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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Joshua 5

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. V.

Joshua, at the command of God, circumcises the Israelites. They celebrate the passover at Gilgal. The captain of the Lord's host appeareth to Joshua.

Before Christ 1451.


Verse 1

Ver. 1. And it came to pass when all the kings of the Amorites We have before remarked, that these were the most valiant of all the Canaanites. The next clause seems added to shew, that besides the two kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og, whom the Israelites had already subdued, on the east of Jordan, there were other kings of the same nation on the west side of the river, where the Israelites now were. And it is not improbable, that these kings commanded the Hittites, Hivites, and Jebusites, as well as the Amorites.


Verse 2

Ver. 2. At that time the Lord said unto Joshua This was the morning after the passage, the 11th day of the first month, as the learned Usher and others have very probably conjectured.

Make thee sharp knives Or, as in the Margin of our Bibles, knives of flints; which stones might be found in great plenty on the adjacent mountains: and, as Theodoret observes, perhaps, after a pilgrimage of forty years in the solitary wilderness of Arabia, the Hebrews might not be provided with knives of iron or steel, such as we now use. 'Tis very evident, that Joshua here commands them to provide knives, and it is by no means improbable that they were made of flint. The Jews acknowledge in the Talmud, that flints, glass, or quills of reed, might be used for killing of beasts. Whence Hackspan apprehends, that as knives of stone were sufficient for killing of animals, they might be employed in circumcision. He adds, however, that the rabbis forbad the use of reeds in this operation, because there was danger lest they might hurt the part. They at present circumcise in the east with knives made of stone, in imitation of Zipporah, who is said to have set the example in the circumcision of her son; see Exodus 4:25 but this matter is very uncertain: Be it as it may, we cannot doubt that the use of knives and axes of stone were common among the ancients. The Americans commonly make use of stones for knives, razors, and lancets. Thus every thing tends to give the Hebrew word צור tzur its natural signification, and to confirm Maimonides's translation, who renders it, not sharp knives, but knives of stone. Justin Martyr and Theodoret, who likewise give this version, think there was something mysterious in the life of these knives; something emblematical of the spiritual circumcision of Christians; because Jesus Christ is called a rock in 1 Corinthians 10:4. See Scheuchzer on the place.

And circumcise again the children of Israel the second time This badly-translated passage has given room for strange notions, both among the Jews, and with several Christian interpreters. It does not imply that they were now to be circumcised, who had already undergone that operation. Indeed, the rabbis pretend that this was the case; and St. Augustine informs us, that some ancient doctors, on this supposition, founded a necessity of repeating baptism. But, whatever the Jews may advance respecting the imperfect manner in which circumcision was administered in the wilderness, it has no foundation but in their fancy. All that God here commands, is, "to resume the custom of circumcision, which, generally speaking, was neglected in the desart." But if it be asked, When was this injunction to revive circumcision first given? We answer, probably at the foot of mount Sinai, in the first month of the second year after the departure from Egypt. Some are of opinion, that the expression, a second time, refers to the circumcision of Abraham and his family. It is well known, that, on the 14th day of the first month, the Israelites were called to the solemn celebration of the passover; and that, according to the law, no one could share in the solemnities of that feast if uncircumcised, or even if any one of his family or household was so. Certainly then, Moses took care to have all those circumcised who had neglected in Egypt to assume this token of the covenant: and though it be nowhere said that circumcision was so neglected in Egypt, especially during the year in which the Israelites left it, we may easily conceive, that in their servitude, wherein they groaned under the cruel yoke of the Egyptians, and afterwards in the long and toilsome marches which they had to make till their arrival at mount Sinai, several of them had dispensed with the performance of their duty. Perhaps, even, the frequent absence of Moses at the beginning of their stay in the neighbourhood of Sinai favoured this negligence of the parents towards their children; so that, on the eve of celebrating the passover, Moses was obliged to rectify this evil, by ordering, without delay, those to be circumcised who had neglected that sacrament. Here Joshua receives orders to require the same thing; and as this is the second time of giving that command, it is expressed in those terms which specify the repetition of it, and amounts to this, namely, let the ceremony of circumcision, which has been so long discontinued, be renewed.


Verse 3

Ver. 3. And Joshua—circumcised the children of Israel He caused the commands of God to be performed by all the people, whether on this or on the other side of Jordan, and, as it appears, by all on the same day, that every Israelite might be enabled to celebrate the passover. The matter was no way difficult, as it did not signify by what hand it was effected. Father, mother, relations, friends, might all perform the operation, as well as the priests and Levites. The hill of the foreskin is, in the Hebrew, Gibeath-haaraloth, which some take to be the name of a place, as it probably was, but a place deriving its name from that ceremony.


