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Go to Bible: Joshua 5
“westward.” Or, “toward the Mediterranean Sea.”
“that their heart melted, nor was there spirit in them anymore.” Exodus 15:15-16 speaks of fear “falling” on the Canaanites, and them “being melted away.” The word “spirit” here refers to their attitude, courage, etc., and when God dried up the Jordan the Canaanites lost all their courage.(top)
“flint knives.” Freshly knapped flint knives are sharp as scalpels and sterile. They are perfectly suited for circumcision.
“knives.” The Hebrew word in the text of Joshua 5:2 and 5:3 is chereb (#02719 חֶרֶב), which is used over 400 times in the Old Testament and almost universally means a “sword” but does not mean a “knife.” The English Bibles almost all read “knives,” because knives were used for circumcision and also a sword cannot be made out of flint: the flint rock is not suitable for making a long blade and the weapon would be far too brittle to be used in battle. There are Hebrew words for “knife,” but God does not use them here, instead the text uses the word for “sword,” as some commentators point out (cp. David Howard, The New American Commentary). Although some lexicons give “knife” as a definition of the Hebrew word chereb, that is questionable because Joshua 5:2 and 5:3 are the only times chereb is translated “knife” in the Old Testament.
There is no doubt that the text uses the word “sword” on purpose. In telling Joshua to make “swords” and circumcise the Israelite men who had been born in the wilderness and who had never been circumcised, God was graphically pointing out and symbolically saying that we must make war on certain things that are lacking in our life—the enemy inside—before engaging the enemy outside and around us. God had said that an uncircumcised man was not in God’s covenant (Gen. 17:9-14; Exod. 12:43-49; Lev. 12:3). The Bible never says why Moses did not make sure that the male babies of Israel were circumcised on the eighth day after they were born as the Law said (Lev. 12:3), but Moses did not even circumcise his own boys; his wife Zipporah had to do it (Exod. 4:24-26). In any case, the men who were born during the forty years of wilderness wanderings were not circumcised, and so God let Joshua know that before he could fight the Canaanite enemy he had to deal with “the enemy in the camp,” which was Israel’s situation of not being in the Abrahamic Covenant. It is common to hear about the “wars of Joshua” and the 31 kings he defeated (Josh. 12:9-24) but it seems that from God’s perspective, the wars of Joshua included the “war” he fought among his own people to bring them into alignment with the Abrahamic Covenant.
God’s command to circumcise the men also took an act of trust on the part of Joshua and Israel. It takes some time to heal from circumcision, and it is very difficult to fight right after being circumcised. Jacob’s sons took advantage of that fact when they killed the men of Shechem (Gen. 34:13-25). From a military standpoint, it would have made a lot more sense to circumcise the men of Israel before they crossed the Jordan River than to cross the Jordan and then circumcise the men, because west of the Jordan they would be much more vulnerable to an attack from the Canaanites. By getting Israel to cross the Jordan and then circumcise the men, God was keeping up His demonstration that He was Israel’s key to victory, not their army or weapons.
“Yahweh said to Joshua.” Joshua 5:2-3 is another verse couplet that shows Joshua’s obedience to Yahweh (cp. Josh. 4:16-17).(top)
“So Joshua made.” The Hebrew text has the redundant pronoun, “Joshua made himself,” but that idiomatic Hebrew, if translated literally, makes the English unclear. The text is worded as if Joshua did all the work himself, but it is simply a way of expressing that Joshua was the leader and was overseeing the work. Here again in Joshua 5:2-3 we see the theme in Joshua of Joshua quickly and exactly obeying Yahweh (see commentary on Josh. 4:16).(top)
“the people...the males.” God clarifies “the people” as being the men, and “the people” continues in the next verse.(top)
“in the wilderness on the way as they came out of Egypt.” This phrase shows that from God’s perspective, the whole forty-year wandering was part of coming out of Egypt. It was never God’s intention that the Israelites would wander in the desert for forty years, so their wandering was part of their coming up out of Egypt.(top)
“perished.” This is the same word that is used in Joshua 5:8 for the people being “finished” circumcising, but that is almost impossible to bring out in English. Perhaps one could say that the men of war “were finished [dead] in the wilderness,” and then in 5:8 that the people were “finished” circumcising, but that may make Joshua 5:6 too unclear in English.
“perished, because they did not listen to the voice of Yahweh.” God tells people what to do to live a prosperous life and live forever, and people who do not listen to the voice of Yahweh bring about their own death. God says over and over to listen to His voice (cp. Jer. 11:7-8).
