Author: John Whitmarsh
1 The populace was constrained
2-9 The people (see verse 5) were circumcised
10-11 The passover was celebrated
12 The provision was changed
13-15 The principal was confronted
As with chapter 3 this whole chapter is about new starts. The success at Jericho of the next chapter was down to the preparation, condition, obedience and God's timing of this chapter. Israel's standing was not in question but their state was. For Israel to triumph there had to be the right conditions. For anyone in any age to triumph there must be the right conditions. God had to take the time to ensure this was the case. Men who had never been circumcised had to be circumcised. The passover was eaten in the new land. The manna was replaced by the fruit of the new land. Joshua stood by the walls of Jericho. He had seen these from the other side of the Jordan but now he was close to them.
The first verse gives details about the state of mind of the kings of the Amorites and the kings of the Canaanites. They were paralysed and petrified with fear. This important piece of information must be retained in the reader's mind whilst reading the next verses. We must ever keep in mind that the children of Israel had crossed the Jordan. There were, say, 2,000,000 of them. Numerically they were at an advantage compared to the inhabitants of Jericho no matter how populous that city may have been. And yet there was the matter of the walls. True, they may have experienced God's hand in winning the battles for them in the wilderness but this was an altogether different sort of battle to be fought and won. Although there is an impending battle we have already read one chapter that talks about a memorial raised to the fact that the people had crossed over a flooded river and we now embark on the reading of a chapter that says nothing of sword sharpening, spear preparation or armour searches.
The main section in the chapter is on circumcision so that the main subject is not on the use a sharp instrument against the inhabitants of the land but the use of sharp flint knives on their own males!! Circumcision was a sign and seal of the covenant between God and the Hebrews. Genesis 17.9, 'And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he that hath broken my covenant.'
There was a renewal of the covenant with God. Here were a people in covenant relationship with their God without the sign and seal of the covenant in their bodies!! That would never do. In this respect they were no different from the people they were about to subdue. The rite of circumcision, of course, would have left the nation completely defenceless for a time. The men were disabled for some days, and vulnerable to attack, because they were in clear view of the enemy at Jericho. True, but it does not seem to have affected their preparation of the passover. Were they healed in record time?
We do well to remember the story in Genesis 34 of Jacob's daughter, Dinah, who was raped by the son of a Hivite prince. Notice the use of the word 'reproach' in verse 14, 'And they said unto them, We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised; for that were a reproach to us.' The young man wanted to marry the girl, and his father spoke with Jacob about intermarrying with his family. The sons of Jacob worked a plan of deceit (Genesis 34.13) and informed the Hivite king that all their males would have to be circumcised first of all. The king agreed to the proposal, but on the third day following the act, Levi and Simeon, just two men, entered the village and killed all the defenceless males. We are not told how many there were in the village but we are told that they were not healed from the act of circumcision. Genesis 34.25 says that on the third day after the act of circumcision that they were sore. Jacob had to tell his two sons that their actions had caused his name to stink in the nations but they were prepared to defend their deceit by claiming that were defending the honour of their sister. Joshua 5.8 says, 'And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole.'
Physical circumcision stands for something spiritual. It stands for the cutting off of the sins of the flesh according to Colossians 2.11. Circumcision is the cutting off of the flesh.
In verse 9 there is mention made of the reproach of Egypt - the implication is that this is the reproach inflicted on the people of God in Egypt. Perhaps this refers to the fact that they were uncircumcised in Egypt and they felt shame that they were sons of the covenant but that they were not bearing the mark of the covenant. Perhaps it means the shame brought on God's people by the uncircumcised. But the scripture speaks of the reproach of Egypt. It was not the children of Israel's shameful state or, even, actions but the shame that was heaped upon them when they were in Egypt and under the oppressor. That shame was a thing of the past. It was to be forgotten now. There was a rolling back of the reproach that they had suffered down there in Egypt. This happened at the place that was named Gilgal which means a rolling thing, a wheel. Gilgal stands to represent the rolling back of the reproach of the world.
