Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Joshua 5:2

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, "Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time."
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Circumcision;   Gilgal;   Revivals;   Scofield Reference Index - Circumcision;   Egypt;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Circumcision;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Circumcision;   Stone;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Circumcision;   Gilgal;   Joshua the son of nun;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - War, Holy War;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Circumcision;   Knife;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Arms;   Bochim;   Circumcision;   Deuteronomy, the Book of;   Gilgal;   Joshua;   Joshua, the Book of;   Knife;   Pentateuch;   Stones;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Circumcision;   Crimes and Punishments;   Flint;   Joshua, the Book of;   Knife;   Sword;   Tools;   Vessels and Utensils;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Circumcision;   House;   Jericho;   Joshua;   Knife;   Mining and Metals;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Circumcision ;   Sword (2);   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Circumcision;   Gilgal;   Stones;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Knife;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Journeyings of israel from egypt to canaan;   Smith Bible Dictionary - Medicine;   Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary - Gilgal;   Stone;  
Encyclopedias:
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - Conquest of Canaan;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Flint;   Foreskin;   Joshua, Book of;   Knife;   Tools;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Circumcision;   Egypt;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

Make thee sharp knives - צרים חרבות charboth tsurim, knives of rock, stone, or flint. Before the use of iron was common, all the nations of the earth had their edge-tools made of stones, flints, etc. In the lately discovered islands this is found to be a common case. Our ancestors in these countries made their arrow and spear-heads of flint: these I have often seen turned up by the plough. But we cannot suppose that at the time here referred to the Israelites were destitute of iron, and were therefore obliged to use knives made of stone or flint, their different manufactures in the wilderness prove that they must have had both iron and steel. Why then use knives made of stone? Probably it was unlawful to use metal of any kind in this religious rite; and indeed this seems likely from the circumstance of Zipporah ( Exodus 4:25;) taking a sharp stone and circumcising her son; and we find, from the most ancient and authentic accounts, that the Egyptians considered it unlawful or profane to use any kind of metal to make incisions in the human body, when preparing it for embalming; see the note on Genesis 50:2, and on Exodus 4:25. That it was deemed improper to use any other kind of instrument in circumcision we have a proof in the tribe Alnajab, in Ethiopia, who follow the Mosaic institution, and perform the rite of circumcision, according to Ludolf, cultris lapidibus, with knives made of stone. - Hist. Aethiop., lib. iii., c. 1. And as God commanded the people to make him an altar of unhewn stones, on which no tool of iron had been lifted up, because this would pollute it, (see Exodus 20:25, and Deuteronomy 27:5;), he might require that no instrument of iron should be used in a rite by which the body and soul of the person were in the most solemn and sacred manner dedicated to him to be his house and temple, the heart itself being the altar on which continual sacrifices to God must be offered. A physical reason has been given for preferring knives of stone in this operation, "the wound suffers less through inflammation, and is sooner healed." For this a reason may be given. It is almost impossible to get an edge made so even and firm as not to leave particles of the metal in the incisions made even in the most delicate flesh; these particles would soon become oxidized by the action of the air, and extra inflammation in the part would be the consequence. The great aptitude of iron to be oxidized, i.e., to be converted to rust, is well known; but how far this reasoning, thus applied, may be supported by fact, I cannot pretend to determine: it is sufficiently evident that it was a common custom to use knives of stone in circumcision, and in all operations on those parts of the human body. I shall give a few examples. Pliny says, when they amputate certain parts they do it with a sharp stone, because nothing else could be employed without danger. Samia testa virilitatem amputabant: nec aliter citra perniciem. Ovid, Fast. lib. iv., ver. 237, relates a circumstance where the saxum acutum, or sharp stone, was used about those parts: -

Ille etiam Saxo corpus laniavit Acuto,

Longaque in immundo pulvere tracta coma est.

Voxque fuit, Merui; meritas dem sanguine poenas;

Ah! pereant partes quae nocuere mihi;

Ah! pereant; dicebat adhuc, onus inguinis aufert;

Nullaque sunt subito signa relicta viri.

