a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

The New Generation Circumcised


When all the kings of the Amorites beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites by the sea, heard that the L ord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted, and there was no longer any spirit in them, because of the Israelites.

2 At that time the L ord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites a second time.” 3So Joshua made flint knives, and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath-haaraloth. 4This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the warriors, had died during the journey through the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt. 5Although all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people born on the journey through the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. 6For the Israelites traveled forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the warriors who came out of Egypt, perished, not having listened to the voice of the L ord. To them the L ord swore that he would not let them see the land that he had sworn to their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7So 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.

8 When the circumcising of all the nation was done, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. 9The L ord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

The Passover at Gilgal

10 While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Joshua’s Vision

13 Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” 14He replied, “Neither; but as commander of the army of the L ord I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, “What do you command your servant, my lord?” 15The commander of the army of the L ord said to Joshua, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.

1. And it came to pass when, etc The recognition of the fearful power of God had such an effect upon them that they were astonished and fainted with terror, but it did not incline their minds to seek a remedy for the evil. Their heart was melted inasmuch as destitute of counsel and strength they did not bestir themselves, but in regard to contumacy they remained as hard-hearted as before. We have already seen elsewhere how unbelievers, when smitten with fear, cease not to wrestle with God, and even when they fall, continue fiercely to assail heaven. Hence the dread which ought to have urged them to caution had no other effect than to hurry them on headlong. They were, however, terrified from above for the sake of the people, that victory might be more easily obtained, and the Israelites might be emboldened when they saw they had to do with an enemy already broken and stricken with dismay. Thus God spared their weakness, as if he had opened up the way by removing obstacles, because they had already proved themselves to be otherwise more sluggish and cowardly than was meet. The substance then is, that before the conflict commenced, the enemy were already routed by the terror which the fame of the miracle had inspired.

2. At that time the Lord said, etc It seems very strange and almost monstrous, that circumcision had so long been laid aside, especially as it became those who were receiving daily admonitions to be more than usually careful to cultivate the exercises of piety. It was the symbol of the adoption to which they owed their freedom. And it is certain that when they were reduced to extremity and groaning under tyranny, they always circumcised their children. We know also how sternly God threatened to be an avenger against any one who should allow the eighth day to pass. Had the observance been neglected in Egypt their carelessness might have admitted of excuse, as at that time the covenant of God appeared to have become in a manner obsolete. But now when the divine faithfulness in establishing the covenant is once more refulgent, what excuse could there be for not testifying on their part that they are the people of God

The apology which commentators offer is altogether frivolous. I admit that they were constantly under arms, and always uncertain when they would require to move. But I hold it erroneous to infer from this that they had not a day’s leisure, and that it would have been cruel to circumcise tender infants when the camp must shortly after have been moved. Nothing ought to have weighed so much with them as to produce a contemptuous disregard of what had been said to Abraham, (Genesis 17:14) The soul that is not circumcised shall be cut off from the people. But if there was risk of life in the circumcision, the best and only method was to trust to the paternal providence of God, who certainly would not have allowed his own precept to become fatal to infants. In short, the omission from a fear of danger, could not originate in any other cause than distrust. But even had it been certain that infants would be brought into danger, God ought nevertheless to have been obeyed, inasmuch as the seal of the covenant by which they were received into the Church was more precious than a hundred lives. Nor would Moses have suffered such cowardly procedure had he not been influenced by some different motive. Moreover, though the point is doubtful, I presume that they did not desist from circumcising their children, the very first day after their departure, but only after they had been obliged to retrace their steps through their own perverseness. And in this way both the defection and the punishment are accurately expressed, For it is not said that circumcision was resumed, because the constant change of place during their wanderings made it previously impossible, but because forty years behooved to elapse until those wicked apostates who had cut themselves off from the promised inheritance were consumed.

Attention should be paid to the reason here given, namely, that the children of Israel wandered through the desert till the whole of the generation which had refused to follow God was extinct; from this we may, in my opinion, infer, that the use of circumcision ceased during the whole of that period as a sign of malediction or rejection. It is true, indeed, that the penalty was inflicted on the innocent, but it was expedient that the fathers should be chastised in their person, as if God were repudiating them for the time to come. When they saw that their offspring differed in no respect from profane persons and strangers, they had a plain demonstration of what they themselves deserved.

Here, however, an inconsistency seems to arise in respect, first, that while they were condemned, their offspring were immediately received into favor; and secondly, that to themselves also was left a hope of pardon; and more especially, that they were not deprived of the other sacraments of which they could not be partakers, except on the ground of their being separated from profane nations.

