Joshua, Part 3

The Walls of Jericho today

The Walls of Jericho today

 

What happened to the walls of Jericho was miraculous.  Rationalists try to invent ways to explain away the falling walls, but the Bible is pretty clear on why the walls came down.  God intervened.  He intervened there just as He intervened at the Red Sea and the Jordan River.  Liberal scholars can’t accept these miraculous, Divine interventions, but if you want to take the Bible at face value, then there’s no other way to explain the incredible events surrounding the victory at Jericho.

God had given the land upon which Jericho sat to the Israelites.  It was not an empty land by any stretch of the imagination.  All kinds of people lived in it and in order for the Israelites to make this land their own, God would have to uproot a deeply entrenched culture.  This involved the wiping out of entire towns and villages.  To our politically correct culture that values tolerance above all else, this seems to be a cruel act.  But the whole story needs to be known.  For almost half a millennia, God Himself had tolerated – put up with patiently – the Canaanites in spite of their violence, gross immorality, and sickening religious customs which involved child sacrifice and sexual perversion that makes our culture look puritanical by comparison.  There was no way Israel could exist alongside such degradation, for eventually Israelite culture would be corrupted.

What God had asked of Joshua – the wiping out of Jericho – was necessary for the survival Israel.  But it was also a test of character; Joshua’s character.  Would Joshua obey God’s mandate to the letter?  Or would he compromise?  We know, of course, that Joshua obeyed God.  He marched forward at the clear command of God.

God’s presence with Israel

The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan.  (Joshua 5:12  TNIV)

It was now or never.  There was no going back.  After the covenant had been renewed and the Passover feast ended, Joshua made a reconnaissance of Jericho.  It was then that he met a stranger.

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” 

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”  (Joshua 5:13, 14  TNIV)

Who was this mysterious stranger?  George Bush (no relation) made this comment:

It is the established opinion of both ancient and modern expositors that this was no other than the Son of God, the Eternal Word, appearing in that form which he was afterward to assume for the redemption of man.

Joshua was a soldier, so it made sense that the Second Person of the Trinity would appear to him as a soldier.  But when it became obvious who this Stranger was, Joshua submitted to Him as being HIS commander.

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.  (Joshua 5:15  TLB)

This exchange was brief, and a lot of Bible readers skip over it to get the good parts in the next chapter.  But it’s important to take note of what was actually happening here.  This was really Joshua’ call and his commission.  It was exactly the same as Moses’ call on the plains of Moab at the burning bush.

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  (Exodus 3:5  TNIV)

The ground in Midian and now the ground in Canaan was holy simply because of God’s presence.  God’s presence makes any space holy.  Canaan ground became holy ground.  The forthcoming battle over this land was fought by God’s people for the fulfillment of God’s promise.  This land was holy.  And this was a holy war.  But it must be noted that this was not Joshua’s war; it was the Lord’s

What God asked of Moses and Joshua was one thing:  reverence.  The relationship that exists between God and any man must be based on reverence.  It’s an old fashioned word and and an out-dated concept, but reverence of God is essential if you want to have a relationship with Him.

God’s crazy plan

God very seldom ever does things in the expected way.  He often accomplishes His will in different, surprising and odd ways.  God’s will was for His people to possess the land of Canaan.  He would accomplish this by ridding the land of the enemy.  But the enemy were many:  Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and others.  Each and every last one of them would have to reckoned with.  God gave the order, but it was up to Joshua to come up with some kind of plan of battle.  The conquest of Canaan would involve a three-fold strategy:  Gain the bridgehead at Jericho; Extend the battle in this central region to effect a wedge between the northern and souther armies; Engage each, one after the other, with the southern (the closest) armies first.

But the success or failure of this strategy hung on the Israelites taking Jericho.  If Joshua came up with the overall strategy, it was God who supplied the means for certain victory.  And what an odd-ball means it was!

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.  Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets.  When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”  (Joshua 6:4, 5  TNIV)

The Israelites had experienced the miraculous before.  This present generation had enjoyed manna from heaven.  They enjoyed the presence of God during their desert wanderings.  They witnessed the miracle at Jordan River.   But what happened around Jericho was not just miraculous; it was truly spectacular.  The sights and sounds of that week proved to all who witnessed them that there was one true God and that God had entered Canaan!

