Greetings to all those that belong to the Body of Christ in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess.1:1-2, I Cor.12:12-27, Col.1:18) We thank God for the physical life He has given us. And we thank and praise Him for the spiritual life that He has given us in Christ. Beloved, may we increasingly use our life to glorify God and to enjoy Him. (WSC 1, Heidelberg Q.2)
To that end we will worship God in His word. Tonight, we will look at Joshua 5:1-12. We will leave that small section at the end, Joshua 5:13-15 on the Captain of the Lord’s Host which I take to be a Christophany for new week. Please read along with me. Hear the holy Word of God. Read.
Circumcision. Joshua 5:1. Now it came about when 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 how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they had crossed, that their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the sons of Israel. 2 At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time.” 3 So Joshua made himself flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. 4 This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, died in the wilderness along the way after they came out of Egypt. 5 For all the people who came out were circumcised, but all the people who were born in the wilderness along the way as they came out of Egypt had not been circumcised. 6 For the sons of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, that is, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished because they did not listen to the voice of the LORD, to whom the LORD had sworn that He would not let them see the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 Their children whom He raised up in their place, Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them along the way. 8 Now when they had finished circumcising all the nation, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. 9 Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.
Passover. Joshua 5:10. While the sons of Israel camped at Gilgal they observed the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the desert plains of Jericho. 11 On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 The manna ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the sons of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate some of the yield of the land of Canaan during that year.
Beloved, please join me in prayer as we ask our holy and loving Lord to help us worship Him tonight. And to ask Him to grant me grace and insight to rightfully preach this portion of His word. Pray.
In order for us to understand this passage rightly we need to realize where in the Bible this is recorded.
The Bible can be variously subdivided. Let me give us just a few of the ways.
Perhaps the most common and most well known to us is the Old Testament and New Testament division. And in that OT division we can further divide It into the law, the prophets and the writings, or the law, the prophets, and the psalms. (Lk.24:44) Then in the NT we can categorize It with the gospels, the Acts, the epistles and the Apocalypse or the Revelation.
Here in our text, we are in the OT obviously. I often refer to this as the old “epoch”. The word “epoch” means a period of time, or a period of history marked by particular events or characteristics.
Now the OT or the old epoch is the period of redemptive history from Genesis 3:15 to Malachi 4:6. In this section of Scripture we have the Promise of the Messiah Savior given with various types and shadows.
Remember the main message of the entire Bible is the Promise that God’s Redeemer will come and save His people from their sins. (Gen.3:15, Mt.1:21) So the OT is about the promise of the coming Christ, admittedly often in picture-book like revelation, which makes sense since Israel is the church in its infancy. This is why we read WCF 7.5 in our liturgy today.
The NT epoch begins with the actual Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The Bible calls the Incarnation of Christ – the fullness of time. God governed all time to bring in Christ our Savior. (Gal.4:4) The greatest event in all human history is the birth of Christ so that we might have the death and resurrection of Christ – to redeem a particular people unto God. To live with and to love God forever. (Heb.10:4-14)
So, there is gospel in the OT and in the NT. And there is law in the OT and the NT. Here I am referring to the moral law of God. The OT ceremonial law, which is what we are looking at today, is the OT gospel.
So, in certain ways the rites or the sacraments of circumcision and the Passover both point us to the Savior Christ. Let’s look at this passage with our “Christological lenses” on. (Lk.24:25-27, I Pt.1:7-12)
Before we look at the various parts let’s say a word or two about the overview of this scripture.
God preserves His people.
Joshua, God’s leader, has just led God’s people through the Jordan River. God did a miracle and preserved them from death. He preserved their life. Oh, how God does this hundreds if not thousands of times in our life, yet mostly we do not recognize it. Oh, I do not mean by an immediate miracle, but by some expression of His powerful and merciful and loving providence sustaining our life. (WLC 18, WSC 11) To God be the glory. (Gal.1:5-7)
What a thankful people we should be; ever praising the Lord.
God cleanses His people.
