Sermons from Lone Rock Bible Church
Stevensville, MT
September 7, 2003

Memorials That Move
Joshua 5:1-12

Before the people of Israel faced their first military challenge at Jericho, the Lord reestablished them as His special people by refreshing their memories and pointing them forward. He used a variety of "living" memorials, which were:

1. Ongoing (Joshua 5:1)
2. Only Once (Joshua 5:2-8)
3. On Occasion (Joshua 5:9-12)

Joshua 5 is all about spiritual preparation because the people of God are now across the Jordan River, and facing them there on the west side of the Jordan is their first serious challenge in the Promised Land: the city of Jericho. They aren’t yet quite ready to take that on.

Joshua 5 -- Israel Is Circumcised

1 Now it came about when all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they had crossed, that their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer, because of the sons of Israel. 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 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. 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. 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.

A lady I know recently went in for open-heart surgery. She went in very, very fearful. In the days prior to her surgery, her words were, "I don’t even dare to sleep at night; I’m afraid I won’t wake up." She went in for quadruple bypass. I’ve known others who have gone into serious surgery with peace and even with joy, saturated with trust in a sovereign and loving God.

What’s the difference? One knows Him, the other doesn’t know Him, or doesn’t know Him very well. Very frequently, fear and apprehension that can paralyze us, and even make matters worse, is the order of the day. Life really is a series of challenges. It doesn’t have to be open-heart surgery; even little kids face challenges at tender ages, and we face them all of our lives. Whether it’s a new adventure in school or in the neighborhood, maybe moving to a new town, getting adjusted to a new situation, interviewing for a new job, taking a new class, graduating and moving on, or facing a health crisis, it’s just the nature of life, a series of challenges.

The Bible says here and elsewhere that if we are believers, if we know the God of heaven and if we understand that He is sovereign over our circumstances, that He goes before us, and that He makes and keeps His promises, then He is to be trusted. Now God doesn’t have a problem being trusted. God is God and there’s a not a fault nor a flaw to be found anywhere in His character. The problem lies with us. We are made of flesh. "He knows our frame" (Psalm 103:14); He’s mindful that we are but dust. That’s the problem.

We have these people, hoards of them, people of God, children of Israel, standing before what is a tremendous challenge to them, the city of Jericho, and they will face another challenge, and another, and another. They’ll face them nationally, and they’ll face them individually, before they’re settled in the Promised Land.

What is happening in these twelve verses of Joshua 5, is preparation for the children of Israel. They need to be prepared. It’s similar to what we talked about a week ago, having a memorial, a pile of rocks to call back to. What we have here is a bit of a different twist. This is like a maintenance memorial, an on-going issue, what we need perpetually in life.

The other evening we were out for a walk. I like to look at the road and see what I can find out on the gravel. Last night I picked up a cap off a U-joint and I thought, "By now, someone knows this is missing." You see, if maintenance is not accomplished, the challenge then presents itself.

Periodic maintenance isn’t a bad idea, and that’s what we’re dealing with here. I want to get into that from three different standpoints, which I’ve broken into three unequal sections.

Joshua 5:1 ---- Ongoing Maintenance

The first one just has to do with the first verse; I call it "Ongoing Maintenance". It is this: God’s people need to realize that He has gone before, that He has gone ahead of us, regardless of our circumstances, regardless of the problem as it is presented, regardless of anything; God has already gotten there.

I love the 10th chapter of Acts. It’s all about how God sets up two situations in order for them to supernaturally collide. He visits a Gentile centurion named Cornelius. Cornelius is a man of God, he’s been in prayer, and God says, "I’m going to answer your prayers. Send a couple of your servants to the house of Simon the tanner down the coast of Joppa, and they’ll find a man named Peter there." Cornelius sends these guys off to find Peter.

Meanwhile, God has Peter on a rooftop. There on the rooftop, Simon Peter has this vision of the sheets and the critters. "Arise, Peter, kill and eat." It’s basically a preparation. God is setting him up, telling him, "Don’t be afraid of the Gentiles when they show up. They’re coming; they’re almost here." He wakes up and there’s a knock at the door; the guys have arrived. It’s all perfectly coordinated because God is ahead of both of them, and that’s true for us.

