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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Joshua 5

 

 

Verse 1

CONSTERNATION OF THE CANAANITES, Joshua 5:1.

1. It came to pass — Immediately after the Israelites had crossed, the miracle was heralded to all the kings of the land. This verse is closely related to the last verse of the preceding chapter, showing how the miracle of the Jordan at once made the neighbouring nations know the power of Jehovah’s hand. It also serves to show why Joshua might, without fear of attack, embrace this opportunity to circumcise the people.

Amorites — See note on Joshua 2:10.

On the side of Jordan westward — Literally, beyond Jordan seaward. The Amorites east of the Jordan, ruled by Sihon and Og, had been already defeated.

The Canaanites, which were by the sea — The various heathen tribes and nations along the Mediterranean Sea. A narrow plain extends along this sea from Gaza in the south to the northern limits of Phenicia. The Amorites and Canaanites, because of their superiority in numbers and political power, are put here apparently for all the nations of the land.

We were passed over — This expression naturally implies that the writer was an eye-witness of the scene described.

Their heart melted — Their hope and courage died within them, for they despaired of conquering an almighty foe.


Verse 2

2. At that time — That is, during the interval of four days between the passage of Jordan and the passover, (see Joshua 4:19, note,) and while their foes are dismayed and panic-stricken. This was a very opportune occasion to perform the rite of circumcision, which for a season unfitted its subjects for military duty.

Circumcise again… the second time — This does not imply that there had been a previous time of general circumcising, as some say, at Sinai, but a previous state of circumcision. See Joshua 5:5. The rite was not performed twice on the same individual, but the sense is, Resume again the rite of circumcision as it was practiced forty years ago.

The children of Israel — All the males who were born after the Hebrews left Egypt.

Sharp knives — Hebrew, knives of rocks, stones, or flints.

Such an instrument was used by Zipporah in circumcising the son of Moses. Exodus 4:25. Knives among rude barbarians are first made of flint. It is probable that this was used in the first circumcision by the patriarchs, and the same instrument was used by Joshua not from necessity — for he had iron tools — but from deference to ancient custom. It is said also that the wound made with a sharp stone is less liable to inflammation than one made with metal. These knives were to be made for the occasion, as it would not be proper to use in a religious rite instruments employed in common uses. Knives that had been used for other purposes might inoculate the circumcised person with the virus of some disease. Hiob Ludolph, in his history of the Ethiopians, speaks of a tribe of the Alnaei who performed the rite with stone knives as recently as one hundred and sixty years ago. According to the Septuagint version of Joshua 24:30, the stone knives used on this occasion were deposited in the tomb of Joshua as sacred relics. Perhaps some modern geologists would consider them relics of a “stone age.”


Verses 2-9

CIRCUMCISION RESTORED, Joshua 5:2-9.

[It seems at first sight strange that the chosen people for forty years neglected circumcision. The clue to a proper explanation of this neglect is furnished in the following verses, especially in Joshua 5:9, where allusion is made to the reproach of Egypt. This reproach is explained, in Exodus 32:12; Numbers 14:13-16; Deuteronomy 9:28, as the scoffing words and ridicule which the Egyptians would so naturally utter against the Hebrews when the latter suffered from God’s anger. After the rebellion and murmuring at Kadesh, Jehovah condemned that generation to perish in the wilderness. Numbers 14:29-34. During the forty years that followed they were under the ban of that sweeping curse, and observed neither circumcision nor the passover. These sacraments were sacred seals of their covenant with Jehovah, and, the covenant being broken by their rebellion, that cursed generation could not renew it. See further on Joshua 5:5-6. But the mighty miracle of the Jordan, which now spread terror among the nations, silenced this reproach, and hence the propriety of renewing the covenant in Gilgal.]


Verse 3

3. Hill of the foreskins — The hill on which this rite occurred, one of the many argillaceous hills on the terrace of the valley, receives its name from the prepuces buried in it, and not, as the Rabbins say, from the quantity piled up there.


Verse 4

4. And this is the cause — As this book contains not only a record of events, but also ascribes a rational cause to each, it may be classed among philosophical histories.

