Lesson 3: Chapters 4:1-6:21
The Central Campaign: The Israelites Cross the Jordan River into Canaan

Holy and eternal Father,
We thank You for the indwelling of Your Spirit, He who gives us circumcised hearts that can resist the temptations of sin and which are drawn to Your divine law, putting love of You and love of our fellow man above selfish desires. We know that resisting the seduction of sin is a constant struggle. But we also know that we have Your promise that if we are faithful that You will give us the strength to be victorious in our personal battles, just as You promised the Israelites victory over the sinful Canaanites. Please send Your Holy Spirit to guide us in this lesson's study of the Israelite's renewal of their covenant sign and the victory You gave them over Jericho. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Then there are the deeds of Joshua, who was marked out with Christ's name; under his guidance the Jordan kept its stream stationary and its waters still as it recoiled from the countenance of the divine Ark. A strange power divided the river. One section came to a halt, its stream flowing back, while another section hastened in its gliding course to the sea, leaving the river bed exposed. Where the current surged strongly from its source, it held back and piled high its waves, so that a threatening mountain of water hung poised in a quivering formation and looked down to see human feet passing across the dry, deep bed, and grimy soles hastening over the congealed mud, dry-footed in mid river.
From a poem by Paulinus of Nola, distinguished Roman senator and Latin poet who converted to Christianity in the late 4th century AD; Poem, 27.511

Can we determine a date for the conquest given the information in Scripture and tradition?

Question: According to Jewish tradition, King David conquered Jerusalem in c. 1000 BC and Abraham migrated to the land of Canaan a thousand years earlier in c. 2000 BC. If we accept that the year 2000 BC is a fairly accurate date for Abraham's entry into the land of Canaan, given the following information from Scripture can you estimate a date for the conquest of Canaan?


2000 BC        Abraham entered Canaan

 - 25             Isaac was born 25 years after Abraham entered Canaan (100-75= 25)

1975            The year Isaac was born (Abraham 100 yrs. Old)

 - 60             Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born

1915            Date of Jacob's birth

- 130            Jacob's age entering Egypt (147 Jacob's age at death " 17 yrs. in Egypt)

1785            The year the Israelites migrated into Egypt.

- 430             Number of years the Israelites lived in Egypt.

1355            The year the Israelites left Egypt.

 - 40             The number of years the Israelites spent in the wilderness.

1315 BC        Estimated year of the Conquest of Canaan.

Chapter 4: The Twelve Memorial Stones and the Camp at Gilgal<

Also, twelve stones from Jordan's bed,
Left dry when waters backward flowed,
He raised and firmly set in place,
The type of Christ's Apostles twelve.

Christian hymn from 2nd century AD

The twelve Patriarchs destined to become twelve tribes were arranged to be a type and pattern of the number of the Apostles. So were the twelve foundations in the desert and the twelve stones taken from the bed of the Jordan.
St. Peter Chrysologus (c. 380-450), Archbishop of Ravenna, Sermon 170

God promised Joshua He would make him "great in the eyes of all Israel so that they will know that, as I was with Moses, so I shall be with you" (Josh 3:7). In His first divine act under Joshua's leadership, God performed the miracle of the parting of the waters of the Jordan River so the people could pass over a dry river bed to the western bank. In this event, God revealed a miracle similar to the Red Sea crossing in the early days when Moses led the Exodus out of Egypt. The Fathers of the Church, like Origen of Alexandria, saw the divided waters of the Jordan as a symbol of two kinds of people who seek Christian baptism "those who turn away from their old lives and remain steadfast in the sweetness of God's grace like the waters that flowed from source of the Jordan River in the north, and those who returned to their old sinful habits, like the waters to the south that flowed into the lifeless Dead Sea. Many early Church Fathers also taught that the journey of the people who followed Moses out of Egypt and Joshua into the Promised Land mystically signified the progress of new converts, leaving their old lives behind for the promise of eternal salvation in the "Promised Land" of Heaven. See CCC 115-117 for the two senses of Scripture: literal and spiritual. The spiritual sense includes the allegorical sense, the moral sense and the anagogical sense.

Significant repeats in this lesson:

(IBHE, vol. I, pages 536-566).

From the beginning of the crossing narrative in 3:14 to the end in 4:23, the words "cross/crossing" are found fourteen times (two times seven times): 3:14, 16, 17, 4:1, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11 twice, 12, 13, 23 twice. The number "twelve," referring to the twelve tribes and the twelve representative stones is repeated five times (4:2, 3, 4, 8 and 9). Also notice that the Ark of the Covenant continues to dominate the miracle of the river crossing in chapter four and is mentioned seven times (4:5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 16, 18).

Joshua 4:1-9 ~ The significance of the twelve memorial stones
1 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, Yahweh spoke to Joshua and said, 2 Choose twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and give them this order, 3 "Here, from mid-Jordan, from the place where the priests' feet were standing, take twelve stones; carry them with you and set them down in the camp where you pass the night."' 4 Joshua called the twelve men whom he had selected from the Israelites, one man from each tribe, 5 and Joshua said to them, Go on ahead of the Ark of Yahweh your God into mid-Jordan, and each of you take one stone on his shoulder, corresponding to the number of tribes in Israel, 6 to make this a sign among you; and when, in the future, your children ask you, "What do these stones mean for you?' 7 you will tell them, "the waters of the Jordan separated before the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the river separated. These stones are an everlasting reminder [memorial] of this to the Israelites."' 8 The Israelites did as Joshua ordered; they took twelve stones from mid-Jordan corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel, as Yahweh had told Joshua; they carried them over to the camp and set them down there. 9 Joshua then erected twelve stones in mid-Jordan, on the spot where the feet of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant had stood; and they are still there today.
[..] = literal translation (IBHE, vol. I, page 565; emphasis added).

