Joshua 5: Wait.

Application

It’s interesting to see all that’s going on in Joshua 5. After the stopping of the Jordan River for just long enough that the entire nation of Israel could cross over, one would have thought that timing was critical. From a strategic standpoint, it was essential that the Israelites capitalize on this momentum and strike at cities like Jericho and Ai hard and fast. But instead, God called on the whole nation to stop and do two things: circumcise all the males and celebrate the Passover.

Since most people who are circumcised are circumcised as infants, it’s difficult for us to fully grasp the significance of this task. From a symbolic standpoint, it did a number of things. First, it demonstrated the renewal of God’s covenant with Israel. For forty years, they had been wandering in the desert, waiting for the condemned generation to die. Now, though, they were preparing to take the land which was promised to Abraham, who inaugurated the circumcision rite as a sign of God’s covenant with him. Second, it demonstrated their commitment to God. Nothing says commitment like being willing to have your foreskin removed. And third, it demonstrated their willingness to obey. Far more than the mere vocalization from chapter 3 – “consecrate yourselves” – this was an actual test of Israel’s commitment to God. And since no one would choose to do this of their own volition, especially when in enemy territory, it was a very effective test.

But this obedience had a very practical side effect, too. It stopped Israel in its tracks, arresting all forward momentum and giving the people of Jericho, Ai, and surrounding areas a chance to get over the shock and awe of Israel coming across the river in such spectacular fashion and dig in for the fight of their lives. And in doing so, it precluded all possibility of them saying, “Look at what our master strategy did! We dazzled them with a spectacular crossing of the river and then pummeled them while they were too afraid to fight!” In other words, it provided a few days of separation between miracles so that, in their minds, the crossing would be a distinct miracle, and the conquest of Jericho and subsequent areas would be their own distinct miracles, too.

The celebration of the Passover is another interesting thing. Again, though, it’s difficult for us to grasp all that’s going on here without a little context. The Passover feast was seven days in duration. So once they started it here at Gilgal, they were stuck at Gilgal for the next seven days to commemorate the day in Egypt when God passed over their firstborn but struck dead all the firstborn of their oppressors.

Suddenly, then, we have another week’s delay. And now it’s been at least two weeks – quite possibly even three – since Israel crossed the Jordan and set up camp for the first time as a nation in the promised land. Three weeks in which the people of Jericho, Ai, and surrounding areas had a chance to recover from their fears. Three weeks in which the people of Jericho, Ai, and surrounding areas had an opportunity to dig themselves in even more than before, making it virtually impossible for Israel to dislodge them. Three weeks in which the people of Jericho, Ai, and surrounding areas had plenty of time to organize and execute a counterassault while Israel had nowhere to retreat but the flooded river.

Three weeks which God intended to use to demonstrate that even the fully mobilized and prepared efforts of the Canaanite peoples were impotent against His mighty power.

Indeed, this delay in and of itself was a critical test of Israel’s commitment to the Lord. Like a good hunting dog must be trained to stay at his master’s heel on command, even if there’s a beautiful field filled with game – or even a downed bird – right before their very eyes, Israel had to learn to wait for God and His timing, regardless of what human wisdom and strategy indicated. No, this delay was not God failing or even hesitating. Rather, it was God teaching and working.

And only when the lesson on waiting was done, did God signal His readiness to move forward with the appearance of a mysterious man to Jericho.

Before I close today, I want to take just a second to notice something about the conversation which transpires between Joshua and this man. Joshua confronted the man with the same challenge that any red-blooded Israelite should. Though the man stood there with sword in hand – clearly an indication of hostility if I ever saw one! – Joshua mustered the courage to demand, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

It was a simple question, designed to see whether Joshua’s worst fears – that the Canaanites had arrived to attack a vulnerable Israel – had come true. But the man’s answer was anything but simple: “Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

In this response are two very important things. The first is that God is not on our side or the enemy’s. We must choose to be on His side. This is a critical thing because which of us hasn’t decided on some course of action and then prayed that God would bless it? I am reminded of the story I first heard in college of the pastor who opened the altar one day and had a couple come to him and ask him to bless their relationship. Upon a couple of simple questions from the pastor, though, it was revealed that the couple was not married, but living together nonetheless. The pastor’s response was to thank them for wanting to have their relationship blessed, but also to explain that before it could be blessed, it had to be right. We can’t expect God to bless whatever we choose to do. We must choose to do His will. We must choose to follow Him. And then He will bless whatever we do and wherever we go.

And the second very important thing that this man’s response revealed was the signal that the time was finally at hand. It was time for Israel to move forward. Returning for an instant to the illustration of the hunting dog, the time to stay at the heel was over. It was time to do what this generation had been born to do. It was time to be the people Israel was destined to be. God had called them to be His people, and He had promised to establish for them a homeland of their very own. It was time, at last, for that promise to be made real.

Sometimes, God calls us to wait. It’s a simple fact of life. It tests our patience, our steadiness, and our resolve. As such, it’s not easy. No true test ever is. But it is necessary. And in those moments when we are called to wait, it is essential that we do just exactly that, carefully obeying all that God calls us to do in the interim and holding for the signal that, at last, it’s time.

Notes

  • The reaction of these kings is natural. When Israel was not stopped even by a flooded Jordan – and because God did something so amazing as dry up the river before them to make it possible – they knew the writing was on the wall.
  • Interestingly, rather than seize upon the confusion and fear of the Canaanites, God commanded Israel to stop and circumcise all the men who had been born in the desert and not circumcised. This would have crippled the Israelites for a week or more, stunting whatever momentum they had, giving the natives a chance to reinforce their fortifications, and making them extremely vulnerable to attack throughout the healing process. Clearly, God’s idea of timing and strategy was different than man’s.
  • The reasoning here is simple: the men born since Israel started wandering in the desert were yet uncircumcised, possibly because they were on the move so much that it wasn’t feasible. Now, though, that situation was to be rectified.
  • “they remained where they were in camp until they were healed”: This is an important phrase which reveals something of process that was going on here. When my son was born and circumcised, we learned that it takes a couple weeks before one is completely healed from circumcision. It would have been at least a week before these men were able to mobilize the camp and/or engage in combat maneuvers.
  • Not only did the people circumcise all the males in camp, but in vs 10, we learn that they then proceeded to celebrate the Passover, introducing yet another delay.
  • I must say that Joshua is pretty brave for confronting this man with drawn sword. And I must also say that the man’s response is telling. God is not for us. We must choose to be for Him.
  • Wherever we find ourselves in God’s presence – even in the middle of nowhere – that place is holy, and God is deserving of reverence there.
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