The Lord, I admit, in rejecting them, declares at the same time that he will be propitious to their children, but to behold in their offspring a sign of repudiation till they themselves all perished, was salutary chastisement. For God withdrew the pledge of his favor only for a time, and kept it, as it were, locked up until their death. This punishment, therefore, was not properly inflicted on the children who were afterwards born, but had the same effect as a suspension, just as if God were making it manifest that he had put off circumcision for a time lest it should be profaned, but was waiting for an opportunity of renewing it.

Should any one object that it was absurd to celebrate the Passover in uncircumcision, I admit that it was so according to the usual order. For none were admitted to the Passover and the sacrifices save those who were initiated into the worship of God; just as in the present day the ordinance of the Supper is common only to those who have been admitted into the Church by baptism. But the Lord might choose for a time to alter the ordinary rule, and allow those from whom he had taken away circumcision to be partakers of other sacred rites. Thus the people were excommunicated in one matter, and yet, in the meanwhile, furnished with fit aids to prevent them from falling into despair; just as if a father, offended with his son, were to raise his fist, apparently to drive him away, and were at the same time to detain him by his other hand, — were to frighten him by threats and blows, and yet be unwilling to part with him. This seems to me to have been the reason why God, while depriving the people of the special pledge of adoption, was, however, unwilling to deprive them of other ordinances.

Should it be objected that there is a distinct assertion that none were circumcised on the way after they had set out, I answer, that, with a view to brevity, all things are not stated exactly, and yet that it may be gathered from the context that none remained uncircumcised but those who were born after the sedition. For it is said that their sons, whom God substituted for them, were circumcised by Joshua. From this it appears that a new people were then created to supply the place of perverse rebels. It was, moreover, a sad and severe trial that God did not choose to have the people circumcised till they were hemmed in by enemies on every side. It would, certainly, have been safer and more convenient to perform the rite before crossing the Jordan, in the land of Bashan, which had been reduced to peace by the overthrow of the inhabitants. The Lord waits till they are shut up in the midst of enemies, and exposed to their lust and violence, as if he were purposely exposing them to death; since all weakened by their wound must have given way at once, and been slaughtered almost without resistance. For if in similar circumstances (Genesis 34) two sons of Jacob, were able to force their way into the town of Sichem and plunder it, after slaying its citizens, how much more easy would it have been for the neighboring nations to attack the Israelites while thus wounded, and make a general massacre of them.

This was, therefore, as I have said, a very harsh trial, and hence the readiness with which it was submitted to is deserving of the greater praise. The place itself, however, appears to have been purposely selected by the divine wisdom, that they might be more disposed to obey. Had the same command been given on the other side of the Jordan, there was reason to fear that they might be cast into despondency, and from the delay thus interposed might again decline to enter the land. But now, when they had been brought into possession under happy auspices, as if by the hand of God, and conceived from the removal of this one obstacle a sure hope of warring with success, it is not wonderful if they obey more willingly than they might have done if they had not been so singularly strengthened. The very sight of the promised land must have furnished additional incentives, when they understood that they were again consecrated to God, in order that their uncircumcision might not pollute the holy land.

9. And the Lord said unto Joshua, etc The disgrace of Egypt is expounded by some as meaning that the want of circumcision rendered them similar to the Egyptians, in other words, profane and marked with a stigma; as if it had been said that they were again made the peculiar property of God when they were anew stamped with this mark, to distinguish them from the nations that were unclean. Others understand it actively, as meaning that they would no longer be scorned by the Egyptians, as if God had deceived them. This I have no hesitation in rejecting as too far fetched. Others understand that they would no longer lie under the false imputation of worshipping the gods of that nation. I rather understand the meaning to be, that they were freed from an invidious charge, by which they were otherwise overborne. It was disreputable to have shaken off the yoke and revolted from the king under whose government they lived. Moreover, as they gave out that God was the avenger of unjust tyranny, it was easy to upbraid them with using the name of God as a mere color for their conduct. They might, therefore, have been regarded as deserters, had not the disgrace been wiped off by the appeal to circumcision, by which the divine election was sealed in their flesh before they went down into Egypt. It was accordingly made plain by the renewal of the ancient covenant that they were not rebels against legitimate authority, nor had rashly gone off at their own hand, but that their liberty was restored by God, who had long ago taken them under his special protection.