This quotation is produced in order to prove that a knife made of a sharp stone was used in making incisions and amputations of certain parts of the body, even when the use of iron was well known; but a translation of the verse is not necessary, and would be improper. The

Mollia qui Rapta secuit Genitalia Testa

of Juvenal (Sat. vi., ver. 513) is a farther proof of this. Many other proofs might be produced but those who wish for more may consult Calmet and Scheuchzer.

Circumcise again the children of Israel the second time - This certainly does not mean that they should repeat circumcision on those who had already received it. This would have been as absurd as impracticable. But the command implies that they were to renew the observance of a rite which had been neglected in their travels in the desert: this is sufficiently evident from the following verses.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/joshua-5.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Make thee sharp knives - Render rather as marg., and compare marginal reference and note. Knives of flint or stone were in fact used for circumcision, and retained for that and other sacred purposes, even after iron had become in common use. The rendering of the margin is adopted by almost all ancient versions, by most commentators, and by the fathers generally, who naturally regarded circumcision performed by Joshua and by means of knives of stone or rock, as symbolic of the true circumcision performed by Christ, who is more than once spoken of as the Rock (compare 1 Corinthians 10:4; Romans 2:29; Colossians 2:11). See Joshua 21:42.

Circumcise again … - i. e. make that which once was a circumcised people but is not so now, once more a circumcised people. (See Joshua 4:4-7.)

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/joshua-5.html. 1870.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

At that time the Lord said unto Joshua,.... When the people had passed over Jordan, and had pitched in Gilgal, and Joshua had set up the stones there; and particularly when the dread of them had seized the inhabitants of Canaan, and deprived them of all their courage; and so was a fit time for the execution of what is next ordered, and seems designed in the providence of God among other things particularly for that:

make them sharp knives; not that Joshua was to make them himself, but to order them to be made; for a considerable number would be wanted for the use to be made of them: the Targum calls them sharp razors; and Ben Gersom says they were made of brass, more likely of iron or steel, which perhaps he means; but the Hebrew text is, "knives of rocks", "flints" or "stones"; and so MaimonidesF16Moreh Nevochim, par. 1. c. 16. interprets the words, and as they are rendered in various versionsF17הרבות צרים μαχαιρας πετρινας, Sept. "cultros lapideos", V. L. "cultros petrarum", Munster, Montanus, Piscator. ; with such an instrument Zipporah circumcised her son; and like them were the "samia testa"F18Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 35. c. 12. Arnob. adv. Gentes, l. 5. p. 189. , with which the priests of the mother of the gods were castrated; and the "saxum acutum" of OvidF19Fast. l. 4. ver. 237. ; and such the Americans used in slaying beasts, and the EgyptiansF20Herod. Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 86. in the dissecting of their dead bodies; and which the Talmudists allow of as lawful; and in the east the Jews to this day use knives of stone in circumcisionF21Vid. Pfeiffer. Dubia Vexata, cent. 2. loc. 46. ; See Gill on Exodus 4:25.