Verses 4-7

Ver. 4-7. And this is the cause, &c.— The reason is clearly expressed in the text. Excepting Joshua and Caleb, all the six hundred thousand fighting men, who came out of Egypt, had died during the forty years that the people had dwelt in the desarts of Arabia; and during this interval of time they had neglected to circumcise the male children which were born there. But whence this negligence? It was not out of contempt, since the Scripture nowhere reproaches the Israelites on that account. But the learned have given us the following reasons for this long interruption of circumcision.

I. That the end of the ceremonial laws, especially circumcision, being to distinguish the Jews from the idolatrous nations, it was unnecessary to circumcise them in the desart, where it was not possible for them to mix with other people. This was the opinion of Theodoret and St. Jerome among the ancients; as it was of Grotius, Episcopius, and Le Clerc, among the moderns: we find it also espoused by Mr. Pyle.

II. The second and most generally received reason is, that the almost incessant motions of the Israelites, the uncertainty of the times of decamping, the barrenness of the places where they sojourned, and the inconveniences of travelling, rendering the operation very dangerous for children, God willingly dispensed with it. Some judicious rabbis have adopted this opinion; and it has been countenanced by several able commentators among us.

III. But these reasons do not seem equally satisfactory to every body. The marches of the Israelites were very far from being frequent during the last thirty-eight years of their stay in the wilderness. Besides, it would have been better to make some alteration with respect to time, and to refer this ceremony to the first encampment, instead of fixing it to the eighth day, rather than to omit it entirely; seeing that certain blessings were annexed to it. So that, in this respect, the practice of circumcision was indispensable, though the primary end of the institution was to prevent the children of Israel from forming connections with foreign nations. Add to this, that the latter consideration could not excuse them from the observation of a positive precept, even though circumcision had not been in use among any of the nations; which was by no means the case, this ceremony being practised by the Idumeans, and perhaps even by the Midianites. These, and other reflections, have determined some judicious critics to say, that circumcision was interrupted during the time that the Israelites travelled in the desart, because they did not esteem the precept of circumcision obligatory, till they saw themselves settled in the land of Canaan; and so much the rather, as there was nothing in this respect prescribed on the renewing of the covenant which was made at the foot of mount Sinai. Hence we may conclude, that circumcision was not so necessary to salvation as some writers, as well Christians as Jews, have thought; particularly the latter, among whom some have carried their superstition so far, as to circumcise their children even dead, when they could not do it while they lived.

Lastly, a writer of great reputation has advanced a conjecture, that the mixed multitude of the Egyptians which followed the Israelites being an image of the calling, of the Gentiles, it became necessary, that as the ceremonies, and particularly circumcision, were to be abolished; so, to take away the distinction which was between their posterity, the use of circumcision should be then suspended. Besides, God was unwilling that the suspension of this ceremony should continue till the Israelites took possession of the land of Canaan: 1st, For fear it might give room for the intrusion of Canaanites among the Hebrews. 2nd, That those who entered into the land of Canaan, being uncircumcised, as well as the children of the Egyptians, and afterwards becoming equal by circumcision, might have no opportunity to reproach them for their different original. See Allix on the Pentateuch.

Whatever may be the truth, or the different degrees of probability or strength of these reflections; it is certain, that God did not condemn the interruption of circumcision, or impute any crime to the Israelites on that account: and we may easily conceive, that the precept not being founded in nature, but merely positive and ceremonial, the argument drawn from the inconveniences of travelling was alone sufficient for dispensing with it under the divine approbation. The Israelites then only followed a maxim which they have generally followed; namely, that the administration of this sacrament may be deferred when it cannot be received without danger.


Verse 7

Ver. 7. And their children—Joshua circumcised Putting together the chief arguments for the renewal of this ceremony, God may be said to have subjected the Israelites to it, 1. To take from them the reproach of Egypt, as it is expressed, ver. 9. 2. To enable them to celebrate the passover. 3. To confirm to them the near accomplishment of the promises made to Abraham, by that operation which was to be the seal of those promises. 4. To try the faith of the Israelites, by their submission to a command, the performance of which exposed them to be treated by their enemies as the Schechemites had been formerly by Levi and Simeon in a similar circumstance, and, perhaps, also, 5. To shew them, by his permission to administer this rite to their children, that the time of his anger had elapsed, and that he permitted them to enter into his rest.

