This Sunday, as we continue our series ‘journeying with Joshua’, we find the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan in ‘promised land’ territory. It must have been a wonderful time of euphoria as they began to take in the views and visualise a new way of life in the vast expanse of Canaan and surrounding areas. The beginning of Joshua chapter five tells us that the Amorite kings and those of Canaan had heard about God’s people being given a miraculous passing through the river Jordan and we are told ‘their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites’ (Joshua 5:1).
It was all looking good for the Israelites and then the Lord delivers something of a bombshell: he instructs Joshua to carry out a mass circumcision! It seems a curious instruction to us but let’s remind ourselves of Genesis 17:10-15. Circumcision was the command given by God to Abraham and his people as a sign of his special covenant; a physical reminder of who they belonged to. The New Testament is clear that, now in Christ, ‘circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit’ (Romans 2:29) and is not dependant on a physical sign. Under the new covenant we enjoy through Christ, we are clearly exempt from the instruction to be circumcised, but that doesn’t take away the requirement to walk in relationship and live differently from those who have not had their hearts changed by the Lord.
Living differently, speaking differently and believing differently are key signs of a heart changed and renewed by Christ. I think the message of God calling the Israelites to be circumcised at the dawn of a new era is clear: remember who you are; who you belong to and whose promise makes it all possible… and stay close!