Joshua 5:2
At that time the LORD said to Joshua, Make you sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.
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(2) Make thee sharp knives.—Authorities are divided between the rendering “sharp knives” and “knives of flint.” The first seems best supported, as far as the meaning of the words is concerned. The expression is “knives of tsurim.” The word tsûr does not seem anywhere to be connected with the material of the tool, but rather with the edge of it. Knives of keen edge is, therefore, the better translation. At the same time they may have been stone knives in this instance. The idea that they were so is supported by an addition in the LXX. to Joshua 24:30 : “They put with him (Joshua) into the tomb . . . the knives of stone with which he circumcised the children of Israel . . . and there they are to this day.” The ceremony being a kind of special consecration, it is not unlikely to have been performed with special instruments, which were not used before or after. Comp. Psalm 89:43, “Thou hast turned the tsûr (keen edge) of his sword;” 2Samuel 2:16, “Helkath Hazzurim”—i.e., the field of keen blades; Exodus 4:25, “Zipporah took a tzôr “; Ezekiel 3:9, “an adamant harder than tzôr.”

Joshua 5:2. At that time — Namely, the morning after the passage, on the eleventh day of the first month, as Archbishop Usher and others have very probably conjectured. On the thirteenth day they were sore of their wounds, on the fourteenth they recovered, and on the even of that day kept the passover. Make thee sharp knives — Or, knives of flints, as the original חרבות צרים, charboth tzurim, more properly signifies, and is translated by Maimonides. These stones might be found in abundance on the adjacent mountains; and it is likely, as Theodoret observes, that after a pilgrimage of forty years in the wilderness of Arabia, the Israelites might not be provided with knives of iron or steel, such as are now in use. But whatever kind of knives may be here meant, those who had them already were not hereby commanded to make others, but only to make them sharp. Again the second time — This does not mean that those very persons who had before been circumcised should be circumcised again, but that the rite or custom of circumcising, which had been disused in the wilderness for some years, should be again practised. That this is the sense, appears very evident from the following verses. If it be inquired, when the former time, here referred to, was? it may be answered, either in Egypt, when many of them, who, possibly through fear or favour of the Egyptians, had neglected this duty, were circumcised by the command of Moses; or at Sinai, when they received the passover, which no uncircumcised person might do.5:1-9 How dreadful is their case, who see the wrath of God advancing towards them, without being able to turn it aside, or escape it! Such will be the horrible situation of the wicked; nor can words express the anguish of their feelings, or the greatness of their terror. Oh that they would now take warning, and before it be too late, flee for refuge to lay hold upon that hope set before them in the gospel! God impressed these fears on the Canaanites, and dispirited them. This gave a short rest to the Israelites, and circumcision rolled away the reproach of Egypt. They were hereby owned to be the free-born children of God, having the seal of the covenant. When God glorifies himself in perfecting the salvation of his people, he not only silences all enemies, but rolls back their reproaches upon themselves.Make thee sharp knives - Render rather as marg., and compare marginal reference and note. Knives of flint or stone were in fact used for circumcision, and retained for that and other sacred purposes, even after iron had become in common use. The rendering of the margin is adopted by almost all ancient versions, by most commentators, and by the fathers generally, who naturally regarded circumcision performed by Joshua and by means of knives of stone or rock, as symbolic of the true circumcision performed by Christ, who is more than once spoken of as the Rock (compare 1 Corinthians 10:4; Romans 2:29; Colossians 2:11). See Joshua 21:42.

Circumcise again ... - i. e. make that which once was a circumcised people but is not so now, once more a circumcised people. (See Joshua 4:4-7.)

Jos 5:2-12. Circumcision Is Renewed.

2. At that time—on the encampment being made after the passage.

the Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives—Stone knives, collect and make them ready. Flints have been used in the early times of all people; and although the use of iron was known to the Hebrews in the days of Joshua, probably the want of a sufficient number of metallic implements dictated the employment of flints on this occasion (compare Ex 4:25).

circumcise again the children of Israel the second time—literally, "return and circumcise." The command did not require him to repeat the operation on those who had undergone it, but to resume the observance of the rite, which had been long discontinued. The language, however, evidently points to a general circumcising on some previous occasion, which, though unrecorded, must have been made before the celebration of the passover at Sinai (compare Ex 12:48; Nu 9:5), as a mixed multitude accompanied the camp. "The second time" of general circumcising was at the entrance into Canaan.

