The Book of Joshua

12. Separation to God.

Joshua 5:2-9.

"They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." — John 17:16.

Circumcision is a sign in God's people that they are indeed His, separated to Himself according to His purpose. To the father of the faithful it was a token of the covenant God had made with him (Gen. 17:11). The Lord's words, "My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant" (ver. 13), included the whole generation of His people of old. Circumcision indicated that Israel were separated to Himself from the nations around them. The Christian is separated to God in Christ, who is risen from the dead, and who dwells not on earth, but in heaven. The circumcision made without hands, "that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter" (Rom. 2:29), has now supplanted the carnal ordinance.

"The circumcision in the flesh made by hands" (Eph. 2:11) is now simply Judaism, and to go back in spirit to Judaism is really to reject the cross of Christ. That cross has written for ever the sentence of death on man in the flesh (2 Cor. 5:14), and shown that man in Adam can never recover himself so as to satisfy or to please God. The Christian, therefore, glories not in law-keeping, nor in his doings, nor in what he is — good, bad, or indifferent; he glories not in his flesh (Gal. 6:13), nay, he repudiates the notion of making himself fit for God by works or attainments, saying, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14). All efforts to make self fit for God are the practical rejection of the cross of Christ, and are but boasts in the flesh which God has condemned through the cross of Christ. In the flesh man, whether Jew or Gentile, in circumcision or in uncircumcision, is adjudged by God as past recovery; in Christ, who is risen from the dead, there is new creation; hence, neither circumcision is anything, nor uncircumcision (Gal. 6:15).

Israel — speaking of the people as a nation — were circumcised in Egypt; they were God's people in that land, with the token upon them of His covenant: "All the people that came out were circumcised." But Israel, wandering in the wilderness, were an uncircumcised people: "The people that were born in the wilderness by the way, as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised." In the wilderness, the nation as a whole for nearly forty years neglected the rite, and did not maintain the appointed sign of separation to God from the heathen. Yet we read of no call from Jehovah for the maintenance of the ordinance so long as they were in the wilderness; a fact which, when we consider what the private history of Moses was, and what were God's dealings with him in reference to his neglect of circumcision in his family (Ex. 4:24-25), is remarkable. Now why was this? God had promised to bring Israel into the possession; but they refused to accredit God in His covenant to the fathers. In Israel's unbelief we may find the reason why they were incapacitated for bearing upon themselves the token of their being Jehovah's nation. Unbelief in God's word of grace and true separation to God cannot co-exist in the souls of men. Israel did not believe God would bring them into the land, "which the Lord sware unto their fathers that He would give them;" their wanderings were consequent upon their unbelief, and the sign of their being the people of God was not demanded of them during their wilderness way.

The great principle, that God's grace to us is the practical power of our severance from the world, is of the last importance. The true spirit of living to God results from communion with God. The more His favours are enjoyed, the more His people are marked from the world. The effort to become holy in our own strength is but a mockery of divine grace towards us. That kind of separation from the surrounding things of earth, which is practised in order to reach holiness toward God, is but stripping the crab-tree of its leaves in order to change its nature. No amount of trying to be holy, by giving up the world, will alter our evil nature, and the seeker after holiness, who by these means thinks he has ripened to his desires, has merely brought forth the fruit of spiritual pride. True circumcision of heart is the outcome of a gracious sense of divine favour towards the saints of God.

Since Israel was brought into the promised land, the Lord would not permit that they should be in their possession, and yet remain in themselves as the heathen; hence, Jehovah's drying up of the waters of Jordan before the children of Israel and His call for their circumcision a second time, were events morally connected with each other. He required the sign of His covenant in them, and that they should bear in themselves the witness of being His nation, separated to Him from the idolaters surrounding them.

"By the way" — that is, in the wilderness, the doubting, the tempting period of Israel's history — God made no call upon them for circumcision; but, His word being fulfilled before their eyes, they themselves being the witnesses of His faithfulness, the land of promise being entered, "at that time" forthwith He required it of them. The grace God had wrought for them, and the favour into which He had brought them, changed His mode of acting toward them.

Naturally, man looks, in his religious expectations, to severing this and that evil thing from himself, and thereby to making himself fit for God's service. But in Christ, in whom we are complete, we are also circumcised, and by nothing less than the putting off the body of the flesh itself! Not by the stripping off of this or of that evil propensity, but by the stripping off of the body of the flesh itself.

In the Epistle to the Colossians (Col. 2:10-12) what the Jewish ordinance of circumcision and the Christian ordinance of baptism signify to the Christian are stated, "Ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power; in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body* of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who has raised Him from the dead." The circumcision of Moses signified Israel's separation to God from the heathen; the circumcision of Christ signifies the putting off of the believer's old man, and his being absolutely separated to God in Christ risen from the dead. Now it must never be forgotten that it is in Christ we are circumcised, and not in our own strength; also, that the work is exclusively a spiritual one, for it is "made without hands"; and further, that it is a divine work in contrast with all that is human. No hand of man could effect that separation to God in His saints from the former things which is wrought by the death and the burial of Christ, for it is nothing short of their spiritual death and their burial, with Him. By none other than divine agency could the old man, the body of our flesh, be put off from God's sight, and by none other means than that of Christ's death. Our faith rejoices in this truth.
{*"Of the sins of" is a reading generally rejected. See R.V., etc.}

God speaks of His saints as complete, filled full, in Christ who is exalted above all, before their circumcision in Christ is mentioned. The completeness is absolute — no single thing can be added thereto, and neither man nor angel can advance it.

