Bible Studies in Book of Joshua
Joshua Chapter 5: The significance of Gilgal then and now
By Fraser Gordon
We have looked at the Jordan and how that there were two sets of monuments that Joshua set up. One set of monumental stones was set up in the river and one set of stones was set up on the other side in Gilgal. They both had significance and the first one stood for the fact of death and burial with the Lord Jesus Christ. This monument in the Jordan is unseen because the waters flowed back over it, but it stands there to this day. We don't see it, but the eye of faith actually has to behold it for it shows that we are both dead and buried. The other monument on the other side of Gilgal stands for the coming up out of the waters of death into new life, which speaks of resurrection.
We are going to look at chapter 5 and especially about this place called Gilgal and the events that happened to the nation once they came up through the waters into this place. They are on ‘redemption’ ground so to speak, and that is why Gilgal is so significant to them. The meaning of Gilgal is ‘a rolling away.’
Before any warfare something has to happen...
Joshua 5:1 Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until we had crossed over, their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.
From Gilgal to the city of Jericho is only a distance of 2kms, so it is really close to this city which Israel had to take. When Israel crosses the Jordan their enemies obviously know all about it, and their response is one of fear. They haven't got the heart for the battle anymore because they have heard what God has done and instantly their hearts melt and they are afraid. You would think that from a war perspective now would be the time for Israel to attack. You would think that they would go straight on in seeing that their enemies are afraid and they have been told this by the two spies which they sent in to spy out the land. But God had other plans for them. There were things He had to do with the nation of Israel before they were ready for battle.
Joshua 5:2-8 At that time the LORD said to Joshua, "Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again." (3) So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth. (4) Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt--all the men of military age--died in the desert on the way after leaving Egypt. (5) All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the desert during the journey from Egypt had not. (6) The Israelites had moved about in the desert 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 that he had solemnly promised their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. (7) 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. (8) And they had circumcised the people that they stayed in that place until they were healed.
God had to restore something that had long been neglected during their wilderness wanderings. And that something is circumcision. The sign of circumcision dated back to when God promised that He would make Abraham a father of many nations and that He would bless his seed, and give his descendants a land which was to be their possession. This was not any piece of land, but the land that Abraham was dwelling in when God spoke to him. The sign of this covenant was to be circumcision; it was the sign that God loved this people, and had set them apart for Himself. He had plans for them, and this sign was to separate them from the nations around them.
In verse 2, it says “make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time”. The first time they had done this was when they were back in Egypt, before they could actually partake of Passover. (You were not allowed to partake of Passover unless you had been circumcised.) Israel had neglected this sign (with the exception of once at Mount Sinai) during their time in the wilderness, but as soon as they arrive in the land of Canaan this sign is required of them once more. So instead of them going into battle straight away God actually has to address this issue. That yes, you are now in the land and as a sign of this you are to remember My covenant with you. You are to take knives and circumcise yourselves. So what does all this mean for us? If you take these things as a picture of the Christian life we see that when we come into redemption ground we too must co-operate with God. Does the New Testament speak about a circumcision for the believer? Yes, in Philippians Ch. 3 vs. 3 Paul is talking about some of his own credentials as a Jew and he says “for we are the true circumcision who worship God in spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”
Philippians 3:2-3 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. (3) For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh--
So, even though for the Jew it was a cutting away of the flesh, for us in the New Testament it speaks about the flesh as the fleshly nature rather than an outward sign. And it talks about us having no confidence in the flesh.
Colossians 2:9-10 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, (10) and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.
Paul is saying here that the Christian is in the same position as the Lord Jesus Christ. We have been brought through death into resurrection life. We are now on redemption ground and are complete in the risen Saviour.
Colossians 2:11-13 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, (12) having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. (13) When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,
Here there is the same thought; just as the nation of Israel came through the waters of Jordan, through death, and burial into resurrection, and then they had to be circumcised, we read “that you also have been included with Christ in His death, and His burial and His resurrection” and as a part of that the act of circumcision has actually been applied to you by the Lord Jesus when we trust in Him.
Colossians 3:1, 5, 8 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (5) Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (8) But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
This same thought is being spoken of here that even though we are now in the land---on redemption ground, and God has wonderful promises and an inheritance to give us; still we have to apply the knife to our old fleshly nature. Because Christ has been crucified, buried and resurrected for us, we now have to put away that old nature. We have to put to death, at times, things that would dominate us. Things that are not of the Spirit of God, which are not of Christ's nature, should not rule in our lives. In times past they used to rule, but now they don't have to because of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ. So, in the same light, what happened to Israel is true for us also.
Rolling away the reproach of Egypt
Joshua 5:9 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.
What do you think the reproach of Egypt means? One meaning of the word is “He has rolled away the shame of Egypt”. This means that even though they were God’s people and in a covenant with Him, they were actually still in a position of slavery. They were supposed to be God's children. He had a land for them and promises for them but there they were being treated as slaves. So for the nation, this place called Gilgal became really important because it was here that the shame of what had happened to them prior to this was rolled away. It was taken off them. Gilgal means ‘a rolling’; it means that something is rolled off you which actually oppressed you. We need not let our past failures hang over us, we need to let the past go and go on into what Christ has for us. At Gilgal God began to remove and roll away all of the things that had oppressed them. For the Christian this is really important because there are things that we have done which we feel guilty about, and God wants us to allow Him to roll the shame of this away. In the risen Christ and on redemption ground these things are no longer a hindrance to us. Gilgal was pivotal for Israel and it is pivotal for us as Christians. It is the place of the Cross. It is the place of death. It is the place of resurrection. But it is also the place of self judgement. We need to judge our own lives first before God can use us. Now the things of the past no longer hindered Israel; God was freeing them so that they could now inherit what He had in store for them.
