Consecration Before Conquest
Stephen Caswell © 1999
Consecration Before Conquest
Illustration From The Sea Wolves
I watched a movie last year called the Sea Wolves. It was about some terrorists who captured an oil rig in the North Atlantic Sea. They demanded a large Ransome from the British government or they would blow it up. The rig was worth some 200 billion dollars. A squad of crack navy frogman were ordered to capture the terrorists. These frogmen were very fit. They had been trained in many forms of combat. But still they prepared themselves further by training on a mock up of the rig. They had specialised equipment that would help them in their task. They found out as much information as they could about the terrorists. Then they made their plans for the counter attack. They prepared for War!
Israel had crossed over the Jordan River and set up their first camp at Gilgal. At God's command the people erected a monument to draw the peoples attention to His miracle in cutting off the Jordan River. The Canaanites saw all this and spread the word of God's great works. As a result the people of the land were terrified. Joshua 5:1 says this: And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Amorites, which were on the side of Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, which were by the sea, heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel, until we were passed over, that their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel.
The Canaanites were completely demoralised. I am sure that Joshua's advisers would have encouraged him to attack immediately. They should not delay, but make the most of the enemies low state of morale. It was time to " Prepare For War." Let's attack quickly and decisively! Let's employ an all out assault. If I was in Joshua's position I would summon my military advisers and plan an immediate attack. I would check out our weapons and have the men practice their skills of combat.
Israel's Preparation For Conquest - Circumcision & Celebration
But that isn't God's way. His preparations for the Conquest of Canaan didn't involve military strategy or special weapons. His preparation was spiritual, and not physical. For God, Consecration came before Conquest. And this required the implementation of two things:
I. Circumcision - The People's Commitment To The Covenant
II. Celebration - The Passover & Unleavened Bread
Firstly I. Circumcision - The People's Commitment To The Covenant
Joshua 5:2-3 says: At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. And Joshua made him sharp knives, and circumcised the children of Israel at the hill of the foreskins.
a. The Ritual Of Circumcision
Why did God command Joshua to do this? And why now at this time? Before we can appreciate the significance of this passage, we need to look at the rite of circumcision. We need to know why Israel observed this practice. It was God Himself who introduced it some 500 years or more beforehand. God called Abram out from Urr in the Chaldee's to the land of Canaan. He promised to make a great nation of his seed if he obeyed. Abraham believed God and did as He commanded Him to. In response to Abraham's faith, the Lord promised to bless Him and multiply His seed greatly. He also promised to give them the land of Canaan as an eternal inheritance. God commanded Abraham to circumcise his household to show that they were His covenant people. Genesis 17:7-11, 14 says this:
And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
The Purpose Of Circumcision
Abraham observed the covenant by circumcising his household on the same day. Isaac, Jacob and all their descendants kept this covenant sign by circumcising their sons on the eighth day.
This sign showed their commitment to God. They were His people, set apart for holiness. Did circumcision save them? No! It simply testified of their faith in a covenant keeping God. Abraham believed God; and in Genesis 15:6 we are told that God declared him to be righteous, because of his faith. He wasn't given the sign of circumcision until Genesis 17:7.
b. The Restoration Of Circumcision
Now we can pick up the story in Joshua 5. Why did Israel need to restore the covenant sign? We find the answer to this in Joshua 5:4-8 says: And this is the cause why Joshua did circumcise: All the people that came out of Egypt, that were males, even all the men of war, died in the wilderness by the way, after they came out of Egypt. Now all the people that came out were circumcised: but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised. For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: unto whom the LORD sware that he would not shew them the land, which the LORD sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey. And their children, whom he raised up in their stead, them Joshua circumcised: for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them by the way. And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole.
Why Israel Was Uncircumcised
When Israel came out of Egypt their males were all circumcised. But that generation refused to obey God's voice and consequently they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. They died in the wilderness as God said they would. The next generation had not been circumcised and were therefore outside the covenant agreement that God had made with Abraham. We are not told why the parents did not circumcise their children in the wilderness. But probably it was to show God's disapproval on Israel's present position. They were out of His perfect will. He never intended that they should wander in the wilderness. This happened because of their disobedience to God's word.
