The prerequisite for spiritual victory is renewed trust in and obedience to the Lord. The Lord has just done a really miraculous thing in bringing the Israelites across the flooded Jordan River. If you put yourself in the shoes of the Israelites it would make total sense to storm the gates of the city of Jericho right now since the hearts of the kings of their enemies were melting like butter under a hot knife (5:1).
But that’s not the way the Lord does his work. The Lord’s timing is not our timing. The Lord is not motivated by the urgency of victory over his enemies. Victory over his enemies is easy. The Lord is more concerned with his own people’s capacity to trust him and obey him as they walk into their spiritual inheritance. This is why the prerequisite for spiritual victory is renewed trust in and obedience to the Lord.
Look at Joshua 5:1 – 15…
1 As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the West, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel. 2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. 4 And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt. 5 Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. 6 For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, all the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8 When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. 9 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.
10 While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. 11 And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshipped and said to him, “What does my Lord say to his servant?” 15 And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
In this text we see Israel renewing their trust and obedience to the Lord through the practice of circumcision (vv. 2 – 9), the observance of the Passover (vv. 10 – 12), and worship in the presence of God (vv. 13 – 15).
#1: Israel Must Trust and Obey God Through Circumcision (vv. 2 – 9)
One author points out that, “We cannot expect God’s blessing to be seen in public obedience to God’s commands if there is hidden compromise in the private world of the self and the family” (Jackman: 2014, 60-61). In other words, no public blessing results from private sin.
This is why the Lord commands Joshua to make some knives out of some rocks and circumcise the men of Israel (v. 2). And Joshua is more than happy to obey the Lord (v. 3). Now, it’s important to note that God says to do this “a second time” in verse 2 because circumcision had been instituted under Abraham’s leadership many generations earlier in Genesis 17 as a sign of trust and obedience between Israel and the Lord. And Moses, before confronting Pharaoh to let God’s people go from slavery in Egypt a few generations later, faced a near death experience for not circumcising his own son as well (Exod. 4:24 – 26). So this circumcision issue is an issue of trust and obedience with dire consequences for disobedience. And the people of Israel apparently had not been circumcised during the time of their wilderness wanderings after coming out of Egypt (vv. 4 – 7). Victory in the Promised Land would be useless to the Israelites if they were in danger of experiencing the wrath of God against their sin.
Thankfully, Israel has just experienced the miraculous move of the Lord in bringing them across the flooded Jordan River after years of wandering around in the consequences of their sin. And their response to the Lord’s command to be circumcised was obeyed instead of ignored. Imagine, how hard it may have been to trust and obey in this moment. Israel’s enemies were frightened. It seems like the most opportune time to move ahead with an all-out assault on Jericho. But God’s plan is to put his people under the knife to prove their trust and obedience in and to him.
I can imagine the pain of enduring circumcision as an adult. I imagine the fear of knowing that I could not physically fight the enemy if they decided to attack us. And I imagine the excruciating agony of waiting whatever period of time it takes to heal from that kind of surgical operation. Nevertheless, Joshua is obedient (v. 3) and Israel is obedient (v. 8). And the result is that the Lord takes away the reproach or the stains of Israel’s sin and they are now known for their trust and obedience (v. 9). This is an image of faith-filled obedient action on the part of God’s people.
Now, I think it’s important to note briefly here that the physical act of circumcision in the Old Testament points to a spiritual reality for us under the new covenant. In other words, physical circumcision before the cross of Christ points to spiritual circumcision after the cross of Christ. The New Testament writers are clear that circumcision does not save you from the wrath of God. Only the broken body and shed blood of Jesus at the cross can remove the reproach of our sins.
You can track this doctrine down in passages like Colossians 2:11 – 12 and Philippians 3:3. But for the sake of time here, let me just say that when someone surrenders their life to Jesus and trusts in his work at the cross and is baptized into the family of God, then that person’s life must be marked by a faith-filled obedient lifestyle. Once again the prerequisite for spiritual victory is a deep and abiding trust in and obedience to the Lord.
#2: Israel Must Trust and Obey God Through The Passover (vv. 10 – 12)
It doesn’t appear that the Israelites stopped celebrating the Passover in their wilderness wandering. Numbers 9:1 – 5 seems to make this at least presumably clear. So the issue is not necessarily reinstituting something they had stopped doing. The issue is continuing to experience the blessing of the Passover through trust and obedience.
