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B. Entrance into the land 3:1-5:12
The entrance into the land was an extremely important event in the life of Israel. The writer marked it off in three major movements. Each one begins with a command from God to Joshua (Joshua 3:7-8; Joshua 4:1-3; and Joshua 4:15-16), followed by the communication of the command to the people, and then its execution. The way the narrator told the story seems designed to impress on the reader that it was Yahweh who was bringing His people miraculously into the land.
1. Passage through the Jordan chs. 3-4
This section contains two parts: the actual crossing of the Jordan River (ch. 3) and the commemoration of that crossing (ch. 4).
The crossing of the river ch. 3
This verse at first might seem more appropriate as a conclusion to the previous chapter. However it explains how the Israelites were able to take several days to perform an operation that rendered them very vulnerable to their enemies militarily. Israel’s foes feared them greatly as a result of the miracle of the Jordan crossing, and they did not attack.
This reference to the Amorites and Canaanites groups all the native tribes together. The people who possessed the South and the mountains of the land were mainly Amorites. Many of them had lived in Transjordan and were the mightiest of the warriors among the tribes. Those who lived in the North, in the lowlands by the Mediterranean Sea, and in the Valley of Jezreel, were mainly Canaanites. The Canaanites were traders rather than warriors. The writer sometimes put all the native people in one or the other of these two groups. This depended on the area in which they lived (South or North, highlands or lowlands) or the general characteristic of the people that occupied most of that area (warlike or peaceful). Reference to the Amorites and Canaanites is probably a merism, a figure of speech in which two extremes represent the whole (e.g., "heaven and earth" means the universe).
"From the human standpoint, if ever there was a time to strike at the Canaanites it was right after the Israelites had gained entrance to the land. Fear had taken hold on the inhabitants of Palestine. But divine plans are not made according to human strategy." [Note: Carl Armerding, Conquest and Victory, p. 62.]
2. Circumcision and celebration of the Passover 5:1-12
"This [fifth] chapter records four experiences which God brought to Joshua and the people, each one centered about a token, or symbol . . . The Token of Circumcision: Restoration to covenant favor (Joshua 5:2-9) . . . The Token of Blood: Anticipation of deliverance (Joshua 5:10) . . . The Token of Fruit: Appropriation of the blessing (Joshua 5:11-12) . . . The Token of a Sword: Revelation of a holy war (Joshua 5:13-15)." [Note: Jensen, pp. 49-51.]
God had guaranteed Joshua’s success only as he kept the Mosaic Law (Joshua 1:7). It was necessary therefore that all the males who had been born in the wilderness and had not undergone circumcision should do so. Circumcision brought the individual male under the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 17). It was also a prerequisite for partaking in the Passover that God required of all Israelites yearly (Exodus 12). Like the stones just set up, circumcision was also a memorial.
"The book of Joshua continues as a dialogue between the divine and human commander." [Note: Butler, p. 58.]
Flint knives (Joshua 5:2) were sharp flint rocks (obsidian). The first mass circumcision of the Israelites evidently took place in Egypt before the first Passover and the Exodus.
"The sentence upon the fathers, that their bodies should fall in the desert, was unquestionably a rejection of them on the part of God, an abrogation of the covenant with them. This punishment was also to be borne by their sons; and hence the reason why those who were born in the desert by the way were not circumcised." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 55.]
Another explanation is that most of the older generation simply neglected to circumcise their sons out of forgetfulness, discouragement, or for some other reason.
Why did God wait to command the circumcision of the new generation until now rather than on the plains of Moab? Perhaps He did so because He wanted to bring the people into the land before enforcing this aspect of the Law. This is consistent with God’s dealings with humankind. He first gives and then asks (cf. Romans 12:1).
"Had Joshua acted on the principles common to all other generals, when invading an enemy’s country, he would either have prosecuted his advantages instantly, while his enemies were filled with terror, and crushed them before they had time to prepare for their defence [sic]; or he would have fortified his own camp to prevent surprise, and to be in constant readiness for any emergency that might arise. But instead of adopting any military plans whatever, the very day after he had invaded the country, without waiting to know what effect the invasion would have, he appoints nearly every male in the congregation to be circumcised! Thus by one act disabling the greater part of his whole army from even standing in their own defence [sic]! What but a principle of the most triumphant faith could have brought them to submit to such an injunction as this?" [Note: Bush, p. 56.]
