Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not. The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness 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 he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 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. – Joshua 5:4-7
It may seem a bit odd, to those of us in North America, that the Promised Land was so frequently referred to as “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Isn’t the Middle East in general, and Israel in particular, an awful lot of dried out land compared to the vast natural resources of the United States? Well, we should remember that a lot has changed over 3,500 years including the natural environment of many parts of the world. A few hundred years before the LORD brought His people into the Promised Land, an Egyptian official named Sinuhe described it like this:
It was a good land, named Yaa. Figs were in it, and grapes. It had more wine than water. Plentiful was its honey, abundant its olives. Every (kind of) fruit was on its trees. Barley was there, and emmer [emmer is a type of wheat].
Yet, more important than the physical riches of the Promised Land was the fact that the LORD had promised His people that He would be with them in it. Yet, astonishingly, the generation that the LORD miraculously brought out of Egypt didn’t trust the LORD. We see their rebellion lived out in their constant murmuring, their refusal to enter the Promised Land out of fear, and in today’s passage, from the fact that for forty years they failed to apply the covenant sign of the righteousness that comes by faith to their covenant children. Nevertheless, the faithlessness of man could not bring to naught the faithfulness of our God.
Adolph Harstad writes:
The author makes clear in 5:4-6 that the LROD does what He says. He fulfills His threats as well as His gracious promises. He swore that not one of the faithless men from the generation that rebelled against Him and refused his promises would taste the milk and honey of the land He pledged to their forefathers. True to His word, every one of them died in the desert.
The gracious promises of the LORD, however, could not be destroyed by the disobedience of one generation. The two who had believed the LORD’s word, Joshua and Caleb, have now entered the land. His grace and faithfulness toward His chosen people as a whole are striking in the words of 5:7: “So their sons He raise up in their place.” He did not let His unconditional pledge to Abraham fall from His shelf of gracious promises. The land gift as well as the faith and obedience of the generation receiving the land are the results of the LORD’s own work.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 26
Q. 26. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.