Joshua 5 – 18 Oct 2009
There are 3 things that I want to highlight in Joshua 5 and these are:
1. The purpose and meaning of circumcision for the people of Israel.
2. The continuity of God’s Provision; and
3. The full restoration of God’s presence with the people of Israel.
1. The Purpose and Meaning of Circumcision for the people of Israel
Here in Joshua 5, God told Joshua to circumcise the Israelites.
This generation of Israelites that Joshua was leading were born and raised in the wilderness.
Their parents were circumcised before they came out of Egypt.
Their parents saw all the great miracles of God done through the hand of Moses.
But they all died in the wilderness because they disobeyed God.
And for some reason, they did not carry on the practice of circumcising their children when they were in the wilderness.
Hence now, God tells Joshua to circumcise this new generation of Israelites.
So, what is circumcision?
What does it mean physically?
And what does it mean spiritually?
If you do not know what circumcision is physically, I suggest that you ask your parents at home.
There are some things which are best discussed in a family or parent-to-child setting.
And I suggest that this is one of them.
On such things, don’t listen to your friends.
Let your parents be the ones to tell you the truth.
What I will tell you today is the spiritual meaning of circumcision.
Now, this is a deep theological subject.
Great debates on this matter have taken place between different Church groups for a long time.
But what I want to share with you today is the devotional aspect of circumcision that you ought to know and understand as Christians.
We have learnt that the physical history of Israel teaches us spiritual lessons about salvation.
In the same way, there are many spiritual lessons in the physical act of circumcision.
Circumcision was used by God to make a physical “label” on His chosen people Israel.
It was used as a sign of their consecration to Him and this sign remains for life.
It was established as a national ordinance in the time of Abraham in Gen 17.
At that time, Abraham was 99 years old.
Yet, he went through this ordinance and this shows us the importance of it.
And after that, all the slaves of Jewish families, whether home-born or purchased, had to be circumcised (Gen 17).
And in Ex 12, we read that all foreigners in Israel had to be circumcised before they could enjoy the privileges of their citizenship in Israel.
In the Old Testament, there is always a spiritual idea that is attached to circumcision.
For example, in Isa 52:1, circumcision is portrayed as a symbol of purity.
In Ex 6:12 and 30, the phrase “uncircumcised lips” is being used.
In Lev 19, the fruit of a tree that is unclean is spoken of as being uncircumcised.
Therefore, circumcision represented the cutting away of an old way.
And more specifically, it represented the cutting away of sin and having the mark of God upon us.
And it is therefore meant to signify the purification of the heart.
So, what is more important is the inward circumcision of our hearts and not physical circumcision only.
And this can only be effected by the Holy Spirit (Rom 2:28)
And in this way, circumcision is a symbol that foreshadows the sanctification that is brought about by the Holy Spirit.
And in Col 2:11-13, we read that this symbol has been replaced by baptism in the new testament.
Now, we mentioned earlier that the generation of Israel that died in the wilderness did not circumcise their children.
What was the reason for that?
How could an entire generation of people have forgotten such an instruction from God?
We were not told, but I can name you 2 possible reasons as to why this could have happened:
The 1st reason could be that the hygiene of the wilderness did not facilitate this practice.
Now, this is probably not a good reason because children were born and raised during that period of time in the same harsh and difficult conditions.
In fact, when I was in KunMing China in Sep, I saw some people living in the same conditions just like 2000 years ago.
Therefore, the 2nd reason is more likely and it is this:
It is a demonstration of God’s displeasure upon that disobedient generation that died in the wilderness.
As such, the thought of circumcising their children did not surface amongst that generation of at all.
The meaning and need to do it simply got diluted and forgotten altogether.
And it appeared as if that “label” of God’s chosen people disappeared from Israel altogether.
And now that one generation has passed away, Joshua was told to “make right” what was wrong.
God’s people must bear God’s mark upon them.
God’s people must be part of the citizenship of His nation.
As a direct application, this therefore tells us that you cannot profess to be a Christian, but never get baptized.
You cannot be a Christian but is not part of the membership of any Church.
Church hopping is never encouraged in the scriptures.
You ought to be committed to a local Church, serve and grow with the fellowship in that Church.
You need to sit under the instruction and shepherding of the leadership of a local Church.
This is the only way you can grow in your Christian life.
Just as Joshua was asked to circumcise the children of Israel, we too must make sure we who profess to be Christians are baptised.
Just as Joshua had to make right what was not complete, we need to be baptized and associated to a local Church.
So, if you are a Christian today, I want to ask you if you have made right this matter in your life.
Speak to our Pastor so that he can help you as you consider this matter.
Now, having said all that, I want you to observe that the generation of Israelites that died in the wilderness was actually circumcised.
