Tri-City Chinese Baptist Church

English Worship, April 10 2022

Message: New Beginnings, Same God | Scripture: Joshua 5:1-9 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy

April 03, 2022

Worship Songs: Before the Throne of God Above; Only a Holy God; My Heart Is Filled With Thankfulness

Full Manuscript


As a teenager, I was perpetually hungry, and I remember my favourite snack being Pizza Pops, which my dad would often buy and leave in the freezer for me.  For those of you who know this snack, you’ll know that even though it only takes 3 minutes to warm up in the microwave, no matter how long you leave it out after, whenever you decide to take a bite into that pizza-topping filled dumpling it will, without fail, burn the inside of your mouth.  It wasn’t until later—probably in my twenties—where I would learn that the secret to cooling the inside of a Pizza Pop was by holding it upright so that its filling would slide down to the end of the pocket, enabling me to bite a whole in one of its corners big enough to let the hot air escape quicker.  It wasn’t enough to microwave the Pizza Pop before eating it, I had to take the proper steps to ensure that, when I ate the snack, it wouldn’t burn my mouth. 

The text we’re about to wade into here in Joshua 5 is all about making the proper preparations.  We’re in a part of the story where Israel has finally reached the promised land, after half a millennium, and they’ve caught their enemies by surprise by miraculously crossing the Jordan before they were ready.  Now seems like the best time to attack, but God stops his people from doing this, and instead, he commands them to observe and prepare certain things so that they don’t get burned as they go into the land.  This is the tone of the text as we go into it—it’s a tone of preparation and purposeful delay, but let’s not delay any longer from reading our text.  Would you follow along with me as I read to you from Joshua 5:1-9.  TWoL. 

As soon as 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 that the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel. At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.” So, Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: tall the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt. Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD; the LORD swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the LORD had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So, it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed.  And the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so, the name of that place is called zGilgal2 to this day.

As I said, a delay is taking place here, and the purpose of the delay is to prepare Israel to inherit the rest of Canaan.  And God, in his perfect wisdom, sees what his people do not.  He sees that while Israel has a tactical advantage, they, themselves, aren’t ready for what God is about to do, which leads us to our proposition this morning: God prevents us from doing things our way so that he might prepare us to do things his way—the proper, better way.  When God intervenes, he intervenes in such a way that the effect upon man is always good and perfectly aligned with his will.  And so, let’s turn our focus now to him and his effect upon the world as he acts upon it in our first point:

1) God’s effect on the proud unrepentant

If you’ve ever stopped to consider how everything fits together in Joshua, you might have noticed that Josh 5:1 sticks out like a sore thumb in the flow of the text.  Joshua 3-4 has all this focus on Israel coming into the land in an extraordinary way as God parts the Jordan River to enable them to cross.  And Joshua 5:2 continues the narrative by focusing on Israel’s following actions as they are prepared by God and Joshua to take over the rest of the land.  But Josh 5:1 is a sudden shift in perspective.  It leads us away from the immediate narrative of Israel and it brings us to see the heart of those who stand in their way.

What the author of Joshua is doing here is he’s notifying his readers that a new section has begun, and we know this because he does a similar thing in Josh 9:1-2, 10:1-2, and 11:1-3.  Each of these sections begins with a pagan king/kings who hear and react to something about the extraordinary work of God done on behalf of Israel.  Additionally, each time the author does this, he’s indicating more than just a new narrative section, but he’s telling us that Israel is about to move further into Canaan.  It’s to set us up, as readers, to be filled with anticipation.  A great work is about to be accomplished, and we’re not to miss it.  Actually, we’re not only supposed to pay attention, but we’re supposed to pay attention theologically.

Look at the words of verse one, “As soon as 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 that the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel.” 

Don’t be distracted by that last clause “because of the people of Israel.”  It’s not the people of Israel on their own that makes the hearts of these kings melt.  No, the verse clearly states that it is the people who are supported by the Lord—YHWH.  It’s the name given to Israel to refer to their specific God.  YHWH isn’t a name known by the nations separate from Israel.  We read back in chapter 2 that the king of Jericho was terrified of this God, YHWH, because he not only did great things for Israel, but he did it at the cost of those who stood against Israel.  So, when they hear YHWH has done these things for Israel so close to home—they become petrified of Israel.  Why?  Because the covenant God of Israel approaches, and he acts on their behalf without mercy to those who oppose them.

