on Joshua 5 :4
This is the cause why Joshua did circumcise - The text here explains itself. Before the Israelites left Egypt all the males were circumcised; and some learned men think that all those who were born during their encampment at Sinai were circumcised also, because there they celebrated the passover; but after that time, during the whole of their stay in the wilderness, there were none circumcised till they entered into the promised land. Owing to their unsettled state, God appears to have dispensed, for the time being, with this rite; but as they were about to celebrate another passover, it was necessary that all the males should be circumcised; for without this they could not be considered within the covenant, and could not keep the passover, which was the seal of that covenant. As baptism is generally understood to have succeeded to circumcision, and the holy eucharist to the passover, hence, in the Church of England, and probably in most others, no person is permitted to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper till he has been baptized.
on Joshua 5 :4
Of the whole nation those only were already circumcised at the time of the passage of the Jordan who had been under twenty years of age at the time of the complaining and consequent rejection at Kadesh (compare the marginal reference). These would have been circumcised before they left Egypt, and there would still survive of them more than a quarter of a million of thirty-eight years old and upward.
The statements of these verses are of a general kind. The "forty years" of Joshua 5:6 is a round number, and the statement in the latter part of Joshua 5:5 cannot be strictly accurate. For there must have been male children born in the wilderness during the first year after the Exodus, and these must have been circumcised before the celebration of the Passover at Sinai in the first month of the second year (compare Numbers 9:1-5, and Exodus 12:48). The statements of the verses are, however, sufficiently close to the facts for the purpose in hand; namely, to render a reason for the general circumcising which is here recorded.
The reason why circumcision was omitted in the wilderness, was that the sentence of Numbers 14:28 ff placed the whole nation for the time under a ban; and that the discontinuance of circumcision, and the consequent omission of the Passover, was a consequence and a token of that ban. The rejection was not, indeed, total, for the children of the complainers were to enter into the rest; nor final, for when the children had borne the punishment of the fathers' sins for the appointed years, and the complainers were dead, then it was to be removed, as now by Joshua. But for the time the covenant was abrogated, though God's purpose to restore it was from the first made known, and confirmed by the visible marks of His favor which He still vouchsafed to bestow during the wandering. The years of rejection were indeed exhausted before the death of Moses (compare Deuteronomy 2:14): but God would not call upon the people to renew their engagement to Him until He had first given them glorious proof of His will and power to fulfill His engagements to them. So He gave them the first fruits of the promised inheritance - the kingdoms of Sihon and Og; and through a miracle planted their feet on the very soil that still remained to be conquered; and then recalled them to His covenant. It is to be noted, too, that they were just about to go to war against foes mightier than themselves. Their only hope of success lay in the help of God. At such a crisis the need of full communion with God would be felt indeed; and the blessing and strength of it are accordingly granted.
The revival of the two great ordinances - circumcision and the Passover - after so long an intermission could not but awaken the zeal and invigorate the faith and fortitude of the people. Both as seals and as means of grace and God's good purpose toward them then, the general circumcision of the people, followed up by the solemn celebration of the Passover - the one formally restoring the covenant and reconciling them nationally to God, the other ratifying and confirming all that circumcision intended - were at this juncture most opportune.
on Joshua 5 :4
5:4 Out of Egypt - This is to be restrained to such as were then above twenty years old, and such as were guilty of that rebellion, Numb 14:1 - 25, as it is expressed below, Jos 5:6.