Summary: The use of sacraments at a turning point in the Church's life.
ROLLING AWAY THE REPROACH
The exodus generation of Israel had not been circumcising their sons during the forty years of their wilderness wanderings (Joshua 5:5). So after the death of that whole generation (Joshua 5:4), and even on the threshold of the land which the LORD had promised them, the LORD commanded Joshua to make flint knives and to circumcise the next generation (Joshua 5:2-3). This necessitated a time of healing (Joshua 5:8), which effectively amounted to delaying the opportunity of pressing home an obvious military advantage (Joshua 5:1) - but obedience to God is more important than even the best of purely human strategies.
It is interesting to observe here how a generation of circumcised people effectively forfeited the promises (Joshua 5:6; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-5), and how a generation hitherto uncircumcised were brought into the promised land (Joshua 5:7). The implication for ‘baptised’ members of our churches is surely self-evident? Short of the Lord taking away the candlestick altogether, unbelieving members will be removed, and their place taken by a generation who will live up to their side of God’s covenant (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:12).
At this point, the LORD spoke metaphorically of having “rolled away the reproach of Egypt” (Joshua 5:9). Egypt stands for the place of captivity. In like manner Jesus, by taking our reproaches upon Himself (cf. Psalm 69:9), sets us free from the captivity of sin and death (cf. Romans 8:2).
As the church reaches a crossroads in its life it is important that the signs of our covenant with God are celebrated. The dedication of a child has the potential to set them up for life, whereas in baptism a new convert makes public a personal commitment to the Lord. When the communion is celebrated, we are equipping ourselves for spiritual warfare.
In the Providence of God, it just so happened that the anniversary of the Passover coincided with the time of Israel’s healing in Gilgal (Joshua 5:10). As with our Communion, it was a time to look back, to see what God has done hitherto, and a time to move forward into the promises before us.
The children of Israel could reflect on the (now historic) Exodus, the Crossing of the Red Sea, the sustenance in the wilderness; upon early victories, and now the crossing of the Jordan. They could look forward to taking possession of the land: “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Joshua 5:6).
We can look back to Jesus’ ‘exodus’ (cf. Greek of Luke 9:31) which He accomplished in Jerusalem, to His death for our sins and his resurrection for our justification (cf. Romans 4:25); and to His ascension into heaven, and His continued intercession on our behalf. All this in anticipation, as we break the bread and drink the cup ‘until He comes’ (1 Corinthians 11:26).
The blessing of participation was in evidence the very day after they had eaten the Passover. They began to eat the food of the promised land (Joshua 5:11). What ministries of provision, both spiritual and physical, might we be missing when we neglect to participate in the Communion?
Then the manna ceased (Joshua 5:12). The need for the extraordinary provision of the wilderness had passed, and now the LORD would provide through more ordinary means. There was no use in their looking in the old place: it would not be there. We don’t always need to be looking for the miraculous in answer to our prayers: often it is for the more mundane that we fail to return thanks to God.