Joshua 5: Lessons for Spiritual Renewal and Spiritual Warfare

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12)1

Introduction: Joshua Chapter 5 retells the story of the Jews’ preparation for their conquest of the City of Jericho after God brought them through the Jordan River. The fact that they had to fight for the Promised Land causes many to reject the term “Promised Land” as a symbol of where Christ takes His believers. But the paradox of the Promise Land with its wars and temptations reflects the paradox of a saved believer. Although you are saved through Jesus with the Holy Spirit inside of you, you must still wage war against the desires of the flesh in your body. Jesus defeated Satan at the cross. But He has not yet come back to reclaim His title to the Earth. As a result, a saved believer in Jesus must still battle on a regular basis with Satan’s evil influences. The flesh is still sinful and constantly at war with the Spirit: “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit . . .” (Gal. 5:17). There will be times when some aspects of the old desires return to tempt you (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9). But just as the Jews had to fight against the unclean influences in the Promised Land, believers must fight against the unclean influences in their bodies. Winning this spiritual war begins by first renewing your Covenant with Jesus. From this chapter, God reveals seven lessons for believers to renew their Covenant with Jesus and to prepare for the spiritual warfare that they face on a daily basis.

First, from the fear that God created amongst the people of Canaan, He reveals that He will cause your enemies to either fear or respect you when you walk with Him. Second, from His command that the Jews circumcise themselves, He reveals that He wants you to cut the flesh out of your life and live by the Spirit. Third, through the exclusion of the prior generation from the Promised Land, He reveals that your faith in Him should produce the fruit of obedience. Fourth, from the time the Jews spent recovering from their circumcisions, He reveals that your faith should produce the fruit of patience to wait upon His timing. Fifth, from His removal of the stigma and shame of 400 years of captivity, He reveals that you should trust in His power to both forgive and forget the sins of your old life. He has given you a Spirit of power, not of fear or shame. Sixth, through the celebration of the first Passover inside the Promised Land (a symbol of a new beginning from sin), God promises to make you a new creation in Him. He can free you from the temptations of your old desires of the flesh when you turn to Him. Finally, from Joshua’s submission to the angel leading God’s army, one of Jesus’ many pre-incarnate appearances, He reveals that your faith should produce the fruit of submission to His will. When you do these things, Jesus will drive away your spiritual enemies.

1. Have Faith that God Will Defeat the Enemy. Josh. 5:1.

  • The fear of God’s power defeated the enemy before the battle began. After God’s miracle in blocking the Jordan River, the kings of Canaan became filled with fear: “1 Now it came about when 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 how the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they had crossed, that their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the sons of Israel.” (Josh. 5:1). Through Rahab, Joshua’s spies learned that the people of Canaan feared what God did both at the Red Sea and on the battlefield against the kings of Jordan: “10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.  11 When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” (Josh. 2:10-11). God was faithful to keep His promise to send His terror ahead of the Jews: “I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.” (Ex. 23:27). ‘“This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under the heavens, who, when they hear the report of you, will tremble and be in anguish because of you.’” (Dt. 2:25). “I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.” (Ex. 33:2). His power defeated Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea. His power also defeated the kings of Jordan. His power would also deliver first the City of Jericho and then the Promised Land to the Jews. He wants you to know that He is powerful enough to fulfill His promises to you as well. When you face conflict, do you trust in His powerful name?

  • When you walk with God, He promises to cause your enemies to fear you as well. God also promises that an obedient individual or nation will receive the fear or respect from his or its enemies: “So all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will be afraid of you.” (Dt. 28:10). In the Bible, there are many examples of when other nations feared the Jews because of God: “Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed; the leaders of Moab, trembling grips them; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. Terror and dread fall upon them; by the greatness of Your arm they are motionless as stone; until Your people pass over, O LORD, until the people pass over whom You have purchased.” (Ex. 15:15-16). All who oppose Israel are subject to the curse that God promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:3). Today, the nations that surround Israel again fear it because God has blessed it. Are you walking with God to allow His Holy Spirit to cause your enemies to fear or respect you?

