Our first lesson comes from the book of Joshua, the sixth book of the Bible. The people of Israel who had come out of Egypt are still on the other side of the Jordan at the gate to the Promised Land. Now Joshua leads them into the land of Canaan. For this phase in the history of Israel, Joshua is the leader for the new generation after Moses. Moses had them start the journey of faith, and now Joshua helps them to continue the journey.
This passage from Joshua chapter 5 is a critical turning point. This chapter marks the end of the days when they were slaves in the land of Egypt. Moses was able to take them out of Egypt, but it was another thing to take Egypt out of them. The wilderness was the period that they needed to learn how to live free. They have been to the desert. They are now in the land of Canaan.
Our lesson begins with the Lord, who says to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you (all) the disgrace of Egypt.” Now it is time to put the past behind you. For anyone, it is a critical task to be set free from the bondage of a painful past. Our past may have certain moments of darkness and despair, but today God says, “The shame of the past has been rolled away.” It is a new day.
That was precisely what Israel was experiencing at Gilgal in our passage. The Bible says, that was actually how the place got its name, Gilgal, meaning rolling or being rolled away.
This place name deserves a close look. Take a close look at the place name Gilgal. We see that the sound of “g” and “l” are repeated. Linguists call this reduplication. Hebrew uses this device of reduplication, and often it means intensification.
It can also describe something that happens again and again. Here is a fantastic example. In Genesis 50, after Jacob dies, Joseph’s brothers become worried. Now that their father Jacob is dead, what if Joseph has been harboring a grudge against them for selling him into slavery? Joseph says to his brothers, “So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:21) It is such a gracious scene in which Joseph is kind to his brothers who caused him nothing but pain and grief. When Joseph says, “I will provide,” he uses a reduplicated form that means repetition. H is actually saying, “Do not fear, for I will provide and provide and provide and provide for you and your little children.”
In our OT lesson, Gilgal, the reduplicated form, means that the shame of Egypt is rolled away. However it is not that of something being turned over once. The image is, it is being rolled and rolled and rolled away and away, and see, going, going, gone. It is being rolled away and away.
Again: that is a word of grace, a beautiful word. Again is a word that comes with the good news of Jesus Christ: A Gain! When we fall short of a standard, we hear that condemnation is being rolled away again, away again. It is gone again. Sunday after Sunday we come to church again and again to hear the gospel again and again.
We all do our part again and again and again. God has done the same to save us again and again, never getting tired of taking the burden of sin and guilt away from us, never getting tired of giving us the assurance of pardon. Again and again.
(c) Rev. Dr. Jin Han 2013