Joshua 8:30—How can Joshua’s altar on Mount Ebal be justified when the Bible clearly condemns the building of “high places”?

Problem: Joshua 8:30 records that Joshua built an altar to the Lord on Mt. Ebal and offered burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings upon that altar. However, many passages indicate that the construction of high places was condemned by God (1 Kings 12:31; 15:14; etc.). How can Joshua’s altar be justified in light of God’s condemnation of high places?

Solution: The high places which were later to be condemned by God were not altars built to the Lord or built according to the requirements laid down in Deuteronomy 27:5–6. Those high places were usually elevated sites that were employed in the worship of false gods. By contrast, Joshua 8 states that the altar was built “as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the children of Israel” (Josh. 8:31). In fact, Deut. 27:2–8 records that Moses commanded that the people of Israel build an altar at Mt. Ebal as a sign of their commitment to the covenant and to the commandments of the Lord. Joshua’s construction of this altar was not only in keeping with the dictates of how an altar should be built, but was in fact done in obedience to the command of Moses.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.