They were the ones who had seen all the great miracles of God and tasted of His goodness.
But they were also the ones who were disobedient, faithless and always murmuring.
So this tells us that you can experience the exodus, eat of the manna, drink the water from the rock, and yet remain in unbelief.
So, you can hold membership in God’s flock, but yet have no relationship with the Shepherd.
You can live in the King’s country but yet reject his sovereignty.
Therefore, circumcision of the flesh is nothing without the circumcision of the heart.
In the same way, baptism in form is useless unless you have the baptism of the Spirit where God the Holy Spirit fills your heart and made a real change in you altogether.
We ought to examine ourselves if this has really taken place in our hearts.
2. We come now to our 2nd heading which is the “Continuity of God’s Provision” for His people.
We turn our attention to verses 11-12.
God provided food for Israel in a supernatural way while they lived in the wilderness.
Everyday for 40 years, when Israel woke up in the morning, they found pellets of bread-like substances on the ground.
This was manna which sustained the Israelites all the while they were in the wilderness.
This supernatural way of providing for Israel was necessary at that point in time.
If God did not do that, all the Israelites would have died in hunger.
If you do a scientific analysis of what the manna is made of, I’m not surprised if you can find special vitamins that made them stronger so that they could face the tough conditions of the wilderness.
Now, as in all good things, familiarity brings abuse.
Supposing you grew up as a child in Israel at that time and now you are about 40 years old.
You may just take it for granted that manna will fall from heaven everyday.
Don’t we all behave like this sometimes?
Don’t we always wake up every morning assuming we will have breakfast?
Don’t we often complain that mum’s cooking the same dish again and again?
And we end up complaining about our food and not appreciate it the way we ought to.
And we often fail to realize that it was actually God’s providence behind all these provisions.
So, you see, we must not let familiarity make us forget the kind providences of God.
And this is an important lesson because we live in a generation where our physical needs are well provided for.
Now, there is another lesson that we can learn here.
In verse 12, we are told that manna ceased to flow from heaven.
It is important for us to understand that this did not mean that God stopped His providence for Israel.
We are told in verse 11 that “they ate from the produce of the land”.
When they were in the wilderness, Israel had an extraordinary need.
As such, that extraordinary need was being met in an extraordinary way.
So, God showered manna upon them everyday.
But now, when they were in the land, their needs have become normal.
Therefore, the food grows on the ground, and it need not come from heaven.
So when the need becomes normal, God’s providence comes by normal means.
But it is still God’s providence behind it all, and we must not dilute the mercies behind this provision.
We ought to be even more thankful that our needs are normal and not extraordinary.
Let me give you a example to illustrate what I mean.
There was once a man by the name of Dr Witherspoon.
He was the President of the College of New Jersey.
He lived a few miles away from the college where his office was located.
So, everyday he had to ride a horse pulling his carriage over a rocky hill to his office.
One day, when he was in his office, one of his neighbours burst into his room exclaiming:
“Dr Witherspoon, you must join me in thanking God for His extraordinary providence in saving me today.
My horse ran away and my carriage crashed into the rocks, but I escaped unhurt.”
Dr Witherspoon replied and said:
“Thank God for that, I’m glad you are alright, but let me tell you a more remarkable providence.
I have traveled on that same road hundreds of times.
My horse never ran away, my carriage was never smashed and I was never hurt.”
I trust you understand what I am talking about.
Now, let us apply this principle to the matter of prophesies, signs and other miraculous gifts.
The scriptures are now complete and we are to look to the scriptures for every need in our spiritual life.
But before the scriptures were complete, God had to use prophets and prophesies to convey His will to His people.
The need at that time was extraordinary, so such provisions came in an extraordinary way.
And that extraordinary way was via signs, visions and other miraculous gifts.
But now, with the word of God compiled, that need has become normal.
Therefore, signs, visions and prophesies have ceased to exist.
We are to read the scriptures to seek God’s guidance for our lives.
We must never think that God is found only in the earthquake, wind, fire and supernatural miracles.
We must never think that only the manna and not the produce of the land is God’s food.
In fact, most of God’s gifts to us are, as it were, wrapped in just a simple brown paper.
Think about this: you went home safely everyday, you had your monthly paycheck and you have had proper meals everyday.
You had the chance to read the Bible and pray in a comfortable environment.
These may all seem very ordinary.
But they are all God’s providence for you.
Never despise them.
Never think lowly of them.
Never get too familiar with them.
Be thankful and count your blessings.
3. We come now to our 3rd heading for the day: the full restoration of God’s presence with the people of Israel
In verse 13-15, Joshua had an extraordinary experience.
He met a Man with a drawn sword.
This Man said that He was the Captain of the Hosts of the LORD.
