Joshua 5:2-9 records the circumcisions performed in Gilgal. It gives no date, but this probably took place on Nisan 11, since Joshua would want to obey God as soon as possible, as well as to begin subduing the land right away. Gilgal means "rolled away," indicating that God officially "rolled away" or forgave the shame of Israel's captivity in Egypt and their behavior in the wilderness.
The circumcision was necessary for at least two reasons: first, to make the uncircumcised Israelites eligible to take the Passover on the 14th, and second, to have a fully covenanted people prepared to fight the wars and take over the land. Notice that the assault on Jericho followed immediately after these events. In the spiritual application of circumcision, God makes the New Covenant only with those circumcised in the heart and only a covenanted people will be in His Kingdom, of which the Promised Land is a type. Through circumcision and the "rolling away," God prepares the people for the following steps needed to live in the land and take it over.
Those circumcised remained in the camp in Gilgal until they were healed. Because Israel observed Passover in the home, the circumcision did not affect the men keeping it. The Bible contains absolutely no evidence of miraculous healings or especially rapid recovery from the surgeries due to extremely good health.
Then as the 14th began at twilight, the Israelites killed the lambs as instructed in Exodus 12:1-6. Some, including Joshua, Caleb, and others above the age of forty, undoubtedly remembered the experience from Egypt. Whether anyone kept Passover in the wilderness is debatable, since the Bible records nothing of it, but Exodus 12:25 commands them to keep it when they came into the land. After the Passover meal, the Israelites burned any remaining lamb parts and stayed in their homes until morning.
This brings us to the daylight portion of the 14th. What did they do then? They did what we do then: It is the preparation day for the first day of Unleavened Bread, so they made final preparations for observing it. Manna appeared on that day because Passover is not a Sabbath but is a preparation day for the high holy day Sabbath. Therefore, they gathered a double portion in anticipation of the holy day, an annual Sabbath (Exodus 16:25-30). God is concerned about witnessing to His people in all His holy convocations, so there would be no excuse for them not knowing to collect double.
Exodus 13:3-10 commands Israel to keep the Days of Unleavened Bread and specifically draws attention to the day they left Egypt. When does the 15th of Nisan begin? At sunset. Sunset between the 14th and 15th of Nisan begins the Night To Be Much Observed, the very first one in the Promised Land. Chronologically, this brings us into alignment with Genesis 15:17, Exodus 12:40-42, and Christ being in His grave. The first two are separated by 430 years to the day, and now in Joshua 5:11, exactly forty years to the day later, Abraham's descendents are in the land keeping the Night To Be Much Observed. Notice in Joshua 5:11 the phrase, "the selfsame day" appears. This occurred at night, and of course, the daylight portion following memorializes God's faithfulness to His promise to Abraham and his seed, both the Israelites as his physical seed and us now as his spiritual seed. These events falling on these specific dates as Israel entered the Promised Land cannot be mere coincidence.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Countdown to Pentecost 2001
When did the circumcision take place? Well, for logistical reasons, it likely happened on Abib 11, as it would take time for upwards of two million people to cross over the Jordan River. Once they got into the land, they had to spread out so they could camp. They camped at Gilgal, several miles to the west of the Jordan. Over two million people on foot just do not move all that quickly.
The phrase "rolled away" in verse 9 is especially intriguing because God officially rolled away—that is, forgave—Israel's shameful captivity in Egypt. They were now free to inherit the land. We can see types of this from before.
Remember when Moses returned to Egypt after his forty-year sojourn with Jethro and his family? What happened on the way? God stopped him and threatened to kill Moses, and Zipporah quickly took out a knife and circumcised their two boys. Before Moses could represent God and His covenant, his children had to be circumcised. From this, we can understand that while Moses had been circumcised, he had neglected to circumcise his own sons. God made sure they bore the sign of the covenant.
Before Israel could represent God, even within the Promised Land when they went to war, they had to undergo circumcision. It represented their sanctification, setting them apart from the people of the land. A circumcised, sanctified army would represent God in conquering the land.
In addition, they were about to take the Passover, and Exodus 12 teaches that a male Israelite must be circumcised before he takes the Passover. This circumcision prepared them to observe it.
In the New Testament, our circumcision is of the heart. It signifies a cutting away of the human nature that that makes us sanctified to represent God as His witnesses and as His sons under the New Covenant.
Those circumcised remained in Gilgal in the camp until they healed. This did not matter in terms of the Passover because it was a ritual that was observed at home. There is no evidence that God performed miraculous healings of those circumcised since He says that they remained in camp until their wounds healed.
Scripture says nothing specifically about either Abib 12 or 13, but they undoubtedly used those days to settle in more thoroughly in Gilgal, do the harvesting of local crops, raid the local stores of produce in the area, and make any preparations required for keeping the Passover.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wavesheaf and the Selfsame Day
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Joshua 5:2: