This chapter brings before us three outstanding subjects, all of which are of great importance in connection with our taking possession of the inheritance which God has given us in Christ. These may be indicated by three suggestive terms: Sharp Knives, Old Corn, and The Captain of Jehovah’s Host.
The first of these topics comes before us in verses 1 to 9:
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. At that time the Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. And Joshua made him sharp knives, and circumcised the children of Israel at the hill of the foreskins. 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. 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. 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 show them the land, which the Lord sware unto their fathers that He would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey. 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. 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. And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of place is called Gilgal unto this day.
Israel had crossed the Jordan. They were now encamped between the river and the city of Jericho, whose high walls loomed before them. At the command of Joshua they were to go up against not only this city, but all the cities and nations that occupied the land of Canaan. In the strength of Jehovah, as they relied upon Him, they would be able to overcome these mighty foes—foes which speak to us of those wicked spirits in heavenly places who would seek to keep us from our enjoyment of our privileges in Christ.
But before attacking the enemy God called upon His people to use sharp knives upon their own flesh. The sharp knife speaks of self-judgment. Before a believer is fit to enter into combat with his spiritual enemies he needs to use this knife of self-judgment, which is the Word of God, in living power upon his own heart and life.
The rite of circumcision of old was designed by God to mark off His people from the nations around. It was a sign of separation, and it typified death to the flesh. The ancient rite is spoken of in Ephesians 2:11, as “Circumcision made by hands.” This, for the Christian, is no longer obligatory. It characterized Judaism and the Apostle Paul points out in the Epistle to the Galatians that everyone who goes back to that system, which God has now set aside, and depends upon the rite of circumcision to give him favor with God has fallen from grace; that is, he has left the high ground of salvation by grace alone and descended to the low level of attempted salvation by human merit. In place of the ancient sign, we read in Romans 2:29 of the circumcision which is of the heart; that is, the putting away from the heart of every impure and unclean lust, ambition, or tendency.
In the Epistle to the Colossians, believers are said to be circumcized with the circumcision of Christ; that is, His death upon the Cross is counted by God as their death, and this has put an end to their old relationship as men in the flesh doing their own will in opposition to the will of God. This is to be made practical by the use of the sharp knife of self-judgment.
In Colossians 3 we read: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornification, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry, for which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: in the which ye also walked sometime, when ye lived in them.” The sins mentioned here are all such as every right-minded person recognizes as vile and abominable. The child of God is to deal unsparingly with any tendency toward these things which he finds in himself. He is to recognize himself dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
But there are other sins which we are not inclined to think of as so obnoxious as those mentioned above and yet sins which are great hindrances to testimony for Christ. Of these we read in Colossians 3:8 to 11: “But now ye also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all and in all.” Many a servant of Christ has nullified his testimony by bad temper and a harsh attitude toward those who do not agree with him. This is as truly of the flesh as fornication or adultery, and against it one needs to use the sharp knife.
The reason Joshua was told to command the people of Israel to carry out the ordinance of circumcision at this time was because none of those born in the wilderness had been circumcised; therefore the reproach of Egypt was still upon them: they did not bear in their bodies the sign of separation unto God. But when His Word had been submitted to, the reproach of Egypt was rolled away. The camp where they were abiding at this time was then designated Gilgal, which means rolling and it speaks therefore of the place of self-judgment. They went forward afterward from this camp to battle and returned there when the conflict was over. So the soldier of Christ should ever encamp at the place of self-judgment and from there go forth in the power of the Spirit to meet his foes, returning thereto when the victory has been won; or if perchance he has met with defeat, going back to Gilgal to judge himself before God.
The second subject that comes before us is Old Corn, and of this we read in Joshua 5:10-12:
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. 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. 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.
It is most interesting to note the deep significance of three different kinds of food upon which the people of Israel fed. When they kept the passover, which speaks of Christ’s death for us upon the Cross, they ate the flesh of the lamb roast with fire. Like the priests in the sanctuary they ate “those things wherewith the atonement was made.” For us this speaks of feasting our souls upon the work of our blessed Lord on Calvary. This is expressed beautifully in a well known hymn:
To Calvary, Lord, in spirit now
Our weary souls repair,
To feast upon Thy dying love
And taste its sweetness there.
As we meditate upon what the Lord Jesus went through for us in that hour when the judgment of God fell upon Him in order that our sins might forever be put away, we are eating in spirit of the lamb roast with fire.
