At that time the Lord said unto Joshua
When the people had passed over Jordan, and had pitched in Gilgal, and Joshua had set up the stones there; and particularly when the dread of them had seized the inhabitants of Canaan, and deprived them of all their courage; and so was a fit time for the execution of what is next ordered, and seems designed in the providence of God among other things particularly for that:
make them sharp knives;
not that Joshua was to make them himself, but to order them to be made; for a considerable number would be wanted for the use to be made of them: the Targum calls them sharp razors; and Ben Gersom says they were made of brass, more likely of iron or steel, which perhaps he means; but the Hebrew text is, "knives of rocks", "flints" or "stones"; and so Maimonides F16 interprets the words, and as they are rendered in various versions F17; with such an instrument Zipporah circumcised her son; and like them were the "samia testa" F18, with which the priests of the mother of the gods were castrated; and the "saxum acutum" of Ovid F19; and such the Americans used in slaying beasts, and the Egyptians F20 in the dissecting of their dead bodies; and which the Talmudists allow of as lawful; and in the east the Jews to this day use knives of stone in circumcision F21; (See Gill on Exodus 4:25).
and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time;
not that circumcision was to be repeated on them that had been circumcised already, who had found out ways and means to draw over the foreskin again, as some in later times did; or who had been imperfectly circumcised according to the rite enjoined by Abraham, which some Jewish writers say was not perfect; neither of which was the case. Kimchi, and so Ben Melech, interpret the word, "oftentimes", frequently, one time after another; as if the sense was, Joshua was to circumcise them, or take care they were circumcised, some at one time, and some at another, until the whole was finished; but this is not what is meant, it refers to a former general circumcision; not to the circumcision, as first administered in Abraham's time, for there had been a multitude of instances of it since that time; but to the circumcision of the Israelites at, about, or quickly after their coming out of Egypt; either before their eating of their first passover, the night they went out of Egypt, as Jarchi F23; or rather some time in the three days' darkness of the Egyptians, as Dr. Lightfoot F24 thinks; or else when they were about Sinai, just before the celebration of the passover there, ( Numbers 9:1 Numbers 9:2 ) ; from which time it had been neglected; not cause unnecessary, while they were in the wilderness, to distinguish them from others, which was not the principal, at least not the only use of it; nor because forbidden the Israelites for their disobedience, murmurings, and rebellion, it not being probable that God should prohibit the observance of a command of his on that account; nor so much through criminal neglect, at least contempt of it, as because of their frequent journeying, and the inconvenience of performing it, being always uncertain, when they had pitched their tents, how long they should stay, and when they should remove, since this depended upon the taking up of the cloud; wherefore, unless they could have been sure of a continuance for a proper time, it was not safe to administer it; and now it was enjoined, partly because they were about to celebrate the passover, which required circumcision in all that partook of it, ( Exodus 12:43 Exodus 12:44 ) ; and partly because they had now entered into the land of Canaan, which was given them in the covenant of circumcision, ( Genesis 17:8-10 ) ; wherefore it became them now to observe it, and as typical of spiritual circumcision, necessary to the heavenly Canaan, as well as to distinguish them from the uncircumcised Canaanites they were coming among; and they did not think themselves under obligation to observe it till they came to settle in that land, as some think, who hereby account for their long neglect of it.
F16 Moreh Nevochim, par. 1. c. 16.
F17 (Myru twbrh) (macairav petrinav) , Sept. "cultros lapideos", V. L. "cultros petrarum", Munster, Montanus, Piscator.
F18 Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 35. c. 12. Arnob. adv. Gentes, l. 5. p. 189.
F19 Fast. l. 4. ver. 237.
F20 Herod. Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 86.
F21 Vid. Pfeiffer. Dubia Vexata, cent. 2. loc. 46.
F23 So in Pirke Eliezer, c. 29.
F24 Works, vol. 1. p. 40.