READ : Joshua 6:1-14
We may know what happened in Jericho when the walls came a tumblin’ down but let’s look at how that happened and what it could mean for you and me.
Have you ever been embarrassed by the actions of someone else? It happens all the time, especially in families. A little child throws a tantrum in public and his or her parents are mortified. Then a few years pass and the tables are turned as the parents begin to embarrass the children; anyone who’s ever either had or been a teenager knows all about that.
But have you ever stopped to think that the same holds true for God and his family? He has chosen to identify with us, to be called our Father. We are Christians; we bear his very name. So our actions inevitably reflect upon him. I wonder how often God has been embarrassed by us? Dorothy Sayers once said that God’s three greatest humiliations were the incarnation, the cross, and the church. The church; that’s us, and when we consider some of the things people who claim to represent Jesus Christ have done, we have to admit the truth of the accusation. Think of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the wars between Protestants and Catholics, anti-Semitism or racism in the church; think, for that matter, of that shameful thing you did yesterday. How mortifying it must all be to God.
But there is another side to this matter. If some of God’s people embarrass him, there are others who don’t. The writer to the Hebrews, speaking of certain people, said that God was not ashamed to be called their God (Hebrews 11:16). Who are these people and what are they like?
The answer is that those who live by faith are the ones of whom God is not ashamed, and that includes the generation that followed Joshua across the Jordan into the land of Canaan and conquered the promised land. “By faith,” says Hebrews 11, “the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days” (Hebrews 11:30).
The Walls of Jericho . . .
It is the most famous story in the whole book of Joshua. As the old spiritual says: Joshua fit de battle of Jericho, and de walls come a-tumblin’ down. But it happened in a highly unorthodox manner. Faced with the formidable challenge of taking a strongly manned walled city, Joshua instructed his soldiers to put up their weapons and keep still.
Instead of military strategy Joshua had divine instructions to implement, and very curious instructions they were. A careful and precise order of battle was laid out. First came an armed guard, then seven priests carrying trumpets, then the priests who carried the ark of the covenant, and finally a rear guard of soldiers. But this was not a fighting array. They were merely to lead Israel’s hosts on a sort of parade. All of the people, not just the army, would follow, walking around the city of Jericho in a silence broken only by the sound of the trumpets, once a day for six straight days (Joshua 6:6-14). What a strange procession that must have been!
And I’m sure it puzzled the Israelites almost as much as it did the people of Jericho. Joshua gave only the barest instructions. He didn’t tell the people what God had previously told him, namely, how it would all turn out on the seventh day. Joshua merely gave the order that all were to keep silent until he gave the order to shout. I wonder if any Israelites thought Joshua had a screw loose somewhere; if they did, they kept it to themselves and followed orders.
Let’s think about the meaning of those orders. What purpose could the Lord possibly have had in directing the attack on Jericho in such a manner? The first and most obvious point to observe is that this “attack” was no real attack at all, at least not in the military sense of the term. The truth is, Jericho was not going to fall as a result of any conventional tactics. The disparity of forces was too great; Israel had no real chance to take the city on its own.
Though they were numerous, remember, the people had no trained army or sophisticated weapons at their disposal. And the most difficult task any ancient army faced was the reduction of a fortified city or stronghold. Before the advent of gunpowder and cannons in the 15th century, attacks on walled fortresses rarely succeeded except through starvation, a process that often took years, as it would in the case of Jerusalem itself centuries later. So every advantage lay with the defenders inside Jericho, whose walls, archaeologists tell us, were especially strong.
Perhaps one reason the Lord had all the people march around the entire city every day for a whole week was to show them just how hopeless the task was. No one could possibly mistake the victory, when it finally came, for anything other than what it was—a divinely ordered miracle. No one could possibly think that this was something they could have managed on their own, if they just worked hard enough or spent enough money.
The truth is, nothing can really be accomplished spiritually in our own strength. It is “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). As Bible-believing people of faith we know that’s true. It’s just that we don’t always remember it or believe it deep down. We prefer to think we can manage pretty well with our own energy, or brains, or resources. So often the very first thing God has to do with us before he can accomplish his work through us is to reduce us to helplessness by utterly convincing us that we don’t have a prayer apart from him.
Next, notice the prominent role played once again in this story by the ark of the covenant. Just as with the crossing of the Jordan River, it’s the ark that takes the lead. Now it would be a serious mistake to conclude from this that the ark was a magic box that brought about the miracle, or that it was a source of power in and of itself. That kind of “lucky charm” theology does sometimes infect people, giving rise to superstitious silliness or to even graver mistakes. The Lord will not be used like a rabbit’s foot!
What the ark served for at Jericho was to remind everyone of the Lord’s presence with them. They may not understand what they are doing. They may not know exactly where they are going or how they’ll get there, but they can be sure that God is with them and that he’s leading them by his presence. And if God is with us and God is for us, who can be against us? So when we have to face the impossible or attempt the incredible we can go forward in the strength of the one who has promised, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
. . . Came Tumbling Down
On the seventh day, things were different. This time the march around Jericho didn’t end with the first revolution but continued for six more. Something was up! After the seventh time around there was a pregnant pause, then the trumpets blasted and the command rang out: “Shout for all you’re worth!” The people cried with a mighty voice, the walls collapsed, the city was taken, and all save Rahab and her family were destroyed. Thus judgment was visited upon evil, and the promise of grace was kept to faithful Rahab. This is how the victory is won at every Jericho that we face as God’s people. It’s always his victory; we simply follow his instructions, do what we’re commanded to do, wait with expectant faith even when things seem hopeless, speak when we’re told to, and then cheer when we see God’s mighty saving acts. “By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days” (Hebrews 11:30).
Someday the final victory, the complete and lasting victory over sin, death, the devil, and every other enemy of God, will be won for us by the Lord in exactly the same way. One of the most troubling aspects of the book of Joshua—or for that matter, of the whole Old Testament—first comes face to face with us in this story of the battle of Jericho. It’s the blood-curdling violence of Israel’s conquest. What makes it worse is that the command to wipe out the city and its inhabitants came from God himself (cf. Joshua 8:2). How can we reconcile this with the God we see in the New Testament, the God of love who cares for all peoples everywhere and who wants all to be saved?
But we must never forget that this same loving God is also a holy God of justice, yes, and of wrath and judgment. The people of Israel were God’s instrument of judgment upon the sinful inhabitants of Canaan. And when, centuries later, Israel proved herself capable of the same kind of evil as the Canaanites, God did not spare his own people from judgment either (see Habakkuk 1).
The truth is, God does love all people. But he also hates all sin and evil, and one day he will destroy it all, finally and forever. The fate of Canaan and its inhabitants is a warning to the whole world to repent and turn to God in faith, while there is still time. But for the Lord’s people, it’s also an encouragement to look forward to God’s final victory. That day of victory will come, as it did at Jericho, with the sound of the trumpet and the cry of command, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise . . .” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
We just need to have faith that that day is coming and meanwhile keep marching after the Lord in obedience.