The people of God are now in the Promised Land. And we see right after the stones of remembrance are established the very first thing that God requires is for all the males to be circumcised. Let me say briefly, this represents a spiritual cleansing, a symbolic cutting away of sin.
Symbolically we are taught these two related truths, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Rom.3:9-18, 3:23-26, 6:23) And without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin, the life is in the blood. (Heb.9:22, Lev.17:11-14)
In order for Holy God to live with His people they must be made holy – by the Blood.
More on this as we go along.
God feeds His people.
Related to this is the next OT sacrament of the Passover. The Lamb was slain. The blood was placed above the people, the angel of death passed over, and God not only saved His people from the wages of sin, again which is death. But He provided a substitute victim, an atoning sacrifice. And in this we also learn that God gives His people life and He nourishes our life – by Himself, in Himself, in Christ.
And notice the scheme. First circumcision. Then Passover. The NT counterpart is first baptism and then the Lord’s Supper. Only those circumcised had a right to take the Passover meal. Like that, in the NT epoch, only those baptized, who can discern the Lord’s Body, have a right to the Lord’s Supper. To put it another way, those not formally admitted into communion with the visible household of faith by OT circumcision or NT baptism have no right to the nourishing meal of the household of faith. (WCF 28.1, WLC 166)
Only those made holy can live in the Promised Land with Holy God. (Hab.1:13, Ps.1:1-6) All others will be cast out. (Mt.22:10-14)
God instructs His people.
The last part of our overview is just to point out that these two rites or ordinances are two OT sacraments. These two sacraments are replaced by the NT sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. (WSC 92-96) Non-bloody Baptism and the Lord’s Supper teach the same truths that bloody circumcision and the Passover teach.
Let me read to you from our WLC on what a sacrament is.
WLC 162 What is a sacrament? A. A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church,(1) to signify, seal, and exhibit(2) unto those that are within the covenant of grace,(3) the benefits of his mediation,(4) to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces;(5) to oblige them to obedience;(6) to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another;(7) and to distinguish them from those that are without.(8)
(1) Gen. 17:7,10; Exod. 12; Matt. 28:19; Matt. 26:26-28 (2) Rom. 4:11; 1 Cor. 11:24,25
(3) Rom. 15:8; Exod. 12:48 (4) Acts 2:38; 1 Cor. 10:16 (5) Rom. 4:11; Gal. 3:27
(6) Rom. 6:3,4; 1 Cor. 10:21 (7) Eph. 4:2-5; 1 Cor. 12:13 (8) Eph. 2:11,12; Gen. 34:14
Now let’s consider the various parts of our passage.
God terrifies His enemies.
In verse one we see that the Lord has placed fear into the hearts of His enemies, which are then also the enemies of His people. (Ps.90:2, Gen.35:5, Ezek.32:1-32)
In relationship with the two sacraments we have just looked at the enemies of God are the uncircumcised and those that are not partakers of the blood of the Passover. They have no blood covering for their sin. (Gen.17:14, Exod.12:48, Judges 14:3)
The enemies of God in this instance are Gentiles. Physically they are non-Jews. But spiritually they are Gentiles or foreigners to God. They are strangers to the covenant of grace, they are in the world, without God and without hope – as Paul says in Ephesians 2:12-21. They are unholy. They are in their sin. That is why God will judge or have vengeance on them. (Rom.12:17-19, Dt.32:35)
These people will not live in the Promised Land with God and His people.
So primarily we are looking at a spiritual distinction and difference, not essentially a so-called racial or cultural difference. Remember in the lineage of Christ we have Rahab a Canaanitess but that was converted to the Lord. And we have Ruth a Moabitess also converted to the Lord. (Rom.2:25-29) Also, I believe Judah had children with his Canaanitess daughter law, and he is in the genealogy of Jesus. (Mt.1:1-4) In Christ, He saves from every tribe and tongue and nation. (Rev.5:9, Gen.22:18, Gal.3:22-29)
Joshua 5:1. Now it came about when 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 how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they had crossed, that their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the sons of Israel.
