Rachel Corrie

Someone you would want on your side.

14: These Living Signs Speak

The constitution of man is made up of various parts as shown in this diagram.  Most clearly, he has a soul and a body.  Less clear, he has these other aspects that make up his being.  He has a family.   He has a race.  He has a nation.  He has a land.  If you remove any of these in this world, you take away from him layers of skin, as it were, that were made to protect him from the rays of evil.  In this chapter, Schaeffer adds another vital layer of skin that is thinner and less obvious, but arguably the most important and influential.  In this chapter he mentions the "spiritual overtone" of two physical signs.  This implies a spiritual part of man.  Consider then for instance the impact our spirit has on our identity.  

Because of what I see in Joshua 4-5, I am going to update my picture of man from this...
To this...
This spirit is either alive or dead. It comes alive when we believe in the Son of Man/Son of God or when we are born again (John 3:1-21). This becomes the channel through which God works. Think of it like this. When you were born you have an AM/FM radio. The FM part was broken when Adam sinned. FM signals fill the air but you don't have access to them. When you are born again the FM part of your radio is fixed and restored. With some tuning you can pick up the signals again.


That signal comes from God and is the avenue through which He does His work. He calls us to bring back to order every aspect of our being – our body, our family, our race, our nation, our land.

Finally, it's imperative to remember before you read this section what God is working with in Joshua 4-5. He is working with fallen man. He is working with a condemned creature that is in opposition to Him. God's goal is to turn him around so he is no longer overcome by evil and death, but instead exposing it and destroying it. Step by step we are seeing in Genesis to Joshua God lay out a plan to bring him back under His domain so that he may live and live life fully. Like a doctor He prescribes medicine for his good. These living signs that Schaeffer points out in this chapter speak to us today. Do we listen? Do we fill the prescription? Do we follow the instructions? If we know what is good for us we should.

What follows are fragmentary pieces of Francis Schaeffer’s commentary Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History picked out for my own edification and direction. I am interested most in finding the conditions God gave for taking and possessing His land. Also, what can we learn from this story of conquest? To go to the start of these lessons click here.

Two Kinds of Memorials

The First Kind of Memorial: Two Piles of Stones

These Dead Stones Speak

The Second Kind of Memorial: Two Living Signs

Not long after the two piles of stones were in place, a second kind of memorial was established at this crucial moment in Jewish history.

And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Amorites, who were on the side of Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, who 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. 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 who came out of Egypt, who 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 who came out were circumcised, but all the people who 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 who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD; unto whom the LORD swore that he would not show them the land, which the LORD swore 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. 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. (Josh. 5:1–9)


Along with the two piles of stones, God gave two living signs, two sacraments. The emphasis in the above quote is on circumcision. God commanded Joshua to circumcise the children of Israel, and Joshua carried this out. All those born during the wilderness wanderings—in other words, all those forty years old and younger—had to be circumcised. This was a huge number.

When the circumcision actually occurred, they called the place where they camped that night Gilgal, which means in Hebrew “a rolling.” A rolling in what way? God said that with the circumcision there was a rolling away of the “reproach of Egypt” which was upon them.

This circumcising was a strange thing for Joshua, a keen military commander, to do. He was incapacitating his whole fighting force, an absolutely unmilitary act. It is silly to march your men right into the teeth of the enemy and then disable your own people. Joshua did it, nevertheless, because God told him to.

From a human viewpoint Joshua was jeopardizing everything. Why was circumcision so important?[1] In Stephen’s speech in the book of Acts we get an answer. Stephen said about Abraham that God “gave him the covenant of circumcision” (Acts 7:8). Circumcision was not just an abstract religious rite, but was rooted in what Stephen properly called “the covenant of circumcision,” which originated with Abraham. The reason Joshua’s act was so crucial is that before the Israelites began their battles, every man was to have upon his body the mark of the Abrahamic covenant.

We have seen that God repeated the covenant to Abraham a number of times. In one of the last repetitions, God added something new:

Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee: Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant between me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant. (Gen. 17:9–14)

God told Abraham to mark himself and every man-child of his household with a covenant token. Previously they had not been marked with an external sign; now they were to take one upon themselves at the command of God. So circumcision had a real meaning. It was the mark of the covenant—God’s promises placed on the bodies of the Jewish men.

Notice how fitting this was. The covenant sign to Noah (Gen. 9) was in the sky—the rainbow. Why? Because it was a covenant not only with Noah, but with all of nature. It was a covenant with the earth itself. Therefore, the sign was in the proper place. When the covenant of grace flowed on to Abraham, an appropriate sign was again given. To Abraham the covenant was highly personalized; so the sign was placed on his own body and the bodies of his children. God said it was a token of the covenant “between me and you.”