For forty years the covenant sign of circumcision had been forgotten. For forty years Israel was not in a right covenant relationship with God. But now that the old generation had died in the wilderness, God could lead the next one into Canaan as He had promised to. The next generation had shown faith in God and stepped out in obedience. Before Israel could conquer Canaan, they must first come into a right covenant relationship with God. The covenant sign was to show the people's consecration to God. They were to be morally and sexually pure as servants of a holy God. The promises God made to Abraham concerning his seed and the land were related to the covenant sign! Israel could not inherit the land while they were outside their covenant agreement! Joshua recognised the significance of this and obeyed immediately. Consecration must come before Conquest!
But how does this apply to us? Should we be circumcised? Certainly not for religious reasons. As we observed, the sign of circumcision was given to identify Israel as God's covenant people. It did not save them from sin. Salvation has always been obtained by faith in God who alone can save. But the church is under the New Covenant, not the Old; So circumcision doesn't apply as Paul states many times in the New Testament. But Christ gave us an ordinance to observe, baptism. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward change. Salvation comes through faith in Christ. The thief on the cross was never baptised yet God assured him that he would be with Him in paradise that day.
Through baptism we are identified with Christ death and resurrection. The fact that we go down into the water is a picture of being buried with Him. When we come out of the water this represents rising to new life in Him. Baptism then is a testimony of our identification with Christ. Romans 6:3-4 says: Know ye not, that as many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Christ commanded us to be baptised in Matthew 28:19-20. Have you been baptised as Christ commanded? Baptism is also a public declaration of our faith in Christ. Jesus Christ Himself was baptised in obedience to the Father's will. Are you willing to obey God and be identified with Christ? Church membership is one way we can identify with God's people in a local area. Both baptism and Church membership testify of our commitment to God and His people. Are you identified with His people? Are you consecrated to God? Have you been baptised? If you haven't, could I ask you to pray about it and to consider this step!
c. The Removal of Israel's Reproach
Now that Israel had been circumcised God spoke to Joshua again. Joshua 5:9 says: And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day. What Did God mean by this statement? What was the reproach that God removed from them? This statement probably means that the national disgrace of homelessness and enslavement had been taken away. Although they were freed some forty years earlier they were without a country until now. They were wandering around like orphans when they should have been settled in the promised land. No doubt some of the nations were laughing at them during this time. They heard how God had led them out of bondage, but then wandered aimlessly in the wilderness. They had not inherited what God intended them to; until now. They had not become God's covenant people until they had been consecrated, until they were circumcised. Now God had removed the reproach of being wanderers from Egypt, Israel could inherit the land.
Secondly II. Celebration - Passover & Unleavened Bread
Joshua 5:10 And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho.
a. The Reason Passover Ceased
Israel observed the Passover on the plains of Jericho at Gilgal. What is the significance of this? Didn't they keep the Passover feast every year? The first thing we notice is that they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. Joshua 4:19 tells us that they crossed the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, just four days previously. God's timing was perfect. He arranged their timetable so that they could celebrate the feast in the land of Canaan. Not only that God allowed them four days to prepare, which included the men being circumcised. Only circumcised males could partake of the feast of Passover [Ex 12:44-48].
But didn't Israel celebrate the Passover every year? No they hadn't. Israel had not circumcised their males for 40 years. And they had not celebrated the Passover for 40 years either. In fact this was only the third Passover that Israel celebrated since its inauguration.
1. The first was celebrated in Egypt when the Angel of the Lord smote the first born. Ex 12:
2. The second was 1 year later at Sinai, after the tabernacle was set up. Ex 40:17 Num 9:1-3
3. The third time that Israel kept the Passover was here on the plains of Jericho. Josh 5:10-11
Why was there 40 years between the last time and now? What had happened in between? The rebellion at Kadesh Barnea had brought the Passover celebrations to an end for forty years! [Num 14:20-35] God was displeased with that generation and for forty years had stopped the religious calendar of Israel. Because they did not serve the Lord as He required, He did not allow them to celebrate Passover since it testified of their deliverance. The feast reminded them of God's salvation from the house of bondage. But they had rebelled against their saviour! It was as if God had put Israel's spiritual life on hold because of their unbelief. The wilderness wanderings were not meant to be a part of their salvation story. He would not bless a rebellious people, and His covenant promises were delayed until the next generation. The Passover was a time of rejoicing in God's salvation. Their rebellion stopped this feast.
