"Whose War Is This, and How Do We Win It?" Joshua 5
Updated: Mar 26
Doing Wonderful Works for Us (John 14:12)
Our Savior has promised that we will do mightier works than he did, because he has gone to the Father (John 14:12). His prayers for us are always answered. He builds his church without ceasing. He is restraining evil men and turning their schemes to serve his purposes. Even in Joshua’s day, he was doing mighty works for his people. He made a way through the Jordan so his people could enter the land of promise and be his instruments of judgment against the seed of the serpent. He began this battle against sin and Satan in Eden, when he “put enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15). Subsequent history is the unfolding of the battle between these two seeds – Satan and his blinded, wretched servants, and the Lord Jesus Christ, with his glorious woman, his church (Rev. 12:17). Satan has been cast out of heaven, and he makes war against the seed of the woman with malice. But the Lord promises to fight for us. He gives us his armor – tried and victorious in his battle against Satan (Rev. 19:11-15). We would use his armor more faithfully if we remembered Christ wore and conquered with it – truth, hope, faith, righteousness, gospel, the word. These are the weapons by which we shall prevail, provided we identify the enemy correctly as Satan, not flesh and blood. Satan uses his human slaves to fight against Jesus Christ and the church (2 Tim. 2:26), but our battle is ultimately against him. Resist and overcome him in the power of the Son of God and his armor, Satan’s human forces will flee also. Let us trust our Savior’s promise to do mighty works in us. Let us faithfully learn to use his armor – at work, in our neighborhoods, in our own souls. It is God’s war, and he has triumphed in his beloved Son. He will spread this victory into our lives as we walk humbly before him.
Filling His Enemies with Fear (Deut. 11:25; P. 14:5; 2 Thess. 2:11)
As we fight, we must not forget that the Lord is working in the heart of his enemies. It will greatly settle us to know that the Lord commands the entire field. Every man is under his authority and direction. The Lord holds the hearts of all. He can take away the courage of his most violent and determined enemies. He changed proud Moses into the meekest man who ever lived, golden Nebuchadnezzar into a wild animal, and murdering Saul into preaching Paul. The wheels of his providence cover every man, every event, every moment – he is colossal. He is working in friend and foe alike, for “his counsels will stand” (Prov. 19:21; Isa. 8:10; 46:10; Eph. 1:11). This is what happened for the children of Israel. When the kings of the Amorites and other Canaanite groups saw the Jordan dried up when it was in flood stage and the children of Israel cross safely, they were struck with paralyzing fear. They had no more courage or strength to resist – and Israel had not yet drawn a sword on the western side of the Jordan. The battle is thus the Lord’s, not simply because he fights with us but also because he fights against his enemies. We should therefore not act like atheists or treat the Lord as if he were only the God of the Christians. No, he is the God of all. He fights against his enemies from within their own hearts. They cannot win; we cannot lose. Let us stand in faith, in the Lord’s power, confident that “greater is he who is in us that he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The great and mighty God who dwells with us undermines the heart of his enemies, taking away their will to resist (Acts 5:39; 6:7; 23:9).
The Lord Purging Our Sins (vv. 2-9)
2 At that time the LORD said to Joshua, "Make flint knives for yourself, and circumcise the sons of Israel again the second time." 3 So Joshua made flint knives for himself, and circumcised the sons of Israel at the hill of the foreskins. 4 And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: All the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way, after they had come out of Egypt. 5 For all the people who came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness, on the way as they came out of Egypt, had not been circumcised. 6 For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD -- to whom the LORD swore that He would not show them the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers that He would give us, "a land flowing with milk and honey." 7 Then Joshua circumcised their sons whom He raised up in their place; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8 So it was, when they had finished circumcising all the people, that they stayed in their places in the camp till they were healed. 9 Then the LORD said to Joshua, "This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." Therefore the name of the place is called Gilgal to this day.
