Theme: The Meaning of Circumcision and the Passover
This week’s lessons teach the importance of Israel’s consecration before they began their conquest of the Promised Land.
As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel.
At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.” So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt. Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way.
When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.
While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
Yesterday we looked at the idea of circumcision as an initiatory sacrament for Israel. There is an initiatory sacrament for the Christian church as well; however our initial sacrament is not circumcision, but baptism. And in baptism, especially in the baptism of children, we have a remnant of what that means because in some forms of the baptismal ceremony, the child is actually given what we call his Christian name. That’s sort of a carry-over in the idea. The child is named as belonging within the covenant people of God. Whether that happens when we are infants, as is practiced in the majority of the denominations of Christendom, or whether it happens as an adult, baptism marks the formal entry point into the Christian church. Think about what you were before you were given a Christian identification. Before, you were “John Sinner” or “Mary Sinner,” and were apart from God. But now you’re “John Christian” or “Mary Christian” or whatever it may be. It indicates your faith in God’s promises.
This is what was happening there at Gilgal on the western bank of the Jordan. The people were saying again by obedience to God and by faith in His promises that they were His people, and they were trusting Him now to do what He had promised to do. Back in Genesis 17, God had not only said, “I will be your God and you will be my people,” but He had also said, “Because I’m your God and because you are going to be my people, I’m going to lead you and I’m going to bring you into a new land, a land of your own.” Now here they were, actually in the land for the first time since the years in Egypt. God was beginning to give it to them and they said, “We are God’s people, and we take that sign of the covenant upon ourselves.”
Then there’s a second sacrament, which is the Passover. The Passover is observed here in Joshua 5 for only the third time in history. The first time was the occasion of the Exodus. That’s what gave the Passover its meaning. A year later, at Sinai, the people observed it again in commemoration of that event. But it had not been observed since. Now for the third time in history, the Passover is observed, and on this observance it was a memorial. It was a looking back, a remembering of what God had done.
You see the difference: circumcision is identifying with God in the covenant and receiving by faith the promises of what God will do. The Passover is a looking back and a remembering of what God had done. What God had done in the case of the Passover, of course, was to deliver the people out of Egypt. There had been a series of 10 great plagues upon the Egyptians through the hand of Moses in which the hand of God bore down in a stronger and stronger measure upon the recalcitrant, rebellious nature of Pharaoh, the Egyptian king. Again and again he refused to let the people go. He would not acknowledge the authority and sovereign rule of God.
Then finally there was the last great judgment. The angel of the Lord passed over the land of Egypt. In this case he was the angel of death, because as he passed over, the firstborn throughout all the land were killed. No firstborn from among the Egyptians was exempt from God’s judgment. It struck at the highest ranks of the Egyptian government, even the firstborn son and heir of the Pharaoh himself, and all the way down to the firstborn of the most humble peasant in the land—and even the firstborn of the cattle. But not in Goshen. Not in the land where the Israelites were dwelling.
The Israelites were spared because God gave them specific instructions so that in God’s mercy the angel of death would pass over their houses. They were commanded to take a lamb, and to keep it in their house, and to observe it for three days to make sure it was perfect—without spot or blemish. Then, on the third day, the time of the Passover, they were to kill that lamb. They were to roast it and eat it together in a communal meal that night. And the blood of the lamb was to be spread upon the lintel and on the doorposts of the house as a sign that the lamb had been killed for those who were within that dwelling.
That night, as the angel of death passed through the land, wherever he saw the blood upon the lintel and on the doorposts of the house, he passed over, and those within did not die. That’s what they were remembering in Joshua 5. It was a remembrance of God’s great deliverance out of Egypt forty years ago. Yet it was also an anticipation of what God was going to do when He sent His Son to die on Calvary’s cross so that the holy wrath of God might pass over us. Scripture says that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb, the lamb slain before the foundation of the world. He is the lamb who poured out his blood for sinners, and because of His death for us, the death that we deserved, the angel of judgment passes us by.
What is the New Testament parallel to circumcision? How are they similar?
From the lesson, what is the difference in meaning between circumcision and the Passover?
What action of God does the Passover anticipate? How are the two events similar?