Joshua 5:2-15

When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.

10 While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. 11 And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” 15 And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. [1]

Our modern culture values speed. The more quickly a thing can be done, the better. Modern technologies continue to develop at an exponential rate. Tasks that would have once taken a long time can now be accomplished in seconds. Trying to keep up while living in a rapidly-moving, constantly changing society can be exhausting.

With Israel now safely across the raging Jordan river, rejoicing in God’s miraculous intervention for them, and with Jericho just a few miles in the distance, our modern instincts would be to push on as quickly as possible. The people are still enthusiastic and motivated, and the citizens of Jericho are panic stricken and demoralized. They should get straight on to the battle! But God slows the action down. He hits the pause button.

We have already seen that 5:1 serves as a bridge. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise, through Joshua, that “all the peoples of the earth” will know that God is “mighty” (4:24). 5:1 also has a forward perspective. The paralyzing fear experienced by their enemies seems to point to a relatively easy conquest of the land.

The Amorites were the tribal groups that inhabited the Hill Country with their fortress settlements, while the Canaanites were the traders who lived on the plains stretching down toward the Mediterranean coast. Whatever their locations or cultures, they had never encountered a God like YHWH, who could dry up a flooding river and then cause it to flow again. Surely this would be the ideal time to make a sudden strike. But not in God’s timing, because there are more important things for him to deal with first.[2]

The Pagan kings had no power against YHWH. They could be blown aside in a second and their fortresses reduced to rubble. So God is not concerned with the timing of the battle. His concern is for his own people, Israel, because they need to focus upon their trust and renewed obedience if they are to be rightly related to God, which is the prerequisite of victory.

From the beginning of this book we have been taught that God’s greatest concern is that his people faithfully observe all that he had commanded them through Moses, everything that is written in the Book of the Law (the Pentateuch). However, this generation of Israelites has one glaring disobedience issue that must be remedied before the action can continue.


One interesting thing about this section is that while the word “covenant” is not used in any of these verses, it is implicit everywhere. The glaring disobedience of this generation born after the exodus was their failure to be circumcised, to apply the outward seal of God’s covenant promises. This sign and seal of the covenant extends back to God’s instructions to Abraham in Genesis 17:10-14.

Although circumcision was practiced in Egypt and by other people groups in the region (Jeremiah 9:25, 26), the practice had a special significance for Israel. God had commanded it with the words, “this is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:10). Every male child was to be circumcised at 8 days of age as a non-negotiable requirement for membership in God’s covenant community. “So shall my covenant be in your flesh and everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:13).

But the generation condemned to wander the wilderness had ignored God’s command and failed to circumcise their sons. This is why God’s command to Joshua in verse 2 speaks about being circumcised “a second time.” The whole ordinance has to be renewed in a second giving of the covenant to the entire nation since, as verse 5 notes, “all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised.

…the sacrament of circumcision totally disabled the army for a time. We know the effects of circumcision from Genesis 34. Dinah, the sister of Simeon and Levi, had been violated by Shechem, the son of the Shechemite king. When the Shechemites wanted to make the matter right and eventually intermarry with the Israelites, the sons of Jacob insisted that every male of the Gentile city would have to be circumcised first. The Shechemites agreed to this demand, but it was only a ruse by Jacob’s sons. The text tells us that “three days later, while all of them were still in pain … Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male” (Gen. 34:25). The Shechemites had been incapacitated by the rite, but it was precisely this rite that Joshua inflicted on his own troops at God’s command.[3]

Human wisdom demanded an immediate attack while the pagans of the land were discouraged and before they could make any last-minute preparations. Instead, God called for a delay so that Israel could observe the two sacraments of circumcision and Passover. To God, it was far more important that the hearts of the people be right with him than that they gain a momentary military advantage.

Circumcision was the mark of the covenant. It signified membership in the covenant people of Israel, just as baptism signifies membership in the covenant community of the church today. It was a divine seal on those whom God had chosen as his people, and it was a human response to the promise God conveyed in electing his people.

The Passover, described in verses 10-12, was a meal of remembrance, just as the Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of remembrance for the Church of Jesus Christ today. At Gilgal, the people were called to remember God’s covenant in order that they might live as his people in the days that lay ahead. This is a lesson all of us need to learn. What we do is important. But what we are is more important still. It’s more important that God have our hearts and minds than our swords.

