on Joshua 5 :2
Make thee sharp knives - חרבות צרים charboth tsurim, knives of rock, stone, or flint. Before the use of iron was common, all the nations of the earth had their edge-tools made of stones, flints, etc. In the lately discovered islands this is found to be a common case. Our ancestors in these countries made their arrow and spear-heads of flint: these I have often seen turned up by the plough. But we cannot suppose that at the time here referred to the Israelites were destitute of iron, and were therefore obliged to use knives made of stone or flint, their different manufactures in the wilderness prove that they must have had both iron and steel. Why then use knives made of stone? Probably it was unlawful to use metal of any kind in this religious rite; and indeed this seems likely from the circumstance of Zipporah (Exodus 4:25) taking a sharp stone and circumcising her son; and we find, from the most ancient and authentic accounts, that the Egyptians considered it unlawful or profane to use any kind of metal to make incisions in the human body, when preparing it for embalming; see the note on Genesis 50:2, and on Exodus 4:25. That it was deemed improper to use any other kind of instrument in circumcision we have a proof in the tribe Alnajab, in Ethiopia, who follow the Mosaic institution, and perform the rite of circumcision, according to Ludolf, cultris lapidibus, with knives made of stone. - Hist. Aethiop., lib. iii., c. 1. And as God commanded the people to make him an altar of unhewn stones, on which no tool of iron had been lifted up, because this would pollute it, (see Exodus 20:25, and Deuteronomy 27:5), he might require that no instrument of iron should be used in a rite by which the body and soul of the person were in the most solemn and sacred manner dedicated to him to be his house and temple, the heart itself being the altar on which continual sacrifices to God must be offered. A physical reason has been given for preferring knives of stone in this operation, "the wound suffers less through inflammation, and is sooner healed." For this a reason may be given. It is almost impossible to get an edge made so even and firm as not to leave particles of the metal in the incisions made even in the most delicate flesh; these particles would soon become oxidized by the action of the air, and extra inflammation in the part would be the consequence. The great aptitude of iron to be oxidized, i.e., to be converted to rust, is well known; but how far this reasoning, thus applied, may be supported by fact, I cannot pretend to determine: it is sufficiently evident that it was a common custom to use knives of stone in circumcision, and in all operations on those parts of the human body. I shall give a few examples. Pliny says, when they amputate certain parts they do it with a sharp stone, because nothing else could be employed without danger. Samia testa virilitatem amputabant: nec aliter citra perniciem. Ovid, Fast. lib. iv., ver. 237, relates a circumstance where the saxum acutum, or sharp stone, was used about those parts: -
Ille etiam Saxo corpus laniavit Acuto,
Longaque in immundo pulvere tracta coma est.
Voxque fuit, Merui; meritas dem sanguine poenas;
Ah! pereant partes quae nocuere mihi;
Ah! pereant; dicebat adhuc, onus inguinis aufert;
Nullaque sunt subito signa relicta viri.
This quotation is produced in order to prove that a knife made of a sharp stone was used in making incisions and amputations of certain parts of the body, even when the use of iron was well known; but a translation of the verse is not necessary, and would be improper. The
Mollia qui Rapta secuit Genitalia Testa
of Juvenal (Sat. vi., ver. 513) is a farther proof of this. Many other proofs might be produced but those who wish for more may consult Calmet and Scheuchzer.
Circumcise again the children of Israel the second time - This certainly does not mean that they should repeat circumcision on those who had already received it. This would have been as absurd as impracticable. But the command implies that they were to renew the observance of a rite which had been neglected in their travels in the desert: this is sufficiently evident from the following verses.
on Joshua 5 :2
Make thee sharp knives - Render rather as marg., and compare marginal reference and note. Knives of flint or stone were in fact used for circumcision, and retained for that and other sacred purposes, even after iron had become in common use. The rendering of the margin is adopted by almost all ancient versions, by most commentators, and by the fathers generally, who naturally regarded circumcision performed by Joshua and by means of knives of stone or rock, as symbolic of the true circumcision performed by Christ, who is more than once spoken of as the Rock (compare 1 Corinthians 10:4; Romans 2:29; Colossians 2:11). See Joshua 21:42.
Circumcise again ... - i. e. make that which once was a circumcised people but is not so now, once more a circumcised people. (See Joshua 4:4-7.)
on Joshua 5 :2
5:2 At that time - As soon as ever they were come to Gilgal, which was on the tenth day; and so this might be executed the eleventh day, and that in the morning: on the thirteenth day they were sore of their wounds, and on the fourteenth day they recovered, and at the even of that day kept the passover. Make - Or, prepare, or make ready, as this word sometimes used. As it was not necessary for those who had such knives already to make others for that use; so it is not probable that such were commanded to do so, but only to make them sharp and fit for that work. The second time - He calleth this a second circumcision, not as if these same persons had been circumcised before, but with respect to the body of the people, where of one part had been circumcised before, and the other at this time, which is called a second time, in relation to some former time wherein they were circumcised, either, in Egypt, when many of the people, who possibly for fear or favour of the Egyptians, had neglected this duty, were by the command of Moses circumcised. Or at Sinai, when they received the passover, Numb 9:5, which no uncircumcised person might do.