Then there was the passover. 4.19 lets us know that the people came up out of the Jordan on the 10th day of the first month. The people celebrated the passover on passover day (5.10).
Then there was the change in the food that they were to eat. They had been sustained by the manna throughout the wilderness. Now this was about to change. The Authorised Version talks of old corn. The word for old is not translated old anywhere else in scripture. It means stored or kept. The word in the AV translated 'old corn' and in the New King James Version 'produce' is abuwr. What kind of produce was this? Strong's says it means, passed, kept over; used only of stored grain. The word is derived from abar, which means passed over, passed by, as when Absalom passed over the Jordan, II Samuel 17:24. In other words, this was grain that was kept over from the previous year's harvest, or passed over, stored. Does this mean grain that was stored in the new land? In Joshua 1:11, we see that God instructed the Israelites to prepare victuals three days before they crossed over the Jordan. Were they able to do that with manna alone?
I have become more puzzled as to their diet. I would have said quails and manna. But they obviously had plenty of grain - because the offering for the tabernacle in the wilderness required grain or meal. They, especially the priests, had a high meat menu as per the offerings.
The final part of the chapter deals with Joshua by Jericho. We must ever be careful of reading between the lines when expounding scripture but it may be advisable to ask the question why it was that he was there alone. Chapter 4 has been the setting up of a memorial. Chapter 5 has been painful circumcision (what may have been a painful circumcision) and a recovery period during which the children of Israel were vulnerable. A celebratory meal had been eaten together and new food was eaten. Everything was changing but there was nothing to suggest any way by which the children of Israel were going to destroy the walls of Jericho. How were they going to do it? Was this the question that was in Joshua's mind? His faith was such that he believed that God would destroy any giant in the land and now they were there but how were the walls of Jericho going to come down? It was then that God showed that the all important sword that was held was the one held by the captain of Lord's host. He was the One who going to win the battle against the people of Jericho. Joshua had to learn at the end of the chapter in his encounter with the captain of the Lord's host that it was obedience and holiness that was all important. No battle plans were given on that occasion even though that was probably what was running through his mind. The battle plans were not delivered until the beginning of chapter 6.
5:1 And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Amorites, which were on the side of Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, which were by the sea, heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel, until we were passed over, that their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel.
We have already noted the fear that was present in the inhabitants of Jericho from the first part of chapter 2. The fear was not confined to the city of Jericho. Chapter 2 informs us that there were Amorites on the east side of Jordan for the children of Israel had defeated them as they came through the wilderness (2.10). The word yam is translated 'sea' in over 300 of the near four hundred references to the word in the OT. In the case of the Jordan the side that was closest to the sea (the Mediterranean Sea) was the west side.
The kings of the Canaanites are also mentioned. These were dwelling by the sea (the word is also yam). News of the drying up of the river Jordan had travelled some distance. The children of Israel may have been concerned at this new venture into this new land but the inhabitants of the land (and not just the city in the immediate vicinity - Jericho) were in dread without them realising it. They were dispirited and their heart melted (see 2.11 as well as 2.9 and 24)
Are the unsaved sometimes more fearful of our God, and His power, than we are as His people?
The construction of the next phrase in the AV is a bit strange. There is no indication that the text should be written in the first person plural - we were passed over. Indeed J.N. Darby translates this verse, 'And it come to pass when all the kings of the Amorites, who were beyond the Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, who were by the sea, heard that Jehovah had dried up the waters of the Jordan from before the children of Israel, until they had passed over, that their heart melted, and there was no more spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel.'
The opening verse having explained the state of mind of some of the inhabitants of the land, the writer turns his attention to what was happening among God's people. It was at the very time that there was fear and trepidation among the kings of the Amorites on the west of Jordan and the Canaanites that were by the sea as well as the fear in the population of Jericho that the Lord spoke to Joshua. Whether Joshua was privy to the fact that there was this fear we are not told but he is told to circumcise the children of Israel the second time.
