Joshua 5


The effect produced on the minds of the Canaanites by the late

miracle, 1.

Joshua is commanded to circumcise the Israelites, 2.

He obeys, 3.

Who they were that were circumcised, and why it was now done,


They abide in the camp till they are whole, 8.

The place is called Gilgal, and why, 9.

They keep the passover in the same place, 10.

They eat unleavened cakes and parched corn, on the morrow after

the passover, 11.

The manna ceases, 12.

The captain of the Lord's host appears to Joshua, 13-15.


Verse 1. The Amorites which were on the side of Jordan westward]

It has already been remarked that the term Amorite is applied

sometimes to signify all the nations or tribes of Canaan. It

appears from this verse that there were people thus denominated

that dwelt on both sides of the Jordan. Those on the east side had

already been destroyed in the war which the Israelites had with

Sihon and Og; with those on the west side Joshua had not yet

waged war. It is possible however that the Amorites of whom we

read in this verse, were the remains of those who dwelt on the

east side of the Jordan, and who had taken refuge here on the

defeat of Og and Sihon.

Verse 2. Make thee sharp knives] charboth tsurim,

knives of rock, stone, or flint. Before the use of iron was

common, all the nations of the earth had their edge-tools made

of stones, flints, &c. In the lately discovered islands this is

found to be a common case. Our ancestors in these countries made

their arrow and spear-heads of flint: these I have often seen

turned up by the plough. But we cannot suppose that at the time

here referred to the Israelites were destitute of iron, and were

therefore obliged to use knives made of stone or flint, their

different manufactures in the wilderness prove that they must have

had both iron and steel. Why then use knives made of stone?

Probably it was unlawful to use metal of any kind in this

religious rite; and indeed this seems likely from the circumstance

of Zipporah (Ex 4:25) taking a

sharp stone and circumcising her son; and we find, from the most

ancient and authentic accounts, that the Egyptians considered it

unlawful or profane to use any kind of metal to make incisions in

the human body, when preparing it for embalming; see the note on

Ge 50:2, and on Ex 4:25. That it was deemed improper to use

any other kind of instrument in circumcision we have a proof in

the tribe Alnajab, in Ethiopia, who follow the Mosaic institution,

and perform the rite of circumcision, according to Ludolf, cultris

lapidibus, with knives made of stone.-Hist. AEthiop., lib. iii.,

c. 1. And as God commanded the people to make him an altar of

unhewn stones, on which no tool of iron had been lifted up,

because this would pollute it, (see Ex 20:25, and De 27:5,) he

might require that no instrument of iron should be used in a rite

by which the body and soul of the person were in the most solemn

and sacred manner dedicated to him to be his house and temple, the

heart itself being the altar on which continual sacrifices to God

must be offered. A physical reason has been given for preferring

knives of stone in this operation, "the wound suffers less through

inflammation, and is sooner healed." For this a reason may be

given. It is almost impossible to get an edge made so even and

firm as not to leave particles of the metal in the incisions made

even in the most delicate flesh; these particles would soon become

oxidized by the action of the air, and extra inflammation in the

part would be the consequence. The great aptitude of iron to be

oxidized, i.e., to be converted to rust, is well known; but how

far this reasoning, thus applied, may be supported by fact, I

cannot pretend to determine: it is sufficiently evident that it

was a common custom to use knives of stone in circumcision, and in

all operations on those parts of the human body. I shall give a

few examples. Pliny says, when they amputate certain parts they do

it with a sharp stone, because nothing else could be employed

without danger. Samia testa virilitatem amputabant: nec aliter

citra perniciem.

Ovid, Fast. lib. iv., ver. 237, relates a circumstance where the

saxum acutum, or sharp stone, was used about those parts:-

Ille etiam SAXO corpus laniavit ACUTO,

Longaque in immundo pulvere tracta coma est.

Voxque fuit, Merui; meritas dem sanguine poenas;

Ah! pereant partes quae nocuere mihi;

Ah! pereant; dicebat adhuc, onus inguinis aufert;

Nullaque sunt subito signa relicta viri.

This quotation is produced in order to prove that a knife made

of a sharp stone was used in making incisions and amputations of

certain parts of the body, even when the use of iron was well

known; but a translation of the verse is not necessary, and would

be improper.



of Juvenal (Sat. vi., ver. 513) is a farther proof of this.

Many other proofs might be produced but those who wish for more

may consult Calmet and Scheuchzer.

Circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.] This

certainly does not mean that they should repeat circumcision on

those who had already received it. This would have been as absurd

as impracticable. But the command implies that they were to renew

the observance of a rite which had been neglected in their travels

in the desert: this is sufficiently evident from the following


Verse 4. This is the cause why Joshua did circumcise] The text

here explains itself. Before the Israelites left Egypt all the

males were circumcised; and some learned men think that all those

who were born during their encampment at Sinai were circumcised

also, because there they celebrated the passover; but after that

time, during the whole of their stay in the wilderness, there were

none circumcised till they entered into the promised land. Owing

to their unsettled state, God appears to have dispensed, for the

time being, with this rite; but as they were about to celebrate

another passover, it was necessary that all the males should be

circumcised; for without this they could not be considered within

the covenant, and could not keep the passover, which was the seal

of that covenant. As baptism is generally understood to have

succeeded to circumcision, and the holy eucharist to the passover,

hence, in the Church of England, and probably in most others, no

person is permitted to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper

till he has been baptized.

Verse 8. They abode-in the camp, till they were whole.] This

required several days; see the notes on Ge 34:24, 25. Sir J.

Chardin informs us that when adults were circumcised they were

obliged to keep their beds for about three weeks, or at least

during that time they are not able to walk about but with great

difficulty. The account he had from several renegadoes, who had

received circumcision among the Mohammedans. Is it not strange

that during this time they were not attacked by the inhabitants of

the land, and utterly destroyed, which might have been easily

effected? See the case of the poor Shechemites, as related in

Ge 34:24-31, with the notes there. Joshua, as an able general,

would at once perceive that this very measure must expose his

whole host to the danger of being totally annihilated; but he knew

that GOD could not err, and that it was his duty to obey;

therefore in the very teeth of his enemies he reduced the major

part of his army to a state of total helplessness, simply trusting

for protection in the arm of Jehovah! The sequel shows that his

confidence was not misplaced; during the whole time God did not

permit any of their enemies to disturb them. The path of duty is

the path of safety; and it is impossible for any soul to be

injured while walking in the path of obedience. But why did not

God order them to be circumcised while they were on the east side

of Jordan in a state of great security? Because he chose to bring

them into straits and difficulties where no counsel or might but

his own could infallibly direct and save them; and this he did

that they might see that the excellence of the power was of God,

and not of man. For the same reason he caused them to pass the

Jordan at the time that it overflowed its banks, and not at the

time when it was low and easily fordable, that he might have the

better opportunity to show them that they were under his immediate

care and protection; and convince them of his almighty power, that

they might trust in him for ever, and not fear the force of any

adversaries. In both cases how apparent are the wisdom, power, and

goodness of God!

Verse 9. The reproach of Egypt] Their being uncircumcised made

them like the uncircumcised Egyptians; and the Hebrews ever

considered all those who were uncircumcised as being in a state of

the grossest impurity. Being now circumcised, the reproach of

uncircumcision was rolled away. This is another proof that the

Israelites did not receive circumcision from the Egyptians; for

they could not have considered those in a state of abomination,

from whom they received that rite by which they conceived

themselves to be made pure. The Israelites had this rite from

Abraham; and Abraham had it from the express order of God himself.

See Ge 17:10, and the note there.

The place is called Gilgal] A rolling away or rolling off.

See Clarke on Jos 4:19, where the word is largely explained.

Verse 10. Kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month]

If the ceremony of circumcision was performed on the eleventh day

of the month, as many think; and if the sore was at the worst on

the thirteenth, and the passover was celebrated on the fourteenth,

the people being then quite recovered; it must have been rather a

miraculous than a natural healing. We have already seen from the

account of Sir J. Chardin, that it required about three weeks to

restore to soundness adults who had submitted to circumcision: if

any thing like this took place in the case of the Israelites at

Gilgal, they could not have celebrated the passover on the third

or fourth day after their circumcision. The apparent impossibility

of this led Mr. Harmer to suppose that they kept the passover on

the fourteenth day of the second month, the preceding time having

been employed in the business of the circumcision. See his

Observations, vol. iv., p. 427, &c.

Verse 11. They did eat of the old corn of the land] The Hebrew

word abur, which we translate old corn, occurs only in this

place in such a sense, if that sense be legitimate. The noun,

though of doubtful signification, is evidently derived from

abar, to pass over, to go beyond; and here it may be translated

simply the produce, that which passes from the land into the

hands of the cultivator; or according to Cocceius, what passes

from person to person in the way of traffic; hence bought corn,

what they purchased from the inhabitants of the land.

On the morrow after the passover] That is, on the fifteenth day;

for then the feast of unleavened bread began. But they could

neither eat bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, till the

first-fruits of the harvest had been waved at the tabernacle;

(see Le 23:9, &c.;) and therefore in this case we may suppose

that the Israelites had offered a sheaf of the barley-harvest, the

only grain that was then ripe, before they ate of the unleavened

cakes and parched corn.

