The New You
If you would, turn with me to Joshua 5. This morning we are going to be reading the first 9 verses. We are out camping this weekend and it is just appropriate that we are camping with the Israelites. The Israelites just have come across the Jordan river and they have set up camp at a place called Gilgal. They are just about 2 miles away from Jericho. The Canaanite Wars are just about to begin.
The question I have for you is this: What would you do if you were the commander of the army? If you had just come across the Jordan and you were within this range of your enemy, what would be your next move?
I bet I know what you would not do: You probably would not do what Joshua and the Israelites did here. Let’s read God’s holy and inspired word and see what happens.
[Read Josh. 5:1-9]
Well, like I said, this is probably not the thing you would expect on the eve of what was to be a great battle.
But here we are at the Hill of Foreskins. That’s what our passage says in verse 3. Gibeath-haaraloth means Hill of Foreskins. And of course it is called that because the entire Israelite camp, all the males (perhaps up to a couple million of them) were circumcised right there.
It is a rather grotesque picture. And oddly enough, this was not one of the places that I visited during my tour of Israel this past February. I’m just assuming that this isn’t one of the more major site seeing places when people visit Israel.
But the first thing that the Lord commands his people to do just prior to their invasion of Canaan is to undergo this surgical procedure. And we really learn here that this isn’t just any kind of war. This is God’s war. It is a spiritual war. And there’s a purpose for God having them pause and perform this religious rite.
So we are going to talk about the circumcision of Israel and we are going to learn three wonderful things. The first thing I want you to understand is that this religious practice is an issue of trust.
I. It’s an issue of trust
Now, picture what is going on here. You are sitting about two miles away from your enemy. You are invading the land and going to lay siege to these people who are right next to you. They know you are coming. And God says, “Take your fighting men and completely incapacitate them.”
Let me just tell you that this is probably not the greatest battle strategy.
Now our text tells us that they remained there until they “were healed.” But you got to understand that they attacked Jericho less than a week after this, shall we say, minor surgery. When it says, “They were healed," I don’t think that it means that they were up skipping around and completely back to normal. I mean, I know that if I had this kind of operation (even with modern equipment, not this flint stone kind of stuff), I probably would not be up to swimming across this pond, let alone marching around and charging in upon the city of Jericho.
When Joshua gave this command, this is probably not what the Israelites were expecting. They probably thought Joshua was delirious. The people of Jericho could have choose to do a pre-emptive strike and wiped them all out. They probably couldn’t imagine hobbling into battle. But they trusted God.
What we have here is something similar to the story of Gideon. You may remember when Gideon called out Israel to battle, there were thousands upon thousands who gathered. And God told most of them to go home. He whittled them down to about 300 men. He wanted to show that the battle belongs to the Lord.
And that’s partially what this is all about. God is the one who gets the glory. This is not going to be because the Israelites were powerful or a military force with which to be reckoned. No, God is going to make Israel to be almost completely impotent. And it is because He wants to remind us of the way he works in this world.
God is pleased to use the weak things of the world to shame the wise.
This is where your trust comes in. Will God use you? Will you really make any kind of difference in the world? The answer is an overwhelming yes. You may not be the president of the United States. You may not be some CEO who has a lot of influence over his company or is responsible for putting out a product that radically impacts the state of Ohio. You may not be much of anything in the world’s eyes.
You may just be a dad or a mom, or maybe just a friend. That doesn’t seem like a real mover and shaker when it comes to the grand scheme of things. But these “silly little things” are the things that God delights to use.
He loves the stay at home mom. He loves homemakers; women who are devoting themselves to nurturing their kids – kids who will probably not grow up to be the President of the United States or some highfalutin person. But she’s raising the next generation of kingdom dominators; the next generation of moms and dads.
As you dads care for your kids and you demonstrate that Christ sacrificing love for your wives, you have to understand that this is some of the most significant work you can ever do. You have to trust that your willingness to play a game with your kids on the living room floor is part of the way God brings in his kingdom. It looks so silly. It’s not flashy and grand. As a matter of fact, it is almost laughable from a human perspective.
And that’s why it takes trust. Because it does seems so backwards to our human understanding. But you have to trust that this is where God is working. God is using these small things, these weak and silly things. It is how his kingdom operates. It is how his kingdom comes in this world.
This circumcision on the doorstep of Jericho probably was not found in Sun Tzu’s famous book on the Art of War. It flies in the face of every principle of warfare. But when it comes to the war God is waging against the kingdom of sin and Satan, weakness is his primary weapon of choice. We need only trust that this is so.
The second thing I want you to note is that this circumcision, more than being an issue of trust, is an issue of renewal.
II. It’s an issue of renewal (i.e. renewed relationship)
Our passage states in verse 2 that this was the second time this has happened. Verse 7 reminds us that these Israelites had not been circumcised. They had been in the desert 40 years and they had not had the sign of the covenant given to them.