A number of months ago we were having a discussion in our home. I was missing a particular book that I thought we could well benefit by, and I mentioned that I hadn’t seen the book for years. Two days later it arrived in the mail from a friend who had it for, I think, ten years. Isn’t it so that God is always a step ahead, or two, or more? He knows; He’s already there.

There was a mountain of theology presented by Jesus, probably landing on deaf ears, in the 8th chapter of John’s gospel, where He’s verbally boxing it out with the Pharisees, and they’re comparing Him to Abraham and their faith to Abraham’s faith, and He’s telling them, "You people don’t have a clue. Abraham rejoiced to see My day." They said, "How can that be?" Jesus then said, (John 8:58), "Before Abraham was, I Am [always]."

What’s introduced at this juncture is the eternality of God. When the children of Israel are standing there facing the city of Jericho, nothing has happened yet to Jericho, and yet, the fear of God has preceded the people, and the folks in Jericho are prepared. They are in utter dread. They’re scared, they’re desperate; it’s as though they’re in a plane they know is going down and their state of mind is anything but good. They are ready for what God is about to do to their detriment; to the benefit, however, of the children of Israel.

This is interesting to me -- we talk about ourselves being prepared for new experiences, and we need to be; the maintenance, the constant awareness that God is already ahead of us. That’s maintenance, step number one - He’s already there when we move into that new neighborhood, or when we take on that new job, or when we encounter that new experience. It strikes me that God not only prepares us for our new experiences, but He’s also working on the hearts of those with whom we will have to do. He’s ahead of us. He’s prepared even the obstacle for the event that is about to happen.

Joshua 5:2-8 --- Only Once

I want to move now to a very peculiar portion of Scripture and a peculiar doctrine in history, that takes up verses 2-8: this notion of circumcision. What basically is happening at this very juncture is that Joshua is told that all the males of Israel, who have not been circumcised, must now be. They had surgery en masse, and it took them a while. There was a healing up time, and then God said, "OK, let’s have a Passover celebration."

What’s happening is that God is confirming, or reaffirming, a covenant relationship, a promised, contract relationship with the children of Israel. It is not new. For the children of Israel, the notion of circumcision begins with Abraham in Genesis 17, but historians really aren’t sure exactly where the practice began, but it began long before Abraham, and Abraham was 2000 years before Jesus.

There are a number of theories as far as where this surgery came from. What sense did it make? Nobody really knows absolutely for sure, but here are a few possibilities. One is strictly a sanitary issue; strictly a cleanliness issue. Another is, some scholars of the ancient Near East say it’s kind of like tribal markings. In some cultures, tattoos would suffice. An individual then would be able to recognize another tribe in some sense by a tribal marking on the flesh; I suppose that’s a possibility.

Others have said that perhaps the surgery marks a rite of passage for a young man, the gateway to adulthood, as it were. Others suggested it has to do with a fertility rite. In the ancient world, reproduction was everything to survival for those folks, whether it was their flocks and herds, or whether it was their fields, or whether it was their families; procreation had to happen for them to survive, and they knew it. It was a big deal and they built whole religious systems around that issue. So in all likelihood, that’s probably where this originated as far as God’s use of it in the lives of His people are concerned. It had to do with fertility, and also it was combined with the notion of a blood covenant.

Blood was shed and a promise was struck, as it were. A deal was made and, in the mind of the ancient pagan, "OK, I’ve done this thing. I’ve ratified my commitment to this god (small "g"), and I’ve ratified it with blood; therefore he should bless me with fertility."

God spoke to Abraham very clearly. Now Abraham at this point, not only was a man of faith, but he also had trusted God completely with his heart, and soul, and life. God has revealed to him, "Abraham, from you I’m going to create a great nation and I’m going to pledge Myself to you; I’m going to promise Myself to you that I will always be with you, that I will always take care of you and that I will lead you into a land that I will give you."

Genesis 17:9

God said further to Abraham, "Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised."

An outward sign, and this is really the key, of membership in a contract with God. The Bible goes on to discuss how Abraham was circumcised at the tender age of 99. His son Ishmael, all his servants, everyone who was connected in any way with his household who was male, underwent the surgery as an outward sign that they were identifying themselves as God’s people. It doesn’t end there; it was just where the rite was originated for God’s people, and it reflected a promise of His Presence and a promise of His favor.

