Chapter 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, especially to those trained in military tactics, this chapter 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 ours. 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. They apparently knew the enemy was in disarray from the standpoint of their morale (5:1); so surely, it was time to strike. Many of the military leaders under Joshua’s command may have been thinking, “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 (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Looking at conditions from our perspective of deadlines, feeling the pressure to perform and accomplish things in order to please people and sometimes our own egos, we are too often in a hurry to ‘get the show on the road.’ But to be successful from God’s standpoint, certain things are essential if we are going to attack the various fortresses of life in His strength and according to His principles. Perhaps, a letter written by an Englishman during World War II illustrates the point:
As one man, the whole nation has handed over all its resources to the Government. We have invested the Cabinet with the right to conscript any of us for any task, to take our goods, our money, our all. Never have rich men set such little store by their wealth; never have we been so ready to lay down life itself, if only our cause may triumph.22
Before Israel was ready to face the enemy, they too needed a similar preparation of heart and willingness to submit to God’s directions that they might experience His power. To ensure victory, God took them through several events to instruct and prepare them for battle. Chapter five falls into five instructive sections, each one fundamental to victory. These include:
(1) A statement regarding the morale of the inhabitants of the land (5:1). 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).
(2) The renewal of the rite of circumcision (5:2-9). As a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, circumcision stood for Israel’s faith in God’s promises which included the possession of the land as their inheritance. It was an act of faith and spiritual preparation.
(3) The observance of the Passover (5:10). 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 the Red Sea crossing 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.
(4) Eating of the produce of the land with the ceasing of the manna (5:11-12). As just seen, 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. Deut. 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. May I repeat the principle: 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. Thus, eating of the produce was an act of confirmation of God’s abundant blessing.
(5) Joshua’s encounter with the Captain of the hosts of the Lord (5:13-15) becomes the last key event of preparation, which we shall look at later in this series.
Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until we had crossed over, their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites (NIV).
This first important statement in verse 2 shows the demoralized condition of the inhabitants of the land. They were, in essence, an already defeated foe. They were fearful of the nation of Israel because of the mighty works of God described in verse 1. However, this truth needs to be seen in light of the twofold purpose of 4:24, one for the nations, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty,” and the other for Israel, “so that you may fear the Lord your God.”
Before moving on to the renewal of circumcision, it would be well to reflect briefly on the statements of verse one regarding the morale of the inhabitants in view of the mighty works of God. There are some significant and instructive New Testament parallels here.
It is vital that God’s people recognize and understand that the Lord is not only mightier than all our enemies, whether the world, the flesh, or the devil, but He has defeated them for us in the person and work of Christ, the Victorious One. In John 16:33, Jesus encouraged His disciples with these words: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” Because Christ is truly the Overcomer, we too can be overcomers, indeed, we are super conquerors in Him. Our capacity, however, to overcome and tear down the fortresses raised up against the knowledge of God and their impact on us and others is always dependent on our new life in the Savior. For this reason, Paul prayed, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14, emphasis mine).
But being triumphant in Christ is not automatic. Overcoming through the Savior requires that we be rightly related to Him as well as focused and dependent on Him as the source of our daily walk, step by step. Our need is to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10f). For this reason, Israel not only needed to know they faced a defeated and demoralized foe, but they needed spiritual preparation. Thus, the Lord led them through a number of important experiences to spiritually fortify and prepare them to enter into the battle that lay before them.
2 At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time.” 3 So Joshua made himself flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. 4 And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, died in the wilderness along the way, after they came out of Egypt. 5 For all the people who came out were circumcised, but all the people who were born in the wilderness along the way as they came out of Egypt had not been circumcised. 6 For the sons of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, that is, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished because they did not listen to the voice of the LORD, to whom the LORD had sworn that He would not let them see the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 And their children whom He raised up in their place, Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them along the way. 8 Now it came about when they had finished circumcising all the nation, that they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. 9 Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.
In verse 2, the Lord instructs Joshua to circumcise the sons of Israel a second time. Obviously, “a second time” does not mean the men who had already been circumcised were to be circumcised again. Rather, as a nation this was the second time all the men were circumcised, the first being while the old generation was still in Egypt. During the time the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt they had not practiced circumcision, not until they were about to leave. Circumcision was an Egyptian practice with religious connotations, being reserved for the priests and upper-class citizens. Because of this, it would most likely have been prohibited as a practice for the Israelites. At any rate, every male who partook of the Passover in Egypt, native Israelite or stranger, was then circumcised (cf. Josh. 5:5 with Ex. 12:43-49). The comment concerning this circumcision in Exodus 12:50 is, “… then all the sons of Israel did so.”