2. Cut Out the Things of the Flesh and Live by the Spirit. Josh. 5:2-5.

  • God’s command for the second generation of Jews to circumcise themselves. After the Jews arrived at their first campsite inside of Israel, God instructed Joshua to have the Jews adhere to His Law of circumcision: “At that time the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time.’  So Joshua made himself flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth.   This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, died in the wilderness along the way after they came out of Egypt.  For all the people who came out were circumcised, but all the people who were born in the wilderness along the way as they came out of Egypt had not been circumcised.” (Josh. 5:2-5). The name “Gibeath-haaraloth” means “hill of foreskins.” The circumcision was important because it was a sign of God’s covenant with His people: “God said further to Abraham, ‘Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.  This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.’” (Gen. 17:9-10). To conform to God’s Covenant, each male Jew had to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3). In the Bible, the number eight symbolizes new beginnings. Abraham followed God’s Law by circumcising Isaac exactly eight days after he was born (Gen. 21:4). By contrast, Moses failed to follow God’s Law. God almost killed Moses’ first son Gershom when Moses tried to bring him into Egypt without circumcising him (Ex. 4:24-26). The failure of the Jews to circumcise their children showed that they had learned little from either Moses’ example or after 40 years in the wilderness.

  • Expose your heart to God’s correction in your life. The specific reference to the flint stone knife emphasized God’s desire for believers to cut the flesh out of their lives (Josh. 5:2). Although the covenant was a sign of a person’s relationship with God, it was a sign that no one else could see. He cares more about cutting out the sin in your inward relationship with Him than any outward pious signs. Thus, the Jews were told to also circumcise their hearts: “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” (Dt. 10:16). “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” (Dt. 30:6). When you accept Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you, He will circumcise your heart: “in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;” (Col. 2:11). “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” (Ro. 2:29). When you soften or circumcise your heart, God will reward you with a heart to know Him: “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.” (Jer. 24:7). “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jer. 31:33). One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to cause you to “remember” and obey God’s Word (Jo. 14:16-18, 26). Have you written His Word in your heart by memorizing it? Where would God find you stiff necked in your walk?

3. Your Faith Should Produce the Fruit of Obedience. Josh. 5:6-7.

  • Disobedience and a lack of faith barred the prior generation from the Promised Land. The failure of the generation of Jews that left Egypt to circumcise their children was just one of their many rebellions against God: “For the sons of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, that is, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished because they did not listen to the voice of the Lord, to whom the Lord had sworn that He would not let them see the land which the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey.  Their children whom He raised up in their place, Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them along the way.” (Josh. 5:6-7). The prior generation spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness until that entire generation of adults died off (Nu. 14:34; 32:13). Only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to live in the Promised Land: “‘Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your fathers, . . .’” (Dt. 1:34-40; Nu. 14:24, 30). Their unbelief caused them to be disobedient. This in turn barred them from the Promised Land: “So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.” (Heb. 3:19; 4:6, 11). “When your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation. . . Therefore, I swore in My anger, truly they shall not enter into My rest.” (Ps. 95:7-11). God also warned that He would vomit the Jews out of the Promised Land if they did not keep His statutes (Lev. 20:22). After they ignored His Law and His warnings, He then sent the nation into exile. God’s lesson is that there are consequences to disobedience. These lessons apply even to believers in Jesus today. If you refuse to follow God, you step outside His protections and His blessings. Are you disobedient in any part of your walk? Are you accountable to anyone to stay on your walk?

  • Obedience is more important to God than outward acts of piety. Even if the Jews had been obedient to God’s Law in circumcising their children, that would have meant little to Him if they continued to disobey His Ten Commandments: “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” (1 Cor. 7:19). “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” (Ro. 2:25). Moreover, merely going through the motions is also not enough. Your obedience must be Spirit led or it is worthless to God: ‘“Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised-”’ (Jer. 9:25). “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.” (Acts 7:51). Is there any rebellion in your walk? If so, you run the risk of turning away potential believers.

  • Remember that some of God’s blessings are conditional upon your faith. You cannot earn your salvation by doing good deeds. But many blessings on Earth turn upon your actions and your faith. An “unbelieving heart” may cause you to fall away from God (Heb. 3:12). God warned Moses to obey His angel if he wanted His protection: “Be on your guard before him [God’s angel] and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him and obey his voice . . But if you obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.” (Ex. 23:21-22; Lev. 26:7-8; Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17). This was a conditional promise. Moses had to obey to receive the blessing. God warns that a nation also faces defeat when it rejects His Law or His will: “also, you will sow your seed uselessly, for your enemies will eat it up. 17 I will set My face against you so that you will be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee when no one is pursuing you.” (Lev. 26:16(b)-17). “The Lord shall cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you will go out one way against them, but you will flee seven ways before them, and you will be an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” (Dt. 28:25). If you are living a carnal life, should it be any mystery why you live without peace or His blessings?

4. Your Faith Should Also Produce the Fruit of Patience. Josh. 5:8.

  • The Jews waited upon God as they recovered from their circumcisions. As the Jewish nation camped next to one of the most powerful armies in Canaan, all of its soldiers sat vulnerable to attack while they recovered from their circumcisions: “Now when they had finished circumcising all the nation, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed.” (Josh. 5:8). As they recovered, many of the soldiers might have remembered how Simeon and Levi killed the Shekemites after being circumcised. They tricked Hamor and his men into being circumcised as part of a false peace treaty following Shechem’s rape of their sister Dinah (Gen. 34:24-25). Some might also have wondered why God did not insist upon the circumcision before they crossed over the Jordan River. The kings of Canaan had spies amongst the Jews. It was these spies who informed them of God’s miracle at the Jordan River. They would have run to Jericho and told the army there that now was the time to strike while the Jews lay weak and recovering. But Joshua had faith that God would protect them in their weakness.

  • Let Jesus be your source of strength. When you trust in Him in times of weakness, Jesus will also give you strength and protection: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3). “Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov. 30:5; 2 Sam. 22:31). “But You, O LORD, are a shield about me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head.” (Ps. 3:3). Do you trust in His strength and not your own for protection in times of conflict or danger?

  • Wait on God’s timing before you fight for Him. The last generation of Jews came to their senses at the edge of the Promised Land when it was too late. When faced with their punishment in the desert, they were afraid (Nu. 14:41). They then wanted to invade the Promised Land. But Moses warned them that if they tried to enter Israel at that point they would be directly disobeying God (Nu. 14:41). Moses warned that if they went up to invade, God would not be amongst them (Nu. 14:42-43). The Jews again ignored this warning, and many were slaughtered because God had lifted His protection (Nu. 14:45). You must also wait on God’s timing before you fight for Him. If you fail to wait for His calling before you act, you may face your enemies without His hedge of protection. Do you pray for His guidance before making major decisions?

5. Your Faith Should Trust in God’s Forgiveness of Your Prior Sins. Josh. 5:9.

  • God’s transformation of the Jews. As transformed believers, God also promised that the Jews’ stigma from having lived as slaves in Egypt for 400 years would be lifted and they would be either feared or esteemed by those around them: “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.” (Josh. 5:9). After having 400 years of bondage, the Jews would have been looked upon as a lower class people. Sadly, the same type of stigma developed for those who were forced into slavery from Africa. Many people from the lower castes in India also carry a stigma within their society. With God’s power, the people of Canaan now looked upon the Jews as a strong nation to be feared. If you come from a troubled or ignoble background, He can restore you as well.

  • God is faithful to both forgive and forget your old sins. When you repent of your sins, God also promises to forgive you: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jo. 1:9). He not only forgives sin, He also promises to forget your sins as well: “ . . . ‘Know the LORD,’ . .. ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’” (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:12; 10:17). There is also no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro. 8:1). Are you still judging yourself regarding sins that God has forgiven? Or, are you still judging others after they repent? Neither type of condemnation comes from God.

6. Your Faith Should Always Turn to the Blood of Christ to be Renewed. Josh. 5:10-12.

  • The Jews’ first celebration of the Passover inside the Promised Land. After being circumcised, the Jews renewed their vows by observing the Passover for the first time within the Promised Land: “10 While the sons of Israel camped at Gilgal they observed the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the desert plains of Jericho.  11 On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain.” (Josh. 5:10-11). Another reason for the Jews to be circumcised is that they could not properly observe the Passover if they were not circumcised: “But no uncircumcised person may eat of it.” (Ex. 12:48). If the Jews wanted to be renewed by His Covenant, they had to properly follow it. The blood of the Passover lamb allowed death to “pass over” them (Ex. 12:7). They also ate unleavened cakes (Josh. 5:11; Ex. 12:8-9). Leaven is a symbol of sin because sin rises like the leaven in bread (1 Cor. 5:6-8; Gal. 5:9). The Jews showed their willingness to live without sin within the Promised Land by abstaining from eating cakes with leaven. Their adherence to God’s Covenant and their spiritual renewal during the Passover celebration allowed them to prevail in spiritual battles in the Promised Land.

  • Jesus will also transform you into a new creation. Jesus fulfilled the Passover Law by being sacrificed at the appointed time for the Passover Lamb. On the 14th day of Nisan / Abib, the Passover lamb was to be slaughtered on the ninth hour (3:00 pm), counting from 6:00 am (Nu. 28:16; Lev. 23:5; Ex. 12:6). On the 14th day on the ninth hour, Jesus also died (Matt. 27:45-50; 28:1; Mk. 15:29; Jo. 2:19). As the Passover Lamb, He took the sins of the world onto Himself: “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jo. 1:29). When you repent and accept Christ, you become “born again” into a “new creation.” (Jo. 3:3-7; 2 Cor. 5:17). Through Christ, your old self and your old covetous desires should burn away: “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that your body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin . . .” (Ro. 6:6). Just as the Jews agreed to abstain from sin, He wants you to show the fruit of a transformed believer by becoming a slave to righteousness: “and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Ro. 6:18). To do this you must renew your mind every day to dwell on what is good: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” (Rom. 12:2). Like the Jews, your spiritual renewal will help you prevail on the spiritual battlefield. Are you living as a new creation in Christ? Or, are you turning back to the desires of the flesh?

  • God’s provision of manna came to an end. On the day that the Jews observed their first Passover, God ceased to pour down the manna that He had provided for the last 40 years. He instead provided for them through the produce of the land: “12 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.” (Josh. 5:12). Within the Promised Land, the Jews would still receive God’s blessing of provision. But they would need to work to obtain it. Because the Promised Land was contaminated through the original sin from the Garden of Eden, the Jews had to toil the land to obtain their food (Gen. 3:17). But Jesus will lift the curse upon the Promised Land when He returns during the Millennial Reign (Is. 11:6-9; 65:20, 25; Rev. 20:2-5). He wants you to live in hope for the better world that awaits you. Yet, until that time comes, He wants you to work hard in the land by seizing the spiritual blessings that He has for you. Are you working hard to advance His kingdom?

7. Your Faith Should Cause You to Submit to His Will for Your Life. Josh. 5:13-15.

  • Joshua’s submission to Jesus. After the Jews had renewed their Covenant with God, Joshua met the commander of God’s army who would lead the Jews into battle: “13 Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us or for our adversaries?’  14 He said, ‘No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, ‘What has my lord to say to his servant? 15 The captain of the Lord’s host said to Joshua, ‘Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” (Josh. 5:13-15). The person Joshua met could not have been an angel because worshiping anyone other than God violates the First Commandment (Dt. 5:6-7; Ex. 20:2-3). God’s angels also will not accept worship (Rev. 22:8). Seeking worship was the sin that caused Satan to be cast out of heaven. We also know that this was not God the Father because no one has ever seen Him (Jo. 1:18; 6:46; 1 Jo. 4:12). The instructions to Joshua instead reveal this person to be Jesus. The person told him to remove his shoes because he was on holy ground (Josh. 5:14). This was the same command that the great “I AM” gave to Moses at Mount Horeb (Ex. 3:13-15). Jesus later revealed that He was the great “I AM.” (Jo. 8:57-58). Hagar also twice met Him in the wilderness (Gen. 16:7-9; 21:16-19). Abraham also met Jesus before He sent angels to destroy Sodom (Gen. 18:1-3). Gideon later met Him when He appeared in angelic form (Jdgs. 6:11-27). Samson’s parents also met Him when Jesus instructed them to raise Samson as a Nazarite (Jdgs. 13:3-23). He was also in the furnace protecting His servants in the book of Daniel (Dan. 3:25).

Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680 A.D.) “God’s Messenger Appears to Joshua” (1642)2

  • Jesus also wants you to submit to Him. This was one of many occasions when Jesus made an appearance in the Old Testament, called a “Christophany”. For example, He wrestled with and then blessed Jacob (Gen. 32:24-30; Hos. 12:2-5). He appears in both the Old and New Testaments to reveal that He does not change with time (Heb. 13:8). He wants you to learn the same lessons of submission that Joshua needed to learn. Joshua tried to ask Jesus if He was on Joshua’s side. Jesus responded “no” because Joshua asked the wrong question (Josh. 5:13-14). As one commentator points out, “The question really wasn’t if the LORD was on Joshua’s side. The proper question was if Joshua was on the LORD’s side.” (David Guzik on Joshua Chapter 5).3 Joshua needed to submit to God to be victorious. He removed his sandals as a symbol of His submission. ‘“ … ‘But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.’” (Is. 66:2). As another famous commentator once said: “There can be no victory when there is no submission to the will of God.” (J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary, Numbers, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, p. 97). Are you submitting to His will in your life with the same awe and respect as Joshua?