Friday, May 28, 2010

What We Can Learn From Circumcision

I've been reading through the book of Joshua lately. When I told my friend Charlie that my next blog post was going to come out of a passage of Joshua, he told me that I've been going nuts on Joshua lately. And he's right, I suppose. But I really do love Joshua. It gets a little slow in the middle when the Israelites are dividing up their new land, but if you really love reading lists of town names, you'll go crazy for it.

There is a really cool story in Joshua 5, but it's one that can easily be glazed over. It's tucked right in the middle of more well-known episodes, like Rahab and the spies, the crossing of the Jordan, and the destruction of Jericho, so maybe you've never paid much attention to it. But in Joshua 5, the Israelites have just finished crossing the Jordan River. At long last, they are actually standing in the Promised Land. It's been a long time coming, too. Forty years previously, Moses had sent twelve spies into the land to check it out, and when they came back all the people freaked out and refused to go into the land, so God caused them to wander around in the desert for forty years until all the adults died. But now, it's a new generation, and they are confident and ready to kick some Canaanite butt. There's a problem, though. God knows that they aren't quite ready.

So, in Joshua 5:2, God commands Joshua, "Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again." So that we don't get confused and think that all these poor Israelite guys are all undergoing a second circumcision (which would be less than pleasant, I'm sure), the writer informs us that all those who were born in the desert after Israel came out of Egypt had not been circumcised. So after they cross the Jordan, the nation is made up of thousand of uncircumcised Israelites, and God commands Joshua to circumcise them (which still is really unpleasant, come to think of it.)

Writing a blog post about circumcision is difficult, but here's a little of what I see in this passage. Before Israel is really ready to conquer the Promised Land, before they can accomplish what God has for them, they need to be remade. Circumcision is something that distinguished God's nation from all the surrounding peoples. It brought unity between the Israelites and one another and between the nation and God. God has incredible things that he wants to do through Israel, but before he does, he wants to recreate the nation.

I wonder if we too need to be periodically remade by God if we're going to be able to do what he has lined up for us. God is sort of in the business of making things new. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17). Now, when I say that we need to be continuously remade by God, I don't mean that we must receive anew his gift of grace every time we sin. I think God's mercy is bigger than that and that Christ's sacrifice is capable of covering all our sin once and for all. But I do think that we need to come before God pretty frequently and say, "God, give me a fresh start and make me new." Every morning ushers in a new day, and we can have a tendency to hold on to problems and failures from the previous day and let those inhibit our lives in the present. Israel could have sat down on that western bank of the Jordan and refused to go on because they were still being dragged down by their rebellion in the desert. But God gives them a fresh start; he separates them to himself again. If we pray something like that every morning and let go of what pulls us down, I think God can tear down Jericho's walls through us, too.

A few days ago, I arrived in Corvallis, Oregon, where I am doing a summer youth ministry internship with Suburban Christian Church, and I'll be here until August 19th. It has been good so far; all the people I've met have been great and have done a ton to help me welcome. I am a long way from home, however, and I think this summer could be very tough for me in a number of ways. So if you don't mind, please keep me in your prayers. Be praying for all the other Ozark students that are doing all sorts of different ministries this summer, too. I would list some of them here, but I don't have room to put all of them I know of, and then I would feel bad about leaving some of them out. Also, if you want to know my summer address so that you can send me cookies, cash, or love letters, just let me know, and I'll hook you up.


Jackie said...

You know you are ALWAYS in my prayers, weather you are in silly Oregon or not. I miss you.

Charlie said...

Brother you hit a deep subject and personal favortie of mine...circumcision.

But on a serious note (shameless plug for my own blog...I was reading exodus last night and I read about God's Passover restrictions for the Israelites. He said that no un-circumcised male may partake of the meal. God seems to be harping on circumcision a lot, but I don't think it is because he hates foreskin. He is making a point that the people need to be clean in order to be in his presence; I think he is just setting up the need for Jesus like He always did in the Old Testament.

I'm praying for you brother.