Instead of commanding His people to go forward into the battle, God commands them, via Joshua, to remain at Gilgal and to do several things that, on the surface, appear very strange. It even appears that the things that they were required to do put them at risk before their enemies. This is especially true of the circumcision. God was not in a hurry to defeat the people in Jericho and neither were His people to be. We must never rush God. There was preparation to be made. The preparations appear to have spiritual implications. The people had to be in a right condition. Perhaps we should stop at this stage and think of the believer's entrance into his or her Canaan. Our warfare, our wrestling, is not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. In order to win spiritual battles there must be spiritual preparation. In order for God to win the battle against Jericho there had to be preparation according to His mind and ways. The thinking of the people was not God's thinking. But God asked for things to be done and once the request was made, though they may never have understood the necessity of those things, it was for the people to obey, If we want to gain the possessions of the land (in a spiritual sense) then we, too, must be prepared and be prepared to obey what God asks of us.
The first thing to be said about the circumcision is that it took place in the males and yet the whole of the people are implicated. Verse 5 says, 'Now all the people that came out were circumcised'. But verse 4 says, 'All the people that came out of Egypt, that were males, even all the men of war.' The implication is that this was a national renewal of the covenant with God and was demonstrated by those not having the sign of that covenant with God receiving the mark in their bodies.
The second thing to be said is that the circumcision is described as a second circumcision. What do we know of the first circumcision? We probably know the most about the first circumcision from this particular passage of scripture. There is very little mention of circumcision in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Presumably the males that came out of Egypt had been circumcised according to the Abrahamic covenant and the truth of verse 5. Whether this had taken place in Egypt or soon after they came out of Egypt we are not told. All we know is that the males born in the wilderness years were not circumcised. These statements must be tempered by the revelation of verse 9 that there was a 'reproach of Egypt'. If, and this is a big if, this phrase refers to the reproach of not being circumcised (see Genesis 34.14 and the notes in the introduction where this discussion has been raised) then the presumption is false.
There are other thoughts here. Surely it is not possible for a male to be circumcised twice unless there was some way that the first circumcision was incomplete (surely this is conjecture as there is no scripture to confirm this). There is mention made of sharp knives (flint knives - the word is more often than not translated as rock). Maybe the circumcision was done a different way from the time that it had been done before and only applied to those who had been circumcised in Egypt. And yet the truth of verse 5 is that the all the people that came out of Egypt were circumcised (as we have already said this means the males). There are so many maybes and ifs and buts here simply because we are told so little in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. If we are told so little then it is not important. The important thing is that there was a circumcision of the males that took place in Joshua 5. It does not matter whether it was just the young males or whether it was the older militia. We are told of a second circumcision. In fact we read, 'circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.' The fact that was a second occasion seems to be underscored in the text.
The third thing to say is that knives had to be made from the rocks and that Joshua was commanded to make them. There was effort that had to be put in to make these knives so that they could be used to circumcise the males. What effort was needed in pursuit of obedience to the will of God.
Joshua made him sharp knives and he was responsible for the act of circumcision on all those circumcised. Whether this meant that Joshua performed all the circumcisions seems hardly likely as there were many to perform (note that there were knives and not just one knife). For one person to perform an operation of this type would have taken some time. Assuming five minutes per operation (and this may be a gross underestimate) only allows 100 per person in an eight hour period (a day's work?). To circumcise all 40,000 men of war alone (had they all required it as some could well have been circumcised as babes 40 years previously in Egypt) would have taken one person over a year even operating at this phenomenal rate.
However this circumcision was performed it took place at the hill of the foreskins. Remember that they were all on a plain at or near the place called Gilgal. Perhaps it was that the males that needed to be circumcised were separated from the rest of the people and taken to the foothills for their circumcision.
