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.

Joshua 5:4-6: The Mysterious Case of Israel’s Circumcision at Gilgal, Part 3

Verse 4:[1] And this is the cause why Joshua did circumcise: (Num. 14:29; 26:64, 65; Deut. 2:16) 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.

[Now, this is the cause, etc., וְזֶ֥ה הַדָּבָ֖ר אֲשֶׁר־מָ֣ל] And this is the word for which reason he circumcised (Montanus). Now, in this manner he thoroughly purged (Septuagint). Now, these are they that he circumcised (Syriac). This is the cause because of which, etc. (Arabic, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, similarly Junius and Tremellius); thus in Genesis 12, עַל־דְּבַר, on account of the cause of Abraham, that is, because of Abraham.[2] It is closely related that דָּבָר is put in the place of case, matter of dispute, lawsuit, Exodus 18:16.[3] This is the word, that is, the thing; Metonomy of adjunct (Piscator). Thus, not any thing, πᾶν ῥῆμα, any word, is impossible with God, Luke 1:37 (Drusius).

[All the people] Take it of those alone that had kept themselves from that sin, concerning which Numbers 14 (Masius).

All the people that came out of Egypt, that were males, even all the men of war, died in the wilderness: This is to be restrained to such as were then above twenty years old, and such as were guilty of that rebellion, Numbers 14, as it is expressed below, Joshua 5:6.


Verse 5:[4] Now all the people that came out were circumcised: but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised.

They; either their parents, or the rulers of Israel, whose omission hereof was not through neglect; for then God, who had ordered the neglecter of circumcision to be cut off, Genesis 17:14, would not have left so gross a fault unpunished; but by Divine permission and indulgence; partly because they were now in a journey, in which case the passover also might be neglected, Numbers 9:10, 13, and in that journey the passover was but once observed; and partly because there was not so great a necessity of this note of circumcision to distinguish them from other nations, whilst they dwelt alone and unmixed in the wilderness, as there was afterwards.


Verse 6:[5] For the children of Israel walked (Num. 14:33; Deut. 1:3; 2:7, 14; Ps. 95:10) 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 (Num. 14:23; Ps. 95:11; Heb. 3:11) he would not shew them the land, which the LORD sware unto their fathers that he would give us, (Exod. 3:8) a land that floweth with milk and honey.

[For forty years] But the Septuagint has forty-two. Evidently they supposed that those forty years in Numbers 14:33, fixed and determined from that fateful day, are to be numbered. For at that time they had already spent two years from their departure from Egypt, and additionally some few months, in the wilderness. But Moses himself reckons forty years, and no more, unto the plains of Moab. But concerning these things, see further discussion on Joshua 11:18 (Masius).

All the people; the Hebrew word commonly signifies the Gentiles;[6] so he calls them, to note that they were unworthy of the name and privileges of Israelites.

[Until they were consumed, who had not hearkened to the voice of the Lord, and to whom He had previously sworn that He would not show the land to them,אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־שָׁמְע֖וּ בְּק֣וֹל יְהוָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֙ר נִשְׁבַּ֤ע יְהוָה֙ לָהֶ֔ם וגו״[7]] Who had not hearkened to the voice of Jehovah: namely, to whom He had sworn, etc. (Pagnine, Dutch). Who had not acquiesced to the speech of God in which He had sworn (Arabic, Jonathan). Who had not listened to the voice of Jehovah: to such an extent that He swore, etc. (Junius and Tremellius). Because they did not hearken to the voice of the Lord, and because the Lord swore to them (Tigurinus) (or, whence also the Lord swore to them [Munster]). Because they had not hearkened to the voice of Jehovah, and the Lord had sworn to them (Syriac). The connection of the words is quite intricate, but has this sense: Who, I say, perished along the way in the desert, etc., because they had not obeyed the voice of the Lord; they are they to whom the Lord swore that He was not going to give the land, etc. (Masius). It is to be observed here that those sinners are called, not His people, but גּוֹי/nation,[8] in this verse (and also in verse 8[9]), that is, by an odious term, and which generally signified profane men and strangers to the covenant, from which they had made themselves strangers through that scandal. Moreover, the change of person in this verse, whereby it is said that He was going to give to us, in the place of He was going to give to their seed, indicates the antithesis between those descendants that degenerate from them through vice, and those that tread in their footsteps (Masius).

He would not show them, that is, not give them so much as a sight of it, which he granted to Moses, much less the possession and enjoyment of it. Or showing is put for giving, as it is Psalm 4:6; 60:3; Ecclesiastes 2:24.[10]

[1] Hebrew: וְזֶ֥ה הַדָּבָ֖ר אֲשֶׁר־מָ֣ל יְהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ כָּל־הָעָ֣ם הַיֹּצֵא֩ מִמִּצְרַ֙יִם הַזְּכָרִ֜ים כֹּ֣ל׀ אַנְשֵׁ֣י הַמִּלְחָמָ֗ה מֵ֤תוּ בַמִּדְבָּר֙ בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ בְּצֵאתָ֖ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃

[2] Genesis 12:17:  “And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram’s wife (עַל־דְּבַ֥ר שָׂרַ֖י אֵ֥שֶׁת אַבְרָֽם׃).”

[3] Exodus 18:16:  “When they have a matter (כִּֽי־יִהְיֶ֙ה לָהֶ֤ם דָּבָר֙), they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.”

[4] Hebrew: כִּֽי־מֻלִ֣ים הָי֔וּ כָּל־הָעָ֖ם הַיֹּֽצְאִ֑ים וְכָל־הָ֠עָם הַיִּלֹּדִ֙ים בַּמִּדְבָּ֥ר בַּדֶּ֛רֶךְ בְּצֵאתָ֥ם מִמִּצְרַ֖יִם לֹא־מָֽלוּ׃

[5] Hebrew: כִּ֣י׀ אַרְבָּעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֗ה הָלְכ֣וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ בַּמִּדְבָּר֒ עַד־תֹּ֙ם כָּל־הַגּ֜וֹי אַנְשֵׁ֤י הַמִּלְחָמָה֙ הַיֹּצְאִ֣ים מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־שָׁמְע֖וּ בְּק֣וֹל יְהוָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֙ר נִשְׁבַּ֤ע יְהוָה֙ לָהֶ֔ם לְבִלְתִּ֞י הַרְאוֹתָ֣ם אֶת־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁר֩ נִשְׁבַּ֙ע יְהוָ֤ה לַֽאֲבוֹתָם֙ לָ֣תֶת לָ֔נוּ אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָֽשׁ׃

[6] Hebrew: כָּל־הַגּוֹי.

[7] אֲשֶׁר can serve as a relative, or a causal, particle.

[8] גּוֹי is a normal way to refer to a Gentile nation.

[9] Joshua 5:8:  “And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people (כָל־הַגּוֹי), that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole.”

[10] Ecclesiastes 2:24:  “There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should show (וְהֶרְאָה) his soul good in his labour.  This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.”