From the removal of disgrace the place obtained its name. For those who think that the prepuce cut off was called Gilgal, because it was a kind of circle, abandon the literal meaning, and have recourse to a very unnecessary fiction; while it is perfectly obvious that the place was called Rolling Off, because God there rolled off from his people the disgrace which unjustly attached to them. The interpretation of liberty, adopted by Josephus, is vain and ridiculous, and makes it apparent that he was as ignorant of the Hebrew tongue as of jurisprudence.

10. And the children of Israel. kept the Passover, etc Here it is stated that the Passover was celebrated on the regular day, although there are some who think that the words used imply that the practice was unusual. They hence infer that, like circumcision, it had been interrupted for a period of forty years, as it would have been absurd for persons uncircumcised to take part in a sacred feast. To confirm this view, they observe that we do not read of the Passover having been observed after the beginning of the second year. But it is not probable that that which God had lately ordered to be perpetual, (Exodus 12:42) was suddenly cast aside. For it had been said to them, It is a night to be observed by the children of Israel in all their generations. How inconsistent, then, would it have been had this practice, which was to be observed throughout all ages, become obsolete in the course of two years! And again, how heartless it would have been to bury the memory of a recent favor within so short a period!

But it is said that the want of circumcision must have kept back a large proportion, that the mystery might not be profaned; for at its institution it had been declared, No uncircumcised person shall eat of it. To this I have already answered, that it was an extraordinary privilege; as the children of Israel were freed from the law. 5454     “Freed from the law.” Latin, “Lege soluti.” French, “Ont este exemptez et dispensez de ce a quoy la Loy les assujettissoit;” “Have been exempted and dispensed from that to which the law subjected them.” — Ed. For it is certain that they continued to use sacrifices, and to observe the other parts of legal worship, although this was unlawful, unless something of the form prescribed by the law had been remitted by divine authority. It is certain that unclean persons were prohibited from entering the court of the tabernacle, and yet the children of Israel, while uncircumcised, offered sacrifices there, thus doing what was equivalent to the slaying of the Passover. They were therefore permitted, by sufferance, to do that which it was not lawful to do according to the rule of the law.

The mention made by Moses of the second celebration of the Passover (Numbers 9) is for a different purpose, namely, for the purpose of indirectly censuring the carelessness and sluggishness of the people, who would not have observed the sacred anniversary at the end of the first year if they had not been reminded of it. For although God had proclaimed that they should through all ages annually renew the memory of their deliverance, yet they had grown so oblivious before the end of the year, that they had become remiss in the discharge of the duty. It is not without cause they are urged by a new intimation, as they were not sufficiently attentive of their own accord. That passage, therefore, does not prove that the use of the Passover was afterwards interrupted; on the contrary, it may, with some probability, be inferred from it that it was annually observed; as the Lord, towards the end of the year, anticipates the observance, telling them to make careful provision for it in future, and never deviate from the command which had been given them. 5555     These remarks place the view which Calvin takes in its most favorable light; but, on the other hand, it is strongly argued, 1. That the eating of the Passover by an uncircumcised person was expressly prohibited, (Exodus 12:48) 2. That the observance of it during the wandering in the desert is, by implication at least, dispensed with in the words, “And it shall come to pass, when you be come to the land which the Lord will give you, according as he has promised, that you shall keep this service.” (Exodus 12:25) 3. That the observance of the Passover at Mount Sinai was in compliance with a special mandate, and would not have taken place without it. 4. The assumption that sacrifices were offered in the desert is questioned as inconsistent with Amos 5:25. It may be added, that the order to circumcise, evidently intended as a preparation for the celebration of the approaching Passover, seems to imply that there had previously been a similar omission of both ordinances. It must also have been difficult, if not impossible, while in the wilderness, to obtain flour in sufficient quantity to make unleavened Passover bread for a whole people. — Ed.

11. And they did eat of the old corn, etc Whether they then began first to eat wheaten bread is not very clear. For they had dwelt in a country that was not uncultivated, and was tolerably fertile. At least in the territories of the two kings there was enough of corn to supply the inhabitants. It does not seem reasonable to suppose that the children of Israel allowed the corn which they found there to rot and perish by mere waste. And I have no doubt that they ate the flesh which remained over of the sacrifices. It is quite possible, therefore, that they did not wholly abstain from wheaten bread, and yet did not abandon their accustomed food. For a country which was assigned to a tenth part could not have furnished food sufficient for the whole multitude, as there cannot be a doubt that a just estimate was made when Moses settled in it only two tribes and a half tribe. As yet, therefore, the twelve tribes had not found sufficient food, more especially as the country had been devastated by war, and the Israelites, who were not in safety to leave the camp, could not devote their attention to agriculture. The manna was thus necessary to feed them until a more abundant supply was obtained. This took place in the land of Canaan, and then, accordingly, they returned to common food. But why they deferred it till that day is not known, unless it be that after their wound was cured, some days behooved to be spent in collecting corn, while religion did not permit them to bake bread lest they should break the Sabbath. But although that rest was sacred, we gather from the circumstances that they made haste, as the flour must have been previously prepared, seeing they could not grind it and bake it in a single day.

Be this as it may, the Lord furnished them with provision as long as their want required to be supplied. The failure of the manna on a sudden, and at the very moment, must have furnished an additional attestation to the kindness of God, inasmuch as it was thence apparent that the manna was a temporary resource, which had descended not so much from the clouds as from a paternal providence. It is moreover plain, that this is to be understood of the produce of the former year, and it is needless to raise any question in regard to it; for it would have implied too much precipitation to rush upon the produce of the present year when not yet properly matured, and a whole month would scarcely have sufficed to collect enough for the supply of so great a multitude. I cannot see why expounders should give themselves so much trouble with so clear a matter.

13. And it came to pass when Joshua, etc Here we have the narrative of a remarkable vision, by which Joshua was greatly encouraged and emboldened. For though he was strenuously discharging his office, the application of an additional stimulus was not without its use. The angel, however, did not appear solely on his private account, but for the confirmation of the whole people: nay, the Lord looked further forward, that he might furnish posterity with stronger proofs of a kindness which was never duly considered. For although they boasted in lofty terms of having been planted by the hand of God in a holy land, they were scarcely induced by all the miracles to acknowledge in good earnest that they were placed there as God’s vassals. This vision, therefore, must have been beneficial to all ages, by leaving no doubt as to the divine kindness bestowed. Its being said that he lifted his eyes, tends to confirm the certainty of the vision, lest any one might suppose that his eyesight had merely been dazzled by some evanescent phantom.

The spectacle, when first presented, must have inspired fear; for it is probable that Joshua was then alone, whether he had withdrawn from public view to engage in prayer, or for the purpose of reconnoitering the city. I am rather inclined to think it was the latter, and that he had gone aside to examine where the city ought to be attacked, lest the difficulty might deter others. It appears certain that he was without attendants, as he alone perceives the vision; and there can be no doubt that he was prepared to fight had he fallen in with an enemy. But he puts his question as if addressing a man, because it is only from the answer he learns that it is an angel. This doubt gives more credibility to the vision, while he is gradually led from the view of the man whom he addresses to the recognition of an angel. The words, at the same time, imply that it was not an ordinary angel, but one of special excellence. For he calls himself captain of the Lord’s host, a term which may be understood to comprehend not merely his chosen people, but angels also.

The former view, however, is the more correct, as God does not produce anything of an unwonted nature, but constitutes that which we previously read that he performed to Moses. And we know that Moses himself preferred this favor to all others; and justly, for God there manifested his own glory in an open and familiar manner. Accordingly, he is indiscriminately called an angel, and distinguished by the title of the eternal God. Of this fact Paul is a competent witness, who distinctly declares that it was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4.) And Moses himself embraced God as present in the person of the Mediator. For when God declares, after the making of the calf, (Exodus 33:2-3 5656     The original text had referenced Exodus 32:37, which is invalid. Certainly the passage now referenced makes mention of the angel, and that God will no longer 'go out before' the people of Israel, but, if Calvin had only the angel in mind, the reference could have been meant for Exodus 32:34. However, it could also be a general reference to events occurring throughout Chapter 32, (the making of the calf in verses 2-3, God saying He would not be their Leader in verse 10, and the reference to the angel in verse 34). — fj,sg. ) that he would no longer be the Leader of the people, he at the same time promises that he will give one of his angels, but only one, as it were taken out of the general body of the angelic host. 5757     French, “Mais comme le premier qui se rencontrera;” “But as it were the first who may happen to present himself.” — Ed. This Moses earnestly deprecates, obviously because he could have no hope that God would be propitious if the Mediator were removed. It was thus a special pledge of the divine favor that the Captain and Head of the Church, to whom Moses had been accustomed, was now present to assist. And indeed the divine adoption could not be ratified in any other way than in the hand of the Mediator.

