The book of Joshua (or Josue) narrates the fulfillment of the promises made to the Patriarchs, most notably Abraham concerning the inheritance of the promised land (Gen 12:7; Gen 13:15; Gen 15:7, Gen 15:18; Gen 17:8). Overall it is a continuation of the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and the first in a series of works called “The Former Prophets” (Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings). Chapters 1-12 of the book basically relate the conquest of the land, while chapters 13-21 narrate the distribution of the land to the various tribes. The final chapters narrate a conflict between various tribes (ch. 23, foreshadowing future trouble) and the final discourse of Joshua, followed by his death (chs. 23-24).
Chapter 5, from which our reading is taken, consists of just 15 verses which have a thematic structure:
A1. (5:1) Foreshadowing future victories: Pagan kings in the land terrified by the Lord’s wonders at the Jordan.
B1. (5:2-9) Ritual: Mass circumcision at Gilgal.
B2. (5:10-12) Ritual: The celebration of the Passover.
A2. (5:13-15) Foreshadowing of future victories: Joshua meets the commander of the Lord’s army.
The parallelism suggests that there is a connection between the right worship of God and victory over enemies. This is of course a fine lesson to have in the season of Lent, which is to be a time of renewal (recall the Ash Wednesday reading from Joel). In that reading from Joel, we saw that God can and will be our enemy if we do not live and worship as He wishes, hence this Sunday’s second reading bids us “be reconciled with God.” He is willing to take us back as his children, like the father of the Prodigal son in this Sunday’s Gospel.
Jos 5:9 And the Lord said to Josue: This day have I taken away from you the reproach of Egypt. And the name of that place was called Galgal, until this present day.
I have taken away from you the reproach of Egypt. “Taken away” (literally, “rolled away”) represents a word play in Hebrew. The word used here is Galal (גּלל), which is related to the place name Galgal (Gilgal in modern bibles).
The reproach spoken of is variously interpreted. Many, following the Haydock Commentary think it a reference to the fact that the Egyptians did not practice circumcision at that time: The people of that country adopted circumcision only after this period, (Calmet) and it never became general among them. They were therefore held in abhorrence, like the rest of the uncircumcised nations, among the Jews, Genesis xxxiv. 14., and 1 Kings xiv. 6. Theodoret (q. 4,) looks upon circumcision as a symbol of the liberation from the servitude of Egypt, where, he says, history informs us, that many of the Hebrews had neglected this rite. More modern commentaries, such as the Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture interpret it in reference to slavery: All admit that the unexpected galal (‘I have rolled’) is a play on the word Gilgal, but ignore the obvious conclusion that the explanation of the reproach of Egypt must be sought in Gilgal and more particularly in being encamped at Gilgal as indicated in the preceding and following verses. The reproach of Egypt was naturally the humiliating condition of the Hebrews there, slaves in a foreign land. This eproach was not removed while they were landless wanderers in the desert. It was only when Yahweh finally established them in their own land at Gilgal that he ‘gilgalled’ away from them the reproach of Egypt. The Protestant Commentator Albert Barnes makes the following speculation: “reproach proceeding from Egypt.” The expression probably refers to taunts actually uttered by the Egyptians against Israel, because of their long wanderings in the desert and failures to acquire a settlement in Canaan (compare Ex 32:12; Num 14:13-16; Deu 9:28; Deu 32:27). These reproaches were now to end, for they had actually entered Canaan, and the restoration of the covenant was a pledge from God to accomplish what was begun for them. L. Daniel Hawk is probably right (in my opinion) when he relates it to the whole of the chapter. The people once enslaved to Egypt are now feared by powerful kings, they have celebrated the covenant rite of circumcision which then allows them to celebrate the Passover, a feast celebrating liberation from Egypt and its gods. (See JOSHUA by L. Daniel Hawk in the Berit Olam series).
Jos 5:10 And the children of Israel abode in Galgal, and they kept the phase, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, in the plains of Jericho:
Jos 5:11 And they ate on the next day unleavened bread of the corn of the land, and frumenty (i.e., boiled or cooked wheat) of the same year.
Jos 5:12 And the manna ceased after they ate of the corn of the land, neither did the children of Israel use that food any more, but they ate of the corn of the present year of the land of Chanaan.
On the night of Passover God had established a division between Egypt and Israel (Ex 11:7), it’s purpose is now nearing completion as Israel worships its God in freedom, and within the confines the good land He is about to help them conquer. They can now enjoy the produce of the land, and so the manna ceases.
Like the Prodigal in the Gospel reading, the often wayward people have found their way home.