See commentary on Joshua 5:4


Verse 8

Ver. 8. And—the people—abode in their places—till they were whole They kept quiet in their tents, undisturbed by any one, till after their entire cure. The ceremony was performed the 11th of Nisan; the 13th the sore was at the worst, and on the 14th began the solemnities of the passover. As they circumcised with sharp stones, this might contribute to hasten their cure, inasmuch as those instruments occasion less inflammation than knives or razors made of metal.


Verse 9

Ver. 9. And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day, &c.— Among many conjectures respecting the sense of these words, most interpreters have agreed to understand by the reproach of Egypt, uncircumcision, which rendered the Israelites like the Egyptians, and had rendered the Egyptians abominable in their sight while they were under their yoke. Spencer gives the words another meaning; understanding by the reproach of Egypt, that slavery which had subjected the Israelites to the Egyptians; and he thinks that circumcision took away this reproach, because it shewed, that those to whom it was administered were the children of Abraham, and the lawful heirs of that patriarch to whom the land of Canaan had been promised. But, says Mr. Saurin, however ingenious this thought may be, we must not be dazzled by it. The Israelites, who had been slaves in Egypt, were there circumcised. If, therefore, we are to understand, by the reproach of Egypt, the slavery under which the Israelites groaned in Egypt, and if circumcision had had the power to take away that reproach, it might have been said they were out of slavery in Egypt while in bondage there, since they were then circumcised; which implies a contradiction. Theodoret, who thinks that the Israelites had neglected circumcision in Egypt, entertains an idea nearly similar to Spencer's. He says, that the Hebrews, formerly slaves in Egypt, became lords of the country of Canaan, when, by receiving circumcision, they took upon them the mark by which they might be known as the posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to whom God had given that country. Other interpreters incline to the opinion of Rabbi Levi Ben Gershom, who supposes, that the Israelites were a laughing-stock to the Egyptians, who mocked them on seeing them wander and perish in the dry desarts of Arabia, without being able to enter the land of Canaan, the possession of which they had boasted was assured to them; and that God removed this opprobrium by making them resume the token of his covenant, as a declaration of their taking possession of that country. But, considering every thing, we incline to the first explanation as the most simple. Some learned writers, by the reproach of Egypt, seem principally to understand indifference for religion, a propensity to idolatry, and a neglect of circumcision, which the Israelites had contracted in Egypt. The authors of the Universal History give this general elucidation of the subject: "This mark of their (the Israelites) obedience was so pleasing to God, that he told them he had now removed, or rolled away from them the reproach of Egypt; i.e. that he did no longer look upon them as uncircumcised Egyptians, but as his own people." The Israelites considered uncircumcision as a disgrace; they found and they left the Egyptians uncircumcised; so that uncircumcision could not be better described, than by calling it the reproach of Egypt. But, say some, why is not uncircumcision called the reproach of Canaan, as well as of Egypt, since the Canaanites were uncircumcised as well as the Egyptians? To this we may reply: I. That the neighbouring nations mixed among the Canaanites, being the seed of Abraham by his concubines, had probably the rite of circumcision; whereas the Egyptians had it not, since they knew a child to be a Hebrew because he was circumcised. Exodus 2:6. II. The Israelites came from Egypt; uncircumcision was a blot which they seem to have brought from thence; they might be looked upon as uncircumcised Egyptians, inasmuch as they did not apply the seal of the covenant made with their fathers, and, as it were, the voucher for their right to the land of Canaan. III. It was evidently in Egypt that their forefathers had begun to neglect circumcision, which they continued to do during their stay in the desart.

The name of the place is called Gilgal WWhich signifies, to roll away, cut off, remove. There is no doubt respecting it. Josephus, however, who is followed by Theodoret, translates Gilgal, not a rolling away, but liberty; (Hist. Jud. l. v. c. 1.) as if this place had been so named because when the Israelites arrived there they might look upon themselves as perfectly delivered from the servitude of Egypt, and freed from the troubles they had undergone in Arabia. As to the expression, unto this day, see note on ch. Joshua 4:9. Le Clerc explains it, "till the day that this book was written."

REFLECTIONS.—Safely arrived at last within the borders of the promised land, the divided waters of Jordan close, and nothing remains, but to cast out the inhabitants and possess the country. In order to which we are told, 1. What terror and dismay seized on the neighbouring kings. Who can stand before those from whose presence the swellings of affrighted Jordan retire and open a safe way for their march! Their hearts melted therefore like wax, and they gave themselves up for lost. Note; God often makes his enemies know how vain it is to contend with him; and by his secret terrors, even in the midst of life and health, brings them into the pangs of death. 2. The people halted at their first station, and Joshua, at the divine command, issues orders for a general circumcision of the people. Now, when God's goodness has triumphed over their perverseness, on admitting them into the land, he commands them to receive the seal of the covenant in token of the fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham. 3. The people readily consent; they had seen so much of God's interposition, that they were not afraid of their enemies, and were happy to lay themselves under the bonds of the covenant, that, with God's promises thus sealed to them, they might go forth more confidently to vanquish their foes. They were owned of God, as his covenant-children, and no longer to be branded as wanderers in a wilderness; but now are entered as possessors into the long-expected inheritance. Note; (1.) The reproaches cast on God's people shall shortly be wiped away, and confusion cover their enemies. (2.) The Israel of God must circumcise the foreskin of their hearts, and cut off every corrupt and vile affection. (3.) Nothing can so infallibly assure us of inheriting the kingdom of glory, as the experience of the mortification of sin in our souls, through the work of our divine Joshua.


Verse 10

Ver. 10. And the children of Israel—kept the passover This was the third time they had celebrated this feast: the first time was on their departure from Egypt, and the second the year following, when the tabernacle was reared at the foot of mount Sinai; so that for thirty-nine years they had not celebrated it, nor dared they so to do, being uncircumcised. Besides, this feast was established only for the time of their peaceable possession of the land of Canaan.

In the plains of Jericho For this purpose, the tabernacle was set up in the middle of the camp, for sacrificing the lamb according to the law, and that those who were beyond Jordan might come to it with less difficulty than they afterwards did to Jerusalem from various parts of the Holy Land.


Verse 11

Ver. 11. And they did eat of the old corn of the land, &c.— i.e. of the corn of the preceding year, which they found in divers places, abandoned by the people on retiring to Jericho. However, the matter is not very certain, and several interpreters do not thus understand the Hebrew. They are of opinion, that it means as well the new corn as that of the foregoing year. See Poole's Synopsis. In the Hebrew it is, they ate of the produce of the land; and because the word עבור abur, which signifies the profits, or produce, comes from a root which signifies to pass away, we apprehend it should be translated, produce, or corn of the past year. But besides that the word עבור abur, which occurs here only, is for that reason of a doubtful signification, the text clearly imports, that the Israelites ate of the produce of the ground, עבור the same day that they ate of corn roasted. They could eat roasted corn only on the 16th of the month, after the offering of the sheaf; so that it is more than probable, that their unleavened cakes were made of new corn, the same as that of which they parched the ears: it should be translated, therefore, and they did eat of the corn of the country (viz. of unleavened cakes, and roasted corn) after the passover. Though, strictly speaking, מחר machar, signifies on the morrow, it may also signify a more extensive term, some one of the following days. Had the Israelites made their unleavened cakes of the old corn, we cannot see why Joshua should have remarked their eating of it after the passover. There was nothing so extraordinary in that: whereas, supposing him to speak of the new corn, the reason immediately strikes one, namely, that it could not be eaten till after the passover, when the sheaf was offered. 2. Josephus starts the same supposition. 3. The ancient versions countenance it, and say simply the corn of the country, without distinguishing old or new.

And parched corn Taken from the ears they found standing, and some of which they roasted in the fire, after offering the sheaf, or handful, which the law prescribed should be presented to the Lord.


Verse 12

Ver. 12. And the manna ceased The Israelites having no more need of this miraculous food, by reason of the plenty of corn and other provisions which they found in the land of Canaan, God, who never works a miracle unnecessarily, ceased to shower it down from heaven. Hence we see clearly, that the manna, of which the Israelites had hitherto eaten, was an extraordinary food, and that the divine hand which had given it them for so long a time had sent it in a miraculous manner for their subsistence.

On the morrow, &c.— On the 14th of Nisan, they sacrificed the paschal lamb; on the 15th, i.e. according to our calculation, the same day, after sun-set, they disposed themselves for eating it, and actually did eat it. On the morrow, the 16th, after having offered to God the homer, they began eating the corn of the country; and the 17th, the manna ceased to fall from heaven. What supports this calculation is, that the gomer, or sheaf, was offered the 16th of Nisan, in broad day-light, though pretty late. Now the manna did not fall till night, or very early in the morning; so that it cannot be said to have ceased falling the same day that the Israelites began to eat of the produce of the country. This, however, seems to us to be most probable; for nothing certain can be said upon the subject.

