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Joshua 5: Breaking the Cycle of Sin Print E-mail
Sunday, 17 February 2008

Sometimes we inherit things from former generations that make it even harder to follow the Lord faithfully.  We have all probably heard the term Ďgenerational siní in a conversation about alcoholism or divorce.  At times we can identify sinful patterns that are passed on from generation to generation.  Now, before we go much further, I should note that we are still without excuse.  The New Testament makes it clear that we cannot blame our parents or grandparents or anyone else for that matter for our own struggle with sin.  Yet, it can help us to recognize these patterns of sin in our own lives so that we may avoid them.  Of course, the questions that remain are how can we break this cycle of sin in our lives, or how can we break any cycle of sin in our lives?  These are the questions that I think Joshua 5 can help us answer.

The situation here in the history of Israel is important to note and understand.  The Lord had rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  He had promised to give them the land of Canaan.  Yet, when the first set of spies came back and reported to the people, they were filled with fear and refused to take the land.  For this disobedience, the Lord caused them to wander for 40 years in the wilderness until all the men had died.  Joshua is now leading their children into the land of Canaan.  Since he and Caleb were the only spies to encourage obedience, the Lord has kept only them alive from the former generation. 

So then, the question now comes to this new generation: will you obey the Lord and take the land or will you disobey and make the same mistake that your parents made?  Will you break the cycle of sin?  As we have seen already in the book and as we will see in this chapter, their answer at this point is yes.  They have crossed the Jordan and the land is prime for the taking (see v. 1).  In a couple of weeks, we will begin to see their own struggles in following the Lord, but they are faithful here.  So how can the cycle of sin be broken?

First, we break the cycle of sin by returning to obedience (v. 2-11).

I know that this statement is not that profound.  Yet, as we look at Israelís obedience here, I think we can see the importance of this simple truth and the error of neglecting it.  Letís consider their two acts of obedience in this text.

First, we see Israelís obedience in the act of circumcision.  Look at verses 2-9.  The Lord tells Joshua to circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.  According to verses 4-5, the reason this needs to be done is that it had been neglected by the former generation.  They had been circumcised but they failed to do this faithfully with their children.  Thus, the new generation needed to be circumcised before the war for Canaan began.  Of course, you may be wondering why in the world the Bible speak of circumcision and why this is so important at this point. 

In order to understand, we must remember that circumcision was the sign of the covenant that was given to Abraham.  The Lord affirms His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17 and tells him that circumcision shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you (v. 11).  He goes on to say that any who refuse this sign shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant (v. 14).  Thus, this was an important act for Israel that the former generation had neglected.  Before the people go to battle, they must keep this sign of the covenant.  We should note that this was costly obedience at this point.  Remember the people are encamped in enemy territory in the plains of Jericho.  Thus, this obedience involved physical pain and even risk of defeat as they waited to heal (see v. 9).  Yet, it always more risky and more costly to be disobedient to the Lord than it is to be obedient.  So, Joshua and the new generation obeyed.

Second, we see Israelís obedience in keeping the Passover.  Look at verses 10-11.  Just like circumcision, the Passover was an important part of Israelís relationship to Yahweh.  It commemorated the Lord passing over the people of Israel when the tenth plague (the death of the firstborn son) came to Egypt.  Why is it so important here?  It carries a two-fold significance here.  First, it demonstrates Israelís willingness to obey the Lord in remembering what He has done for them.  Second, it is a fulfillment of a prophecy that was spoken when the first Passover took place, namely, And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service (Exodus 12:25, see also 13:5).  This verse shows the importance of Israel obeying and the fact that God is keeping His promise to His people.  They are enjoying their first Passover in the Promised Land.

What lessons can we learn from their obedience here?  First, we have to see that we are not chained to make the errors of those who have gone before us.  The Lordís commands come to us just like they came to them and we must be obedient by His grace.  Second, we need to see the blessing of obedience and the curse of disobedience.  The former generation disobeyed and they died in the wilderness.  This generation is obeying and they are eating the Passover in the Promised Land.  This does not mean that obedience is easy.  No, the act of obedience is often painful, physically and otherwise, but the blessings therein far outweigh the struggles.  Thus, may we break the cycle of sin by returning to obedience and recommitting ourselves to the covenant of the Lord. 

