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At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.”
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5:1-9 How dreadful is their case, who see the wrath of God advancing towards them, without being able to turn it aside, or escape it! Such will be the horrible situation of the wicked; nor can words express the anguish of their feelings, or the greatness of their terror. Oh that they would now take warning, and before it be too late, flee for refuge to lay hold upon that hope set before them in the gospel! God impressed these fears on the Canaanites, and dispirited them. This gave a short rest to the Israelites, and circumcision rolled away the reproach of Egypt. They were hereby owned to be the free-born children of God, having the seal of the covenant. When God glorifies himself in perfecting the salvation of his people, he not only silences all enemies, but rolls back their reproaches upon themselves.
Verse 2. – At that time. Ver. I is introduced in order to explain why Joshua ventured upon the circumcision of the children of Israel at so critical a period. Nothing could more clearly evince the spirit of confidence in Jehovah which animated not only Joshua, but all the children of Israel. We read of no murmurings, although it was well known that the performance of the rite of circumcision would unfit the Israelites for active service for some days. We may imagine, and even the silence of the sacred historian may be deemed eloquent on the point, that the marvellous passage of the Jordan had inspired the Israelites with an eager desire to renew their covenant with the God who “had done so great things for them already.” And although, for religious reasons, they remained inactive for four or five days, a course of action from a military point of view highly injudicious, yet such was the terror the passage of the Jordan had struck into the hearts of the Phoenicians that no attack on them was attempted, and the inhabitants of Jericho (Joshua 6:1) remained under the protection of their strong walls. Sharp knives, orknives of stone (צוּר; cf. צֹר Exodus 4:25). The LXX., Vulgate, Syriac, and Arabic versions, as well as the margins of our Bibles, render thus. On the other hand, several of the Rabbis give the same translation as the text of our version. The LXX. translator, following no doubt an ancient tradition, adds after Joshua 24:30, that these knives were buried with Joshua (see note there). The idea which has found great favour lately of a “stone age,” as anterior to an “iron age,” of the world, will hardly derive support from this passage. That the use of stone preceded the use of iron scarcely admits of a doubt. But from Genesis 4:22 we learn that the use of iron had been known hundreds of years before Joshua, and yet we find him using stone knives. And we may go further. In spite of the advance of civilisation in our own day, there are still millions of human beings who have not advanced beyond the “stone age.” The idea, then, of an age in which the universal use of iron has supplanted the universal use of stone is an idea which facts compel us to reject, while admitting that the use of stone must have preceded the use of iron in the infancy of the human race. In these “knives of flint,” Origen, Theodoret, and others see an allusion to Christ, the rock. The second time. For “circumcise again the children of Israel the second time,” the literal translation is, “return (שׁוּב) to circumcise,” or, “return, circumcise” them the second time. This has perplexed the commentators and translators. It has been assumed that the text involves the idea of a former general circumcision of the people, and various are the expedients which have been resorted to in order to avoid the difficulty. Some copies of the LXX. would read שֵׁב for שׁוּב (or יְשֵׁב for וְשׁוּבRosenmuller), and translate “sit down” i.e., halt), “and circumcise” The Vulgate leaves out the word altogether. The Syriac translates literally. The Arabic reads “tomorrow” for “again.” The Rabbi Solomon Jarchi falls back on the expedient of a general circumcision ordered by Moses on the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt, on account of their neglect of that rite while they sojourned there, “Nam jam antea magna multitudo simul erat circumcisa illa nocte qua egrediebantur ex AEgypto.” But this is rendered highly improbable by the fact that circumcision was an Egyptian as well as a Hebrew custom, and still more so by the improbability that such an important circumstance should have been passed over in silence. Knobel regards Abraham’s circumcision with that of his household as the first time (Genesis 17:23). Perhaps the best explanation is that the word שׁוּב, though it is rightly translated “again” here, and in several other places in Scripture, carries with it the idea of a return into a former condition (kehre zuruck, Knobel). So Genesis 26:18; Genesis 30:31, Hosea 2:11 (Hosea 2:9, in our version). In 2 Kings 1:11, 13 we have the king’s return to his former purpose in the second and third mission to Elijah. Thus here the word is used of the bringing back the children of Israel to their former state, that of a people who were in the enjoyment of a visible sign and seal (Romans 4:11) of their being God’s covenant people. The meaning therefore would seem to be, “Restore the children of Israel a second time to the position they formerly held, as visibly bound to me, and placed under my protection, by the rite of circumcision.” “The person must be in favour ere the work can hope to prosper; his predecessor Moses had like to have been slain for neglect of this sacrament, when he went to call the people out of Egypt; he justly fears his own safety, if now he omit it, when they are brought into Canaan” (Bp. Hall).