But why the renewal of the rite of circumcision and especially at this time for it would certainly leave the men of war more vulnerable to attack because it totally disabled the men for a period of time. For an illustration of the effects of circumcision on adult men, compare the story in Genesis 34 regarding the Shechemites and the sons of Jacob. The Shechemite men, who wanted to intermarry with the Israelites women, agreed to be circumcised, but this was only a ruse to incapacitate them for battle. Genesis 34:25 reads, “Now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male.”
Man’s wisdom would have called for an immediate attack, but instead, God called for a delay for the purpose of spiritual preparation. Verses 4-9 explain the specific reasons:
(1) It was because none of the men born after they came out of the wilderness during the stay in the wilderness had been circumcised. They had failed to practice the right of circumcision while in the wilderness (vss. 4-7). This may have been a further evidence of a their disobedience and lack of faith and confidence in God’s covenant with the nation through Abraham. But more than anything else, because of what circumcision stood for, it was unfitting for them to practice circumcision in the wilderness as a judged people who would die there. Circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant promises to Abraham which included the possession of the land (cf. Gen. 17:8f). The old generation would never possess the land because of their unbelief.
(2) Circumcision, as a sign of the covenant, was the means of becoming identified with the covenant promises of God to Abraham and to his descendants, the nation of Israel. As such, it was to be a sign of faith in what God would do through and for His people. Undoubtedly, for this reason no male could legitimately partake of the Passover if he was uncircumcised (Ex. 12:43f). The Passover reminded Israel of their deliverance from Egypt, but it was a deliverance that had as its goal the possession of the land.
(3) The Lord acknowledged the completion of circumcision with the words, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you. So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day” (vs. 9). As previously seen, Gilgal means a circle and referred to the circle of stones placed at Gilgal when they were crossing the Jordan as a memorial of God’s deliverance. But as also pointed out, Gilgal comes from the Hebrew term, galal, “to roll, or roll away.” The word for a wheel (a circle which rolls as used in a chariot) comes from this word. So there is a play on words here for the sake of teaching an important truth.
But what was the reproach of Egypt? Based on Genesis 34:14, Unger thinks the “reproach was the shame and disgrace of uncircumcision.”23 But Ryrie, probably because of Exodus 32:12, believes it refers to “the taunts leveled by the Egyptians at the Israelites for their failure to gain their promised land.”24
A new significance was thus attached to the name Gilgal. First, Gilgal would stand for what God had done in rolling back the waters of Jordan that they might cross on dry land. But, second, it would also remind Israel of what they had done as an act of faith and obedience through the rite of circumcision. Circumcision symbolized their faith in what God would do to enable them to posses the land. Included in this was their separated commitment to Him and to His purposes for them as His people.25
It was these two things, the mighty works of God and their act of faith, that had rolled away the reproach of Egypt. At Gilgal the people were to remember God’s covenant promises and past deliverance in order that they might live as His people and possess their possession in the days that lay ahead.
In essence, then, God was saying at Gilgal that to be victorious against the enemies of the land, you must be a holy people and trust Me to fight your battles; you must trust in My covenant promises and be committed to me as My people, ever keeping in mind your purpose as a nations of priests, My own possession among all the peoples of the earth (Ex. 19:5-6).
10 While the sons of Israel camped at Gilgal, they observed the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the desert plains of Jericho.
With circumcision accomplished, the people were spiritually ready and qualified to observe the Passover. It is also significant that they crossed just in time to observe it on the fourteenth day of the month. Note God’s precise timing here.
This was only the third Passover the people had kept. The first was in Egypt (Ex. 12:1-28), the second was at Mt. Sinai just before they broke camp (Num. 9:1-5), and the third was here at Gilgal. But why the Passover? By partaking of the Passover, they were to relive their deliverance out of Egypt by the blood of the Lamb sprinkled on the doorposts and on the lintel of their houses in Egypt. Campbell writes:
As the lambs were slain they were assured that as the Red Sea crossing was followed by the destruction of the Egyptians, so the crossing of the Jordan would be followed by the defeat of the Canaanites. So remembering the past was an excellent preparation for the tests of the future.26
The Passover not only reminded them of their deliverance and redemption out of Egypt, but it looked forward to other victories—to the defeat of the Canaanites, but also to a victory accomplished in Jerusalem on Calvary. It naturally pointed to the cross where Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.
Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed (1 Cor. 5:7).
As circumcision has its parallel in baptism for the New Testament believer, so the Passover has its parallel in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper or Communion is that act of worship where we too are to remember the person and work of the Savior as the Lamb of God who died in our place, bearing our sin that we might have life and life abundantly.
There are some significant parallels between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper:
The Lord’s Supper
The Passover was a memorial of a physical deliverance from Egypt by the sacrifice of a lamb (Ex. 12:1f).
The Lord’s Supper is a memorial of a spiritual deliverance in Jerusalem through the sacrifice of the Lamb (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7).
The Passover was also an anticipation in shadows and types of a future fulfillment—the person and work of Christ in His first advent, which encompassed His birth, sinless life, and death on the Cross as the Lamb of God to redeem us from the clutches of sin.
The Lord’s Supper not only points to the fulfillment of those types, but it is to be kept also in anticipation of a future fulfillment, the second advent and kingdom of God on earth when the Lamb becomes the Lion.
The first Lord’s Supper was also the last Passover, at least biblically speaking, for it instituted the New Covenant of God’s relationship with men through the Cross and closed out the Old Covenant which consisted in types and shadows (cf. Heb. 8:6-13). As one studies the Passover and how it was to be observed according to Scripture, this becomes even more evident and significant when you consider how the Passover is celebrated today by the Jewish community. When Jews today celebrate the Passover they do not sacrifice a lamb. They have only a dry bone of a lamb. They have not celebrated the Passover by sacrificing a lamb for over nineteen hundred years. Why? In Exodus 12:14 God said to Israel, “you are to celebrate it (the Passover) as a permanent ordinance.” Why do Jews fail to obey this command?
First, the orthodox Jews say, “Leviticus 17:8, 9 forbids the Israelite from sacrificing outside the temple, the prescribed place for sacrifice. Consequently, since the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. and they still have no temple, we cannot carry out God’s command to kill a lamb for the Passover.” Jewish people are faced with a dilemma. On the one hand God demands that they kill a lamb as a permanent ordinance. On the other hand, God makes it impossible for Jews to do this very thing. Why?
Because Jesus Christ is the Lamb and the answer. Paul, himself, a Jew, but one who came to faith in Christ, tells us that “Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). Christ is the Passover Lamb and the fulfillment of the Old Testament Passover. Since His death, the observance of the Passover in the typical Jewish fashion is illegitimate. In place of the Passover we are to keep the Lord’s Supper, a memorial that the Lamb has come and will come again.
Let’s note Paul’s words 1 Corinthians 5:7-8: “Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” He did not say “let us keep the Passover” because it has been sacrificed for us once and for all. Instead, our responsibility lies with the feast of unleavened bread which speaks of purity of life. Thus Paul spoke figuratively saying, “let us keep the feast … with sincerity and truth.”
Application: As it was with Israel, so today the Lord wants Christians to dispossess their enemies. Our enemies are those things that stand against our fellowship with the Lord and our fruitfulness. We too must remember that our deliverance comes from one source—the work of God for us in Christ. But this is so hard for us to grasp regardless of what we know doctrinally because of our natural penchant to lean on our own strategies and effort to live our lives by our own means, even in spiritual matters.
Further, as Israel was to keep the Passover in remembrance of the past and with a hope for the future fulfillment of its shadows and types, so we are to keep the Lord’s Supper remembering not only the victory of the cross, but in anticipation of the return of Christ: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).
11 And on the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 And the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the sons of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate some of the yield of the land of Canaan during that year.
With verse eleven, our attention is focused on the fact they ate of the crops of the land on the very next day after celebrating the Passover. The text says, “And on the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate …” But why? The explanation that follows answers this question.
Again, 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. Deut. 8:8-9). It spoke of the their new beginning, of their new life as the people of God delivered from judgment and rock solid in the place of blessing. May I repeat the principle: 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.
23 “For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you. 24 And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever. 25 And it will come about when you enter the land which the Lord will give you, as He has promised, that you shall observe this rite (cf. Ex. 12:25, emphasis mine; see also Ex. 13:8-9).
As mentioned, the Passover had not been observed since Mount Sinai (Numbers 9) after which they broke camp and began their march toward the land. But at Kadesh-Barnea they rebelled and failed to believe God’s promises. They became a people under the judgment of God’s discipline; the old generation could no longer go into the land and so there were no Passover observances. But now the new generation had crossed over by faith in the power of God. Now that they are in the land and have celebrated the Passover in faith, they are able to appropriate the blessings of the land and taste of the goodness of the Lord.