and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time; not that circumcision was to be repeated on them that had been circumcised already, who had found out ways and means to draw over the foreskin again, as some in later times did; or who had been imperfectly circumcised according to the rite enjoined by Abraham, which some Jewish writers say was not perfect; neither of which was the case. Kimchi, and so Ben Melech, interpret the word, "oftentimes", frequently, one time after another; as if the sense was, Joshua was to circumcise them, or take care they were circumcised, some at one time, and some at another, until the whole was finished; but this is not what is meant, it refers to a former general circumcision; not to the circumcision, as first administered in Abraham's time, for there had been a multitude of instances of it since that time; but to the circumcision of the Israelites at, about, or quickly after their coming out of Egypt; either before their eating of their first passover, the night they went out of Egypt, as JarchiF23So in Pirke Eliezer, c. 29. ; or rather some time in the three days' darkness of the Egyptians, as Dr. LightfootF24Works, vol. 1. p. 40. thinks; or else when they were about Sinai, just before the celebration of the passover there, Numbers 9:1; from which time it had been neglected; not cause unnecessary, while they were in the wilderness, to distinguish them from others, which was not the principal, at least not the only use of it; nor because forbidden the Israelites for their disobedience, murmurings, and rebellion, it not being probable that God should prohibit the observance of a command of his on that account; nor so much through criminal neglect, at least contempt of it, as because of their frequent journeying, and the inconvenience of performing it, being always uncertain, when they had pitched their tents, how long they should stay, and when they should remove, since this depended upon the taking up of the cloud; wherefore, unless they could have been sure of a continuance for a proper time, it was not safe to administer it; and now it was enjoined, partly because they were about to celebrate the passover, which required circumcision in all that partook of it, Exodus 12:43; and partly because they had now entered into the land of Canaan, which was given them in the covenant of circumcision, Genesis 17:8; wherefore it became them now to observe it, and as typical of spiritual circumcision, necessary to the heavenly Canaan, as well as to distinguish them from the uncircumcised Canaanites they were coming among; and they did not think themselves under obligation to observe it till they came to settle in that land, as some think, who hereby account for their long neglect of it.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/joshua-5.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, b and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.

(b) For now they had left it off, about 40 years.
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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/joshua-5.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Joshua 5:2-12. Circumcision is renewed.

At that time — on the encampment being made after the passage.

the Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives — Stone knives, collect and make them ready. Flints have been used in the early times of all people; and although the use of iron was known to the Hebrews in the days of Joshua, probably the want of a sufficient number of metallic implements dictated the employment of flints on this occasion (compare Exodus 4:25).

circumcise again the children of Israel the second time — literally, “return and circumcise.” The command did not require him to repeat the operation on those who had undergone it, but to resume the observance of the rite, which had been long discontinued. The language, however, evidently points to a general circumcising on some previous occasion, which, though unrecorded, must have been made before the celebration of the Passover at Sinai (compare Exodus 12:48; Numbers 9:5), as a mixed multitude accompanied the camp. “The second time” of general circumcising was at the entrance into Canaan.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/joshua-5.html. 1871-8.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.

At that time — As soon as ever they were come to Gilgal, which was on the tenth day; and so this might be executed the eleventh day, and that in the morning: on the thirteenth day they were sore of their wounds, and on the fourteenth day they recovered, and at the even of that day kept the passover.

Make — Or, prepare, or make ready, as this word sometimes used. As it was not necessary for those who had such knives already to make others for that use; so it is not probable that such were commanded to do so, but only to make them sharp and fit for that work.

The second time — He calleth this a second circumcision, not as if these same persons had been circumcised before, but with respect to the body of the people, where of one part had been circumcised before, and the other at this time, which is called a second time, in relation to some former time wherein they were circumcised, either, in Egypt, when many of the people, who possibly for fear or favour of the Egyptians, had neglected this duty, were by the command of Moses circumcised. Or at Sinai, when they received the passover, Numbers 9:5, which no uncircumcised person might do.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/joshua-5.html. 1765.

Scofield's Reference Notes

circumcision

Circumcision is the "sign" of the Abrahamic Covenant Genesis 17:7-14; Romans 4:11. "The reproach of Egypt" was that, during the later years of the Egyptian bondage, this separating sign had been neglected (cf. Exodus 4:24-26 and this neglect had continued during the wilderness wanderings. The N.T. analogue is world conformity; the failure openly to take a believer's place with Christ in death and resurrection.; Romans 6:2-11; Galatians 6:14-16. Spiritually it is mortifying the deeds of the body through the Spirit.; Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:17; Colossians 2:11; Colossians 2:12; Colossians 3:5-10.

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Scofield, C. I. "Scofield Reference Notes on Joshua 5:2". "Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/srn/joshua-5.html. 1917.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Joshua 5:2 At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.

Ver. 2. Make thee sharp knives.] Heb., Knives of edges, or knives of flints, cultros lapideos (so one rendereth it) id est, cote acutos.