Abraham circumcised his household immediately, for Abraham believed God.

And Abraham took Ishmael, his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him. And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael, his son, was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. (Gen. 17:23–25)

Immediately after Isaac was born, he was circumcised as well (Gen. 21:4).

It was not, then, only those who believed personally or who would believe that were circumcised. Ishmael, for example, was circumcised as well as Isaac. The servants, too, were circumcised. There was an external portion of the covenant represented in the circumcision.[2] In other words, the circumcision was related to the national, natural blessings. It marked the Jew as a Jew. This is the first thing we must understand about circumcision.

Five hundred years later, the Passover was established. When it was first performed, there was an exact repetition of what happened at the time of Abraham:

And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof: But every man’s servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat of it.… A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof. In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone of it. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land; for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof. (Ex. 12:43–48)

How did a person gain entrance to Passover? Through circumcision. The two sacraments were blended here.

The Passover, of course, involved the tremendous promise of the coming redemption of Christ, on which all the blessings of the covenant rest—both the national and spiritual. They all rest upon Christ’s death because they are all rooted in the covenant of grace. For as man turned from God in his rebellion, God immediately promised the Messiah; and every good thing that comes to man rests upon God’s grace and upon what He promised to do in Jesus Christ. But there is also an external blessing, seen in the fact that Ishmael was circumcised as well as Isaac. It is the same when a person comes into a Christian church and shares in the Christian situation. He may or may not be saved; nevertheless, here he is in the midst of the worship service and the ongoing life of the church. He is raised in the family of God or he comes in from the outside side, and he shares certain blessings because of his association. Back in the Old Testament there was also an emphasis on the external blessing of the circumcision.

But circumcision was not only connected with the external, national blessing to the Jews as Jews. It also had a strong spiritual overtone.[3] Deuteronomy 10:16 reminds us that circumcision was intended to mean something in the flow of the spiritual side of the Abrahamic covenant: “Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked.” Deuteronomy 30:6 has the same emphasis: “And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that you mayest live.”

This teaching was reiterated years later by the prophets. Jeremiah told the people, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart” (Jer. 4:4). Speaking to people all of whom were circumcised, Jeremiah was saying, “Don’t you understand? There’s a spiritual side to circumcision. It is not just your body that is to bear this mark. There is to be a spiritual reality in your life as well.”

Jeremiah gave another striking expression of this. He mentioned the various nations that were uncircumcised, those about whom the Jews would proudly say, “You see, we are circumcised; they’re not.” Then he declared, “All the house of Israel is uncircumcised in the heart” (Jer. 9:26). “Don’t forget,” Jeremiah warned the people, “circumcision is to be spiritual. It is not only to indicate physically that you are a Jew.”

So the circumcision did two things: it marked the Jew as a Jew in the natural flow of history, but it also marked the spiritual side of the covenant, recalling the tremendous fact that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.[4] God gave not only natural promises to Abraham, but spiritual promises to the whole world (Gen. 12). Likewise, there were two aspects to uncircumcision. On the national side, if a person was uncircumcised, he was outside the Jewish people. On the spiritual side, he could have the physical circumcision and yet have an uncircumcised heart. As such, he had no part of the spiritual blessing.

Prior to the campaign against Jericho, it was important for Joshua to circumcise the men so they bore the external sign of the covenant. In the book of Exodus we find an exact parallel. Moses was on his way to lead the Israelites out of bondage. He had been away from his people for forty years. He had married a wife who was not a Jew and had male children who were not circumcised. Before he could begin his leadership, something had to happen: “And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision” (Ex. 4:24–26).

What does this story mean? Simply this: God actually pointed out to Moses that Moses was not ready to lead God’s people until the body of his own son was marked with the sign of the covenant of grace.[5] Moses could not bring himself to do it, and so there was a momentary struggle between husband and wife. When Zipporah had performed the rite, Moses could lead the people.

At Gilgal, because the males were uncircumcised, the Israelites were not ready to fight the battle of the Lord. They must first bear the mark of the covenant. As soon as the people were circumcised, they were ready to proceed.

The Passover

Immediately after the men were circumcised, the second of the sacraments was observed: “And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at evening in the plains of Jericho” (Josh. 5:10). The two sacraments were brought together again at this moment of history.