In this way, these people represent what God refers to as “the wicked” in the Bible. These people hear of God’s mighty miracles and they fear God. Not in a holy or reverent way, but in a servile, cringing fear of personal punishment. Their conscience accuses them before the Lord.
Matthew Henry says this, “He that made the soul can, when He pleases, make His sword thus to approach to it and kill it with His terrors.” (Commentaries, vol.2, p.19)
God fights for His people.
The truth that God wants to convey to His people, us included is that the Lord is on the side of His people. He fights for us. Therefore, we shall be saved. Related to this God wants us also to know that He is against His and our enemies. He fights for us. He fights against them. Therefore, our preservation is certain. (Exod.14:14-16, Dt.3:22, 2 Chron.32:7, 2 Thess.1:6)
Finally, God assures us that His judgment will come to all those that oppose Him. For a time, the wicked are stout hearted. They mock and boast against the Lord. This is a Psalm two truth. But a day is coming when their hearts will melt within them and they will seek rest in death but not find it. (Rev.6:1-17, Rev.9:6)
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God – without the blood of the Lamb to cover your sins. (Heb.10:31, Heb.12:29)
Before we move on, the obvious application is for each of us to examine ourselves if we are on the Lord’s side or not. If we are on the Lord’s side now, we shall soon be at His right side. If we are not on the Lord’s side, if we judge ourselves to be an enemy of this One, the only safe recourse is to repent of our sin and plead the blood of the Passover Lamb Jesus for salvation. (Mt.25:1-46)
God covenants with His people.
Now we come to the section on circumcision in V.2-9.
The military men that were saved out of Egypt, they were circumcised. They did not enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief. They were professing Believers that were in fact unbelievers. They had a wicked heart of unbelief as the writer to the Hebrews warns all in the visible church against. And so God swore in His wrath that they would not enter the Promised Land, that they would die in the wilderness. (Num.14:26, 26:64-65, Dt.2:14-16, Heb.3:11-12, Ps.95:11)
As an aside, God never has wrath on any of His believing beloved children. For Believers He has Fatherly discipline. (Heb.12:1-11). For unbelievers He has judicial anger or wrath. The Bible says judgment begins with the household of God first. Woe to those in the church that have been baptized with water but they have not been baptized into Christ. These have a name that they live, but they are still spiritually dead. (Rev.3:1)
What a word of warning for all within the visible church. Beloved, never put your trust in an external religious rite for your salvation, even the two that God institutes. They are meant to point you to put your faith in Christ and not in the outward ordinance. Many baptized people will not enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 8:13-23, Heb.12:16, I Cor.1:16-18)
Conversely, all of the children born in the wilderness were uncircumcised and they did enter the Promised Land!
Admittedly they are about to get circumcised and we will talk about that. But I do not want to move too quickly off of this.
Again, external rites do not save us. OT circumcision and NT baptism do not save us. They both point to the One that does save us, Jesus. If we believe on Jesus we are saved, baptized or unbaptized. But we should be baptized as obedience to the command of the Lord.
Let’s go back to the institution of circumcision. Genesis 17.
Genesis 17:7. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8 “I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” 9 God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 “And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13 “A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 “But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
This external (bloody) sign is a sign of God’s promise to save Believers and their children. And of course, this must refer to all our elect children that will in fact come to believe in Christ. (Rom.9:4-13) This external sign was in addition to the verbal promise. God super added this for the assurance of His people. The same truths are taught by water baptism. As we referred to earlier, only those with circumcised hearts, true faith in Christ, are beneficiaries of God’s promise to save. (Rom.4:9-12, Gal.5:2-6, Dt.10:16, 30:6, Jer.4:4, Jn.3:16,36)
God commands obedience from His people.
V.4-6. Given what I just said I don’t want us to conclude the circumcision is of no value. That is not the case. It is not saving. But it is serious. And it was a serious thing that the adults in the desert did not circumcise their infant sons according to God’s command. And this is another indictment of that generation of military aged unbelieving men. Not only did they disobey God’s command to enter the Promised Land they also disobeyed God’s command to circumcise their infant sons.
