The Non-Battle of Jericho
Topic: Default Scripture: Joshua 5:13–6:27
Last week we saw the Israelites pass through the Jordan and enter the promised land. This week we see them taking out the first city in their path, Jericho. Jericho was a supremely strategic place. It was much more than just the closest city on the map. If they have Jericho, they effectively divide the Canaanites through the middle. The Canaanites in the north would have no way to collaborate with the Canaanites to the south which would seriously hinder them. It was interesting to read military experts this week assess the strategic value of Jericho if the Israelites wanted to take the promised land. They made it feel like the Rock of Gibraltar of the promised land.
There was one really big problem though. Jericho was also the Minas Tirith of the promised land. For you non-Lord of The Rings people, Jericho is the Fort Knox of the promised land. Pay attention to how many times we are reminded about the wall in this story. Jericho was on high ground and it had high walls which made it extremely hard to conquer.
This is a story about how God delivered Jericho into the hands of the Israelites.
There is no way I can look at this all week with a large wall standing between Joshua and his enemies and not think about the D-Day invasion that celebrated its 75th anniversary this week. My grandfather was in the third wave of that invasion. It was one of the largest and most important military invasions in history. Hitler was establishing what was called the Atlantic wall on the west coast of Europe from Norway all the way down to the very bottom of France and we had to break through in order to defeat an evil army who had no rights to that land.
I see more than a few similarities between that day and our text here. I would imagine there were some similar thoughts and emotions leading up to battle. But, the main way we are to apply the battle of Jericho today isn’t in terms of a physical conquest. We’ll talk about that in a minute. Ultimately, these events foreshadow our spiritual conquest. Our battle with our own sin, being a real part of seeing people saved from a kingdom of darkness and into a kingdom of light as we walk to our promised land of the new heavens and new earth.
This is an important story for us because we see a physical manifestation of our very real spiritual conquest. For Israel to be successful, God required some things of them and He gave them some things. And these are exactly what we need to do and receive in our lives today.
Before we can look at the things God required to give them Jericho, I need to address the elephant in the room. Why would God want to eliminate a whole people group? Is the God of the Bible promoting genocide? There have been genocidal movements that have pointed to this book to justify the horrible things they were doing. Is God immoral? Is this God a God we can trust at all?
These are important questions to answer. I briefly addressed them a few weeks ago, but I want to go a bit more in depth this morning. First, we have to understand that this is righteous judgement on truly horrible people from top to bottom. We have evidence from the Bible and modern archeology that prove they boasted in the most barbarous of acts. Not only were they boastful of incest and bestiality, but they actively participated in child sacrifice.
And we see that God was really patient with them. If you go back to Genesis 15 where God is promising this land to Abrahm, God shows us His patience. Then the LORD said to Abram,“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for 14 sfour hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and15 afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go16 to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
Did you see that? The Amorite sin is not yet to the point of destruction. The Amorites are who we are talking about. They comprised some of the Canaanite people. So God doesn’t bring His judgment on the Amorites until it has just gone too far. We see this same thing play out with Sodom. Abraham pleaded for mercy for the city by asking what if there are 50 righteous people there? God responded, “I’ll show mercy if there are 50.” And you get the feeling that Abraham knows there are not 50 so he asks for 40. God says He will show mercy if there are 40. What about 20? What about 10. God says that He will show mercy if there are ten good people in that city. Does this not sound like Jericho?
We also need to see that it’s not an ethnic thing. It’s a sin thing. If this were truly ethic based judgement, Rahab and her house could have never been saved. So no one can accuse God of any kind of race based genocide here.
Lastly, and this is what I said three weeks ago, the Israelites were simply the instrument God used to execute His judgment. It wasn’t like the Israelites were a banner of faithfulness and morality who deserved the land more and had the moral right to wipe out another people group. And God wanted to be very clear on this. Look at Deuteronomy 9: “Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out beforeyou, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has
righteousness or theuprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of thewickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from beforeyou, and that he may confirm fthe word that the LORD swore to your fathers, toAbraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
God chose the Israelites for the land. God chose to eliminate the Canaanites and, in a way, He’s killing two birds with one stone. It’s also worth noting that only as our culture increasingly looks like that of Jericho are we beginning to cry foul on a God who would judge such a culture.