Now, understand what circumcision is. In Israel, it was to be a sign which showed that a person was living in covenant relationship with God. The children were supposed to have that sign given to them when they were 8 days old. It was sort of an initiation rite.
Israel had not practiced circumcision for the last 40 years because they had been under church discipline, so to speak. They had disobeyed God and they were exiled into the wilderness. So there’s a sense in which God had sent them away. We know, of course, that the Lord was still with them and was caring for them, but we have to keep in mind that they were suffering. They were facing the consequences of their rejection of God. This was the misery of being under the discipline of the Lord.
And now the Lord commands them to all be circumcised. It’s kind of like he’s saying, “I want you to know that we are starting over. I no longer consider you outcasts. I’m calling you mine and I promise to be your God.”
They go through this rite of initiation and in so doing they were to understand that God was saying, “Let’s let bygones be bygones.” He desired to have them marked out as His once again. So this was a sign of God’s love for them. It was a sign of God’s favor. It was a sign to them that they could trust that God would continue to protect them and remain faithful to them.
I know that they may be hurting a little, but this event would have been a great encouragement to this group of people.
That’s a message I hope that means something to you. It’s the way our God operates. He is one who renews his covenant with his people. He’s one who gives second chances. He’s a God who says, “Things haven’t quite been what they should between you and me, but let’s start over.”
We do this every Sunday, as a matter of fact. We have a time where we confess our sins in every service. And that point in the service is something of a renewing of our relationship with God. There is an announcement after we’ve prayed for forgiveness—there’s an announcement that God pardons us. That’s the renewal. That announcement of God’s pardon is God’s way of saying, “Let’s start over.”
But we also have displayed even more vividly today in these baptisms. Baptism is our initiation. It is a sign that we’ve entered into covenant with him.
And you know, there’s a temptation to think, “I’m finally good enough to get baptized.” Or, “I’m finally good enough to profess faith in the Lord.” I’ve jumped through all the hoops, I fulfilled all the necessary things of having to learn about the trinity and get all my theology in order. I’ve been pretty good and it seems like I’m all set.” And so we may be tempted to think that once I get everything right, then I can take this step and now God will really hit it off.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s in these baptisms that God says the complete opposite. He says, “I am pleased to start over. This is a new beginning for you and me.”
And this is not just for Lizzy and Lincoln. But it’s true for everyone of you who has already been baptized. This is a time for you to remember that He is still the God of second chances. And right here and right now, he is saying to you “I’m ready to establish my relationship with you again.”
It’s about trust. It’s about re-establishing a relationship. And lastly, it’s about one’s identity.
III. It’s an issue of identity
I want you to notice verse 9. Verse 9 says, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”
Now there are a lot of different interpretations as to what this means. Some people take it to mean that the Egyptians had for a long time made fun of them. They laughed and ridiculed them because the Lord brought them out of Egypt, but never brought them into their land.
But this is the way I prefer to take it. Most of this passage is referring to how Israel had been unfaithful. They didn’t circumcise their children. And the reason they didn’t is because they had not believed and followed the Lord.
In all reality, the people of Israel seemed more to identify with the Egypt, than with the Lord. They had made a golden calf, which would have resembled one of the Egyptian gods. They were angry that they didn’t have Egyptian food to eat and they wanted to go back to Egypt. They didn’t like the leaders God had given them; they wanted to go back to Pharaoh and their taskmasters.
So really, even though they left Egypt, they still very much identified with the Egyptians in their faith and lifestyle so much that you can basically call them Egyptians.
And now, these people were being reconstituted as God’s people. They were being circumcised and now they were doing away with that identification with Egypt and that old life and now they were given a new identity. I belong to God. I am an Israelite. I am one of God’s people. And I am called to be what I am.
That’s the question that faces each and every one of us every day. And I want to highlight this for you young people especially. The most important question that you can ever answer is, Who am I? Whose am I? To whom do I belong? How shall I regard myself?
You young people need to hear this because you have a lot of voices trying to tell you who or what you ought to be. Your friends are saying, “Your identity is with us!” So you have to be one of them. You need to find your identity in their acceptance of you or their view of you.
The TV is telling you that you have to be sexy and cool. Your identity is to be found in your appearance and how people regard you.
A lot of music today will say that your identity is in you. Be yourself. You be you. Be your own individual. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do or who you should be.
All these voices and many more are saying you should find your identity in the world. Be someone who loves pleasure. Be someone who listens only to yourself.
And you know, if you do that you set yourself up for a real hard time. Because you are not always going to be accepted by your friends and live up to their standards. You’re not always going to look the best because beauty is a fleeting thing. All of these things are traps. They promise great things but it is all bondage.
That’s what Israel experienced. Their identity was found in Egypt and they were never happy with the blessings God was bestowing on them.
But the Lord here is saying, “I offer you a new and greater identity.” So you can say, “I am a Christian. I belong to Christ. And I will live for him.”