And circumcise again the children of Israel the second time,] viz., Those that yet are uncircumcised: for they could not be twice circumcised, unless by drawing up the foreskin with a surgeon’s instrument, any of them had made themselves again uncircumcised, as the Rabbis say Esau had; and as some Jews had done for fear of Antiochus. {/APC 1Ma 1:15} But here it is rather to be understood of such as, during their abode in the wilderness, had intermitted this ordinance; and God had dispensed with them because of their frequent and sudden removes. Vatablus’s note here is very good, Transierunt filii Israel Iordanem incircumcisi ne hoc suae circumcision et meritis tribuerent: The Israelites passed over Jordan uncircumcised, that they might not attribute it to their circumcision and merits. Another well notes, that by this seal of the covenant with Abraham, God did now notably confirm their faith in the promise of both the earthly and heavenly Canaan.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/joshua-5.html. 1865-1868.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

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.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/joshua-5.html. 1801-1803.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

At that time; as soon as ever they were come to Gilgal, which was on the tenth day; and so this might be executed the next, or the eleventh day, and that in the morning: on the thirteenth day they were sore of their wounds, and on the fourteenth day they recovered, and at the even of that day kept the passover.

Make thee sharp knives; or, prepare, or make ready, as this word is sometimes used. As it was not necessary for those who had such knives already to make others for that use; so it is not probable that such were commanded to do so, but only to make them sharp and fit for that work. They are called in Hebrew knives of flints, not as if they were all necessarily to be made of flints, but because such were commonly used, especially in those parts, where there was but little iron; and because such knives were oft used in this work, as the Jewish doctors note, and in such like works, as the heathen writers relate. Thus we call that an ink-horn which is made of silver, because those utensils are commonly made of horn.

Circumcise again; he calleth this a second circumcision, not as if these same persons had been circumcised once before, either by Joshua, or by any other, for the contrary is affirmed below, Joshua 5:7; but with respect unto the body of the people, whereof one part had been circumcised before, and the other at this time, which is called a

second time, in relation to some former time wherein they were circumcised; either,

1. In Egypt, when many of the people, who possibly for fear or favour of the Egyptians had neglected this duty, were by the command of Moses (who had been awakened by the remembrance of his own neglect and danger thereupon) circumcised; which during the ten plagues, and the grievous confusion and consternation of the Egyptians, they might easily find opportunity to do. Or,

2. At Sinai, when they received the passover, Numbers 9:5, which no uncircumcised person might do, Exodus 12:48; and therefore it may not seem improbable, that all the children born in that first year after their coming out of Egypt, and all they who peradventure might come out of Egypt in their uncircumcision, were now circumcised.

Object. 1. All that came out of Egypt were circumcised, Joshua 5:5.

Answ. 1. This may be true, but he doth not say when and where they were circumcised; nor doth he deny that this was done to some of them, either in time of the plagues in Egypt, or at Sinai.

2. All is very oft used of the greatest part, as is confessed.

Object. 2. All the people that were born in the wilderness were not circumcised, Joshua 5:5.

Answ. 1. Understand this also of the greatest part.

2. This is limited to them that were born by the way, as it is said there, and emphatically repeated, Joshua 5:7, i.e. in their journeys and travellings; which insinuates the reason why they were not circumcised, because they were always uncertain of their stay in any place, and were constantly to be in a readiness for a removal when God took up the cloud: but this reason ceased at Sinai, where they knew they were to abide for a considerable time; and seeing they took that opportunity for the celebration of the passover, it is likely they would improve it also to the circumcision of their children or others, which they ought to prize highly, and to embrace all occasions offered for it; which though the people might, it is not likely that biases would neglect.

Object. 3. They are said to have remained uncircumcised forty whole years in the wilderness, Joshua 5:6.

