Possessing the Land
Study in the Book of Joshua
"Lord, if this is the Promised Land, why don’t I see all the milk and honey? If this is the Land of Plenty, then why do I have to scramble at the end of each month just to come up with enough to pay the rent? If I have left behind the Land of Bondage, then why am I so hindered by the things of my past?" If you have the ability to be really honest with yourself, then you have probably, at various times, and under a variety of circumstances in your Christian walk, found yourself reflecting on your progress into the Kingdom in such a manner. The purpose of this study is to examine the experiences of the original People of God as they went about taking possession of the land which God had promised them, and to draw parallels between their journey in a physical sense, and ours in the spiritual realm. We desire to be able to join them in their victories, learn from their defeats, and ultimately, like them, to enter into the fullness of all that God has prepared for us.
Circumcised at Gilgal
At that time the Lord said to Joshua, "Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time." Circumcision was a practice that God had instituted as a sign of the covenant between Himself and Abraham. The word ’circumcision’ literally means ’to cut short or curtail’ and refers to the cutting of the male foreskin. In medical terms, this action carries positive ramifications in reference to personal health and cleanliness. Spiritually, it is a picture of the act of cutting away the ’flesh’ from our hearts, or curtailing the actions, responses, and manners of the ’natural man’. Paul, in his letter to the church at Rome, clarifies the spiritual application when he declares, circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit. All of the males who came out of Egypt had been circumcised as a matter of practice, but as the people wandered in the desert, the practice had been neglected, so that now, all who had been born in the wilderness, were uncircumcised.
We see here a picture of the church today. In the days of the early apostles, personal holiness or separation unto God was a basic doctrine for the church. Over the generations, however, in our attempt to appear accepting or tolerant, often we fail to teach the concept of curtailing the practices of the former life to those who are being born into the Kingdom of God. We can make this concept a little more personal when we consider our own experience. We have all observed how some people, quite possibly ourselves included, begin their new life in Christ with a fervor that includes a desire for holiness unto the Lord, only to allow themselves, over time, to ’lose that first love’. There comes a time, then, when God says to the church, "It is necessary to circumcise My people once again." It is significant that this takes place after the people have crossed the Jordan, but before they start to engage in any conquest of the land. Before we can begin to take possession of the Promised Land, we need to surrender to the knife of our Lord Jesus, and allow Him to circumcise our hearts, thereby curtailing or ridding ourselves from the reproach of our desert experience.
Now it came about that when they had finished circumcising all the nation, that they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. The act of being circumcised was a painful process, so much so that it was decided that the people should remain where they were camped until they were healed or ’revived’. It is not difficult to recognize the need to be spiritually circumcised, but we should keep in mind that it can be a very painful process. Often, there is pain associated with our surrender to that knife, as the Lord begins to cut away from our lives those things that are now unnecessary, or even potentially harmful to our spiritual health and well-being. The discomfort may cause us to despair temporarily with feelings of remorse because of the things that the Lord begins to reveal to us about our lives. We may even come to that point where we feel that it is impossible for us to continue on our spiritual journey. If we listen carefully, however, we can hear the encouraging voice of the Father telling us simply to rest for a while until our spirits are healed or revived, and we are ready once again to take up the battle.
Then the Lord said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day. The ’reproach of Egypt’, the shame or disgrace of the land of bondage was forever obliterated when the people had been circumcised. To be held in bondage for so long by another nation, had to be a shameful experience for the children of Israel, especially considering all that God had promised to their forefathers. But, some may argue, for the most part, none of the people of Joshua’s time had ever experienced the bondage of Egypt - this was an entirely different generation. So, how could God say that He had removed the reproach of Egypt from them? Even though they were physically free from the shame of being enslaved, undoubtedly this generation had been raised amid stories of the horrors of that experience. Many times we meet people who have been brought up in homes where crimes committed against previous generations are constantly related. It is not unnatural for such people to adopt for themselves the attitudes of bitterness, unforgiveness, or inbred prejudices that they have learned. It is important for these people to know that God takes away the shame and disgrace of those experiences when we allow Him to curtail those attitudes and thought patterns.
And the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the sons of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate some of the yield of the land of Canaan during that year. Manna, the sustenance which the Lord miraculously provided during their desert wanderings, stopped appearing the day after the people ate some of the produce of the Promised Land. We can assume from this statement that on the first day, while they ate some of the produce of the land, they also had manna available. Isn’t that like our God? Not forcing His will on us, effectively He says "You can satisfy your hunger with manna, as you have for the past forty years, or you can eat the fruit of the land - which would you rather choose?" This is not to say that the Lord ceased providing for His people, but with the abundance of the produce of the land, they had no need for the manna. Now they had a variety of foods to choose from, and there would be no more complaints of "What, Manna again?!" When we come into the land of promise, we find that God starts providing a variety of spiritual food for our enjoyment. We no longer have to keep reviewing the ’elementary principles’ but we can move on to desiring spiritual meat as the basis for our diet. As we take a moment to examine our own progress in possessing the land of Promise, we need to ask ourselves, "have we camped at Gilgal?" Have we allowed Jesus to circumcise our hearts, and if need be, have we received healing and rest from the effects of that process? Have we realized the extent of the freedom that is ours in Christ, or are we still living under the reproaches and disgrace of previous generations, or prior eras of our own lives? Finally, have we indulged in the fruit of the land, or are we still depending on the manna that God has provided in the past? When we are satisfied that these things are, indeed, accomplished in our lives we can proceed to facing Jericho, and the real-life conquests that await us in the Promised