GILGAL

When Israel under Joshua crossed the Jordan to conquer Canaan, the first place they came to was Gilgal. There they set up a camp, which became the headquarters for the battles to follow (Josh 4:19; 6:11; 10:6). Israel’s entrance into Canaan was the beginning of a new way of life, and Joshua set up a memorial at Gilgal to mark the occasion (Josh 4:20). He also arranged for the circumcision of all those who had been born during the years in the wilderness but had not yet been circumcised. The significance of this mass ceremony was that circumcision was the sign of the covenant under which Israel inherited the land (Josh 5:2-9).

At Gilgal the Israelites kept their first Passover in Canaan. The forty years journey from Egypt was now formally over, and the daily supply of manna ceased (Josh 5:10-12). Gilgal was the administrative centre of Israel throughout the war and in the early days of the settlement program (Josh 10:6,9,15,43; 14:6). The headquarters was then transferred to Shiloh (Josh 18:1,8-10). Later, Gilgal became an important religious town in Israel. It was one of the four towns in central Palestine that Samuel visited on his annual circuit. The school for prophets that he established there was still operating in the days of Elijah and Elisha (1 Sam 7:16-17; 2 Kings 2:1; 4:38).

Samuel also established in Gilgal a place of sacrifice for important national occasions (1 Sam 10:8; 13:8; 15:12). After Saul led Israel to victory in his first battle, the people arranged a public ceremony at Gilgal to confirm him king over a now united people (1 Sam 11:12-15). But Gilgal was also the place where Saul lost the kingdom through his wilfulness and disobedience (1 Sam 13:7-15; 15:12-33). Gilgal remained popular with the people as a place of worship. Nevertheless, because of the selfrighteousness and unspirituality of the worshippers, God’s prophets repeatedly denounced Gilgal and the people who worshipped there (Hosea 4:15; 9:15; 12:11; Amos 4:4; 5:4-5).

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