Sermon for Sunday, September 4th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Gen 17:9-14 ESV] 9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
New Testament reading:
[Act 7:30-34 ESV] 30 “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. 33 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’
[Mat 16:24-28 ESV] 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Text of the sermon:
[Jos 5:1-15 ESV] 1 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. 2 At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. 4 And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all 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. 5 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. 6 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. 7 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. 8 When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. 9 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 Gilgal to this day. 10 While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. 11 And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year. 13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” 15 And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
The book of Joshua began with a call to obedience. God said “be strong and courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you.”
And the people said to Joshua that they would obey: “Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses!”
And with this obedience there was blessing. Last Sunday I noted the great unity of the people of Israel. This unity was a blessing of obedience. The people all obeyed Joshua (and God) in the crossing of the Jordan river.
And they were blessed in their safe dry passage across the river.
They were blessed in their entry into the holy land.
They were blessed with unity among the peoples of the nation.
And they were blessed to have a memorial of stones set up to remember the mighty hand of the Lord.
This really is a peak of obedience for the Israelites. And we know it is not always like this. There were times in the Exodus when they did not obey. And there are times in Joshua where they will not obey. In fact, throughout the Old Testament we see cycles of obedience and disobedience. And along with these cycles we find the coming and going of the blessings of God.
The general trend is that:
In the people’s obedience the Lord blesses them.
In the people’s disobedience the Lord destroys them.
So is the general trend anyways, though there are exceptions to these rules.
Now, the people having crossed the Jordan, we find another — perhaps even higher — peak of obedience to God and consequent blessing.
Their obedience is shown in two ways:
First, their obedience is shown in having the nation circumcised as the Lord had commanded.
And second, their obedience is shown in their keeping of Passover.
Then, in the end of the chapter, we find the great blessing of the presence of God.
Obedience brings blessings.
I. Obedience in Circumcision (v. 2-8)
The obedience in circumcision follows the command of the Lord recorded in the book of Genesis.
God said to Abraham regarding the covenant “Every male among you shall be circumcised.”
And God didn’t just mean “this one time.” He said, “you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.”
But the people had not kept the covenant! They had not obeyed! Verse 5 of our passage says “all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt HAD NOT BEEN CIRCUMCISED.”
They did not obey the Lord, and so he did not bless that first generation with getting to see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers, the land flowing with milk and honey.
So the Lord said to Joshua “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.”
This obviously doesn’t mean that same people were circumcised twice. Rather it is the second time of mass circumcision. The text says “all of the people who came out (of Egypt) had been circumcised.” (Yet, all the people born on the way in the wilderness had not been circumcised.)
Circumcision can physically only happen once. And once is sufficient to mark the covenant of God upon that person. Similarly, Baptism is only to be done once. Never in the New Testament do you find a person baptized twice. It is not necessary. The sign and seal of the covenant of God is sufficiently given in a single baptism. To baptize two or three or ten times would be affront to God. It is to say “we don’t trust you.” Now there are circumstances when a person is legitimately “baptized” twice. But I use “baptize” in quote. When a persons baptism is determined to have been on baptism at all, but falsely done, then a right baptism is to be performed. When is a baptism not a baptism? Most often an invalid baptism occurs when it is not made in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Some false religions like the Mormons don’t believe in the Trinity and so will baptize only in Jesus’ name. In some churches also it is argued that a second baptism is necessary when the first was conducted by an unbeliever. But, along with our confession, I believe that baptism is not dependent on the spiritual state of the minister or the church he is in, but upon the Promise of God. We trust in God, not in man. And so a single baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is sufficient. If you happen to have been baptized twice or more, I would say “that’s enough, no more please.” Your sins are forgiven in Christ.
So the people have obeyed God here in Joshua with the mass circumcision. And we obey God in baptism.
There have been times in church history — and still in our day — when there have been undue or unnecessary delays in baptism. Perhaps a person desires to save Baptism for when they on their death bed, thinking that it (the sign, not that which it symbolizes – Jesus Christ) forgives sins at that moment. Not a good idea. Jesus Christ forgives sins, and baptism is a sign pointing us to His FOREVER AND ALWAYS (not merely one time) forgiveness of sin. The Lord commands us to be baptized; we ought to do it without a 40-year delay or any other delay.
Baptism is commanded. In Acts 2:38 Peter says “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for he remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” We ought to obey. Similarly Acts 10:48 says of Peter that “he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.”