The blessing of the Passover is simply that God’s people would experience a new life instead of death. Exodus chapter 12 was the first Passover where the angel of death passed over the houses that were marked by the blood of the sacrificial lamb that was slain on the fourteenth day of the month. And that detail shows up here in Joshua 5:10 where we see the Passover being celebrated on the fourteenth day of the month. This detail tells us that Israel was behaving in full trust and obedience to their promise keeping, life-saving God. Trusting God results in faith-filled obedient behavior.
Verses 11 – 12 add a further important point as the author of Joshua explains that immediately after the Passover the people of Israel ate of the fruit of the Promised Land. The blessing of the fruit of the Promised Land followed their trust and obedience in circumcision and observation of the Passover. This point is so significant that the author draws our attention to the fruit of the land no less than three times. The point here is that God’s blessings abound over and over again in response to our trust in and obedience to God. Once again the prerequisite for spiritual victory is a deep and abiding trust in and obedience to the Lord.
#3: Israel’s Trust and Obedience Results In God’s Presence (vv. 13 – 15)
It’s way to easy for us to read this text through the eyes and the ears of a so-called prosperity gospel. It’s too easy to believe that if I do right things then I will experience health, wealth and physical prosperity. There are some small elements of truth in the fact that when you do things right, then things generally go well.
But we must never forget that the real result of trusting the Lord and obeying the Lord is the presence of the Lord in any and every circumstance. The physical blessing of the Promised Land is only meant to awaken our desire for the spiritual reality of Heaven in the perfect presence of our Savior God where there is no more sin, no more shame, no more tears and no more pain. Heaven is our Promised Land and Jesus is our Joshua who leads us into complete victory.
Notice in verses 13 – 15 that Joshua is out wandering around Jericho when he encounters a man. Joshua was probably taking a walk to strategize about how they would attack Jericho. Maybe he was reliving the miraculous things the Lord has done so far. Maybe he was enjoying a leadership win in the experience of Israel’s obvious trust and obedience to the Lord through circumcision and the Passover.
Either way, Joshua encounters a man standing before him in full battle dress with his sword drawn for the fight. Joshua’s question in verse 13 seems to be appropriate but wrong. He’s not asking the right questions. He wants to know if this man is for him or for his enemies. Who does he fight for? The man’s answer is simply “No… but. No… but… I’m not necessarily fighting for either of you. I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come” (v. 14).
In other words, “I haven’t come here to take sides, I came here to take over.” What’s Joshua’s response? Joshua falls flat on his face in worship and he doesn’t get rebuked for it. We must remember that the only being that can receive worship rightly is God himself.
Many scholars believe that this experience for Joshua is just like Moses’ experience at the burning bush where God shows up in a full visible display of personal power before leading the people out of Egypt. This very well may have been Jesus himself showing up on the scene to let Joshua know that he, the warring, Savior-King would lead them into and through the battle to complete victory. Joshua’s worshipful response and his question about what the Lord wants his servant to do is once again, proof of the kind of trust and obedience that our God desires before he gives us the victory. Once again the prerequisite for spiritual victory is a deep and abiding trust in and obedience to the Lord.
I don’t know where each of you is at today. I don’t know the unique sin you deal with. I don’t know what kind of pain or brokenness or mistrust or fear you walked in with today. I don’t know what your wilderness consequences have been like. I don’t know where you are asking God for victory right now.
But I do know this; spiritual victory is the result of trusting and obeying Jesus as your Savior King. Many of us want to be saved from the fires of hell but we don’t want to fully surrender to a King. We are just like Israel. We are fearful, sinful and rebellious. I don’t know what your barrier is today… but I do know this; Jesus gave his life at the cross of Calvary and he was resurrected three days later in an awesome display of victory over Satan, sin and death.
Death may very well be our most feared human enemy. But death has been swallowed up in the death of Christ. Jesus was completely obedient to death at that cross on your behalf and he trusted his Father in his sacrifice so that you and I could experience his perfect presence forever. Is there any reason why you wouldn’t fall on your face right now in worship of this Savior-King named Jesus?
If you’ve never trusted in Christ as your Savior you can right now. If you’ve trusted in Jesus but have been wandering around in the wilderness consequences of your sin for longer than you can remember then you can renew your trust in Christ right now too.
Regardless of where you are at today, you can experience victory over your shame, your guilt, your sin, your fear, your pain and your rebellion. Spiritual victory is the result of trusting and obeying Jesus as your Savior and your King. Amen!