REFLECTIONS.—The people, being prepared by circumcision, might now partake of the other grand ordinance of God; accordingly we find, that before they entered upon action they kept the passover, as prescribed, on the fourteenth day of the month, exactly forty years from their departure from Egypt. Note; (1.) They, who would go forth with courage to fight the Lord's battles, should first solemnly devote themselves to him, and shew faith in him by the use of his sacraments. (2.) We must not expect to be fed by miracle when God puts ordinary means into our hand. (3.) Sweet and strengthening as manna are the ordinances of grace now to the militant believer; but when they have answered their design they will cease; when we come to the presence of God and the possession of glory, prayer, the word, and sacraments, will be no longer needful.


Verse 13

Ver. 13. And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho The solemnities of the passover being ended, and Joshua being come nigh to Jericho to reconnoitre the city, and judge of the dispositions to be made in order to lay siege to it with success, was greatly surprised, after having been but for a moment alone, to see before him all on a sudden something which he took for a man, with a sword in his hand, and all the appearance of a warrior. The general of Israel approached this unknown, and, suspecting he came from the enemy, boldly demanded of him who he was.


Verse 14-15

Ver. 14, 15. And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord, &c.— "No," replied the Unknown to Joshua, "I am no hostile visitant; I am the chief of the army of the Lord." Joshua, on these words, threw himself to the earth, and, adoring the sacred personage, respectfully inquired what were his commands: the angel, however, first of all requires him to put off his shoes from his feet, thereby to appear with more reverence in a place rendered holy by his august presence. All this is easily understood; but it has been asked, Who was this angel that appeared to Joshua? I. Divers interpreters insist, that it was literally an angel, perhaps the angel Michael, who is elsewhere called the prince of the people of God. Daniel 10:13; Daniel 12:1. The Jews are not the only people who have thought there were angels commissioned over every nation. Without, however, adopting this supposition, we think it might be presumed, that God made use of one of his angels to carry to Joshua his instructions upon this occasion. II. But most interpreters, both ancient and modern, hold, that this person was the uncreated angel, the eternal Word, the Son of God, chief of the host of heaven, 1 Kings 22:19. Luke 2:13 or conductor of the army of Israel, Exodus 12:41 and several reasons concur to support this opinion. We shall content ourselves with pointing out the principal ones. 1. The angel who speaks here uses the same language with HIM who spoke in the bush to Moses, and certainly spoke to him as God. 2. Joshua worships him, which he would not have done, or which at least the angel would not have suffered, had he been only a created angel. 3. The homage which he requires of Joshua, by ordering him to take off his shoes, is the most solemn and most profound ever paid to the Deity. 4. This angel, in ver. 2 of the following chapter, is called the LORD. The learned Allix, in his Judegment of the ancient Jewish Church, p. 233 asserts the opinion of that church to be, that it was actually God himself who appeared to Joshua. See Bedford's Sermons at Lady Moyer's Lectures, p. 148.

REFLECTIONS.—When Joshua and the people had been thus waiting upon God, he comes to manifest himself to them for their encouragement. They who draw near to God will ever find God near to hear and help them. Note; If Jesus draws the sword to defend us, not all the powers of sin, death, or hell shall be able to hurt us. Joshua, as a valiant leader, boldly advances, and bids him declare whether he came as friend or foe. Note; We need courage when we are fighting for God, and especially not to fear the faces of men. He does not disdain to answer the question; but quickly resolves him concerning his character and design. As captain of the Lord's hosts he is come, to guide them with his counsel, and strengthen them with his power. And what can stand before those who fight under such a leader? Joshua now plainly perceived the presence of the Deity: the same Jehovah that appeared to Abraham as a traveller, now comes as a man of war; and therefore at his feet he falls to make supplication before him, and receive his orders from him. It is no disparagement to the greatest general to be found often on his knees before the God of hosts, and there is no surer way to obtain the necks of his enemies. To impress Joshua's mind with deeper reverence and awe, and to intimate to him that it was the same divine Majesty which spake to Moses in the bush, the Angel commands him to loose his shoe, as a mark of respect and obedience; which he instantly performs, and stands attentive to the commands which the Lord should be pleased to lay upon him. Note; (1.) Christ is the captain of our salvation, fully qualified to subdue all our spiritual enemies, and ever standing ready to help and defend all who fly to him for succour. (2.) If we take him for our Lord, we must shew ourselves his servants, by a ready obedience to his will and pleasure.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Joshua 5:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/joshua-5.html. 1801-1803.

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Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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