We’ll be studying Joshua chapters 5 and 6 today. The title I’m giving this message is “Jericho: Destruction and Deliverance.”
But first I feel like I need to say something about last week’s lesson. Yes, I did keep saying “Jericho” when I meant “Jordan” but that’s not what I want to address. I want to address my feeling throughout last week that those two chapters we covered lacked action and that therefore we were in danger of feeling like the story – and my lesson based upon it – was uninteresting. I had a few people come and tell me that they didn’t feel that the story or the lesson were boring at all. And that reminds me of something that I know intellectually as someone who teaches the Scripture. We’re trained to just “say what the Bible says.” And that’s an easy admonition to listen to and mentally assent to. But it’s a whole other matter when you’re left to practice it. But what I saw last week was that if we just desire to understand the Bible and have someone here teaching it as best he can and saying just what it says as best he can – then God’s people can learn and grow from it, no matter whether there’s action or excitement or whether you’re simply witnessing a quiet and somewhat repetitious retelling of a miracle – like crossing the Jordan – not the Jericho!
So, thank you for being attentive and wanting to understand better what God’s word says.
OK, now on to this week’s lesson on Joshua 5 and 6. Israel is now in the land promised to them by God. And God had already made it clear that they would need to wage war against the 7 nations that inhabitted Canaan. Israel was to act as God’s instrument of judgment on those nations. They simply needed to follow him and do what he commands. [Look at Google Map?]
Now, before we get into the fighting, we need to take care of some matters in the first 12 verses of chapter 5. Do you remember the end of the lesson last week? 12 men – one from each tribe of Israel – took a stone from the dried Jordan River bed. They brought the stones to Gilgal – where Israel lodged that night. Then Joshua revealed why God had them take those stones. The stones were to be memorials to their children, yes. But there was another reason. These stones were for the nations. Read 4:24 – “That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty…” The stones and the reality that they portrayed were supposed to let the nations know that the hand of the Lord is mighty. Did this indeed happen?
Let’s read 5:1.
[5:1 ¶ And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Amorites, which were on the side of Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, which were by the sea, heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel, until we were passed over, that their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel.]
[Map of Canaan] We’re told that the Amorites are just west of the Jordan. The Canaanites are near the sea. And from these two groups that are mentioned and their reaction we get the idea that probably any of the 7 nations who heard about Israel’s miraculous crossing over the Jordan River were experiencing the same state of mind.
Now, we need to remember something God told us back in Deuteronomy. These nations that the Lord was going to drive out before Israel – they were larger and mightier than the Israelites. The Israelites humanly-speaking were underdogs. What would cause these nations to be so fearful of Israel? Oh, just the fact that the largest river in the area decided to immediately dry up just so that they could cross over into Canaan. But even these hardened sinners could see that God was with Israel doing these things for them. He had to be. Rivers don’t just suddenly stop by themselves. And large powerful nations – like those led by Og and Sihon – don’t just get defeated by a roving band of men from the desert. That is, unless the God of the whole universe decides to get involved! So the nations are trembling. It would seem to be the time to strike! But Israel has a few things to attend to first.
Let’s read about the first action they take after entering the promised land – verses 2 though 9.
2 ¶ At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. 3 And Joshua made him sharp knives, and circumcised the children of Israel at the hill of the foreskins. 4 And this is the cause why Joshua did circumcise: All the people that came out of Egypt, that were males, even all the men of war, died in the wilderness by the way, after they came out of Egypt. 5 Now all the people that came out were circumcised: but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised. 6 For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: unto whom the LORD sware that he would not shew them the land, which the LORD sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey. 7 And their children, whom he raised up in their stead, them Joshua circumcised: for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them by the way. 8 ¶ And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole. 9 And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day.
So God commanded Joshua to circumcise all Israel – well, all the men, of course. And Joshua goes ahead and makes sure that happens. Other translations give the hill on which the circumcisions took place a nice name – Gibeah-HaAraloth. But this name simply means what we have in the KJV — “Hill of the Foreskins.” These were the by-products of this ritual that God instituted with Abraham centuries earlier. Circumcision was to be a sign that the person receiving this procedure was included in the covenant community. In fact, according to Genesis 17:14 any man who was not circumcised was to be “cut off from his people” because he had broken God’s covenant.
Isn’t it telling of the spiritual condition of those men who refused to believe God’s promises and were forced to wander in the wilderness? They didn’t even circumcise their boys. God truly was displeased with that generation and you can understand why. They not only refused to believe God but they also refused to pass along to their children this sign of God’s covenant with them. Well, God let each one of them die in the wilderness. And now he had a new group to work with. And he wanted them to do right. And notice — God is the one who initiates this. Do you suppose this might have been encouraging to the men at that time? I mean, by commanding this to happen God is really symbolically inviting them back in to his covenant that he made with Abraham so long ago. God promised Abraham this land that they were now actually standing in. But God didn’t promise the land merely to Abraham, but to Abraham and his offspring – namely through Isaac and then Jacob. So these men who were inheriting covenant promises also needed to physically bear the sign of that covenant. And this is why they needed to be circumcised.