Question: What is the reason given for setting up the twelve stones on the west side of the river? See verse 7.
Answer: The stones that came from the middle of the dry river bed are to be established as a memorial to remind future generations of God's miracle in the crossing of the Jordan River.

The setting up of stone monuments was common in the ancient Near East. Plain standing stones, called mastaba, are still found across the plains and deserts of the Near East; more rare (and the delight of archaeologists) are the inscribed stone monuments. Such monuments were the means for future generations to remember the feats of their forefathers. For the people of God, the monuments not only recalled the event for future generations but invited them to participate in the great acts God had accomplished for His people.

The Hebrew word zikkaron ("memorial") conveys more than simply recalling the event. It invites remembering with a purpose akin to reliving the event, implying a reflection that calls for a corresponding degree of involvement. An example is the celebration of the seven sacred annual feasts in which the Israelites of future generations relived the great themes of God's judgment and redemption in the Exodus. In Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Israelites of every generation were to remember/relive the events of the Exodus and were to tell their children the sacred meal is a "sign:" And on that day you will explain to your son, "this is because of what Yahweh did for me when I came out of Egypt." This will serve as a sign on your hand would serve, or a reminder on your forehead and in that way the law of Yahweh will be ever on your lips; for with a mighty hand Yahweh brought you out of Egypt. You shall observe this law at its appointed time, year by year (Ex 13:8-10; emphasis added). In the same way, the Israelites must relive the crossing of the Jordan with their children (see Josh 4:21). This event will be remembered in the Feast of Firstfruits which the Israelites were commanded to observe within the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the day after the Sabbath day that fell within Unleavened Bread's seven day period "on the first day of the week that we call Sunday (Lev 23:9-14; see the chart of the "Seven Sacred Feasts of the Old Covenant").

Question: What event occurred in 30 AD on the celebration of the Feast of Firstfruits, on the Sunday of that holy week of Passover and Unleavened Bread? See Mt 28:18; Mk 16:1-6; Lk 24:1-8; Jn 20:1-9. How does that event compare figuratively with the miracle crossing of the Jordan River? See 1 Cor 15:20.
Answer: Jesus crossed over the great divide between death and life to be resurrected on the day the Jews celebrated the Feast of Firstfruits. In rising from the dead, Jesus became, as St. Paul wrote: "the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep."

The stones from the Jordan served as visual reminders to the Israelites of God's miraculous preservation of the twelve tribes of Israel in the crossing the Jordan River at flood stage, but the Fathers of the Church saw the memorial stones as a foreshadow of Jesus' twelve Apostles who rose out of the waters of baptism in the Jordan River to become the ministers of Christian baptism and the foundation stones of the New Covenant Church (St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Prudentius, St. Peter Chrysologus). So too, do the twelve Apostles serve as reminders to us of how God can take ordinary human beings and, when they submit themselves to Him, used them in extraordinary ways to bring about His plan for mankind's salvation. In the Catholic Church, our paintings and statues are visual reminders that the record of Christ's Passion and miracles, and they serve as remainders of the valiant deeds of the Virgin Mary and His other holy saints.

Question: In addition to the twelve memorial stones from the middle of the river placed in the Israelite camp on the west bank, what other memorial did Joshua set up and why?
Answer: He marked the point where the priests stood with the Ark of the Covenant in the middle of the river during the miracle of the parted waters with twelve additional stones.

The inspired writer notes that the twelve stones are still where they were place at the time of the crossing "the stones were probably visible in the dry season when the Jordan River was low.

Question: This was not the first time twelve stones were selected as memorials. When was the first such memorial erected by the Israelites? See Ex 24:4.
Answer: At the covenant ratification ceremony at Mt. Sinai, Moses had the Israelites erect twelve standing stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel.

For other passages in Scripture that mention the setting up of stone monuments to mark an event see Gen 28:18-21; a href ="">31:45-46; Josh 24:26-27; 1 Sam 7:12. An example of the inscribed stone monuments of Gentile nations that are supportive of the Bible's historical tradition are the Egyptian Merneptha stela that mentions an Egyptian military excursion into the territory of the people of Israel (c. 1214/1207 BC) and the Tel Dan stela "a 9th century BC Aramean king's stone monument that mentions the "house [dynasty] of David."

In verse 6 Joshua told the Israelites that the memorial stones were to be a "sign" (in Hebrew ot) for future generations. It is the same word in Hebrew that Rahab used when she asked the Israelite spies for a "sign" of the covenant oath they swore to her (Josh 2:13). In Scripture a "sign" points to something significant beyond the visual object or act. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word ot occurs about eighty times and can refer to:

  1. A prophetic act/sign by a prophet: for example see the prophet Ezekiel's model of the siege of Jerusalem (Ez 4:1-3).
  2. An event predicted by a prophet with a "sign": for example the blood of the lamb was a "sign" of Israel's protection from death on the night of the tenth Egyptian plague (Ex 12:13); the "sign" given Saul so that he will know God chose him to be king of Israel (1 Sam 10:1, 7 & 9); the "sign" of the virgin who will give birth to a son (Is 7:11 and 14).
  3. A predicted event which consists of miraculous happenings: for example the Egyptian plagues in Exodus chapters 4-11 were "signs" for Pharaoh and Israel (Ex 4:8, 9, 17, 28 , 30; 7:3; 8:23; 10:1-2), and Jesus said His rising up from the tomb on the third day was to be a "sign" like the return of Jonah from the belly of the fish (Mt 12:38-39).
  4. An event not connected to prophecy in which God alone performs a miraculous work: for example see Gideon's "sign" in the fire from the angel's staff (Judg 6:11-24).
  5. A celestial event or phenomena that cannot be explained: for example the covenant "sign" of the rainbow (Gen 9:12-17); the decreasing and increasing shadow that was the "sign" that King Ahaz will be cured (Is 38:7).
  6. A ritual cultic practice or command: for example circumcision as a "sign" of the covenant with Abraham (Gen 17:11).
  7. An object or an event which the object recalls: for example the "sign" of the memorial stones (Ex 24:4; Josh 4:6).

