Joshua chapter 5 opens with the people of Israel, having just crossed the Jordan river miraculously, receiving the command to circumcise all the males of Israel. What is peculiar about this particular story is that none of them had already been circumcised. Though this is a command that God gave Abraham waaaayyyy back in Genesis 17. God commanded that every male born in Israel be circumcised as a sign of the covenant. So, 40 years in the desert and no one had practiced this command.
Let’s back up and set the stage. Israel has been wandering around in the desert for the past 40 years. During that time, God was purifying the people by allowing a generation of disobedient Hebrews to die off slowly. (See Numbers 12-14. That’s a ton to take in I know… more to say on that, but too much for this blog.) After 40 years, everyone who was under 20 at the time when God made the judgement or all those who had been born after the judgement were permitted to go into the promised land (exceptions being Joshua and Caleb).
So after 40 years of wandering in the desert, this generation gets to enter the Promised Land. But wait!! Before they can conquer the land, before they can engage in warfare, before they can claim the right of domain, they must be circumcised! Enter Joshua chapter 5.
For 40 years, the people of God have not practiced circumcision, the most basic sign of the covenant. There are some interesting theories as to why they have not practiced this simple sacrament. Some postulate that they didn’t want their baby boys to feel the pain. Some postulate that they didn’t see a need for it, considering we wear clothes in public and it’s inappropriate to ask for that sort of identification… so who would know? Whatever the reason, Joshua 5 tells us they had not practiced it.
Here lies the rub! Now… all the men of Israel have to be circumcised. All the MEN. Oh my! Before they can experience the victory of the Promised Land, they must obey. Willingly, they submit to the covenant symbol and are circumcised. Don’t worry, the Lord provided for their protection by terrifying their enemies so no one would attack while they recovered. (That’s… um… cool…?)
These men had to experience severe pain in order to obey. Because of their parents disobedience, their obedience was painful. It didn’t matter if they obeyed now. Though their hearts were in the right place, the seemingly minor disobedience of their parents made the obedient lives of their children difficult.
This raises a question for each of us, our churches, and our generation: in what area’s are we overlooking obedience? Sinfulness is not an individual problem alone. Your sin impacts others. Our disobedience could have tremendous impact on the generations that come behind us. Our excusing of disobedience massively affects the lives of our children, even if they are striving towards obedience. Be careful how you walk… your kids, subsequent church generations, and community might suffer pain because of your disobedience.