Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The Amorites were the principal of those nations which occupied the hill country of Judaea (Gen 10:16 note); the Canaanites of those that dwelt on the coast and low lands. These words are therefore equivalent to "all the kings of the highlanders, and all the kings of the lowlanders:" i. e. the kings of all the tribes of the country.
Until we were passed over - The use of the first person has been noted here, and in Jos 5:6 (compare Act 16:10), as suggesting the hand of one who himself shared in what he describes. But the text as read (though not written) by the Jewish authorities here, has the third person; as have some manuscripts, Septuagint, Vulgate, etc.: and a change of person like this in Hebrew, even if the text stand, does not of itself warrant the inference. (Compare Psa 66:6.)
Make thee sharp knives - Render rather as marg., and compare marginal reference and note. Knives of flint or stone were in fact used for circumcision, and retained for that and other sacred purposes, even after iron had become in common use. The rendering of the margin is adopted by almost all ancient versions, by most commentators, and by the fathers generally, who naturally regarded circumcision performed by Joshua and by means of knives of stone or rock, as symbolic of the true circumcision performed by Christ, who is more than once spoken of as the Rock (compare Co1 10:4; Rom 2:29; Col 2:11). See Jos 21:42.
Circumcise again ... - i. e. make that which once was a circumcised people but is not so now, once more a circumcised people. (See Jos 4:4-7.)
The hill of the foreskins - i. e. the hill where the foreskins, the emblem of all worldly and carnal affections, were buried. (Compare Col 2:11-13; Col 3:1-6.)
Of the whole nation those only were already circumcised at the time of the passage of the Jordan who had been under twenty years of age at the time of the complaining and consequent rejection at Kadesh (compare the marginal reference). These would have been circumcised before they left Egypt, and there would still survive of them more than a quarter of a million of thirty-eight years old and upward.
The statements of these verses are of a general kind. The "forty years" of Jos 5:6 is a round number, and the statement in the latter part of Jos 5:5 cannot be strictly accurate. For there must have been male children born in the wilderness during the first year after the Exodus, and these must have been circumcised before the celebration of the Passover at Sinai in the first month of the second year (compare Num 9:1-5, and Exo 12:48). The statements of the verses are, however, sufficiently close to the facts for the purpose in hand; namely, to render a reason for the general circumcising which is here recorded.
The reason why circumcision was omitted in the wilderness, was that the sentence of Num 14:28 ff placed the whole nation for the time under a ban; and that the discontinuance of circumcision, and the consequent omission of the Passover, was a consequence and a token of that ban. The rejection was not, indeed, total, for the children of the complainers were to enter into the rest; nor final, for when the children had borne the punishment of the fathers' sins for the appointed years, and the complainers were dead, then it was to be removed, as now by Joshua. But for the time the covenant was abrogated, though God's purpose to restore it was from the first made known, and confirmed by the visible marks of His favor which He still vouchsafed to bestow during the wandering. The years of rejection were indeed exhausted before the death of Moses (compare Deu 2:14): but God would not call upon the people to renew their engagement to Him until He had first given them glorious proof of His will and power to fulfill His engagements to them. So He gave them the first fruits of the promised inheritance - the kingdoms of Sihon and Og; and through a miracle planted their feet on the very soil that still remained to be conquered; and then recalled them to His covenant. It is to be noted, too, that they were just about to go to war against foes mightier than themselves. Their only hope of success lay in the help of God. At such a crisis the need of full communion with God would be felt indeed; and the blessing and strength of it are accordingly granted.
The revival of the two great ordinances - circumcision and the Passover - after so long an intermission could not but awaken the zeal and invigorate the faith and fortitude of the people. Both as seals and as means of grace and God's good purpose toward them then, the general circumcision of the people, followed up by the solemn celebration of the Passover - the one formally restoring the covenant and reconciling them nationally to God, the other ratifying and confirming all that circumcision intended - were at this juncture most opportune.
The circumcision must have taken place on the day after the passage of Jordan, i. e. the 11th Nisan, and the Passover was kept on the 14th of the same month. For so long at least, they who had been circumcised would be disabled from war (compare the marginal reference), though they would not necessarily be debarred from keeping the feast. The submission of the people to the rite was a proof of faith, even though we remember that the panic of the Canaanites Jos 5:1 would render any immediate attack from them unlikely, and that there must have been a large number of "men of war" who would not need to be circumcised at all (see the note at Jos 5:4).
The reproach of Egypt - i. e. "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 Exo 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.
Old corn of the land - Rather "produce of the land," the new grain just coming in at the time of the Passover. (So in Jos 5:12.)
On the morrow after the passover - These words denote in Num 33:3 the 15th Nisan, but must here apparently mean the 16th. For the Israelites could not lawfully eat of the new grain until the first fruits of it had been presented, and this was done on "the morrow after the Sabbath," i. e. the morrow after the first day of Unleavened Bread, which was to be observed as a Sabbath, and is therefore so called. (Compare Lev 23:7, Lev 23:11, Lev 23:14.)
The term Passover, which is sometimes used for the lamb slain on the evening of the 14th Nisan, sometimes for the paschal meal, sometimes for the whole eight days' festival, here means the first great day of the eight, the Sabbath of the first holy convocation.
A man - See Gen 12:7, note; Gen 18:2, note. The appearance was that of God manifested in the Person of His Word. Hence, the command of Jos 5:15. That the appearance was not in a vision merely is clear from the fact that Joshua "went unto Him" and addressed Him.
Captain of the host of the Lord - i. e. of the angelic host, the host of heaven (compare Kg1 22:19; Sa1 1:3, etc.). The armed people of Israel are never called "the host of the Lord," though once spoken of in Exo 12:41 as "all the hosts of the Lord." The Divine Person intimates that He, the Prince (see the marginal references) of the Angels had come to lead Israel in the coming strife, and to overthrow by heavenly might the armies and the strongholds of God's and Israel's enemies. Accordingly, the capture of Jericho and the destruction of the Canaanites generally form a fit type of a grander and more complete conquest and excision of the powers of evil which yet waits accomplishment. (Compare with this verse Mat 25:31; Th2 1:7-8.)