See, the application is this: just as the enemies of Israel did not lose focus on the reason why they were doomed, so too are we to keep that same, theological focus.  The focus isn’t on Israel—the focus is on God, and the author is using these words in chapters 5, 9, 10, and 11 to bring us back to that focus time-and-time again.  In fact, it’s a theme throughout this book.  If you just look back at chapters 3 and 4, there is more discussion in those chapters about how the people of God are to remember the works of God over and above a description of the actual works themselves.  The point of Joshua, as a whole, is to remember who God is, and what he’s done for us.  The central focus is fundamentally theological. 

This point is driven even deeper when we consider, once again, our context and the people whom we’re talking about.  Israel is lowly.  They were the laughingstock of the world.  They were considered lower than dogs under Egyptian captivity.  They owned nothing and provided their offspring no inheritance.  And all of this persisted until one day, God decided to raise up a lowly, cowardly leader named Moses, and through that leader, a nation was born.  And through this kingless, land-lacking, courage-devoid nation, great kings were brought to their knees because for all their greatness, none could compare with Israel’s God. 

Brothers and sisters, while Josh 5:1 sticks out like a sore thumb, as if it doesn’t belong in our text, we know now that it is integral to the very premise and prose of this entire book.  It is to remind us that God’s effect on the proud unrepentant to bring them to their knees in fear is supposed to have the same effect on us.  We’re not to approach his promises without a proper understanding of the one who has given the promise, and why he is worthy not only of our loyalty but of our deepest affection as we consider our own unworthiness. 

We are to ask who God is.  Is he simply the God who we think bends to our will and our aspirations, or do we come before him as the God who has bent the knees of kings and brought them into a position not of veneration but of pity?  Who are we to make any demands from this God?  The answer is that we are nothing, and that God has authority over everything.  He shall do as he desires to do—as he alone is wise to do, and we, lowly, sinful, good-for-nothing men and women, would do well to remember and fear who we are in light of who he is: God omnipotent and eternal who does what is right in his own eyes—the God who shall do with us as he pleases.

2) God’s effect on the neglectfully disobedient

Now, we must ask what happens if we forget who God is?  What happens if we stop reading Joshua in the way that Joshua 5:1 prompts us to?  Well, the author of this book gives us the answer as we return to the narrative of Israel.  Here, in the story, what one might expect is that Israel would be running sword first towards the door of Jericho.  Remember, the text last week and other parts of Joshua 1-4 have alluded to the fact that Israel crossed the Jordan during the spring thaw—on the tenth day of the first month.  During this time, the river is impossible to cross, and most nations would have to wait until after much of the water had evaporated in the summer. 

This information is important for us because it tells us that the kings of Canaan were not expecting the Israelites to come onto their land so soon.  They thought they had at least another season to prepare, but Israel’s opportunity could not have been any greater.  If they were going to attack, the best time was to do it now.  But this isn’t how the narrative goes. 

Instead, what happens in the text is that God stops Israel’s advance.  He ignores their momentum, and he does something completely unexpected.  He commands Joshua to circumcise all of the sons of Israel, and this command is surprising because Israel, as the sons of Abraham, would have held fast to this ritualistic practice quite tightly.  Yet, for some reason they stopped practicing this rite during their years of wandering. 

It’s possible from the text that God had actually commanded Israel to stop circumcising while they were in the wilderness because the Hebrew text reads in the following way: God said to Joshua, “Return, Circumcise the sons of Israel a second time [or again].”  This sense of returning again implies that they were likely told to forego the practice for a time—something that we haven’t been told previously, and now they are to come back to it. 

And as we read about this lapse in circumcision practices, we’re to ask why?  Why weren’t these sons circumcised in the wilderness?  For some reason, commentaries don’t seem to agree why, but the text actually does tell us why.  Read verse 5-6a with me, “Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised.  For [or because] the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord.” 

In other words, the reason why God stopped the practice of circumcision is because he intended to let those who were deliberately disobedient and neglectful of his commands to die.  And who were these disobedient and neglectful people?  The author of Joshua intentionally identifies them as men of war, which is deeply ironic because there were no men of war in Israel when they left Egypt—all of them were cowards.  The author is being ironic here in pointing out that Israel had become self-important and self-serving.  They thought they were their own saviours.  And in a twist of this irony, for all of their self-boasting, they are inevitably unable to save anyone—they can’t even save themselves.  They perish as men of insignificance in a place of insignificance because they would not acknowledge and obey the God of significance.  

