Jesus tells a parable about how the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who brings out from his storeroom new treasures along with the old (Matthew 13:51-54). That’s how it felt to me when I read this passage from Joshua, like my king was giving me a new treasure from his word, that I had glossed over and read past dozens of times. It’s a simple thing, a simple fact. This scripture lesson does not tell us much that we may not already know, but it ties together so many other things. So today my friends, right before lunch, we are going to talk about food.
Starting in Joshua chapter 5 verse 9
9 The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.”
Much of what made Israel cling to Egypt was food. There are whole chapters of the Law in which the Israelites complain. They list all the things they loved about their bondage, all those things usually being the variety of food available. ‘O to be a slave again so I can a cucumber. I’ll beat bricks 18 hours a day again to build pagan shrines if you’ll just let me eat a honeydew melon. Egypt was a land of plenty, but from the time Abraham first visited Egypt in a time of famine, the Lord said: ‘This place is not for you. This comfort will make you a slave. I have another promise for you and for your people.’ And God in his might delivered them from slavery, and over forty years in the wilderness instructed them on how to be a dignified people, a people set apart from the disgrace of Egypt, a people whose greatness is the Holiness of their God. God told Joshua, in this verse, that the disgrace of slavery was rolled away as the people crossed the river Jordan and entered the promised land.
How often do we long for the slavery God has come to deliver us from? How often do we grumble about the wilderness we now wander in, about his gifts to us in that wilderness? This is why we need new hearts. We need hearts that don’t love slavery. Without them we will long for the cabbages and cucumbers that come with bondage. With them we may earnestly seek and love the dignity that comes from brotherhood in the land of promise.
And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.
This little phrase probably doesn’t mean much to us because in our lectionary reading we miss some context. Gilgal in Hebrew means “Circle of Stones”. That place, where they crossed the Jordan is called “Stone Circle” or “Gilgal” because the twelve tribes of Israel there placed their twelve stones in a circle as a monument, as a reminder, that they are a nation of twelve tribes, twelve brothers descended from a man who wrestled with God – Jacob. It is a sign of brotherhood. It is a sign of lineage. It is a sign that they are the children of the promise of God. Abraham was promised that if he followed God he would have many descendants, that he would become a great nation. He had one proper heir to receive the promise, Isaac. Isaac had two sons Esau and Jacob. Esau forsook the promise but Jacob had many sons. They moved down into Egypt in a time of famine and were there enslaved but grew greatly in number. And now at this moment at the river Jordan God fulfills his promise leading the nation born of Abraham into a land set apart for them to become a people holy for him. There is a town near the Jordan even today called Gilgal, the circle of stones.
10 While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover
Now we get back to the food. While they are camped at their entrance point they do as God commanded them and they keep the Passover. They take a young lamb and live with it for a few days in their tents. Then they take this lamb and sacrifice it and butcher it. They season it with herbs and they eat it with flat bread, with their staff in their hand and their sandals tied ready to continue their pilgrimage now settling into the promised land. They remember how sheep’s blood on their door frames made the angel of death pass over their homes, that last night in Egypt. They remember how the next night God part the Red Sea and they passed over into the wilderness, into the time of preparation. And now they remember that just the night before that they have passed over the Jordan.
In the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho.
This is when they were supposed to celebrate the Passover. This is the first thing they do in the promised land, before they march around the city and the walls come tumbling down. They gather and they feast. They celebrate and they remember before the army of an enemy city, in the land they have come to conquer and claim.
11 On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land unleavened cakes and parched grain.
They begin to experience a new grace from God, the gift of life from the land of promise. They take from this land of plenty food to eat for the first time. This is huge. These meals we are hearing of are a marker of the end of one part of Israel’s history and the beginning of a new chapter. Their parents longed for the food of slavery but this generation had eaten nothing but quail and manna in the wilderness their entire lives. They had livestock they were forbidden to eat or kill until now. This is a radical shift for them. Promise and fulfilment in the form of unleavened bread upon their tongues. Yes, this is part of the Eucharistic mystery. Yes, this is a type for Jesus, just as the manna, the bread who came down from heaven, was a type of Jesus. Obedience meets mercy, justice kisses love, the bride receives her groom.
12 The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.
One grace, the manna, the bread that descended daily from heaven in the season in the wilderness ends. God’s provision for the time of preparation gives way to new provision for being in the world but not of it, out of the land flowing with milk and honey. We need to be attentive to this in our own lives. The common graces God gives us can be for a season, to empower us to be available for his spiritual cultivation of something in us as he makes us into his saints. As Israel mourned the cucumbers and the melons they may also mourn the mana. But they have still the provision of God in an agriculturally rich land which demands from them their husbandry and contention. Here on the fat of the land God will raise up a nation and a kingdom to proclaim to the world who he is. This kingdom too will fail. But in the fulness of time Israel in her King Jesus calls the nations into another kind of kingdom, the kingdom of heaven. As we keep our Lentan fast, as we pray for our great Paschal feast at Easter, may we remember the promises of God, may he give us new hearts to love them and hope in them. Amen.