And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: All the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way, after they had come out of Egypt. For all the people who came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness, on the way as they came out of Egypt, had not been circumcised. For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD—to whom the LORD swore that He would not show them the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers that He would give us, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Then Joshua circumcised their sons whom He raised up in their place; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. So it was, when they had finished circumcising all the people, that they stayed in their places in the camp till they were healed. Then the LORD said to Joshua, “This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” Therefore the name of the place is called Gilgal to this day. (Joshua 5:4-9)
The children of Israel had arrived at the land of Canaan with great anticipation. Crossing the Jordan River on dry ground heightened the awareness of the people of the presence of God and what they had witnessed in the last forty years. Their fathers had all died in wilderness because of their unbelief in the power of God. When the people rebelled at Kadesh Barnea refusing to enter the promised land the Lord punished the nation with forty years of wandering. Sons watched their fathers die; burying them in the wilderness as testimony to the word of God. Now the beauty of a land flowing with milk and honey stood before them. The days of drifting from one place to another were over. A new land stretched before them as promised by the Lord. Before the conquest of Canaan could begin there was one command that must be obeyed. When Moses gave the Law to the people there was one fundamental command that was necessary to establish a covenant with God and the people. Hearkening to the days of their father Abraham, the Lord commanded all the sons of those who fell in the wilderness to be circumcised. This would a sign of their faith to trust in the promises of God regardless of the pain involved. They obeyed.
Jericho was the first city to fall. In time the whole land fell to the hand of the Israelite’s. The land of Canaan was a land promised upon a covenant. Failure to keep the law would have doomed the conquest. Requiring the men to be circumcised was a test of their faithfulness to keep the Law of Moses. The men who came out of Egypt were consumed because they did not obey the Law. Obeying the word of the Lord He took away their reproach establishing again His covenant with Israel. The place of the circumcision was called Gilgal and would long be remembered for what took place here. Obedience is not a choice where men can decide to follow their own wisdom. Requiring the men to be circumcised was not a task to be enjoyed. It caused a great deal of pain requiring days of healing. Arguments could have been made as to why such a thing was necessary but the men did not challenge the word of the Lord. They had seen His judgment upon their fathers and learned the lessons of disobedience.
There are many places that remind the Bible student of the lessons from God. Eden was a garden where sin first came into the world. Mt. Sinai symbolizes the Law of Moses. Golgotha is where salvation from sin was given to all men. Gilgal should be a place to remember the covenant of the Lord and the requirements. What God asked of the men that day was beyond the pale of man’s wisdom but they did not question His law. Obedience was accepted and the grace of God was returned to the nation. That is the character of doing what the Lord requires. There are many who deny the value of baptism declaring it a work of salvation undeserved by the grace of God. What they do not see is the law of God requires the washing away of sins and without the burial into Christ there is no promised land. Reading about the men at Gilgal suggests it would not have been done by the religious world today. Baptism is by its nature painless but circumcision was anything but easy. Jesus suffered the pain and horror of the cross so that our circumcision is without suffering. Rejecting the command to be circumcised in the heart leaves a person without hope. Gilgal is a lesson of complete obedience.