Thus, the reason why God or Moses might have stopped the practice of circumcision is because he did not want these men to tarnish what God was preparing to bring about through their children.  Remember with me what we talked about last week, namely, that Joshua is a narrative of recreation.  God is establishing his new Adam in Joshua and Israel.  He is bringing them into a new Eden in the Promised Land for a greater rest.  He is reconstituting his command over them to go into the land, have dominion over it, subdue it, and multiply the image of God over all the earth.  And what is his standard for those whom he’s shown such grace to?  He expects them to obey.  Only those who are obedient to the character and commands of God belong to the kingdom of God.  And what is circumcision to Israel?  It is the initiating act of obedience. It is a sign that sets them apart from the nations as God’s nation and a seal of one’s covenantal belonging to him as his spiritual children—from those whom are circumcised shall come the seed that will crush the serpents head (Gen 3:15). 

So, in allowing the disobedient generation to die off before this new generation was circumcised—the generation that was to be a part of the new creation—God is signifying a clean break.  And why does he do this?  Because God and his people will not be defiled.  His people will be pure and clean.  His land shall not be filled with evil.  His presence will be unstained from sin and unbelief.  There shall be no hint of disobedience.  There shall be no sign of rebellion, self-righteousness, or independence from the King who shall make every provision for his people. 

God’s effect on the neglectful disobedient is that they shall have no inheritance with God.  Their line, spiritually speaking, shall not continue.  Their hope of seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises in the children of their work will never come to pass.  Instead, their generation shall be forgotten.  It shall be like they never existed.  What the nations will hear about is the God who brought Israel out of Egypt through the parting of the Red Sea.  They shall hear of the Israel that came into the land of Canaan through the parting of the Jordan River, but the names of those who belonged to the disobedient generation—the men of war who came out of Egypt—they shall be given no second thought.  God swore the promise to the fathers of Israel, and this is why he has raised up the children of the disobedient generation—it is the children that shall be their replacement. 

These two pictures of kings whose hearts are melted and men of war who are unable to save themselves offer us a sobering picture.  They are meant to humble us.  They are meant to show us that God stops us from doing things our way so that his greater, infinitely wise way might prevail.  We are not the arbiters or authors of our own fates.  We are not able by our own hands to bring about the life that God intended for us.  No, if anything is to be accomplished, the God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, shall do it, and he will make provision for it so that it can be done by those of us who submit our lives to him.  The kingdom of God will not have anything but your submission.  The kingdom of God does not belong to warriors who see opportunities laid bare before them and charge in without first seeking the counsel of the wise God of the universe.  No, the kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit—to the humble and lowly who, as their first priority, say “I am wretched and worthless, and I belong to you, O Lord.  Do with me and guide me as you please.”

You see, this may be a new land.  This may be a new generation.  Israel may have a new, incredible leader.  But their God remains the same God, and he requires of his people the same things he has always required of them.  For those who reject his requirements, for those who neglect the ways and commands of God in favour of their own ambition, the promises of God shall never become theirs.  Instead, they shall perish.  Their fate shall be like those who heard the promise but who will never get to see the land, and what a sorrowful fate it must be to see your whole life mean nothing. 

Let us be weary of this, TCCBC.  Let us not strive after what is useless, rather submit yourselves wholly and irrevocably to the God who does not only demand his way but demands it for our good and for his glory.  Do this as you consider whether or not to serve your church in a greater capacity.  Do this as you go out into the world to proclaim his gospel.  Do this in your sacrificial love, accountability, and vulnerability towards one another week-in and week-out.  Do this not because you have fought your way out of Egypt, but because your God has done these things for you miraculously and graciously.  Remember that he, alone, is God, and he, alone, has authority to demand your whole life. 

3) God’s effect on the fortuitous elect

It seems after all of this that perhaps God is an evil taskmaster intent on simply molding and bending you to his will.  But I hope we all know that this is simply not true.  See, to the world—those who have power, recognition, fame, and personal glory—those who are gods unto themselves—anything that comes to their ears about the true God is a terrifying reality to face.  In fact, the truth of the matter is that we’ve placed ourselves upon a pedestal where we’re gods unto ourselves.  We praise our positions.  We celebrate our efforts, and we all fall short of the glory of God in exalting him throughout the earth.  We all, like Adam, cannot fulfill the posture of godliness that we’ve been made to display. 

And this is, ultimately, just as true for these uncircumcised Israelites.  They aren’t perfect.  They aren’t wholly unlike their ancestors who were stained with Adam’s corruption and guilty of their own sin.  So, why does this generation get to see the promised land?  Why do these uncircumcised children get to receive the circumcision of a new rest?  It seems almost fortuitous—a word that means fortunate or lucky, even—that this generation gets to be those counted among the inheritors of God’s promises.  Right? 

