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<060501>JOSHUA 5:1-15 CIRCUMCISION That which is to engage our attention on this occasion, as in the article following, is still concerned with what was preparatory to the real task awaiting Israel, and is found in what, strictly speaking, belongs unto the introductory portion of Joshua, rather than to the body of the book, where Israel’s conquest and occupation of Canaan is the distinctive subject. Yet it is in these opening chapters that the Holy Spirit has (in typical form) revealed the fundamental secrets of success in the Christian warfare and their present enjoyment of the heritage which Christ has procured for them.
It is therefore all the more needful for us to proceed slowly and seek to thoroughly assimilate these initial truths if we are to obtain the richest benefit from them. The first thing absolutely indispensable to Israel’s possession of Canaan was their crossing of the Jordan. That, as we have shown, was a figure of the Christian passing through death and judgment in the person of his Surety and then his entrance into “life.” It is only one who is on resurrection ground that is qualified to overcome the foes which would prevent him possessing his possessions. Equally essential is it for the Christian to experience in a spiritual and practical way that which marked Israel’s history at Gilgal. “At that time the Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise the children of Israel the second time” ( Joshua 5:2).
With those words chapter 5 ought to begin, for verse 1 in our Bibles obviously concludes the preceding one. Here in verses 2-9 the Holy Spirit has recorded what took place in Gilgal, namely, the circumcising of Israel.
The narration of that important event is introduced by informing us when it occurred — a detail which must not be overlooked when seeking the spiritual application unto ourselves. “At that time,” i.e., first when the Lord their God had so signally shown Himself strong in their behalf by performing a miracle of mercy for them. Second, when they had just passed through the river which spake of death and judgment. Third, as soon as they had set foot within the borders of their promised inheritance. Fourth, four days before the Passover, as a necessary pre-requisite and qualification for them to participate in that feast. Fifth, ere they began the real task of possessing their possessions — by vanquishing those who would seek to prevent their enjoyment of the same. We shall ponder first the literal or historical meaning of this for the natural Israel, and then its application unto and significance as it respects the spiritual Israel, the Church of Christ.
The “circumcise the children of Israel the second time” requires a word of explanation. It should be apparent at once that the reference is not unto a repetition of a painful operation upon those who had previously been circumcised, but rather in contrast from a general circumcising of Israel on an earlier occasion. In the light of Joshua 24:14, Ezekiel 20:7,8 and 23:3 it is clear that during their lengthy sojourn in Egypt the children of Israel departed grievously from the revelation which God had made unto their fathers, and the statutes ( Genesis 26:5) He had given them; and judging from the case of Moses’ own son ( Exodus 4:24,25), there is little doubt that the ordinance of circumcision had been generally, if not universally, neglected and omitted by them. The words “God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” ( Exodus 2:24, and 6:5) imply that Israel had forgotten it. The express prohibition that none should partake of the Passover, save those who were circumcised ( Exodus 12:48,49), and the added statement. “Thus did all the children of Israel: as the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron, so did they,” denotes that circumcision had at last been administered — probably at the beginning of the “thick darkness which was upon all Egypt” for the “three days” ( Exodus 10:21) that preceded the Passover night.
Verses 4 to 7 (of Joshua 5) tell us what it was that required such a wholesale circumcising of the male Israelites — adults as well as children — on this occasion: “Now all the people that came out were circumcised, but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised (verse 5), which in view of Genesis 17:9-11, was a startling omission. There has been considerable conjecture as to why Israel had failed to administer this essential rite for so many years. Thos. Scott says, “The reason for this omission is not so manifest.” John Gill, “because of their frequent journeying, and the inconvenience of performing it being always uncertain when they pitched their tents how long they should remain and when they should remove... it was not safe to administer it.” But the most popular explanation is that of sinful neglect. Yet even though that were the case with the great majority, would not the pious among them have complied? If rank disobedience was the cause, why is there no record of Moses rebuking them for such a grave sin? And why had not Joshua insisted upon it while they tarried in the plains of Moab, instead of waiting till the Jordan was crossed.
Matthew Henry came very much nearer the true explanation, though he states it rather vaguely and with some measure of uncertainty. The real reason, we submit, was what occurred at Kadesh-barnea. It was there the murmuring and unbelief of Israel reached its awful and fatal climax. when they hearkened to the evil report of the ten spies and refused to go forward into the land of Canaan, saying “Let us make us a captain, and let us return to Egypt”; and when Joshua and Caleb expostulated with them “all the congregation bade stone them with stones” ( Numbers 14:1-10). It was then that Jehovah swore in His wrath that they should not enter into His rest ( Psalm 95:11). It was then that He declared “But as for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in this wilderness.
And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcasses be wasted in the wilderness. All the number of the days in which ye searched the land, forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities forty years, and ye shall know My breach of promise” ( Numbers 14:32-34) — their apostasy and breaking of the covenant releasing Him from His engagement to bring them into Canaan. There is the key to Joshua 5:5!
When Israel, after repeated provocations, at length consummated their rebellion by despising the promised land and refused to advance beyond Kadesh-barnea, God swore that only two of that generation should enter it, the remainder being condemned to perish in the wilderness. Thus for thirtyeight years ( Deuteronomy 2:14) Israel was in a state of apostasy, and during that time their children bore the reproach of the same by being denied the “token” or “sign of the covenant” ( Genesis 17:11) — wrongly termed by men “the seal of the covenant,” for circumcision never “sealed” anything to anyone saving only to Abraham ( Romans 4:11).
While the awful sentence of Numbers 14:32-34, lasted, Israel was a rejected people, and therefore their children were not entitled to bear the mark of covenant-relationship to God. But for the sake of their children, He did not withdraw every token of mercy from that generation, but provided sustenance and guidance throughout their journeys: the daily supply of manna, the pillar of cloud and fire, the erection of the tabernacle, etc., were so many intimations that God’s favor would yet return unto Israel, though He had cast off their fathers.
The miraculous passage of the Jordan gave clear proof that Israel was once more restored unto the Divine favor, that Jehovah had resumed His covenant relationship with them, that in emerging from the river of death, judgment was behind them; that His sentence upon their fathers had been completed. That miracle showed unmistakably that Jehovah now owned Israel as His people, and therefore were they fit subjects again to receive the sign of the covenant upon their bodies. Circumcision was the token of the Abrahamic covenant ( Genesis 17:11). That ordinance was the mark by which the natural seed of Abraham was distinguished from all other nations as a people in covenant with Jehovah, and which bound them by a special obligation to obey Him. It was the sign of the promissory part of the covenant which secured to Abraham’s seed the land of promise ( Genesis 17:8). Thus it was fitting that this second generation should now be circumcised. Moreover, the restoration of circumcision was to be accompanied by a revival of other institutions which had lapsed in the wilderness — such as the Passover feast, for which circumcision was a prerequisite. Upon Israel’s entrance into Canaan they came under a stricter discipline than hitherto ( Deuteronomy 6:1; 12:1, 8). “At that time the Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.” At the very time when Israel had entered that land whose inhabitants their unbelieving fathers had reported to be “strong” and “the cities are walled, and very great,” yea. “all the people we saw in it are men of a great stature” ( Numbers 13:28,32). What a testing of Joshua’s faith was this: that all the males of Israel should now, for several days, be thoroughly incapacitated for fighting ( Genesis 34:25)! But God intended it should be made manifest that the camp of Israel was governed by Himself, and not by any worldly policy. “What general ever opened a campaign in an enemy’s country in the manner that Joshua did? On such occasions, all attention paid to the exercises of religion is too generally considered as a needless waste of time. Yet if indeed the help of God be the best security for success, and if His anger is more to be feared than the sword of any enemy, it will be found true policy to begin every expedition with repentance of sin, and attendance on the solemn worship of the Lord, and with using every method of securing His protection, though to a carnal eye it may appear unfavorable to success” (T.