Verse 12. And the manna ceased-after they had eaten of the old

corn] This miraculous supply continued with them as long as they

needed it. While they were in the wilderness they required such a

provision; nor could such a multitude, in such a place, be

supported without a miracle. Now they are got into the promised

land, the anathematized inhabitants of which either fall or flee

before them, they find an old stock, and they are brought in just

at the commencement of the harvest; hence, as there is an ample

provision made in the ordinary way of Providence, there is no

longer any need of a miraculous supply; therefore the manna ceased

which they had enjoyed for forty years. The circumstances in which

it was first given, its continuance with them through all their

peregrinations in the wilderness, its accompanying them over

Jordan, and ceasing as soon as they got a supply in the ordinary

way of Providence, all prove that it was a preternatural gift.

"On the fourteenth of Nisan they sacrificed the paschal lamb: on

the fifteenth, i.e., according to our calculation, the same day

after sunset, they disposed themselves for eating it, and actually

did eat it. On the morrow, the sixteenth, after having offered to

God the homer, they began eating the corn of the country; and the

seventeenth, the manna ceased to fall from heaven. What supports

this calculation is, that the homer or sheaf was offered the

sixteenth of Nisan, in broad daylight, though pretty late. Now the

manna did not fall till night, or very early in the morning; so

that it cannot be said to have ceased falling the same day that

the Israelites began to eat of the produce of the country."-Dodd.

Verse 13. When Joshua was by Jericho] The sixth chapter should

have commenced here, as this is an entirely new relation; or these

two chapters should have made but one, as the present division has

most unnaturally divided the communication which Joshua had from

the angel of the Lord, and which is continued to Jos 6:5. It is

very likely that Joshua had gone out privately to reconnoitre the

city of Jericho when he had this vision; and while contemplating

the strength of the place, and probably reflecting on the extreme

difficulty of reducing it, God, to encourage him, granted him this

vision, and instructed him in the means by which the city should

be taken.

There stood a man over against him] It has been a very general

opinion, both among the ancients and moderns, that the person

mentioned here was no other than the Lord Jesus in that form

which, in the fulness of time, he was actually to assume for the

redemption of man. That the appearance was supernatural is agreed

on all hands; and as the name Jehovah is given him, (Jos 6:2,)

and he received from Joshua Divine adoration, we may presume that

no created angel is intended.

And Joshua went unto him] This is a very natural relation, and

carries with it all the appearances and characteristics of a

simple relation of fact. The whole history of Joshua shows him to

have been a man of the most undaunted mind and intrepid courage-a

genuine HERO. An ordinary person, seeing this man armed, with a

drawn sword in his hand, would have endeavoured to have regained

the camp, and sought safety in flight; but Joshua, undismayed

though probably slightly armed, walks up to this terrible person

and immediately questions him, Art thou for us or for our

adversaries? probably at first supposing that he might be the

Canaanitish general coming to reconnoitre the Israelitish camp, as

himself was come out to examine the city of Jericho.

Verse 14. But as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come.]

By this saying Joshua was both encouraged and instructed. As if he

had said, "Fear not; Jehovah hath sent from heaven to save thee

and thy people from the reproach of them that would swallow thee

up. Israel is the Lord's host; and the Lord of hosts is Israel's

Captain. Thou thyself shalt only be captain under me, and I am now

about to instruct thee relative to thy conduct in this war."

And Joshua-did worship] Nor was he reprehended for offering

Divine worship to this person, which he would not have received

had he been a created angel. See Re 22:8, 9.

Verse 15. Loose thy shoe from off thy foot, &c.] These were the

same words which the angel, on Mount Sinai, spoke to Moses; (see

Ex 3:5-8;) and from this it seems likely that it was the same

person that appeared in both places: in the first, to encourage

Moses to deliver the oppressed Israelites, and bring them to the

promised land; in the second, to encourage Joshua in his arduous

labour in expelling the ancient inhabitants, and establishing the

people in the inheritance promised to their fathers.

THERE is scarcely a more unfortunate division of chapters in the

whole Bible than that here. Through this very circumstance many

persons have been puzzled to know what was intended by this

extraordinary appearance, because they supposed that the whole

business ends with the chapter, whereas, it is continued in the

succeeding one, the first verse of which is a mere parenthesis,

simply relating the state of Jericho at the time that Joshua was

favoured by this encouraging vision. We may draw two useful

reflections from the subjects of this chapter:-

1. As the manna had now failed, the people always greatly

addicted to incredulity, might have been led to imagine that God

had now given them up, and would be no longer in their armies, had

he not given them this strong assurance, that the Angel of his

presence should be with them as the guide and protector of the

whole camp; for Joshua undoubtedly informed them of the

encouragement he had received from the captain of the Lord's host.

2. By this vision he showed them that their help came from

himself, and that it was not by human might or power, but by the

Lord of hosts, they were to have the victory over all their

adversaries; and he gave them the most convincing proof of this in

the miraculous destruction of Jericho. By this means he continued

to keep them dependent on his arm alone, without which dependence

the spirit of religion could not have been preserved among them.

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