Joshua 5:7: The Mysterious Case of Israel’s Circumcision at Gilgal, Part 4

Verse 7:[1] And (Num. 14:31; Deut. 1:39) their children, whom he raised up in their stead, them Joshua circumcised: for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them by the way.

[The sons of these succeeded into the place of their fathers, and were circumcised, וְאֶת־בְּנֵיהֶם֙ הֵקִ֣ים תַּחְתָּ֔ם אֹתָ֖ם מָ֣ל] And their sons he made to stand (he substituted [Septuagint]) in their place: them he circumcised (Montanus). Therefore, setting their sons in their place (suppose, in the holy covenant [Junius]), these he circumcised (Junius and Tremellius). Therefore, the sons of those that had succeeded them (that had arisen after them [Jonathan]), these he circumcised (Syriac). But He (namely, God) substituted…into the place of them, whom he circumcised (Dutch). Therefore, the sons of those, whom he made to rise in their place, he circumcised (Munster, Tirinus, similarly Pagnine), whom he caused to stand in their place (Vatablus), whom He, namely, God, had set. Here the relative particle אֲשֶׁר/ whom is wanting (Drusius). The sons succeeded into the place of their fathers, that is, they obtained those promises which the fathers lost (Grotius).

[Neither those…had he circumcised] Question: 1. What then was the reason for the neglect of circumcision for so long a time? Responses: 1. The neglect or contempt of the parents. Thus the Scholastic History[2] (Bonfrerius, Serarius, Junius on verse 8). This does not satisfy: 1. For how was it that that sin was never touched upon by punishment or by any reprehension? How was it that Moses ignored this? Lighter faults were certainly punished, Exodus 15-17; Numbers 15 (Serarius, Bonfrerius). 2. This omission is attributed to the whole people, but certainly not all were holding the law of God in contempt (Bonfrerius). Others maintain that the children were left uncircumcised for the punishment of the parents. Thus Vasquez[3] and Pererius[4] (Bonfrerius, thus Masius). This does not satisfy. Then this punishment would have been inflicted upon the rebellious parents only, which is false; for circumcision was put off for the forty years, and so both before that rebellion in Numbers 14, and after all those rebels had died, and the arrival at the brook Zered, Deuteronomy 2:14, from which station unto this time of circumcision five or six months intervened. Only those that came out from Egypt are said to be circumcised: All the rest were uncircumcised, even the Levites, whom (or most of those) they free from fault, and so from punishment (Bonfrerius). 3. Others thus: Circumcision was a mark that would distinguish the Hebrews from the other nations; and so in the wilderness it was not necessary, because the wilderness itself was sufficiently separating them from others. Thus Theodoret[5] and John of Damascus[6] (Masius). This does not satisfy: This was not the sole reason for the law. See on Genesis 17 (Serarius). This rite was instituted, not only to set the people apart, but especially so that it might stand for the mystery of the corrupt nature of men and its expiation, and might remind that regeneration is necessary: then, so that it might be a sign of Divine grace, and of a holy profession and sincere religion (Masius). Otherwise it would hardly be an apt mark of distinction, since it was place on a part of the body not conspicuous, and was made use of by other nations (Serarius). Therefore, the true reason was the constant travel; for in the desert they were always uncertain concerning the undertaking of the journey, and were ready to take up the camp at the motion of the cloud.[7] But it was dangerous for them to present themselves for the journey with that part raw (Bonfrerius, Lapide, Masius, Serarius, Lyra, Tostatus in Bonfrerius, Piscator). He was not so urging the precept of circumcision that it could be put off without cause (Bonfrerius). The very Passover, mandated by a law no less severe than that of circumcision, it was lawful to delay for the sake of a journey, Numbers 9:13 (Masius). Objection: Moses was chastened because he did not circumcise his son in the way.[8] Responses: His son does not appear to have been born at that time, and so it was proper that he be circumcised some time before. 2. God was not pressing Moses with any haste, that he might not be able to circumcise the infant, while it was altogether absurd that the future Lawgiver was not maintaining the laws of Divine religion in his own little family. But what does that have to do with the multitude? The sacred words themselves, since almost as often as they make mention of the omission of circumcision, just so often also of the journey, with sufficient plainness attribute the cause to continual departures (Masius). If anyone understand that God here dispensed, I am not opposite (Serarius). But why were they not circumcised in the fields of Moab, where they found leisure and security? Responses: 1. Because they were still in their expedition and journey, and may have been uncertain how long a delay they were going to have in a particular place, etc. 2. God had foreordained forty years in which the sons would bear the punishment of the defection of their parents, Numbers 14:33, 34. For so long, therefore, while the guilt of that defection was not yet expiated, circumcision was not obliged to be celebrated, which was a certain reconciliation of Divine grace (Masius). Question 2: But why are they now circumcised? Responses: 1. Because the reason for putting off circumcision ceased. 2. The Passover was to be celebrated, which no uncircumcised person ought to eat, Exodus 12:44, 48. 3. In this land and the promised quiet now given, the foundation, namely, circumcision, is rightly laid for stirring up Divine worship there. 4. This was aptly done to procure Divine grace and help, and for confirmation of their faith (Serarius). 5. God willed to distinguish them from the uncircumcised Canaanites, among whom they were now remaining (Bonfrerius). 6. So that with this pious rite they might enter upon the possession of that land. 7. So that the reproach of Egypt might be removed, concerning which verse 9 (Tirinus).

