a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

The New Generation Circumcised


When all the kings of the Amorites beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites by the sea, heard that the L ord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted, and there was no longer any spirit in them, because of the Israelites.

2 At that time the L ord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites a second time.” 3So Joshua made flint knives, and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath-haaraloth. 4This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the warriors, had died during the journey through the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt. 5Although all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people born on the journey through the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. 6For the Israelites traveled forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the warriors who came out of Egypt, perished, not having listened to the voice of the L ord. To them the L ord swore that he would not let them see the land that he had sworn to their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way.

8 When the circumcising of all the nation was done, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. 9The L ord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

The Passover at Gilgal

10 While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Joshua’s Vision

13 Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” 14He replied, “Neither; but as commander of the army of the L ord I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, “What do you command your servant, my lord?” 15The commander of the army of the L ord said to Joshua, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.

1. And it came to pass when, etc The recognition of the fearful power of God had such an effect upon them that they were astonished and fainted with terror, but it did not incline their minds to seek a remedy for the evil. Their heart was melted inasmuch as destitute of counsel and strength they did not bestir themselves, but in regard to contumacy they remained as hard-hearted as before. We have already seen elsewhere how unbelievers, when smitten with fear, cease not to wrestle with God, and even when they fall, continue fiercely to assail heaven. Hence the dread which ought to have urged them to caution had no other effect than to hurry them on headlong. They were, however, terrified from above for the sake of the people, that victory might be more easily obtained, and the Israelites might be emboldened when they saw they had to do with an enemy already broken and stricken with dismay. Thus God spared their weakness, as if he had opened up the way by removing obstacles, because they had already proved themselves to be otherwise more sluggish and cowardly than was meet. The substance then is, that before the conflict commenced, the enemy were already routed by the terror which the fame of the miracle had inspired.

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) 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.

VIEWNAME is study