All the people — This expression is limited first to the males, and then to those of military age, from twenty years old and upwards. Numbers 14:29-32.

Died in the wilderness — Because of their rebellion against Jehovah, and the cowardice displayed when the panic-stricken spies made their exaggerated report. Numbers 14:21-35. Caleb and Joshua were the only exceptions to this sweeping sentence. Numbers 26:64-65.


Verse 5

5. All the people that came out were circumcised — That is, had been circumcised in infancy. Leviticus 12:3.

The people… born in the wilderness… they had not circumcised — Various reasons have been assigned for the neglect in the wilderness of this rite, which was so scrupulously performed in Egypt. The fact that they were in an unsettled condition is not a sufficient reason, for they dwelt for months together in one place. The most satisfactory account of the matter is that, while under the sentence of the divine displeasure for forty years, the nation was temporarily rejected by its divine Head, and prohibited from impressing upon their sons the sign of the covenant. See note introductory to Joshua 5:2.


Verse 6

6. Forty years in the wilderness — This verse assigns the reason why circumcision had not been performed, namely, their disobedience and punishment. As the sentence of exclusion from the favour of Jehovah had now expired, the nation is again admitted to the privilege of using the sign of his covenant. While in exile they were the objects of his care, and even of his supernatural providence, but not of his approval, just as sinners under the Gospel dispensation enjoy the bounty of God, but not the covenant of his pardoning grace.

Till all the people… were consumed — The word for people is that which is always used to designate a heathen nation, a Gentile race, in distinction from the peculiar people, Israel. This confirms the explanation that Israel was excluded from covenant relations during the forty years’ wandering.

The Lord sware that he would not show them the land — That is, cause them to see, and hence to enter and enjoy, the land.

A land that floweth with milk and honey — This phrase represents the great fertility and loveliness of the Land of Promise; it was a land rich in grass for herds, hence there was an abundance of milk; it was profuse in flowers, hence bees and wild honey were very plentiful, (Judges 14:8; Matthew 3:4,) and they still are found, in spite of the lack of cultivation and the desolation of Palestine. Milk and its various products constituted the chief sustenance of the ancient Hebrews. In Palestine the bees do actually deposit honey in the holes of the rocks in so great quantities that it flows out and is gathered in vessels placed beneath.


Verse 8

8. Circumcising all the people — Objection is made that it was impossible to circumcise so many, probably six or seven hundred thousand, in one day. But according to the most accurate estimates there were between two and three hundred thousand circumcised men to administer the rite, so that each would have but three or four subjects requiring the ordinance.

They abode in their places in the camp — Hebrew, they sat under themselves; that is, they remained on that spot which was under them when they first sat down. Exodus 16:29.

Till they were whole — According to the Talmud the wound was immediately treated with oil, which diminished the pain and induced a speedy healing. It is not probable that their cure was entirely effected so early as the third day, the passover; nor would it be necessary for them to be free from physical disability in order to celebrate that ordinance, since there were enough who were able to perform the labour of preparing the paschal lamb. For at least one fourth of the men had been previously circumcised, and two small families could unite. Exodus 12:14.


Verse 9

9. I rolled away the reproach of Egypt — The reproach which Egypt has cast upon you; for Egypt is here subjective and not objective. Compare Isaiah 51:7; Ezekiel 16:57; Ezekiel 36:15. Many are the explanations of this reproach. Some say it was Egyptian bondage; others, the state of being uncircumcised, which implies, what cannot be proved, that the Egyptians were circumcised; still others, that the Hebrews were unfit for war. But we find the reproach in Exodus 32:12 : “Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?” They had been exposed to this reproach for forty years, for God had been destroying them during that time. But with the restoration of covenant relations, whereof circumcision was the sign, the reproach of Egypt is rolled away from them. The malicious taunt is now no longer true. [

Called Gilgal — The place may have been called Gilgal before this event, and there were other places in the land of the same name; but as the word Gilgal means a wheel or circle, and is so easily associated with the idea of rolling, the Israelites naturally gave it the symbolical meaning here stated, because their renewal of the covenant by circumcision had rolled away the reproach of Egypt.]


