In the 3rd century, a Jewish friend gave this illustration to Origen, the church’s first true biblical scholar. He asked: To what may we compare the Scriptures? They are like a very large house full of locked rooms. On the floor in front of every door is a key. But here’s the catch: the key doesn’t fit the lock on that particular door. It fits another door located somewhere else in the house.
The challenge, therefore, is to gather up all the keys and begin trying them on all the doors until the exact key is found that will unlock each room. So it is with the Scriptures. “Because they are so obscure,” Origen says, “the only way to begin to understand them was by means of other passages containing the explanation dispersed throughout them,” (Philokalia 2:3).
Reading the Bible is like trying keys on these various doors, finding ones that fit, and unlocking them so see what lies within. Recently, I found a Hebrew key that fits the door of Golgotha. But it’s where I found it that’s both fascinating and bizarre: all the way back in Joshua, in a time of circumcision and the removal of reproach, when Israel was on the verge of hope.
Rolling Away Reproach
After their forty years of slogging through the wilderness, Israel had finally traversed the Jordan into the land flowing with milk and honey. Due to the inhospitable conditions of the desert, they had not circumcised the boys who were born after they left Egypt (Josh. 5:2-9). So, before they began the conquest of the land, they had a massive circumcision of all males from eight days old up to forty years old.
On that day, the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” The Hebrew verb for “roll away” is galal (גָּלַל). As a pun on galal, they named that place, Gilgal. At this place of Rolling Away, through circumcision, God rolled away all the stain and pain of his people’s slavery. Every vestige of their past captivity was gone.
Now here’s where things get interesting. The root galal can refer to all sorts of rounding activities. For instance, galal is used to describe rolling stones from the mouth of a well (Gen. 29:3) and from the mouth of a cave (Josh. 10:18). It’s also used as a metaphor for “removing,” as when God “removed [rolled away]” the reproach of Egypt. The psalmist, echoing this story from Israel’s past, prays that God will “roll away reproach and contempt from me, for I observe Your testimonies” (119:22; my translation).
The root galal can also refer to round things. Thus, it’s also the root of the Hebrew word for the “round thing” on the top of your body—your skull, your gulgoleth (גֻּלְגֹּלֶת). This Hebrew word for skull, gulgoleth, finds its way into three of the gospels in its Aramaic cognate form, the name Golgotha, “the place of the skull” (Matt. 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17).
So, the key of galal fits the door of Golgotha. Let’s turn that key, open the gospel door, and see what treasures lie within.
Rolling with Good Friday and Easter
For the Israelites, Gilgal, the Rolling Away place, was where God “galaled” all their stain and pain and shame associated with their time in captivity. And, when Israel began the conquest of the land, five enemy kings fled from Joshua’s army and hid in a cave. Using the verb galal, Joshua commanded his men, “Roll large stones against the mouth of the cave and set men by it to guard them” (Josh. 10:18).
At the place of the skull, Golgotha, what did God do for us in the new and greater Joshua, Jesus the Messiah? Vastly more than he did for Israel of old! He rolled away the reproach of all the stain, pain, shame, and sin of every individual of every nation under heaven for all time. As the one trespass of Adam led to condemnation for all men, so the one act of righteousness in Jesus, the second Adam, leads to justification and life for all men (Rom. 5:18). In fact, the ancient church understood Golgotha to be the place of Adam’s skull, that is, the place where Adam was buried (see my article about this). Thus, according to tradition, Jesus was crucified right over the grave of Adam to give life to this first man—and all of us, the heirs of his sin and death.
What’s more, we cannot but notice the strange coincidence between the events of Holy Week and Joshua rolling stones against the mouth of a cave and posting guards outside it. Later, these kings were taken out of the cave, executed, and hung upon trees to mark them as ones cursed by God (Josh. 10:26; Deut. 21:22-23).
Do you see how fascinating is the contrast between this story and Easter? The King of kings had already been hung on the tree of the cross as one who took the curse of God upon himself for our sakes, as Paul says in Galatians 3:13. Romans guards were posted outside his tomb. When the stone was rolled away, what was revealed? This King, the Messiah, had been raised bodily to life again. He stood triumphant over sin and death, the firstborn from the dead, all for us.
The Key of Galal
The key of galal opens both the doors of Good Friday and Easter. Both are like a new Gilgal. It’s the location in the holy land where God rolled away our reproach at Golgotha. And, when the stone was rolled away from the tomb, the Father revealed that death had been defeated in the resurrection of his Son.
May the Lord, who rolls away from us the reproach of evil, bless your Holy Week meditations as you reflect upon, and rejoice in, the saving work of the Anointed One.