Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Amorites, which were on the side of Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, which were by the sea, heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel, until we were passed over, that their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel.V.
(1) The Amorites . . . and . . . Canaanites.—Two principal nations seem to be here mentioned as representatives of the rest.
We.—See Note on Joshua 5:6.
At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.THE CIRCUMCISION OF ISRAEL BY JOSHUA (Joshua 5:2-9).
(2) Make thee sharp knives.—Authorities are divided between the rendering “sharp knives” and “knives of flint.” The first seems best supported, as far as the meaning of the words is concerned. The expression is “knives of tsurim.” The word tsûr does not seem anywhere to be connected with the material of the tool, but rather with the edge of it. Knives of keen edge is, therefore, the better translation. At the same time they may have been stone knives in this instance. The idea that they were so is supported by an addition in the LXX. to Joshua 24:30 : “They put with him (Joshua) into the tomb . . . the knives of stone with which he circumcised the children of Israel . . . and there they are to this day.” The ceremony being a kind of special consecration, it is not unlikely to have been performed with special instruments, which were not used before or after. Comp. Psalm 89:43, “Thou hast turned the tsûr (keen edge) of his sword;” 2Samuel 2:16, “Helkath Hazzurim”—i.e., the field of keen blades; Exodus 4:25, “Zipporah took a tzôr “; Ezekiel 3:9, “an adamant harder than tzôr.”
And this is the cause why Joshua did circumcise: All the people that came out of Egypt, that were males, even all the men of war, died in the wilderness by the way, after they came out of Egypt.(4) The cause why Joshua did circumcise.—As the narrative stands it is not quite obvious why uncircumcision is called “the reproach of Egypt,” whereas all the people born in Egypt were circumcised. The uncircumcision attached to those who were born in the wilderness, during the years of wandering. But that period of wandering, between the departure from Kadesh-barnea and the return to Kadesh (thirty-seven and a half years, Numbers 15-19, inclusive), is a kind of blank in the story of the Exodus. The five chapters which belong to it in the Book of Numbers contain no note of progress as to time or place. The people had “turned back in their hearts to Egypt” (Acts 7:39; Numbers 14:4), and were bearing the reproach of their apostasy all those years, “the reproach of Egypt.” Suffering under the “breach of promise” of Jehovah (Numbers 14:34), they appear to have omitted the sign of the covenant, as though they were no longer the people of God. The passage of Jordan was the practical proof of Israel’s restoration to Divine favour, and they were brought into covenant with Him once more.
For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: unto whom the LORD sware that he would not shew them the land, which the LORD sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey.(6) Us.—The first person is used here as in Joshua 4:23; Joshua 5:7. The whole passage from Joshua 4:22 to Joshua 5:6 seems intended to be the reply of the fathers to the children.
And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day.(9) This day have I rolled away. . . .—Compare Isaiah 25:8, “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke (or reproach) of His people shall He take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it “; Colossians 2:11, “In whom (Christ) also we are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in the putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him”; and 1Corinthians 15:54. “When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, . . . then . . . Death is swallowed up in victory.”
And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho.(10) The passover.—This is the third Passover in Israel’s history. The first two were kept under Moses—(1) in Egypt, when the Lord delivered them; (2) the second at Sinai, when He had “brought them unto Himself.” (3) The third is on the other side Jordan under Joshua. Two belong to the Exodus, or going out; one to the Eisodus, or coming in. Compare Luke 22:16 : “I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
Observe the connection between the Passover and circumcision. The law in Exodus 12:48 is, “no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.” Hence, while they wandered in the wilderness, this uncircumcised generation could not keep the Passover.
And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day.(11) They did eat of the old corn.—The word occurs nowhere else except in Joshua 5:12. It need not have been last year’s corn; in fact, it seems to have been the produce of this very harvest. It seems to mean “that which was brought to them,” and was “the fruit” or “produce” of the land of Canaan, probably brought to the camp for sale.
And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.(12) The manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land.—The date should be noticed. On the fourteenth day was the Passover; on the fifteenth, Israel ate of the produce of the land. From that day the manna fell no more—i.e., on the sixteenth day of the first month of the year of their entering the land of Canaan, it was not found. On the sixteenth day of the second month of the first year of the Exodus, it first appeared (Exodus 16:1; Exodus 16:7; Exodus 16:13-14). Thirty-nine years and eleven months it fell, except on the Sabbath. It kept Sabbath all through the wilderness, on the seventh day of the week, and it finally ceased, kept Sabbath (vay-yishboth, Hebrew) on the very day afterwards marked by our Lord’s resurrection, which became the Lord’s day. The coincidence is too remarkable to be overlooked. It is the risen Christ who takes the place of the manna; and in the discourse wherein He calls Himself “the true bread from heaven,” He points again and again to resurrection as the end of the life which He gives: “I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40; John 6:44; John 6:54). Then the manna, which is the food of the wilderness, shall keep Sabbath, for “they shall hunger no more.” The food of the wilderness is that which Israel ate, not knowing what it was. Of the other world it is written, “then shall I know, even as also I am known.”
(13) At this point commences the second great division of the book. The Passage of Jordan was the great event of the first portion; and for that Joshua received special directions from Jehovah. A vision now appears to him, to inaugurate his second great enterprise, which was to put the inhabitants of Canaan to the sword. The character of this vision should be carefully noted, as it is of the utmost importance to the interpretation of the book.
(13) There stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand.—This should be compared with the vision which Moses saw at Horeb (Exodus 3), when the angel of Jehovah appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. The equality of the two visions is proved by the use of the same command on both occasions, “Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15). But the actual appearances must be contrasted. “The bush burning with fire, but not consumed,” presents to us the figure of suffering Israel in the furnace; and “in all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them.” The man with the drawn sword is the sign of victory. Jehovah no longer suffers with and in His people, but He stands forth to lead them with the drawn sword. In regard of this and earlier theophanies, see Excursus on Genesis 16.
Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? (14) And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come—i.e., Jehovah will take part in this conflict, not as an ally or an adversary, but as commander-in-chief. It is not Israel’s quarrel, in which they are to ask the Divine assistance. It is the Lord’s own quarrel, and Israel and Joshua are but a division in His host. The wars of Israel in Canaan are always presented by the Old Testament as “the wars of the Lord.” It would be well to remember this aspect of the story. The conquest of Canaan is too often treated as an enterprise of the Israelites, carried out with great cruelties, for which they claimed the Divine sanction. The Old Testament presents the matter in an entirely different light. The war is a Divine enterprise, in which human instruments are employed, but so as to be entirely subordinate to the Divine will. Jehovah is not for Israel, nor for Israel’s foes. He fights for His own right hand, and Israel is but a fragment of His army. “The sun stood still.” “the stars in their courses fought against” His foes. “The treasures of the hail” were opened, which He had “reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war.”