Scott). “And Joshua made him sharp knives and circumcised the children of Israel” (verse 3).
Severe as was this testing of his faith to thus handicap his fighting forces, yet counting upon the Lord’s protection, his confidence in Him triumphed over it. We need hardly say that such a vast undertaking was not performed by him in person, but is attributed unto Joshua because the operation was carried out under his order and observation — just as we read that “Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John. Though Jesus Himself baptized not, but His disciples” ( John 4:1,2).
Not only was this command of God’s a severe test of Joshua’s faith, but of the people’s too: their submission would evidence whether they owned the verity of that Divine promise ( Numbers 14:7,8) which their fathers had disbelieved. Moreover, their submitting unto circumcision was designed as a test of their obedience, for their conquest of Canaan was conditioned upon their punctilious compliance with all that God had commanded through Moses ( Joshua 1:8). Their willing compliance was a fulfillment of the promise which they had made unto Joshua, in Joshua 1:17,18, and afforded a further demonstration that the? were the best of all the generations of Israel — in answer to the prayer of Moses ( Psalm 90:13-17). “And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp till they were whole. And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal [or “rolling “] unto this day” (verses 8, 9).
The commentators are strangely “at sea” concerning the significance of that expression “the reproach of Egypt,” most of them regarding it as a reference to the stigma incurred by Israel when they were the slaves of the Egyptians. But surely that reproach was for ever rolled away when Jehovah delivered His people from Egypt by a high arm, brought them safely through the Red Sea and there destroyed Pharaoh and his hosts. No, rather is it an allusion to Egypt’s taunt of Exodus 32:12. During the thirty-eight years when Israel was rejected by God there appeared ground for Egypt’s sneer that they would perish in the wilderness; but all occasion for such a reproach had now been removed by the Lord’s return unto Israel, and by restoring the token of the covenant He gave intimation that He had resumed His mighty works on their behalf, that they were His people and He their God.
But we must turn now and consider the application of this unto ourselves, for like all the ceremonial rites and institutions of the Old Testament times, circumcision is, anti-typically, a real and substantial thing unto New Testament saints. Stating it first in a brief sentence, circumcision respected the mortification of sin, the putting off of the filth of the flesh. But that statement calls for explanation and amplification, for the great majority of Christians have very low and defective thoughts on this subject — inherited as they have been from the errors of Rome. Far too many of God’s children today suppose that “mortification” signifies a dying to some specific acts of sin, the overcoming of this or that particular corruption. But that is a serious mistake. Watching against, offering stern resistance unto, and obtaining the victory over some particular acts of sin, falls far short of real mortification. That is evident from the fact that none of that is beyond what persons in a state of nature may do, and not a few have actually done. Men and women whose hearts know nothing whatever of the power of Divine grace have, nevertheless, succeeded in gaining the mastery over an unruly temper, and of denying their craving for strong drink.
Again, let it be granted that, as the result of a course of strict selfdiscipline, a Christian has overcome some besetting sin; or, putting it on a higher ground, that by Divine enablement in answer to prayer, he has become dead to some particular lust; nevertheless, the evil nature, the root, the filthy fountain from which such foul streams proceed, the whole body of sin, still remains within! No, Christian mortification consists of something much better, something far greater and grander than anything poor Papists are acquainted with. To be mortified unto sin is a higher and holier mystery than to be delivered from any mere acts of sin. It consists of having union and communion with Christ in His death unto sin ( Romans 6:10,11). It is the effect and fruit of Christ’s death for us, and of Christ’s death in us by the vower of the Holy Spirit, whereby we live upon and enjoy fellowship with Him in His death, and are made partakers of “the power of His resurrection.” As faith is exercised upon Him as our Head, we experience the virtue and efficacy of His death and resurrection in our hearts and lives.
That which was shadowed forth by circumcision, namely the putting off of the filth of the flesh, all believers find the substance of in Christ, and the same is made good in their souls — in measure here, but perfectly, so at death. In order to obtain a complete view of the Christian’s circumcision, we need to consider it federally and judicially, then spiritually and experimentally, and then practically and manifestatively. First, then, all believers are legally circumcised in Christ. That which circumcision prefigured was the removal of the pollution of sin, and that was accomplished for believers judicially in the death of their Head.
Circumcision symbolized the entire mortification of sin, and that is the effect and fruit of Christ’s death for His people. “Ye are complete in Him [Christ], which is the Head of all principality and power. In whom ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” ( Colossians 2:10,11).
There we have the blessed fact stated, that in Christ their federal Head His redeemed are already, truly legally circumcised. It is said to be “without hands to distinguish it from the physical circumcision of the type, and to show that it is the result of no attainment of ours. Colossians 2:11, is a statement which is addressed to our faith, for it refers to something outside of our actual experience, to something which we have in Christ.
The apostle was moved by the Holy Spirit to employ quite a variety of terms to express the same fact. In Romans 6:2, he said of all believers “we died unto sin.” In 1 Corinthians 6:9, “but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
In Galatians 2:20, he declared — as the representative of all saints — “I am crucified with Christ.” Here in Colossians 2:11, he affirms, “In whom also ye are circumcised,” which signifies that in the sight of God’s Law and justice the total pollution and defilement of sin (as well as its guilt and criminality) has been for ever removed. I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions” ( Isaiah 44:22). “Thou art all fair My love, there is no spot in thee” ( Song of Solomon 4:7). “And you that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh, to present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in His sight” ( Colossians 1:21,22).
These scriptures bear witness that Christ and the Church are federally and legally one: that God the Father accepts them and views them in the Beloved as both righteous and holy; that He now sees them as without spot or wrinkle or any such thing; that He pronounces them eternally cleansed and blessed.
The faith of many of God’s people apprehends the blessed fact that the guilt and condemnation of their actual transgressions was perfectly atoned for by Christ, but the faith of very few apprehends that their evil nature itself and all their corruptions have been made a legal end of by the sacrifice of Christ. They recognize by faith that God views them as cleansed from the curse of the Law, that there is “no condemnation” resting upon them; but they fail to perceive that the justice of God regards them as purged from the very presence and defilement of sin in their natures, that there is no filth within them. Yet the latter is just as true of them as is the former. Their “old man was crucified with Christ” ( Romans 6:6). They were circumcised in Christ, which is described as a “putting off the body. of the sins of the flesh.” Indwelling sin is called a “body” because it consists of various parts and members, and that “body of sin” has been “put off,” yea, “destroyed” or “annulled” as the word used in Romans 6:6 signifies. Not only so, but the holiness of Christ has been imputed or placed to the account of their souls, so that God Himself declares, “the King’s daughter is all glorious within” ( Psalm 45:13), and not merely “without “ — as covered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness.
We say again that Colossians 2:11, is a Divine declaration (as is Song of Solomon 4:7, and Psalm 45:13, quoted above) which is addressed to faith. and is not a description of Christian experience; though in proportion as faith really appropriates it, we experience the comfort and joy of it. Alas that some of our readers are likely to refuse that comfort and joy through suspicion and fear that a belief of the same might lead to carelessness and low views of sin. When God bids His children to “reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin” ( Romans 6:11) — which means exactly the same as “Reckon ye also yourselves to be circumcised indeed in Christ, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh” — He certainly is not bidding them do anything which has a dangerous tendency.
He exhorts them to so regard themselves because they have good and solid ground for doing so. They had a representative being and existence in their Head when He suffered and died to remove both the guilt and the defilement of their sins. Unless we were one with Christ in His death, there could be no pardon or cleansing for us. The saints then are to regard their state before God to be what Christ’s is: delivered from sin’s dominion, accepted in the Father’s unclouded favor.
