Josh 5:1 Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until we had crossed over, their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.

‘Each of the paragraphs in this chapter displays a parallel between Moses and Joshua, forging yet more links between the two leaders at Israel’s founding. They both struck fear into their enemies (1, cf. Ex. 15:10-13), they both initiated circumcision before fully entering the task (2-9; cf. Ex. 4:24-26), they both celebrated the Passover as part of the march to the holy land (10-12; cf. Ex. 12), and they both took their sandals off before the Lord (13-15; cf. Ex. 3:5).’ (NBC)

‘This verse, depicting the Canaanite reaction to the Jordan crossing, links this chapter with 4:24, predicting the world’s reaction. The Amorite kings (i.e. those of the city-states in the mountains west of the Jordan) and the Canaanite kings (i.e. those of the city-states on the plains along the coast) are a sample of the seven nations in 3:10. These kings knew about the Lord’s mighty act, but instead of fleeing to him in faith, as Rahab had done, their rebellious hearts sank in fear and immobilized them (cf. Josh 2:10; 11:20).’ (NBC)

We have in this chapter, (a) covenant renewal (circumcision), vv2-9; and (b) covenant reminder (Passover), vv10-12.

‘A significant moment (v. 9), with the desert behind them and the new life in the Land of Promise before them (vv. 11, 12), is marked by two symbolic actions: circumcision (vv. 2-8) and the Passover (v. 10). Circumcision was the sign of the covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17:9-14), and was required for participation in the Passover (Ex. 12:48). Circumcision marked the people of the promise; the Passover celebrated their redemption from Egypt. Both the promise to Abraham and the redemption from Egypt looked forward to this day (Gen. 17:8; Ex. 3:8).’ (New Geneva)

When all the Amorite kings…and all the Canaanite kings…heard… – Just as in the case of the Jerichoites, ch 2, news of the Israelites’ exploits was well known.

Josh 5:2 At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.”

“Again” – ‘Two interpretations have been proposed why the narrator represents this circumcision as again (lit. ‘a second time’). On the one hand, perhaps that portion of the united militia who were forty years and older and circumcised in Egypt were reckoned as the first circumcision, and those under forty, who were not circumcised in the desert, were deemed the second. This interpretation best suits vs 4-7. On the other hand, the older portion of the militia may have had to be circumcised again because Egyptian circumcision was incomplete, unlike the Israelite complete circumcision. This interpretation best explains the emphasis on flint knives and the reference to the reproach of Egypt (9). Flint knives, so abundant in Canaan in contrast to Egypt, were probably required because they were associated with the Isra elite complete circumcision. Statues of fighting men in Canaan during the third millennium BC show warriors as fully circumcised. Now in the land the Israelites could freely circumcise themselves properly and remove from themselves the reproach of Egypt (9), the incomplete circumcision. The hill of foreskins (3 NIV mg.) may have been the name of a little hillock in the vicinity of Gilgal, which means ‘Roll away, Roll away’ the reproach (9).’ (NBC)

Josh 5:3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.

Josh 5:4 Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the desert on the way after leaving Egypt.

Josh 5:5 All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the desert during the journey from Egypt had not.

Josh 5:6 The Israelites had moved about in the desert forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the LORD. For the LORD had sworn to them that they would not see the land that he had solemnly promised their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Josh 5:7 So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way.

Josh 5:8 And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.

Josh 5:9 Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.

“Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” – ‘These words indicate the great significance of this moment. The redemption from Egypt is complete only with the entry into the Promised Land. See the promise of the Exodus and its goal in Ex. 3:8. Had that goal not been reached, the reproach or scorn of Egypt would have remained (Deut. 9:28).’ (New Geneva)

Josh 5:10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.

Josh 5:11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain.

Josh 5:12 The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan.

On the manna and its significance, see Ex. 16; Deut. 8:3.

Josh 5:13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

‘The second major section of the book tells how the Israelites conquered Canaan. The shocking violence and terrible destruction in these chapters trouble many readers. Yet the text seems to ring with praise to God. This is so because the destruction is the true and just judgment of God on sinners (Gen. 15:16; cf. Lev. 18:24-27; Deut. 9:4, 5), through which He fulfilled His gracious promises to Israel (note the connection between salvation and judgment in Ex. 14:13, 14 and Rev. 19:1, 2). These accounts of destruction, no less than anything else in the book, testify to God’s faithfulness to His promises (cf. the curse in the promise in Gen. 12:3) and prefigure His final judgment on those who reject His grace (Matt. 25:46; Heb. 9:27; 10:26-31).’ (New Geneva)

Joshua was near Jericho – At this point, he must have wondered how the conquest of Jericho could be achieved.

A man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand – indicating readiness for combat. But this is not the sword of an ambitious warrior, who kills men simply because they are in his way. It is, rather a judicial sword, demanding judgement for men who have long warned of their wickedness, and at last condemned. The sin of the Amorites was now full.