As Israel journeyed through the wilderness, which speaks of this present evil world, through which God’s people are now passing as strangers and pilgrims, the food that sustained them was the manna from heaven. This manna, as our blessed Lord shows us in John 6, was a type of Himself as the humbled One, who trod the path of faith in this world: our great example of devotion to the Father. He said, “Moses gave you not that bread from heaven. The bread of God is He that came down from heaven to give His life for the world.” As we dwell upon the lowly path of our Saviour through this scene, we are feeding upon the manna.
Note the place where the manna was found. Morning by morning it came from heaven to earth. It was not upon the high trees or on the mountains where the people would have to climb to obtain it; nor was it down in the deep ravines where they would have to descend and search for it. It lay all about them upon the ground, on the dew, which is a type of the Holy Spirit. The manna occupied so low a place that every Israelite, when he stepped out of his tent door in the morning, had to do one of two things: he either had to gather it or trample on it. And this is exactly the place which our Lord Jesus has taken in His infinite love and grace. We may well pause and ask ourselves the question: Are we trampling on His loving-kindness or have we received Him as our blessed, adorable Saviour?
The manna then was food for the wilderness, but when the people crossed over Jordan and entered into their inheritance, which speaks of our place as associated with the risen Christ in heaven, the manna ceased, and they began to feed upon the old corn of the land. Jesus said, long years afterward: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die it shall bear much fruit.” Christ Himself was the corn of wheat who fell into the ground in death; now He has come forth in resur- rection: the old corn of the land speaks of Him as the Risen One. Therefore we who have received Him by faith are bidden to set our affections on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. As we are occupied with Him in the heavenlies, we will receive new strength to enable us to appropriate and enjoy our present portion as a heavenly people.
The third topic is also of deep interest: The Captain of the Lord’s Host. Of this we read in verses 13 to 15:
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? 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, and said unto him, What saith my Lord unto His servant? 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.
Joshua had evidently gone out to reconnoiter. He was looking upon Jericho, doubtless considering what might be the best method of attacking it in order to insure the capture of that walled city; but he was to learn that it was not for him to direct the armies of Israel except as the Lord Himself gave instruction. Suddenly he saw standing before him a man with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua, apparently without fear, immediately went over to him and asked the question: “Art thou for us or for our adversaries?” The answer was most instructive. This stranger warrior replied, “Nay but as captain of the host of Jehovah am I now come.” It was the angel of the covenant appearing in human form to take command of the armies of Israel. Joshua was to be subject to his control.
Recognizing immediately the supernatural character of this visitor, Joshua fell, we are told, on his face to the earth and worshiped, inquiring, “What saith my Lord unto His servant?” The answer was simple, but designed to impress Israel’s great chieftain with the sanctity of the Being who addressed him, “Loose thy shoe from off thy foot, for the place whereon thou standest is holy.” Instantly obeying, Joshua remained prostrate before this supernatural Captain. We are not told of anything further that passed between them, but it is evident that Joshua recognized in this theophany the blessed fact that Jehovah Himself had come to lead His people to victory. The Captain of the Lord’s host is, of course, none other than that Great Captain of our salvation: the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The angel of the covenant of the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New Testament, God manifest in flesh. May it be ours ever to yield glad subjection to His guidance and so as we follow Him and obey His Word, we shall be assured of victory over all our foes.
Back to Gilgal
Back to Gilgal, back to Gilgal,
Let me, O my spirit, go!
Where the stones of death lie buried
‘Neath the mighty Jordan’s How;
When the manna ceased from falling
On the resurrection day—
Back to where the shame of Egypt
From the host was rolled away.
Back to where the stones of witness
Silent by the river stand;
Where was ate the feast unleaven’d,
And the old corn of the land;
Where Jehovah’s ransomed army
For the Canaan conquest start;
Back to where death and resurrection
Meet the eye and fill the heart.
When, by strength of God, victorious
Thou dost bear the spoil away,
Back unto the camp of Gilgal
Hasten in that joyful day!
If, defeated in the conflict,
Thou dost flee before the foe,
Back to Gilgal, O my spirit—
In thy shame and sorrow go!
Till the land shall all be conquer’d,
And the palm thy hand shall bear—
Till the tent is pitched at Shiloh,
And Jehovah worshipped THERE-
Camp at Gilgal, start from Gilgal,
Back to Gilgal ever come!
Anchor by the ford of Jordan
Till all Canaan is thy home.