Joshua 5: The Circumcision and the Passover
In this chapter, the Israelites are now in the land of Canaan, and local Amorite and Canaanite kings lose heart to oppose them because of God’s miracle at the river Jordan.
God tells Joshua to circumcise all the men who were born since they left Egypt, because none were circumcised in the wilderness, and their fathers who were have now all died. So Joshua obeys, requiring circumcision of all the men of Israel.
As a result, God says to Joshua : “I have this day rolled away the stain of Egypt from you.” The place was therefore called Gilgal, which means “rolling”. The Children of Israel camped there till they were healed. They then ate the Passover using the food of the land for the very first time, and the daily manna, which had been provided by God every day in the wilderness, stopped.
Then, Joshua has an encounter with an angel:
When Joshua lifted his eyes he saw a man opposite him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua asked him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” The man answered, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Joshua fell and worshipped and asked what he should do? The man said, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy”. And Joshua did so.
Note that this chapter is the very first one when the Israelites are in Canaan, and straightaway two important Jewish rituals are carried out – circumcision and the Passover. Circumcision is the cutting off of the foreskin. It means to become purified from loving oneself and the world, and the outer things of life, and to be righteous before God inwardly. (See Arcana Caelestia 2102.)
This meaning helps us see why elsewhere in the Bible it often talks about “circumcising your heart”. The circumcision in Canaan was to mark the new generation, which spiritually for us means that our regeneration always involves new states. (True Christian Religion 601)
The Passover was originally a meal to mark leaving slavery in Egypt, so it is very appropriate for celebrating entering the promised land. The spiritual meaning of the Passover is rich and complex, but, put simply, it is about the presence of the Lord with us, especially when we attribute life’s good events and blessings to the presence of God. “The Lord has done this for me… The Lord has done that for us.” (Arcana Caelestia 7902) The reason that it is a meal is that we share meals together, often in families, and spiritually everything in us comes together to be joyful and thankful.
The first camp of the Israelites in Canaan was at Gilgal, a place close to Jericho, the name of which means “rolling”. We’ve looked at its connection with circumcision but more generally, to ‘roll’ is to move forward, move on, keep going. This is a powerful early-in-the-story description of our regeneration, with its trials and blessings, both of which aim to keep us moving forward to be evermore in the life the Lord wants us to have. (Arcana Caelestia 8911)
With all this early first feeling of having finally got to Canaan, the land which God had always promised to give them, it is so very appropriate that Joshua is met by a militant angel of the Lord, the Commander of the army of the Lord. (Arcana Caelestia 7277). Note carefully that when Joshua asks if he is for us or for our enemies, the Commander says “No.” Spiritually this is very significant because the Lord uses everything – good and evil – peace and temptation – to lead us towards heaven.
The Commander declares that Joshua is to remove his sandal from off his foot because where he stands, this is holy ground. Spiritually, “holy ground” is the whole sweep of life, and our sense that all of it is the Lord’s gift to us. (See Arcana Caelestia 566, 1585)