In the Bible, when Israel crossed over into Canaan, after the parting of the waters of Jordan, the first place they camp is at Gilgal. At Gilgal, God asks Joshua to do something significant – circumcise all the men since they hadn’t done it during the forty years of their desert wandering. God then pronounces over them a declaration viz. that He has rolled away the reproach of Egypt from them that day. The name Gilgal means the place where reproach was removed.
Circumcision was given by the Lord to the patriarch Abraham and his generations as physical evidence and sign of His covenant with them. All male members of Israel had to bear this in their flesh as a mark of their commitment to follow Him and obey His laws as partners of the covenant. Circumcising, the removing of the foreskin, was the outward symbolic act of an inward relationship with God, to be His people and live according to His precepts.
For Israel, Gilgal event was significant as it:
Reconnected them to their heritage and their history carved out by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Renewed their allegiance to God in the moment of setting foot on the land promised so long ago to their forefather Abraham.
Reinstated them as a people and a nation rather than just a rabble who came out of nowhere.
Restored them to their own land from which they had been forced to migrate four hundred plus years before due to widespread famine.
Removed from them the stain of being a pack of escaped or freed slaves and establishing them as an ethnic groups with their own culture.
Reinstalled them with a sense of identity so as to live with the dignity and decorum that befits those who belong the God on High.
Circumcision is not easy experience for grown-up men since it involves a stripping away, an onslaught of pain and a time of weakness induced in the body. In fact, we see in Josh 5 that they had to rest for 3 days till they healed from it. It was after this only did they go up to battle against the first city, Jericho.
Why was it important for the people to go through this important rite before the battle? Wouldn’t it have made sense to do such things after they had conquered the whole land and really settled in peace once for all?
It was important to do this before even the first fight because they had to be strong in who they were and what were their roots. The kings of the land feared them, but unless the men of war had their identity in place, they wouldn’t be able to do what they had to do. Their identity was wrapped up in their relationship with God. They had to have no lingering thought of their past slavery. They needed to hold their heads up high, not just as a free people, but as a people who belonged to the God of all the earth. They had to have it branded in them that they were those whom He had claimed as His own by a strong hand and an outstretched arm !
Jericho was not the only city they had to face, but it was the first one they had to overcome. This was just the beginning of battles, which would continue on for a long time until they possessed the whole land. Jericho was also a walled city, a strong fortress and a defenced city. It was the gateway of Canaan and so conquering it would be key to ensuring victory through all the land.
Therefore, not only did they have to be strengthened in their identity, but they also had to be totally convinced about and in the power of their God. They had to stand tall based on their standing with God and draw their power from a relationship with Him. They had to be strong not in themselves but in the power and might of Him Who carried them on wings of eagles to their promised land!
They had to be reminded that without Him they were nothing, but with Him they would be victorious. Where their fathers ran away in fear, they had to be bold and strong in God and His might. They had to be reminded strongly of their ties with Him and the promise He gave that He would fight their battles. He was their backup, their strength and shield!
If they didn’t have this overview and orientation, they wouldn’t be able to do all that He commanded them to do. The battle strategy in Jericho would have baffled anyone if they didn’t have the vision of God and a connection with Him. They had to be rooted, grounded and established in their realization of Who their God was and who they were in Him!
That’s why Gilgal, where they were stripped of the old stain on them and branded by His mark, was of utmost necessity, an important milestone and the first event in the life of the nation of Israel.
What does Gilgal have to do with us today? What does it signify and mean for us today?
We who have been washed and cleansed by the blood of Jesus, delivered out of the kingdom of darkness and set free from the bondage to Satan, have to come to Gilgal, not just once, but often in our lives to be circumcised. Both the Old and New Testaments instruct us that we need to circumcise our hearts.
The book of Deuteronomy gives us the answer as to why we need to circumcise our hearts: Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. Deut 30:6.
You need to time and again have Gilgal in your life so as to fulfill the first commandment – to be able to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
You need to come to Gilgal often so that you have a heart of flesh and not of stone, so that God can write His laws on your heart and mind according to the new covenant (Heb 8).
Apostle Paul declares that by baptism a circumcision done not by hands has put off the self ruled by flesh from us. In Col 2:11-12, he writes When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. NLT
This initial circumcision cuts off the umbilical cord of our connection with the Adamic heritage of sin we have acquired as mankind, cleaving away the source of our sin from us and reattaching us to the original source of our existence, God. However, this initial cutting off is just thr beginning and needs to be followed up by a constant shutting off from sin and continued connection with our Creator, if we have to be His offspring in reality.
Circumcision involves peeling back the foreskin and even so our hearts need to be divested of the hardness that constantly sets in due to unbelief, resistance, rebellion and sin. Only a heart if flesh would enable us to walk constantly in obedience to Him and His commandments.
Gilgal is inevitable and important, both for transformation and conquest of this world for God.
Strongholds cannot be conquered without first stopping at Gilgal. Gilgal has to come before Jericho can be vanquished!
Have you camped at Gilgal? Have you known a stripping away of stiffness and hardness? Have you known the pain of putting away the flesh?
Gilgal is needed if the reproach and guilt of your past is still dogging you. Gilgal must be part of your life if you still haven’t been clothed with your new identity in Christ.
Camping at Gilgal is often needed in order to remind us of who we are in Christ and God!
Have you had Gilgal in your life?