‘He here appeared as a soldier, with his sword drawn in his hand. To Abraham in his tent he appeared as a traveller; to Joshua in the field as a man of war. Christ will be to his people what their faith expects and desires.’ (MHC)

This encounter reminds us of that between Jacob and the man of God at Penial, Gen 32:22-32. There are also echoes of Moses and the burning bush, Ex 3:1-4:17. ‘In each case, the human protagonist encounters a divine messenger before facing a life-and-death conflict, but there is a significant difference with Joshua. Unlike the other two figures, Joshua does not wrestle or argue with the messenger. He questions him and responds as he is told. There are three reasons for this difference. First, Joshua is never doubting or accused of wrong by God, as contrasted with Jacob and Moses, who appear fallible. Further, neither Jacob nor Moses wishes the coming conflict. Joshua accepts it, perhaps looks forward to it. A second reason for Joshua’s passive acceptance of the messenger appears in two other places in the Bible, with reference to the angel who stops Balaam and his donkey (Num 22:23) and to the angel who stands readly to execute punishment for David’s census, 1 Chron 21:16. A figure with a drawn sword is one not to be toyed with. He is one who threatens divine judgement.’ (Hess) The third reason is noted in v14.

Josh 5:14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

“Neither” – ‘The “nay” deprecates his being either friend or foe in the common sense, but especially his being foe. His position and his office are far more exalted. As Captain of the host of the Lord, he is at the head, not of human armies, but of all the principalities and powers of heavenly places, “The mighty regencies Of seraphim, and potentates and thrones.”’ (Expositor’s bible)

Here is a third reason why, unlike Jacob and Moses, Joshua does not wrestle or argue with the divine messenger: he identifies himself as…

“Commander of the army of the Lord” – This appears to be an angelic presence, even ‘the Angel of the Lord’, Gen 16:7-14; 21:14-21; Judg 2:1; 6:12,22. This is assumed by many to be a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ, cf. Rev 19:11-14. There is a clear statement of authority in this self-identification. Although Joshua is the general of the Israelite army, he recognises and accepts the higher authority of this figure.

The ‘army of the Lord’ refers, sometimes at least, to the angels, 1 King 22:19; Psa 103:20f; 148:2; Lk 2:13.

‘And now the real situation flashes on Joshua. This soldier is no other than the Angel of the Covenant, the same who came to Abraham under the oak at Mamre, and that wrestled with Jacob on the banks of this very Jordan at Peniel. Joshua could not but remember, when God threatened to withdraw from Israel after the sin of the golden calf, and send some created angel to guide them through the wilderness, how earnestly Moses remonstrated, and how his whole soul was thrown into the pleading – “If Thy presence go not with us, carry me not up hence.” He could not but remember the intense joy of Moses when this pleading proved successful “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” There could be little doubt in his mind who this “Captain of the host of Jehovah” was, and no hesitation on his part in yielding to Him the Divine honour due to the Most High.’ (Expositor’s Bible)

‘This paragraph records one of the pre-incarnation appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ recorded in the Old Testament. To Abraham the pilgrim, the Lord came as a traveler to share in a friendly meal (Gen. 18:1-8). To Jacob the schemer, He came as a wrestler to bring him to the place of submission (32:24-32). The three Hebrew men met Him as their companion in the furnace of fire (Dan. 3:25), and Joshua met Him as the Captain of the Lord’s armies. Our Lord always comes to us when we need Him and in the way we need Him.’ (Wiersbe)

‘Joshua was reminded that he was second in command. Every father and mother, pastor, and Christian leader is second in command to the Lord Jesus Christ; and when we forget this fact, we start to move toward defeat and failure. The Lord came to Joshua that day, not just to help but to lead. “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NKJV). Joshua was an experienced soldier, whom Moses had trained for leadership. Yet that was no guarantee of success. He needed the presence of the Lord God.’ (Wiersbe)

“I have now come” – He might have been expected to say, “I have come to…’, but he does not explain why he has come. His very presence is enough. ‘God had promised to be with Joshua (Josh. 1:5, 9), and the people had prayed that the Lord would be with him (vv. 16-17). The enemy knew that God was with Israel (2:8ff), and Joshua had encouraged his people with this promise (3:9ff). Joshua was now experiencing the reality of that promise! The Lord met him as Captain of the Lord’s armies, whether in heaven or on earth. “The Lord of hosts [armies] is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Ps. 46:7, 11). Joshua would recall the song Israel had sung at the Red Sea: “The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is His name” (Ex. 15:3).’ (Wiersbe)

Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence – Although this fall short of an ascription of deity, there is a clear recognition of superiority. There is a clear sense a superhuman presence.

Josh 5:15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

“Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy” – Cf. God’s command to Moses in Ex 3:5. ‘Joshua was standing in “heathen territory”; yet because God was with him, he was standing on holy ground. If we are obeying the will of God, no matter where He leads us, we are on holy ground; and we had better behave accordingly. There’s no such thing as “secular” and “sacred,” “common” and “consecrated,” when you are in the Lord’s service. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31, NKJV).’ (Wiersbe)

Hess suggests three reasons why we should accept this as a manifestation of the divine presence and therefore something more than an angelic visitation:-

  1. Joshua worships the figure, and his worship is accepted.
  2. Holiness is a manifestation of the divine presence throughout the Bible.
  3. The continuation of the narrative in ch 6 blends this figure with God himself; the distinctions evaporate.