Answ. i.e. For almost forty years; as the same phrase is used Numbers 14:33,34 32:13, when there was above one year of that number past and gone. Or,

3. In Abraham; and so the sense may be, The first circumcision conferred upon Abraham, and continued in his posterity, hath been for many years neglected or omitted; and so that great and solemn pledge of my covenant with you is in a manner wholly lost, and therefore it is but fit and necessary to have this long-interrupted practice of circumcision revived, and to have Abraham’s posterity circumcised a second time for the renewing of the covenant between them and me again.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/joshua-5.html. 1685.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘At that time YHWH said to Joshua, “Make yourself knives of flint and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.” ’

This did not mean circumcising those who were already circumcised for a second time (see Joshua 5:7), but reintroducing circumcision as something to be carried out on those who had not been circumcised during the journey through the wilderness and what followed.

Circumcision was an ancient rite practised in both Egypt and Canaan, and Abraham, having arrived from the north, was told to adopt the practise as a sign of YHWH’s covenant with him (Genesis 17). No one who was uncircumcised was to be allowed to eat the Passover (Exodus 12:44; Exodus 12:48). Thus Abraham circumcised the whole of his family tribe ‘the first time’. Then from Abraham to the Exodus the rite of circumcision on the eighth day after birth was carried out on every male child as a continuation of that ceremony. But the journey from Egypt had interrupted the rite, for no circumcision took place in the wilderness. Thus it had to commence as a group matter ‘a second time’. It had possibly not been seen as helpful for people to be circumcised while constantly travelling due to the days of soreness that followed, and we must presume that Moses considered that YHWH Himself had given them a dispensation from it for the period.

Joshua used flint knives for the performance of the rite, even though it was at a time when the use of metal was well known and metal knives were to hand. It is clear from this that the ceremony was seen as so sacred, and so ancient, that the original methods had to be followed. Moses’ failure to circumcise his son had led to almost fatal illness until the situation was remedied (Exodus 4:24-26). A flint was also used there. The use of flint knives, freshly prepared from new flints, meant that the knives were naturally the equivalent of having been sterilised, which metal knives would not have been.

Circumcision was an ancient institution not limited to the family tribe of Abraham and was practised in Egypt in the Old Kingdom period. But there it was carried out during boyhood rather than at infancy. A sixth dynasty Egyptian tomb relief depicts a boy being circumcised, probably with a flint knife, and two prisoners of a Canaanite king depicted on a 12th century BC Megiddo ivory, were also circumcised. But it is clear that in Abraham’s family tribe circumcision was not practised up to Genesis 17, and it was not generally practised in Mesopotamia from where Abraham came. Modern medicine has shown the value of circumcision in protecting the health of those who live in semi-desert conditions as it helps to prevent foreign bodies becoming trapped under the foreskin.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/joshua-5.html. 2013.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

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.”