- What God required
Ok, with that out of the way, what are the three things God requires in this story for the people to take Jericho? Submission, faith, and obedience.
We see submission (5:13-6:5) in Joshua’s interaction with the commander of the Lord’s
I imagine a very old Joshua here, maybe in his 80’s and he’s looking at Jericho for the second time in a very sober way. Imagine in your eighties returning to the location of one of the most defining moments in your life when you were in your 40’s. He remembers that the last time he stood in this place he was a spy for Israel and things went terribly wrong. Joshua looks up and sees this non-human, but human looking figure holding a sword.
Who in the world is this? Well, we know a few things about him. He introduces himself as the Commander of the Lord’s Army. He accepts worship or, at the very least, sees himself as an acceptable conduit for worship. He makes the ground underneath his feet holy. We know of no other angel who accepts worship. But we do know of someone who did accept worship, who was both human and God, who was holy, and once said He could command 12 legions of angels with one word.
Could this be what we call the pre-incarnate Jesus? Jesus before He took on flesh.
Jesus has always existed. It isn’t like there was only one Binity with God the Father and
God the Holy Spirit until God the Son came on the scene. We have other places in the Bible where it seems like God in bodily form shows up and we call these pre-incarnate visitations of Jesus. There is debate here of course. Some say it is God manifesting His presence in bodily form, but it’s not Jesus. Maybe, but looking at the breadth of Scripture, I’m more convinced this man is Jesus. John Calvin says it is the angel Michael who is also Jesus. Tim Keller and Jim Boice say it’s Jesus. So, if I’m wrong, I’m in good company.
It also makes sense that this the pre-incarnate Jesus by the way He answers Joshua’s question. Joshua asks him, I think, a pretty logical question. Whose side are you on? Are you for us or for our enemy? And what does this person say? Neither. If this is Jesus, it makes sense that He is saying, “Listen, I’m not for or against anyone. No one is important enough for me to be behind. You are for Me or against Me! You submit to Me!”
Since the President is coming to Orlando next week to announce his candidacy for re-election, I think it is reasonable for us to be reminded from this text that God isn’t ‘for’ any certain president. That doesn’t mean we can’t have strong opinions and be work hard to support a candidate. I’m just saying that God isn’t at the mercy of a man to see His will done in this country. No candidate is God’s candidate in the same way that the Commander of the Lord’s army isn’t for or against Joshua. What I think we can say is that to the degree that our President, whoever that is, submits to the will of God in his or her life, to that degree God will give that person wisdom and we will all benefit.
Ok, back to the story. At the very least, this is God in some form and Joshua sees that and submits. He submits by taking off his shoes and worshipping and so must we. How are you doing in your submission to Jesus? The more we submit our minds, hearts, and actions to Jesus, the more we will enjoy Him and be empowered in the mission we have been given.
And what happens when Joshua submits? He has access to power. This person tells Joshua that He has already been given the the city. The walls are high and locked up tight. No one is going in or out, but God has already given it over to Joshua. It doesn’t matter how bleak things look if the power of God is being harnessed.
This makes me think of Paul as he is outside Corinth and scared. Jesus comes to Him and says that He has many people in that city. Access to that kind of power motivates Paul to go in there and preach the gospel and it should for us as well.
The first thing God requires is submission. The second is faith (6:6-15). God gives Joshua a plan and, humanly speaking, it’s about the worst plan you could come up with. All the men of war are to march around the city in complete silence following the arc and seven priests who are blowing horns. I mean, where are the catapults, ladders, and battering rams? Not only does this NOT get you into the city, it isn’t even that intimidating. Maybe if the men were yelling and taunting, but God is clear to tell them to be silent. They had to have faith that God was going to do what God said He would do. Everyday they marched and everyday nothing happened. They just had to have faith that God would do what He said He would do.