And once more we have a strong parallel with Moses. A short time after the mark of circumcision was placed on him, Moses, under God’s hand, was the instigator of the Passover. The parallels between Moses and Joshua are amazing and teach us an important lesson. “Years pass,” God seems to say, “but throughout history there is a continuity in My dealings with My people. This continuity is rooted in Myself—My character, My promises, My covenant.”

As with all the other continuities, the continuity of the Passover did not end with Joshua. The Passover is continued in the Lord’s Supper. Both signify the same reality:

Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them, and they made ready the passover. Now when the evening was come, he sat down with the twelve.… And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives. (Matt. 26:17–20, 26–30)

Jesus was saying, “I’m taking the Passover because although the time is changing, there is a continuity.” Though there was a change in the external form, there was no change in the flow of the covenant and no change in the fact of having an external token. The Passover became the Lord’s Supper.[6] Paul says we are to keep the Lord’s Supper until Jesus returns. The Lord’s Supper looks back to Christ’s death and forward to His second coming.

What, then, was the Passover? The Passover also looked two ways—back to the liberation from Egypt and forward to the first coming of the Lord as Savior. The Bible clearly indicates that the Passover was a prophecy of what Jesus would do. For instance, the Passover lamb had no bone broken, and John says that no bone of Jesus was broken while he was on the cross, “that the scripture should be fulfilled” (John 19:36). Paul says, “Christ, our passover, is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7).

Remember that in Joshua 5 the sign of circumcision was given before the Passover was celebrated. We have a similar continuity today. We have seen in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah that circumcision related to the spiritual portion of the covenant. Paul picks this up in Romans: “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart” (Rom. 2:29). Of course! All the little bells ring! This is exactly what Jeremiah said! This is what Deuteronomy says! Real circumcision is related not just to the natural blessings in the body, but to the spiritual blessings as well. True circumcision is of the heart. So just as a circumcised Israelite could eat the Passover at Gilgal, a person today who is circumcised in heart is one who can go on to the Lord’s Supper.

Later on in Romans Paul speaks about this even more strongly. Discussing the blessing that came to Abraham on the basis of his faith, he says, “How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised” (Rom. 4:10, 11). Abraham did not have to be circumcised in order to be saved. There may have been as many as twenty-five years between Abraham’s first belief in God and his circumcision. In all those years, Abraham was not separated from God. He had believed God, and God had counted it to him for righteousness. “That’s just like your justification,” Paul is saying.

Yet that does not mean circumcision was unimportant when the right time came. Being uncircumcised, he had been declared righteous; he had become a child of God. But years later a sign and seal was applied to him. In Genesis 17:11, God told Abraham, “Ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant between me and you.” In other words, “You’re already Mine, Abraham, but I’m going to give you a token in your flesh.” In Romans 4 we find exactly the same thing. What the Hebrew means by token, the Greek means by seal.

There is a flow between the circumcision of the Old Testament and the baptism of the New. The New Testament speaks of baptism as the Christian’s circumcision.[7] “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism” (Col. 2:11, 12). The main flow of the sentence is clear: “In whom also ye are circumcised in the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism.” We could say it this way (though the previous quote is the literal translation), “You are circumcised by Christian circumcision, being baptized.”

Abraham was not saved by circumcision; he was already saved. And the New Testament argues, especially in various Pauline sections, that a person does not have to be either circumcised or baptized to be saved. You can be saved without the sign. The book of Romans argues that neither the Jews nor the Gentiles needed the sign of circumcision for their redemption. First Corinthians also argues it. Galatians, strongest of all, argues against any legality that would add an external sign such as circumcision or baptism to the way of salvation. Salvation is all by grace, all on the finished work of Jesus Christ. You can add nothing to it—nothing at all.

Nevertheless, Abraham was commanded to take the covenant sign. Moses, too, learned how important the covenant sign was. And God told Joshua, “You have entered the land; now place the covenant sign on the men before they march against Jericho.”

So while Rahab was waiting, God was leading his people to establish at Gilgal two kinds of memorials—two piles of stones and two living memorials. When they were in place, Joshua was ready to march toward Jericho.

Questions & Notes

  1. Why was circumcision so important?

  2. There was an _________ portion of the covenant represented in the circumcision.

  3. But circumcision was not only connected with the external, national blessing to the Jews as Jews. It also had a strong _________ overtone.

  4. What two things did circumcision indicate?

  5. God actually pointed out to Moses that Moses was not ready to _________ God’s people until the body of his own son was marked with the sign of the covenant of grace.

  6. The Passover became the _________ _________.

  7. The New Testament speaks of _________ as the Christian’s circumcision.