After the announcement that there is no more courage among the enemies (verse 11Now it came about when all the kings of the Amorites who [were] beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who [were] by the sea, heard how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they had crossed, that their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the sons of Israel.), this is the ideal opportunity to attack. God determines, however, that this is the opportunity to circumcise the people (verse 22At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time.”). The task of circumcising the people means that the people become totally incapable of fighting. The people will be so powerless for a few days as a result of the circumcision that they will not be able to defend themselves against a possible attack (cf. Gen 34:24-2624All who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and to his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.25Now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male.26They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went forth.). But God never rushes. He knows what He does and arranges everything for the benefit of His people.
The conquest of the land begins with the lesson of Gilgal. In the circumcision they learn that there is no power in themselves. Spiritually applied this means that each of us must learn personally “that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom 7:18a18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good [is] not.). The people must return to Gilgal after every struggle to learn that lesson again and again as a starting point for the next struggle. The place of action is called “Gibeath-haaraloth”, that means “the Hill of the foreskins”. By this name, this hill will forever be linked to Gilgal as the place where the circumcision took place.
The circumcision must be carried out with “flint knives”. Flint is a material that is not manufactured by human hands. God makes it available. A knife is an instrument with which something is cut away in this case. The flint knife indicates God’s judgment on the sinful nature of man. God used “the knife” when He made Christ to be sin and thus judged sin in the flesh: “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God [did]: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and [as an offering] for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:33For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God [did]: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and [as an offering] for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,; cf. Zec 13:77“Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd,
And against the man, My Associate,”
Declares the LORD of hosts.
“Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered;
And I will turn My hand against the little ones.
We use the knife when we judge every expression of the flesh in us, that is to say, we do not give in to it and ignore it: “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to [literally: put to death the members which are upon the earth:] immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Col 3:55Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.). This means that we immediately judge every impulse of the flesh that wants to incite us to sin and think of what happened to us in the death of Christ, that we died with Him.
Gilgal has five characteristics:
1. There stands the memorial of the twelve stones from the Jordan: the memorial means that there is a constant memory of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
2. It is the place of circumcision: death must be applied to our flesh and its works.
3. The Pascha is being celebrated there in a totally new way. It is the first Passover in the land: when we remember the death of the Lord Jesus, we may think of all the blessings He has given us on the basis of His work.
4. In Gilgal God gives a completely new food after the circumcision, the fruit of the land: we may enjoy what has been given us in blessings.
5. In Gilgal we meet “the captain of the LORD’s hosts”: in the struggle we must fight to enjoy the blessings, He goes ahead of us. That’s why victory is certain.
Joshua is ordered to circumcise the people for the second time. The meaning of circumcision is found in the New Testament. The Old Testament does not give the doctrine, but the examples of how we can live our lives of faith and enjoy what we have received in Christ. The teaching of Paul’s letters makes clear what the significance of circumcision is for us. We mainly read about this in the letter to the Romans and in the letter to the Colossians. The letter to the Colossians brings the believer in the spiritual sense from Egypt into Canaan. In that letter we spiritually come to Gilgal.
The key verses can be found in Colossians 2. There we read that in Christ there is all fullness and that the believer has come to fullness in Him: “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority” (Col 2:9-109For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,10and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority,). This is the position of every believer from the moment he has come to conversion and faith. At that moment he was ‘circumcised’, that is to say, at the moment of his conversion and faith, the judgment that God carried out over Christ in his place and for his sins, that judgment has been attributed to him.
But after forty years, a new circumcision comes. Joshua is ordered to circumcise the Israelites “the second time”. That teaches us the following. You may know you are in a certain position, but that’s not the same as putting it into practice. Paul says to the Philippians: “We are the circumcision” (Phil 3:33for we are the [true] circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,). This shows that for us it is not an external circumcision, but an internal circumcision, a circumcision of the heart.
He says it in the letter to the Romans as follows: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Rom 2:28-2928For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.29But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.). This must be fulfilled by judging every working of the flesh that arises in us (Col 3:55Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.).
The circumcision is carried out to a new people. The whole old generation is perished (verse 66For the sons of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, [that is], the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished because they did not listen to the voice of the LORD, to whom the LORD had sworn that He would not let them see the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey.). A whole new generation, that of sons, has entered the land. God calls Israel “My son” (Exo 4:2222Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My firstborn.). It is a new generation of sons with new exercises. They are being circumcised. There is also an application to the future of the people, when the whole people receive a new heart within them (Deu 30:66“Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.; Eze 36:26-2726Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.27I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.).
When the people have been circumcised, the reproach of Egypt has been rolled away. The reproach of Egypt has been on them for the whole wilderness journey. Egypt is marked by wisdom. But worldly, human wisdom cannot help us to know how to live. This is the danger to which Colossians are exposed. They are sensitive to the wisdom that opposes Christ. That is a wisdom by which Christ is removed from the hearts. They are warned not to be prey to that false wisdom (Col 2:8a8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.).
Everything that is of the world must be turned away from us. There is talk of ‘rolling away’, as if it were a heavy weight that lies on us and that keeps us subject to the world. Taking away the things from the world can hurt if we cut them away, because they have become a part of us. It will take some time before we are recovered. The sooner we radically deal with sin, the shorter the recovery time will have to take.