Too Busy to Obey

God's covenant of promise comes with sanctions.

Joshua 5 (3)

And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: All the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way, after they had come out of Egypt. For all the people who came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness, on the way as they came out of Egypt, had not been circumcised. For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD—to whom the LORD swore that He would not show them the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers that He would give us, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Then Joshua circumcised their sons whom He raised up in their place; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. Joshua 5.4-7

1.  What does it say about the hearts of those fathers, that they did not consider it important to fulfill their covenant obligations for their sons while they were in the wilderness?

2.  Circumcision might have seemed like a little thing to those fathers. It was not a little thing to God. We may feel free to compromise on our end of His covenant, but He will not fail to uphold His – both the promises He has made and the sanctions He threatens for disobedience. What are sanctions? Are there sanctions attending to the New Covenant?

Think about it.
In Exodus 2.24 and 25, we learn that Israel’s deliverance from Egypt came about because God “remembered” (literally, “attended to”) His covenant with Abraham. He had promised 400 years of captivity in Egypt (Gen. 15.12-16), and now that time was up. God expects His people similarly to “attend to” His covenant, by fulfilling the obligations of obedience He has commanded. The covenant with Abraham included the duty to circumcise male children. The people who were delivered from Egypt rejoiced in God’s faithfulness, but they were not careful about their own. They must have considered that circumcising their sons was a minor concern, compared to surviving in the wilderness. But their failure to obey in this matter, as in their refusal to enter the land of promise (Num. 14), was a symptom of a deeper problem in their hearts (Deut. 5.29).

Twice in the passage for today the text repeats the reason for God’s commanding the men of Israel to be circumcised at this time (vv. 5, 7). That’s God’s way of saying to His people, “Listen up!” Whatever He commands us to do, we must do faithfully and well. We do not have the right to pick and choose from the Lord’s commandments, or to reinterpret them in ways that are more convenient for us, or more to our liking. God’s covenant comes with promises and sanctions, and this is as true of the New Covenant as of the Old (cf. Heb. 12.3-11).

The Christian movement in the West is losing ground. We’re not seeing new people come to Christ as in the past, and we’re not making the kind of impact on culture and society we should expect. Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit (Rom. 14.17, 18) are giving way to narcissism, self-indulgence, and irrelevance. Are we entering a wilderness period of our own? Will God refuse to do anything of significance for His Kingdom until our generation has died and a subsequent generation arises which is determined to take God at His Word – about the Lord’s Day? About how to worship God? About our calling to be His witnesses? About making disciples rather than merely going to church?

Meditate and discuss.
1.  How would we know if we as a community of believers had fallen under the disfavor of God and the sanctions of His covenant? What should we do then?

2.  Circumcising all the males at once was a drastic measure. Why was it so important? What would be a similarly drastic measure to take in our day, if we suddenly came to realize we were out of favor with God (cf. Ps. 85)?

3.  What is the role of church leaders in helping to make sure God’s people keep pressing on toward the promises and not slinking back into the wilderness?

“The circumcision was given to Abraham before the law, after the blessings and after the promise, as a sign to set him and those born of him and those of his household apart from the Gentiles in whose midst he was living. And this is obvious, because, when Israel spent forty years alone by themselves in the desert without mixing with any other nation, all those who were born in the desert were not circumcised.” John of Damascus (650-750 AD)

Search me, Lord, and show me if there are any areas where I am failing in keeping covenant with You, or where I…

Pray Psalm 105.1-8.

As you pray, give thanks to God for all His covenant promises, and recommit yourself to all your covenant obligations.

Psalm 105.1-11 (Warrington: Give to Our God Immortal Praise)
Give thanks unto the Lord Most High; call on His Name, before Him cry! 
Make known His deeds in every land; sing praise for all the works of His hand. 

Glory in God, rejoice in heart, all you who seek His holy part. 
Him and His strength and presence seek; His works proclaim, His judgments speak. 

You holy children of Abraham, you chosen ones of Jacob, stand! 
He is our Lord, of wondrous worth; His judgments are in all the earth. 

He will His covenant faithfully guard – His oath, the promise of His Word. 
That which He to our fathers swore, He will perform forevermore!

T. M. Moore

Where does the book of Joshua fit in the ongoing story of God’s covenant? Our workbook, God’s Covenant, can help you discover the place in God’s work of redemption not only of Joshua but of all the books of the Bible. God’s Covenant is a valuable resource to guide you in all your studies in God’s Word. To order your copy, click here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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