Joshua 5. 1-12: The Boot Camp
October 24, 2010 Series: Joshua: Lord's Army
Topic: Old Testament
A Sermon on Circumcision
Welcome to Damascus Road. Open your Bibles to Joshua chapter 5. If this is your first time at our church, you are in for a treat. We go straight through books of the Bible, verse by verse. And you’ve decided to join us on the day that I get to preach a text about the carving up of one’s manhood to the glory of God. The practice of circumcision might seem a bit archaic to us today, but it was essential to Jewish identity in the O.T., and a source of incredible controversy between Jewish/Gentile Christians in the early church.
According to Romans 15.4 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Through the words of Paul, God says that everything in the Old Testament was written to instruct us and to build our faith. So we’ll pray that the Holy Spirit can help us all to see what we are to get from this passage beyond feelings of gratitude that we’re not living in ancient times where rocks were used for delicate surgeries. Today’s passage in Joshua 5 is a transition between the different divisions in the book of Joshua. Up through the first four chapters, the action (or lack thereof) of the book has felt a bit delayed as the importance of KNOWING God’s Word, FOLLOWING God’s directions, and REMEMBERING God’s works was emphasized. This new division goes from chapter 5 through chapter 12 and deals with the actual possession of the land. Now, sitting a mere two miles away from the enemy, the Israelites are commanded to perform their final preparations before starting a war. And we see again, as we have seen before, that God is not concerned so much with their readiness and military preparation as an army, but their relationship and spiritual preparation as His covenant people.
Report of God V .1
As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel.
All of the Kings, from the Jordan to the Sea have heard about what happened. Joshua is leading the nation into a land full of defeated enemies. The report of the miracle at the Jordan has melted their hearts—they feel threatened because they have heard of the POWER of God. This verse is echoes the same words that were spoken by Rahab the prostitute from Jericho in Joshua 2.10-11. After hiding the spies, Rahab declares that, “we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt…And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you. The difference is that Rahab’s heart doesn’t melt in the same way, adding a confession that declares, “…for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”
When people are confronted with the power of God, the truth of God, the Word of God, God himself—there will be a response. 2Corinthians 2.14-16 14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.
The news of what God has done to save His people will either fill you with faith or fill you with fear; it will either encourage you or threaten you; it will either lead you to plead for mercy or fight in rebellion. As much as people want to say it’s the “men who speak” or the “way that it is spoken”, should take note of these kings. Their fear of these kings comes well before any military action has taken place. It was not the form or timing of the report, it was the report itself. They know, not that a small once nomadic fighting force will threaten them, but that they are condemned in their own sin by a God who is powerful.
Circumcision V. 2-9
As the kings lay in the fetal position on the floors of their palaces, paralyzed by the fear of sending troops out to attack God’s people, God takes an opportunity to make some final cuts to his team…literally. 2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. 4 And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt. 5 Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. 6 For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8 When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. 9 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.
What is Circumcision?
Circumcision had been practiced since the days of Abraham—it is the cutting off of the extra skin on the end of a man’s baby-maker. In the book of Genesis, God had commanded Abraham to circumcise all the males of his family like a permanent FAMILY crest. Why that? Why not identify we’re on God’s team by how we cut our hair a certain way, wear certain clothes, or put a little fish symbol on the back of our camel? The short answer is I don’t know. Among other things, I know this painful and permanent act of obedience symbolized a separation from the world. And as, I guy, I know that it would be a decision not come to lightly. And if you’re going to mark a part of the body to declare that you’re set apart for God, why not a part of the body typically involved in the world’s most prevalent sins, the part of body where life itself is sourced in.
It also symbolized something else. In Genesis 17, God commanded Abraham to circumcise the males of his family as a sign of their participation in the covenant promise that he had made to him. Genesis 17.7-13 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” So then, Circumcision was THE MARK of the promise to Abraham’s seed concerning blessing and possession of the land. And, if you did not circumcise or get circumcised, you were in danger of being rejected by God for breaking his covenant. Circumcision was the non-negotiable doorway by which you became part of God’s people.
Why a Second Circumcision
So why is Joshua commanded to circumcise these guys a SECOND time? There is an entire generation of people who have not been circumcised. All the adult males in the previous generation had come out of Egypt circumcised. But those born in the wilderness, had not. The circumcised generation had the marks of faith, but did not obey. They rebelled and were condemned to wander for 40 years, a year for each day the 12 men spied out Canaan and brought back a faithless report. As a result, everyone who was 21 or older had died. And for whatever reason, they did not practice circumcision—and thus were in danger of breaking God’s Covenant. Now, 40 years later, Joshua had the wonderful privilege of circumcising the “younger generation”, men anywhere between the ages of 8 days and 60 years old. Ouch. Right before they would experience part of the fulfillment of the covenant, they needed to identify themselves as the people whom God had covenant with.
What did it mean for Israel?
