What is the significance of Mount Ebal in the Bible?Mount Ebal is one of a pair of twin mountains on the West Bank of the Jordan River in central Israel. The other twin mountain is Mount Gerizim. With Mount Ebal to the north and Mount Gerizim in the south, they form the Valley of Shechem between. Shechem (modern day Nablus) played an important role throughout Israel's history. Abraham built an altar to God there (Genesis 12:6–7), Jacob not only built another altar there (Genesis 33:18–20) but also dug a well (John 4:6, 12), and Joseph's bones were buried there (Joshua 24:32).
God instructed the Israelites that upon entering the Promised Land of Canaan, they were to write the law of Moses on stones that they would set up on Mount Ebal, build an altar there, and offer burnt offerings and peace offerings there with rejoicing (Deuteronomy 27:2–8). They were to pronounce the blessings for obedience to the law on Mount Gerizim and the curses for disobedience to the law on Mount Ebal as the Israelites, split into two groups, responded "Amen" to each blessing or curse (Deuteronomy 11:29; 27:9–26). After the battles of Jericho and Ai, Joshua and the Israelites faithfully obeyed these commands as recorded in Joshua 8:30–35. "There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them" (Joshua 8:35).
Mount Ebal is the highest mountain in the region standing at 3,080 feet above sea level, a good 200 feet higher than Mount Gerizim. It is composed mainly of limestone causing rugged surface formations and many caverns and caves. Furthermore, clouds tend to release their precipitation on the northern face of Mount Ebal making it rocky and barren on the side facing the Valley of Shechem. Mount Gerizim, by contrast, is lush and fertile in the Valley of Shechem as water runs down its face bringing life to the valley below. So these mountains provided a visual contrast for the Israelites as they heard the blessings and curses pronounced, seeing how obedience to God's law could bring abundance in their lives while disobedience would lead to an empty, barren life devoid of good things.
Furthermore, the valley acted as a natural amphitheater amplifying the voices of the priests pronouncing the blessings and curses and the voices of the Israelites responding to each one. In this way, the whole nation could participate in the renewal of the Mosaic covenant with each person hearing every pronouncement and adding their agreement in the form of an "amen".
The historical significance, visual contrast, and acoustic amplification made these two mountains and the valley between them a powerful place for Israel to renew its commitment to the Lord and His law before entering the Promised Land just as God commanded.
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