This book begins with the death of Moses (1:1). God then commissions Joshua to cross over the Jordan with all the people to occupy “to the land which I give to them, even to the children of Israel” (1:2). The book ends with Joshua’s death and burial (24:29-33). In between, the book tells the story of Israel conquering the inhabitants of the land and dividing the land among the tribes of Israel.
Chapter 2 tells of Israel sending spies to Jericho, and Rahab helping them. This is especially significant, because Rahab, a Canaanite, is included in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1:5).
Chapter 3 tells of the crossing of the Jordan, which is modeled after the earlier crossing of the Red Sea, and chapter 4 tells of Israel building a memorial after crossing the Jordan.
Chapter 5 notes that the hearts of the Amorites and Canaanites melted in fear when they saw that Israel had crossed the Jordan (5:1). It is a decisive moment—a moment in which Israel’s goal of life in the Promised Land is at hand—and a moment in which Israel has the military momentum. The local people have been caught off-guard and are afraid. If Israel can move quickly to defeat them, Israel will win the prize.
But the Lord commands Joshua to make flint knives and circumcise the Israelite males (5:2ff), and Joshua does that. God had established circumcision as a requirement of the covenant that he made with Abraham much earlier (Genesis 17:9-14). We aren’t told why these Jewish males were not circumcised earlier. Apparently circumcisions were not done during the wilderness wanderings.
Circumcision in this moment is an extraordinary requirement, because it is disabling surgery. These men can expect to be out of action for days or even weeks following the operation. By complying with this requirement, they give the inhabitants time to plan their defense. It would appear they are converting almost certain success to almost certain failure. But their hope does not lie in their own military prowess. Their hope is that the Lord, who delivered them from slavery in Egypt and provided for them in the wilderness, will give them the victory. This circumcision, therefore, tests of Israel’s faith. By obeying God’s command, they place their hopes for the future firmly in God’s hands.
The circumcision is also significant because it is required as a prerequisite for observing the Passover, which Israel will do in verse 10ff (Exodus 12:43-49).
JOSHUA 5:9. TODAY I HAVE ROLLED AWAY THE REPROACH OF EGYPT
9Yahweh said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away (Hebrew: galal) the reproach of Egypt from off you.” Therefore the name of that place was called Gilgal, to this day.
“Yahweh said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away (galal) the reproach of Egypt from off you'” (v. 9a). This text doesn’t define “the reproach of Egypt,” but that phrase surely refers to the many years that Israel spent in slavery in Egypt. One might think that the Exodus would have rolled away the reproach of Egypt, but apparently not. Perhaps that was because Israel still had no homeland. Now they do.
“Therefore the name of that place was called Gilgal to this day” (v. 9b). Gilgal is near the Jordan River east of Jericho. The name Gilgal is a play on the word galal, which means rolled away.
JOSHUA 5:10-12. THEY KEPT THE PASSOVER
10The children of Israel encamped in Gilgal. They kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at evening in the plains of Jericho. 11They ate unleavened cakes and parched grain of the produce of the land on the next day after the Passover, in the same day. 12The manna ceased on the next day, after they had eaten of the produce of the land. The children of Israel didn’t have manna any more; but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
“The children of Israel encamped in Gilgal. They kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at evening in the plains of Jericho” (v. 10). Earlier, when instituting the first Passover, the Lord anticipated this day when Israel would enter into the Promised Land. On that earlier occasion, the Lord told Israel to observe the Passover when “the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 13:5).
During the first Passover, the Lord established the fourteenth day of Abib (the first Hebrew month—equivalent to our March or April) as the day to celebrate the Passover (Exodus 12:3-6).
“They ate unleavened cakes and parched grain of the produce of the land on the next day after the Passover, in the same day” (v. 11). The transition from wilderness wanderings to life in the Promised Land is marked by a change of diet. “Unleavened cakes and parched grain” are “the produce of the land” to which they have now come.
Unleavened bread, of course, is Passover fare (Exodus 12:8, 15, 17, 20, 39; Leviticus 23:6-8). Parched grain, however, would be a special treat for people accustomed to forty years of manna (see Numbers 11:4-6). Unleavened bread and parched grain are both “foods of disordered circumstances and time pressures, involving uncomplicated preparation…. The Israelites would have plenty of time in years to come to enjoy the full range of Canaan’s produce, but on this occasion, the emphasis was on quick consumption” (Howard, 153).
“The manna ceased on the next day, after they had eaten of the produce of the land. The children of Israel didn’t have manna any more; but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year” (v. 12). Manna was the Lord’s miraculous provision for the Israelites in the wilderness. It came with the dew every morning, and the Israelites were allowed to gather as much as they needed for the day. However, they were not allowed to store the manna overnight. When they tried to do so, it spoiled.
As the Israelites begin to eat the produce of the land, the manna ceases because it is no longer needed.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Coote, Robert B., The New Interpreters Bible: Joshua, Vol. II (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998)
Creach, Jerome F. D., Interpretation: Joshua (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2003)
Creach, Jerome F. D., The Old Testament Library: Joshua, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2003 )
Harris, J. Gordon, in Harris, J. Gordon, Brown, Cheryl A., and Moore, Michael S., New International Biblical Commentary: Joshua, Judges, Ruth (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2000)
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Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M.,Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
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Copyright 2009, Richard Niell Donovan