At that time; as soon as ever they were come to Gilgal, which was on the tenth day; and so this might be executed the next, or the eleventh day, and that in the morning: on the thirteenth day they were sore of their wounds, and on the fourteenth day they recovered, and at the even of that day kept the passover.

Make thee sharp knives; or, prepare, or make ready, as this word is sometimes used. As it was not necessary for those who had such knives already to make others for that use; so it is not probable that such were commanded to do so, but only to make them sharp and fit for that work. They are called in Hebrew knives of flints, not as if they were all necessarily to be made of flints, but because such were commonly used, especially in those parts, where there was but little iron; and because such knives were oft used in this work, as the Jewish doctors note, and in such like works, as the heathen writers relate. Thus we call that an ink-horn which is made of silver, because those utensils are commonly made of horn.

Circumcise again; he calleth this a second circumcision, not as if these same persons had been circumcised once before, either by Joshua, or by any other, for the contrary is affirmed below, Joshua 5:7; but with respect unto the body of the people, whereof one part had been circumcised before, and the other at this time, which is called a

second time, in relation to some former time wherein they were circumcised; either,

1. In Egypt, when many of the people, who possibly for fear or favour of the Egyptians had neglected this duty, were by the command of Moses (who had been awakened by the remembrance of his own neglect and danger thereupon) circumcised; which during the ten plagues, and the grievous confusion and consternation of the Egyptians, they might easily find opportunity to do. Or,

2. At Sinai, when they received the passover, Numbers 9:5, which no uncircumcised person might do, Exodus 12:48; and therefore it may not seem improbable, that all the children born in that first year after their coming out of Egypt, and all they who peradventure might come out of Egypt in their uncircumcision, were now circumcised.

Object. 1. All that came out of Egypt were circumcised, Joshua 5:5.

Answ. 1. This may be true, but he doth not say when and where they were circumcised; nor doth he deny that this was done to some of them, either in time of the plagues in Egypt, or at Sinai.

2. All is very oft used of the greatest part, as is confessed.

Object. 2. All the people that were born in the wilderness were not circumcised, Joshua 5:5.

Answ. 1. Understand this also of the greatest part.

2. This is limited to them that were born by the way, as it is said there, and emphatically repeated, Joshua 5:7, i.e. in their journeys and travellings; which insinuates the reason why they were not circumcised, because they were always uncertain of their stay in any place, and were constantly to be in a readiness for a removal when God took up the cloud: but this reason ceased at Sinai, where they knew they were to abide for a considerable time; and seeing they took that opportunity for the celebration of the passover, it is likely they would improve it also to the circumcision of their children or others, which they ought to prize highly, and to embrace all occasions offered for it; which though the people might, it is not likely that biases would neglect.

Object. 3. They are said to have remained uncircumcised forty whole years in the wilderness, Joshua 5:6.

Answ. i.e. For almost forty years; as the same phrase is used Numbers 14:33,34 32:13, when there was above one year of that number past and gone. Or,

3. In Abraham; and so the sense may be, The first circumcision conferred upon Abraham, and continued in his posterity, hath been for many years neglected or omitted; and so that great and solemn pledge of my covenant with you is in a manner wholly lost, and therefore it is but fit and necessary to have this long-interrupted practice of circumcision revived, and to have Abraham’s posterity circumcised a second time for the renewing of the covenant between them and me again. At that time the Lord said unto Joshua,.... When the people had passed over Jordan, and had pitched in Gilgal, and Joshua had set up the stones there; and particularly when the dread of them had seized the inhabitants of Canaan, and deprived them of all their courage; and so was a fit time for the execution of what is next ordered, and seems designed in the providence of God among other things particularly for that:

make them sharp knives; not that Joshua was to make them himself, but to order them to be made; for a considerable number would be wanted for the use to be made of them: the Targum calls them sharp razors; and Ben Gersom says they were made of brass, more likely of iron or steel, which perhaps he means; but the Hebrew text is, "knives of rocks", "flints" or "stones"; and so Maimonides (p) interprets the words, and as they are rendered in various versions (q); with such an instrument Zipporah circumcised her son; and like them were the "samia testa" (r), with which the priests of the mother of the gods were castrated; and the "saxum acutum" of Ovid (s); and such the Americans used in slaying beasts, and the Egyptians (t) in the dissecting of their dead bodies; and which the Talmudists allow of as lawful; and in the east the Jews to this day use knives of stone in circumcision (u); See Gill on Exodus 4:25.

and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time; not that circumcision was to be repeated on them that had been circumcised already, who had found out ways and means to draw over the foreskin again, as some in later times did; or who had been imperfectly circumcised according to the rite enjoined by Abraham, which some Jewish writers say was not perfect; neither of which was the case. Kimchi, and so Ben Melech, interpret the word, "oftentimes", frequently, one time after another; as if the sense was, Joshua was to circumcise them, or take care they were circumcised, some at one time, and some at another, until the whole was finished; but this is not what is meant, it refers to a former general circumcision; not to the circumcision, as first administered in Abraham's time, for there had been a multitude of instances of it since that time; but to the circumcision of the Israelites at, about, or quickly after their coming out of Egypt; either before their eating of their first passover, the night they went out of Egypt, as Jarchi (w); or rather some time in the three days' darkness of the Egyptians, as Dr. Lightfoot (x) thinks; or else when they were about Sinai, just before the celebration of the passover there, Numbers 9:1; from which time it had been neglected; not cause unnecessary, while they were in the wilderness, to distinguish them from others, which was not the principal, at least not the only use of it; nor because forbidden the Israelites for their disobedience, murmurings, and rebellion, it not being probable that God should prohibit the observance of a command of his on that account; nor so much through criminal neglect, at least contempt of it, as because of their frequent journeying, and the inconvenience of performing it, being always uncertain, when they had pitched their tents, how long they should stay, and when they should remove, since this depended upon the taking up of the cloud; wherefore, unless they could have been sure of a continuance for a proper time, it was not safe to administer it; and now it was enjoined, partly because they were about to celebrate the passover, which required circumcision in all that partook of it, Exodus 12:43; and partly because they had now entered into the land of Canaan, which was given them in the covenant of circumcision, Genesis 17:8; wherefore it became them now to observe it, and as typical of spiritual circumcision, necessary to the heavenly Canaan, as well as to distinguish them from the uncircumcised Canaanites they were coming among; and they did not think themselves under obligation to observe it till they came to settle in that land, as some think, who hereby account for their long neglect of it.

(p) Moreh Nevochim, par. 1. c. 16. (q) , Sept. "cultros lapideos", V. L. "cultros petrarum", Munster, Montanus, Piscator. (r) Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 35. c. 12. Arnob. adv. Gentes, l. 5. p. 189. (s) Fast. l. 4. ver. 237. (t) Herod. Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 86. (u) Vid. Pfeiffer. Dubia Vexata, cent. 2. loc. 46. (w) So in Pirke Eliezer, c. 29. (x) Works, vol. 1. p. 40.

At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, {b} and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.

(b) For now they had left it off, about 40 years.

2. Make thee sharp knives] Or, as in margin, knives of flint. “Stonen knyues,” Wyclif. In Exodus 4:25 we read that Zipporah, the wife of Moses, took a “sharp stone,” or “knife of flint,” and circumcised her son. Joshua followed the custom of antiquity on this occasion, for they had no other knives with them. Herodotus, 11. 86, mentions “stone knives” as used by the Egyptian embalmers, and with such the priests of Cybele mutilated themselves. A representation of the Egyptian flint knife from the Museum at Berlin is given in Smith’s Biblical Dictionary.

and circumcise] For forty years in the wilderness the nation had been under judgment, and those born there had not received the covenant mark of circumcision. To renew that rite in their case was the first necessity, that Israel might be restored to its full position as the Covenant-people of God.