In the Gospel of John, Jesus' miracles are identified as "signs" (semeion in Greek) of His divine authority (Jn 20:30).

Joshua 4:10-18 ~ The Israelites complete the crossing
10 The priests carrying the Ark stood still in mid-Jordan, until everything had been done that Yahweh had ordered Joshua to tell the people (in accordance with everything that Moses had ordered Joshua); and the people hurried across. 11 When the people had finished crossing, the Ark of Yahweh then crossed, with the priests, to the head of the people. 12 The sons of Reuben, the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed in battle formation at the head of the Israelites, as Moses had told them. 13 Some forty thousand warriors in arms, they crossed in Yahweh's presence, ready for battle, towards the plain of Jericho. 14 That day, Yahweh made Joshua great in the eyes of all Israel, who respected him as they had respected Moses, as long as he lived. 15 Yahweh said to Joshua, 16 Order the priests carrying the Ark of the Testimony to come up out of the Jordan.' 17 And Joshua gave the order to the priests, Come up, out of the Jordan!' 18 Now, when the priests carrying the Ark of the of Yahweh came up out of mid-Jordan, no sooner had the soles of the priests' feet touched solid ground, than the waters of the Jordan returned to their bed and ran on, in spate as before (emphasis added).

The narrative continues to stress the importance of the Ark's role in the river crossing miracle.

Question: What titles refer to the Ark in chapter 4, how many times is the Ark mentioned, and how does each of the titles describe the function of the Ark?
Answer: The Ark is mentioned seven times in chapter 4:

  1. Ark of the Covenant (verse 9): it is the visible sign of Israel's status as a covenant people.
  2. Ark (verse 10)*
  3. Ark of Yahweh, three times (verses 5, 11 and 18): Yahweh dwells in the midst of His people between the cherubim of the Ark's Mercy-seat.
  4. Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh (verse 7): it is the visible sign of Yahweh's unique covenant with Israel.
  5. Ark of the Testimony (verse 16): it contains the covenant documents, the stone tablets written on by the finger of God.

*the Hebrew word for "ark" (aron) means "box" or "chest." It is not the same word that is used for Noah's ark (tebah).

Joshua 10:1 The priests carrying the Ark stood still in mid-Jordan, until everything had been done that Yahweh had ordered Joshua to tell the people (in accordance with everything that Moses had ordered Joshua)...

Before Moses' death, he shared Yahweh's plan for the crossing with Joshua and that plan has not been altered.

Joshua 4:12-13 The sons of Reuben, the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed in battle formation at the head of the Israelites, as Moses had told them. 13 Some forty thousand warriors in arms, they crossed in Yahweh's presence, ready for battle, towards the plain of Jericho.

The Israelites march in battle formation, equipped for war and with the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the two clans of Manasseh leading the invasion. That there are 40,000 armed soldiers in the vanguard means that not all the men of fighting age are leading the invasion force from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the two clans of Manasseh. According to the census taken in Numbers chapter 26 there were 43,730 men twenty years and over, fit to bear arms from Reuben; there were 40,500 fighting men in Gad, and the whole tribe of Manasseh numbered 52,700 fighting men. It may be that the rest of the men (perhaps the men who were older) were allowed to stay and protect the women and children on the east side of the Jordan or perhaps the remaining men of the two and a half tribes followed up as the rear guard in the march (see 5:9).

Joshua 4:14 That day, Yahweh made Joshua great in the eyes of all Israel, who respected him as they had respected Moses, as long as he lived.

Question: What is the comparison between the people's reaction to Moses after the Red Sea crossing and to Joshua after the miracle of the Jordan River crossing? See Ex 14:31.
Answer: After the crossing of the Red Sea, the people put their faith in Yahweh and in His servant Moses. In the same way, Joshua is accepted as God's accredited leader and spokesman. The fear and respect the people felt for Moses is now transferred to Joshua.

When the Ark had reached the other side, the inspired writer is careful to record that the river returned to flood level as it had been before the crossing miracle.

Joshua 4:19-24 ~ The Israelites encamp at Gilgah on the west side of the river
19 It was the tenth day of the first month when the people came up from the Jordan and made their camp at Gilgal, on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 As regards those twelve stones, which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set them up at Gilgal. 21 He then said to the Israelites, When, in the future, your children ask their fathers, What are these stones?" 22 you will explain to your children, "Israel crossed this Jordan dry-shod. 23 For Yahweh your God dried up the waters of the Jordan in front of you until you had crossed, just as Yahweh your God did to the Sea of Reeds, which he dried up before us until we had crossed it; 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know how mighty the hand of Yahweh is, and always stand in awe of [fear] Yahweh your God [all the days]."' [..] = literal translation (IBHE, vol. I, page 566).

Joshua 4:19 It was the tenth day of the first month when the people came up from the Jordan and made their camp at Gilgal.

The Hebrew name of the camp means "ring" [of stones]. According to Scripture Joshua's camp was between the Jordan River and Jericho "on the eastern border" of the territory of Jericho.(1)

Question What month, by divine command, became the first month in the Israelite's calendar and what historical event prompted the change? See Ex 12:1-14 and a href ="">13:4.
Answer: The month of Abib, in the spring; it was the month of the first Passover in Egypt.

Question: What specific dates are mentions in association with the celebration of the Passover event in Exodus 12:3-6, 15-17; Lev 23:5-8; and Num 28:16-25? Note: For the ancient Israelites and modern Jews, the next day begins at sundown.
Answer: The lambs and kids were chosen for sacrifice on the tenth of Abib, and the sacrifice took place five days later (as the ancients counted) on the fourteenth. After sundown, which became the 15th of Abib, on the first night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Passover sacrifice was eaten in a sacred meal. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was observed from the 15th to the 21st, seven days as the ancients counted.