All Suffer for the Sins of Their Fathers (vv. 2-6)
But the Lord can also embolden his enemies against his people. Servants of Satan have only as much leash as the Lord gives them, and our sins lengthen that leash. For forty years, the children of Israel had been languishing in the desert on account of their sins. It was not that the Canaanites were so strong, as witness Joshua’s early victory over the Amalekites (Ex. 17:3). Because of the unbelief of that generation, the Lord did not fight for them but excommunicated them. The entire generation that was born in the wilderness suffered for the sins of their fathers. They were not punished for those sins (Deut. 24:16), but our children can suffer greatly because of our unbelief. Thus, the new generation had not been circumcised, which was the sign of God’s covenant. All the men of that generation died because they did not obey the Lord (v. 6). It was a dreadful sentence, but the Lord keeps covenant and mercy – or takes it away due to our unbelief. He will not fight for unbelieving, stubborn, and disobedient people. Hearing this, let us wail over our sins. If we are parents, let the thought of our poor children defeated and prostrate under God’s judgments motivate us to repentance and faith. Let children with ungodly parents know that the Lord will not punish you for your fathers’ sins, if you are faithful and do not follow their bad example. Let Christian women and wives encourage the obedience of their Christian brothers, husbands, and sons. God works by covenant. He will undermine the courage of our enemies and crush Satan under our feet, but only if we are “obedient, wise concerning good, simple concerning evil” (Rom. 16:19-20). Otherwise, we shall suffer under his chastising hand and smart under the rod of his judgment by which he judges the nations with a rod of iron (Rev. 2:27).
The Covenant Renewed (vv. 7-8)
So, now for the second time, either in reference to a generational circumcision that may have occurred when they left Egypt or reached Sinai, or to the renewal of the Abrahamic covenant, which I think is more likely, all the males that were born in the wilderness submitted to circumcision. This would have been dangerous, for some days are required for healing after circumcision, but the Lord instilled his enemies with fear so that no one moved anywhere on that plain. But the important thing to note is not the external rite of circumcision but the covenant of grace of which it was a sign and seal. The wilderness years were excommunicated years. God turned his back upon that generation, not upon the people as a whole, but now the Lord will reestablish his covenant with his people. He will restore them to his fellowship through the rite that symbolized the blood of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:11-12) and signified cleansing of our sins and the gracious bestowal of a quickened heart (Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4). Like its new covenant counterpart, baptism, this did not mean that everyone in Israel was regenerate or walking with him. It was an outward sign pointing to their need of inward cleansing, God’s promise of grace to the believing and penitent. Publicly, it was a sign of his covenant, that the ban of excommunication was lifted, and that he was fighting for them and against his enemies.
Our Reproach Taken Away by Blood (v. 9)
To be restored to the sign of the covenant was no small blessing. In verse 9, the Lord speaks of “rolling away the reproach of Egypt” that was upon his people. How the Egyptians must have laughed at Israel during those years. Yes, your Lord delivered you from us and spitefully ruined our nation, but he would not or could not give you your promised land. What a wretched people you are! The Egyptians did not understand that the Lord was chastening that wicked generation and would not ultimately fail to keep his promises. But as they waited, it was with them often as it is with us in the world – ridicule. You Christians are pathetic – believing in your resurrected Jesus in the heavens, an invisible God, trusting his old Bible, not getting in line with the new gods of science, statism, and psychology. Notice what removed Israel’s reproach – blood. The blood in circumcision pointed to the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. He is the One who rolls away our reproach by bearing our reproach on the cross. We see and enjoy this blessing more clearly than the Israelites did, but the grace of the covenant that operated dimly in their hearts now shines brilliantly in ours! Let the world reproach and laugh – we have stood before the cross. The precious blood of Christ has been shed for us. We are reconciled to God through him, have the outward covenant signs of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper that testify to his favor, and enjoy his outpoured Spirit who comforts, teaches, guides, and empowers us to be faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ. “Blessed are those who mourn.” The world laughs now, but it will wail later. We lament now – our sins and unbelief, the hardness of the world, the reproaches given to God and his Christ – but we will rejoice fully later. We rejoice now and bear the cross without reproach as we look unto Jesus.
The Lord Restoring Us to His Fellowship (vv. 10-12)
10 Now the children of Israel camped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight on the plains of Jericho. 11 And they ate of the produce of the land on the day after the Passover, unleavened bread and parched grain, on the very same day. 12 Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year.
