Joshua 5 – Circumcision and Passover at Gilgal
A. The second work at Gilgal: A radical obedience.
1. (1) The fear of Israel’s enemies at the faith and obedience of Israel.
So it was, when all the kings of the Amorites who were on the west side of the Jordan, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan from before the children of Israel until we had crossed over, that their heart melted; and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the children of Israel.
a. Their heart melted; and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the children of Israel: Melting hearts are a great thing if they melt in repentance. But sometimes hearts melt before God and then solidify again into an even harder state.
b. Heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan from before the children of Israel: When our spiritual enemies see that we are trusting in God and are willing to step out in obedient faith – even when it seems crazy – they instantly lose confidence in their battle against us.
i. We may forget, but our spiritual enemies always remember that, If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). They know that when we are really trusting in God, their defeat is assured.
2. (2-8) The circumcision of Israel at Gilgal.
At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives for yourself, and circumcise the sons of Israel again the second time.” So Joshua made flint knives for himself, and circumcised the sons of Israel at the hill of the foreskins. And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: All the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way, after they had come out of Egypt. For all the people who came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness, on the way as they came out of Egypt, had not been circumcised. For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD; to whom the LORD swore that He would not show them the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers that He would give us, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Then Joshua circumcised their sons whom He raised up in their place; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. So it was, when they had finished circumcising all the people, that they stayed in their places in the camp till they were healed.
a. Make flint knives for yourself, and circumcise the sons of Israel again the second time: Apparently, all during the forty years of waiting in the wilderness, none of the sons born during that time had been circumcised. Now God commanded that this be done.
i. Joshua makes clear the reason why there was a new generation born in the wilderness: because the old generation did not obey the voice of the LORD and take the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey by faith.
ii. This new generation was raised up in…place of the generation of unbelief. God’s work would go on, but the people of God who had unbelief would not share in it.
b. Then Joshua circumcised their sons: Circumcision was always a powerful act of consecration to God. In it, an Israelite said “I’m not like the other nations. I listen to God and do what He says I should do.” It was stepping out in faithful obedience and identifying yourself as one of the LORD’s people. It was renouncing the flesh and the world. It was dying to self and living to God.
c. They stayed in their places in the camp till they were healed: Obviously, this was suicidal from a military standpoint. All the men of fighting age were made completely vulnerable and unable to fight for a period of several days, till they were healed.
i. Genesis 34:24-25 describes how Simeon and Levi killed all the men in a city after tricking them into becoming circumcised. While the men were unable to fight properly, they were slaughtered in retaliation, because the prince of that city had raped Dinah, the sister of Simeon and Levi. This could have been the fate of Israel here in Joshua 5.
d. Till they were healed: So, not only did Israel cross over the Jordan at a militarily undesirable place (right in front of Jericho, the strongest military outpost of the Canaanites), they also incapacitated their army for several days. They did this because they trusted God, and His directions, instead of their own wisdom.
i. They were put in the place where they could trust in nothing but God alone – a hard place, but a good place.
ii. God only asked this of them after He showed His greatness by the Jordan River crossing. When we remember all the things the power of God has done in our lives, we are willing to trust Him in radical obedience.
3. (9) The effect: God rolls away their reproach.
Then the LORD said to Joshua, “This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” Therefore the name of the place is called Gilgal to this day.
a. This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you: This reproach was their shame from Egypt, the shame of their degrading slavery.
i. The reproach was rolled away by their radical trust and obedience to God, by taking the specific action He told them to.
b. Therefore the name of the place is called Gilgal: God called Israel to a place where they saw themselves as they were in Him. By faith, they could see themselves as an obedient, trusting people, and stop seeing themselves as they were in their slavery and bondage.
i. Of course, this is the same work God wants to do in us, taking away the dishonor and shame of our previous sin and rebellion, and seeing ourselves as who we are in Jesus.
B. The third work at Gilgal: A redemption remembered.
1. (10-11) The Passover is celebrated: looking back to their redemption from Egypt.
Now the children of Israel camped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight on the plains of Jericho. And they ate of the produce of the land on the day after the Passover, unleavened bread and parched grain, on the very same day.
a. And kept the Passover: The original Passover itself could never be repeated, but there was power in its remembrance. They were to always live remembering that they were a people delivered and remembering God’s work of deliverance.
b. After the Passover: In the same way, we are to be in constant remembrance of our redemption at Calvary and live our lives in the shadow of the cross.
2. (12) A new source of provision: God stops the manna.
Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year.
a. Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land: When the people were able to provide for themselves from the rich produce of Canaan, God stopped the manna. He didn’t want them to get lazy, but to enter into a new partnership of trust with Him.
i. They had to trust God to bring the manna every day, but they also had to trust Him to provide for you through other means.
b. They ate the food of the land of Canaan that year: God always provides, but He is perfectly free to change the source of His provision from time to time. We need to trust in Him, not in His manner of provision, or we will stumble when those change.
i. The city of Gilgal became a beachhead and camp for Israel in their conquest of Canaan. They returned there after battle and remembered, finding strength in the remembrance of the memorial, their obedience, and their redemption.
ii. It is good to have a place like Gilgal in our lives. This is a place where we first come into God’s promises, a place of memorial, a place of obedience and redemption.
3. (13-15) Joshua meets with the Commander of the army of the LORD.
And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” Then the Commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.
a. Behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand: Joshua boldly approaches this mysterious Man with a drawn sword. As a shepherd over God’s people, he has a responsibility to see if this man is a friend or a foe.
b. Are you for us or for our adversaries? This was a logical question to this impressive Man. The response of the Man was curious, almost elusive. “No” was not a proper answer to Joshua’s question.
i. In a sense, the Man refuses to answer Joshua’s question because it is not the right question, and it is not the most important question to be asked at the time.
ii. The question really wasn’t if the LORD was on Joshua’s side. The proper question was if Joshua was on the LORD’s side.
c. Commander of the army of the LORD: This was God Himself pulling rank on Joshua, who himself was a great military leader – but he was not the Commander in Chief.
i. We know that this Being, standing before Joshua, was God. Though the title Commander of the army of the LORD could perhaps apply to an angel (such as Michael, based on a passage like Revelation 12:7), Joshua’s falling down, and worshipping is inconsistent with angels, who never receive worship (Revelation 22:8-9).
ii. Army of the LORD here is used in a way that implies that the armies commanded are angelic armies. This is a Being who commands angels.
iii. As well, Joshua refers to the angel as my LORD; but most of all, the command to remove his sandals (a picture of our humanity and contact with a “dirty” world), was to Joshua (who read and knew Exodus 3:4-6 because he was in God’s word) clear proof that the Man standing before him was the voice from the burning bush.
iv. The idea of Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, appearing as a man before Bethlehem is provocative, but logical. We know that He existed before Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); why should He not, on isolated but important occasions, appear in bodily form? This idea is also evident in passages like Genesis 18:16-33, 32:24-30, and Judges 13:1-23.
d. And Joshua did so: Joshua’s total submission to Jesus Christ shows that he knows who is really in charge. It also is a virtual guarantee of victory for Israel. When we follow after the Commander of the army of the LORD, how can we lose?
i. Why did Jesus come to Israel at this strategic time?
· He had come to instruct Joshua in the plan to capture Jericho. Joshua will carry out a plan in the following chapter that is so improbable it could only have been initiated at the direct command of God.
· Most of all, He had come to conquer Israel – before Israel could conquer anything else in the Promised Land, they had to be conquered by God – and Joshua’s total submission shows that they are conquered by Him. This is the missing element in a life of victory for many Christians; they have not been, and are not continually being, conquered by God.