“But do not seek Bethel, nor enter Gilgal, nor pass over to Beersheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nothing. Seek the LORD and live.” (Amos 5:5-6)
Gilgal was the place of new beginnings. As Israel prepared to begin the conquest of Canaan, Joshua commissioned 12 men to take 12 memorial stones from the bed of the Jordan River to commemorate the people’s miraculous crossing of the river (Joshua 4:3). Gilgal was the first place Israel camped in the land of promise (Joshua 4:19). It was at Gilgal that the people were circumcised in preparation for their possession of the land (Joshua 5:5), the Passover was celebrated (Joshua 5:10), and the manna ceased (Joshua 5:12).
The Ark of the Covenant returned to Gilgal every day after encircling the city of Jericho during its siege (Joshua 6:11), and Gilgal served as headquarters for all the battles during the conquest. The Gibeonites came to Gilgal to make their treaty (Joshua 9:3-6) and to ask aid against the Amorites (Joshua 10:6). The subsequent great battle against the Amorites was directed from Gilgal (Joshua 10:15), and the entire victorious campaign in the hill country of Judea extending to Kadesh Barnea and Gaza was conducted from Gilgal (Joshua 10:15). Gilgal was the site for many important “firsts” during Israel’s history.
But activity at Gilgal began to obscure the revealed Word of God. Saul, Israel’s first king, disobeyed God at Gilgal when he thought the need for activity overruled the requirement to obey God. Saul was told to wait for God’s permission to start the battle against the Philistines. He waited for Samuel as instructed, but grew impatient and acted ahead of God’s instructions. He claimed the people needed his leadership and insisted that he forced himself to disobey, giving a religious reason for his disobedience, all the while claiming he had merely responded to the voice of the people (1 Samuel 13:7-24).
Zeal for righteous action often ends in disaster. When activity becomes the standard for holiness, the activity becomes necessary to preserve the ideal. Resolving to “right wrongs” can often create more wrong, just as determination to “get the bad guys” will cause some to stumble. After a while, the cause begins to justify the activity, and loyalty to the activity becomes the test for holiness. Ultimately, preservation of the activity overrides biblical truth.