Purged, Now Fellowship with Him (v. 10)
Healing from the circumcision of over 600,000 men took a few days. They were encamped in a place named Gilgal, which means “a wheel, a rolling,” an obvious reference back to v. 9. They kept the Passover there on the 14th day of the month. The people are now fully restored to all the privileges and sacraments of the covenant. I doubt they kept the Passover during the wilderness years, although some have taken a different view. How could they enjoy the sacrament signifying protection and fellowship through substitutionary atonement if they were excluded from the sacrament signifying cleansing and purification? That generation was destroyed in the wilderness by the same death angel that slew the firstborn of the Egyptians, for they did not have the blood of Christ upon their doorposts of their hearts. The same relationship holds in our Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. No one should partake of the latter who has not been baptized into the name of the triune God, a sign and seal of our washing in Christ’s blood by the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit. Then, being purged from our sins, of which Baptism is a sign and seal, we enjoy fellowship with the Lord in his new covenant Supper. They could not undertake the conquest of the promised land unless they were living as God’s covenant people. Fellowship with the living God is what gains the victory over the world – faith in his promises, faith that looks to the cleansing blood of our Mediator as the basis of our peace with him, and faith that seeks his fellowship. Without this faith, Israel could not have conquered Canaan, the promised land. Without this faith, we cannot overcome the world and live for Jesus Christ in our day.
No More Manna (vv. 11-12)
As God’s pledge to be with them and give them victory, the manna ceased the next day. The bread of affliction fell no more. Although it was “angels’ food” (Ps. 78:25) and gave them strength for their wilderness ordeal, the manna was for a homeless people under judgment. Their inward state of repentance and faith now confirmed by their restoration to the covenant and its sacraments, the Lord gave them the food of the promised land. The corn left behind by the fleeing people of Canaan was the food of God’s people moving forward. They would live off the land. Believing and trusting him, he would provide for them until they were settled in their own homes and cultivating their own fields. “No more manna” did not mean the land was conquered, the battle over, but it was God’s certification that he fed them no more based upon their complaining but from his bounty in the land of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They did not complain when the manna ceased. They trusted the Lord. They took the field as believing men armed with his promises and following his presence.
The Lord Guiding Us as Our Captain (vv. 13-15)
13 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, "Are You for us or for our adversaries?" 14 So He said, "No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, "What does my Lord say to His servant?" 15 Then the Commander of the LORD's army said to Joshua, "Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy." And Joshua did so.
The Captain of the LORD’S Hosts (vv. 13-14)
Joshua went out to reconnoiter Jericho, likely to pray and seek the Lord’s wisdom. How do we move forward? What are the battle plans? Joshua looked up and saw a man standing near him with a drawn sword. Joshua filled with the courage of the Jordan crossing, circumcision, and Passover, drew near, unsure who this man was. There was nothing outwardly glorious about his appearance that alerted Joshua to the divine presence standing before him. “Are you for us, or for our enemies?” If for us, make yourself known; if against, prepare to fight. The Lord responded: “I am not for your adversaries. I am the Captain of the Lord’s hosts.” This was the Angel of the Lord, a preincarnate appearance of the Son of God, who even then the only Mediator of the covenant, for all the promises depended upon his person and work. This is the Angel that appeared to Abraham on the Plain of Mamre (Gen. 18), to Moses at the Burning Bush (Ex. 3:14 w/ John 18:5-6), and to Isaiah when he saw the Lord in his glory (John 12:41).
The Lord by this appearance vividly confirmed to Joshua that he was the true and awesome commander of the armies of Israel. They were carrying out his judgments upon the Canaanites. He commanded not only Israel but also the angelic hosts, who always do his will (Ps. 103:20), surround his people (2 Kings 6:17; Ps. 34:7), and watch over us with unceasing vigilance (Ps. 91:12). What a gracious appearance this was for Joshua! I am going before you. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. And thus, as Abraham believed and Moses wrote (John 5:47; 8:56), the real covenant was always the Lord Jesus Christ, life and salvation in him. He was the conqueror of his enemies then and now, the Lord of all the earth, the Shepherd of his people. If we follow him, we shall overcome, see the world converted and bow to him, and obtain heaven’s joys. He is the great Captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10).