The Israelites crossed the Jordan River on the same day that the first Passover victims were chosen for sacrifice, on the 10th of Abib.

Question: In the first century AD, in year 30, what other significant event took place on the 10th of Abib (called Nisan at that time)? See Jn 12:1-13. Remember to count the days as the ancients counted without the concept of zero as a place-value and with the first day counting as day #1 and that Passover fell on the 14th of the month.
Answer: Jesus had dinner with friends in Bethany on the day before He rode into Jerusalem on Palm/Passion Sunday. The inspired writer notes that from the Saturday dinner until the Passover on the 14th was six days. As the ancients counted, that makes Thursday the 14th of Abib and the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, presenting Himself as the divine Lamb of sacrifice on the 10th, the same day the first lambs and goat-kids were chosen for sacrifice in the first Passover event.

Note: after the return from the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC, the month was called Nisan.

Question: What three significant events does Sacred Scripture present as occurring on the 10th of Abib/Nisan?

  1. The selection of the first Passover victims in Egypt.
  2. Joshua/Yahshua and the Israelites crossing of the Jordan River into Canaan forty years later.
  3. Palm/Passion Sunday when Jesus/Yahshua rode into Jerusalem as the sacrificial Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.

Question: Why does verse 24 make the statement that the miracle of the crossing of the Jordan River is so "that all the peoples of the earth may know how mighty the hand of Yahweh is, and always fear Yahweh your God all the days"?
Answer: The extent of the miracle is meant to have an impact beyond Israel; the impact of the miracle is to be felt by all nations and generations, even by those of us reading of the event today in the present generation. The response should be reverent fear of God's power and authority.

Reverent fear of God is a fundamental expression in the Old Testament for faith and obedience to the will of God. The expression of "fear" is not terrified dread but recognition of God's power, glory, and authority combined with the response of trust and faith (Ps 130:4). In Rahab's case, this recognition led to her salvation. Verse 24 is another parallel to the Red Sea crossing and the song the Israelites sing afterward, expressing the same "fear" of Yahweh (Ex 15:14-16). God performs His miracles as evidence of His power and authority and as a witness to all peoples of the earth who He continually calls to salvation.

Chapter 5: The Ritual Sign of Circumcision and the Celebration of the Passover

God further said to Abraham, You for your part must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you, generation after generation. This is my covenant which you must keep between myself and you, and your descendants after you: every one of your males must be circumcised. You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that will be the sign of the covenant between myself and you. As soon as he is eight days old, every one of your males, generation after generation, must be circumcised, including slaves born within the household or bought form a foreigner not of your descent. Whether born within the household or bought, they must be circumcised. My covenant must be marked in your flesh as a covenant in perpetuity. The uncircumcised male, whose foreskin has not been circumcised "that person must be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.'
Genesis 17:9-11

I shall send an angel in front of you and drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites.
Deuteronomy 7:1

Notice that the word "circumcise" (circumcise/circumcised/circumcising) is repeated eight times in chapter 5. It is the "sign" of the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants that all male children were to be circumcised on the eighth day of life (Gen 17:11-12).

Joshua 5:1-1-9 ~ The sign of the covenant enacted at Gilgal
1 When all the kings of the Amorites living to westward across the Jordan, and all the kings of the Canaanites living on the seaboard, heard that Yahweh had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed, their hearts failed and they lost all courage to resist the Israelites. 2 At this time Yahweh said to Joshua, Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again [sub] (a second time) [senit]. 3 Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites on the Hill of Foreskins [Gibeath-haaraloth]. 4 The reason why Joshua circumcised them was this. All the males of the people who had come out of Egypt of age to bear arms had died in the desert on their journey after leaving Egypt. 5 Now, all the people who came out had been circumcised; but none of those born in the desert, during the journey, after leaving Egypt had been circumcised; 6 for the Israelites walked the desert for forty years, until the whole nation had died out, that is, the men who had come out of Egypt of age to bear arms; they had not obeyed the voice of Yahweh, and Yahweh had sworn to them never to let them see the land which he had sworn to their ancestors that he would give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 But in place of these he set their sons, and these were the ones whom Joshua circumcised: they were uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised during the journey. 8 When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they stayed resting in the camp till they were well again. 9 Yahweh then said to Joshua, Today I have taken [rolled back] the shame of Egypt away from you.' Hence, the place has been called Gilgal ever since.

After crossing the Jordan River, the Israelites encamped at Gilgal near Jericho. As Rahab had told the two Israelite spies (2:2-11), the people and the rulers of the towns and cities of Canaan were terrified of the Israelites, especially now that they had miraculously crossed the flooded Jordan River.

Question: What is the first command God gives Joshua after settling in the new camp and why?
Answer: Yahweh instructs Joshua to make flint knives and to circumcise the Israelites who had been born during the forty years of wilderness wandering and had not been circumcised previously.

It is interesting that in 5:2 the command is to circumcise again (sub), a second time (senit), suggesting that the ritual of circumcision will involve two groups of males.

Question: Who might be included in these two groups of men? See Num 14:28.
Answer: Some of the Israelites must have already been circumcised. Since verse 5 says that those born on the desert had not been circumcised, then the reference to circumcising a "second time" must refer to those males under 20 years of age who came out of Egypt with their parents and who survived the wilderness years and the crossing into Canaan (Num 14:28).

We know from archaeological evidence that the Egyptians, among other ancient peoples in the region, practiced circumcision as a rite of passage into manhood/marriage and as a priestly ritual (also see Jer 9:24/25 where the peoples of the region who practiced physical circumcision are listed). The repeat circumcision of the males who had been circumcised in Egypt may have to do with the different ways the Egyptians and Israelites practiced circumcision. It is possible the Egyptians did not remove the entire foreskin like the Israelites.