At that time the Lord said unto Joshua,…. When the people had passed over Jordan, and had pitched in Gilgal, and Joshua had set up the stones there; and particularly when the dread of them had seized the inhabitants of Canaan, and deprived them of all their courage; and so was a fit time for the execution of what is next ordered, and seems designed in the providence of God among other things particularly for that:
make them sharp knives; not that Joshua was to make them himself, but to order them to be made; for a considerable number would be wanted for the use to be made of them: the Targum calls them sharp razors; and Ben Gersom says they were made of brass, more likely of iron or steel, which perhaps he means; but the Hebrew text is, “knives of rocks”, “flints” or “stones”; and so Maimonides (p) interprets the words, and as they are rendered in various versions (q); with such an instrument Zipporah circumcised her son; and like them were the “samia testa” (r), with which the priests of the mother of the gods were castrated; and the “saxum acutum” of Ovid (s); and such the Americans used in slaying beasts, and the Egyptians (t) in the dissecting of their dead bodies; and which the Talmudists allow of as lawful; and in the east the Jews to this day use knives of stone in circumcision (u); See Gill on Exodus 4:25.
and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time; not that circumcision was to be repeated on them that had been circumcised already, who had found out ways and means to draw over the foreskin again, as some in later times did; or who had been imperfectly circumcised according to the rite enjoined by Abraham, which some Jewish writers say was not perfect; neither of which was the case. Kimchi, and so Ben Melech, interpret the word, “oftentimes”, frequently, one time after another; as if the sense was, Joshua was to circumcise them, or take care they were circumcised, some at one time, and some at another, until the whole was finished; but this is not what is meant, it refers to a former general circumcision; not to the circumcision, as first administered in Abraham’s time, for there had been a multitude of instances of it since that time; but to the circumcision of the Israelites at, about, or quickly after their coming out of Egypt; either before their eating of their first passover, the night they went out of Egypt, as Jarchi (w); or rather some time in the three days’ darkness of the Egyptians, as Dr. Lightfoot (x) thinks; or else when they were about Sinai, just before the celebration of the passover there, Numbers 9:1; from which time it had been neglected; not cause unnecessary, while they were in the wilderness, to distinguish them from others, which was not the principal, at least not the only use of it; nor because forbidden the Israelites for their disobedience, murmurings, and rebellion, it not being probable that God should prohibit the observance of a command of his on that account; nor so much through criminal neglect, at least contempt of it, as because of their frequent journeying, and the inconvenience of performing it, being always uncertain, when they had pitched their tents, how long they should stay, and when they should remove, since this depended upon the taking up of the cloud; wherefore, unless they could have been sure of a continuance for a proper time, it was not safe to administer it; and now it was enjoined, partly because they were about to celebrate the passover, which required circumcision in all that partook of it, Exodus 12:43; and partly because they had now entered into the land of Canaan, which was given them in the covenant of circumcision, Genesis 17:8; wherefore it became them now to observe it, and as typical of spiritual circumcision, necessary to the heavenly Canaan, as well as to distinguish them from the uncircumcised Canaanites they were coming among; and they did not think themselves under obligation to observe it till they came to settle in that land, as some think, who hereby account for their long neglect of it.
(p) Moreh Nevochim, par. 1. c. 16. (q) , Sept. “cultros lapideos”, V. L. “cultros petrarum”, Munster, Montanus, Piscator. (r) Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 35. c. 12. Arnob. adv. Gentes, l. 5. p. 189. (s) Fast. l. 4. ver. 237. (t) Herod. Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 86. (u) Vid. Pfeiffer. Dubia Vexata, cent. 2. loc. 46. So in Pirke Eliezer, c. 29. (x) Works, vol. 1. p. 40.
Jos 5:2-12. Circumcision Is Renewed.
2. At that time—on the encampment being made after the passage.
the Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives—Stone knives, collect and make them ready. Flints have been used in the early times of all people; and although the use of iron was known to the Hebrews in the days of Joshua, probably the want of a sufficient number of metallic implements dictated the employment of flints on this occasion (compare Ex 4:25).
circumcise again the children of Israel the second time—literally, “return and circumcise.” The command did not require him to repeat the operation on those who had undergone it, but to resume the observance of the rite, which had been long discontinued. The language, however, evidently points to a general circumcising on some previous occasion, which, though unrecorded, must have been made before the celebration of the passover at Sinai (compare Ex 12:48; Nu 9:5), as a mixed multitude accompanied the camp. “The second time” of general circumcising was at the entrance into Canaan.
The Circumcision at Gilgal
1Now it came about when 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 how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they had crossed, that their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the sons of Israel. 2At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time.” 3So Joshua made himself flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth.…
But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said.
Treasury of Scripture
At that time the LORD said to Joshua, Make you sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.
sharp knife. or, knife of flints. Before the use of iron was common, all the nations of the earth had their edge tools made of stones, flints, etc. Our ancestors had their arrows and spearheads made of flint; which are frequently turned up by the plough. And even when iron became more common, stone knives seem to have been preferred for making incisions in the human body. The Egyptians used such to open the bodies for embalming; and the tribe of Alnajab in Ethiopia, who follow the Mosaic institution, perform the rite of circumcision, according to Ludolf, cultris lapidibus, with knives made of stone.