Of the whole nation those only were already circumcised at the time of the passage of the Jordan who had been under twenty years of age at the time of the complaining and consequent rejection at Kadesh (compare the marginal reference). These would have been circumcised before they left Egypt, and there would still survive of them more than a quarter of a million of thirty-eight years old and upward.
The statements of these verses are of a general kind. The “forty years” of Joshua 5:6 is a round number, and the statement in the latter part of Joshua 5:5 cannot be strictly accurate. For there must have been male children born in the wilderness during the first year after the Exodus, and these must have been circumcised before the celebration of the Passover at Sinai in the first month of the second year (compare Numbers 9:1-5, and Exodus 12:48). The statements of the verses are, however, sufficiently close to the facts for the purpose in hand; namely, to render a reason for the general circumcising which is here recorded.
The reason why circumcision was omitted in the wilderness, was that the sentence of Numbers 14:28 ff placed the whole nation for the time under a ban; and that the discontinuance of circumcision, and the consequent omission of the Passover, was a consequence and a token of that ban. The rejection was not, indeed, total, for the children of the complainers were to enter into the rest; nor final, for when the children had borne the punishment of the fathers‘ sins for the appointed years, and the complainers were dead, then it was to be removed, as now by Joshua. But for the time the covenant was abrogated, though God‘s purpose to restore it was from the first made known, and confirmed by the visible marks of His favor which He still vouchsafed to bestow during the wandering. The years of rejection were indeed exhausted before the death of Moses (compare Deuteronomy 2:14): but God would not call upon the people to renew their engagement to Him until He had first given them glorious proof of His will and power to fulfill His engagements to them. So He gave them the first fruits of the promised inheritance - the kingdoms of Sihon and Og; and through a miracle planted their feet on the very soil that still remained to be conquered; and then recalled them to His covenant. It is to be noted, too, that they were just about to go to war against foes mightier than themselves. Their only hope of success lay in the help of God. At such a crisis the need of full communion with God would be felt indeed; and the blessing and strength of it are accordingly granted.
The revival of the two great ordinances - circumcision and the Passover - after so long an intermission could not but awaken the zeal and invigorate the faith and fortitude of the people. Both as seals and as means of grace and God‘s good purpose toward them then, the general circumcision of the people, followed up by the solemn celebration of the Passover - the one formally restoring the covenant and reconciling them nationally to God, the other ratifying and confirming all that circumcision intended - were at this juncture most opportune.
Many who passed through the Red Sea when they were children, now, by a similar miracle, crossed over Jordan, men of war, equipped for battle. After the host of Israel had all passed over, Joshua commanded the priests to come up out of the river. When they, bearing the ark of the covenant, stood safe upon the farther shore, God removed His mighty hand, and the accumulated waters rushed down, a mighty cataract, in the natural channel of the stream. Jordan rolled on, a resistless flood, overflowing all its banks. 4T 158.1
But before the priests had come up out of the river, that this wonderful miracle might never be forgotten, the Lord bade Joshua select men of note from each tribe to take up stones from the spot in the river bed where the priests had stood, and bear them upon their shoulders to Gilgal, and there erect a monument in remembrance of the fact that God had caused Israel to pass over Jordan upon dry land. This would be a continual reminder of the miracle that the Lord had wrought for them. As years passed on, their children would inquire concerning the monument, and again and again they would recount to them this wonderful history, till it would be indelibly impressed upon their minds to the latest generation. 4T 158.2
When all the kings of the Amorites and the kings of the Canaanites heard that the Lord had stayed the waters of Jordan before the children of Israel, their hearts melted with fear. The Israelites had slain two of the kings of Moab, and their miraculous passage over the swollen and impetuous Jordan filled the people with great terror. Joshua then circumcised all the people that had been born in the wilderness. After this ceremony they kept the Passover in the plains of Jericho. “And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you.” 4T 158.3
Heathen nations had reproached the Lord and His people because the Hebrews had failed to possess the land of Canaan, which they expected to inherit soon after leaving Egypt. Their enemies had triumphed because Israel had wandered so long in the wilderness, and they proudly lifted themselves up against God, declaring that He was not able to lead them into the land of Canaan. The Lord had now signally manifested His power and favor by leading His people over Jordan on dry land, and their enemies could no longer reproach them. The manna, which had continued up to this time, now ceased; for as the Israelites were about to possess Canaan, and eat of the fruits of that goodly land, there was no more need of it. 4T 158.4Read in context »
When all the kings of the Amorites and the kings of the Canaanites heard that the Lord had stayed the waters of Jordan before the children of Israel, their hearts melted with fear. The Israelites had slain two of the kings of Moab, and their miraculous passage over the swollen and impetuous Jordan filled them with the greatest terror. Joshua then circumcised all the people which had been born in the wilderness. After this ceremony they kept the passover in the plains of Jericho. “And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you.” SR 177.1