Scripture goes on to teach that with God’s people, the neglect of circumcision reflects God’s disfavor. Throughout the wanderings of the children of Israel in the wilderness for all those forty years, they were under the disfavor of God. They didn’t circumcise their men because they saw themselves as, in a sense, outside of God’s grace, at least His grace as far as that covenant was concerned, so it was overlooked.

There’s an interesting passage that underscores that in the book of Exodus 4. At first appearance it seems to be sort of a mysterious and out of place little episode. Here we have Moses, and he’s on his way to deliver the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. God has given him his orders, but he has not been among God’s people for years. He has not married of God’s people; he married a Midianite woman, so now business has to be taken care of.

Look at Exodus 4:24-26. Moses is headed to meet Aaron and they’re about to begin the whole process of the exodus:

Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him [Moses] and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah [Moses’ Midianite wife] took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, "You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me." So He let him alone. At that time she said, "You are a bridegroom of blood" -- because of the circumcision.

Then Moses proceeded on to meet with Aaron, and to begin dealing with the children of Israel and to get them out of the land. What’s going on here? Abraham predated Moses by 600 years. You cannot be God’s person in this economy without being circumcised. Moses has married a woman to whom circumcision was nothing, and we can understand by this little spat that it was an issue with them. Moses understood the significance of circumcision. Zipporah is saying, "What’s the point?" So God said, "We go no further. As a matter of fact, Moses, I can replace you if you don’t deal with the sign of the covenant here and now." So Zipporah said, "Ah, nuts," and took care of it herself.

"Bridegroom of blood" -- a tough mark of the covenant.

So, now we come to Joshua 5. Much of what Moses went through, Joshua did also. Here in Joshua 5, all that is going on, is that the covenant is reaffirmed. It’s a confirmation of Joshua’s taking Moses’ place, a reminder that God had gone nowhere, that He was still there and the contract was still in effect. The people were getting back to where God wanted them to be; the males are circumcised. They now are outwardly identified as the people of God. They are prepared to move forward. The point is, if you want security in the Lord as God’s people, if you want to know God is with you, be sure that the covenant is reaffirmed.

There is much security in a covenant, much security in a contract. Sometimes that’s all we have. "But we made a deal, we signed a paper," and sometimes that takes us even to a court of law in order to enforce the terms of a covenant, of a contract. And that’s exactly what’s going on here. This is an outward sign for the nation’s well being before God, and sometimes this gets confusing for God’s people because God dealt, in these chapters of the Bible, with Israel as a nation. Not everything that God dealt with as a nation transfers to the individual believer. This is a national issue here. These are God’s people so if they want as a nation to occupy the land that God has specifically set out for them, then this they must do.

The Bible writers, though, were fully aware that simply being circumcised, while it may identify a person with the nation of Israel, and while it may get that person across the Jordan and into the Promised Land and beyond Jericho, that doesn’t get a person to heaven. That’s why the prophets, Ezekiel and Jeremiah and Amos, would come back to the notion of circumcision of the heart being what God is really interested in. Where is your heart? Even a pagan who is physically uncircumcised, if his heart is circumcised, in other words, made right with God, then heaven awaits.

The Bible always brings us back to the heart issue. Heaven’s requirements, doesn’t enter in at this point, under this covenant. The requirement to get to heaven comes under what we call the New Covenant, and the New Covenant is introduced as a covenant of the heart and referred to as a circumcision of the heart. It’s on this side of the cross.

I want to introduce you to a passage of scripture in the book of Colossians, which I find to be a very interesting connection with where we are. In Colossians 2, there’s a transition that has occurred between the Old Testament economy and that of the New. Now we’re not dealing only with the ethnic Israelites, now we’re dealing with the nations of the world. We’ve moved beyond the outward sign of physical circumcision. The emphasis of the Scripture is on the disposition of the heart. In Colossians 2, beginning in verse 9, watch the transition that the apostle makes:

Colossians 2
9 For in Him
[Jesus] all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form,
10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;  11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;

A supernatural one. In Him you’ve had surgery, but not a physical surgery; a circumcision made without hands and the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ. What does he mean? He tells us in verse 12:

having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

This means, that as far as Jesus and the apostles and the early church and the Christian church are concerned, baptism -- and we’re talking now about water baptism by immersion -- takes the place of circumcision. In what sense? As an outward sign, an outward symbol, outward gesture of an inward desire of the heart and commitment to the Lord, basically the same thing that was enjoined upon the children of Israel in Joshua 5.