Verse 10

THE THIRD PASSOVER AND CEASING OF THE MANNA, Joshua 5:10-12.

10. And kept the passover — This institution was in memory of their deliverance from the plague which had destroyed the firstborn in Egypt, (Exodus 12,) and was the second feast which had been observed since leaving that land of bondage. The first was at Sinai, in the second year of their journey in the desert. Numbers 9. There was no observance of it in the desert subsequent to this, on account of the rejection of Israel from the covenant. See on Joshua 5:6 and note introductory to Joshua 5:2.

On the fourteenth day of the month — This was the month Abib, the first month of the Hebrew year. After the captivity it was called Nisan. The fourteenth of this month corresponded with about the middle of our April.


Verse 11

11. The old corn of the land — There is no authority in the Hebrew for the word old. They ate of the produce of the land. The word old was inserted by our translators because it was unlawful to eat of the new grain before the sheaf was waved before Jehovah on the morrow of the Sabbath.

Leviticus 23:14-16. [But here is a difficulty. The morrow after the passover is used in Numbers 33:3, for the fifteenth of Nisan, the day after the evening on which the paschal lamb was eaten. But according to Leviticus 23:7, this day was to be celebrated by a holy convocation, and on it no servile work performed. How, then, shall we account for Israel’s eating the new fruit of the land on the morrow after the passover? The simplest explanation is that of Keil, who understands the word passover here, as in several other places, to mean not simply the paschal supper but the entire feast connected with it, which lasted seven days.

Parched corn — Ears of grain baked at the fire, an article of food still much relished by the Arabs. See note on Ruth 2:14.]


Verse 12

12. Manna — This was always regarded as a miraculous gift directly from God, and not a product of nature. It is described in Exodus 16:14-36, where see notes. It fell upon the encampment six times each week during forty years. As each man had an omer — three quarts — a day, there must have been 15,000,000 pounds a week. The natural product of the Arabian deserts, the tamarisk-manna, called by the same name, differs in the following particulars: it is purgative, and not nutritious; it is produced only three or four months, and not all the year; it is found in small quantities; it can be kept good for a long time, and is not corrupted by being kept over the Sabbath; nor would a natural product cease at once and forever. It now ceased because it was no more needed. See Joshua 1:11, note.


Verse 13

THE CAPTAIN OF THE LORD’S HOST REVEALED, Joshua 5:13 to Joshua 6:5.

[The chosen people have now by circumcision renewed their covenant with Jehovah; they have eaten the passover within the limits of the Land of Promise; they have tasted the new corn of the land. The time now approaches for them to proceed to the work of conquest, and the angel of Jehovah appears to Joshua, and reveals the divine plan for the destruction of Jericho.] 13. When Joshua was by Jericho — He was apparently making a personal and private reconnaissance of the city, which was the key to the whole land of Canaan. See note on Joshua 2:1.

A man over against him — The subsequent account shows that he was a man only in form.

With his sword drawn — The sword is a symbol of high executive power. The drawn sword intimates that that power is to be immediately exercised. Hence Joshua’s anxiety to know in whose behalf the mysterious stranger has drawn his sword.

Joshua went unto him — Here is a remarkable display of courage on the part of Joshua. Good men, because of their faith in God, confront danger without fear.

Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? — The idea of neutrality in the contest does not occur to Joshua as a possibility. In God’s battles there can be no neutrals. “He that is not with me is against me.”


Verse 14

14. And he said, Nay — This answer has reference to the last clause, or second part, of the question, “I am not for your adversaries.” In the sense that he was not an Israelite, some think that it may be referred to both members of the question. The reading which makes nay a pronoun, to him, though adopted by the Septuagint and the Syriac, cannot be sustained.

Captain of the host of the Lord Prince of the army of Jehovah. The army of heaven is here meant, not the Israelitish host. [This prince of the angelic host was not Michael, nor any other created being, but the Word of God, the Divine Loges or Revealer, who in the fulness of time became flesh, (John 1,) and even then declared that he came not to send peace on earth, but a sword. Matthew 10:34. Hence in Joshua 6:2, he is called the

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Joshua 5:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/joshua-5.html. 1874-1909.

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