In Joshua 5, Israel was at the height of her glory and power, experiencing incredible miracles. Her people were loved and secure, and their enemies’ hearts were melted, “neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel” (Joshua 5:1). Verse two says that “at that time”—that is, the time of victory, blessing, guidance and favor, the time they were about to go in and possess the land—God said, in effect, “Hold everything! We’ve got a problem. Everything looks good—greater victories are to be won—but one matter hasn’t been dealt with. The reproach of Egypt is still in your hearts and it must be cut out and rolled away.”
It is as if God is saying to His people: “I have patiently endured your backsliding, your complaining, your endless, constant lusting. Ten times your fathers provoked Me in the wilderness and I forgave it all. When I found you wasting away in Egypt’s iron furnace, I washed you, secured you with blood, and delivered you from your enemies. But all along you have carried a secret sin in your heart. You have refused to lay down an idol that has a stronghold in your heart.”
The prophet Amos confirmed that Israel had this heart-idolatry in them: “Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch . . . the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves” (Amos 5:25-26). Here was the reproach: All along, in spite of God’s love, protection, blessing and guidance, the Israelites had been carrying something secret in their hearts. Even as they sang the Lord’s praises, another god ruled their inner motives.
They had hidden their fathers’ idols in their baggage! Not even the awesome voice of a holy, dreadful God could get them to give up their little shrines, their golden images from Egypt. They wanted to move on and serve God while still clinging to idols. The Lord had been patient up to that point, but He gave them an ultimatum: “I am moving on only with a holy people. There is a world of joy and peace that lies ahead but you cannot bring your reproach with you. Cut it off! Sharpen the knives! No flesh is allowed from here on in. No idolatry! No clinging lusts! No secret reproach!”