What does gilgal mean?
The word gilgal is a compound of two words. Gil means joy, rejoicing, and gladness. It expresses a wide range of enjoyments from the exuberant celebration of a victory won to the quiet bliss of a suffering relieved. Gal means heap, roll, wave, billow, or spring. It refers, for instance, to a wave of water which rolls in a circular formation to create its own rippling or roaring sound, depending on its size. Note how the essence of this meaning is applied in Joshua 5:9 after all the men of the wilderness generation were circumcised upon entering the Promised Land, “And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt.’ And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.”
A familiar derivative of gal is the word galil, which means folding or rings or cylinder. Galil can also refer to a pipe for carrying water or sounds (as in a flute). From this word we get Galilee, the name for the “water pipe” (Jordan River and Sea of Galilee) that provides irrigation for the land of Israel.
In its essence, therefore, gilgal means circular formations, whether circles of stones, circles of sound or waves of water – all marked by joy. The word is used to describe circular shapes that converge together, or to rolling waves of happy sounds, or to the rolling waves of the sea. Think of how waves create circles. When one throws a stone into a pond of water, the waves (galim in Hebrew) will be carried to all banks equally. The sounds of the waves are also called galim. Put it all together, and gilgal not only describes circular physical shapes but also rolling waves of rejoicing and happiness.
(For more details, see Harris, Archer, and Waltke’s Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, The Moody Bible Institute, 1980, pages 159 – 164.)
Gilgalim (the plural of gilgal) camps were shaped like a sandal; that is, two halves of a circle completing one another into a full circle. This is no accident. Many of the holy sites of Israel were shaped in this way. They were physical “statements” of God’s promise, “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours.”
As of April, 2009, Professor Adam Zertal of the University of Haifa had found five such compounds in the Jordan Valley, each in the shape of an enormous foot. He said that the “foot” held great significance as a symbol of ownership of territory, control over an enemy, connection between people, land, and even the presence of Deity.
(Many websites post Zertal’s press release from the University of Haifa in 2009. One example which includes two aerial photos: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-04/uoh-adi040609.php )
Other frequently asked questions.
Why are the Gilgalim surrounded by an ancient path?
According to Adam Zertal, a Professor at Haifa University, each Gilgalim is surrounded by a circular path by which participants would walk around the site. These circular paths provide physical evidence for the origin of the Hebrew word “hag”, which means “holiday”. The etymology of “hag” is derived from Hebrew letters with the combined meaning “to surround”. Furthermore, Zertal suggests that these uniquely configured ritual sites are the source of the Hebrew expression for pilgrimage, in Hebrew aliyah leregel (literally, “going up to a foot”). In his interpretation, during the first centuries of settlement in the land, until Jerusalem became the spiritual and governmental center of the nation, some of the Tribes of Israel made pilgrimages to these sites at fixed times of year to hold various ceremonies. Hence, the Hebrew phrase for pilgrimage should be understood literally, “going up to a place that is shaped like a foot.” In summary, prior to the establishment of Jerusalem as the Israelite center, these paths of celebration played vital roles in the celebrations and festivals of Israel as each tribe ascended to the foot-shaped Gilgal .
Why would it be necessary to have more than 1 Gilgal?
In the high-tech, fully automated world of today, it is sometimes difficult to practically visualize and conceptualize the seemingly simplistic language of the Bible. Transporting 600,000 people today, all be it difficult, is not the same monumental task of yesterday. This question might be answered with a question. What did it look like for 600,000 men, and possibly up to 2 million Israelites in total, to cross the Jordan? Scripture (Ex. 12:38) reveals that each of the 12 Tribes had tents, livestock, provisions, and more in tow as they approached the Promised Land. As the priests stepped into the Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant upon their shoulders, Scripture (reference) tells us that the waters stood up to the north near the city of Adam like a frozen icicle pop and did not flow all the way to the Dead Sea, a distance of about 15 miles away, until everyone had crossed. All 600,000 people plus did not walk in single file behind the priests. Rather, this distance of 15 miles was necessary so that every clan making up the 12 tribes with their wagons, cargo, sheep, and tents might be able in an orderly fashion to move onto the plains of Jericho. Scholars estimate that the Israelite encampment, made up of people, tent & kitchen areas, grazing lands for livestock, and other practical space needs, would have required about 7,000 acres. Other estimates are sizably larger. Several gilgalim were necessary to service such a large number of people spread out over a large area.
What is so important about Gilgal anyway?
Gilgal is important to every Believer because it is a place of Covenant. God’s Word defines His covenant with mankind. In Genesis 12:1-3, (NKJV) the Lord promised Abraham, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This Covenant from a Believer’s viewpoint is a binding agreement between God and man and is ultimately fulfilled for every Believer in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ or Yeshua HaMashiach. All families of the earth are either blessed or cursed, contingent upon faith in God’s only son, Yeshua. Gilgal represents an important step in the ongoing fulfillment of God’s Covenant with man. Deuteronomy 11:22-24 tells us, “For if you carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do—to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him— then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess greater and mightier nations than yourselves. Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours…” Notice, the “IF & THEN” statements that help to define God’s covenant. IF you obey the Lord’s commands, love God, walk in His ways, and hold fast to Him, THEN you will be blessed. Gilgal, after 40 years of wondering through the wilderness, was the first point of entry for Israel into the Promised Land. God’s Word & Covenant with man proved to be true. Once in the Land, the Covenant between Israel and God was ratified on both a personal and national level. At Gilgal, each male was circumcised, a permanent and tangible reminder of God’s covenant to Abraham. Near Gilgal, at Mount Ebal, the nation ratified the covenant of trust and obedience to God through the ceremony described in Deuteronomy 11 & 27, where the entire nation repeated aloud the blessings for obeying God’s instruction and curses for disobedience. Now, with every male circumcised and the ceremony at Mt. Ebal complete, God fulfilled His commitment to Israel by giving them victory over their enemies and establishing them in the long awaited Promised Land. There is much more to be said on this subject, and as this site continues to grow, check back here for more information about this question. Suffice it to say for now, Gilgal is a place of Covenant pointing symbolically toward the ultimate covenant of salvation between God and Man that we believe is sealed by the blood of Yeshua!