Second, we break the cycle of sin by trusting that the Lord will keep His promises (v. 12-15).

Before we look at the promises of the Lord fulfilled in this text, I should note that when we speak of trusting in the Lord we mean trust that leads to action.  In other words, it is this trust that will lead to faithful obedience.  So what promises does the Lord fulfill in this passage? 

First, the Lord keeps His promise to provide for the people.  Look at verse 12.  Why does the author mention that the manna ceased at this point?  The Lord began feeding the people with manna after the exodus.  They complained to Moses that they were better off in Egypt where they had food and the Lord answered their complaint by giving them manna.  The Lord provided food for them for 40 years in the wilderness.  He took care of them in the wilderness and He is now taking care of them in Canaan.  He promised to get them to the Promised Land and He has kept that promise.

Second, the Lord keeps His promise to fight for the people.  Look at verses 13-15.  We saw in Joshua 1:2 the Lordís promise to give the land to the people.  He promised that they would not be defeated in battle if they obeyed His commands.  He would go before them and fight on their behalf.  On the eve of the first battle, the battle for Jericho, who shows up?  The commander of the Lordís army.  It is hard to know exactly who this is, but since Joshua worships him and he tells Joshua that the ground is holy, it is hard not to conclude that the commander is the Lord (some have said it is perhaps the pre-incarnate Christ).  However we view him, his presence makes it clear that the Lord will keep His promise to fight for Israel.  The Lord has filled the kings of Canaan with fear (see v. 1) and gives Joshua further assurance that He will go before the armies of Israel. 

We, like Israel, must trust, and act on this trust, that the Lord will keep His promises to us.  He has promised to provide for us.  I could mention a number of passages to demonstrate this promise (such as Matthew 6:25-34, Philippians 4:19, or Ephesians 1:3ff) but in light of the present context I want to turn your attention to John 6:32ff.  After Jesus fed the five thousand, many were following Him simply for more bread.  He addresses this in verses 25-29 and tells them that they should labor for the food that endures to eternal life.  After telling them that the work of God is to believe in the one he has sent, they ask for a sign like the manna in the wilderness.  Jesus answers them in verses 32-35. 

After discussing with them their failure to believe, He speaks again of being the bread of life in verses 47-51.  Look at those with me.  The people were impressed by Godís provision for Israel in the wilderness and rightly so.  Yet, Jesus is telling them that greater provision has come.  He is the bread of life and anyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.  He also reminds us of what that will cost Him, namely His life by the giving of His flesh for us.  Brothers and sisters, we should marvel at Godís provision of manna for the people of Israel, but we should be amazed and humbled at the provision of Christ, the bread that leads to eternal life.  May we trust in this glorious promise of provision.

Likewise, God has promised to fight for us.  Again, the clear demonstration of this is the cross.  Yes, Jesus was battling His enemies at the cross but He was also battling ours, namely sin, Satan, and death.  He fought in our place and has gone before us in victory to the Fatherís side.  He has promised to be with us and to fight for us until He returns (see Matthew 28:18-20, Romans 8:35-39, 2 Timothy 1:3-14, Jude 24-25).  Just as the Lord promised to deliver the land of Canaan to the people of Israel in Joshuaís day, so He has promised to deliver us to eternal life through the work of Christ.  Yet, we must stop trusting in ourselves and place all of our faith in His finished work at the cross.  We must trust in the promise of His victory.

The call comes to us as believers in Christ today: we must learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before us and return to obedience while trusting in the Lord to keep His promises.  We are not doomed to repeat the failures of former generations.  We are not shackled to their errors.  No, the Lord comes to us and calls us to obey.  We know that obedience will be costly and difficult.  Yet, because of the provision of Christ, we know that we are promised the victory.  Unfortunately, we will make mistakes along the way (just like the new generation of Israel will do), but even then, may we be quick to return to obedience while trusting in the Lord to forgive and restore so that we might teach the generations that will follow us (if the Lord tarries) how to break (and avoid) any cycle of sin.  May we be so sure of Godís gracious provision in Christ, the very bread of life, and so certain of His promise to fight on our behalf, that we will move forward in faithful obedience.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 February 2008 )

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