Joshua 5:5
Now all the people that came out were circumcised: but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised.
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Joshua 5:5. The people born in the wilderness — they had not circumcised — What occasioned this omission is not said, nor is it easy to determine whether it arose from negligence, or from God’s dispensing, for a time, with his ordinance, on account of the unsettledness of their state, and their frequent removes while they were in the wilderness, it being necessary for children, after they were circumcised, and thereby made sore, to rest some time. This latter reason has generally been acquiesced in by commentators. But some have not judged it satisfactory, because sometimes the Israelites continued a year in a place, (Numbers 9:22,) if not much longer; and in their removes, their little children, though sore, might have been kept so warm, and carried so easy, as to receive no damage; and might certainly have been much better accommodated than the mothers in travail, or in lying-in. They have therefore thought that God’s not expressly and particularly enjoining them (for it does not appear that he did so enjoin them) to circumcise their children while they were in the wilderness, was a continued token of his displeasure against them for their unbelief and murmuring, and a token that they should never have the benefit of that promise of Canaan, whereof circumcision was the seal, Genesis 17:8. But whatsoever the reason was, it seems this great ordinance was intermitted in Israel for almost forty years together; a plain indication that it was not of absolute necessity to men’s eternal salvation, nor to be of perpetual obligation, but should, in the fulness of time, be abolished, as now it was for a long time suspended.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.Of the whole nation those only were already circumcised at the time of the passage of the Jordan who had been under twenty years of age at the time of the complaining and consequent rejection at Kadesh (compare the marginal reference). These would have been circumcised before they left Egypt, and there would still survive of them more than a quarter of a million of thirty-eight years old and upward.

The statements of these verses are of a general kind. The "forty years" of Joshua 5:6 is a round number, and the statement in the latter part of Joshua 5:5 cannot be strictly accurate. For there must have been male children born in the wilderness during the first year after the Exodus, and these must have been circumcised before the celebration of the Passover at Sinai in the first month of the second year (compare Numbers 9:1-5, and Exodus 12:48). The statements of the verses are, however, sufficiently close to the facts for the purpose in hand; namely, to render a reason for the general circumcising which is here recorded.

The reason why circumcision was omitted in the wilderness, was that the sentence of Numbers 14:28 ff placed the whole nation for the time under a ban; and that the discontinuance of circumcision, and the consequent omission of the Passover, was a consequence and a token of that ban. The rejection was not, indeed, total, for the children of the complainers were to enter into the rest; nor final, for when the children had borne the punishment of the fathers' sins for the appointed years, and the complainers were dead, then it was to be removed, as now by Joshua. But for the time the covenant was abrogated, though God's purpose to restore it was from the first made known, and confirmed by the visible marks of His favor which He still vouchsafed to bestow during the wandering. The years of rejection were indeed exhausted before the death of Moses (compare Deuteronomy 2:14): but God would not call upon the people to renew their engagement to Him until He had first given them glorious proof of His will and power to fulfill His engagements to them. So He gave them the first fruits of the promised inheritance - the kingdoms of Sihon and Og; and through a miracle planted their feet on the very soil that still remained to be conquered; and then recalled them to His covenant. It is to be noted, too, that they were just about to go to war against foes mightier than themselves. Their only hope of success lay in the help of God. At such a crisis the need of full communion with God would be felt indeed; and the blessing and strength of it are accordingly granted.

The revival of the two great ordinances - circumcision and the Passover - after so long an intermission could not but awaken the zeal and invigorate the faith and fortitude of the people. Both as seals and as means of grace and God's good purpose toward them then, the general circumcision of the people, followed up by the solemn celebration of the Passover - the one formally restoring the covenant and reconciling them nationally to God, the other ratifying and confirming all that circumcision intended - were at this juncture most opportune.

4-7. this is the cause why Joshua did circumcise—The omission to circumcise the children born in the wilderness might have been owing to the incessant movements of the people; but it is most generally thought that the true cause was a temporary suspension of the covenant with the unbelieving race who, being rejected of the Lord, were doomed to perish in the wilderness, and whose children had to bear the iniquity of their fathers (Nu 14:33), though, as the latter were to be brought into the promised land, the covenant would be renewed with them. They; either their parents, or the rulers of Israel, whose omission hereof was not through neglect; for then God, who had ordered the neglecter of circumcision to be cut off, Genesis 17:14, would not have left so gross a fault unpunished; but by Divine permission and indulgence; partly because they were now in a journey, in which case the passover also might be neglected, Numbers 9:10,13, and in that journey the passover was but once observed; and partly because there was not so great a necessity of this note of circumcision to distinguish them from other nations, whilst they dwelt alone and unmixed in the wilderness, as there was afterwards. Now all the people that came out were circumcised,.... All that came out of Egypt, and males, were circumcised, whether under or above twenty years of age; for though it is possible all were circumcised before they came out of Egypt, which favours the opinion of Dr. Lightfoot, that they might be circumcised during the three nights' darkness of the Egyptians, when they could take no advantage of it, as Levi and Simeon did of the Shechemites; and which seems more probable than that it should be on the night they came out of Egypt, when many must have been unfit for travelling, and seems preferable to that of their being circumcised at Mount Sinai, which was a year after their coming out of Egypt:

but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way, as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised; the reasons of which neglect; See Gill on Joshua 5:2. The phrase, "by the way", seems to point at the true reason of it, at least to countenance the reason there given, which was on account of their journey; that is, their stay at any place being uncertain and precarious; so the Jews say (z), because of the affliction or trouble of journeying, the Israelites did not circumcise their children. This is to be understood of all males only born in the wilderness, they only being the subjects of circumcision.

(z) Pirke Eliezer, ut supra. (c. 29.)

Now all the people that came out were circumcised: but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had {d} not circumcised.

(d) For they looked daily to move at the Lord's command, which they who were newly circumcised could not do without great danger.

Verse 5. - Now all the people that came out were circumcised. The Hebrew of this passage (which runs literally thus - "Now circumcised had they been, all the people who were going forth") is sufficient to refute the idea that there was a great circumcision of the people under Moses, on account of the neglect of the rite in Egypt. For, before the exodus, Moses was not in a position to perform any general act of this kind, as the history plainly shows, while after it such a rite could not have taken place, since the Hebrew הָיוּ denotes a state of things which was completed at the time spoken of, and therefore must here be rendered (as above) by the pluperfect. Them they had not circumcised. Here again the Hebrew is used of the perfected action, and is therefore rightly rendered by our version, giving the idea that the Israelites who were born in the wilderness had not been circumcised up to the point which our history has now reached. See also ver. 7, where the same construction is found. 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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