the second time] All, it is to be remembered, who, having come out from Egypt, were at the time of the sentence at Kadesh under twenty years old (Numbers 14:29), i.e. all at Gilgal, who were 38 years old and upwards, had been circumcised. The rite, therefore, now applies only to the residue.Verse 2. - At that time. Ver. I is introduced in order to explain why Joshua ventured upon the circumcision of the children of Israel at so critical a period. Nothing could more clearly evince the spirit of confidence in Jehovah which animated not only Joshua, but all the children of Israel. We read of no murmurings, although it was well known that the performance of the rite of circumcision would unfit the Israelites for active service for some days. We may imagine, and even the silence of the sacred historian may be deemed eloquent on the point, that the marvellous passage of the Jordan had inspired the Israelites with an eager desire to renew their covenant with the God who "had done so great things for them already." And although, for religious reasons, they remained inactive for four or five days, a course of action from a military point of view highly injudicious, yet such was the terror the passage of the Jordan had struck into the hearts of the Phoenicians that no attack on them was attempted, and the inhabitants of Jericho (Joshua 6:1) remained under the protection of their strong walls. Sharp knives, or knives of stone (צוּר; cf. צֹר Exodus 4:25). The LXX., Vulgate, Syriac, and Arabic versions, as well as the margins of our Bibles, render thus. On the other hand, several of the Rabbis give the same translation as the text of our version. The LXX. translator, following no doubt an ancient tradition, adds after Joshua 24:30, that these knives were buried with Joshua (see note there). The idea which has found great favour lately of a "stone age," as anterior to an "iron age," of the world, will hardly derive support from this passage. That the use of stone preceded the use of iron scarcely admits of a doubt. But from Genesis 4:22 we learn that the use of iron had been known hundreds of years before Joshua, and yet we find him using stone knives. And we may go further. In spite of the advance of civilisation in our own day, there are still millions of human beings who have not advanced beyond the "stone age." The idea, then, of an age in which the universal use of iron has supplanted the universal use of stone is an idea which facts compel us to reject, while admitting that the use of stone must have preceded the use of iron in the infancy of the human race. In these "knives of flint," Origen, Theodoret, and others see an allusion to Christ, the rock. The second time. For "circumcise again the children of Israel the second time," the literal translation is, "return (שׁוּב) to circumcise," or, "return, circumcise" them the second time. This has perplexed the commentators and translators. It has been assumed that the text involves the idea of a former general circumcision of the people, and various are the expedients which have been resorted to in order to avoid the difficulty. Some copies of the LXX. would read שֵׁב for שׁוּב (or יְשֵׁב for וְשׁוּב Rosenmuller), and translate "sit down" i.e., halt), "and circumcise" The Vulgate leaves out the word altogether. The Syriac translates literally. The Arabic reads "tomorrow" for "again." The Rabbi Solomon Jarchi falls back on the expedient of a general circumcision ordered by Moses on the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt, on account of their neglect of that rite while they sojourned there, "Nam jam antea magna multitudo simul erat circumcisa illa nocte qua egrediebantur ex AEgypto." But this is rendered highly improbable by the fact that circumcision was an Egyptian as well as a Hebrew custom, and still more so by the improbability that such an important circumstance should have been passed over in silence. Knobel regards Abraham's circumcision with that of his household as the first time (Genesis 17:23). Perhaps the best explanation is that the word שׁוּב, though it is rightly translated "again" here, and in several other places in Scripture, carries with it the idea of a return into a former condition (kehre zuruck, Knobel). So Genesis 26:18; Genesis 30:31, Hosea 2:11 (Hosea 2:9, in our version). In 2 Kings 1:11, 13 we have the king's return to his former purpose in the second and third mission to Elijah. Thus here the word is used of the bringing back the children of Israel to their former state, that of a people who were in the enjoyment of a visible sign and seal (Romans 4:11) of their being God's covenant people. The meaning therefore would seem to be, "Restore the children of Israel a second time to the position they formerly held, as visibly bound to me, and placed under my protection, by the rite of circumcision." "The person must be in favour ere the work can hope to prosper; his predecessor Moses had like to have been slain for neglect of this sacrament, when he went to call the people out of Egypt; he justly fears his own safety, if now he omit it, when they are brought into Canaan" (Bp. Hall). There Joshua set up the twelve stones, which they had taken over with them out of the Jordan, and explained to the people at the same time the importance of this memorial to their descendants (Joshua 4:21, Joshua 4:22), and the design of the miracle which had been wrought by God (Joshua 4:24). On Joshua 4:21, Joshua 4:22, see Joshua 4:6, Joshua 4:7. אשׁר (Joshua 4:23), quod, as (see Deuteronomy 2:22). The miracle itself, like the similar one at the Dead Sea, had a double intention, viz., to reveal to the Canaanites the omnipotence of the God of Israel, the strong hand of the Lord (compare Exodus 14:4, Exodus 14:18, with Joshua 6:6; and for the expression "the hand of the Lord is mighty," see Exodus 3:19; Exodus 6:1, etc.), and to serve as an impulse to the Israelites to fear the Lord their God always (see at Exodus 14:31).
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