And this Man said to Joshua, “Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy”.
This Man whom Joshua met was the Lord Jesus, God Himself, the second person of the Holy Trinity.
This is a clear declaration that God was with Joshua and Israel in a special manner.
Can you remember when such a similar instruction was given to a man?
Yes, this was said to Moses in Ex 3:5 at the incident of the burning bush.
That was when God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt.
And God was with Moses in a special manner as he led Israel out of Egypt.
It was a precious state of the close presence of God in caring for Israel.
But that precious presence was lost as a result of the sin of the people of Israel.
Now, I want to point out 4 more incidents that happened after that incident of the burning bush.
And from there I believe you will understand the point I am trying to make.
You do not need to turn to these passages, but if you copy the down the references, I believe it will help you appreciate it much better.
In Ex 4:25, Moses was supposed to have his son circumcised.
But for whatever reason, Moses did not do it.
Instead, Zipporah, Moses’ wife, undertook the circumcision instead.
Now, remember that the act of circumcision was important because it was a sign that a person was part of Israel.
In Ex 12, we have the incident of the Passover in Egypt.
And from that time onwards, Israel observed the Passover memorial annually.
In Ex 14, God opened the Red Sea in a mighty miracle.
In Numbers 12, 12 spies were sent out to spy out the land of Canaan.
10 of them came back with a bad report.
Only 2 of them said they should launch the attack into Canaan immediately.
Now, right after Numbers 12, Israel was punished with 40 years of wilderness wandering.
That generation of Israelites was condemned to die in the wilderness.
Yes, God provided for them when they were in the wilderness.
The sun continued to shine, there was rain and there was manna to eat.
But the special blessing of God was missing.
The special presence of God as Moses had experienced it, was missing.
This is the saddest thing that can happen to people who have experienced the goodness of the Lord.
Let me be clear about this: sin separates us from God.
If there is a specific sin that you are habouring in your heart, then know this:
You may continue to live and carry out your normal routine.
The sun may continue to shine, you get the rain and every meal you desire.
But you will be deprived of greater blessings that you could have had.
And you will be deprived of the special presence of God and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.
Friends, never take sin lightly!
Israel sinned against God and the entire generation was wiped out before the full presence of God was restored again.
Now, let us recall what I have mentioned to you so far:
1. God spoke to Moses and tells him he was standing on holy ground.
2. Moses was supposed to circumcise his son, but Zipporah his wife did it instead.
3. The Passover incident took place.
4. God rescued the Israelites by opening the Red Sea.
5. 10 of the 12 spies gave a bad report of Canaan and the Israelites were suspended from entering Canaan.
What I want you to observe now is the reverse occurrence of these 5 incidents in the book of Joshua.
Here it goes: in Joshua 2, 2 spies were sent out to survey the land of Canaan.
This was a reverse occurrence of incident no. 5 where the 10 spies gave a bad report.
Instead of a bad report this time, the 2 spies who risked their lives on that mission, suggested that they should attack Jericho.
Next, in Joshua 3, God opened the River Jordan and the Israelites crossed over on dry land.
This was a reverse occurrence of incident no. 4 where God opened the Red Sea for Israel.
Now, in Joshua 5, God asked Joshua to circumcise the Israelites.
And when they were camped at Gilgal, they also celebrated the Passover memorial.
That was a reverse occurrence of incidents no. 3 & no. 2.
Finally, at the end of Joshua 5, Jesus, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity appeared to Joshua.
Once again, Joshua was standing on holy ground.
He was back to the state of closeness to the Lord as when Moses started out.
Israel now has the assurance of God that He will be with them as they entered Canaan.
This assurance was never felt in totality until the end of Joshua 5.
This full restoration of the presence of God was not felt till 40 years later when we had these 5 incidents taking place in reverse occurrence.
I don’t believe these 5 incidents and their reverse occurrence was co-incidental.
I believe God is showing us here the gravity of sin.
Friends, do not misunderstand me.
Our God is a loving and He is a merciful God.
He is full of loving kindness; He is patient and longsuffering.
He will never leave His elect, His special people.
But their sense of His special presence may not be experienced if there is sin in their lives.
They may miss great blessings as a result of sins too.
And friends, restoration does not take place so easily.
It took the life of Jesus our Lord, on the cross, before God’s children could be effectively saved back into His fold.
Friends, don’t take sin lightly because sin separates you from God.
I have said enough today and I just want to urge you to spend some time later to examine yourself and draw near to God.
So, let us close with a quick recap our 3 headings for today:
We learnt about circumcision and that what really counts is the circumcision of the heart.
We learnt about God’s providence and that most of these come in an ordinary way.
We learnt about how sin separates us from God and that we must never take this lightly. (Let us pray).