The circumcision ritual was necessary to prepare the people to observe the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread that was to take place in 5 days, as the ancients counted (Josh 5:10-11). Circumcision was a prerequisite for all males participating in the Passover meal on the first night of Unleavened Bread, as prescribed by the Law of the Sinai Covenant (Ex 12:42-51; 13:3-10; Lev 23:5-8; Num 28:16-25; Josh 5:8).

Question: When did circumcision first become a covenant obligation and what were the instructions? When was the command repeated? See Gen 17:14-19, Ex 12:43-51; Lev 12:3.
Answer: God command Abraham to circumcise all male children on the "eighth day" of birth as a "sign of the covenant between myself and you." The removal of the foreskin was a blood sacrifice that signified a child's entrance into covenant with Yahweh. The command is repeated on the night of the first Passover in Egypt, and is repeated again in the laws of the Sinai Covenant:

Question: What was the penalty for an Israelite male who refused to observe the rite of circumcision? Gen 17:14.
Answer: Exile/excommunication from the covenant people.

Question: Were John the Baptist and Jesus circumcised? See Lk 1:59 and 2:21.
Answer: Yes; John was circumcised and named on the eighth day of his birth and so was Jesus.

Note: Do not miss the significance of the word "sign" and the command to perform the ritual on the "eighth day." In the significance of numbers in Scripture, eight is the number that symbolizes re-birth, redemption and salvation. Circumcision was a "sign" that had greater significance than the act itself. Male circumcision symbolized a spiritual re-birth into the covenant community, and Jesus was raised from the dead on the day after the seventh day Sabbath, on the significant eighth day.

Joshua 5:9 Yahweh then said to Joshua, Today I have taken [rolled back] the shame of Egypt away from you.' Hence, the place has been called Gilgal ever since.

The name of the Gilgal camp sounds like the Hebrew word "roll." Hebrew verb "to roll" is galal (Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, page 95). There is word-play associated both with the naming the camp Gilgal (in Hebrew "ring") as well the operation of "rolling back" the foreskins in circumcision. The exact location of Gilgal has never been determined. Gilgal remained Joshua's headquarters during the entire campaign (10:6; 14:6).(2)

The "shame" mentioned in verse 9 may be associated with the fact that the Israelites did not practice the correct form of circumcision while living in Egypt but adopted Egyptian practices. Or, the shame may be associated with the fact that the people had neglected this most important sign of the covenant God made with their forefathers during the past forty years. Evidence suggests that the Egyptians did not remove the entire foreskin whereas the Israelites were supposed to excise the whole foreskin. Bible scholars have suggested that while living in Egypt the Israelites had adopted the Egyptian practice and so they needed to have it done a second time, removing all the foreskin as a sign of complete compliance to the Covenant code of Sinai and the Abrahamic Covenant [see "Who Did it, Who Didn't and Why: Circumcision," Biblical Archaeology Review, Summer 2006, pp 49-55].

For additional passages on circumcision see Jer 9:25-26; Ez 28:8-10; 31:18; 32:18-32; 1 Mac 1:15, 63; 2 Mc 6:10; 1 Cor 7:18-19; Gal 6:12-15; Col 2:11.

Joshua 5:10-12 ~ The Israelites celebrate the Passover in the Promised Land
10 The Israelites pitched their camp at Gilgal and kept the Passover there on the fourteenth day of the month, at evening [between the twilights = noon], in the plain of Jericho. 11 On the very next day after the Passover, they ate what the land produced, unleavened bread and roaster ears of corn [grain]. 12 The manna stopped the day after they had eaten the produce of the land. The Israelites from that year onwards ate the produce of Canaan and had no more manna.

The "plain of Jericho" is the steppe-like region west of the Jordan. The gift of the manna, that began after crossing the Red Sea on the Exodus out of Egypt (Ex 16:4-36), stopped on the first daytime celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread "which might have been first celebration of the Feast of Firstfruits (Lev 23:9-14). According to the Jewish Mishnah and Josephus, the Passover sacrifices were to begin at noon and the sacred meal was to begin after sundown. The ending of the gift of manna is the signal that the desert wandering period of Israel's history is over.

Question: Do you detect a reverse pattern from the Exodus experience in the narrative beginning with the crossing of the Jordan River? See Ex 12:1-14:22 and Josh 3:14-5:12.

Exodus Joshua
Passover (Ex 12:1-28) Jordan River crossing (Josh 3:14-17)
Circumcision command (Ex 12:43-51) Circumcision command (Josh 5:2-9)
Red Sea/Sea of Reeds crossing (Ex 14:15-22) Passover celebration (Josh 5:10-12)

In the Exodus experience the Israelites took part in the Passover and sacred meal (Ex 12:1-28), followed by the command that circumcision was a requirement to eat the sacred meal (Ex 12:43-51), which was then followed by the miracle of the Red Sea/Sea of Reeds crossing. In Joshua similar events are given in the reverse order: there is the miracle of the Jordan River crossing, followed by the ritual of circumcision, followed by the celebration of the Passover.

In Sacred Scripture a reversal pattern often signifies a change in destiny. In the Exodus the children of Israel were slaves fleeing from a foreign land who were symbolically re-born as a free people in the crossing of the Red Sea. In the crossing of the Jordan River, the Israelites are a free people who are about to take possession of a foreign land to make it their own. They are no longer a landless people, they are about to become a nation. Those men who will fight to fulfill God's plan for Israel's destiny are all consecrated in the ritual of circumcism, even those who have been circumcised in Egypt. The consecration of Israel's holy warriors, whose physical circumcision is a sign of their circumcised, undivided hearts, binds them anew to Yahweh's covenant and prepares them spiritually for their mission.