Further, we should note they ate what is defined as “unleavened cakes and parched grain.” The Passover was to be followed by the feast of unleavened bread which lasted for seven days (Ex. 12:15). Leaven is a symbol of corruption and evil in Scripture. The unleavened bread spoke of Christ who is without sin, and eating the bread spoke of fellowship with the Lord following self-examination and confession of sin so there is no known sin in the life; only then can one properly feed and draw sustenance from the Savior’s life (cf. 1 Cor. 11:28f).
So, the nation ate of the produce, which was surely to be a demonstration of faith and a lesson from the Lord of the saving life of God through fellowship with Him.
After eating the produce of the land, our attention is immediately focused on the fact the manna ceased. There is an obvious connection here. But what is it?
For forty years, the children of Israel had eaten of the manna as God’s special supply for them in the wilderness, even after their acts of rebellion and unbelief and God’s refusal to allow them to enter the land. But they were still His people; they were the objects of His love, and because of that and for the sake of the younger generation who would cross over, the manna continued to be supplied.
But what was the manna? It was a supernatural gift for the desert journey, but it was not food for the land of promise. From now on, in keeping with their possession of their land, God would supply food through natural means, which is God’s normal means of supply. When we walk with the Lord, when we focus on Him and live obediently, we are able to appropriate and taste of His goodness. Miracles like the manna are exceptions to the rule, special provisions for special purposes. While the Lord is always able to work supernatural miracles at will, we should not expect them nor should we be disappointed or think something is wrong with our walk when we do not experience them.
Finally, we need to note that tasting of the blessings of the Promised Land was only a foretaste of what was to come. Experiencing our blessings in Christ should lead to a two-fold expectation: through fellowship and faith, there is always more for us to taste of the goodness and mercy of God in this life (1 Pet. 2:1-3), but this is only a taste of richer and more abundant blessings to experience in eternity as the people of God. How exactly is the Holy Spirit defined for us in the New Testament? He is called “the earnest of the Spirit.” His blessed indwelling is a promise of much more to come.
Thankfully, the Lord continues to love and care for us even when we are in the wilderness, but manna can’t compare to the abundance of fellowship with the Lord.
13 Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No, rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” 15 And the captain of the LORD’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
With everything apparently 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 out by the city of Jericho. What do you suppose he was doing there? He was surely about the Lord’s work gathering information about the city and its fortifications in preparation to launch his attack. Joshua was naturally concerned about several things. First of all, he needed a plan of action. Just how would they go about attacking Jericho, probably the best fortified city in Canaan. They had little or no experience for besieging a city like Jericho. Further, they undoubtedly lacked equipment such as 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.
Can we fault Joshua for being at Jericho and surveying the situation? Absolutely not. In fact, another great leader, Nehemiah, did the same when faced with the condition of the walls of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Joshua needed an encounter with the God whom he served that he might grasp afresh an important truth, one that was equally vital as part of his preparation for victory by the power of God. As all of God’s saints tend to get their eyes on the enormous task facing them at times, something was missing in Joshua’s perspective as he looked over the city of Jericho. Perhaps he simply needed to be reminded of some very important truth for both clarification and encouragement.
With Joshua’s mind engrossed in his concerns about the task before him and feeling the weight of the responsibility on his shoulders, he looks up and there stands a man with sword drawn. What kind of picture does this bring to mind and what does it mean? Standing with any weapon drawn is a military position of one who either stands guard defensively or stands ready to go against a foe offensively. Standing with sword drawn suggested he was there to fight either for or against Israel.
Verse 14 tells us this man came as the “captain of the hosts of the Lord,” the commander of the Lord’s army. Joshua’s response in verse 14b and the statement of the captain in verse 15 shows this was a theophany, or better, based on the truth of John 1:1-18, it was a Christophany, a manifestation of the preincarnate Christ, who, as the Logos, is the one who reveals God. If this was only a man or an angel, he would certainly have repelled Joshua’s worshipful response (vs. 14). Compare the response of Paul in Acts 14:8-20 to those who wanted to make them into gods and the response of the angel to John in Revelation 19:10.
Here then, the preincarnate Christ appears to Joshua to teach and reinforce certain vital truths for God’s people, especially for those in positions of leadership, which really includes all believers to some degree.