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/joshua-5.html. 1874-1909.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Joshua 5:2. At that time — Namely, the morning after the passage, on the eleventh day of the first month, as Archbishop Usher and others have very probably conjectured. On the thirteenth day they were sore of their wounds, on the fourteenth they recovered, and on the even of that day kept the passover. Make thee sharp knives — Or, knives of flints, as the original חרבות צרים, charboth tzurim, more properly signifies, and is translated by Maimonides. These stones might be found in abundance on the adjacent mountains; and it is likely, as Theodoret observes, that after a pilgrimage of forty years in the wilderness of Arabia, the Israelites might not be provided with knives of iron or steel, such as are now in use. But whatever kind of knives may be here meant, those who had them already were not hereby commanded to make others, but only to make them sharp. Again the second time — This does not mean that those very persons who had before been circumcised should be circumcised again, but that the rite or custom of circumcising, which had been disused in the wilderness for some years, should be again practised. That this is the sense, appears very evident from the following verses. If it be inquired, when the former time, here referred to, was? it may be answered, either in Egypt, when many of them, who, possibly through fear or favour of the Egyptians, had neglected this duty, were circumcised by the command of Moses; or at Sinai, when they received the passover, which no uncircumcised person might do.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/joshua-5.html. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Time. While the enemy was rendered incapable of attacking the Israelites by excessive fear (Calmet) and consternation, Josue was commanded to renew the sign of the covenant, by which they were to take possession of the land, and it is supposed that he complied the day after he arrived at Galgal; (Haydock) so that the wound would be healing, when the feast of the Passover commenced four days later. On the third day it is most painful. (Genesis xxxiv. 25.) --- Of stone. Hebrew tsurim, which some translate, "sharp;" but the Septuagint and the best interpreters agree, that the word indicates a stone. Such a knife was used by Sephora. (Exodus iv. 25.) It was supposed that sharp stones would cause less inflammation or danger. Samia testa....amputabant, nec aliter citra perniciem. (Pliny, [Natural History?] xxv. 12.) Herodotus (ii. 86,) observes, that the Egyptian embalmers opened the body of the deceased with a "sharp Ethiopian stone." The people of Africa, and of America, have frequently used stone to cut wood, &c. Some of the Fathers assert, that Christ was circumcised with a knife of stone. But any other sharp instrument might be used for the purpose. Any person might perform the operation. Izates, king of the Adiabenians, received circumcision from the hand of a surgeon. (Josephus, [Antiquities?] xx. 2.) (Calmet) --- Time. Not that such as had been circumcised before were to be circumcised again: but that they were not to renew, and take up again the practice of circumcision; which had been omitted during their 40 years' sojourning in the wilderness; by reason of their being always uncertain whey they should be obliged to march. (Challoner) --- St. Augustine (q. 6,) seems to think that the Israelites despised this ceremony in the desert. Theodoret (q. 2,) supposes it was disused because it was not then necessary, to distinguish the Israelites from other nations. Masius is of opinion that God would not allow them to employ it, after their revolt at Cades-barne, when they would not take possession of the land of Chanaan; and hence they could not resume that privilege, till God had authorized them again, ver 7., and Numbers xiv. 33. The covenant with God, of which circumcision was the seal, had been, in the mean time, suspended. But as the Israelites are no where blamed, in Scripture, on account of this omission, it seems that God dispensed with them during the 38 years after they left Sinai, that the children might not be exposed to the evident danger of perishing, as the people knew not how soon the cloud would give notice for an immediate departure. (Calmet) --- Since they were now in te midst of the nations of Chanaan, this distinctive mark (Menochius) was to be henceforth diligently observed. (Haydock)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/joshua-5.html. 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

said. See note on Joshua 3:7.

again . the second time. Not repeated as an act on the person, but on the nation on a second occasion (compare for this usage Isaiah 11:11 and Jude 1:5, implying that the rite was performed in Egypt. See verses: Joshua 5:4-7.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/joshua-5.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.

At that time - on the encampment being made after the passage.

The Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, [ charbowt (Hebrew #2719) tsuriym (Hebrew #6697), sharp knives (cf. Psalms 89:44, "edge of the sword"); but the Septuagint has machairas petrinas ek petras akrotomou, stone knives, of sharp-pointed stone; taking tsuwr (Hebrew #6698) in the sense of a rock, sharp and precipitous. So also Vulgate, Syriac, and Arabic render the word] - stone knives; i:e., prepare, make them ready. Flints have been used an the early times of all people; and although the use of iron was known to the Hebrews in the days of Joshua, probably the want of a sufficient number of metallic implements dictated the employment of flints on this occasion (cf. Exodus 4:25). Harmer ('Observations,' 4:, p. 167) suggests another, though a fanciful, reason. Those who have given an account of the Egyptian way of embalming, tell us that it was an Ethiopian stone, called basaltes, that was used for opening the body to be embalmed, by which embalming it acquired a sort of immortality. In this view, might not Joshua be enjoined to use a like kind of knives for the circumcising of the Israelites, which circumcision the Jews of later times, at least, looked upon as a token and pledge of their resurrection from the dead, never to return to corruption? The precept to use stone knives might be intended to give some expectation of this nature.' Stone knives are still in Ethiopia (Abyssinia) used for religious purposes.

Circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. - literally, return and circumcise. The command did not require him to repeat the operation on those who had undergone it, but to resume the observance of the rite, which had been long discontinued. The language, however, evidently points to a general circumcising on some previous occasion, which, though unrecorded, must have been made before the celebration of the Passover at Sinai (cf. Exodus 12:48; Numbers 9:5), as a mixed multitude accompanied the camp. "The second time" of general circumcising was at the entrance into Canaan.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/joshua-5.html. 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

THE CIRCUMCISION OF ISRAEL BY JOSHUA (Joshua 5:2-9).