There is no doubt that it was the power of God that caused the mighty walls around Jericho to come tumbling down.  But the questions must be asked:  Why all the histrionics?  What was God trying to teach? And to whom?

All this marching and trumpet blowing couldn’t have been for the benefit of the people of Jericho.  The people were already terrified of God and Israel and their doom sealed:  All but Rahab and her family would perish.  There was no going back for Jericho; there was no hope.  In fact, the opening words of chapter 6 say it all:

Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.  (Joshua 6:1  TNIV)

Therefore, God’s plan must have been for the Israel’s benefit.  In all, here are the lessons Israel learned through Joshua 6 and the Jericho Campaign:

Absolute obedience

What God demanded of Joshua and the people was strange.  And yet, Joshua never questioned God and as far as we know, nobody else did, either.  It is unthinkable that not a single Israelite had his doubts, but for now any doubts were kept them to themselves and the people simply did as they were told by their leader, Joshua.  Answers to their questions would come later.

A bond of unity

With the people all doing the same thing, a sense of unity must have been created.  They were sharing a common experience and a common faith as they faced a common foe.  They were marching in an almost military precision around a pagan city’s walls.

The importance of remaining pure

Israel needed to learn that to partake of heathen things would defile them.  That’s the point of this bit from the Lord:

The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent.  But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it.  (Joshua 6:17, 18  TNIV)

God had a plan and purpose the plunder of Jericho and that plan did not include His people coveting the loot and taking it.  God was the conqueror and to Him belonged the spoils of war.  It was essential that Israel remain pure from heathen defilement.

A new vision of God

When it comes to revelation, God doesn’t hold back.  In spite of what you might have heard, God has revealed much of Himself and His plan to mankind.  Since leaving Egypt, in spite of their disobedience, God was Israel’s constant companion, dwelling among them and speaking to them through His servant, Moses.  Now at Jericho, God would reveal even more:

First, the Isrealites would experience an even more intimate presence of God.  He would be literally surrounding His ark at all times, which traveled among the people.

Second, the battles Israel would engage in would reveal God’s sovereignty in mighty ways.  Israel’s fight was God’s fight, and fight for His people He did.  The blowing of the horns, for example, was not a military thing but a sound of jubilee.

Third, the Israelites were slowly learning that God demanded their complete, total loyalty.  With Him there could be no half-measures.  After all, God always went the distance for them!  For example, He promised all of Canaan to Israel, not just part of it.  He punished all unbelievers in the desert for their rebellion.  He demanded that all of Israel participate in the conquest of Canaan.  Circumcision was to be practiced on all male Israelites.  All points of the Law were to be kept.  With the whole heart were the people to seek after God.  All the people were to shout at the same time and the city was to be completely destroyed.  The principle is undeniable:  God wanted all of Israel to serve Him completely, holding nothing back.

God is all powerful

The miracle of the colapsing walls demonstrated the power of God unmistakable fashion.  The event was wholly miraculous.  The timing was foretold by God (6:5) and fulfilled by God (6:20).

God is wrathful

We don’t consider this enough.  But God can be full of wrath.  We’re fortunate to be living in an age of grace, where we don’t see the wrath of God.  But wrath He has, in spades, as Israel witnessed.  We can’t imagine what it was like for them to not only be witnesses, but also to be the instrument of Jericho’s complete razing.  The Israeltes at this time were by nature a nomadic people, not a warlike people.  Fighting wasn’t in their DNA, but it was a mandate from God.  Slaying the inhabitants of Jericho couldn’t have been easy or pleasant, but knowing they were God’s instrument of judgment upon the godless citizens of Jericho gave the Israelites a sense of God’s utter holiness and repusion of sin.   Once again, the Israelites learned in the most graphic way possible that sin and holiness cannot co-exist in the same space and time.

In the end, from the moment the Israelites crossed the Jordan, they were carried along on the wings of the miraculous.  God was in control, He was opening doors for them and clearing the way.  But they had to do their part.  Obedience followed by determined action was needed.  Every step of the way, the people were learning more and more about their God and how He works.

God’s ways will frequently baffle us, but God’s will is sufficiently clear to lead us in the meantime.  God’s ways may not be clear, but our way is – at least enough of it to know what obedience requires.  (Dale Ralph Davis)

 

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