“And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Amorites, which were on the side of Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, which were by the sea, heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel, until we were passed over, that their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel.” (Joshua 5:1)
In any conflict, one’s mental attitude is half the battle. Rahab had told the spies that the Amorites were convinced Israel would be likely to win a conflict. Knowing the miraculous way Israel crossed the Jordan River only heightened their anxiety. The river had been no barrier at all. They had hoped it would stop or at least delay them so they could attack them in smaller groups.
“At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. And Joshua made him sharp knives, and circumcised the children of Israel at the hill of the foreskins.
And this is the cause why Joshua did circumcise: All the people that came out of Egypt, that were males, even all the men of war, died in the wilderness by the way, after they came out of Egypt. Now all the people that came out were circumcised: but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised.
For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: unto whom the LORD sware that he would not show them the land, which the LORD sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey. And their children, whom he raised up in their stead, them Joshua circumcised: for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them by the way.” (Joshua 5:2-7)
In Genesis 17, God had covenanted with Abraham that every male would be circumcised as a sign of their belief in God, and that any who was not would be excluded from the promises. The covenant with Abraham had been kept up until they left Egypt. During their forty years of wandering, they not taken time to circumcise their children, so any who had been born during that period were not circumcised. All the men who had been more than twenty when they left Egypt died, leaving only a bout a third of the men and boys having been circumcised. God instructed Joshua to keep the agreement between God and Abraham before they went any farther.
“And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole. And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day.” (Joshua 5:8-9)
With the circumcision of all the males, the last vestiges of their captivity in Egypt was removed. They were completely identified as God’s people once again.
Baptism serves the same purpose for the Christian as circumcision did for the Jews, identifying those who trust God. Taking that step indicates a clear breaking with our old sinful life, just as the circumcision here indicated breaking completely away from Egypt. Those who had not been circumcised were still part of Israel and experienced the blessing of God, but it was essential for them to obey in the area of circumcision for them to attain all the benefits of God’s promises. In the same way, a person can be saved without being baptized, but it is essential if he is ever to attain the full measure of growth as a Christian. It symbolizes our attitude of trust and obedience, and refusal to be baptized indicates an unwillingness to obey.