At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives for yourself, and circumcise the sons of Israel again the second time.” – Joshua 5:2
Joshua and the army of Israel must have thought they had the enemy right where they wanted them. The kings of Canaan and their people had heard of the exploits of Israel’s God. They knew what God had done in Egypt and the Red Sea crossing (Joshua 2:9-11). They knew of God drying up the Jordan. Their hearts melted. It states, “there was no spirit in them any longer because of the children of Israel” (Joshua 5:1). For Joshua and the army of God everything shouted, “CHARGE!” Their enemy was weak as Jell-O, wobbly as wet noodles, ready to retreat; ready for defeat. They were already defeated in heart. From a purely military outlook when your enemy is defeated in heart, they will soon be defeated in reality. Wouldn’t you too have been ready to charge ahead?
If you charged ahead you would have been ill prepared and out of sync with the LORD. Later in Joshua we see the walls of mighty Jericho fall (Joshua 6). But after that we see a humiliating defeat at the much smaller city of Ai (Joshua 7). The difference between victory and defeat rests in God’s Circumcised Priorities.
Standing before a heart defeated foe, chomping at the bit to lay into them and secure the victory, I’ll bet circumcising your army wouldn’t be at the top of your list of military tactics and strategy. But the account states, “At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives for yourself, and circumcise the sons of Israel again the second time.” Such a command was likely met with questions. In their shoes we may have sarcastically thought - Yeah, right. Let’s disrobe and get naked before our enemy and perform surgery with homemade flint knives on our private parts. Yup, let’s cut ourselves so that we can’t walk let alone run into battle. Let’s put ourselves in as extreme a precarious position as possible. Yup, that’s what we should do.
But God works in unexpected and often unconventional ways. His ways are always measured and purposeful; efficient; effective. His ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8-9). His ways are heavenly. Our ways are earthy. His ways have eternal perspective. Our ways are short sighted. God works in ways to build faith and prepare us for victory.
God prioritizes the spiritual eternal before the material temporal. He is more concerned with the inward heart condition of His people than any hurried rush to victory. That is because God knows victory starts IN THE HEART. Victory begins in heart trust then faith thrust. Gideon and his army defeated the Midianites not by strength of force but by strength of faith (Judges 6-7). David defeated Goliath not by the size of his armor but by a heart-faith cry of “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin, But I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Sam.17:45). God always prioritizes heart preparation before battle. He does this by requiring we trust Him.
Inner preparation precedes outward readiness. Before we can wield the sword of the Spirit on an enemy, before we can make healing incisions with the scalpel of God’s word, the first cut must be inward on ourselves. Circumcision is not merely a physical cut in our body. Circumcision speaks of heart surgery. “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). The New Testament comment is, “circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit” (Rom. 2:29). Before we go to minister in battle we have to invite God to cut with the knife of His word in our most secret and sensitive places. We have to love Him enough to trust Him to cut. We have to love Him enough to trust that His cuts are for our good.
Present yourself a living sacrifice laid bare on the altar of the cross (Rom 12:1-2; Gal. 2:20). Submit to the Surgeon-God’s transforming spiritual surgery. Come to King Jesus in full surrender vulnerable and obedient to His rule. Lay out completely, openly before Him. No reservations; hold nothing back from His search and surgery. Anesthetized to personal resistance; fully obedient to Him. Our heart has to be right with God before we go out to battle; before we are ready for victory. Victory begins in the heart.
God builds faith through the unconventional. God asks us to do things that make us vulnerable. He requires we trust Him. It takes faith to cross the Jordan. It takes faith to be circumcised with your enemies nearby. It takes faith to live in the Promised Land. It takes faith to repent and trust Jesus as Savior. It takes faith to live with Him as Lord. It takes faith to stand for Him. It takes faith to trust in the leading and work of the Holy Spirit both in and through us. We live “from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith.’” (Rom. 1:17).
Circumcision symbolizes cutting away the flesh of the sinful nature. That is why we are instructed to circumcise our heart; the place of the will. We aren’t ready for battle until we are freed by God from any self-reliance that might cause us to disregard His orders. Charging into battle without heart circumcision leads to defeat. King Saul proudly disregarded God’s command and lost the kingdom (1 Samuel 15). Samuel’s assessment of Saul’s imprudent incomplete obedience was, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel?” (1 Samuel 15:17). Circumcision of the heart cuts us down to size. It makes us useable to God. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15).
We need revival. Revival will only come when our priorities are circumcised by God. When you go out to battle, you want God with you. He is with the humble whose hearts have been subjected to His circumcision. He does not accompany the self-reliant, self-serving, selfish warrior on his own mission. So what must we do? We need to follow God’s circumcised priorities.