The word for Gilgal means both “Hill of Foreskins” to commemorate the event and “Roll” to teach of its meaning. Once the circumcision is complete, God says the reproach of Egypt has been rolled away. The reproach of Egypt was rooted in the disobedience of the previous generation. Their rebellion in the wilderness was constant, climaxing in the full on rebellion at the edge of the Promised Land. And the memory of Egypt was always played a part in their rebellion—the false romantic view of Egypt (the way things were) was pitted against God and true promises (the way things are). At the climax of their rebellion, in Numbers 14.1-4 they said:, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” That older generation died under the judgment of God. Circumcision was always more than just a physical mark of identity, or at least it was supposed to be. Being in the family of God was a distinction that required a way of living. Scriptures often talk about having our hearts circumcised, our ears circumcised, of God punishing those who were simply circumcised in the flesh (Deut 10.16, Jer 4.4; 6.10; 9.24-25).
This NEW GENERATION, is rolling away not just that old judgment, but that entire old way of thinking, living, and hoping. They are committing to a life of active obedience. In other words, circumcision was not just cutting of the flesh, it was the symbol of cutting off an old life. If the Jordan was the walk down the aisle, the circumcision is taking the vows.
What does this mean for us?
But what does this mean for us? Should we circumcise people as they become Christians? No. There ewas always a tension, purely motivated, between the “circumcised” and the “uncircumcised.” To be circumcised meant you were “chosen”, to be “uncircumcised” meant you were dirty and damned. The only way to become God-fearing Jew was to first be circumcised. But when Jesus came, he fulfilled all of the Old Covenant. Later, Paul condemns those who took pride in being “circumcised” and encouraged those gentiles by speaking about a spiritual circumcision. The emphasis Paul always placed was to go beyond appearances, beyond sacrifices, into the heart. In fact, Paul condemns the Jewish Christians in the book of Galatians for trying to add something to the gospel that save going so far as to say, Galatians 5.12 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! , or as some translations say, CUT IT ALL OFF. (Yes, that is in the Bible).
Today, being the people of God comes through Jesus. But what is “spiritual” today is supposed to have a genuine manifestation in the flesh. Ephesians 2.11-22 11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Colossians 2 calls this the “Circumcision of Christ”, the same cutting off, but it is the cutting off of our sinful flesh. As the Israelites do this, they say we put no confidence in the flesh, but we walk in the promises of God onto the battlefield. They do not find meaning, purpose, hope, or joy in what they will be able to do, in good or bad circumstances, but simply in walking in God’s promises. And as we commit to Christ, we also say I put NO CONFIDENCE in the flesh, first by confession THEM through our first act of obedience in baptism, declaring there is an old life AND a way of living that is dead, buried, cut off and thrown away. Just as the circumcision of the original generation meant nothing because of their disobedience; the circumcision of our hearts means NOTHING if we are not obedient. Yes, we are saved by grace alone. But, as theologican Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ."
Conclusion - Passover V. 10-12
Though these men are not strong enough to enter the battlefield yet, they are able to celebrate the feast of Passover. 10 While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. 11 And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
According to Exodus 12, the First Passover that took place in Egypt, circumcision was a requirement to participate. Perhaps for the first time in many years, the Scriptures are not clear, they remember the faithfulness of their God. This time it is on their own land, the territory of a defeated enemy that wasn’t quite defeated yet. But like the first Passover, they celebrated trusting that God would give them victory not based on the odds, but based on what he had already done before—based on who he was. And as a sign of the beginning of their new life, for the first time in 40 years, they eat from the land. The Passover here reminds them not only of the EXODUS: a word meaning departure from slavery to sin and death, but also now of ENTRANCE into a new life.
And we still celebrate this kind of meal together. We must never forget that if the entire Bible is one story, with Jesus as the hero, then we must see this as OUR story even if it begins as a Jewish one. Turn your Bible back to Joshua 4, verse 19 which identifies the day that Joshua leads Israel across the Jordan. 19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. We first hear about this day back in Exodus 12, about two weeks before the final plague where God kills the first born everything. At that time, God commanded the Jews to start a new calendar, signaling their new identity in the ways of God. To memorialize this day, their new life, and the Exodus itself, God instituted the Passover which occurred in the month of Nisan, the first month (March to April) on the Jewish calendar.
ON the 10th day of Nisan, they would select the Passover lamb. This was lamb that had to be perfect and without blemish, spotless, and healthy. After four days, at nightfall, they would slaughter the lamb on the 14th day of the month and celebrate the Lord’s Passover. The 10th of Nisan was a day of preparation, a day where men demonstrated faith for what they WOULD DO. Many years later, the 10th Day of Nisan was also the day of Jesus’, astride a donkey rode in to Jerusalem. Though the people thought Jesus rode in as a king, he actually rode in as the Passover Lamb—selected by God himself—to die on the after celebrating Passover with his disciples 14th day of Nisan.
And it was on this day that Jesus, having Passover with his disciples, 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22.19-20). The conquest that we will begin to see next week in Joshua then, is a picture of the conquest that Jesus fought as is fighting against sin in our lives. Every time we take communion, we remember that we have made a break with our past. But it is not only a break with our past, it is a new life in God’s promises. We remember that our old self, our old life, was buried and now we walk in the newness of life. It is a memorial AND a sign, both of preparation AND possession; of relationship AND living; of identity AND mission, of belief AND action as we fight in the land of a defeated enemy.
Bendediction Colossians 2.13-15
Let us never forget we are born again, made alive into new creations. And we live knowing our King Jesus has already won. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.