Why do you think God wanted the men to be silent? Because God wanted the arc to be the focal point of the march, not the men. It was going to be God’s army that brings down those walls, not Israel’s. A very invisible, but very real army. Remember Elisha when he was in Dothan and the king of Syria had surrounded the city with soldiers and chariots? Elisha’s servant asked, “What do we do?” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. - 2 Kings 6:17
There are forces we cannot see, but it doesn’t mean they are not real. We must have faith. And often God likes to do things in unusual ways so He gets more glory and we get more faith. Paul makes the same point by using the image of a treasure in a clay jar. You don’t put a treasure in something as breakable as a clay jar. And in Paul’s metaphor, the treasure is the gospel and the fragile, breakable, unqualified jar is us. It makes no sense to place the only message of true hope in the hands of selfish people to deliver it to other people who have no capacity to see the hope in this message. It makes about as much sense as marching around the walls of a city seven times expecting them to fall down.
Why would God do things this way? Because the more faith required, the more glory He gets. I had a friend some years ago who was an SEC 400 meter runner. His best time was less than two seconds off the world record held, at that time, by Michael Johnson. Imagine if the three of us lined, my friend, Michael Johnson, and I lined up and ran a 400 meter race. If my friend wins, who is getting the glory? He is! But, if I win, people are going to be looking for a supernatural explanation. God wants us to look for a supernatural explanation and that requires faith. This is why the author of Hebrews writes: By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. - Hebrews 11:30
But, I can’t move on without mentioning the faith required of Rahab inside the city. There’s more at stake for her here than maybe anyone and she is just watching these people silently march and blow horns. But, she too had faith and she too is included in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11.
Submission, faith, and then, finally, God requires obedience (6:16-21). So, they people have marched everyday for six days and then seven times on the seventh day, the trumps are blown and the walls come down and there is only one and a half verses that say anything about it. That would be like making a Hollywood movie about this event and spending 2 minutes on the battle. The battle is not what the author of Joshua wants us to focus on.
More time is spent on making sure people don’t steal what has been devoted to destruction than on the battle itself. If you think about it, actually, a whole lot of time is devoted to obedience. Stay silent, march, destroy everything, don’t take anything for yourself, don’t kill Rahab and those in her house. God cares deeply that His people obey.
He cares that we obey not just because He commands it, but because it’s for our good. Our lives will generally go better, but even more, we will know and enjoy God more when we live within the design He created us to thrive in.
Martin Luther said imagine a horse and one one side of that horse is legalism (that is, obedience to satisfy your own self-righteousness) and on the other side is licentiousness (that is, a total lack of obedience to God). The Christian life is like a drunk man on one side of that horse climbing up on the horse and falling off on the other side.
Our relationship with obedience is tenuous at best, but we have to desire it to enjoy God.
I think this is what keeps so many away from the faith. They see obedience as this list of boxes to check to be ok with God. Some people minimize the list and think that if they do the bare minimum and make an appearance in church every now and then they will be ok. Others see the list as absolutely unattainable and don’t even try. In both cases they are totally misunderstanding the role of obedience in the Christian faith. The list is absolutely unattainable! That’s where Jesus comes in! He’s the only one who has ever or will ever be able to check all the boxes. He does the work and we get credit for it. That’s the gospel. Now...and only now...can we see obedience for what it is. It isn’t a way to get in, it’s a way to enjoy. To enjoy God and have purpose in life.
There is a direct correlation to the obedience of the Israelites and their experience of the God of the universe and the same is true of us today. Those are the things God required, now let’s look at what God gave them.
- What God gave
God gave them Rahab and Jericho. Let’s look at Rahab first. Rahab, a woman whose life has not gone as she dreamed as a little girl. A woman who had heard of the God of the Israelites and at some point began to cry out to that God who sent two spies into Jericho to get her.