First, obey the Lord. “So Joshua made flint knives for himself, and circumcised the sons of Israel at the hill of the foreskins” (Joshua 5:3). Obedience is God’s means of removing the flesh. As we obey God in faith, adhering to His word, the flesh/sinful nature/carnality is removed. The Spirit helps us throw off the flesh (Rom. 8:12-14; cf. also Gal. 5:16-25). By submitting obediently to the Lord’s command to be circumcised, Joshua and his men were putting themselves in the hands of the Lord. They put their trust in the Lord rather than the conventional wisdom of military strategy. Choosing to trust God is always the path to victory.
Second, roll away the flesh. The passage goes on to announce, “This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.’ Therefore the name of the place is called Gilgal to this day.” “Gilgal” means the place of rolling. Egypt is a type of the world; the fleshly life. This circumcision speaks of rolling away the flesh; literally cutting it off and discarding it. Circumcision is known only to God and the circumcised. But the fruit of spiritual surgery is noticed by all. The purity of heart, faith in God, fruit of the Spirit and power to serve are all evidence of such spiritual surgery.
Third, rely on His blood. It continues, “Now the children of Israel camped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover . . . (Joshua 5:10-11). In the wilderness the people didn’t keep the Passover. In the wilderness they were distracted from Passover. But now having crossed the Jordan and in the Promised Land one of the first things they did was celebrate the Passover. Passover is the recognition that deliverance and victory come from God; from the shed blood of His sacrifice; from the blood of Jesus. When we cross our Jordan into the Promised Land of fullness of the Spirit coming to the Lord’s Table becomes even more meaningful to us. We are more sensitive to what God has done and provided for us in Christ. It is Jesus who pours out the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:33). It is the blood of Jesus which saves and sanctifies us (1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7; Eph. 2:13; Heb. 10:19). Remember that. Worship Jesus. Come to Jesus. Eat and drink of Him.
Fourth, be ready to lose anything but Jesus. God removes our crutches so we have to walk by faith with Him (2 Cor. 5:7). That is what happened upon entering the Land. “Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year.” (Joshua 5:12). To be filled we need to be emptied. If we want all of Jesus, we must be prepared to set aside everything but Jesus. When we enter the Promised Land of fullness in the Spirit God removes what we had previously trusted in or depended upon. God shakes us, even destabilizes us, and reduces us to teach us to lean all the more on Him. For Joshua it meant circumcision in a time of conquest. It meant no more easy manna meals. What might it mean for you?
Israel experienced all kinds of miracles in her deliverance from Egypt and wilderness wanderings. But they were still chronic complainers too fearful to enter the Promised Land! (Num. 14; Heb. 3:19). This proves, faith doesn’t come by seeing miracles – faith comes from hearing God’s word (Rom. 10:17). In this new Promised Land the Israelites would learn to live by faith in the Father and His word. “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth” was just as true for God’s people as for Joshua (Joshua 1:8).
Fifth, follow Jesus. After Joshua had obediently circumcised his men he looked up and saw the massively walled city of Jericho. That city and those huge walls must have been intimidating. God had exhorted Joshua to be courageous over and over again perhaps because He knew the fear that was in Joshua’s heart (e.g. Joshua 1). What was God’s solution to Joshua’s fear or lack of courage? He Himself was the solution. “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand” (Joshua 5:13a). This figure was impressive and intimidating like Jericho. Was this a Warrior of this city or something else? Joshua inquired, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13b).
“So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” (Joshua 5:14a). “No,” interesting response. “No” what? “No, I’m not on your side I’m on their side” or “No, I’m not on their side, but on your side”? “No,” neither, simply “No.” Why such an open ended response? Because the issue was not whose side this Man, the Commander of the Lord’s army was on. The issue was whose side Joshua was on. This was King Jesus. Jesus doesn’t come to be on our side. He isn’t Republican or Democrat. He isn’t Conservative or Liberal. He simply is. He is the Commander. He comes to lead. We take our marching orders from Him. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Sixth, worship Jesus. Lastly, the only proper response to Commander Jesus is what Joshua did. “And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” (Joshua 5:14b). If this was merely an angel, the angel would have stopped Joshua from worshipping him (e.g. Rev. 19:10; 22:8). This is Jesus and He should be worshipped. “Then the Commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.” (Joshua 5:15). Just like Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush (Exodus 3:5), here Jesus says, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” In telling Joshua to remove his sandal, He is again telling Joshua “as I was with Moses, I will be with you” (cf. Joshua 1:5; 3:7). That was a good in-couraging word to Joshua.
Circumcised priorities of God are meant to bring us on our face humbled in His presence. Only then, with spiritually circumcised hearts, are we ready for battle. Only then are we willing and able to completely follow our Commander’s marching orders. Only then are we ready for victory. Are you ready for Him to cut in the secret and sensitive areas of your heart? If you want to be used by God, if you want revival, it is His circumcised priority for you.