Israel’s deficient consecration and obedience to the instruction of God’s grace is nothing more than an unwillingness to receive the covenant promise that demands it. Primarily, circumcision signifies the gracious movement of God to man. Only derivatively does it signify the consecration of man to God. That is the primary truth underlying all the sacraments of scripture, including New Testament baptism. All sacraments testify primarily to God’s covenant loyalty to his people.

In these first nine verses, we see that fact clearly displayed in God’s gracious movement toward his people. They have already fought several successful battles has uncircumcised soldiers. The land for the 2 1/2 tribes east of the Jordan river has been thoroughly conquered and secured. They have crossed the Jordan only by a miracle of God. And yet all this time their works of covenant loyalty have been utterly deficient. They did not move toward God; God moved toward them. Having moved them into the land, God now grants them the faith to obey this sacramental obligation even though doing so will delay the coming battle and cause no small amount of physical discomfort.

So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. They named the place where the sacrament was practiced “the hill of the foreskins.” There were at least 1,000,000 uncircumcised men in Israel at the time of the sacramental observance. After this observance, we read in verse 9, “And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.’ And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.” We mentioned that the name Gilgal derives from the verb meaning “to roll away” (galal). It took a bloody sacrament to roll away Israel’s shame.

There is an even more specific relevance of this right of covenant renewal for us as New Testament believers. In Colossians 2: 11-15, writing to a largely Gentile church as the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul affirms:

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. [4]

The physical sign of circumcision was always intended to lead to a circumcised heart marked by obedience to God’s Law. Now in the gospel the Law of God is written on the heart of the believer, and the power of the risen Christ transforms his people, liberating them from the downward spiral of their sin nature and empowering them to live in newness of life.

The implications of this are further noted in Philippians 3:3, where Paul tells his readers, “We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” Our confidence and glory are in the Lord Jesus Christ whom we worship by the indwelling Spirit. We know our sin and guilt extremely well, but we also know, by God’s grace, that every sin and shame and failure has been dealt with fully and finally in the cross of Christ.


Having renewed their covenant relationship, expressed by their obedience of circumcision, the Israelites are now able to keep the Passover (5:10). Exodus 12:6 informs us that the Passover lamb was to be slaughtered on the 14th day of the first month “at twilight,” and this is what the Israelites do at Gilgal.

This first Passover within the land is a unique celebration because the cycle is now complete. God, who brought them up out of Egypt through the blood of the Passover lamb, has brought them into the land just as he promised. Because they are a circumcised people, the way is open for them to truly keep the feast.

Versus 11 and 12 show another great blessing of the covenant as the people eat the fruit of the land for the very first time. On that same day, the manna, which had sustained them in the desert for so long, ceased. This indicated that the days of their wilderness wanderings were truly over. The reference in verse 11 to “unleavened cakes” likely indicates they were celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which began on the 15th day of the month and lasted for seven days (Leviticus 23:6).

That tells us a couple of interesting things. Not only did the Israelite men undergo circumcision and wait two weeks to celebrate Passover, but they also waited a third week to celebrate another feast. That means God delayed their attack on Jericho by at least three weeks. The second thing we note is that the people were eating the food of the land. That is food they did not grow themselves. They took it from the pagans on faith, believing God’s promise that he had given them the entire land (and, no doubt, they were really tired of manna!).

This was a momentous occasion for this generation who had been so dependent on the manna for such a long time. The author does not want you to miss the point, so he tells us three times in these two verses that they ate of the produce of the land. God’s promise had been fulfilled.


The chapter ends with the last piece of the jigsaw of necessary preparations before the conquest can begin. Verses 13-15 summarize and the lessons we have been learning already, while revealing the secret of everything that is to follow in the next few chapters. Joshua receives a personal interview with the covenant Lord, to prepare his servant for the challenges to follow. The focus shifts from Gilgal to Jericho and from the nation to one man.

Joshua must certainly have felt the great weight of responsibility he was facing. He could look back with thanksgiving to the river crossing and be encouraged and strengthened by Passover and the news the spies had brought back from inside Jericho (2:24). But still Jericho stands before him unconquered. The text suggests that Joshua has gone on a reconnaissance mission to see the walled city for himself and plan his strategy.

