10, He gave greater detail about how the memorial was to be built. “Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaster them with plaster. And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them. Thou shalt build the altar of the LORD thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD thy God: And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the LORD thy God. And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly. And Moses and the priests the Levites spake unto all Israel, saying, Take heed, and hearken, O Israel; this day thou art become the people of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt therefore obey the voice of the LORD thy God, and do his commandments and his statutes, which I command thee this day.”
From Ai and Bethel, Mount Ebal is only about twenty miles north. Joshua proceeded directly there to fulfill the commandment Moses had given in Deuteronomy, building an altar of large stones that had had never been struck with metal tools to emphasize that it was God rather than Man’s efforts that produced them. They were then to plaster over the altar and write the law in the plaster as a permanent record available to anyone who wanted to know what the law said.
The memorial altar was located near Shechem, the ancient city where Simeon and Levi had murdered the men because Shechem had been involved with their sister, Dinah. It was the site of Joshua’s great challenge to Israel in Joshua 24:15. It figures prominently in Israel’s history.
“And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side before the priests the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, as well the stranger, as he that was born among them; half of them over against mount Gerizim, and half of them over against mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel.
And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.” (Joshua 8:33-35)
In Deuteronomy 27:11-28:68. Moses had given exact instructions as to how the blessings and curses were to be expressed. Joshua goes through them all, warning the people of the dangers of disobedience and reminding them of the blessings for obedience. He then went through the entire law, leaving nothing out so they would know exactly what was required. It must have taken several hours of concentration by the people.