Things are explained here that have not been mentioned or explained before. The men that had come out of Egypt had been circumcised according to verse 5. The implication is that there was no circumcision in the wilderness (see verse 5) so that those males that were born in the wilderness were uncircumcised. But the generation that came out of Egypt died in the wilderness. There would have been those who were born in Egypt and who were circumcised who grew up to be the men of war.
There was a generation that was uncircumcised and they were about to take up their possession in the land of the uncircumcised. How could they claim to be God's people and yet they were not doing what God wanted them to do as revealed to Abraham? They were the people of God but to look at them one would not have thought so. They were in the wrong condition and this had to be corrected. Progress could not be made without this change. This was a nonsense that had to be put right before they took up their possessions in the land. It may well be that there are things that are nonsensical and inconsistent in our lives as far as Christian things are concerned and that need to be put right before we enter into the enjoyment of the possessions that God intends for us. Some may not have been baptised; some may in the enjoyment of the things of Egypt (Egypt is given to us as a picture of the world in the sense of it being a place of pleasure and treasure - 'Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:'); some may have trouble with the sins of the flesh. All of these things will affect the enjoyment of the good things of God and they have to be put right before we can move on. This is the spiritual lesson that has to be drawn from this list of, apparently unnecessary, things that the children of Israel had to do before they became victorious.
What is quite interesting is how God's truth can be so universally ignored. It wasn't a family or a tribe alone that stopped circumcision - it was the entire nation. Interestingly it started with the parents. An eight day old child has no say or influence but his parents do. Some teaching there somewhere!!
5:6 For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: unto whom the LORD sware that he would not shew them the land, which the LORD sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey.
Verse 6 is a clear statement of what had happened to the children of Israel over the previous 40 years.
They had walked in the wilderness
This they had done until all the men of war that had come out of Egypt were consumed (the word means 'finished' in the sense of died)
They died because they disobeyed
God told them that they would not see the land and they did not
But their children were allowed to live. It is almost as though their children were not circumcised because the parents did not want to be associated with God. They did not want to be in covenant relationship with God. They did not want their children to bear in their bodies the mark that they belonged to God. This generation was raised up by God (He preserved them in the wilderness; they were not exterminated; they could live outside of Egypt) and now God was going to make sure that the mark was in their bodies to show that they belonged to Him. Joshua was responsible for making sure that the males were circumcised. That which had not been done by parents had to be done by the leader.
Naturally there was a weakness associated with circumcision as explained in the introductory notes. The people remained in the camp until they were whole (until they were recovered). No wonder God was not in a hurry. From a physical point of view there had to be time for healing after the circumcision. They only really had a few days (until the passover was eaten).
Following hard on the truth of the mass circumcision we read of the reproach of Egypt being rolled away from them. It is for this reason that the reproach of Egypt is considered by many to be the fact that the men had not been circumcised. And yet we read that the ones that were circumcised were those who had been born in the wilderness and had never seen Egypt. Verse 5 teaches that circumcision took place in Egypt.
It is suggested that the reproach of Egypt is not the fact that they were not circumcised. The reproach of Egypt is the reproach that Egypt inflicted on the people. They were now in the land. They had crossed two expanses of water. It was not just the Red Sea that was between them and the Egyptians but the Red Sea and the Jordan. They were never going back to Egypt. Egypt was never going to cause them pain and shame again. This was over and over forever.
In a spiritual sense the circumcision of verses 2-8 answers to the putting away of the sins of the flesh. There is no progress in spiritual things until the vileness and weakness of the flesh is recognised. The rolling away of the reproach of Egypt answers to the realisation that the world has no hold over me and that I do not have to hold onto it. There was shame down in the world and the believer who would go on to enjoy the land and all its blessings must realise that he or she is to live like a person belonging to the new land and that the flesh and the world has to go.