14. And he said, Nay; but as captain, etc Although the denial applies equally to both parts of the question, namely, that he was neither an Israelite nor a Canaanite, and was thus equivalent to a denial of his being a mortal man, yet it seems to be more properly applicable to the second, or to that part of the question in which Joshua asked if he were one of the enemy. This, however, is a matter of little moment; the essential thing is to understand that he had come to preside over the chosen people whom he honorably styles the Lord’s host. In his representing himself as different from God, a personal distinction is denoted, but unity of essence is not destroyed.

We have said that in the books of Moses the name of Jehovah 5858     The French adds, “C’est a dire d’Eternel;” “That is to say of Eternal.” — Ed. is often attributed to the presiding Angel, who was undoubtedly the only-begotten Son of God. He is indeed very God, and yet in the person of Mediator by dispensation, he is inferior to God. I willingly receive what ancient writers teach on this subject, — that when Christ anciently appeared in human form, it was a prelude to the mystery which was afterwards exhibited when God was manifested in the flesh. We must beware, however, of imagining that Christ at that time became incarnate, since, first, we nowhere read that God sent his Son in the flesh before the fullness of the times; and, secondly, Christ, in so far as he was a man, behooved to be the Son of David. But as is said in Ezekiel, (Ezekiel 1) it was only a likeness of man. Whether it was a substantial body or an outward form, it is needless to discuss, as it seems wrong to insist on any particular view of the subject. 5959     Several modern commentators, among others Grotius, have maintained that the personage who thus appeared was merely a created angel. In this they have only followed in the steps of the Jewish Rabbis, who not satisfied with holding that he was an angel, have gone the farther length of fixing what particular angel it was. With almost unanimous consent they declare it to have been Michael, though they are unable to support their opinion by anything stronger than the first verse of the twelfth chapter of Daniel, [Da 12:1] in which it is said, that “at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of thy people.” The sounder view here advocated by Calvin, and generally adopted by the early Christian Fathers, is well expressed by Origen, who says, in his Sixth Homily on this Book, “Joshua knew not only that he was of God, but that he was God. For he would not have worshipped, had he not recognized him to be God. For who else is the Captain of the Lord’s host but our Lord Jesus Christ?” It would make sad havoc with our ideas of divine worship to admit that the homage which Joshua here pays could be lawfully received, or rather could, so to speak, be imperiously demanded by one creature from another. — Ed.

The only remaining question is, how the Captain of the Lord’s host can speak of having now come, seeing he had not deserted the people committed to his trust, and had lately given a matchless display of his presence in the passage of the Jordan. But according to the common usage of Scripture, God is said to come to us when we are actually made sensible of his assistance, which seems remote when not manifested by experience. It is therefore just as if he were offering his assistance in the combats which were about to be waged, and promising by his arrival that the war would have a happy issue. It cannot be inferred with certainty from the worship which he offered, whether Joshua paid divine honor to Christ distinctly recognized as such; but by asking, What command does my Lord give to his servant? he attributes to him a power and authority which belong to God alone.

15. Loose thy shoe from off thy foot, etc To give additional sanctity to the vision, the great Angel requires as a sign of reverence and fear that Joshua put off his shoes. Moses relates, (Exodus 3:5) that the same command was given to him on Mount Sinai, and for no other reason than that the Lord there manifested his glory. For one place cannot have a greater sanctity than another, except God deigns specially to make it so. Thus Jacob exclaims, (Genesis 28:17 6060     The original text had the reference to Genesis 26:17, an obvious typesetting error. —fj. ) that the place where he had known God more nearly is the house of God, a dreadful place, and the gate of heaven. Here, therefore, when God orders his holy servant to take off his shoes, he by this ceremony attests the reality of his presence, and adds more weight to the vision; not that nakedness of feet is of itself of any value in the worship of God, but because the weakness of men requires to be aided by helps of this kind, that they may the better excite and prepare themselves for veneration. Moreover, as God by his presence sanctifies the places in which he appears, I think it probable that the expression, holy ground, is in part commendatory of the excellence of the land of Canaan, which God had chosen for his own habitation and the seat of his pure worship. Hence in various passages it is called “his rest.” (Psalm 95:11, and Psalm 132:14 6161     The original text had the reference to Psalm 132:11, an obvious typesetting error. —fj. ) In the end of the verse Joshua is praised for his obedience, that posterity might learn by his example to cultivate pure piety in that land. There seems thus to be a kind of tacit comparison or antithesis, by which the land of Canaan is extolled above all other countries. 6262     The incident here recorded is one of the principal reasons from the designation of the Holy Land usually applied to Palestine. — Ed.

VIEWNAME is study