Joshua 5

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Circumcising the Israelites: 1-9

This is after the crossing of the Jordan River, they were in enemy lands, not the place for all your warriors to be out of commission for two weeks. This was a religious statement, however. Circumcision was required for the Israelites as part of the covenant with God found in Genesis 17:7-14.


Since part of that covenant is God providing the land of Canaan to the Israelites, this is a symbolic statement that they were now in the land of the promise and that they would fulfill their part of the covenant and follow God as God gives them the land.


Verse 1: Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until we had crossed over, their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites. (NIV)

  • The people of the land had seen their life literally dry up in front of them, because in a desert the Jordan River was truly these people’s lives.
    • It was also the most powerful force they knew, the river in flood stage, and it was rendered impotent before this God.
    • In its place came a flood of this God’s people, replacing the flood of water that was cut off.
    • No wonder this sparked terror in the people.


Verse 2: At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” (NIV)

  • This was the end of the Bronze Age and the very beginning of the Iron Age for some people groups. The Israelites did not have any iron at this time. It is unclear whether they even had bronze. However, flint knives freshly made would have been sharper than bronze even if they didn’t hold an edge as long and were more brittle.


Verse 3: So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth. (NIV)

  • ”Gilbeath Haaraloth” literally means “hill of foreskins” and while very crude is probably an apt description if the number of Israelites mentioned elsewhere is accurate.
    • This is probably well over a million foreskins, which would definitely create a vivid image in the people’s minds.
    • This image seems graphic but it shows how this event really embedded in the Israelite’s minds for generations.


Verse 7: So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua (NIV)

  • It should probably be seen as a lack of faith that the people had not been circumcised as they were each born since the law had already been given. No exact reason for the lack of circumcision in the desert is given, however.


Verse 8: And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed. (NIV)

  • This was a very vulnerable position to be in. Genesis 34 records how the sons of Jacob killed an entire town of people three days after they were all circumcised because no one was in a condition to fight back. This was every male in camp under the age of 40, basically every fighting man out of action at once.
  • The fear of God apparently kept anyone from attacking them during this time. It was definitely an act of faith on the people’s part not to only circumcise a few at a time over weeks.


Verse 10: On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. (NIV)

  • Exodus 12:48-49 says that circumcision was required in order to celebrate Passover. So for the entire journey in the desert they would not have celebrated Passover because the people were uncircumcised.
  • This is only the third time we have recorded that the people celebrated Passover and the comparison between now and the first Passover is striking.
    • The first one was eaten in fear and haste, the last food they took in Egypt, as they fled for their lives.
    • This Passover was the first food of their promised land, eaten as celebration for what God had done. And it was as they entered into a new land, not leave an old one. This one they had time to really celebrate.


Verse 12: The manna stopped the day afterc they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan. (NIV)

  • This invasion happened in the fall so the crops were ripe for harvest as the people invaded.


Joshua Meets with God's Commander: 12-15

Verse 13: Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (NIV)

  • Even by the time of Saul, the Israelites only had two swords/spears, 1 Samuel 13:22. We can probably assume that the sight of a drawn sword itself was a cause for concern. As Joshua did not recognize him it was a logical question to ask whose side this man was on.
  • It is difficult to actually stick to what the Bible says in this passage. We start assuming that this was an angel, even try to discern a specific “rank” of angel from this. But it simply says “a man.” Regardless of who this person was, he apparently looked like a normal man.
  • There are several other examples of speakers from God being called simply “a man”, like Genesis 18:2, Genesis 32:24.
    • The term does not mean this was a normal person, but is used to prolong the question in the reader’s mind about who this person is, and help the reader empathize with the characters uncertainty.
    • The reader is expected to arrive at an understanding along with Joshua, about who this person is as the account unfolds. Definitely someone worthy of respect and speaking for God, but much more than that we cannot say.


Verse 14: “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” (NIV)

  • If there was anyone who could claim God as being on their side, it would have been Joshua. But even he was denied being told that God was on his side.
  • The implication here seems to be that God does not join people’s sides, people join God’s side.
  • It is unclear whether this should be read as “the” commander or “a” commander. Either way, this person is presenting himself as being greater than Joshua. Joshua is commander of Israel’s armies, but this man is commander of God’s armies. Similar position, but worlds apart. Joshua recognizes this.
  • Joshua is not here calling the man by God’s name, but using the general honorific of “lord” referring to someone much higher in rank and above the person speaking.


Message Ideas/Scripts/Liturgy That Use This Chapter

 VerseDirectionTopicAudienceOccasionCategory
Battle Strategies1-11God is in charge/His ways are not our ways/Always be on God’s side,Circumcision
Covenant
AdultsGeneralMessage Idea