It’s no coincidence that as the Israelites do what God wants them to do, people are saved. I know I said this a few weeks ago, but Jutty Valiquette who this church sent out as a church planter to Italy, one of the hardest places in the world to see fruit is about to baptize 10 people on one Sunday. That’s the equivalent of us baptizing 75 people here! They are a small group of people faithfully doing what God has called them to do and and God is using them to bring people into His kingdom in just as dramatic of ways as Rahab.
I don’t say what I am about to say lightly or flippantly, but if people aren’t coming to faith, we have to ask if we are actually doing what God wants us to do. I have to ask myself if I’m doing what God wants me to do. I’m so thankful for the growth we are experiencing, but I’m highly aware of the fact that of the two or three hundred new people we have seen here this year, only one that I am aware of is a new believer. I don’t say this to guilt us, but to push us toward honest evaluation and prayer.
I think one of the biggest hindrances to our seeing Rahab kind of fruit in our midst is that we don’t see ourselves, our plights, and our conversions as just as dire and dramatic as hers. All of us were locked up tight behind a fortress wall of our sin and if any of us see that, it is only because the Spirit of God broke through that fortress, opened our eyes, and called us out. We are all Rahab, God has many more Rahabs in this city yet to be delivered over, and He is calling us go forth and bring them in.
God gave them Rahab and, secondly, He gave them Jericho. Think about what is going on at a 30,000 foot view. They have more than just a foot in the door as they take the promised land. Taking this spot, militarily speaking, and taking it in the way that they did, spiritually speaking, assures them the land. It isn’t yet secured, but it is assured. The decisive battle has been fought, but the war is not yet over. The kingdom is fulfilled, but not yet consummated. Does that sound familiar?
We are guaranteed the better promised land of our new heaven and our new earth. It is assured, but it isn’t yet secured. We don’t experience this reality fully yet. That’s why we call our situation the already/not yet. We are already called out of our sin and into a relationship with God, but we don’t yet experience the fullness of what God has for us. That will happen when Jesus comes back. The fall of Jericho brings the Israelites into an already/not yet of sorts and Jesus’ Holy Spirit inside of us does just the same thing.
So, the kingdom is already here, but we have all kinds of verses like Matthew 28 where angels say that Jesus will return in the same way He left and on that day a new heaven and a new earth will come with Him.
It’s not the easiest thing to live in the already/not yet. Many heresies have come in from misunderstanding Jesus here. And as our doctrine becomes less biblical, our lives become less powerful. The challenge for us is to hold this tension. We need to be careful not to lean too much to one side or the other.
If we lean too much toward the already, insisting that future blessings be realized now, we will live a frustrated life. We see this happening in many of the charismatic movements. Now, they need to be credited for seeing the power in Jesus Christ, but their error is that they have not properly understood what is promised for the already and what is promised for the not yet.
I was once asked by one of these pastors what my ministry was about. I said, “proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.” To which she responded, “I guess that is a good starting point.” She wanted to move past the gospel to the miracles and healings that certainly can happen, but are not promised in the already. So, the result is that when we don’t see the blessings of the not yet now in the already, we have to wonder why that is. Certainly the problem isn’t with God, so there has to be something wrong with my faith. What a frustrating place to live. The fancy word for this is an over realized eschatology. Expecting to see now, what is not promised until the end.
But, we can also lean the other way. We can lean more toward the not yet, forgetting the real power and blessing of the already. For what it’s worth, this tends to be the predominant error in churches like ours. We can see the gospel of Jesus Christ as something that mainly or only has future implications not seeing the power and joy we have in the already. We find ways to drown ourselves in distractions and addictions because we don’t know the power of the Holy Spirit now.
If we lose either the already or the not yet, we lose the hope and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The fall of Jericho is a picture of our state.
Suggestion: two areas we are in the process of conquering; the world and our hearts.
Both of these victories have things in common with the Israelite’s victory over Jericho:
- They must be won by obedience, not by practicality or human wisdom.
- They must be won completely. No pockets of unbelief may be passed over in our hearts or in the world. Every part of every person needs to be won over by the Grace of Jesus.
- They must be won by and for the glory of God, not for the glory of ourselves, our churches, our countries or our preferences.