Joshua 5:13-15 ~ Joshua encounters the Captain/Prince of Yahweh's Armies
13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him, grasping a naked sword [his drawn sword was in his hand]. Joshua walked towards him and said to him, Are you on our side or on that of our enemies?' 14 He replied, On neither side [ No']. I have come now as the Captain of the Army of Yahweh.' Joshua fell on his face to the ground, worshipping him, and said, What has my Lord to say to his servant?' 15 The Captain of the Army of Yahweh answered Joshua, Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.' And Joshua did so.
[..] = literal translation (IBHE, vol. I, page 568).

Probably filled with anxiety the night before his first battle in the Promised Land against the powerful city-state of Jericho, Joshua walks out alone to survey the walls of the nearby town. He is confronted by a "man" with an unsheathed sword.

Question: When Joshua challenges the "man," how does he identify himself?
Answer: The "man" responds that he is the Captain of the Army of Yahweh.

Question: At the end of verse 13, Joshua asks the "man" whose side is he on "Israel's or the enemy's side. The "man," tells Joshua "No." What does he mean by his "No;" does he mean that God will not take sides in the coming battle or does he means something else? See for example Ex 14:14; Dt 1:30-31; 3:22; 20:4.
Answer: The divine warrior cannot mean that God is not taking sides in the battle against Jericho since God has already promised numerous times that He will personally fight to give Israel victory over her enemies. The "No" must mean that the reason Joshua has been given this vision is not for Israel and not for Jericho but is strictly for Joshua's sake, to encourage him in these very trying hours before his first great battle in the Promised Land.

It has always been Catholic teaching that to correctly interpret Scripture a passage cannot contradict any other passage in Scripture since all of Scripture is divinely inspired.(3) If an interpretation contradicts the meaning of another passage "the interpretation is in error. Hence, the Protestant doctrine of salvation by "faith alone" is contradicted by James 2:24 in which the inspired writer states that salvation is NOT by faith alone but "it is by works and not by faith alone that someone is justified."

When the "man" identifies himself as the "Captain of the Army of Yahweh," Joshua realizes that he is in the presence of the divine and falls to the ground in reverence (St. John has the same reaction in Rev 19:9-10). The Captain of the Army of Yahweh may be the same being God sent to guide Moses and Israel to Canaan (Ex 23:20-23). The Hebrew word sar, translated "captain," is used for princes (Gen 12:15; Num 22:13), but it is also used in the sense of a military officer (Gen 21:22; 1 Sam 17:18, 55). In Daniel 10:13, 20-21 and 12:1 the word occurs in connection with St. Michael the Archangel, the prince of the angelic host. It appears that the mysterious person confronting Joshua is the Angel of the Lord who is the captain/prince of Yahweh's host of angels (also see Gen 16:7; 21:14-21; Ex 32:34; 33:2; Num 22:23; Judg 2:1; 6:12, 22; 1 Chr 21:16). According to Jewish tradition, this being is the archangel St. Michael (the patron saint/protector of Israel; Aggadat Bereshit 32.64), or he is the pre-Incarnate Christ (Bishop Eusebius and Origen of Alexandria).

Question: How was Joshua's theophany similar to a previous theophany experienced by Moses? What are the three events/circumstances thus far that link Joshua to Moses and confirm that Joshua's authority to lead the twelve tribes of Israel comes from God?

  1. Yahweh speaks personally to Joshua as He spoke to Moses.
  2. The miracle in crossing of the Jordan River recalled the miracle with Moses in crossing of the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds).
  3. Joshua's vision of the Captain of the Lord's armies is like Moses' experience with the burning bush in Exodus 3:1-6 "even to the command to remove his sandals because he is standing on "holy ground" (Ex 3:5 and Josh 5:15).

Chapter 6: The Conquest of Jericho

Then, leaving the Plains of Moab, Moses went up Mount Nebo, the peak of Pisgah opposite Jericho, and Yahweh showed him the whole country: Gilead as far as Dan, the whole of Naphtali, the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, the whole country of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the region of the Valley of Jericho, city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. Yahweh said to him, This is the country which I promised on oath to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying: I shall give it to your descendants.
Deuteronomy 34:1-4

Yahweh your God will put them at your mercy and you will conquer them. You must put them under the curse of destruction. You must not make any treaty with them or show them any pity. You must not intermarry with them; you must not give a daughter of yours to a son of theirs or take a daughter of theirs for a son of yours, for your son would be seduced from following me into serving other gods ...
Deuteronomy 7:2-4

Jericho was founded c. 8500 BC, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The site is an oasis blessed by an abundant supply of water from a perennial spring located on the east side of the city and by its tropical climate in the Jordan valley, approximately 1,000 feet below sea level. The Bible calls Jericho "the city of palm trees" (Dt 34:3; 2 Chr 28:15), and the numerous palm trees that are watered by the oasis and shade the city are still a welcomed site in the midst of the desert wasteland. Jericho is located about fourteen miles northeast from Jerusalem, about ten miles north of the Dead Sea and about four miles west of the Jordan River near one of the major fords.

Jericho's location near the ford made Jericho a gateway city to west from the Transjordan region and a city on the major east-west trade route that controlled the flow of trade from the Transjordan westward into central Canaan as well as the flow of trade from Phoenicia and Canaan across the Jordan River into the lands to the east. Jericho was also located on an important north-south trade route that connected the city with prosperous Bethshan to the north. Consequently, Jericho was a powerful city and it was also the logical site of the invasion of Canaan by the Israelites (Num 22:1; 26:3; 31:12; 33:48, 50; 35:1; Dt 32:49; Josh 2:1). Control of Jericho gave the Israelites numerous benefits: control of the major entrance to western Canaan from the Transjordan, control of the water rights in an arid region, the control of commerce along two important trade routes, and access to the mineral traffic from the Dead Sea area.

As you read the narrative, notice the repetition of sevens. Also notice the significant role the Ark of the Covenant plays in the assault on Jericho; see the underlined words.

