1. The people have crossed and it could not be better for them given the morale of the Canaanites. “Now when all the Amorite Kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the seacoast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until we had crossed over, their hearts sank and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.”
Where have we read that before? Just earlier, when the two spies had gone into the land and stayed with Rahab she told them that “a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt…our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you..” But that happened forty years ago. They had been living in fear for forty years and that is totally contrary to what the ten spies had reported years ago. What had they said? “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes and looked the same to them.” In fact, just the opposite was true. The Canaanites were terrified of them and if they had gone in when God gave them the opportunity (and the command) they wouldn’t have wandered in the wilderness for forty years.
Both of them, the Israelites and the Canaanites had been living in fear of each other for a whole generation.
What an opportunity for Joshua to capitalize on the fear of the Canaanites. There could be no better time to attack. But he doesn’t. Why not?
2. The Lord has him wait – contrary to all reason. Why?
“Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not. The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.”
But what a risk! To have a whole army sitting and unable to fight for days while they healed. Do you remember the story of Dinah (the daughter of Jacob and Leah) and the Shechemites? After Hamor the Hivite raped her, her brothers came up with a plan. They said they would allow her to marry Hamor but only if all the men of Shechem agreed to be circumcised. The king agreed and all the men in the city were circumcised. “Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, too their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male.”
So, why take that same risk now? Why not do it after the first battle victory?
Circumcision is the sign of the covenant and their identity. For whatever reason the practice had been suspended during the wandering in the wilderness.
Without it the young men would be merely mercenaries and outsiders. They would never belong.
Without it they were even more likely to intermarry once they settled in the land. The thing that gave them the cohesive bond with their clan would not be there.
Without it they were under no serious obligation nor a part of the promise to Abraham. They would have no legitimate claim on the land.
Without it, a large percentage of the adult population would be unaffiliated. Today, we call them “nones” or those who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious or Christians but not affiliated with any particular denomination or church. They are free to move around with no labels.
They could have rushed into battle and even have won easily but the long term effect would have been disastrous. There would have been nothing to hold them together. There would be no covenant.
3. But, at Gilgal God rolled away the reproach of Egypt. What was that reproach and that shame?
First, it was the effects of hundreds of years as slaves. They were now people with a calling and a purpose. They were a nation of priests and a light to the world. They were a treasured possession.
Second, they had put away the idolatrous religion of Egypt which had corrupted them for so long. They now had only one God.
Third, they no longer were to look back with longing on Egypt as they had in the wilderness. Unfortunately, they later returned to alliances with Egypt but they paid dearly for it. Isaiah rebuked them for it.
“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the Lord, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaohʼs protection, to Egyptʼs shade for refuge. But Pharaohʼs protection will be to your shame, Egyptʼs shade will bring you disgrace.
everyone will be put to shame because of a people useless to them, who bring neither help nor advantage, but only shame and disgrace.” (Isaiah 30:1-3, 5 NIV)
In what are they to put their trust? “Quietness and trust will be your strength.”
There is a lesson there for those of us who have the tendency to carry out our own plans without consulting God because we do not understand that quietness and trust is our strength. As we are learning in these studies there are times we are told to wait when it makes no sense at all.
So, again and again they wait. They wait on the banks of the Jordan for three days. They wait for the men to heal and now they will be asked to wait even longer.
4. The next celebration and sign of the covenant renewing is Passover. So they wait another seven days.
5. And at the conclusion of Passover God gives them another sign of the renewal of the covenant. He takes away the manna and gives them the blessing of work. How long has it been since they knew how to work the land? Forty years. How many of the young men know how to work the land? None of them, probably. But it is a blessing to be allowed to produce crops and farm the land of milk and honey. Work is a blessing. My father used to say that “work is the glue that holds life together.” I think he was right. People without work are people without that “glue” and their lives come apart. Manna was a gift and a necessity but the blessing of work is better still.
6. “Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord ʼs army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.” (Joshua 5:13-15 NIV)
Isn’t that an interesting and totally unexpected response? “Neither”
After all the confirmation of God’s favor – renewed sign of the covenant, crossing the Jordan, and the celebration of Passover – he would say neither.
In the face of an impending battle – the first in the new land given to them by God – the commander of armies of the Lord would say something that noncommittal? Joshua must have been expecting more than that!
After all, had not God said to him, “Fear not, for as I was with Moses I will be with you.” Again, he had said, “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.” How could he say “neither” to Joshua?
I think we sometimes confuse God’s saying “I will be with you” with “I will be on your side.” God with us is different than God being on our team or even our being so clear about the will of God that he fights for us. He fights for Himself and we are fortunate to be included. If you read Oswald Chambers you would have read this morning, “The idea is not that we do work for God, but that we are so loyal to Him that He can do His work through us.”
“Neither” is really what the covenant means, isn’t it. That’s why the appearance of the commander comes here in the passage. Otherwise we might think Israel has lined everything up now and God is somehow obligated to give them the victory. He is not. The covenant says that we are His to use according to his purposes. Paul puts it this way, “You are not your own but you are bought with a price.” We don’t like that but God says, “I don’t have sides. I have purposes beyond your understanding.”
And that is why his message is not what we expect. It is not a word of encouragement or assurance. It is simply you are on holy ground.
It is always holy ground where we realize we are God’s to do with as He pleases. That is the covenant. It is not a contract. It is a covenant. Wherever you are when you realize that you are not your own but bought with a price is holy ground.
Do you know the old hymn “I Am Thine O, Lord.”?
“Consecrate me now to they service, Lord
By the power of grace divine.
Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope
And my will be lost in thine.”
This is not just a song that we sing. This is what we experience, hopefully, in our lives when we understand we are not our own but we are His to do with as He pleases and our will is lost in His. That changes everything.