And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed. 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. – Joshua 5:8-9
All of the men in Israel have been circumcised at the same time. Think of the physical reality of this in light of previous Biblical history. Back in Genesis 34, we read of how Simeon and Levi convinced the sons of Shechem to get circumcised, and while they were physically recovering – Simeon and Levi put each of them to the sword. Now, Israel was inside the Promised Land, and its men of war were recovering just a short distance outside of Jericho’s walls. Yet, they are entirely safe – for the LORD their God was their shield and their exceedingly great reward. The LORD is still melting the hearts of the Canaanite kings in fear and thereby giving His people time to recuperate.
In verse 9, the LORD declares that “today, I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” This reproach could have been something that the Egyptians said about them. Perhaps, “they are all going to die in the wilderness.” Now that the Israelites are in the Promised Land, such words are shown to be empty. But since the LORD specifically connects rolling away their reproach with all of the men being circumcised, we would be wise to connect those two things in our thinking. The reproach was not Israel’s slavery, for the LORD had set them free as soon as they passed through the Red Sea on dry ground. Therefore, rather than the reproach being something the Egyptians did to the Israelites it is far more likely that it is connected to something the Israelites did – or, more accurately, failed to do in Egypt: They stopped believing the covenant promises so they stopped circumcising their children.
You will recall that even Moses failed to circumcise his own sons. In Exodus chapter 4, when Moses is returning to Egypt from Midian in order to begin the Exodus – the LORD nearly puts Moses to death until his wife Zipporah circumcises their firstborn son. This reminds us that the LORD thinks both the sacramental sign and faith in the covenant promises are extremely important. Isn’t this the very thing that the LORD told Abraham when He initiate the sacramental sign of circumcision with him? Look back at Genesis 17:11–14:
“You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Yet, astonishingly, the faithless generation which died in the wilderness failed to apply the covenant sign to their own sons. At Gilgal, the LORD rolled away this reproach. The fact that Joshua and his representatives did the cutting with the flint knives, but the LORD took away their reproach teaches us something very important about the sacraments. Adolph Harstad comments:
Since the LORD here states that He is the one who rolls away the reproach, the LORD identifies Himself as the one who did the circumcising, even though the people of Israel performed the physical act. The reality is like that of Christian baptism, which is essentially God’s gracious act, even though a human applies the water and speaks God’s words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 27
Q. 27. Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?
A. Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.