Hungering For the Joy: Lenten Reflections on Joshua 5

Text: Joshua 5:9-12

[This is part of a small group series for the Woodmont Hills Church in Nashville, TN, which is prepared in conjunction with Dean Barham’s homilies that are based on the Lectionary texts for Lent.]

A new generation had emerged during the wilderness trek. Their parents had refused to enter to the promise land because they were afraid and lacked faith in God’s promises. This new generation, however, had been humbled, tested and refined by their time in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:1-5).

This new generation, however, had never been circumcised nor celebrated the Passover throughout their whole time in the wilderness. Though they had been watered and fed by God, though they had seen manna—the bread of heaven—rain daily from the sky, they had not been fully vetted in the covenantal experience. They were Israel, but they had not yet covenanted with God.

The movement from Shittim to Gilgal has changed that. This generation now has its own Exodus experience—they walked across the Jordan on dry ground (Joshua 3). They consecrated themselves, walked by faith and camped at Gilgal. They have their own Moses—Joshua, who has his own “holy ground” experience near Jericho (5:13-15). The ark of the covenant, the mercy and presence of God, secured their passage.

Gilgal, that is what they named the place where they camped. The Hebrew verb galal means to “roll” and their encampment on the west bank of the Jordan was a witness that the Egyptians were wrong. They had mocked and ridiculed Israel for launching out into the desert, but their encampment in the promised land had “rolled away” that disgrace. By the grace and provision of God, they had made it!

They had entered the promised land but they had not yet possessed it. It belonged to them but it was not yet in their hands. They were on the “other side” (of the Jordan) but they did not yet made their home in the land.

Now, in this “no man’s land,” they covenanted with God. The men were circumcised at Gibeath-haaraloth (look that one up!). It was as if they were at Mt. Sinai all over again. God renewed his covenant with his people. They celebrated the Passover for the first time in forty years. They had experienced their own exodus in crossing the Jordan and as covenanted people they celebrated the love of God for his people by observing the Passover. The communal acts of circumcision and Passover were the final acts of the wilderness but the first acts of the promise. It was covenant and feast, a celebration of God’s redemption!

This was a transition moment. The wilderness wandering is over but the promised land is not theirs. But now they were no longer a nomadic people, now they had entered the land in which they would plant crops and live in houses instead of tents. They would no longer depend on manna for their bread but would eat from the produce of the land in which they lived. But the fullness of joy was not yet theirs as they looked at the imposing walls of Jericho and the other walled cities of Canaan. The fullness of the promise was yet future but the goodness of Gilgal was sweet. Israel still lived, at this moment, between the Jordan and Jericho.

The season of Lent is something like that. It is the anticipation of joy but the sweetness of divine presence. It is a season when the covenant people of God learn again the lessons of the wilderness and the joy of the exodus, but also yearn for the fullness of the promised land. It is living between the times—between the baptism of Jesus and his Easter.

Lent is a season to watch our past roll away and become something new. God removes the disgrace of his people and offers a new beginning in a new land. Ritual marks the new beginning—waters of Jordan, covenantal dedication and feast. It is typological of Christian rituals—baptism, Lent and Lord’s Supper. We relive the story of Israel within the story of Jesus.

The promise will come. The joy of dwelling in the land will come and is already here. The disgrace has been removed and the land is coming into their—and our—possession. We no longer live in shame but in hope. This is part of the meaning of Lent.

Discussion Questions

  1. What meaning or significance to do you see in the major events of Israel’s life in this section of Joshua (chapters 3-5)?
  2. Why is circumcision and Passover emphasized here? What do these mean to Israel?
  3. What is the significance of living “between the times” for both Israel and us?
  4. How does this story give you a perspective for living through the season of Lent? How does this text impact your Lenten season?

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