We are in Christ across the Jordan, in Canaan, in the heavenlies. In Christ we are circumcised — the body of the flesh put off. Circumcision, as a divine fact for us in Christ, is the common portion of all Christians, for all are in Christ — dead with Him, risen with Him; circumcision, as a practical result of God's grace towards us, is the mortification of our members which are on earth, and thus regarded is our place of strength.

What bitterness possesses many of God's dear people through vainly attempting to destroy the flesh in themselves! Whether such energies result in afflicting the body to purge out the evil desire, or in torturing the soul to destroy the principle of sin — the flesh; the whole effort is simply self seeking to master self. "The flesh profits nothing," (John 6:63). "We are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3).

As the circumcision at Gilgal was the common privilege of the nation of Israel, so all Christians are the circumcision. But none the less is there also the practical side of the privilege. Having been circumcised in Christ, and the body of the flesh having thus been put off by God, we are to put to death our members which are on earth — "mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth" (Col. 3:5) "seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man" (ver. 9, 10). Naturally we take pleasure in giving rein to our passions, tempers, desires; to put them to death, to refuse our wishes their own way, to deny our will, is no painless exercise. "Mortify therefore" is a word which comes home to us all — a word which is as a "sharp knife" to us every day we live on earth.

"The Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives." We are now speaking of practical daily life, and the only Circumciser of our hearts is Christ, who accomplishes, by the Spirit, in His people true and actual separation of heart and mind to God. Christ has passed out of this world, He is risen from the dead, He is the true Joshua. From heaven, where He is, He separates His people from the world to His God and Father. "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (John 17:14), are His words.

Perhaps the truest example of practical circumcision is that of the apostle. His life was a long self-sacrifice, a constant denial of self; the death of Jesus he bore about continually in his every-day life, and thus the life of Jesus on earth was manifest in His servant, for the pattern of the ways and steps of the blessed Master were seen in him.

Our power for mortifying our members, which are upon the earth, is the indwelling Spirit of God; "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Rom. 8:13). Self must be kept out of sight, and faith takes the place of human will and energy in following the path of separation to God. Christ and the Spirit are our strength.

God puts before His people as the means for mortifying their members simply the death of Christ. "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body" (2 Cor. 4:10), is a word which should be graven in our hearts. We cannot prune off our passions or our tempers, or remove from our hearts our besetting sin by resolutions, efforts, or penances; but when by faith we apply the death of Jesus to our daily lives, and in love to Him bear that about in our bodies, we are able to put to death our evil ways. And then, when the darkness is cast out, what Jesus was on earth, in some degree shines out in our poor mortal bodies — His life is seen in us.

Israel — a circumcised people in the camp at Gilgal — were witnesses to human powerlessness in the midst of foes. In themselves there was no strength to overcome; but at the moment of their weakness, the terror of the Lord was on their enemies. Our strength in the presence of the enemy, Satan, and in the midst of spiritual wickedness is the power of the Lord's might; for when we are weak, then are we strong.

Very practical instruction is presented to us in these words, "all the people that came out of Egypt … even all the men of war, died in the wilderness by the way, after they came out of Egypt. Now all the people that came out were circumcised … The children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed … and their children, whom He raised up in their stead, them Joshua circumcised" (Joshua 5:4-7).

The men of war that came out of Egypt were not such as God could use in Canaan under Joshua. One by one, for forty years, slowly but surely, they fell in the wilderness, till at length all of these were consumed. The Christian knows full well in his soul the spiritual meaning of this. The energy he brought up out of Egypt, such men of war, as natural strength, worldly position, and the like, do not aid the spiritual work of God. Slowly these energies are consumed, and these men of war fall in the wilderness as slowly we learn to trust wholly in God for strength. One by one they go, as by degrees we learn to follow the leadership of our risen Lord. The consuming process by which self-strength, world-strength, and such "Men of war" gradually fall by the way, is often bitter and painful. The chastening hand consumes, yet that very hand is likewise a hand of blessing, for God, while cutting off the old, raises up "in their stead" the new; while writing the sentence of death on our old powers, He is raising up in the place of discipline and self-learning, new activities in us, which owe their whole strength to Him. Where we find, growing less and less, the power we thought was in ourselves, the power of Christ is becoming manifest. How frequently do we see this process worked out in the lives of Christians, indeed much of Christian life is this experience. "Whom He raised up in their stead," is then a most cheering word. Prayer, waiting upon God, patience, the spirit of faith, the receptive spirit that obtains divine guidance, the eye that sees God's ways, the energy of the Holy Spirit in us; these are "men of war" that came not out of Egypt, and it is before them that Satan's strongholds fall. And since such is the case, as the lives of God's people witness, we can well understand why it was that after victory and defeat Israel, when under Joshua's leadership, repaired to Gilgal. Every day the soldiers of our Lord in heaven need to repair to the cross, and to be bearing about in their bodies the dying of Jesus.