The reproach of Egypt (Joshua 5:9) was the charge that originated with the Egyptians that Yahweh had led the Israelites out of Egypt only to destroy them in the wilderness (cf. Exodus 32:12; Numbers 14:13-16; Deuteronomy 9:28). Now that He had brought them into the land He had promised them, He had negated or "rolled away" this criticism. Gilgal sounds like the Hebrew word translated "rolling" (galal) and means "circle." Another view is that the reproach of Egypt refers to the disgrace the Israelites experienced in Egyptian slavery. When the Israelites obeyed God by circumcising their young men, the Lord’s deliverance of them reached its climax. [Note: Butler, p. 59.]
The Israelites seem to have regarded the rolling away of the foreskins in the circumcision operation as having a double symbolic meaning. It represented God’s removal of their reproach as well as their renunciation of the flesh (cf. Genesis 17).
"Flint knives [cf. Exodus 4:25] are sharpened by chipping away at the edge of the stone, so that clean, sterile stone is exposed, since bacteria and viruses cannot grow in rock. Circumcision was thus performed with an instrument possessing comparable sterility to today’s surgical scalpels. In view of the likelihood of infection following this operation with a contaminated instrument, use of the flint knife was enormously beneficial and therefore commanded by the Ultimate Healer (or in this case the preventer). [Note: Jay D. Fawver and R. Larry Overstreet, "Moses and Preventive Medicine," Bibliotheca Sacra 147:587 (July-September):277.]
God specified knives of flint even though this was the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 B.C.), and bronze implements were common.
The Law prescribed that only members of the covenant community could eat the Passover. It was a memorial to God’s redemption of Israel out of Egyptian slavery in the Exodus. It symbolized God’s deliverance of His people from the tyranny of sin (cf. Exodus 12:43-51).
In the Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed the Passover, the people were able to use the grain of the land to make bread (Joshua 5:11). God now provided for His people’s need for daily bread by giving them the produce of the land rather than manna, which now ceased (cf. Exodus 16:35).
"We are prone to look upon our common mercies as matters of course, and God sometimes withdraws them to teach us our dependence more effectually." [Note: Bush, p. 60.]
Sometimes obeying God makes us vulnerable to the attacks of our spiritual enemies. Nevertheless God will protect those who trust and obey Him in these situations.
"Despite Joshua’s long military experience he had never led an attack on a fortified city that was prepared for a long siege. In fact, of all the walled cities in Palestine, Jericho was probably the most invincible. There was also the question of armaments. Israel’s army had no siege engines, no battering rams, no catapults, and no moving towers. Their only weapons were slings, arrows, and spears-which were like straws against the walls of Jericho." [Note: Campbell, "Joshua," p. 339.]
As Joshua contemplated attacking Jericho, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and assured him of victory. [Note: Maps 54 (p. 43), 56 (p. 44), 58 (p. 45), and 62 (p. 47) in The Macmillan Bible Atlas illustrate the battles of Jericho and Ai, Gibeon, Southern Canaan, and Northern Canaan respectively.]
"The Canaanite spectre [sic] had hatched in Noah’s tent (Genesis 9:20-27), had evolved for generations, and now in Joshua’s day would be tolerated by God no longer." [Note: Constable, p. 105.]
Evidently Joshua was reconnoitering near Jericho, which was only about two miles from Gilgal. He was planning his strategy when he met the Man who identified Himself as the Captain (Prince) of the Lord’s host (angelic army; cf. 1 Kings 22:19; 2 Kings 6:8-17; Psalms 148:2; Matthew 26:53; Hebrews 1:14). It is obvious that Joshua perceived this Man as a mighty warrior standing before him with sword drawn ready for battle (cf. Numbers 22:23; 1 Chronicles 21:16). As soon as the Stranger identified Himself, Joshua bowed before Him acknowledging His superiority.