Verse 10 is the commencement of a new section that relates to the celebration of the passover. The people had crossed the river and the walls of Jericho were before them. They had to stop to make a memorial. They had to stop to become circumcised. They now have to stop to eat the passover. In the book of Exodus the children of Israel ate the first passover the night before they went over the Red Sea. Here they ate the passover shortly after crossing the Jordan (see 4.19).
The previous section has dealt with circumcision. It was circumcision and then the passover. There was no way that they could eat the passover without having been circumcised. If a person that was a bondman wanted to eat the passover that person had to be circumcised first of all (Exodus 12.44). Here were Israelites who were in the uncircumcised state. They needed to be circumcised before the eating of the passover.
God saw to it that His people kept the passover. We do not read of the passover being kept apart from the revelation of Numbers 9. 'And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt.....and they kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at even in the wilderness of Sinai: according to all that the Lord commanded Moses.'
This passover was also kept in the first month and on the fourteenth day at even. Everything was done according to the word of the Lord by Moses. The people were obedient. That was all important. It did not matter what the people in the city thought about what they saw from their walls. They must have considered it strange that the people sat down to eat a celebratory meal (there must have been a sense of occasion associated with the passover) when there was a threatened people close at hand. It does not matter what others think. If God says that this is His mind and will (and we have the scriptures to know what that is) then we are to obey and not think of the consequences. And so there has been obedience in the matter of circumcision and obedience in the matter of the passover.
But there is another aspect to the passover. In the keeping of that feast there is a remembrance made of salvation and deliverance from bondage down in Egypt. We have already seen how that the people were reminded that the reproach of Egypt had been rolled away. God had brought them out of Egypt but how they hankered after the things that were there in Egypt. Perhaps that is why we do not read of the passover being celebrated for all those years in the wilderness wanderings. It was easy for God to bring the people out of Egypt but there was unwillingness for Egypt to be forsaken by the people. Now they were to sit down together in the light of the recent revelation that the reproach of Egypt was passed forever and to remember the way that they were brought out of that place first of all. Is there not a lesson for the child of God in here? If we want to know the victory that there is to be gained in Christ we must be saved and living in the joy of that salvation and deliverance.
The subject of the 'old' corn has been raised in the introductory notes for which see. The corn was also parched or roasted. Note, too, that the unleavened bread was eaten (the fact that the AV uses the word 'cakes' is not significant as this is the word that is used in Exodus 12.18).
5:12 And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
What is the significance of the stored corn and the manna? The manna was distinctly linked with the wilderness journey for its supply ceased as the children of Israel came into the land. The corn is linked with the new land. Both were food supplies but for different experiences. Our food supply is the Lord Jesus so that both the manna and the stored corn refer to Him in type. The manna is the bread that came down from heaven and surely refers to the Lord Jesus in His incarnation. In our wilderness journey we are sustained as we consider His wilderness journey. But the stored corn, the corn in reserve if we like, speaks of the unsearchable riches of Christ and the fulness that is to be found in Him. Joseph stored corn and there was sufficient in that corn for a nation and those who came down from Canaan. There was a plentiful supply and there is such a plentiful supply in the person of the Lord Jesus. He satisfies the hungry soul. We will feast on Him throughout the countless ages but we are able to feast on Him in His current exalted position and His present ministry even now. We are learning that we do not have to wait to enjoy heaven but that we can enjoy it here and now provided we take steps to remove the things of earth that come in the way of our enjoyment of such things. Canaan, or better the promised land, represents heaven or heaven as appreciated by those who are still living in time and sense.
There is no mention of quails here.
5:13 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?
The final section of the chapter relates to Joshua alone. Why he was alone we are not told. Why he was by Jericho we are similarly not told. Whether he was reflecting on the recent events and contemplating the future or otherwise we do not know. All that can be said with assurance is that Joshua saw a man over against him with a sword drawn in his hand. We are then told that he approached the man and asked him a question to do with the man being on Israel's side or the side of Israel's enemies.