But I need us all to notice a couple things in our text: (1) See how the author of Joshua flattens out the effectiveness of circumcision for salvation.  Verses 5a and 6a say that these people who had come out of Egypt received the circumcision, and yet, because they disobeyed, they died without seeing the land that was promised.  (2) Notice now how verses 5b and 6b flip the narrative—those who would come into the land are not those who are circumcised.  No, the people who God brings into the land—the people who get to not only see Canaan but to touch Canaan for the first time as corporate Israel are those who are considered filthy, unholy, and unrecognizable to God.  Remember that God was about to kill Moses in Exodus 4 because he hadn’t been circumcised.  These aren’t your typical Israelites, and yet God shows favour to them.  (3) I need us to observe the intentionality of God in doing these things in verse 7: the generation that had come out of Egypt was disobedient despite receiving the sign and seal of God’s covenant relationship, and so what does he do?  He raises up—he elects—a generation of non-circumcised Israelites who will get the land first, and then, AFTER stepping onto the land—AFTER receiving the inheritance, that’s when they’re circumcised. 

Brothers and sisters, do you hear the effect of the gospel in this?  If we put all of these things together, what we see is those who are on the inside cast out, and those on the outside brought in.  We observe the first born being made an example of for the sake of the second born who is glorified.  We see those whom we’d expect to receive the inheritance lose it, while those whom we don’t expect to gain anything, receive everything.  We see an outward sign prove to be ineffectual for redemption, while an inward preparation and calling lead to the identification of the true people of God.

In other words, our text provides us with a snapshot of God’s eternal plan of redemption.  While the world argues that our existence is a matter of chance and luck, God shows that no such luck exists.  He’s had a plan from the beginning.  He intended to bring the uncircumcised into the land before their circumcision to point us to a greater reality.  And that reality is that God must first draw you in to himself before any obedience that you bear is meaningful.  He must work a mighty work internally apart from your effort so that your external life might accord with what and who you truly are.  He must be the one to circumcise your heart.  You cannot image God in all the earth if God is not in control of what that image is.  Your body cannot display what your heart and mind cannot comprehend.  You cannot be a servant of one who is not your master! 

God does not do things randomly, he does them, always, to show us that he, alone, is God and that his way is the only and best way.  None can come to him because all show themselves to be unrighteous and unfit regardless of their earthly status.  Kings and men of war cower from him not because they desire him but because they do not want him to take from them what they believe they deserve.  Yet, I hope all of us in this room know that we deserve nothing.  All of us deserve to be left outside that land trying vainly to get across that impossible river.  And had God not sent us his Joshua, had he not provided through his Joshua the means of crossing that great river, we would all find ourselves in a perpetual state of drowning. 

The effect of God’s actions upon his elect is that he prevents us from doing things our way so that he might prepare us and show us his better way of doing things.  The fact of the matter is that he hasn’t only sent Joshua, but he has sent his greater Joshua—our Lord Jesus Christ—the second Adam—the unexpected inheritance—the one who is external to us as the Second Person of God come in human flesh to bring us in to himself.  And we are brought in not because of our merit, but because this Christ, our God, has provided us with the very means to enter in through his own blood poured out on a tree as an eternal pardon for our guilt and sin.  By his blood, we receive his righteousness.  And in that moment, when we repent from our sin and believe upon Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we receive a better circumcision—not one that alters the body, but one that alters the heart.  Not one that has little effect in changing who we are, but one that is perpetually making us into who we’re supposed to be.  Those enabled by his Holy Spirit who dwells in us, empowers us, and testifies to us constantly of Christ’s finished work.

See, circumcision for the people of God was always necessary, but here, in Josh 5, God shows us that circumcision always comes second to his own provision of our salvation.  It is only when he saves his way, and we are circumcised as a result that we might be identified as his elect people.  This is what he means in verse 9 when he says to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”  It is through God’s own action, and his subsequent circumcision of his own people to identify them as his own, that the shame of being under other leaders, other gods, and other nations can finally be rolled away. 

No longer are these Israelites a stench to God.  They are now a people set apart.  They are not a people lacking definition or belonging.  They are no longer wanderers, no longer displaced, no longer subject to the whims of unholy desires.  No, they are now subject to the desires of a holy, omnipotent God who fellowships with them and who can show, personally, his love for them.  In the same way, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as God rolled the stone that entombed our Lord away, we now identify with him as his own—as those whom he’s saved by grace and as those circumcised in our hearts to love him as we ought and to be loved as he desires to love us.  This is the God who shows us a wisdom far greater than our own understanding.  This is the God who delays us to reveal his better way.  This is the God who, alone, is worthy of our eternal thanksgiving and praise, and may he receive it all the days of our lives. 

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