In our last we pointed out that the circumcising of all the male Israelites at Gilgal was a type of the circumcision of the Church. First, that all believers were legally circumcised in Christ: that at the cross the “body [or totality] of the sins of the flesh” was put off, completely and forever removed from the sight of God’s law and justice; for such is the blessed, meaning and teaching of Colossians 2:11. God’s elect had a federal being, a representative existence in their Head, so that when He died unto sin, they died unto sin; and it is both the duty and privilege of faith to appropriate that truth, and rest upon that fact. Therein we have revealed the Gospel method of mortifying sin — in blessed contrast from the fleshly devices of the Papists. It must flow from our union and communion with the Lord Jesus in His death, and faith’s receiving of the virtue and efficacy of it. The fountain of all true and spiritual mortification was opened at the Cross and God is very jealous of the honor of the person and work of His beloved Son, and every departure from Him and it, every attempt of the carnal mind to devise some other remedy for any of the wounds which sin has inflicted upon and within us, is doomed to certain failure. Christ alone must be looked to for deliverance, not only from the guilt of sin but from its power and pollution; yes, and from its presence too.
But it must now be pointed out that as Christ is the federal Head of His people, so also is He their vital or life-giving Head. As the natural head of the physical body influences all its members, imparting life and motion to them (for when one side of the brain becomes paralyzed, one whole side of the body does too), so Christ imparts life unto and influences the members of His mystical body, the Church. This He does by sending down His Spirit into their hearts, who communicates to them what Christ did and purchased for them. Thereby they are circumcised spiritually and experimentally. That brings us to the second branch of our subject. “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart; in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” ( Romans 2:28,29).
There is much of deep importance in those two verses yet they are little understood today, especially by Dispensationalists and writers on “Prophecy”; but it would be outside our present scope to give an exposition of them, or even show the apostle’s line of argument in that passage; rather we must confine ourselves to that in them which bears directly upon our present theme. “Circumcision is that of the heart: in the spirit, and not in the flesh.” There we are plainly taught that real “circumcision,” the circumcision which God most approves, is an internal one. Even that is little understood by our moderns, and has no real place in their teaching. We wonder how many of our own readers have any definite and clear-cut conception of what is meant by spiritual “circumcision.” Very few, we fear. All the more need then for us to take up this subject here, instead of seeing how swiftly we can get through the book of Joshua by merely offering generalizations upon its contents. It should be apparent to all who have read the Scriptures with any degree of attention and care that He who “desires Truth in the inward parts” ( Psalm 51:6) required very much more from Israel even in Old Testament times than obedience to the outward ordinance of circumcision. The call “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked” ( Deuteronomy 10:16) is too plain for misunderstanding. It is quite clear from Leviticus 26:41 and the last clause of Jeremiah 9:26 that the Lord punished Israel because they were “uncircumcised in heart.” The same fault Stephen charged upon the Jews of his day ( Acts 7:51). “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and take away the foreskins of your heart” ( Jeremiah 4:4) was His just demand. John Gill acknowledged that “men are exhorted to this” (alas that so many of his admirers refuse to do so), though he rightly added “yet elsewhere He promises to do this for them.” God has ever required reality and not simply outward profession, inward and moral purity and not merely external and ceremonial. “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness” ( Jeremiah 4:14). This spiritual circumcision, or cleansing of the heart, is the negative side of regeneration, or as the older writers more aptly expressed it “the privative” side. Strictly speaking there is no English word which accurately defines it, but “privative” is the nearest — that which results in a privation through the absence of something, the withholding or taking of it away. This is one aspect or part of “the great change” which takes place in a person when he is made the subject of a miracle of grace. Since we recently dealt with that in considerable detail, there is the less need to be lengthy on this occasion; but as spiritual circumcision is included in the general term “regeneration,” we must not altogether ignore it.
As we emphasized in our articles upon “The Great Change,” far too many writers when treating of regeneration confine their attention unto but a single aspect of the same — the communication of a new life or “nature.”
There is a negative or privative side too. There is travail and pain in connection with a birth. Perhaps the reader will find it easier to grasp what we are saying and the better understand our terms when we remind him that justification has two parts to it: a privative and a positive — something removed and something bestowed. The cancellation or removal of the guilt and penalty of all sins is the privative side of justification, for remission (forgiveness) means “sending away.” The imputation of the meritorious obedience of Christ to the account of the believing sinner is the positive side, for “justify” signifies to declare a person (not merely innocent, but) righteous. The two things are brought together in that lovely type in Zechariah 3:4, “Behold I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee” — that is the privative side; “and I will clothe thee with change of raiment” (the “best robe” of Luke 15) is the positive.
Though that be metaphorical language, yet is the figure easily understood.
The affections are divorced from evil and united to that which is good. By the miracle of grace, God takes away the love of sin and implants a love of holiness. And how is fallen man’s radical and inveterate love of sin removed from him? By the Holy Spirit’s illumination, revealing to him the exceeding sinfulness of sin; by His convicting him of the enormity and heinousness of sin, striking his conscience with terror and horror at having waged war against the Almighty; by bringing him to realize that it was his sins which caused the Lord of glory to bleed and die. Then it is that the love of sin receives its death-wound in his soul. Then it is he is “pricked in his heart” and cries out in anguish and despair “what shall I do?” ( Acts 2:37). Which is only another way of saying, Then it is that his soul is spiritually and experimentally circumcised; when so far as his love of it is concerned, he puts off “the body of the sins of the flesh” ( Colossians 2:11).
The work of the Holy Spirit within the saint is many-sided, but its grand design and accomplishment is to make good unto him what Christ did for him: or to state it in other words, the Spirit imparts to the soul an actual acquaintance and effects with it a spiritual experience of what he has in Christ federally and legally. Christ died unto sin, for He was “made sin [judicially] for us,” and His death was the penal death of our sin.
Consequently, when the Holy Spirit is given to us He first works death in our hearts: that is, He both slays our self-righteousness, and gives a deathwound to sin in our affections. As the apostle tells us when relating one aspect of his own conversion, “when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” ( Romans 7:9). That is, when those words “thou shalt not covet,” thou shalt not even lust after or desire any unlawful object, was applied in Divine power to his soul, the awful nature and extent of his sin became a living reality in his conscience, and he died to all good opinions of himself. By the spiritual slaying of our self-righteousness and making us loathe sin, the soul is experimentally “made conformable unto Christ’s death” ( Philippians 3:10). “The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed [which is to be taken generally as “all” and “the world” in the New Testament] to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart” ( Deuteronomy 30:6). There we have the two principal aspects of regeneration or the miracle of grace brought together: the privative side, the circumcising of the heart, when it is made willing to part with its cherished sins, when its affections are severed from all evil. That is in order to the positive side, namely, the heart’s being brought to love the Lord with all its faculties and strength. That love to God, John Gill rightly pointed out is “the duty of every man,” and thus of the unregenerate: so, contrary to his followers, Gill not only taught “duty faith,” but “duty love”!
Nevertheless, none performs this duty until God Himself circumcises the heart. Then it is that the soul of the elect is transformed from a natural man into “a new creature” ( Galatians 6:15). That moral change of “putting off the old man with his deeds” ( Colossians 3:9) was prefigured by the fact that literal circumcision was required to be performed on the “eighth day” ( Leviticus 12:3) — the numeral which always signifies a new beginning, and thus of “the new creature.”
