1 As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel.
2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. 4 And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt. 5 Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. 6 For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way.
8 When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. 9 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day. (Joshua 5:1–9 ESV)
I don’t know whether Israel is faithful or foolhardy here.
This is a faithful act, renewing the covenant of circumcision with those born in the wilderness, who had apparently not been circumcised, becoming part of the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 17:
9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you:Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Genesis 17:9–14 ESV)
So, Israel hadn’t kept the covenant, but it could be that Israel wasn’t really Israel as long as they were wandering in the wilderness, as the curse that none who were afraid of the Canaanites (Numbers 13–14) was in place. As River Tam said in an episode of Firely, “They weren’t really cows in the ship. Then they saw sky, and remembered what they were.”
Israel doesn’t really become Israel, doesn’t really shake the curse of wandering, isn’t fully a people of the covenant, until they are in the land.
In this, the reproach of Egypt, of slavery, of fear, is gone. Rolled away. Now they truly know who they are — God’s people, called to do God’s work.
But this circumcision is a foolhardy as well. For had the kings of the Canaanites but known, Israel was at its most vulnerable in the days following this mass cutting of foreskins. In Genesis 34, this is a ruse by the sons of Jacob to put the Hivites both at ease and make them easy prey. Which they are, Simeon and Levi kill every last Hivite man on the “third day” after their mass circumcision.
So, by doing this, Israel is defying the kings of Canaan, taunting them, and — more than anything else — trusting that God, who took the spirit out of the Canaanites with his miraculous act of stopping the Jordan and letting Israel cross dry shod, will protect them.
Sometimes the most faithful act we can do is to become utterly, completely, and totally vulnerable before our enemies. And trust that our God will protect us, and keep us safe.