The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Joshua 5

Jos 5:1

"Israel was not a martial people. Their prowess stemmed from faith and not from military might. Their confidence was in Yahweh and not in weapons of war, of which they were largely deficient. They had no siege engines, battering rams and the like to reduce the mighty walls of the enemy cities, and before they went into battle, a strange and unmilitary procedure was followed, described in Deu 20:1-10. Josh 5 sets out the organisation of worship that Joshua set before the people. The nation was to be circumcised, demonstrating the principle of the cutting off of the principles of flesh, and of dependence upon Yahweh for strength. Significantly, however, this left the nation without the natural ability to withstand any challenge from those of Jericho, which city had been alerted to the presence of Israel by the action of the spies. Israel therefore had to rely upon the divine protection, indicated by the presence of the Divine Warrior (Josh 5:13-15), typical of the greater Warrior (Isa 9:6). Then preparations were made to approach the mighty city of Jericho. It was the key to occupying the country, but it stood in proud defiance of its assailants. What was the command given to Israel? That the people should lay siege to it and take it by war? No! But that the priests should compass it (typical of circumcision) seven days, and on the seventh day, to complete the circular march with seven circuits. Then the trumpets were blown; typical of the new year, and the walls of opposition would collapse! This was a test of Joshua's faith, but it was equal to the task, so that Faith conquered Jericho (Heb 11:30). The circumcision of Josh 5 gave way to the triumph of Josh 6" (GEM).

Jos 5 describes the consecration of the people of Israel in preparation for the great task that lay before them. As such, it stands as a bridge between the crossing of the Jordan and the beginning of the military campaigns to subjugate the inhabitants of the Land. For many, however, esp to those trained in military tactics, this ch may seem like an enigma, at least from man's point of view. And of course, that's precisely the issue here. God's ways are infinitely higher than our ways (Isa 55:8,9). From all appearances now was the time to attack the enemy. The people of Israel were filled with the excitement and motivation of having miraculously crossed the Jordan on dry ground. Further, they apparently knew the enemy was in disarray from the standpoint of their morale; surely, it was time to strike. Many of the military leaders under Joshua's command may have been thinking or even saying, "For goodness sake, let's not wait. Let's go! Now is the logical time and the enemy is ripe for the taking!"

But in God's economy and plan there are spiritual values, priorities, and principles that are far more vital and fundamental to victory or our capacity to attack and demolish the fortresses that the world has raised up against the knowledge and plan of God (2Co 10:4-5). Something else needed to be done first.

THEIR HEARTS MELTED AND THEY NO LONGER HAD THE COURAGE TO FACE THE ISRAELITES: Essential to spiritual victory is our understanding that in Christ, all the enemies we face are in essence defeated foes (cf Rom 6; Col 2:1-15; Heb 2:14).

Jos 5:2

CIRCUMCISE THE ISRAELITES AGAIN: Indicating that there must have been a first time common to all: see v 5n.

Jos 5:3

Now over Jordan, in the very backyard of their enemies, all the men of Israel are completely incapacitated -- 5 mi from their greatest enemies.

Jos 5:5

ALL THE PEOPLE THAT CAME OUT HAD BEEN CIRCUMCISED: This does not mean necessarily that they had been circumcised in Egypt (cp Exo 3:13; Jos 24:14; Eze 20:7,8), but perhaps that the ritual had been performed as soon as they left Egypt -- perhaps at Marah (Exo 15:25,26). A mass circumcision in Egypt would have been difficult to perform, since Pharaoh would not have allowed several days rest to recuperate: he needed his slaves to work!

Jos 5:10

GILGAL: And at "Golgotha", God, with the help of the NT "Joshua", rolled away the Egyptian reproach of sin and death -- through circumcision of the spirit and flesh.

THE FOURTEENTH DAY OF THE MONTH: This would be 40 years to the very day after the Exodus.

PASSOVER: By partaking of the Passover, Israel was to relive their deliverance out of Egypt by the blood of the Lamb, but as with circumcision, this too was related to the land. As observing the Passover in Egypt protected them from the destroying angel, it also assured them of two more things: (a) that just as crossing the Red Sea would be followed by the destruction of the Egyptians, (b) so likewise the crossing of the Jordan would be followed by the defeat of the Canaanites. Remembering the past became an excellent preparation of faith for the tests of the future.