So we have the people of Israel obeying God in their circumcision. And they healed in their camp. And we shouldn’t too quickly pass by that statement. They are now on the West side of the Jordan. And none of the men are able to fight. They are all healing in camp. They have to trust the Lord that the Canaanite armies do not attack their camp, for surely it would be a quick rout unless the Lord intervened. Fortunately the Lord kept any armies from attacking.
Then regarding the circumcision the Lord said to Joshua “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so they named the place “Gilgal” which sounds like the Hebrew for “to roll.”
But what does this mean? To roll away the reproach of Egypt?
There is consider variety among commentators on this point. And they’re not all clear in what they say. So I will note Calvin who tends to be clear. He says that what is going on here is that “It was disreputable to have shaken off the yoke and revolted from the king under whose government they lived.” But now, with this circumcision and they obeying of God it was “made plain … that they were not rebels against legitimate authority.”
But I think A. W. Pink has a better explanation saying, “During the thirty-eight years when Israel was rejected by God there appeared ground for Egypt’s sneer that they would perish in the wilderness; but all occasion for such a reproach had now been removed.” [They are safe now, no longer in the wilderness.]
Ultimately, along with our theme today, they obeyed God. And God has blessed them.
This is the first of the two points of obedience. The next is that they obey God in keeping the passover.
II. Obedience in the Passover (v. 10-12)
While Calvin thinks it surprising that the people would have not kept the passover, there is no Biblical reference to the passover being kept during the wilderness wanderings. And, the generational disobedience in circumcision leads me to think that they also had a generational disobedience to keeping the passover. A. W. Pink agrees saying that “the restoration of circumcision was to be accompanied by a REVIVAL OF OTHER INSTITUTIONS WHICH HAD LAPSED IN THE WILDERNESS – SUCH AS THE PASSOVER FEAST.”
And the Passover must have ceased if they recognized the command of God that “no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.” (Exodus 12:48). At this point no one was circumcised, and so no one could have participated in the Passover. But now with the mass circumcision, the Passover resumed.
Following the passover we hear of this blessing: “the manna ceased.”
You might ask, how is this a blessing? Well, they didn’t need manna any more! They now were in a land flowing with milk and honey. That is the blessing. The diet was more varied.
Have you ever tried to eat the same thing day after day? Hikers get sick of ramen noodles after a while. Even foods you really like might get tiresome after a while. So diversity of diet is a great blessing. What is the idiom: variety is the spice of life. The variety in OUR food is blessing we often take for granted in our modern world. Not that long ago people were far more limited in their choice of foods. Citrus fruits, for example, were not readily available in places like ours with temperate climates. I think about the pioneers in this place centuries ago; they ate what they could grow here and what animals were here. That’s far less variety than we get at the grocery store.
We read: “They ate the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.” The Lord had prepared Canaan for the Israelites. It was not just an empty wasteland, but had developed orchards, fields, and herds of many kinds. The dangerous wild animals were kept at bay by the Canaanites, well-preparing the place for occupancy of the Israelites. The demise of the Canaanites was a blessing to the Israelites.
So they have been blessed with the “rolling off the reproach of Egypt” and with the food of the land.
But now the greatest blessing is the presence of God.
III. The Blessing of the Lord’s Presence (v. 13-15)
Here in the end of this chapter we have a theophany; an appearance of the Lord.
The Lord had been present with the people as symbolized in the ark of the covenant and in the pillar of smoke and pillar of fire. But now the Lord is present in a greater way. He comes as “the Commander of the Lord’s army.”
That this is the Lord Himself is clear for 3 reasons:
Joshua worships Him
Joshua calls him “my lord”
And He, the commander, says “Take off your sandals from feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.”
Where else did the Lord say the place where you are standing is holy?
At the Burning Bush in Exodus 3. [Exo 3:5 ESV] 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (There are so many connections between the book of Exodus and the book of Joshua!)
Joshua “fell on his face to the earth and worshipped him.” It is important to note that in other places in the Bible when someone is wrongly worshipped, they’ll say “GET UP.”
[Act 10:25-26 ESV] 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”
[Rev 19:10-14 ESV] 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.”
But here in Joshua, the Commander of the Lord’s army doesn’t correct Joshua’s worship because HE is God. He is to be worshipped.
Why though is the Lord’s presence a blessing? In one sense this shouldn’t need to be explained. The Lord is the greatest. His presence throughout has been promised to the Israelites and leads them to know they are protected and loved.
But here Joshua asks “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
But the Commander says “No, but I am the commander of the Army of the Lord.”
I understand this “no” to apply to both sides of Joshua’s question. The NIV actually gives the translation of the Commander’s answer as “NEITHER.” Joshua asks “Are you for us or against us?” (As we would say in the South: “are ya fer it or agin it?”) And the Lord says “neither.”
This is strange. Isn’t God FOR the Israelites? God clearly HAS been with them and WILL BE with them in the conquering of Jericho. Why does He say “neither?” He is not on the side of the enemy or on the side of the Israelites.
Well, think of it this way. God is His own side.
God is far more powerful than either army. And the commander is far more powerful than either leader of the army. So the commander doesn’t JOIN a side. He is in charge.
Perhaps it is like a basketball team. You wouldn’t say “Michael Jordan is on my team” but rather “I am on Michael Jordan’s team.” He doesn’t join your team, you join his.
The Lord bids Joshua to obey Him. And Joshua does, falling down in worship, taking off his sandals for the ground is holy.
So it is that the Lord’s presence is a blessing. How many people get to see the Lord in this way? Not many. There are only a handful of such theophanies in the Bible. Joshua, like Abraham and Moses is blessed with the appearance of God. And his obedience has led to this blessing.
IV. General Principles of Obedience and Blessing
The Scriptures give two messages regarding the obedience and its blessings.
1. Those who obey are blessed by God.
2. Those who obey are NOT ALWAYS blessed by God.
First, it is clear, following the Lord’s command will give blessings.
If you don’t steal from others, you’re less likely to go to jail.
If you don’t murder people, you’re less likely to get murdered back.
Each of the commandments is good for you.
It is good for you to remember the Sabbath, to have rest.
It is good for you to avoid coveting. Etc.
There are direct and immediate blessings of obedience to God’s commands.
But, on the other hand, we have Job. The man who suffered greatly despite obeying God in all things.
Evil people often make piles of money, find fame in Hollywood, get elected to office … and they never even consider obeying God.
But those who obey God struggle. They suffer. They wonder “Does God not love me?” Why can’t I succeed in business? Why can’t I have children? Why do I have this physical malady?
There are lots of Biblical verses on this subject:
Jeremiah 12:1 “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?”
Psalm 94:3 “Oh Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?”
Job 21:7 “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power?”
So while televangelists (and I hesitate to use that term because I’m not sure they are actually evangelists) … so while televangelists tell you how to “live your best life now,” St. Paul promises that as a Christian you will be persecuted, you will suffer, you will struggle.
Why? Why don’t we have MORE blessings as Christians? What do the evil find prosperity?
Well, I think
(1) We don’t always know.
David presumably didn’t know because he asked the Lord.
Job presumably didn’t know because he asked the Lord.
(2) But sometimes we do know why.
God uses suffering and discipline and persecution to draw us closer to Him. So the Scriptures say we are to rejoice in suffering.
(3) Then, ultimately, WE ARE BLESSED! And in far greater measure. Not of earthly things but of heavenly things.
Things “heavenly things” are not just in heaven, but here as well.
Here and now we are blessed in knowing the Lord.
Here and now we are blessed knowing the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
Here are now we are blessed with the presence of God; the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
So we can say with the Psalmist:
BLESSED is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits at the sea of mockers, but HIS DELIGHT IS IN THE LAW OF THE LORD.
We delight in that which moth and rust cannot destroy, and that which thieves cannot steal.
We delight in the Law of the Lord.
We delight in God Himself.
V. The Obedience and Blessings of Christ
But ALL of the blessings we receive are not from OUR obedience. For we have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. And He who says He has no sin deceives himself and the truth is not within in.
All of our blessings come from the Obedience of Jesus Christ.
Christ actively obeyed ALL of the law throughout his days.
And Christ passively obeyed God on the cross, dying for our sins. Giving us great blessings by HIS obedience.
[Psa 37:1-5 ESV] 1 Of David. Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! 2 For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. 3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
We are indeed blessed by the obedience of Jesus Christ.
And these blessings are far superior to that which the evildoer temporarily achieves or wins.
So let us not be jealous for what they have.
But let us forever take joy in what we have; let us take joy in the Lord.
And let us pray for that.