The Shame of Slavery

I am reading through the Bible in 8 months this time.  Originally, I resisted, then found myself hungry for more Bible in my life.

I read in Joshua 5 today.  At this point in the narrative, the Israelites crossed over the Jordan.  The Amorite kings west of the Jordan and the Canaanite kings along the Mediterranean heard about it.  They lost heart and became paralyzed with fear (v.1).

The Lord directs Joshua to circumcise this next generation of Israelites.  The entire first generation, the one with Moses, had all passed on.  The text goes on to say that nobody had been circumcised since the Exodus.  So, potentially 40 years of births and nobody had been, um, disfigured.  I guess they couldn’t spare the down time.

Verse 9 struck me:  Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt.” So that place has been called Gilgal to this day.

Huh?  I had no idea what that meant. Other versions say, “I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”  That didn’t help, either.  Looking up the meaning of Gilgal, I found Strong’s concordance which defines it as “circle of stones”.  Hmm.  Wikipedia says Gilgal is similar to a phrase in Hebrew meaning “I have removed”, which also fits.

Going back further, “reproach” means disapproval or disappointment.  This act of circumcision of all the of-age males cleansed the population from the shame, or disappointment, of slavery.  I question whether God was disappointed or whether the Israelites themselves were disappointed in their lot as slaves.  Probably both, I reckon.  Slavery, it seems, cuts both ways.

How did God’s people even become slaves?  The Israelites, occupying Egypt after the rescue by Joseph during the great famine, multiplied and grew under the pharaohs.  Their great numbers threatened the Egyptians (Exodus 1:8).  The Egyptians forced them into slavery.  Which begs the question:  Why didn’t God do something to prevent it?

Joseph’s last words were, “…God will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt.  He will bring you back to the land he solemnly promises to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Genesis 50:24).  Sometimes, God’s timing can lag, at least to our finite human minds.  In this case, it was 400 or 430 years, depending on where you start counting (Gen. 15:13).

Even though God knew His chosen people would live in bondage for a time, He didn’t leave them without hope.  Their slavery was always a temporary condition. I surely don’t have all the answers, but that’s the message I  take away.

As believers,  Jesus took our reproach when He died on the cross.  He became our permanent sacrifice.  We no longer live as slaves to sin. We don’t have to wait 430 years for another Moses to rise up.  He already came.  We can cast off the shame of our former slavery and live as free men and women.

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.  Romans 6:1-4

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