From a purely practical point of view we thought that Joshua was very brave to do such a thing. He may well have been unguarded and unarmed (we must remember not to read between the lines but the section implies that this was the case) and to approach such a man without knowledge of his allegiance was dangerous.
The answer to the question was clear and unequivocal. It was in the negative. He was neither for them nor for the adversaries. That may sound a strange answer but it was meant in the sense that the man had not come to take sides but to take over. He had come, He had appeared as the captain, the prince of the Lord's hosts. He was in control of the armies in heaven and in earth. He was the Commander in chief and Joshua was just the general. Joshua fell on his face to worship and there was no rebuke for him. Neither was there a rebuke when he asked his 'lord' a question as the servant. Joshua was the leader of the people. He met with Someone who was his leader. This was God manifest before him. This was a lesson for Joshua in particular that day (this was the Chief Shepherd and Joshua was an under shepherd to use the NT truth) but in the spiritual application of this event we must recognise that each of us needs to be confronted with the fact that the Lord Jesus is in control and to accept that.
The sight of the man and the answer to the question that Joshua asked gave Joshua knowledge of the Person that he had seen. He bowed before Him in worship. He understood that this Man had not come to take sides but to take control - of the situation, of Joshua himself. Each believer, whoever that believer is or thinks that he/she is, has to accept that the Man with the sword is the One who is in control. Each believer, be they a Joshua or just one of the people, has to recognise that it is the Lord Jesus who is in control. He is the captain. If we want to conquer then we ourselves must be conquered.
Should Joshua have expected battle plans there were none given. The battle was His. The sword that would be needed was His alone. The power was with God and not with men. It would not be by the might of the children of Israel's hand that the victory was won. Battle plans were superfluous as there was not going to be a battle. What was more important was holiness. The Lord was in that place and, consequently, there was a need for the shoe to be taken from the foot. There was no discussion as to why there is mention of only one sandal to be removed from the one foot (in Exodus 3 Moses is required to remove the sandals from his feet; mention was made of Ruth 4 concerning agreement relating to redemption and exchange but there the single sandal is handed over to the neighbour). The thought in the section is one of holiness and that the ground is holy because of the nearness of the presence of the One whom Joshua met. The ground was sanctified by association with the divine person who was there at the time. It was a holy place because the Holy One was there.
For there to be spiritual victory there must be spiritual preparation. We dare not run ahead of our God. He calls us to be prepared and not just rely on our standing. We must ever keep our standing in mind and remember that we were once lost but now we are saved. There are times in every Christian's experience when a Christian's state does not match their standing. Victory over sin does not add to our standing with God and neither does failure to resist the temptation to sin diminish our standing with God. Our standing with God is not determined by what we do but by what Christ has done. The believer's standing is secure and unchanging, but his state changes day by day. It is God's requirement and, hopefully, our desire to raise our state to the level of our standing but in doing so we should be careful to never allow our state to cause us to doubt our standing. The conscientious Christian can easily do this. A Christian can be brought to the conclusion that "all is lost" and therefore stop trying to live a godly life at all. God doesn't want that.
But God does want us to enjoy the good of the land and we cannot do that without taking knowledge of our state. The children of Israel were required to do this before the victory was won. So too must we deal with the sins of the flesh and realise that we are dead to them and reckon ourselves dead to them. The same is true of the world. There must be a constant reminder of the fact that we were delivered from bondage by the blood of the Lamb and there must be a feeding on the Lord Jesus if we are to gain the victory. There must be a surrender to the control of the Great Commander, a realisation that if the battle is going to be won then it is He and He alone who will do it and a realisation of His great holiness and the need for us to be holy as well. If we want the walls to fall down then we have got to fall down first of all at His feet.
Could it also be that on restoration the Christian needs to change his spiritual diet - out goes the 'old' corn connected with the past; in comes a food from the land of promise.