There is yet another aspect of this subject which calls for careful attention, namely, that circumcision of the Christian which is practical and manifestative. What Christ accomplished for His people, His Spirit effects within them, and they are required to make the same apparent in their daily lives and actions. Our federal and legal circumcision in Christ was in order to our vital and experimental circumcision, for by His meritorious work on their behalf the Lord Jesus procured the gift and grace of the Spirit unto His people ( Galatians 3:13,14). Our inward circumcision by the operations of the Spirit unto His people was in order to the better qualifying us for the discharge of our responsibility and the glorifying of our God. While at regeneration the Spirit gives a death-wound unto sin in the affection of its favored subject, and while at the same time He implants in his heart an imperishable love of and longing for holiness, yet He does not then remove from him the evil principle — “the flesh” remains in his soul unto the end of his earthly pilgrimage. Consequently, there is now a ceaseless conflict within him ( Galatians 5:17), and therefore he is henceforth called upon to fight the good fight of faith”: to swim against the stream of his corruptions, deny self, mortify his members which are upon the earth.
The foes against which the Christian is called to wage conflict are mighty and powerful. That evil trinity, the flesh, the world, and the Devil, are relentlessly determined to destroy him. How then is he to successfully engage them in mortal contest? A great variety of answers have been returned to that question, all sort of rules and regulations prescribed; but most of them proceeded from “physicians of no value.” It is too generally overlooked that this is “the fight of faith.” The Devil can only be successfully resisted as we remain “steadfast in the faith” ( 1 Peter 5:9). “This is the victory, that over-cometh the world — our faith” ( 1 John 5:4).
And there can be no victory over indwelling sin except by the actings of faith. And faith, my reader, always has to do with Christ: He is its grand Object ( Hebrews 12:2), its Sustainer ( Philippians 1:21), its Strengthener ( Philippians 4:13). That is according to the appointment of the Father, who has determined that His people should be beholden to His beloved Son for everything, that they may ascribe their all unto Him, that they may place the crown of honor and glory upon His Head. Christ is the alone Savior not only from the guilt and pollution of sin, but likewise from its power and ragings within us.
In this matter of practical circumcision, our mortifying of sin, man’s thoughts and ways are as far below God’s as in everything else — as far as the earth is below the heavens. Man supposes he must do this in order to obtain that, avoid this in order to enjoy that, abstain from evil so as to enter into good. But he knows not where to obtain strength for the doing!
Contrastively, God’s way is to furnish that which equips for the performance of duty: to bestow freely, that gratitude will respond gladly; to lavish love upon us, that we cannot but love Him in return; to make known what He has made Christ to be unto us, and then bids us walk worthily of such a Savior. He first makes us “light in the Lord,” and then bids us “walk as children of light” ( Ephesians 5:8). He first makes us saints, then bids us act “as becometh saints” ( Ephesians 5:3). He makes us holy, then calls us “to be in behavior as becometh holiness” ( Titus 2:3).
Immediately after Christians are bidden to likewise reckon ye also to have died indeed unto sin, but live unto God in Christ our Lord, they are exhorted “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof” ( Romans 6:11,12).
Though they have died unto sin legally, sin is far from being dead within them. Though they are no longer “in the flesh” ( Romans 8:9) so far as their standing before God is concerned, yet “the flesh” is still in them.
Though Christ has put away the whole of the guilt and pollution of their sins, He has not yet fully delivered them from its power — that they might prove the sufficiency of His grace, the marvels of His forbearance, and the reality of His keeping power; and that there might be opportunity for the trial, exercise, and development of their graces. But though the evil principle (or “nature”) be not eradicated, the Christian is exhorted “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body.” In that “therefore” we have an example of the apostle’s evangelical method when urging Christians to perform their duty: not in order to obtain some further blessing, but because of what they already have in Christ.
That “therefore” looks back generally over the whole preceding section (from Joshua 5:1), but has a more particular reference to Joshua 6:10,11. The “Let not therefore sin reign” is far more than an appeal for us to exercise our wills: it is a call for faith to make one’s own all that standing and state which is ours by virtue of our legal and vital union with Christ. Faith is urged to apprehend and appropriate our sinlessness in Christ by our death and resurrection in Him. That is the only right way of approach unto gaining the victory over sin in our daily lives. God will set no premium upon unbelief, but He will honor faith. Faith is called upon to recognize and reckon that sin was vanquished by Christ, and therefore it has no right to lord it over us. We are to refuse obedience to its desires and behests. We are to yield no subserviency unto the dethroned adversary of Christ, but strive constantly against every effort it makes to gain the ascendancy over us. And in order unto strength for such striving, we are to draw motives and encouragement from the love of Christ, who suffered and died for us. Strength to resist sin comes from faith’s eyeing Christ and love’s drawing from Him incentives to mortify that which slew Him.
It is “the love of Christ” which is ever to constrain the Christian in all things. But I must first be assured of His love for me, before my affections will flow out to Him in grateful submission and service. Any service which issues from fear or is prompted by reward, is either legal or mercenary, and unacceptable to Him. Without a realization of pardoning mercy in the soul, we can gain no victory over indwelling sin. In Christ we are not only dead to sin legally, but victors over it. As faith beholds sin perfectly conquered by Christ judicially, it seeks to have fellowship with Him therein in a practical way. To repudiate long cherished sins, relinquish beloved idols, is a cutting and painful experience to nature, and therefore is it designated a circumcision and mortifying of our members; yea, so distressing is such work, our Lord likened it unto plucking out a right eye and cutting off a right hand ( Matthew 5:29,30). Yet such is not only a needful and profitable duty, but it becomes a desirable and longed-for one by those who truly love the Lord. The more their minds be spiritually occupied with Christ’s love, the more are their affections drawn forth unto Him, and the more are their hearts brought to hate sin; and the more we hate sin, the more are we dying to it in our affections!
In our last, we pointed out the importance of observing the opening words of verse 2 when seeking the spiritual and practical application unto ourselves of what God required from Israel at Gilgal. “At that time”: as soon as they had passed through that river which spoke of death and judgment they were required to be circumcised. Likewise it is immediately after the Christian is assured of his union with Christ in death and resurrection that he is enjoined “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body.” It is by faith’s realization of that union we draw motives to resist sin’s solicitations and derive strength against it. And as stated in our last we cannot serve God trustfully and joyously unless we are assured we are forever beyond condemnation ( Romans 8:1), so it must now be added, there can be no progress in the Christian life unless we heed Romans 6:12. That is amplified in the next verse’ “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but (1) yield yourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead and (2) your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” Because you have been “made alive,” put away all the trappings of death, put off the old man, mortify the lusts of the flesh. Give up yourselves to God without any reserve.
Yet we repeat, obedience unto Romans 6:12,13, is possible only as we maintain the assurance of our perfect standing in Christ (verse 11), drawing motives and strength thereform for practical holiness, and by constantly seeking help from Christ by drawing upon His fullness ( John 1:16).
That is ever the evangelical order, “Be ye kindly affectioned one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” ( Ephesians 4:32). “Set your affection on things above, and not on things on the earth.” Why? “For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God... mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth” ( Colossians 3:1-5). “Put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communications out of your mouth; lie not one to another.” Why? “Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds” ( Colossians 3:8,9). “Behold! what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God... when He shall appear we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” And what is the effect of faith’s appropriation thereof? This, “And every one that hath this hope in him purifieth himself [not merely ought to do] even as He is pure” ( 1 John 3:1-3).
But, says the Christian reader, notwithstanding my best efforts to keep my heart occupied with Christ and my faith fixed steadfastly on Him, sin daily gets the better of me. And what is the effect upon you? Are you pleased thereby? No, the very reverse; you are cut to the quick. That too is an integral part of practical “circumcision.” Not only is every denying of self, every striving against sin, an element of mortification or practical circumcision, but equally so is all godly sorrow, all evangelical repentance, all contrite confession of sin. Blessed are they that “mourn” over their backslidings and falls, for it evidences they belong to those “whose circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter” ( Romans 2:29) — real and effectual, in contrast from the formal and ceremonial.