What aggravates their sin is the length of time that they neglected this command of God. Forty years of disobedience after being saved from slavery and while being preserved in the wilderness! (WLC 151)
And I do want to stress that. God commanded circumcision. In the same way Christ commands us to baptize disciples. Again, it is not saving. But it is also not optional. It is required. Required for obedience sake. Think of this, would someone be admitted into the church if they refused water baptism? No. It is a great sin to neglect God’s ordinances.
In fact, even Moses fell into this sin for which God was going to kill him.
Exodus 4:24. Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, “You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.” 26 So He let him alone. At that time she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood “– because of the circumcision.
Another indicator within our text that God is quite displeased with our neglect of His sacraments. He calls not circumcising the infant sons “the reproach of Egypt”.
Joshua 5:9. Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.
God honors His people.
There are a few different interpretations on what this reproach of Egypt means. The best and the simplest is Calvin’s view. He believes it means that the Jews were treating their little children like heathen Egyptian Gentiles – as those that did not belong to the people of God.
And the reason these fathers treated their infants like heathen is because inwardly they had become heathen. Remember their worship of the golden calf. Outwardly they were Jews in the flesh. Inwardly they were heathen. And so they treat their family accordingly.
I want you to think of this as well. Those unbelieving fathers while they were in slavery they outwardly obeyed the word of God; those in slavery got circumcised.
When God set them free, they disobeyed the word of God. From which we learn that they only obeyed from a mercenary heart. Many people labor to be obedient when they are under some great affliction. But their true spiritual nature is seen when the pain leaves – often so too does their “obedience” to God’s word.
God removes the disgrace from these children since their father’s refused to do so. Calvin calls circumcision the symbol of adoption to which they owed their freedom. (Commentaries, vol.4, p.77)
This obviously has application to the NT practice of baptizing the infants of Believers. The notion is that God builds up His church from each successive generation from the church, and also obviously now in the NT epoch with evangelizing those outside of the church.
Listen to this.
Acts 2:38. Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (WCF 28.5)
Acts 16:31. They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. (I Cor.7:14, Acts 16:15, 18:8, I Cor.1:16)
God judges His non-elect ones.
One of the things we learn by this new generation receiving circumcision, being faithful to the word of God is that unbelievers within the visible church do not stop the continuance or growth of the visible church. (Mt.16:18) God will break off the fruitless branches for their unbelief evidenced by their disobedience to His word. (Mt.21:13-46, Jn.15:1-10, Rom.11:8-21)
In First Corinthians God tells us the benefit of these unbelievers in the church.
I Corinthians 10:1. For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. 6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.” 8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. 9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.
God preserves His elect ones.
But He will also raise up another Believing generation who will obey Him and who will produce the fruits of righteousness.
So, what do we see? Ungodly fathers begat godly sons. Disapproved fathers begat approved sons. And this was not of the flesh but of God’s own choice. Think of godly Hezekiah, he came from a godless father king Ahaz. (2 Kg.16:1-4)
But now by their circumcision they are once again reminded of their duty to obey the Lord in all things as the Lord’s chosen people. (Dt.21:8) So, our baptism puts us under obligation to obey all that the Lord has commanded us. (Mt.28:18-20) Our baptism reminds us to live like children of God, to live like disciples of Christ. (see WLC 167)
God communes with His people.
And finally, after the people are circumcised, they are welcomed to come to God to enjoy a fellowship meal with Him. And please do note that they are now enjoying this friendship meal with God in the Promised Land.
Joshua 5:10. While the sons of Israel camped at Gilgal they observed the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the desert plains of Jericho. 11 On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 The manna ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the sons of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate some of the yield of the land of Canaan during that year. (Passover ceased – Num.9:1, see Exod.12:6-18, Lev.23:5, Num.28:16, Dt.16:6)
A day is coming beloved when all those with circumcised hearts, all those that have been truly baptized into Christ that we will sit doing in the true Promised Land and we will enjoy another friendship meal – the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Rev.19:6-9)