The Wilderness – Carnal Christianity
Joshua 5:10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.
Straight away after monuments are set up, the nation observed Passover. They remember that the angel of death passed over them in Egypt when they started out on their journey. Now they were to take a lamb and to observe it for four days. This is a picture of when the Lord Jesus was being observed for four days in Jerusalem by the Jews before His death on the cross. Then they had to apply the lamb’s blood upon the doorpost of their dwellings. In the same way that Christ's blood became a shelter for them, it is a shelter for us too.
Now all through the wilderness there was only one observance of Passover and this was at Mount Sinai. Passover for the Jew was something that was meant to be celebrated for all time, but there was only one time in the whole 40 year period that it occurred. So you get this picture of what the wilderness life is like; it is a picture of carnal Christianity. There is no circumcision and no remembrance of Passover in the wilderness life. There is no cutting away of the fleshly nature and no celebration of what God has done for us in the lamb that was slain… which speaks of the death and resurrection of our Saviour. However, as soon as they are on redemption ground, they celebrate all that God has done for them…then they are ready for battle.
Joshua 5:11-12 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. (12) The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan.
Now we see that Israel partakes of a new food. As soon as they are in the land, the Manna ceases and now they eat of the old corn of the land that He promised them. The manna was only supposed to be given for a short period of time, just enough to get them from Egypt to Canaan: So the picture here for the Christian is that we are now able to enter into the deeper truths of the Christian life, and now food of substance concerning Christ is available to us. This is what is called ‘eating of the old corn of the land.’ Gilgal is such a pivotal place. You have separation from the old fleshly nature, the celebration of Passover, a new type of food and then from verse 13 on you have new revelation:
Conclusion - Take note of the man with a sword in His hand
Joshua 5:13-15 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?" (14) 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?" (15) The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.
Here we see that Joshua takes a look at the city of Jericho which is only 2kms away. This is what they are going to be faced with first up. The walls were incredibly high and thick, and Joshua would have been thinking about how they were going to tackle this as a nation; which, as leader, is a normal thing for him to do. Jericho is the first foe to stand in their way and it is here that Joshua comes into contact with a man who is standing there with his sword drawn. The drawn sword is always a picture of being ready for war. It is not in its sheaf, it is actually drawn. He is ready for war, he is ready for action. Joshua did the most natural thing and asked “Are you on our side or theirs?” The response of the man is “Neither”.
Now God has a new revelation for Joshua; that if he is going to go into battle for the Lord, if he is going to inherit God's promises for the nation, then a new leadership has to take place. It wasn't God helping Joshua with his plans. It was actually God that had to be the originator. God was the one who was now in control. God was the one that was going to give the directions and the One who said “I am not on your side or theirs, but I have actually come to take over.” In other words “I have the pre-eminence”. It is not Me helping you, it is going to be My directions, it is going to be My will, My plans – not yours. When I was looking at this, I thought, how do we view our battles…how do we view the problems we are facing? Do we sometimes say “God, will you help me with this” but all the way along it is what we want to do in our way… in this instance I think this is what Joshua was actually doing. But God had to reveal something to him; that it is not your ideas Joshua, it is not your will, I am not here just to be a helper, I want to take over. So the revelation given to Joshua here is that God is the One who is in control. He is the One who is going to order what the nation has to do from now on.
The true response of all Christians is to give Christ the pre-eminence, give Him the first place. Instantly, when Joshua was confronted with this statement he knew to humble himself before the Lord. He gave Christ the pre-eminence and he worshipped Him. Not only that but he said “What has my Lord to say to His servant?” He actually shows that he is willing to be obedient to the way this commander of the army is going to direct the battle. He takes himself right out of the picture and says “Okay, you are now in control,” to the angel of the Lord.
This is no ordinary angel. There are only two mentions in Scripture where we read that someone is asked to remove their sandal. One is this time and the second one concerned Moses and the burning bush. The angel of the Lord had appeared to Moses in a flame of fire in the bush and the bush was on fire but it was not consumed. Moses saw this sight and turned aside to see this wonder, and God called to him and told him at remove his sandal. What is the picture we are given with Joshua before he is asked to remove his sandal? With Moses, it was to learn that the presence of God is adequate for any task; it is not the bush that counts, it is the presence of God. As regards Joshua’s experience, it is to tell him that God is the One who is going to be in charge; He wants to take over. He doesn't want to be just a helper. Joshua did the most sensible thing – he removed his sandal and took a place of humility. He actually took a place of “yes, I will be obedient to your plans, and your will, I can't battle this situation”. The Lord desires the same response and attitude in us today. His desire for you and me is that He would have a vessel which He can use for His purposes.