In the last essay, when we studied chapter four, we saw Israel memorialize the crossing of the Jordan. And now we are ready for chapter five. This passage is quite important. The nation was in Canaan; and their armies were poised to conquer its inhabitants. Moreover, because of the miracle that God had worked in drying up the Jordan river bed, the hearts of the inhabitants had “melted, and there was no longer any spirit in them.” In other words they would be “easy pickings,” as the saying goes. Surely this was the time to strike! An immediate all-out offensive seemed to be thing to do.
But that isn’t what Joshua did. Joshua remembered something that is recorded back in chapter one, verse seven. God had told Joshua, “Only be strong and courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law . . . do not turn from it to the right hand or the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.”
Joshua remembered that. And so he set out to be obedient. Somehow he understood that God never is in a hurry. And that it is important to be what God wants us to be, before we set out to do what God wants us to do. And so Joshua delayed the military operation to bring the entire nation back into covenant relation to the Lord under the law.
Two things were necessary to accomplish that. One, it was necessary to circumcise the multitudes who had been born since the Exodus. And two, it was necessary to get the people to begin to obey the requirements of the law. Under the circumstances then present, the way to do it was to circumcise the males immediately. Remember the timing of the crossing. They came out of the river on the tenth day of the first month, the anniversary of the setting aside of the first Passover lambs. That meant that if the people were to celebrate the Passover in four days, as the law required, the circumcision of the men would have to be done immediately, because the law also declared about the Passover, in Ex. 12:48, that “no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.”
Thus we see the theological pressure on Joshua. So he took advantage of the fact that the surrounding nations were cowed by the Jordan miracle, and made the nation very vulnerable by circumcising all of the males at the same time. However he was convinced that they would not be attacked at that particular time. So he went ahead with it; and it worked out.
Verses 4-7 give a reason why a general circumcision was needed. But the verses do not give a reason why those who had been born in the wilderness were not circumcised. To learn that we must go back to Num. 14:29-33, where it is recorded of those who disbelieved in the wilderness:
your dead bodies shall fall in this very wilderness; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against me, not one of you shall come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. . . . And your children shall be shepherds [that is, nomads] in the wilderness for forty years, and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness [my italics].
Did you catch it? The sons who were not to die in the wilderness, nevertheless were to suffer the punishment of rejection with the fathers until the fathers were dead. The blessings of the covenant were withdrawn. The sons were not circumcised. The Passover was not celebrated. And the people were not blessed as God had planned for them to be. This time of rejection was completed when the people entered Canaan. And so the sons had to be circumcised, and the Passover celebrated.
Now then, coming back to the book of Joshua, in verse nine we see the Lord pronouncing the end of something else to Joshua, quote: “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’ And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.”
The name “Gilgal” is related to the Hebrew word that means, “to roll.” Now notice that the thing “rolled away” was the “disgrace of Egypt,” which has to be something different from the punishment of rejection by God. When we ask what “the disgrace of Egypt” was, we cannot be certain. But it could have meant the social disgrace of Israel as slaves in Egypt. Whatever the “disgrace of Egypt” was, it was “rolled away” when the people entered the land and were circumcised.
All right, in addition to circumcising the males, the second thing Joshua did to once again bring the people under the Old Covenant law was to keep the Passover. We see this in verses 10-12. “The fourteenth day of the first month” was the day the law set aside to celebrate the Passover, and so they celebrated it on the proper day. Then the very next day the manna ceased; and they began to eat “the produce of land” of Canaan.
Now then, as we seek to apply this passage to our own lives, I will remain consistent with my previous applications. I have been seeing the crossing into the promised land of Canaan primarily as an Old Covenant type of our New Covenant crossing into the promised land of holiness. Thus the first way I would make application of these verses is to remind us that entire sanctification is a time of full salvation. When we enter the promised land of holiness, we are delivered not simply from the guilt of sin, but from the power of sin. The sanctifying grace of God cleanses us from sin, enables us to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves, and empowers us for service. So it is a time of full salvation.
Second, entire sanctification is a time of renunciation. To be entirely sanctified is to have our will in harmony with God’s. Therefore we have to renounce our own will in favor of God’s. All of our personal ambitions and desires are placed on the altar of sacrifice and subordinated to the will of God. We will go anywhere that God calls us to go, and we will do anything that God calls us to do. Thus it is a time of renunciation.
Third, entire sanctification is, in one sense, a time of restoration. When Joshua restored the Passover to Israel, the nation once again could enjoy the blessedness of remembrance and feasting. When we are filled with the Spirit, it isn’t quite the same, because we were restored to favor with God when we were saved. But it is a restoration in the sense of now being on the positive side of the renunciation just discussed. As I just indicated a couple of paragraphs ago, renunciation of sin and self-interest restores our will to harmony with God’s will.
In addition, when the New Covenant later replaced the Old, the blood of the messianic Passover lamb was shed on the cross. And Jesus, while hosting a Passover meal the night before his death, instituted a sacrament of remembrance of his own shed blood, the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Our entry into the promised land of holiness, of entire sanctification, is a time of full salvation, a time of renunciation, and a time of restoration. May all of us enter into and enjoy that experience to the glory of God.