Jos 5:11

Vv 11,12: Observing the Passover stood for God's deliverance out of Egypt and from judgment of the destroying angel, but for God's covenant people, deliverance from Egypt included the promise they would inherit the land, a land of abundance, a land of wheat, barley, fig trees, olive oil and honey (cf Deu 8:8,9). It spoke of their new beginning, of their new life as the people of God delivered from judgment and rock solid in the place of blessing. The Passover not only looked back, but it looked forward to their new life in the land enjoying its abundant blessings by the power of God; eating of the produce was an act of confirmation of God's abundant blessing.

Jos 5:13

WHEN JOSHUA WAS NEAR JERICHO: With everything apparently now prepared for the conquest of the land, the next scene opens with Joshua, God's appointed commander of Israel, not in the camp of Israel at Gilgal, but by the city of Jericho. What do you suppose Joshua was doing there? He was surely about the Lord's work and gathering information about the city and its fortifications in preparation to launch his attack. He was naturally concerned about several things. First of all, he needed a plan of action. Just how would they go about attacking Jericho, prob the best fortified city of Canaan? Besieging a city like Jericho was something for which they had little or no experience. Further, they undoubtedly lacked equipment like battering rams, catapults, scaling ladders or moving towers. All they had were swords, arrows, slings, and spears which naturally would seem totally inadequate for the task before them. So how would Joshua prepare his army and how should they go about taking the city? He must have felt like the weight of the world was pressing down on his shoulders.

Jos 5:14

AS COMMANDER OF THE ARMY OF THE LORD: Joshua had thought HE was "commander"! Joshua was doing all he could to get his (note the "his"!) army ready... when out of the blue (literally) he encountered a man with a drawn sword. Joshua asks him, "Are you with us or against us?" "Neither, actually," the "man" replied. "I am the commander of the army of Yahweh." And all the time Joshua had thought HE was the commander!

THE ARMY OF THE LORD: Angelic armies: (1) 2Ki 6:8-17: When Elisha was at Dothan with his young servant, he found himself surrounded by the army of Ben-Hadad, who, during the night had marched out and surrounded the city of Dothan. The next morning, when Elisha's servant went out to draw water, he saw the vast army surrounding the city. Being fearful and greatly distressed, he cried out to Elisha, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" Elisha responded, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Elisha then prayed a very interesting prayer. He said, "O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see." Then "the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." They were not alone. With them to fight for them was a host of God's angelic forces who soon struck the armies of the king of Syria with blindness. (2) Mat 26:52,53: With the disciples still reluctant and perplexed over the fact Christ must go to the cross, Peter drew his sword and struck the high priest's slave cutting off his ear. Jesus replied, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (3) Heb 1:14: "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?"

THEN JOSHUA FELL FACEDOWN TO THE GROUND IN REVERENCE: No wonder Joshua falls facedown before the one commissioned to be HIS commander! The general can recognize true authority when he sees it. Do we think sometimes that we are the "masters (or mistresses) of our own fates... the captains of our own souls"? We are not. Do we look in the mirrors in the mornings, and tell ourselves, "I am in charge here"? (Like General Haig famously telling all and sundry during the Nixon presidential crisis, 'I am in charge here!') We are not. (Actually, if you have to remind others that you are in charge, then you CERTAINLY are not!) Joseph told Pharaoh, in effect: "You -- the mightiest ruler the world has ever seen -- are not in charge here!" He told him politely, but he told him just the same. God rules in the kingdom(s) of men, says Daniel. And He rules in our lives. Take time to notice the real "commander", and get your "orders for the day".

WHAT MESSAGE DOES MY LORD HAVE FOR HIS SERVANT?: Cp Paul in Act 22:10. The response of worship and submission. Joshua quickly got the picture. He had been thinking of a conflict between the Israelites and the Canaanite armies. Perhaps he had been thinking of this as HIS war. Certainly he felt the load of responsibility on his shoulders. But after being confronted by the divine Commander, he was reminded of a truth he had heard Moses declare many years earlier when they stood on the banks of the Red Sea. There he had heard Moses say, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still" (Exo 14:13). Joshua learned afresh the truth that David too would learn and would later declare when facing Goliath: "The battle is the Lord's" (cp 1Sa 17:47).

Jos 5:15

Moses' work began on holy ground (Exo 3:5), as does Joshua's now.

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