Them Joshua circumcised; which God would have now done, 1. As a testimony of God’s reconciliation to the people, of which circumcision was a sign, and that God would not further impute their parents’ rebellions to them. 2. Because the great impediment of circumcision was now removed, to wit, their continued travels, and frequent and uncertain removal. 3. To prepare them for the approaching passover. 4. To distinguish them from the Canaanites, into whose land they were now come. 5. To ratify the covenant between God and them, whereof circumcision was a sign and seal, to assure them that God would now make good his covenant, in giving them this land; and to oblige them to perform all the duties and services to which that covenant bound them, of which circumcision was the beginning and foundation, all which they were expressly joined to do, as soon as ever they came into Canaan, Exodus 12:25; Leviticus 23:10; Numbers 15:2.

[1] Hebrew: וְאֶת־בְּנֵיהֶם֙ הֵקִ֣ים תַּחְתָּ֔ם אֹתָ֖ם מָ֣ל יְהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ כִּי־עֲרֵלִ֣ים הָי֔וּ כִּ֛י לֹא־מָ֥לוּ אוֹתָ֖ם בַּדָּֽרֶךְ׃

[2] The Historia Scholastica (completed circa 1173) was a Biblical paraphrase, presenting a universal history in a popular manner.  It was written by Petrus Comestor (died 1178), a prolific theological writer (although much of his work had gone unpublished), and chancellor of the theological school at Notre-Dame.  The Historia Scholastica was part of the core curriculum of many universities, even into the fifteenth century.

[3] Gabriel Vazquez (c. 1550-1604) was a Spanish Jesuit theologian.  He wrote extensively on Thomas Aquinas’ Summa and on ethics.

[4] Benedict Pereira (1536-1610) was a Spanish Jesuit theologian and exegete.  Pereira treated a great many difficult and controversial passages, but he wrote extensively on Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, John, Romans, and Revelation.

[5] Questions on Genesis 69.  Theodoret (393-457) was bishop of Cyrus, and a significant participant in the Christological controversies of his age.  He was an advocate of Antiochian dyophysitism, or moderate Nestorianism, although he condemned the Nestorian affirmation of two Sons in Christ, and the Nestorian denial that Mary was Theotokos, that is, the Mother of God.  His orthodoxy was cleared at the Council of Chalcedon (451).

[6] Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 4:25.  John Damascenus (c. 676-c. 760) was a monk of St. Sabas, near Jerusalem.  He is remembered for his piety of life, writings, and compilation of chants in the eastern style; and, due to his defense of icons and his summary of the faith of the Fathers (Fountain of Knowledge), he is regarded by many as the last of the Eastern Fathers.

[7] See Numbers 10:35, 36.

[8] Exodus 4:24-26.