… and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” (vs. 13b).
This was a natural response to a man with his sword drawn and expressed Joshua’s concern as well as his courage. No one from the army of Israel should have been there for evidently no orders had been given for anyone to leave the camp. So who was this stranger who suddenly appeared out of nowhere? Surely, Joshua thought, “Since he is not one of us, could he be the enemy or perhaps someone who has come to help us?”
But in view of the answer given to Joshua, Joshua’s question reveals a typical mindset that poses a threat and a hindrance to our effectiveness in the service of the Savior. What then is that mindset? We tend to see the battles we face as our battles and the forces we face as forces marshaled against us and our individual causes, concerns, agendas, and even our theological beliefs or positions on doctrine. And in a sense, that is true, if we are truly standing in the cause of Christ. But there is another sense in which that is simply not true, and that is the issue here.
And he said, “No, rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD” (vs. 14a).
The answer comes in two parts. The first part of the answer is seen in a flat negation of either one of Joshua’s options. The first answer is simply a flat “neither.” Why didn’t he reply, “I am here for you and for Israel”? Instead, the man with his sword drawn said, “Neither; I am not here to take sides, yours or that of anyone else.”
The second part of the answer gives the reason. “And he said, ‘No, rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.’” In other words, “I am here, not to take sides, but to take over as Commander of the Lord’s Army.” This is vitally important and lays down two principles that are foundational for all of life and our warfare against the forces of the world and Satan. There is no question that the Lord was there with the armies of heaven to secure Jericho so God’s people could possess their inheritance (the Promised Land) and yet a certain perspective was vital for true success.
The first principle: It was not for Joshua to claim God’s allegiance for his cause no matter how right and holy it might be. Rather, the need was for Joshua to acknowledge God’s claim over him for God’s purposes. We tend to approach our battles and causes backwards; we turn things around and try to marshal God to support us rather than to submit and follow Him. Certainly, the battle was a joint venture, God and the people of Israel under Joshua’s leadership as appointed by the Lord (1:1-9), but Joshua, as with all of us in the army of the King, must be following the Lord, submitting to His authority, taking our orders from Him, and resting the battle in His hands because we realize it is really His battle as the Supreme Commander. There seems to be no question that Joshua understood this as evidenced by his question, “What has my Lord to say to his servant?” Here he was asking the Lord for orders and it was surely then that he received the directions for taking Jericho.
The second principle: As the One who had come to take charge, the Lord was also reminding Joshua (and us) of both God’s personal presence and His powerful provision, the provision of His vast hosts. The promise of God’s personal presence always carries with it the assurance of God’s personal care. Likewise, the promise of His powerful provision always carries with it the promise of His infinite supply and power no matter how impossible the problem may appear to us. So there was more, infinitely more, than Joshua’s army. There was Joshua and his army, but there was also the myriads of God’s angelic forces who always stand ready to do God’s bidding and to serve the saints. Three other passages can serve as helpful examples that we might grasp the issue here and its significance to our daily walk.
First, compare 2 Kings 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.” We then read that “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.
A second example is found for us in Matthew 26:53. With the disciples still reluctant and perplexed over the fact Christ must go to the cross, Peter drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest 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?”
A final example of God’s angelic army and their ministry to God’s people is seen in Hebrews 1:14, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” In this, we see the second reason for the commander’s description of himself as “the Captain of the Lord’s hosts.” He was assuring Joshua of God’s provision through His mighty angelic army.
… And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” (vs. 14b).
How we each need this response—the response of worship and submission. He quickly got the picture. Joshua had been thinking of a conflict between the Israelite and the Canaanite armies. Perhaps he had been thinking of this as his battle. Certainly he felt the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. But after being confronted by the divine Commander, he was reminded of a truth he heard Moses declare many years earlier when they stood on the banks of the Red Sea. There Moses said, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Ex. 14:14). Joshua learned afresh the truth that David would learn and declare when facing Goliath, “the battle is the Lord’s” (cf. 1 Sam. 17:47).
But that’s not all. As an outworking of his worship and submission, we see Joshua’s inquiry, the inquiry of a servant looking to his Commander for direction, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” Do you remember Paul’s response on the Damascus road, when he came to realize it was the glorified Lord who was speaking to him? He quickly answered, “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts. 22:10).
What a comfort and how encouraging to know that we never have to bear our burdens or face our enemies alone. Joshua was to know that the battles ahead and the entire conquest of Canaan was really God’s conflict. What is our part? We are soldiers in His army, His servants for whom He abundantly supplies the armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18).