Worship and Wait on His Guidance (v. 14)
Joshua required no long proofs or sermons. He fell on his face. This is the only safe posture for Joshua and for us. It is not that by knowing Jesus Christ, we have a kind of knowledge that tames holiness or breeds comfort before the consuming fire. Yes, our Savior is now clothed in our flesh and near to us by his Spirit so that we may draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, but if our posture is not worship, “MY LORD AND MY GOD” worship, then our piety is nothing but presumption. He fights for those who recognize who he is and relate to him accordingly – on our face worshipping him, on our feet trusting him. Joshua was no superstitious idolater, and nothing but absolute conviction would have placed him in the posture of worship. He also knew that God did not have a body like man, so seeing a man, he knew somehow that this was the Messenger of the covenant, the Son of God, the seed promised to Abraham. He not only worshipped but also asked for guidance. What do you want me to do? What is the plan? I am here to serve you. It is the way we relate to our Lord. You, Lord, alone are Lord. What would you have me do today? Relate to my spouse? Obey my parents? Think of the world of ungodly men? Fight against the sins in my life? Worship is the only and best posture to ensure that the Lord will safely guide us and preserve us in our warfare.
Take Off Your Shoes – Holy Ground (v. 15)
The plans will soon be revealed (6:2-5). There is something Joshua, the human general of God’s people, required more than detailed battle plans. It is the same thing you and I need, that the Lord himself must recover to his church. “Loose your shoes from off your foot; for the place whereon you stand is holy.” This is only strange to the spiritually dead. You, Joshua, need to know how holy I am, how completely above this battle fray and all the smoke and carnage you are about to see. You need to trust me completely, and the way you learn this is to respect my otherness, that I am of “purer eyes to behold iniquity.” And, Joshua, I say the same to you as to Moses – take off your shoes. Holy ground! You may be known to men as the servant of Moses, but you are no less my servant, for I am the same, and do not change. I will use you to accomplish all my holy purposes.
The lack of the sense of God’s holiness is the source of all our present ills. This may seem like exaggeration, but fear of man is stoked by low views of God’s holiness. How did our Savior endure the horror of Calvary? “But you are holy” (Ps. 22:3)! He never lost sight, even covered as he with us the shame, filth, spit, and blood of our salvation, that his Father was HOLY! HOLY! HOLY! It is God’s holiness that raises our courage, helps us see men as the puny creatures that they are, remain undaunted by their threats, and resolved to obey God’s will, even if Satan himself stood in front of us and screamed at us with all the heat and malice of hell. No, God is holy. Yes, sin is doomed. Evil men and the evil one cannot win. The righteous God who sits upon the throne of his holiness, he will prevail over all. There is no future, no security, and no peace in sin. There is a bright future, absolute security, and unquenchable peace in the holy God, who is untouched by sin, unthreatened by Satan, and unmoved by the wickedness of men. He dwells in unapproachable light. He let Joshua in for a moment – see whose war this is, my son. It is mine. See how you will win it – because I am with you. Be not afraid. Trust and obey. What gracious condescension upon the Lord’s part, to Joshua and to us, to allow us to draw near to him, the holy God. His condescension does not lower his holiness but raises us by his love and mercy to behold his glory in the face of Jesus Christ, praise him, and be transformed from glory to glory.
You and I must gain a sense of the HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL. Spend a portion of each day meditating upon his holiness (Isa. 6; 1 Pet. 1:15). Learn to abhor sin not simply because it violates a law but because it violates a person, the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Spend much time meditating upon the meaning of the cross and our Savior’s declaration of faith in the holy God while he hung there (Ps. 22:3). As you grow in regard for him, you will never grow comfortable with pluralism, blasphemy, dishonor to parents, theft by men and governments, fornication, and covetousness. The way we overcome the world is the way of faith in the holy God – drawing close to him by faith, learning to hate what he hates, to be grieved for the reproaches done to him by this world of men whom he created to praise him but who live to kill him. In fellowship and guidance by the Holy One, every Canaan must be conquered in our day – by the sword of the Spirit, by a million personal decisions of professing believers saying “NO” to what God hates and “YES” to what he loves. Pursue holiness, he said, for I am holy (1 Pet. 1:15). In his holy presence, Satan is put to flight. Men cannot answer. Fear can gain no hold. As with Joshua, so it is with us – before conquest, HOLINESS. Without holiness, no man will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). With holiness, no one can stand before us.