And lastly we need to understand what God means when he tells Joshua he rolled away the reproach of Egypt. And that’s why they named the place Gilgal – which apparently means “rolling”. What is the reproach of Egypt? I think most likely this means that the Egyptians were reproaching the Israelites. Picture it. Israel leaves Egypt with great signs and wonders. The Egyptians try to recapture them but are stopped at the Red Sea. Israel goes to Sinai and then starts north only to have the incident at Kadesh-barnea where all of the men besides two of them are completely faithless to the Lord. So he lets them wander for 40 years. Do you suppose the Egyptians heard about that? No, the Egyptians wouldn’t want to come back up north and try to get Israel. They learned the hard way already – via the Red Sea incident –that that’s just not something they should be attempting. But Egypt could certainly mock Israel and despise them. And that’s apparently just what Egypt did. They mocked – or reproached – Israel. But now that Israel is entering the land? Well, I suppose you could say, who’s laughing now? God rolled away their reproach.
So the Israelites receive the sign of circumcision in their flesh before their first military activity in the land. What else do they do? Let’s read verses 10-12.
[10 ¶ And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho. 11 And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day. 12 And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.]
4:19 already told us that Israel crossed the Jordan River and camped at Gilgal on the 10th day of the 1st month. So now, 3 days later the people eat the Passover. It’s the meal that commemorates Israel’s deliverance from Egypt – the ones whose reproach was just now finally being rolled away. And what happened after the Passover? Verse 11 tells us they ate some food from the land. That’s the emphasis there. And then what happened after they started eating from the land? The manna ceased to fall for them. All those 40 plus years it fell for them. But now that they’re finally in their land they don’t need it. So God stops sending it. God always provides for his people. He’ll do it miraculously, if needed. But we shouldn’t think little of him providing for us through normal providential means, either.
Now, where did Israel eat the Passover? In the plains of? Jericho. You didn’t forget about Jericho, did you? This is the first city to be attacked. Rahab is there waiting for deliverance. And this is no small task. It is a walled city. Do you suppose Joshua might be wondering how he’ll attack the city? He seems very courageous. But do you suppose he might need a little encouragement about this next phase in his leadership of God’s people?
Well, if he does need any encouragement he certainly gets it in verses 13 through 15.
[13 ¶ And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? 14 And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship [shachah], and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant? 15 And the captain of the LORD’S host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.]
Does Joshua’s reaction surprise you? In a way it should. Joshua apparently can’t tell that this man is anything other than a mere man. Right? He comes up to the man and asks if he is for Israel or for Jericho. So this man apparently looks like just a regular man. He’s brandishing a sword, but we’re in a military scene here. So that’s not unusual. The only thing that indicates that there’s something different about this man is his response to Joshua’s question. He says that he’s the captain of the Lord’s host or army. But I thought Joshua was the captain of God’s army. And it’s here where we realize even more acutely that there’s something going on behind the scenes. Israel served as God’s human army. But there’s an army behind the scenes that this man commands. This captain and his army make all the difference in the human realm. Their victory decides the victory of Israel. We don’t hear about this captain again. Did he disappear and then wage war in an invisible spiritual realm? Was he and his army silently and invisibly moving among Israel as they fought? Later on, are they the ones whom the Lord uses to throw down hailstones and stop the Sun? Any of those possibilities may very well have been the case. We can’t say for sure.
And really, who is this captain? Is he an angel? The text says Joshua worshiped him, which would of course be idolatry if this captain wasn’t God. This word translated “worship” [shachah] can also mean simply “to bow” like when Rachel and Leah bowed to Esau when they came to Canaan. But this word really can also mean “worship.” I don’t know that I can come to a dogmatic conclusion on whether this man was God – perhaps Jesus Christ before he was incarnated. But I like the thought of that. After all, who better to lead the Lord’s army than the Lord himself? Imagine Jesus – our Jesus, the Jesus of the New Testament – receiving worship from Joshua — that hero of the faith. And there’s one more reason I would lean toward thinking that this is an appearance of God the Son. Did you notice what he tells Joshua to do? Remove your sandal. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Yeah, God himself said it in Exodus 3. Whom did God say that to? Moses. Do you suppose that Joshua knew that God had used those same words with Moses, his mentor? I think the clues lead us to believe that this captain was somehow God himself. And that’s pretty exciting, isn’t it? Even if this was just an angel, it’s still exciting. And if it’s exciting for us, you know it was exciting for Joshua, too. And in that encouragement and excitement, Joshua and Israel were ready to be the human instruments of God to judge these 7 wicked nations.