(2) Make thee sharp knives.—Authorities are divided between the rendering “sharp knives” and “knives of flint.” The first seems best supported, as far as the meaning of the words is concerned. The expression is “knives of tsurim.” The word tsûr does not seem anywhere to be connected with the material of the tool, but rather with the edge of it. Knives of keen edge is, therefore, the better translation. At the same time they may have been stone knives in this instance. The idea that they were so is supported by an addition in the LXX. to Joshua 24:30 : “They put with him (Joshua) into the tomb . . . the knives of stone with which he circumcised the children of Israel . . . and there they are to this day.” The ceremony being a kind of special consecration, it is not unlikely to have been performed with special instruments, which were not used before or after. Comp. Psalms 89:43, “Thou hast turned the tsûr (keen edge) of his sword;” 2 Samuel 2:16, “Helkath Hazzurim”—i.e., the field of keen blades; Exodus 4:25, “Zipporah took a tzôr “; Ezekiel 3:9, “an adamant harder than tzôr.”

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/joshua-5.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.
sharp knives
or, knives of flints. Before the use of iron was common, all the nations of the earth had their edge tools made of stones, flints, etc. Our ancestors had their arrows and spearheads made of flint; which are frequently turned up by the plough. And even when iron became more common, stone knives seem to have been preferred for making incisions in the human body. The Egyptians used such to open the bodies for embalming; and the tribe of Alnajab in Ethiopia, who follow the Mosaic institution, perform the rite of circumcision, according to Ludolf, cultris lapidibus, with knives made of stone.
circumcise
Genesis 17:10-14; Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Romans 2:29; 4:11; Colossians 2:11
Reciprocal: Genesis 17:14 - cut;  Genesis 17:23 - circumcised;  Genesis 34:14 - uncircumcised;  Exodus 4:25 - a sharp stone;  Hosea 9:15 - is in

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/joshua-5.html.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

2.At that time the Lord said, etc It seems very strange and almost monstrous, that circumcision had so long been laid aside, especially as it became those who were receiving daily admonitions to be more than usually careful to cultivate the exercises of piety. It was the symbol of the adoption to which they owed their freedom. And it is certain that when they were reduced to extremity and groaning under tyranny, they always circumcised their children. We know also how sternly God threatened to be an avenger against any one who should allow the eighth day to pass. Had the observance been neglected in Egypt their carelessness might have admitted of excuse, as at that time the covenant of God appeared to have become in a manner obsolete. But now when the divine faithfulness in establishing the covenant is once more refulgent, what excuse could there be for not testifying on their part that they are the people of God

The apology which commentators offer is altogether frivolous. I admit that they were constantly under arms, and always uncertain when they would require to move. But I hold it erroneous to infer from this that they had not a day’s leisure, and that it would have been cruel to circumcise tender infants when the camp must shortly after have been moved. Nothing ought to have weighed so much with them as to produce a contemptuous disregard of what had been said to Abraham, (Genesis 17:14) The soul that is not circumcised shall be cut off from the people. But if there was risk of life in the circumcision, the best and only method was to trust to the paternal providence of God, who certainly would not have allowed his own precept to become fatal to infants. In short, the omission from a fear of danger, could not originate in any other cause than distrust. But even had it been certain that infants would be brought into danger, God ought nevertheless to have been obeyed, inasmuch as the seal of the covenant by which they were received into the Church was more precious than a hundred lives. Nor would Moses have suffered such cowardly procedure had he not been influenced by some different motive. Moreover, though the point is doubtful, I presume that they did not desist from circumcising their children, the very first day after their departure, but only after they had been obliged to retrace their steps through their own perverseness. And in this way both the defection and the punishment are accurately expressed, For it is not said that circumcision was resumed, because the constant change of place during their wanderings made it previously impossible, but because forty years behooved to elapse until those wicked apostates who had cut themselves off from the promised inheritance were consumed.