Circumcision now, according to the apostle Paul, is represented in the waters of baptism;

not going into the water of baptism in order to become a Christian, but going into the water to identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Saying, "If I’m in Him, and He lives forever, so do I." The outward sign for us today is baptism, according to the Scriptures.

Ongoing preparation, all the time, knowing that God is ahead of us. Only once ought we need to be baptized. The surgery that these gentlemen endured many years ago, was only one surgery. Beyond that, they are forever identified as sons of the children of Israel.

Joshua 5:9-12 --- Maintenance on Occasion

Our third point of emphasis has to do with "Maintenance on Occasion." Beginning in verse 9, we come to what I would call a living memorial, on occasion, a once in a while memorial. Look what happens, beginning in verse 9:

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. 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. 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…

The manna ceased at that time. No more manna on the ground. They’re now in the land. Here’s the living memorial, and this is what I mean by living memorial -- three reminders here of what God has done.

First, is in this notion of Gilgal. Now that you have crossed the river, now that you have renewed your identification as the covenant people of God, now that that’s done, the reproach of Egypt has rolled off of you. What does that mean? In Exodus 32, there are a couple of references for this. Here is the concern expressed by Moses in verse 12. This is right after the golden calf, and God is ready to wipe these people out.

Exodus 32:11-12

Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, "O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 "Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people.

Why? Because Your reputation with the Egyptians is at stake. In Numbers 14, that’s elaborated just a bit, making God look like Someone Who doesn’t keep His word. In Numbers 14:13, Moses is again pleading for the people after they decide they don’t want to go into Canaan. This is just before they took their 38 years around Mount Sinai.

13 But Moses said to the LORD, "Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, 14 and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 "Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, 16 'Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.'

They’ll say, "He didn’t keep His promises. He promised to take them out; He promised to get them through; He promised to get them into the land." Now if you slay them, Lord, what will that do? That will bring reproach upon Your name from Egypt!

But they come to Gilgal, they cross the river, they undergo circumcision and God says, "There, I did it. All that nonsense talk about Me not keeping My promise that would come from the Egyptians, is silenced because you’re here and we’ll call the place Gilgal, meaning, ‘A rolling away.’ I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you."

Secondly, we have the manna ceasing. They have years to remember God’s gracious provision of that staple food while they wandered in the wilderness. That’s gone now and they’re beginning, as He promised, to eat of the produce of the land.

They remember His gracious provision, but really, the centerpiece of these verses is the Passover. According to Scripture, the uncircumcised aren’t supposed to celebrate the Passover. That’s been taken care of and now they’re in the land, and annually they reinstitute their feast that does two things for them. It points them back to the way that God miraculously pulled them out of Egypt, rescued them, delivered them from Egypt, and it points them to the future, to the Messiah Who would one day for real, pay for their sins.

The Passover is really what this is all about, and the Passover is then their periodic exercise of maintenance, if you will, where regularly on the calendar they stop and look back and look forward.

I look at Luke chapter 22 and think, "What’s that for us?" Jesus tells us in Luke 22, beginning in verse 14, a passage with which we ought to be quite familiar:

13 And they departed and found everything just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover. 14 And when the hour had come He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. 15 And He said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." 17 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, "Take this and share it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes." 19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood."

Do you see what’s happened here? In one quick narrative story passage in Joshua, we see circumcision and we see Passover, and, as far as the New Testament addresses the issue, how readily we see circumcision for us is baptism; Passover for us is the Lord’s Supper. The point of both is the same. It’s to recall to us one time in baptism, and periodically, over time in the Lord’s Supper, to recall to us the reminder of what He has done, and to point us to the future, to what He’s yet going to do. It’s our maintenance schedule from God, and I think it’s wonderful!

We’ll have baptism today; in two Sunday’s we’ll celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It didn’t just begin here, though. It didn’t even just begin with Jesus and the apostles; it began long before, when God’s people first realized that they needed to focus on Him regularly to be maintained for the obstacles that would lie ahead.

Jim Carlson 2003, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA