Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
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.5. At Gilgal
1. The terrified enemies (Joshua 5:1)
2. Circumcision commanded and executed (Joshua 5:2-9)
3. The Passover kept (Joshua 5:10)
4. The old corn of the land (Joshua 5:11-12)
5. The captain of Jehovah’s host (Joshua 5:13-15)
The events at Gilgal are of much interest. Jehovah had brought His people over Jordan. All His promises were kept. He had promised to deliver them out of Egypt and to bring them into the land of Canaan. All is now accomplished. The wilderness is behind them and they face the marvellous land with its riches and resources, the land flowing with milk and honey. The advance and the conquest is next in order. At the Red Sea their enemies were slain by the power of God, but now, after the power of God had brought them into the land, the real conflict begins.
Gilgal, the new ground gained and occupied by the people brought over Jordan, is the type of the resurrection-ground upon which our feet have been planted. That we are risen with Christ and seated in Him in the heavenly places must be constantly remembered, as Israel could never forget at Gilgal that they had been brought over Jordan into the land. The memorial stones served as a constant reminder.
But before they could advance a number of things took place. First we read of the fear which took hold on the kings of the Canaanites. Their hearts melted. They were the instruments of Satan under whose control they were; their fear denotes Satan’s fear. He knew the power of Jehovah, which had brought them into the land. The enemy is defeated by the death and resurrection of our Lord. Through death He has annulled him, who has the power of death, that is the devil. Being in Christ, risen with Christ and seated in Him in the heavenly places, we can look upon the enemy as conquered. Yet it is only in the Lord and in the power of His might that we are strong. Apart from Him we become the easy prey of our enemy. What an encouragement to Israel it must have been, when they learned, as no doubt they did, that the mighty enemies, who had inspired such terror to their fathers over thirty-eight years ago, were now trembling. Israel’s fear was gone, because God’s power was on their side. What confidence we should have when we remember that “we are translated from the power of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His love”! Victory is on our side. All we need to do is to put on the whole armour of God, to resist the devil and he will flee from us.
Circumcision is next commanded by Jehovah. “At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.” This command was carried out at once and the reproach of Egypt was rolled away. Therefore the place was called Gilgal, which means “rolling.” The circumcision was carried out on all the males, who were born in the wilderness (verses 5 and 7). The rite of such deep meaning had been neglected. No doubt they had plenty of excuses for that during the wilderness journey. No command was given to circumcise during the thirty-eight years’ wandering. It was suspended; it may have been a punishment for their unbelief But now all is changed. They are in the land. The Passover, the great memorial feast, was about to be kept. The uncircumcised could not eat the Passover. The reproach of Egypt, for as uncircumcised they were the same as in bondage in Egypt, in no covenant with Jehovah, is rolled away. The visible token of belonging to Jehovah was now borne by every male in the camp.
Joshua exhibited the courage of faith in circumcising the thousands of Israelites at that time. His action has been called “most unmilitary.” He put the vast majority of his fighting men into an unfit condition. What if these Canaanites should have fallen upon the settlers in their territory? May Joshua not have remembered the dastardly crime of the sons of Jacob? See Genesis 34:24-26. He knew no fear, his first concern was to yield obedience to God. They tarried for several weeks at Gilgal.
What are the typical lessons of all this? Circumcision stands for the carrying out of the sentence of death to the flesh. The death of Christ is for His people a circumcision. “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11). But this fact that we are dead to sin by the circumcision, the death of Christ must be carried out practically. The sharp knife has to be applied to the flesh and the things of the flesh. The members, which are on earth, must be mortified, which means, put into the place of death, where the death of Christ has put them. If it is not done the reproach of Egypt will rest upon His people and they are unfit to enjoy their heavenly possession, and unable to advance in the things of Christ.
Gilgal, therefore, stands for the judgment of self. This is the place of our strength and power. Israel had always to return to Gilgal; when they did not they were defeated. Defeat, failure in our walk, always drives us back to self-judgment and humiliation. Victory and blessing may keep us from it; and that is our real spiritual danger.
Passover is kept next. See Numbers 9 and our annotations there. What blessed memories must have come to them? They remembered that fearful night in Egypt and how Jehovah had passed over them, when He saw the blood of the lamb. Notice the difference between these two Passovers. The first they kept as guilty; they needed protection. But now they keep it as delivered and brought into the land. And we have a feast of remembrance likewise, the Lord’s table. “Do this in remembrance of Me.” It must be kept by us on resurrection-ground, realizing that we are dead with Christ and risen with Him; self-judgment is needed as well.
“The remembrance of the past is often an excellent preparation for the trials of the future, and as often it proves a remarkable support under them. It was the very nature of the Passover to look back to the past, and to recall God’s first great interposition on behalf of His people. It was a precious encouragement both to faith and hope. So also is our Christian Passover. It is a connecting link between the first and second comings of our Lord. The first coming lends support to faith, the second to hope. No exercise of soul can be more profitable than to go back to that memorable day when Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us. For then the price of redemption was paid in full, and the door of salvation flung wide open. Then the Son sealed His love by giving Himself for us. What blessing, whether for this life or the life to come, was not purchased by that transaction? Life may be dark and stormy, but hope foresees a bright tomorrow. “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Professor W.G. Blaikie).
Then the manna ceased and they ate the old corn of the land. Both foods are typical of Christ, the food God has given to His people. The manna is the type of Christ, on earth, in humiliation. The old corn is Christ in Glory. May we constantly feed on both.
Then Joshua meets before Jericho the man with the drawn sword. What a courageous man Joshua was! He meets the stranger alone. Most likely he had no sword, while the man had his sword drawn. He soon hears who the stranger is. It is the same One who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, to Abraham at Mamre, to Jacob at Peniel and to others afterward. It is Jehovah in visible form. These theophanies were surely not incarnations, yet they foreshadowed the incarnation of the Son of God. Here Jehovah who in the fulness of time became Man, appears as a man of war, as Captain of the host of the Lord. The host are Israel. And He is the Captain of our salvation.
The book of Joshua is the book of conflicts and conquests. The sword is freely used in carrying out the divine judgments upon the ungodly tenants of the land. Yet the first drawn sword, mentioned in the book, is in the hand of the Lord as He appeared unto Joshua. He fights for His people. He will yet execute the righteous judgments in the earth, It will be when He appears the second time.