Attention should be paid to the reason here given, namely, that the children of Israel wandered through the desert till the whole of the generation which had refused to follow God was extinct; from this we may, in my opinion, infer, that the use of circumcision ceased during the whole of that period as a sign of malediction or rejection. It is true, indeed, that the penalty was inflicted on the innocent, but it was expedient that the fathers should be chastised in their person, as if God were repudiating them for the time to come. When they saw that their offspring differed in no respect from profane persons and strangers, they had a plain demonstration of what they themselves deserved.

Here, however, an inconsistency seems to arise in respect, first, that while they were condemned, their offspring were immediately received into favor; and secondly, that to themselves also was left a hope of pardon; and more especially, that they were not deprived of the other sacraments of which they could not be partakers, except on the ground of their being separated from profane nations.

The Lord, I admit, in rejecting them, declares at the same time that he will be propitious to their children, but to behold in their offspring a sign of repudiation till they themselves all perished, was salutary chastisement. For God withdrew the pledge of his favor only for a time, and kept it, as it were, locked up until their death. This punishment, therefore, was not properly inflicted on the children who were afterwards born, but had the same effect as a suspension, just as if God were making it manifest that he had put off circumcision for a time lest it should be profaned, but was waiting for an opportunity of renewing it.

Should any one object that it was absurd to celebrate the Passover in uncircumcision, I admit that it was so according to the usual order. For none were admitted to the Passover and the sacrifices save those who were initiated into the worship of God; just as in the present day the ordinance of the Supper is common only to those who have been admitted into the Church by baptism. But the Lord might choose for a time to alter the ordinary rule, and allow those from whom he had taken away circumcision to be partakers of other sacred rites. Thus the people were excommunicated in one matter, and yet, in the meanwhile, furnished with fit aids to prevent them from falling into despair; just as if a father, offended with his son, were to raise his fist, apparently to drive him away, and were at the same time to detain him by his other hand, — were to frighten him by threats and blows, and yet be unwilling to part with him. This seems to me to have been the reason why God, while depriving the people of the special pledge of adoption, was, however, unwilling to deprive them of other ordinances.

Should it be objected that there is a distinct assertion that none were circumcised on the way after they had set out, I answer, that, with a view to brevity, all things are not stated exactly, and yet that it may be gathered from the context that none remained uncircumcised but those who were born after the sedition. For it is said that their sons, whom God substituted for them, were circumcised by Joshua. From this it appears that a new people were then created to supply the place of perverse rebels. It was, moreover, a sad and severe trial that God did not choose to have the people circumcised till they were hemmed in by enemies on every side. It would, certainly, have been safer and more convenient to perform the rite before crossing the Jordan, in the land of Bashan, which had been reduced to peace by the overthrow of the inhabitants. The Lord waits till they are shut up in the midst of enemies, and exposed to their lust and violence, as if he were purposely exposing them to death; since all weakened by their wound must have given way at once, and been slaughtered almost without resistance. For if in similar circumstances (Genesis 34:0) two sons of Jacob, were able to force their way into the town of Sichem and plunder it, after slaying its citizens, how much more easy would it have been for the neighboring nations to attack the Israelites while thus wounded, and make a general massacre of them.

This was, therefore, as I have said, a very harsh trial, and hence the readiness with which it was submitted to is deserving of the greater praise. The place itself, however, appears to have been purposely selected by the divine wisdom, that they might be more disposed to obey. Had the same command been given on the other side of the Jordan, there was reason to fear that they might be cast into despondency, and from the delay thus interposed might again decline to enter the land. But now, when they had been brought into possession under happy auspices, as if by the hand of God, and conceived from the removal of this one obstacle a sure hope of warring with success, it is not wonderful if they obey more willingly than they might have done if they had not been so singularly strengthened. The very sight of the promised land must have furnished additional incentives, when they understood that they were again consecrated to God, in order that their uncircumcision might not pollute the holy land.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Joshua 5:2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/joshua-5.html. 1840-57.