b. The Restoration Of Religious Life
Joshua 5:10 And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho. But God allowed the next generation to enter Canaan just as He promised. The Lord held their parents responsible for the rebellion, not these people. So now He restored the religious life of the nation. He would bless them again now that their rebellious parents were removed. They celebrated the Passover at the appointed time. Following on from the Passover was the feast of unleavened bread. Israel kept that feast also as we read in verse 11. This was important to the spiritual life of the nation. Israel's freedom from slavery was commemorated in these feasts. It was obvious that God's displeasure with Israel had ended now that He had restored their religious calendar. This celebration was a time of worship and spiritual blessing.
1. Passover - Remembrance Of God's Salvation
The feast of Passover was ordained by God to remember His deliverance of Israel. The events are recorded for us in Exodus chapter 12. The Passover commemorated how God passed over them whilst the tenth plague brought death to every family in Egypt. Some of Israel's older generation would have remembered the events vividly. They would have remembered how each house had to sacrifice a perfect lamb. They remembered how their father took some of the blood and sprinkled it on the doorposts. They remembered how they feasted on the roast lamb; and how they couldn't keep any till the next day. The bitter herbs that they ate reminded them of their slavery and hard labor. They could probably still remember the terrible cries in Egypt as the Angel of the Lord killed the firstborn at midnight.
2. Passover - Rejoicing In God's Salvation
But this was also a time of rejoicing in their deliverance from Egypt. They would have recalled being dressed for travel since they were going to leave Egypt early in the morning. How they camped at the Red Sea wondering where they would go next. The terrifying sight of Pharoah's army approaching. Then God's deliverance through the Red Sea and the destruction of his army. All of this was part of their salvation history. And now God was fulfilling His word to them by giving them the land of Canaan. This would have been a joyous occasion for Israel in the land of Canaan. It was also a wonderful opportunity to teach the children about God's great deliverance. This was just what Israel needed as they began the conquest for Canaan. Israel's past salvation increased their confidence in God for future help. Remembering God's goodness also deepened their devotion to Him.
The feast of Passover also pointed to Christ the Lamb of God. He was sacrificed at the time of Passover, the 14 th day of the first month. They sacrificed the lamb in the evening, then roasted it and ate it the same night. They could not keep any of it till the next day, but had to burn anything left over. Salvation is a one time event and this is symbolised by the one time eating of the lamb. The lamb came into the person through this one meal. God the Holy Spirit comes into people believing in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. But this happens one time only. He died on the cross once for the sins of the world. The feasts that were celebrated each year after this were memorial feasts, looking back to that one time act of salvation.
As we saw last week the Lord's Supper is a memorial feast of what God has done for us. Last week we saw the importance of remembering our salvation history. If we don't do this our children won't know the Lord and will forsake Him. But it is also important for us to rejoice in it and celebrate the feast in anticipation of His return. Do you rejoice in the richness of your salvation? Or has it become too familiar to you? When we remember and rejoice in God's salvation, we deepen our devotion to Him. Can I encourage you to think of communion as a celebration!
3. Unleavened Bread - A Renewed Life Of Sanctification
Joshua 5:11-12 says: And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the Passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day. And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
A Life Of Holiness
If the Passover spoke of God's salvation from bondage, then the feast of unleavened bread spoke of the new life that follows salvation. Israel was to search through their homes and remove all leaven or yeast. Leaven in the Scriptures is a symbol of sin. Leaven or yeast was used to make the bread rise. Only a little yeast is required to make the whole loaf rise. It only took a little sin to affect the whole nation. Sin spreads quickly, look at Achan. The people were to eat unleavened bread for the 7 days of the feast. The Passover pictured Israel's salvation from bondage. The Feast of Unleavened Bread represented purity from sin. There was no space between the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, showing that once saved Israel was to enter into a life of holiness. The seven days of the feast is a picture of the entire life of a believer.
Avoiding & Acknowledging Sin
Did this mean that Israel would not sin? No. And that was why they had to search out the leaven in their homes and remove it. This act pictured the examination of their lives before God, and then confessing all sin. They were not to eat leavened bread. This showed that they were not to sin deliberately. God had delivered them from bondage into a life of freedom. He did not intend that they should go back into the bondage of sin again. Unfortunately this is what Israel had done through unbelief. This is why they didn't keep the feasts for forty years.
How does this work out in the Christian life? Through Jesus Christ, God saves us from sin and its penalty. It does not mean that we won't sin. But it does mean that we won't be dominated by sin as we were before. And when we fall into sin we can confess it to God. We receive forgiveness and cleansing through the blood of Christ. Paul challenged the Corinthian Church to confess the sin in their fellowship. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 says: Put out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Paul used these O.T. terms to describe the believers responsibility to deal with sin and be holy.
Believers are saved by the blood of Christ their Passover Lamb. From now on we must put all sin out of our lives. This involves searching our hearts for sin and confessing it to God. We then walk in the new life of faith that He has called us to. We are not working for our salvation, because Christ alone has accomplished this for us. Just as Israel was saved from judgement by the Passover lamb, we too are saved by faith in Christ. But now we are saved, we live by faith in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. This process called sanctification makes us more like the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the purpose of our salvation. Not that we will be sinless, but that we will sin less. Are you living a consecrated life for God?
Illustration Of A Slave Girl
The story is told a lovely Negro slave girl who was being sold at a slave market. Because she was so beautiful many men wanted to buy her. The bidding started and before long increased to a large sum. One by one, many of the bidders dropped out. After the highest bid was finally made a well dressed gentleman raised his hand and doubled the previous bid. No one could match it and everyone was amazed at his late extravagant offer. After he had payed the price the auctioneers brought the slave girl to him. She knew nothing about this gentleman but expected him to have corrupt motives for his purchase of her. When she came before him he spat in his face, and said, " you may have bought me, but I don't have to like it." Then he said, " My dear girl, you don't understand why I purchased you, I bought you to set you free. " Then she fell at his feet and cried, " Master I love you, I will serve you forever?
This story beautifully relates how God has redeemed us from slavery through the blood of His Son. He has paid the price to set us free with His own blood. In fact the word redemption in the New Testament ajpolutrwsi" means just that. He brought us to set us free. Christ did not die for us so that we would be enslaved by sin again. He wants us to stay free. How can we respond to such a wonderful Saviour? By serving Him as our master out of love. By consecrating our lives to Him in holiness.
b. A Life Of Blessing
In verse 12 we see that the manna God had miraculously provided for forty years now ceased. Israel had entered into the harvest of righteous living. The righteous living that comes by faith and obedience to God's word. They partook of the fruits of Canaan. They enjoyed the delights of a land flowing with milk and honey. God blessed them because of their faith and obedience. At last Israel was entering into the life she had been called to. A life consecrated to God's service and glory.
The same is true in the Christian life. God saves us to make us clean. Then we must walk closely with Him to stay clean and this involves confessing our sin. It is only after we have been cleansed that God can make our lives fruitful. As Christians God does not just desire that we do not sin, He also wants us to bear fruit. Galatians 5:22-23 says: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Today we have seen the importance God placed on preparation. Israel desired to be ready for the conquest of Canaan. But God's idea of preparation is always spiritual, not physical. It is not important how many people we have or the resources at our disposal. God is concerned about our relationship with Him. He commands us to be consecrated to Him. This involves commitment and celebration. Are you committed to the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you been baptised? He's committed to you. He saved you and was baptised as your example to follow.
Have you obeyed His command to be baptised? This is not an option but an act of obedience to His command. Have you expressed that commitment through church membership? Communion should be a time of celebration. We remember and rejoice in God's salvation! Do you remember His salvation and rejoice in it? Or has it become too familiar to you? God did not save us from bondage to be enslaved by sin again. God saved us to be a holy nation. Are you living a consecrated life of holiness for the Lord? God's blessing falls most richly on those who obey Him. I trust you will serve the Lord out of love for what He has done for you. Let us Consecrate ourselves to the Lord at the start of this year that He might use us and bless us.
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.