“honey.” It has recently been discovered that the ancients cultivated beekeeping.(top)
“their children whom he raised up.” God said He would bring the children into the Promised Land (Num. 14:31).
“in their place.” The word “place” is the same Hebrew word in Joshua 5:7 and 5:8. This is likely a double entendre, the figure of speech amphibologia (a word or phrase that has two meanings, both of which are true). In English, if someone is “in the place” of another person, they are there instead of them. However, in this case, while that is true, it is also true that the physical “place” that God had wanted Israel to occupy in the land was not being occupied by the men who came out of Egypt because they had died, but the “place” God prepared for them was now being occupied by the children of those men, which is clear in Joshua 5:8.(top)
“until they were living again.” The Hebrew is literally “until their living” [“their living again”]. Although it does refer to the men being healed, and most English versions have “healed” or a similar word, the Hebrew text is communicating more than that, because there are other words that specifically mean “healed” that God could have used here but did not. Although there is a sense in which a sick or hurt person was not really “living” in the full sense of the word, there is a greater truth here, because now, being circumcised, the men of Israel were back in the covenant of God and back being obedient to the Law, and were not “cut off” from life and the nation. Genesis 17:14 says, “The uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul will be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant.” Trent Butler (Word Biblical Commentary) correctly observes, “The new generation receives new life.”(top)
“reproach.” The Hebrew refers to reproach, scorn, mocking, taunt. Jacob and his descendants were the people of Yahweh, the creator of the heavens and earth, but they were slaves to the Egyptians, and this certainly was a cause of reproach, scorn, and mocking.
“Gilgal.” “Gilgal” means “rolled away.”(top)
“encamped at Gilgal.” The exact site of Gilgal has not been located, but given the size of the Israelite camp, “Gilgal” might have been properly the place where the Tent of Meeting and ark of God camped, with Israel camped around it as they did in the wilderness. Gilgal had not been a city, it was the place where Israel camped.
“on the 14th day of the month at evening.” The Hebrew day started at sunset, making this 40 years to the day of when the children of Israel ate the Passover and then left Egypt after midnight. (Exod. 12:29-37).(top)
“produce.” This is a rare word, used only here and in Joshua 5:12 of the “produce” of the land. The word is related to the word “cross over,” which is one of the major themes of Joshua 1-5. Now the Israelites are eating food that they did not plant because they crossed over the Jordan River.(top)
|Jos 5:12||- (top)|
“when Joshua was by Jericho.” The chronology is general; God does not tell us exactly when this happened.
“And Joshua went to him.” God had told Joshua not to fear, and Joshua shows no fear in this situation. Also, it must have been clear to Joshua that this “man” was not a Canaanite, but Joshua apparently did not recognize the dress or appearance.(top)
“Neither.” While confusing at first blush, the angel’s answer makes perfect sense. Joshua asked if he was “for us” or “for” the enemy. The correct answer is “Neither.” God is not “for us,” as if He was following our lead and our agenda. We must be “for Him.”
“worshiped.” In the biblical culture, showing respect or “worship” was done by an action, usually prostration or bowing low, and that action was itself considered worship. Here in Joshus 5:14, Joshua prostrates himself before the angel as an act of worship. Because prostrating oneself was the action that was considered worship, some English versions say “worship” (cp. KJV, ESV, CSB) and some say “bow,” “bow down,” or “bow low” (cp. NASB, NET). Commonly, the act of “bowing down” was to fall on one’s knees and then bow the upper body and face to the ground as the Muslims do in the mosques today, although in some cases a person would lie completely flat on the ground.
The problem with bringing the Hebrew into English is that the bowing down was itself representative of worship. But if the English version reads “worship” the reader misses the fact that the worship was in fact that act of bowing to the ground, but if the version reads, “bow down,” the reader misses the fact that the bowing was worship. This angel was a messenger and agent of God, but was not God. Also, the use of “lord,” here, adoni, (the specifically inflected Hebrew word, not the root word) shows that Joshua did not consider the one he was talking with to be God (see commentary on Psalm 110:1 for the meaning of adoni). [For more on shachah (“worship”) and that it is referring to prostration, bowing, or “worship,” see commentary on 1 Chron. 29:20. For more on the “worship” of superiors, see commentary on Matt. 2:2].(top)
“Take your sandals off of your feet.” This is harkening back to Exodus 3:5, when the angel said the same thing to Moses. Joshua is now standing in Moses’ place as the leader of Israel.
“And Joshua did so.” This short statement continues the theme of Joshua as the obedient servant of Yahweh. He obeyed what Yahweh said, and he obeyed what Yahweh’s messengers said (see commentary on Josh. 4:16).(top)