But as he studies the fortifications from a distance he encounters “a man… standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand” (5:13). This warrior is ready for battle. But on whose side will he fight? Joshua asks (13b), “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” Joshua does not receive the answer for which he is looking because he has asked the wrong question. The figure answers, “14 And he said, ‘No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.’” He has not come to take sides but to take charge.

And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped” (5:14b). There is no doubt that this glorious figure is Jehovah, appearing in a preincarnate manifestation of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ. We know this is not a mere human being acting as a messenger from God. Any such person would have instantly repelled Joshua’s worship, just as Paul and Barnabas reacted with horror when men and women of Lystra wanted to worship them as Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:8-20). Additionally, Joshua is told to remove his sandals because he is standing on holy ground (just as Moses was told to do with the burning bush).

Similar Old Testament stories have prepared us for this moment in salvation history. In Genesis 3 God appeared to Adam and Eve and walked with them in the garden. Genesis 18 tells us that the Lord appeared to Abraham, ate with him, walked with him, and spoke to him face to face. In Genesis 32, we read about the man with whom Jacob wrestled all night and from whom Jacob sought divine blessing.

When Joshua asked what message the Lord had for him, we are to understand that this figure gave instructions for the ordering of the battle of Jericho, instructions carried out in the next chapter, even though that is not said explicitly. This divine person assumed command of the armies of Israel from that moment forward and throughout the entire seven-year campaign in Canaan.

But the pre–incarnate Christ was also the commander of the army (or hosts) of the Lord, referring to armies of angels. So we are probably right to think of the pre-incarnate Christ as the commander of this greater army, which is standing behind Israel and assisting in her battles (Genesis 32:1-2; 2 Kings 6:15-17; Psalm 34:7; Matthew 26:53). It was the hosts of the Lord, rather than the armies of Israel, who demolished the walls of Jericho and permitted its overthrow.

Joshua reacts to the physical presence of YHWH with total submission to the authority and direction of the commander. Joshua has all the responsibilities of the human leader, but the heavenly warrior has come to direct the operations. He will dictate the strategy, and he is the one who will deliver Jericho into his people’s hands and give them the victory. We can imagine something of the joy, hope, and utter relief that Joshua experienced as he lay face down and worshipped. Only when he was prostrate before God, worshipping him, were the tactics for taking Jericho revealed to him.

What an encouragement to see, yet again, that God takes the initiative! Joshua went out to look at his problem and found himself meeting his God. Does it ever work that way for you? We look at our problems to think through them and express our needs to God in prayer, and suddenly there is fresh light. We see the issues more clearly. The scriptures come alive in a new way. We are surprised by something we have not been aware of before and suddenly realize that God is with us in the complexity and confusion, calling on us to fall at his feet and find new assurance as we commit all our unknowns into his hands.

At what he knows to be your precise moment of need, the Lord reveals himself as the one who walks with you in the darkness. He is the commander, the supreme strategist, and immediately the whole emphasis of our situation changes. Our burdens are no longer carried by us alone. The question is not whether the Lord is on our side or not, but whether we are submitted to his sovereign rule and absolute authority because he is the Lord of all the earth and heaven to whom all power belongs.

The essential preparation for the fall of Jericho was that the earthly leader fell flat on his face before God. That is the prerequisite for God’s plans to be unveiled and God’s purpose to be activated. And the same is true for us today both as a congregation and its individual members. When we live in submission to God’s will, revealed in his Word, he will lift us up and lead us on. We must be much more concerned about his priorities than about our planning, our arranging of strategies, our natural desire to do our own things and have our own way.

Our own efforts may not even be needed. What is needed is for God’s people to recognize the Commander of the Lord’s army, worship him in his holiness and glory, and put us unreservedly at his disposal. That is what changes things. Then we will not think primarily about our church, our work, our service, our plans, and our demands, becoming introverted and problem-oriented.

Instead, we will see that absolutely everything is in the Commander’s hands (including everything in our little lives) and that the greatest wonder of all is that he chooses to take up and use a lump of unpromising clay like you and me.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29           He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. [5]



[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jos 5:8–15.

[2] Jackman, David. Joshua (Preaching the Word) (p. 78). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[3] James Montgomery Boice, Joshua (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 41.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 2:11–15.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 40:27–31.