THE PASSOVER It is most blessed to observe how Israel conducted themselves upon their first entrance into the promised land, for therein is manifested not the workings of nature but the fruits of Divine grace. After God had wrought so signally for them at the Jordan, they did not rush ahead and seek to immediately possess their inheritance. The miraculous dividing of its waters so that they passed through dry-shod, must have greatly disspirited the Canaanites and thus have prepared the way for an easy triumph for the invaders. It had been natural, yea, what all military men would call “good policy” for Israel to have made the most of this terror by striking a heavy blow at once, pressing on with might and main before the enemy could recover himself, and so carry all before them in one swift campaign. But God’s people follow not the ways nor employ the devices of the world.
They are a “peculiar people”: distinct and separate from the unregenerate, acting, not by carnal wisdom and expediency, but regulated by spiritual considerations. “He that believeth shall not make haste” ( Isaiah 28:16) is one of the principles by which they are required to act, for “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong” ( Ecclesiastes 9:11).
Instead of immediately assaulting Jericho, the children of Israel pitched their tents at Gilgal and tarried there for a season. Exemplary restraint was that, and one which we do well to take to heart in this feverish age of mad speed. This tarrying in the camp at Gilgal was the more noteworthy when we bear in mind the very lengthy interval which had elapsed since their exodus from Egypt, during which they were prevented from reaching their goal and realizing their eager expectation. Yet there was something far more praiseworthy than self-discipline which marked their conduct on this occasion: they had the glory of God before them. They eyed His authority, had respect for His institutions, and acted in faith and obedience to His appointments. That should ever be what marks God’s people, collectively or singly. It is neither the first business of the Church to “win the world for Christ” nor of the individual Christian to seek the salvation of his relatives and companions: rather is it to “show forth the praises of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” ( 1 Peter 2:9) by our entire subjection to His Word. God has nowhere promised to use those who make not conscience of obeying Him in all things.
The appointments of God and not the attaining of their own desires were given the pre-eminence.
First , Joshua had, in submission to the Lord’s requirement, circumcised all those male Israelites who had been born in the wilderness. We have previously shown that the non-observing of that rite during those thirtyeight years was due to no sinful neglect, but was owing to the apostasy of their fathers at Kadesh-barnea, in consequence of which Jehovah declared “ye shall know My breach of promise” ( Numbers 14:32-34), and therefore were their children denied the token or “sign of the covenant” ( Genesis 17:11). But the miraculous passage of the Jordan demonstrated that Israel was once more restored to the Divine favor, that He had resumed His covenant relationship with them that in emerging from the river of death judgment was behind them; and therefore it was fitting that this second generation should now be given that mark winch distinguished them from all other nations as bound by special obligation to serve their God. It was also observed how that the Lord’s commanding Joshua to then circumcise the people presented a real test to his faith and obedience, severely handicapping for a few days his fighting forces; but counting upon God’s protection, he confided in Him and triumphed over the trial.
Second , we are told, “And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal and kept the Passover” (verse 10).
Appropriately did Matthew Henry point out, “We may well imagine that the people of Canaan were astonished and that, when they observed the motions of the enemy they could not but think them very strange. When soldiers take the field, they are apt to think themselves excused from religious ceremonies (they have not time or thought to attend to them), yet Joshua opens the campaign with one act of devotion after another. What was afterwards said to another Joshua might truly be said to this: ‘Hear now, O Joshua, thou and thy fellows that sit before thee are men wondered at’ ( Zechariah 3:8); and yet indeed he took the right method.”
And, my reader, if we be actuated and regulated by a concern to the glory of God worldlings will wonder at us. It cannot be otherwise, for the natural man acts only from a spirit of self-love and self-will, and his end is selfpleasing and self-advancement. Thus, if he beholds any denying self, subordinating their interests to the honoring of God, he marvels at such conduct. Unless, then, we be “wondered at,” yea, sneered at and regarded as crazy, it is because we have “left our first love” and become conformed to this world.
Israel’s keeping of the Passover was, like the circumcising of the people, an act of obedience unto the Lord: in fact the one could not be without the other, for it had been expressly laid down that “no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof” ( Exodus 12:48). For that very reason this ordinance had not been observed while the Nation lay under the wrath of God. They had kept it on the first anniversary of the event which it commemorated ( Numbers 9:5), but not during the next thirty-eight years. God had said “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer Me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them” ( Amos 5:21,22) — language which not only applied to the prophet’s own day but also bad special reference to their sojourn in the wilderness as verse 25 evinces. But now the Lord had resumed His covenant relations with Israel and they had attended to the matter of circumcision; it was in order, yea, requisite, for them to do so. They had been strictly enjoined “Ye shall observe this thing for an ordinance to thee and to thy sons for ever. And it shall come to pass, when ye be come to the land which the Lord will give you, according as He hath promised, that ye shall keep this service.” ( Exodus 12:24,25).
In previous articles we have noted that this particular generation under Joshua was not only vastly better than the one which preceded but also far more spiritual than any that followed it. This was exemplified in the willingness of their adults to be circumcised without any demur. It appears again in what is now before us. The Lord had particularly said unto Moses almost a year after their leaving Egypt, “Let the children of Israel also keep the Passover at his appointed season” ( Numbers 9:5), as though to intimate, otherwise His command in Exodus 12:24, had not been complied with. But on this occasion no mention is made of God’s reminding them of their duty. We are told “the children of Israel kept the Passover” (verse 10). And that is not all which is stated: “on the fourteenth day of the month,” which is something more than a mere narration of a historical fact — it tells us that they kept the Passover “at his appointed season.” Nor is that all: it is added “at even,” which was as the Lord required. How the Spirit delights to notice and record the details of obedience! The Israelites did not tamper with this Divine ordinance and change it to a morning observance to suit their own convenience, as a compromising Christendom has done with “the Lord’s supper.” Unless we conform strictly to the letter of the Divine precept, it is not “obedience” but “will worship.”
Israel’s act of keeping the Passover was not only one of obedience but also of commemoration. “And this day shall be unto you for a memorial, and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations.... And it shall come to pass when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses It is a night to be much observed unto the Lord” ( Exodus 12:14,26,27,42). This feast, then, was appointed to celebrate the great goodness of the Lord unto His people and their deliverance both from death and from the house of bondage. It was designed to keep before their minds the blessed provision He had made for them in the night of their deepest need, a provision all sufficient. It was to express anew their gratitude unto God for His distinguishing favor: the original “sacrifice” was expiatory, but the memorial of it was eucharistic.
The Passover had demonstrated in unmistakable manner the sovereignty of God, when He had “put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” ( Exodus 11:7), that is, between the reprobate and His own elect — no lamb was provided for the former! It had manifested the grace of God. By nature the children of Israel were no better than the Egyptians, nor in conduct, as is clear from Ezekiel 20:7,8; 23:3. It was out of His mere good pleasure and unmerited favor that the Lord exempted Israel from the destroyer ( Exodus 12:23). It displayed the righteousness of God, which announced that He “will by no means clear the guilty” ( Exodus 34:7).
It revealed the amazing mercy of God in providing that substitute. It placated the wrath of God: He said to the avenging angel concerning Israel’s firstborn “deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom” ( Job 33:24), illustrating that basic principle “without shedding of blood is no remission.”
Again, the Passover was not only commemorative, but anticipative: it memorialized what was past and also foreshadowed what was to come.
The institution and ritual of the Passover furnished one of the most striking representations of the person and work of Christ to be met with anywhere in the Old Testament. That it was a type thereof is clear from Corinthians 5:7. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” Here then is our authority for regarding the contents of Exodus 12 as shadowing forth the cross-work of the Savior, and it is this which invests that chapter with such deep interest. The Passover was the first of those annual “feasts” which God appointed unto Israel, for it sets forth the grand truth of redemption, which is the foundation blessing of believers, the fountain from which all others flow; and the Passover was kept upon Israel’s entrance into Canaan to signify that their possession of the Inheritance, no less than their deliverance from Egypt, was owing to the merits of the blood of the Lamb.