Heathen nations had reproached the Lord and His people because the Hebrews had not possessed the land of Canaan, which they expected to inherit soon after leaving Egypt. Their enemies had triumphed because they had so long wandered in the wilderness, and they proudly lifted themselves up against God, declaring that He was not able to lead them into the land of Canaan. They had now passed over Jordan on dry land, and their enemies could no longer reproach them. SR 177.2Read in context »
The promptness and bravery of Saul, as well as the generalship shown in the successful conduct of so large a force, were qualities which the people of Israel had desired in a monarch, that they might be able to cope with other nations. They now greeted him as their king, attributing the honor of the victory to human agencies and forgetting that without God's special blessing all their efforts would have been in vain. In their enthusiasm some proposed to put to death those who had at first refused to acknowledge the authority of Saul. But the king interfered, saying, “There shall not a man be put to death this day: for today the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel.” Here Saul gave evidence of the change that had taken place in his character. Instead of taking honor to himself, he gave the glory to God. Instead of showing a desire for revenge, he manifested a spirit of compassion and forgiveness. This is unmistakable evidence that the grace of God dwells in the heart. PP 613.1
Samuel now proposed that a national assembly should be convoked at Gilgal, that the kingdom might there be publicly confirmed to Saul. It was done; “and there they sacrificed sacrifices of peace offerings before the Lord; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.” PP 613.2
Gilgal had been the place of Israel's first encampment in the Promised Land. It was here that Joshua, by divine direction, set up the pillar of twelve stones to commemorate the miraculous passage of the Jordan. Here circumcision had been renewed. Here they had kept the first Passover after the sin at Kadesh and the desert sojourn. Here the manna ceased. Here the Captain of the Lord's host had revealed Himself as chief in command of the armies of Israel. From this place they marched to the overthrow of Jericho and the conquest of Ai. Here Achan met the penalty of his sin, and here was made that treaty with the Gibeonites which punished Israel's neglect to ask counsel of God. Upon this plain, linked with so many thrilling associations, stood Samuel and Saul; and when the shouts of welcome to the king had died away, the aged prophet gave his parting words as ruler of the nation. PP 613.3Read in context »
This exercise of divine power in behalf of Israel was designed also to increase the fear with which they were regarded by the surrounding nations, and thus prepare the way for their easier and complete triumph. When the tidings that God had stayed the waters of Jordan before the children of Israel, reached the kings of the Amorites and of the Canaanites, their hearts melted with fear. The Hebrews had already slain the five kings of Midian, the powerful Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og of Bashan, and now the passage over the swollen and impetuous Jordan filled all the surrounding nations with terror. To the Canaanites, to all Israel, and to Joshua himself, unmistakable evidence had been given that the living God, the King of heaven and earth, was among His people, and that He would not fail them nor forsake them. PP 485.1
A short distance from Jordan the Hebrews made their first encampment in Canaan. Here Joshua “circumcised the children of Israel;” “and the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover.” The suspension of the rite of circumcision since the rebellion at Kadesh had been a constant witness to Israel that their covenant with God, of which it was the appointed symbol, had been broken. And the discontinuance of the Passover, the memorial of their deliverance from Egypt, had been an evidence of the Lord's displeasure at their desire to return to the land of bondage. Now, however, the years of rejection were ended. Once more God acknowledged Israel as His people, and the sign of the covenant was restored. The rite of circumcision was performed upon all the people who had been born in the wilderness. And the Lord declared to Joshua, “This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you,” and in allusion to this the place of their encampment was called Gilgal, “a rolling away,” or “rolling off.” PP 485.2Read in context »
For nearly forty years the children of Israel are lost to view in the obscurity of the desert. “The space,” says Moses, “in which we came from Kadesh-barnea, until we were come over the brook Zered, was thirty and eight years; until all the generation of the men of war were wasted out from among the host, as the Lord sware unto them. For indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from among the host, until they were consumed.” Deuteronomy 2:14, 15. PP 406.1
During these years the people were constantly reminded that they were under the divine rebuke. In the rebellion at Kadesh they had rejected God, and God had for the time rejected them. Since they had proved unfaithful to His covenant, they were not to receive the sign of the covenant, the rite of circumcision. Their desire to return to the land of slavery had shown them to be unworthy of freedom, and the ordinance of the Passover, instituted to commemorate the deliverance from bondage, was not to be observed. PP 406.2
Yet the continuance of the tabernacle service testified that God had not utterly forsaken His people. And His providence still supplied their wants. “The Lord thy God hath blessed thee in all the works of thy hand,” said Moses, in rehearsing the history of their wanderings. “He knoweth thy walking through this great wilderness; these forty years the Lord thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing.” And the Levites’ hymn, recorded by Nehemiah, vividly pictures God's care for Israel, even during these years of rejection and banishment: “Thou in Thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to show them light, and the way wherein they should go. Thou gavest also Thy good Spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not Thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst. Yea, forty years didst Thou sustain them in the wilderness; ... their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not.” Nehemiah 9:19-21. PP 406.3Read in context »