Joshua 6:1-5 ~ God's Instructions to Joshua Concerning the Capture of Jericho
1 Now, Jericho had shut and barricaded its gates against the Israelites: no one came out and no one went in. 2 Yahweh then said to Joshua, Look, I am putting Jericho, its picked troops and its king, at your mercy. 3 All you warriors must march round the city; go right round the city once, doing the same on six successive days. 4 Seven priests must carry seven ram's-horns trumpets in front of the Ark. On the seventh day, you will go seven times round the city and the priests will blow their trumpets. 5 When the ram's horn sounds, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, the entire people must utter a mighty war cry and the city wall will collapse then and there; the people will then go into the assault, each man straight ahead.'

The people of Jericho must have felt rather confident closed within the great double walls of their city, but nothing man-made can withstand the will of God.

Question: What were Joshua's instructions?
Answer: The warriors, the priests blowing ram's horn trumpets and the Ark were to march around the city one time for six successive days. On the seventh day the march was to encircle the city seven times with the priests blowing their trumpets and on the seventh circuit the people were to utter a war cry.

Question: How will Joshua and the Israelites achieve victory over the people of Jericho? See Josh 6:2 and Heb 11:30.
Answer: God will give them the victory (verse 2), but when Jericho falls it will be both an act of God and an act of faith on the part of Israel.

This is a reoccurring biblical theme "mankind must actively cooperate in God's plan of salvation. We are His partners who participate in our works of faith (see Jam chapter 2). It is faith that claims and lays hold of the truth of the act God has promised to perform.

Joshua 6:6-9 ~ Joshua's Instructions to the People
6 Joshua son of Nun summoned the priests and said to them. Take up the Ark of the Covenant, and let seven priests carry seven ram's-horn trumpets ahead of the Ark of Yahweh.' 7 To the people he then said, Forward! March round the city, and let the vanguard march ahead of the Ark of Yahweh!' 8 (Everything was done as Joshua had given orders to the people." Seven priests, carrying seven ram's-horn trumpets ahead of the Ark of Yahweh, moved forward blowing their trumpets; the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh came behind them, 9 the vanguard marched ahead of the priests, who blew their trumpets, the rearguard followed behind the Ark; the men marched, the trumpets sounded.

Question: What was the order of the march?

  1. The vanguard
  2. The priests with trumpets
  3. The Ark
  4. The rear guard

Joshua 6:7b Seven priests, carrying seven ram's-horn trumpets ahead of the Ark of Yahweh, moved forward blowing their trumpets...

Question: What is significant about this statement?
Answer: Yahweh is depicted as marching with the holy warriors.

Joshua 6:10-16 ~ The Israelites Begin the Attack
10 Joshua had given the people the following orders, Do not raise a war cry, do not let your voice be heard (not a word must pass your lips), until the day when I say, "Raise the war cry." That is when you must raise the war cry.' 11 He made the Ark go round the city (going round once), then they went back to camp, where they spent the night. 12 Joshua got up early, and the priests took up the Ark of Yahweh. 13 Carrying the seven ram's-horn trumpets, the seven priests walked ahead of the Ark of Yahweh, blowing their trumpets as they went, while the vanguard marched ahead of them and the rearguard behind the Ark of Yahweh, and the march went on to the sound of the trumpet. 14 They marched once round the city (on the second day) and went back to camp; and so on for six days. 15 On the seventh day, they got up at dawn and marched (in the same manner) round the city seven times. (This was the only day when they marched round the city seven times). 16 At the seventh time, the priests blew their trumpets and Joshua said to the people, Raise the war cry, for Yahweh has given you the city!'

Question: How many times is the Ark mentioned in verses 4-16? How many sevens/sevenths are mentioned?
Answer: The Ark is mentioned eight times; there are twelve "sevens."

Seven is the number associated with the seventh day Creation event and is symbolically the number of spiritual perfection, fullness and completion. The number eight symbolizes salvation and twelve is the number symbolizing divine order. Yahweh's presence with the Ark is Israel's salvation, and an obedient Israel, cooperating with God's divine plan, is the fulfillment of divinely ordained government.

Imagine the site the people of Jericho saw from the city walls: the Israelite warriors marching around the city in battle formation. The priests continually blowing their trumpets, followed by the Israelite's holy shrine, the Ark of the Covenant (the priests were the sons and grandsons of Aaron). They would have recognized that the Ark was the shrine of the Israelite God, the God who had worked the amazing miracles that they had heard about, followed by the warriors of the rear guard. Imagine the impact this form of physiological warfare had on the people of Jericho. According to the census of fighting men in Numbers 26:51, there were over 600,000 men of fighting age. However, the entire fighting force may not have been engaged in marching round the city. Jericho was not a huge city. The majority of the cities of Canaan were relatively small. The excavation of the site believed to be ancient Jericho is c. 225 by 80 meters, with a circumference of 600 meters (Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, page 109). Nevertheless, one circuit of the city, marching at c. two miles an hour, must have taken about an hour.

Question: How many times was the city of Jericho encircled by the Israelites in the seven days?
Answer: Thirteen times.

The number thirteen in Scripture is often seen as an ill omen, representing hostility, rebellion, apostasy, defection, and corruption. The Israelite's thirteen times march around the city was certainly an ill omen for the people of Jericho!

Joshua 6:17-21 ~ Joshua places Jericho under the Curse of Destruction (Herem)
17 The city and everyone in it must be devoted to Yahweh under the curse of destruction [herem]; the life of Rahab the prostitute alone must be spared, with all those with her in her house, since she hid the messengers we sent. 18 But beware of the curse of destruction, yourselves, for fear that, moved by greed, you take something lying under the curse; that would put the camp of Israel under the same curse and bring disaster on it. 19 All the silver and all the gold, everything made of bronze or iron, will be consecrated to Yahweh and put in his treasury.' 20 The people raised the war cry, the trumpets sounded [Then when the trumpets sounded, the people raised the war cry]. When the people heard the sound of the trumpet, they raised a mighty war cry, and the wall collapsed then and there [the wall fell under it]. At once the people stormed the city, each man going straight forward; and they captured the city. 21 They enforced the curse of destruction [herem] on everyone in the city: men and women, young and old, including the oxen, the sheep and the donkeys, slaughtering them all.
= literal translation (IBHE, vol. I, page 571).

On the first six days, the priests blew the horns constantly and the warriors marched one circuit around the city (verse 8). On the seventh day, the horns are silent after the seventh circuit of the city. Then, as soon as the priests made a prolonged blast on the horns, Joshua gave an explicit signal to raise the war cry (see verses 16 and 20), and the walls fell down.

Question: Why is Jericho placed under the curse of destruction [herem]? See Gen 15:16; Lev 27:28-29.
Answer: This is a holy war in which the Israelites are God's instruments of divine justice in punishing the Amorites of Jericho for crimes against humanity. Therefore, the Israelites cannot profit in any way from the deaths of the enemy, and the lives of the inhabitants and all material goods are forfeited to Yahweh.

Question: Does this mean those souls are lost for all eternity? See Lk 16:19-31; 1 Pt 3:18-19; 4:6; CCC 633.
Answer: Certainly not. All souls went to Sheol/Hades. Those who were righteous waited with Father Abraham; those who were sinners received a purifying punishment in atonement for their sins. All had the opportunity to hear Jesus preach the Gospel of salvation when He descended to the abode of the dead after His death on the Cross. Those who believe in Christ and embraced the gift of eternal salvation were led by Jesus into the opened gates of heaven.

Question: What was to be destroyed and what was to be saved?
Answer: All life "men, women, children and all livestock were to be killed, their lives forfeited as tribute to Yahweh. Everything else was to be burned, including textiles and foodstuffs. The exception was anything made of gold, silver, brass, or iron; those items were to be given to the Sanctuary of Yahweh.

Question: What two warnings does Joshua give the Israelite warriors in verses 17b and 18?

  1. Rahab and her family must be protected because of the oath sworn by the two spies that Israel is obligated to enforce.
  2. If they violate the curse of destruction on the city of Jericho, they will endanger the entire Israelite camp.

The wall did not fall inward "it fell outward "under itself" so that the Israelites had a level assent, going straight forward into the city.

Questions for group discussion:

In Genesis 17:11 God told Abraham that circumcision was a covenant "sign." As you will recall in our discussion of signs earlier in the lesson, a sign points to something that is more significant than the sign itself.

Question: What did the "sign" of circumcision signify and why is circumcision no longer the "sign" of entrance into the New Covenant in Christ Jesus? See Dt 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; Acts 1:8; 2:1-11; Rom 2:25-29; 4:9-12; 6:3-11; Gal 3:25-29.
Answer: It was a physical sign that was symbolic of an interior condition "a circumcised heart that was undivided in its faith and loyalty to God. Moses called for "circumcised hearts" that are obedient to God and promised a time when God would give them the gift of circumcised hearts, a foretelling of the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers at Pentecost. St. Paul explains that interior circumcision is the "seal of the uprightness of faith" in Romans 4:11. It is this "seal" placed on the soul of the Christian in the Sacrament of Baptism that brings about new birth into the Covenant in Jesus Christ. St. Paul says it is the baptized who are the heirs of Christ and the true progeny of Abraham (Gal 3:27-29).

Question: Why do Catholics practice infant baptism as the "sign" of entrance into the New Covenant when infants can't understand the ritual and what it means?

Answer: Just as St. John the Baptist, Jesus and all other old covenant children of Israel entered the covenant with Yahweh shortly after birth, so too did early Christians understand the necessity of infant baptism. The child's parents and godparents take on the vow of teaching the child the meaning of the sacramental sign, and the child completes his baptism in the Sacrament of Confirmation when he reaches the age of consent. Why would one want to wait to confer such a powerful blessing and the gift of God's grace to a child?


1. Josh 4:19 records that Gilgal was located on the eastern border of Jericho. According to most archaeologists, the most likely location of the camp is a group of mounds about 1 mile (1.6 km) northeast of Jericho. This site fits the description of the location of Gilgah by the Jewish priest/historian Flavius Josephus (Antiquities, 5.1.4 [20]). It is also the site at which the Byzantine Christian church of Gilgal is depicted on the 6th century AD Madaba mosaic map of the Holy Land on the floor of St. George's church in Madaba, Jordan (Archaeological Study Bible, page 308).

2. Gilgah became the Israelite headquarters and the site of the Sanctuary for the next c. seven years of the conquest. Following the conquest, Joshua established the Sanctuary at Shiloh, about 25 miles (40 km) north of Jerusalem (Josh 18:1; 1 Sam 1-3:4). After the Philistines destroyed Shiloh (1 Sam 4; Jer 7), the religious center returned to Gilgal (1 Sam 10:8; 11:14-15; 13:15-18; 15:10-33). The Sanctuary remained at Gilgal until King David brought the Ark to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6).

3. If an interpretation contradicts the meaning of another passage, the interpretation is in error. Hence, the Protestant doctrine of salvation by "faith alone" is contradicted by James 2:24 in which the inspired writer states that salvation is not by "faith alone" but it is by works united with faith that one is saved. James 2:24 is the only passage in Scripture where the words "faith alone" are found.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references:

Circumcision: CCC 1150 (Old Covenant), 527 (Jesus)

Baptism of infants: CCC 403, 1231, 1233, 1250-52, 1282, 1290

Necessity of baptism: CCC 846, 1275-61, 1277

Sheol (abode of the dead/hades): CCC 632-35

The eighth day: CCC 349

The Sacraments as signs: CCC 1084, 1123, 1130-31, 1152

Interpret from the depth of the whole of Scripture together with the living Tradition of the Church passed from Jesus to His Apostles to the Church today: CCC 112-14

The four senses of Scripture: CCC 115-117