If you note the headings in the New American Standard Bible here is how Joshua’s journey into the promised inheritance is outlined. Chapter 1, verse 1: ‘God’s Charge to Joshua.’ Chapter 1, verse 10: ‘Joshua Assumes Command.’ We need to note that it is one thing to know God’s charge regarding your life; it is another matter to “assume command” – that is to take your place within the context of that charge. With respect to this corporate setting I believe we have transitioned through this since the passing of our founding pastor. The new leadership has heard the charge of God, has been duly set in place through apostolic authority, and has taken its place within that charge.
Chapter 2, verse 1: ‘Rahab Shelters the Spies’; the important outcome of this was that the true state of the enemy was uncovered – their courage had melted away and they had no spirit left in them. Chapter 2, verse 15:‘The Promise to Rahab’; this was the promise of redemption/salvation/deliverance and it communicated that growth was coming right out of the camp of the enemy. He does not plunder our camp – we plunder his.
Chapter 3, verse 1: ‘Israel Crosses the Jordan.’ Chapter 3 is about the obedience of faith and the manifestation of the supernatural. Moving forward it is vital that we discern and acknowledge the presence of the supernatural in all that is unfolding. Chapter 4, verse 1: ‘Memorial Stones from Jordan’; this is about the power of testimony – the importance of witness to coming generations. When we treat carelessly the testimony of the works of God in past generations we are compromising our own potential. Pay attention to the stone piles.
What we can conclude at this point is that the journey into the promised inheritance was not some confused, helter-skelter, everybody do your own thing type of procedure. It was intentional, ordered and measured. It was very eventful and every event had significant meaning far beyond the event itself.
If you make this journey to the end of chapter four you find yourself in this kind of zone: Happy, happy, happy – the world is your oyster, and nothing but blue skies do I see... And then we run into this heading at the beginning of Chapter 5: ‘Israel is Circumcised.’
Actually Joshua chapter 5 is the first known GPS experience in the history of mankind. Once you program an address into your GPS it determines the best possible route by which you can arrive at that address. Any deviation from that route and you hear the following message: “Your GPS is recalibrating.” Or you might hear: ‘Turn around when possible.’
This recalibration does not at all change or adjust the programmed route established in the GPS. What it does is reorient you from your present position back to the established route. In other words what was programmed in the GPS does not change in order to accommodate where you wandered off course; it calls you back to where you need to be.
Here in part is the definition of recalibrate: to adjust precisely for a particular function; to measure precisely, especially against a standard. In the context of my GPS illustration here is how that definition looks: Once you key in the address the GPS establishes the best route to that address. That established route becomes the standard against which all movement or direction is measured. And the second you deviate from that standard the device is designed to inform you of that deviation and to call you or reorient you to that standard.
At that point you have a choice – you can adjust to the standard or you can argue with the GPS and become increasingly lost and confused.
Let’s take this back to Joshua 5. After about five hundred years of living with, believing and anticipating this promised inheritance, Israel is finally in the land. They are ready to do battle. They are ready to overcome and drive the various enemies out of the land. They are ready to take possession of the promise. But before any of that happens they are issued a flint knife and instructed to perform the act of circumcision.
The timing of this made no sense because it would leave them vulnerable to the enemy. This is why verse 1 is so important. It reveals the true state of that enemy: ‘... their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer...’ Fear of the enemy will cause us to disobey God especially when what He calls us to do appears to leave us vulnerable. But when we know the real truth concerning this very defeated enemy we are able to move forward with peace and confidence. We are free to obey no matter what.
In Gen.17 we have the record of an incredible conversation between God and Abram. It is all about the covenant. That entire covenant was a covenant of faith based upon the promises of God. In that conversation God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai’s name is changed to Sarah.
At the time of the conversation Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah was 89, which makes the final point of the conversation nothing less than bizarre: “Sarah will bear to you a son at this season next year.” You will be 100 and she will be 90.
Abraham’s reaction: He fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” But all of these things Abraham had heard before – they just seemed sillier now and much more impossible because of his age.
However, there was one new instruction in this conversation: vs.10 – “... every male among you shall be circumcised.” And here is what God said about that: “...and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.” And He also said this of those who refused to be circumcised: “That person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
Based on this Gen.17 record this much is certain – circumcision was the external sign and seal of the covenant of faith between God and Abraham. It was the defining sign in the flesh of the covenant of faith in the heart.
How then, do we explain Joshua 5 and the fact that an entire generation had not been circumcised? I think it had much to do with transition and what tends to happen during seasons of change and transition. In a very real sense the journey through the wilderness was a journey of transition between a life of slavery in Egypt and life in the promised inheritance of Canaan.
During seasons of transition our focus shifts. In crossing the Jordan there is a whole lot of newness coming at us; there are endless changes pushing up against us. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact it a God-thing.
The problem occurs when, in the presence of all of this newness, we become disoriented in relation to and begin to move away from the core values of the covenant. It is not even a conscious thing on our part, it is just that we become so aware of and focused upon the incoming newness that we lose consciousness of the very foundational covenant realities upon which all this newness is built. That’s what Joshua 5 was all about; reorienting a whole generation to the core realities of the foundational covenant that defined their very essence and existence!
And this much is certain – the walls of Jericho would not have fallen, there would not have been a single victory and that generation would not have possessed one acre of the promise land had they refused to submit to circumcision. For in that refusal they would have been dishonouring and despising the covenant. We cannot ignore the covenant and expect the blessings of the covenant to come upon us.
Were I to hold up this book – the Bible – and make the statement, ‘The Word of the covenant’, there would be little disagreement. In fact, were I to declare this from each pulpit in every Christian church in North America the agreement would be significantly high. But if I follow that with questions like: What is the orientation of your faith in relation to creation, the universe, human existence, life and death and the spirit world? What is the orientation of your faith in relation to fornication, adultery, homosexuality, sexual lust, unclean imaginations and fantasies? What is the orientation of your faith in relation to self-indulgence, gluttony, drunkenness and immoderation? What is the orientation of your faith in relation to unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, anger, abuse, hatred, jealousy, racism, gossiping and judgementalism? What is the orientation of your faith in relation to injustice and suffering and poverty? I think we all know what the reaction would be.
Returning to Joshua 5 we need to note that following their obedience in circumcision, they observed the Passover. This was their first Passover in Canaan. This was the covenant meal and speaks of their orientation to the values of the covenant. We are also told that the manna ceased and that the people now ate the fruit of the new place they were in. This all speaks of change and the newness coming with that change. And then the chapter ends with this profound encounter between Joshua and a supernatural figure – ‘the captain of the Lord’s host.’
The profound value of Joshua chapter 5 to my own soul is that it warns me of an attitude that so easily develops – especially in seasons of change and newness and increased blessing and prosperity. That attitude basically says: “We are in now; we have arrived right where God promised we would. It is no longer necessary to assign the same importance to those core covenant values that got us here.”
The Joshua generation refused to adopt that attitude, so when we come to chapter 6 we find the heading: ‘The Conquest of Jericho.’