Observe first, the occasion of its institution. It was at the close of God’s judgments upon Egypt. He had declared, “About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt, and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill, and all the firstborn of beasts.
And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more. But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” ( Exodus 11:4-7).
Note carefully the exact wording of verse 5: it was not “all the firstborn of the land of Egypt shall die,” but “all the firstborn in the land of Egypt,” and that necessarily included Israel’s equally with Egypt’s. Yet in verse 7 the Lord said, He would “put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” so that the latter should be wholly exempt from judgment. That is what infidels would term “a flat contradiction,” but the Christian knows there is none in the Word of Truth. What, then, is the explanation?
Each of those Divine declarations was literally accomplished: all the firstborn in the land of Egypt died, nevertheless the firstborn of Israel were delivered from the angel of death. But how could that be? Surely both could not take place! Yet they did, and therein we have a blessed illustration of the contents of the Gospel. It was the question of sin which was here raised and dealt with by God, consequently both parties were equally involved in His righteous judgment. The Israelites were not only sinners by nature, but practice; not only sins of infirmity, but high-handed sins of idolatry ( Leviticus 17:7; Joshua 24:14). Divine holiness can never ignore sin no matter where it be found: when the angels sinned God “spared them not” ( 2 Peter 2:4). Justice must be satisfied; sin must pay its wages. A reprieve is out of the question. Then must guilty Israel perish?
It would seem so. Human wisdom could devise no way of escape. But Divine wisdom did, and without compromising righteousness. How? By means of a substitute: sentence of death was executed on an innocent victim, because guilt had been legally transferred unto it. A lamb was provided for Israel, and it died in their stead.
Observe next, the nature of this transaction: “it is the Lord’s Passover ( Exodus 12:11). Those words bring before us a fundamental aspect of Truth which is much neglected in evangelical preaching. Gospellers have much to say upon what Christ’s death accomplished for those who believe on Him, but far less upon what it effected God-wards. Yet that is clearly brought out in the first direct mention of the “lamb” in Scripture: “God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering” ( Genesis 22:8). It was not simply that God would provide a lamb,” but that He would provide Himself one! The antitypical Lamb was appointed and supplied to glorify God, to vindicate His throne, magnify His law, satisfy His justice and holiness. The life and death of Christ brought infinite glory to God though not a sinner had been saved thereby. The two leading aspects of Christ’s atonement — God-ward and us-ward — were shadowed again in the ritual for the day of atonement: “Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for the Lord, and the other for the scapegoat” ( Leviticus 16:7,8) — Israel’s substitute, which bore away their sins into a place uninhabited.
Christ must first be “the Lord’s Passover,” accepted by Him, before Fie could be “our Passover” ( 1 Corinthians 5:7) — received by us.
Consider now the substance of God’s gracious provision for Israel, namely, “the lamb.” Though we cannot dwell upon details, we will furnish a broad outline for the benefit of young preachers. How well fitted was a lamb to be an emblem of the Savior is at once apparent: so gentle and innocent, so mild and harmless, neither hurting others, nor seeming to have the capacity to resent an injury; useful in life (its fleece), valuable for food when killed. (1) The Passover lamb was taken “out from the sheep” ( Exodus 12:5). “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren.” ( Deuteronomy 18:18).
Christ, according to His humanity, was made of the seed of David.” “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same” ( Hebrews 2:14). (2) It was taken from the flock (not on the first, but) “the tenth day of the month” (verse 3). The Son of God did not become incarnate as soon as sin entered the world, but when “the fullness of time was come” ( Galatians 4:4), after forty centuries of human history had passed: after man had been fully tested (10 is the number of his responsibility) and his probation (which 40 signifies) was completed — 10 x 10 x 40. (3) “Your lamb shall be without blemish” ( Exodus 12:5, and cf. Leviticus 22:21,22). Nothing but a perfect sacrifice could satisfy an infinitely perfect God. One who had any sin in him could not make atonement for sinners. But where was such a one to be found? Nowhere among the fallen sons of men. That lamb “without blemish” pointed to the immaculate purity of Christ ( Hebrews 7:26,27; 1 Peter 1:19). (4) “A male of the first year” (verse 5): it was not to be too young or too old, but was to die in the fullness of its strength. So Christ died neither in childhood nor in old age. but in the prime of manhood — He was cut off “in the midst of His days” ( <19A102> Psalm 101:24). (5) “And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the month” (verse 6). For four days the lamb, separated unto sacrifice, was kept tethered, apart from all others, during which time it could be fully inspected to perceive its flawlessness. Anti-typically that may be taken two ways: on the principle of “a day for a year” ( Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6) — before His public ministry began (which lasted between three and four years) the Father bore testimony to the perfection of the Lamb ( Matthew 3:17); taking it literally, during His last four days Christ was under the closest scrutiny of men, and even His judge confessed “I find no fault in Him.” (6) The lamb must be slain: “The whole congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening” (verse 6). That is very striking. It was not Moses and Aaron, or the Levites, who slew it, but the entire people as represented by the heads of every household. Nor was it only the chief priests and elders who were responsible for the slaying of Christ, for when Pilate decided the issue as to whether Barabbas or Christ should be released, he did so on the popular vote of the common people, who all cried “crucify Him” ( Mark 15:6-15). In like manner it was the sins of each believer individually ( Galatians 2:20) and of the Church corporeally ( Ephesians 5:25) which necessitated the death of Christ. It is also very remarkable to observe that though many thousands of lambs were slain that night, it was said “Israel shall kill it,” not “them”! “There was only one before God’s mind — the Lamb of Calvary” (Urquhart). (7) Its blood must be applied: “Thou shall take the blood and sprinkle it on the two side-posts,” etc. (verse 7).
Mental assent to the Gospel without a personal receiving of Christ avails not to deliver from judgment: there must be an appropriation of Christ, “faith in His blood” ( Romans 3:25). A Savior accepted, not a Savior provided, actually saves. (8) The sprinkled blood gave security. “When He seeth the blood... the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in” (verse 23).
And why? Because death had already done its work there! God’s eye was not on the house or its inmates, but on the atoning blood. (9) “And the blood shall be to you for a token” (verse 13), i.e., “a token for good ( Psalm 86:17). It was to assure their hearts, as the “token” given to Rahab ( Joshua 2:12) was a guarantee of her preservation. God would have the hearts of His people in perfect peace, even while hearing the cries of the stricken Egyptians. No harm should befall them, and no fear distress while they rested on His sure promise! It is most important for the believer to distinguish between the foundation of his security and the basis of his peace: that which provided safe refuge from judgment was the slain lamb and its sprinkled blood; that which afforded a sure stay for the heart was the Word of One who cannot lie. (10) “Ye shall eat the flesh in that night” (verse 8). This was God’s gracious provision for those within the house. Eating speaks of fellowship.
It is Christ as the Food of His people, feeding by faith upon Him for strength and sustenance of soul. (11) It must be “roast with fire” (verse 8). “Fire” here, as throughout, speaks of the wrath of a sin-hating God. The “roasting” of the lamb was a solemn figure of Christ suffering what was due to His people when He passed under and endured the awful wrath of God as He was “made a curse” ( Galatians 3:13). It is that which explains the deeper meaning of His cry “I thirst”: it was the effect of agony of soul as He endured the fierce heat of God’s wrath. “Not sodden [boiled] at all with water” tells us nothing was allowed to hinder the direct action of “fire” on the Sin-bearer:
God “spared not His own Son” ( Romans 8:32). (12) “With bitter herbs” (verse 8) or remorse of conscience. The Christian cannot have “fellowship with His sufferings” without remembering it was his sins which made them needful. (13) “And thus shall ye eat it: with loins girded... and staff in your hand” (verse 11). Fellowship with Christ can only be had as we maintain our pilgrim character. (14) “Not a bone of it shall be broken” (verse 46 and see John 19:33-36) All the leading features of redemption were more or less shadowed forth by the Passover, and therein God would keep those things in the minds and before the eyes of Israel by their annual memorial of the same.
But not only did the Passover furnish a vivid portrayal of the Gospel, it was also a means for Israel’s good, a gracious provision for their bodily needs. Before another day dawned they were to leave Egypt and start out for the promised land, and by feeding on the lamb strength was supplied for the journey which lay before them. Thus it is with the Christian: he must feed on Christ in order for strength as he passes through this wilderness, for the world supplies no nourishment for the soul. So it was at Gilgal ( Joshua 5:10): as the Passover had been the prelude to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and the commencement of their wilderness history, so it was made introductory to their new experience in Canaan: it was a blessed reminder that while they walked according to the Divine precepts, they might count upon God’s mighty power. As their feeding on the lamb in Egypt supplied energy for their wilderness journey, equally needful was its strength for the warfare in which they were about to engage. “And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the Passover, unleavened cakes and parched corn in the selfsame day” ( Joshua 5:11).
Once more we would observe how the Holy Spirit delights to take notice of and place on record the details of the saints’ obedience. It had been expressly commanded that the Pascal lamb must be eaten with “unleavened bread” ( Exodus 12:8), and strict compliance was here made with that order. They did not say, as long as it is bread, what else matters? but subjected their wills to God’s. Throughout the Scriptures “leaven” is emblematical of corruption and evil, and therefore it had been a horrible incongruity and most unsuited to use leavened bread at a feast wherein the immaculate purity of Christ was set forth in the lamb “without blemish.”
The least tampering with the Divine ordinances alters their significance, mars their beauty, and is an act of presumption on man’s part. If they be not kept in the letter of them, they certainly are not in their spirit, for true love seeks to please its object in all things. “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even ye shall cat unleavened bread, until the first and twentieth day of the month at even. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel” ( Exodus 12:19).
Thus, when it is said in Joshua 5:10, that when the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal they “kept the Passover” we are to understand that for a whole week they observed the same. As Matthew Henry pointed out, “They kept the Passover in the plains of Jericho as it were in defiance of the Canaanites that were round about them and enraged against them, and yet could not give them any disturbance. Thus God gave them an early instance of the performance of that promise, that when they went up to keep the feasts, their land should be taken under the special protection of Divine Providence: Exodus 34:24, ‘Neither shall any man desire the land.’ He now ‘prepared a fable before them in the presence of their enemies’ ( Psalm 23:5).” “And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the Passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the self-same day” (verse 11).
A supply of food was already to hand when they entered Canaan: probably in granaries abandoned by its inhabitants as they took refuge in the walled city of Jericho. The Lord is no Egyptian taskmaster, requiring His people to make bricks without supplying them with straw. Now that “the feast of unleavened bread unto the Lord” was to be eaten seven days ( Leviticus 23:6), an abundant quantity of grain was available for them. It is blessed to observe that before they used any of it for their own comfort, it was made into unleavened cakes in their worship of Jehovah. Thus did they act on the basis of that essential precept, “Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase” ( Proverbs 3:9).
He is to be given the pre-eminence by us in all things, and accordingly as we honor Him, so will He honor us.
This supply of corn upon Israel’s first entrance into Canaan was an earnest of that promise which God had made through Moses: “It shall be when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which He sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities which thou buildest not, and houses full of good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not” ( Deuteronomy 6:10,11), the complete fulfillment whereof is recorded in Joshua 24:13. Typically, the “old corn of the land,” equally with the manna, spoke of Christ ( John 12:24), yet in a very different character. The manna — “a small round thing” ( Exodus 16:14), which lay on the ground and was Israel’s wilderness food — was an emblem of Christ in His humiliation; but the old corn of Canaan pointed to Christ in His exaltation. The Christian needs to meditate and act faith on Christ not only as he is presented to us in all His moral perfections in the four Gospels, but also upon His official glories as they are set forth in the Epistles, particularly does he need to be occupied with Him as portrayed in Hebrews as our great High Priest and Intercessor.
In the earlier articles of this series we laid considerable emphasis on the fact that the spiritual value and the practical use which we should make of the book of Joshua is, that we should see unfolded therein the principles by which the Christian is to enter into a present possession and enjoyment of his inheritance, and the secrets of successfully fighting the good fight of faith and the spiritual warfare to which he is called. We sought to make plain what are some of those basic principles and essential secrets as they are illustrated and exemplified by the historical incidents recorded in the first four chapters of this book, and before turning from the first two sections of chapter 5: let us stress the truth that two more of them are here intimated as foreshadowed in the circumcising of the Israelites and their keeping of the Passover The Christian must be diligent in mortifying his lusts if he would walk in newness of life, and equally necessary is it that he feed daily on Christ — considered both as the sacrificial Lamb and as the great High Priest — in order to obtain strength to overcome the flesh, the world and the Devil. Practically, the corn of Canaan is a portion of our Inheritance which faith is to now appropriate. “And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year” (verse 12). “To show that it did not come by chance, or by common providence as snow or hail does, but by the special designation of Divine wisdom and goodness; for as it came just when they needed it, so it continued as long as they had occasion for it, and no longer” (Matthew Henry).
The practical lesson which we are to draw therefrom is, that we are not to expect extraordinary supplies when they can be had in an ordinary way:
God works no unnecessary miracles. It is blessed to remember that the Lord had not discontinued the manna when the people despised it ( Numbers 11:6), nor even when He severed His covenant-relation with that evil generation; but had mercifully continued to give it for the sake of their children, who had now grown up and entered Canaan. Here ends the first main Division of the book: Joshua 1:1-9 is the Introduction; Joshua 1:10 to 5:12, concerns the passage of the Jordan; Joshua 5:13 to chapter 12: the conquest of Canaan. “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man over against him with His sword drawn in His hand: and Joshua went unto Him and said to Him, Art Thou for us, or for our adversaries?” (verse 12).
Though this verse begins a new section of the book yet it opens with the word “And” — not simply to preserve the continuity of the narrative, but especially to link this incident with what immediately precedes. God has promised to honor those who honor Him, and Joshua had done so in the circumcising of the people and in the strict observance of the Passover and the feast of unleavened bread; and now the Lord bestows a signal favor upon His servant. How much we lose by failing to render unto our God that full and implicit obedience which is His due! “He that hath My commandments and keepeth them. he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him” ( John 14:21) declares the Savior. That is exactly what He was here doing unto obedient Joshua! It is of His spiritual manifestations to the soul we deprive ourselves by disobedience. “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked.” Probably he was here engaged in reconnoitering the walled city with a view to determining his best plan of campaign against it, for as Israel’s leader that was his obvious duty; nor would the firm expectation that the Lord should show Himself strong on behalf of His people discharge him from the performing of it. Even when we are fully assured that God is for us and will undertake for us, it is required that we act as rational creatures, use all proper means and precautions, and put forth our best efforts. To refuse doing so on the pretext of relying wholly on God to do all for us is not faith but presumption. Though Christ was about to supply a miraculous draught of fishes, yet He bade Peter “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets” ( Luke 5:4). True, we must not lean unto our own understanding nor rely on our own strength, vet both the one and the other are to be exercised by us. It was, then, while Joshua was in the path of duty discharging his responsibility, that the Lord met with him! Only while similarly engaged are we warranted in expecting His help. “And it came to pass, that when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked.” The doubling of the verb seems to intimate a twofold significance about Joshua’s action — a natural and a spiritual: that after viewing the enemy’s citadel, he supplicated the Lord. The usage of the verbs confirms this. The “lifted up” his eyes in a natural way, taking a comprehensive survey of things, occurs in Genesis 13:10,14; while it is found in a spiritual sense in “unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul” ( Psalm 25:1); for “looked” see Genesis 8:13 and Exodus 2:25. “And behold, a Man over against him, with His sword drawn in His hand.” This represented a real test to Joshua’s valor. God had bidden him “Be strong and of a good courage” ( Joshua 1:6), and now he is put to the proof. There is nothing whatever here to intimate that Joshua beheld this Man in a vision, but rather that He appeared before him objectively and tangibly. Even though He had a “drawn sword in His hand,” Israel’s leader did not panic and flee, but boldly advanced “unto Him.” We should harbor no fear while in the path of duty, but count upon the Divine promise “The Angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.”
On the other hand Joshua did not rashly draw his own sword and engage this Man in conflict. Instead, he inquired, “Art Thou for us, or for our adversaries?” which challenge intimates Joshua recognized that this Stranger was no Israelite. A moment later he was to discover this Person was more than “a Man.” Previously the Lord had spoken unto Joshua ( Joshua 1:1; 3:7; 4:1, 15), but had made no visible manifestation of Himself unto His servant until now. Observe well how God suits the revelation of Himself unto His saints according to their circumstances and needs: to Abraham in his tent He appeared as a Traveler ( Genesis 18:1,2,13), to Moses at the backside of the desert in a bush ( Exodus 3:1,2), to Joshua at the beginning of his campaign as “a Man of war” (cf. Exodus 15:3). In the celebrating of the Passover Christ had been prefigured as the Lamb, slain (verse 11); here in verse 13, with drawn sword in hand, He appeared as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” ( Revelation 5:5). It was one of the pre-incarnate appearings of the Son of God in human form, which brings before us a most blessed yet profoundly-mysterious subject, concerning which the reader will probably welcome a few details.
In respect to Their Godhead, each of the three Divine Persons is equally invisible: the Triune God is seen alone in Christ. The invisibility of the Divine Being to mortal eyes is clearly taught in Old and New Testament alike. “There shall no man see Me, and live” ( Exodus 33:20), “no man hath seen God at any time” ( John 1:18), “dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto: whom no man hath seen nor can see” ( 1 Timothy 6:16).
That raises the question, How are we to understand those passages in the Old Testament where it is said “Jacob called the place Peniel [the face of God]: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” ( Genesis 32:20), “and they saw the God of Israel” ( Exodus 24:10). In many passages it was not only that God was seen in vision or symbol, but corporately and actually. As, for example, by Moses: “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make Myself known unto him in a vision and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all Mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude [“form” or “likeness”] of the Lord shall he behold” ( Numbers 12:6-8). Those are what infidels term “contradictions.”
The New Testament makes it known that another Person of the same essence as the Father has had for His office the making known of God unto His people: “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” ( John 1:18), “he that hath seen Me,” said Christ, “hath seen the Father” ( John 14:9), “Who is the Image of the invisible God” ( Colossians 1:15 and cf. Hebrews 1:3). The intimate communion between the two Persons appears in Exodus 23:20,21: “Behold I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in thy way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey Him, provoke Him not; for He will not pardon your transgressions: for My name is in Him.”
Observe how such language is used there by one Person about another Person as precludes our identifying Him as a single Person; yet both are certainly Divine. Thus, we must not exclude Jehovah the Father wholly from these communications to the Old Testament saints and attribute all the messages unto the Son immediately. We are to admit the presence of the first Person per se (by Himself), as well as the second: two Persons with Divine attributes, employing the name of Jehovah in common, the one the Sender, the other the Sent — the latter communicating directly with men.
In each instance the theophanic manifestation was made by God the Son, sometimes in the form of an angel, at others in the form of man. It is the same person, whether called “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” “the God of Israel” or “the Angel of the covenant.” Those mysterious appearances were so many intimations that the Son even then personated the character of the Mediator, under which He would yet reveal Himself openly. It was God the Son who thus appeared to Hagar ( Genesis 16:7), Abraham ( Genesis 18:1), Jacob ( Genesis 32:24-30), Israel ( Judges 2:1), Gideon ( Judges 6:12-18), Manoah ( Judges 13:21).
In Malachi 3:1, “the Messenger” or “Angel of the covenant” is called “The Lord of His temple.” Those theophanies not only disclosed a personal distinction in the Godhead, but show the pre-existence and Deity of our Redeemer. That the Jehovah who manifested Himself again and again unto Israel in the wilderness was none other than the Mediator, is unequivocally established by 1 Corinthians 10: “for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them and that Rock was Christ.... Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents” (verses 4, 9). See also Hebrews 11:26.
The appearing of the Son of God to men in human form — sometimes in vision ( Ezekiel 1:26; Daniel 10:5,6), sometimes in prophecy ( Psalm 89:17; Daniel 7:13), sometimes tangibly ( Genesis 32:24; Joshua 5:13) — were so many anticipations of the Word becoming flesh, and were in order to acquaint the Church with the Person of her Head by providing a blessed intercourse between them. They were endearing manifestations of Christ to His saints (and to none other!) of His love, that “His delights [even then] were with the sons of men” ( Proverbs 8:31). It is most blessed to observe how many and varied ways the Lord Jesus took to display His personal love unto His people by vision and open revelation, by type and tangible similitude, in the early ages of the world, until the time that He became incarnate and tabernacled among men. They were all designed to prepare the minds of His people for His becoming the Son of man and furnishing the supreme proof of His love for them in New Testament times. He graciously adopted such methods to indicate how much He longed for the fullness of time when He should put away their sins and bring in an everlasting righteousness for them. “And He said, Nay, but as Captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and did worship and said unto Him, What saith my Lord unto His servant?” (verse 14).
Joshua now discovered it was far more than “a Man” who stood before him, and therefore did he prostrate himself before Him and humbly sought His will. Had this Visitor been only an angel, he had rebuked Joshua for worshipping him ( Revelation 19:10; 22:8, 9); but this Person accepted it, thereby evincing His Deity! This faithful servant of His now had a special visit from his Lord to inaugurate the great enterprise on which he was about to engage, namely, the putting of the inhabitants of Canaan to the sword. It was the sign and token that complete victory should be Israel’s, a guarantee that success should be granted their warfare. This “Man over against him, with drawn sword in His hand” had come as no idle Spectator of the conflict, but to command and direct every movement of their battles. “As Captain of the host of the Lord am I now come”: at the head of the angelic hierarchy stands the Angel of the Lord, “the Captain of our salvation” ( Hebrews 2:10). “And the Captain of the Lord’s host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot, for the place whereon thou standest is holy.
And Joshua did so” (verse 13).
Here was further proof that the One speaking to Joshua was infinitely above the highest celestial creature, for the arch-angel’s presence had not rendered the very ground whereon he stood sacred. It was in fact none other than the august Person before whom the seraphim veil their faces and cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts” ( Isaiah 6:3 and cf., John 12:41). It will be noted that the token of reverence required from Joshua was identical with that demanded of Moses by “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” at the burning bush ( Exodus 3:5,6). That order for the removing of his shoes not only linked together the two incidents, but supplied a further assurance of God’s promise to His servant “as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” ( Joshua 1:5). What an encouragement for faith was that!
Who could stand before the Captain of the Lord’s host? What was there for Israel to fear under such a Leader! Note how the Spirit again registers Joshua’s obedience to the command to remove his shoes: “And Joshua did so.” Nothing is too small for God’s notice. Our every act is recorded by Him — how solemn! how blessed!