While Dr. C. I. Scofield was pastor of the First Congregational Church of Dallas, there came a time when the burdens of the ministry seemed heavier than he could bear. All but crushed by the weight of the frustrations and problems of the work, he knelt one day in his office. In deep agony of spirit, he opened the Scriptures, looking for some message of comfort and strength. Led by the Spirit to the closing verses of Joshua 5, he saw at once that he was trying to carry the responsibilities alone. That day he turned his ministry over to the Lord, assured that it was His work and that He could accomplish it. In accepting God’s leadership, Dr. Scofield allied himself with God’s power.27
Surely, these verses drive home the truth of Christ’s preeminence and lordship. He is the head of the church, indeed, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
The passage also reminds us that God is not present to fight our battles or help in our causes or jump to our rescue when we get in trouble as though He were a genie in a bottle. Instead, it reminds us that the battle is His and that our role is that of soldier-servants: we are here to serve Him, to do His will, to follow Him and depend on Him completely.
And the captain of the LORD’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so (vs. 15).
In these last words of the Captain, there is a command, “Remove your sandals,” along with an explanation, “for the place where you are standing is holy.” Removing the sandals was a sign of a servant and a sign of respect and submission. The declaration of this place of encounter and revelation as “holy ground” calls attention to the special import of what Joshua had just learned and experienced. God is not only the Holy One in our redemption through the provision of the Suffering Savior, but He is the Holy One in our warfare through the Victorious Savior. We can only enter into the battle so that we experience God’s deliverance when we remove our sandals and submit to His authority and His presence and power.
Here we see that the warfare of the Christian is a holy calling, but also a divine undertaking accomplished in those who humble themselves under the mighty hand of God. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
In this chapter, Joshua had an encounter with the living Logos, the very revelation of God. It was an encounter that lifted a great burden from Joshua’s shoulders. The experience mentioned previously of Dr. Scofield illustrates the same truth through this very passage. May we see how much we each need to be in the Word with a listening ear so God can teach us the things we need to hear.
Joshua standing and perhaps walking about the city of Jericho studying what lay before him, weighed down with the burden of his responsibility is so very much like us today! We see the things we believe God has called us to do, but we are so prone to activity and running ahead more than we are to worship and praying for divine guidance. Our need is a lifestyle that sends us out into battle mindful of the Lord and who He is to our every move and mindful of those principles of His Word that must guide our every thought and step and fortify hearts with the comfort of God. May we, then, as we look over the battles or tasks that lie before us, look up and see the Commander of the Lord of Hosts and remove our sandals.
(1) In Acts 1:8, Stephen spoke of the covenant of circumcision given to Abraham. Circumcision, being rooted in the Abrahamic covenant, symbolized God’s contract which guaranteed the everlasting continuation of Abraham’s seed plus their everlasting possession of the land (Gen. 17:7-8).
(2) In this regard, Genesis 17:11 tells us circumcision is a “sign of the covenant” or symbol of that contract. It was to be an external sign of a inward spiritual reality. This meant it was to be done as a sign of faith in God’s covenant promises. Circumcision was to the Old Testament saint what water baptism is to the New Testament saint.
(3) The act of circumcision itself symbolized a complete separation from the sins of the flesh, sins like immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing (Gal. 5:19-21).
(4) The rite of circumcision was to be performed once, but what it signified was to be maintained daily. This emphasis finds its illustration in the experiences of Israel in connection with Gilgal because the nation often returned there during their military campaigns. It became a place of renewed commitment and consecration. According to the New Testament it signified: (a) the righteousness of faith (Rom. 4:9-12) and (b) the putting off of the body of the flesh by the work of Christ and the believer’s union in Him (Col. 2:11).
(5) Though a physical act, the spiritual nature of circumcision is clear from a number of Old Testament passages. In Deuteronomy 10:16, Moses challenged Israel, “Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more” (cf. also Deut. 30:6; Jer. 4:4). The nation, then, was to understand that circumcision was not simply a cutting of the flesh, but it was to include an inward work of faith which touched the heart and encompassed the whole life.
(6) In view of the prophecy of Deuteronomy 30:6 and the statement of Colossians 2:11, circumcision portrayed what God would do spiritually through the cross of Christ to deal with our sinful natures that we might, by walking in newness of life through faith in Christ, live victoriously over our fleshly appetites.