"The stranger’s response put everything in proper perspective. God is sovereign. It is never a question whether God is on our side but whether we are on God’s side. . . . The purpose of this encounter was not to impart commands but to inspire Joshua with humility and reverence and to instill in him the confidence that God was with him and was in control (cf. Joshua 1:9)." [Note: Madvig, p. 276.]
The command to remove his sandals (Joshua 5:15) would have convinced Joshua that this was the same God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:5).
"As Moses went to investigate the bush (Exodus 3:3), so Joshua goes to investigate the mysterious figure confronting him (Joshua 5:13 b)." [Note: Butler, p. 57.]
"The strange confrontation of Joshua 5:13-15 resembles that between Jacob and the man of God at Peniel (Genesis 32:22-32) and that between Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:1 to Exodus 4:17). In each case, the human protagonist encounters a divine messenger before facing a life-and-death conflict . . ." [Note: Hess, p. 126.]
One could also cite God’s visit to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18) and Jesus’ self-revelation to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), though these were not life threatening encounters. Joshua would hardly have submitted as he did if he had not believed that this Man was the Angel of the Lord (cf. Exodus 3:5; Numbers 22:31).
"The scene thus pictures Joshua as the totally obedient servant doing precisely what the divine messenger requires." [Note: Butler, p. 61.]
God not only instructed Joshua concerning what he should do in the battle ahead, but this theophany assured Joshua that Yahweh would also personally lead His people in battle. We need not conclude, however, that this divine Leader continued to be visible after this. There is no reference to Him in the record of the battle that follows. His appearance on this occasion simply impressed Joshua with the fact that God would be leading Israel.
"The whole sequence-circumcision, Passover, and theophany-emphatically declared that the Israel of conquest was the Israel of exodus. The God who had saved his people out of Egypt would now save them in Canaan." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, p. 109.]
C. Possession of the land 5:13-12:24
Before Israel entered the land of Canaan, God had been preparing for His people to take possession of it by sovereignly directing the political affairs of Egypt. Egypt had maintained control over Canaan for many years. However, shortly before and during the ascension of Pharaoh Amenhotep II (1417-1379 B.C.) to the throne, Egyptian interest in Canaanite affairs began to decline. Consequently some of the Canaanite kings asserted their independence from Egyptian control and began to increase their influence and to dominate their neighbors. In addition, foreigners besides the Israelites invaded portions of Canaan. Some of the victims of oppression wrote letters to Pharaoh asking for Egyptian assistance. They sent these letters to Amarna, the capital of Egypt at this time, and they are known today as the Amarna Letters. They wrote these documents in cuneiform script. Archaeologists discovered them at Amarna in A.D. 1887. They provide much valuable information on the political and military climate in Canaan during the period of Israel’s conquests. [Note: See Charles Pfeiffer, Tell El Amarna and the Bible; and Davis and Whitcomb, pp. 18-21.]
"While Akhenaten [Amenhotep III, 1379-1361 B.C., the son and successor of Amenhotep II] spent his life preoccupied with religious reform, Egyptian prestige in Asia sank to a low ebb. As the Amarna Letters abundantly show, no effort was made by the court to answer the frantic appeals for help made by some princes who still professed loyalty to Egypt. The most common complaint in these letters is that unless Egypt would send troops urgently the land would fall into the hands of the Khapiru. Some historians are inclined to see in these Khapiru the Hebrews of the Bible who at this time were overrunning Palestine." [Note: Siegfried Schwantes, A Short History of the Ancient Near East, p. 90. See also Nadav Na’aman, "Habiru and Hebrews: The Transfer of a Social Term to the Literary Sphere," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 45:4 (October 1986):271-88; and Douglas Waterhouse, "Who Are the Habiru of the Amarna Letters?" Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 12:1 (Spring 2001):31-42.]
When the Israelites began their conquest, the Canaanite city-states did not have the protection of Egypt or any other strong world power that they had enjoyed in the past.
1. The conquest of Jericho 5:13-6:27
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Joshua 5". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany