Joshua 5 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Joshua 5)
Gilgal: practical realization of death

The power of resurrection-life takes all strength from Satan: "He who is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not." In our earthly life, the flesh being in us, we are exposed to the power of the enemy, though Christ's grace is sufficient for us, His strength made perfect in weakness; but the creature has no strength against Satan, even though it should not be drawn away into actual sin. But if death is become our shelter, causing us to die unto all that would give Satan an advantage over us, what can he do? Can he tempt one who is dead, or overcome one who, having died, is alive again? But, if this be true, it is also necessary to realise it practically. "Ye are dead . . . therefore mortify" (Col. 3). This is what Gilgal means. Nay, we are always to bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our body (2 Cor. 4: 10) [1].

The matter in hand was not yet the taking of cities, the realisation of God's magnificent promises. Self must first of all be mortified. Before conquering Midian, Gideon must cast down the altar that was in his own house.

Circumcision, the application of the Spirit's power to the mortification of the flesh

Remark further, the wilderness is not the place where circumcision is carried out, even though we may have been faithful there. The wilderness is the character the world takes when we have been redeemed, and where the flesh which is in us is actually sifted. But death, and our entrance into heavenly places, judge the whole nature in which we live in this world. But then, consequent upon our death and resurrection with Christ, it is practically applied, and circumcision is the application of the Spirit's power to the mortification of the flesh in him who has fellowship with the death and resurrection of Jesus (compare 2 Cor. 4: 10-12). Therefore Paul says (Phil. 3), "We are the circumcision." As to an outwardly moral life, Paul had that before. Had he now added true piety to his religion of forms, the true fear of God to his good works? It was far more than that. Christ had taken the place of all in him—first of all as to righteousness, which is the groundwork. But further, the apostle says, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, being made conformable unto his death, if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection from among the dead." Therefore it is in "pressing towards the mark" that he waits for the coming of Jesus to accomplish this resurrection as to his body.

The circumcision of Christ

In the Epistle to the Colossians, chapter 2, he speaks to us of the circumcision of Christ. Is. it only that he has ceased to sin (the certain effect indeed of this work of God)? No; for in describing this work he adds, "Being buried with him in baptism, wherein also we are risen with him, through faith of the operation of God who hath raised him from the dead." The consequences of this heavenly life are found in Colossians 3: 1, which is in immediate connection with the verse just quoted. Here also the work is crowned by the manifestation of the saints with Jesus when He shall appear. Not the rapture; the heavenly part is omitted in Colossians, save that our life is hid there, and that what is there is an object of hope; we are made meet for it, which indeed is just what is done here.

Our Gilgal

Our Gilgal is in verse 5: "Mortify therefore." It is not "die to sin." Mortify is active power. It rests on the power of that which is already true to faith: "Ye are dead: mortify therefore." This being the standing, it is realised. "Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead," said the apostle (Rom. 6), when speaking on the same subject [2]. This is the practical power of the type of the stones brought from Jordan. They are a symbol of our place, being the result of death with Christ who was dead [3]. But we are also raised up together with Him [4], as having died with Him. But there is another aspect of truth, we were dead in sins. He came down in grace where we were, on the way down, so to speak, atoning for our sins. God has quickened us together with Him, having forgiven us all trespasses [5]. All that He did was for us; and now, associated with Him in life, united to Him by the Spirit, I am also sitting in, not yet with, Him in heavenly places [6]. I appropriate to myself, or rather God ascribes to me, all that He has done, as though it had happened to myself: He is dead to sin, in Him I am dead to sin. Therefore I can "mortify": which I could not do as being still alive in the flesh. Where was the nature, the life, to do it in? I am risen with Him; I am also in Him sitting in heavenly places. But here it is not the Ephesian doctrine—which teaches the purpose and counsels of God, and, Christ being exalted to the right hand of God, shews the simple act of divine power which takes us when dead in sins and sets us in Him—it is the process, so to speak, through which we pass as having been alive (not dead) in sins, and passes us through death, in Christ, into a better life. The other is equally true, so I have spoken of it; but, it is the change, the essential but subjective change spoken of in Colossians as far as death and resurrection with Him go, which is our present subject in Joshua.

The mortification of our members accomplished through grace

Now, circumcision being the practical application of that of which we have been speaking—the death of Christ to sin, to all that is contrary to our risen position, "the body of the flesh"—we remember the death of Christ, and the mortification of our members on the earth is accomplished through grace, in the consciousness of grace. Otherwise it would only be the effort of a soul under the law, and in this case there would be a bad conscience and no strength. This is what sincere monks attempted; but their efforts were not made in the power of grace, of Christ and His strength. If there was sincerity, there was also the deepest spiritual misery. In order to mortify there must be life; and if we have life, we have already died in Him who died for us.

The stones set up in Gilgal were taken out of the midst of Jordan, and Jordan was already crossed before Israel was circumcised. The memorial of grace and of death, as the witness to us of a love which wrought out our salvation, by taking up our sins in grace, and dying to sin once, stood in the place where death to sin was to be effected. In that He died, He died unto sin once; and we reckon ourselves dead to sin. Christ dying for sins, in perfect love, in unfailing efficacy, and His death to sin, give us peace through His blood as to both, but also enable us through grace to reckon ourselves dead to sin, and to mortify our members which are on earth.

In every circumstance, then, we must remember that we are dead, and say to ourselves, If through grace I am dead, what have I to do with sin, which supposes me to be alive? Christ is in this death in the beauty and in the power of His grace; it is deliverance itself, and introduction morally into the condition in which we are made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. As to the glory, as running the race down here, the apostle says, "I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." But that is another subject.

The life of a risen man

Thus, in being dead, and only thus, will the reproach of Egypt be taken away. Every mark of the world is a reproach to him who is heavenly. It is only the heavenly man who has died with Christ that disentangles himself from all that is of Egypt. The life of the flesh always cleaves to Egypt; but the principle of worldliness is uprooted in him who is dead and risen with Christ and living a heavenly life. There is in the life of man, alive as such in this world (Col. 2: 20), a necessary link with the world as God sees it, that is, corrupt and sinful; with a dead man there is no such link. The life of a risen man is not of this world; it has no connection with it. He who possesses this life may pass through the world, and do many things that others do. He eats, works, suffers; but, as to his life and his objects, he is not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world. Christ, risen and ascended up on high, is his life; he subdues his flesh, he mortifies it, for in point of fact he is down here, but he does not live in it. The camp was always at Gilgal. The people—the army of Jehovah—returned thither, after their victories and their conquests. If we do not do the same, we shall be feeble: the flesh will betray us. We shall fall before the enemy in the hour of conflict, even though it may be honestly entered into in the service of God. It is at Gilgal the monument of the stones from Jordan is set up; for if the consciousness of being dead with Jesus is necessary to enable us to mortify the flesh, it is through this mortification that we attain to the practical knowledge of what it is to be thus dead.

We do not realise the inward communion (I am not speaking now of justification), the sweet and divine enjoyment of the death of Jesus for us, if the flesh is unmortified. It is impossible. But if we return to Gilgal, to the blessed mortification of our own flesh, we find there all the sweetness (and it is infinite), all the powerful efficacy of this communion with the death of Jesus, with the love manifested in it. "Always bearing about in the body," says the apostle, "the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be manifested in our body." Thus we do not remain in Jordan; but there remains in the heart all the preciousness of this glorious work, a work which the angels desire to look into, which is for us, and which Christ, in His love, appropriates to us. We find Him with us at Gilgal—a place of no outward show or victory to attract the eyes of men; but where He, who is the source of all victory, is found in the power and the communion which enable us to overcome.

The twelve stones set up in the midst of Jordan

But there were also twelve stones set up in the midst of Jordan; and indeed, if we apply the power of the death of Christ to mortify the flesh, the heart—exercised in, and fully enjoying heavenly things—loves to turn again to Jordan, to the place where Jesus went down in the power of life and obedience, and to gaze upon that Ark of the Covenant, which stood there, and stayed those impetuous waters till all the people had passed over. One loves, now that He is risen, while viewing the power of death in all its extent, to behold Jesus there, who went down into it, but who destroyed its power for us. In the overflowing of the nations, Christ will be the security and the salvation of Israel; but He has been our security and our salvation with respect to much more terrible enemies. The heart loves to stand on the banks of that river—already crossed—and to realise, while studying what Jesus was, the work and the wondrous love of Him who went down into it alone, until all was accomplished. But in one sense we were there. The twelve stones shew that the people had to do with this work, although the ark was there alone when the waters were to be restrained.

The Psalms and Jordan

In the Psalms we can especially there contemplate the Lord, now that we are in peace on the other side the stream. Oh, that the Christian—each one in the assembly—knew how to seat himself there, and there meditate on Jesus gone down into death alone, and death when it overflowed all its banks, bearing its sting and the power of divine judgment with it! In doctrine the Psalms set forth also the connection between the death of Jesus and the residue of Israel passing through the waters of tribulation in the last days.

In Canaan, at Gilgal

Behold, then, the people out of Egypt and in Canaan, according to the faithfulness of 'God's promise; but as yet nothing of Canaan possessed, nor any victory gained. It is a type for us of what is taught in the Colossians: made meet to be partakers, but the inheritance of the saints in light still in hope [7]; not only redeemed out of Egypt, but brought into Canaan, the reproach of Egypt being rolled away, and the people of God having taken their place at Gilgal—the true circumcision of heart of which we have spoken.

Israel encamped at Gilgal.

The Passover kept in the Land, the memorial of accomplished salvation

The character of their communion with God is then pointed out, before their victories. They keep the passover in the plains of Jericho. Jehovah prepared a table before them in the presence of their enemies.

The blood was no longer sprinkled, as in Egypt, upon the lintel and the two side-posts, that they might be sheltered from the destroyer, and preserved from the last judgment which spread terror throughout every house where the blood was not seen.

We need this aspect of the blood of Christ, while judgment threatens in the territory of sin and Satan, although called of God to come out of it. God's justice and our consciences require it. But here the passover is no longer this; it is the memorial of accomplished salvation. Neither is it participation by grace in the power of the death and resurrection of Christ. It is the soul's communion; it is the sweet spiritual recollection of a work all His own, of His death as a lamb without blemish. We feed upon it, as His redeemed people, in the enjoyment of this position in the land of promise and of God—a land which belongs to us in consequence of this redemption, and of our being raised up with Christ. The death of Jesus can only be thus enjoyed on the other side of Jordan, as risen with Him. Then, in peace, in fellowship with Him, and with ineffable feelings of thankfulness, we return to the death of the Lamb; we contemplate it; we feed upon it. Our heavenly happiness and intelligence only increase our sense of its preciousness.

The old corn of the Land

On the morrow after the passover the people ate of the old corn of the land. Thus, raised up, and in title and nature suited to it, and taking our place thus in fitness and hope in the heavenly places, it is Christ known as heavenly who feeds the soul, and maintains it in vigour and in joy [8]. From thenceforward, also, the manna ceased. This is the more remarkable, because Christ, we know, is the true manna, but Christ down here, Christ after the flesh, and suited to man, and to his wants in the wilderness; nor will He ever be forgotten as such. I contemplate Jesus (God manifest in the flesh) with adoration. My soul feeds upon the mighty attractions of His grace in His humiliation; delights in the blessed testimony of His love who bore our sorrows and carried our sicknesses, and learns to be nothing and serve, in Him who took the lowest place. It is in this He ministers to the secret affections of the heart as we pass through this world; still in that condition He remained alone. The corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die; otherwise it abides alone.

But—while knowing what He has been—it is a Christ seated above, who came from above, who died and is raised again, and ascended up where He was before, whom I now know. His death, of the memorial of which we have spoken, is undoubtedly the basis of all. There is nothing more precious: but it is a heavenly Christ with whom we have now to do as the living One. For the rest, we remember Him in His humiliation and death; but this He gives us as its character. Even in the Lord's supper, analogous to the passover here celebrated it was "Do this in remembrance of me." And so in all His life, it was in the wilderness, and suited to us for the wilderness also; it is, in our little measure, in heart or in fact, the fellowship of His sufferings.

Christ, the heavenly Man, our present portion

We contemplate, while seeking to imitate, the precious model which He has set before us, as a heavenly man upon the earth. But, beholding with unveiled face the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord. He has for our sakes sanctified Himself, that we might be sanctified through the truth. We delight ourselves with the contemplation of all His grace here below; our affections are drawn out by a suffering Saviour. Nothing more precious than the Son of God winning the confidence of man's heart to God by His love in their midst when far from Him; but our present fellowship is with a Christ in heaven. And the Christ, whom we know on earth, is a heavenly Christ, and not an earthly Christ, as He will be to the Jews by-and-by. It was bread on earth no doubt, but bread come down from heaven; and this is a very important consideration. In passing through this wilderness (and we are passing through it), Christ, as the manna, is infinitely precious to us. His humiliation—His grace—comfort, also relieve, and sustain us. We feel that He has passed through the same trials, and our heart is sustained by the thought that the same Christ is with. us. This is the Christ we need for the wilderness—the bread which came down from heaven: but, as a heavenly people, it is Christ, as belonging to heaven and heavenly things, as associated with Him, the old corn of the land; for it is to Christ ascended up on high that we are united; it is there that He is our life. In a word, we feed on heavenly things, on Christ above, on Christ humbled and dying indeed as a sweet remembrance, but on Christ living as the present power of life and grace. We feed on the remembrance of Christ on the cross; this is the passover. But we keep the feast with a Christ who is the centre of heavenly things, and feed upon them all (Col. 3: 1, 2). It is the old corn of the land into which we have entered. For He belongs to heaven.

Thus, before giving battle, in front of the very walls of Jericho (representative of the enemy's power), God gives us to enjoy the fruit of this heavenly land as being all our own. We remember the death of Jesus, as redemption long since wrought out; and we feed on the old corn of the land, on heavenly things, as our own present portion. For, being risen with Christ by His grace, all is ours.

War, and the Captain of Jehovah's host

After this beautiful picture of the position and the privileges of God's people, who—according to God's own rights—may enjoy everything before engaging in a single battle, we find that war must follow. But there is one thing necessary for making war and obtaining blessings by conquest. Jehovah presented Himself as Captain of the host; it is He Himself who leads us. He is there with a drawn sword in His hand Faith owns no neutrality in heavenly things. [9] "And Joshua said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay, but as captain of the host of Jehovah am I come."

Almighty Power and Infinite Holiness

Remark here that the presence of Jehovah, as Captain of the host, as much demanded holiness and reverence, as when He came down to redeem His people (Exodus 3) in that divine holiness and majesty which were manifested according to their just requirements in the death of Jesus, who gave Himself that He might magnify and establish them for ever. Such as He was, who called Himself "I am," when He thus came down in righteousness and majesty; such also is He when standing in the midst of His people to bless and lead them in conflict.

The almighty power of God is with the church in its warfare. But His infinite holiness is there also, and He will not make good His power in their conflicts if His holiness is compromised by the defilement, the negligence, the heedless levity, of His people; or by their failure in those feelings and affections which become the presence of God, for it is God Himself who is there.

[1] Colossians 3 is God's declaration of our position; Romans 6 exhortation to take it up in faith; 2 Corinthians 4 carrying it out in practice in the inner man (Col. 3: 5-17).

[2] We have three steps in this process: God's judgment, "Ye are dead"; the recognition of it by faith, "Reckon yourselves dead"; and the carrying it out in practice, "always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus."

[3] The Epistle to the Romans gives, in the desert, faith's estimate of the position which Christ's death has given to us, of death to sin and life to God in this world, as involved in our being saved by His death into which we were baptised, but our resurrection which takes us out of the desert, and is Colossians and Jordan.

[4] Thus far the Colossians.

[5] Thus far, also, the Colossians; but we are not viewed there as dead in sins, but as having lived in them, now dead and risen.

[6] This is Ephesian teaching. And this is God's sovereign act of power which has taken us when dead in sins and put us into Christ.

[7] Christ's state (only that He was actually raised) between His resurrection and ascension helps to understand it. He belonged evidently to heaven, not to this world, though He was not in heaven.

[8] Let us remark, also, that christian simplicity and sincerity, the practical holiness of the christian life, the unleavened bread which was eaten on the morrow after the passover, is a heavenly thing. Nothing on this side Jordan can be this. It is of the growth of that land; therefore it is connected with Jesus, and peace through His death as a thing previous.

[9] I say, in heavenly things, because the heart is sensible of good qualities in the creature. The Lord loved the rich young man when He had heard his replies. But when a rejected and ascended Lord is to be followed, the will always sets itself either for or against. Faith knows this; it knows too the rights of God, and it maintains them.