Josh and the Big Wall
Text: Joshua 5:13-6:27
Theme: God's way is the best way.
Image: Walls crashing down.
Need: Trust in God
Message: Trust God, and follow his leading.
Josh and the Big Wall
Joshua 5:13-6:7, 6:15-21
The Israelites have finally made it into the promised land. They had wandered around in the desert for forty years as punishment for their refusal to trust in God to defeat the giants in the land. Over the course of those forty years everyone who refused to enter Canaan had died. A new generation had been born and raised in the wilderness. The only two left were Joshua and Caleb. Joshua had been Moses's assistant, and he took over as leader. He was now the man in charge. After Moses had gone up Mt. Nebo to die, God had led the Israelites across the Jordan river. He helped them cross the river at flood stage. Normally the Jordan is little more than a creek with a few deep pools in it, but at flood stage it practically triples in size. The banks of the river were deep cuts. At flood stage the sides were practically vertical. There was no gradual movement into the water. One step you were on dry land, the next you were in five or six feet of water. Well, as soon as the priests carrying the ark stepped foot in the water, it ceased to flow and the Israelites passed through on dry land, just like they had crossed the Red Sea.
As soon as they were across the Israelites do not begin their conquest of Canaan, no they perform a number of acts of devotion to God. It would have made more military sense to have stayed on the far side of the Jordan and do them. They could have circumcised all the males over there, been protected in friendly territory while they healed. Instead they move over into enemy territory and make themselves useless militarily. Then, while they are healing, they celebrate the passover to God. Then, the day after the passover, the Israelites ate their first meals from the promised land. When they did this, God no longer had to supply them with manna, and so that ceased. He had led them into Canaan. He had prepared them in the desert. They had shown their commitment to him by following his instructions, but now they had to get to the work of clearing out the inhabitants of the land.
Page 1: God gives weird instructions to the Israelites.
The first place they must conquer was Jericho. Some archaeologists claim that this is the oldest inhabited city on earth. They think that it was settled as early as 7000 BC. There is evidence of over 34 different walls over the course of centuries. The city was magnificent at the time of the Israelite entrance into Canaan. The walls had a stone base 11 feet high, topped by 35 feet of smooth stone sloping upward at thirty-five degrees. This would have been impressive enough, but on top of this were the towering main walls of the city. These stood anywhere from 20 to 30 feet high and were completely vertical.
After the people of Jericho had seen the Israelites cross the Jordan at flood stage, they were extremely frightened. Rahab had told the spies that the people knew all which God had done for them, and they were extremely frightened. The city of Jericho was locked up tight. The gates had been closed and barred. The walls were manned, and a constant watch was taken over the city. No doubt the people of Jericho were rather confident in their walls. They thought that they had the upper hand. They had been able to settle in the land, and take the time to build up armaments, gather and store supplies, and train for battle. The Israelites had spent the last forty years living in the desert. The people of Jericho had the upper hand. Perhaps they were waiting for reinforcements from the rest of the Canaanite tribes. Perhaps they thought they could simply wait out the Israelites. For whatever reason they seemed to be prepared for a long siege. They had locked up the city and no one was allowed in or out.
Joshua decided he had to have a good look at the city to see what he was up against. When he was near Jericho he suddenly came across a man standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua asks him, “Are you with us, or against us?” For him there is no middle ground, you are either fighting for God's people, or against them. The man responds, “Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Joshua falls on the ground in reverence. He says, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” He realises that this man in not on his side, but that he is on this man's side. He is Joshua's Lord. He says to Joshua, “Look, I have already delivered Jericho into your hands, all you have to do is follow my instructions. You are to march around it in silence once a day for six days. Then on the seventh day, you must march around it seven times. When you have finished that, just shout, and the walls will come down.” We do not know what was going on in the mind of Joshua, but we know he was a great military man. He knew that this was not a good military plan, yet he does not complain. He does not point out to God the holes in his plan, he does not even ask how it will work. He simply goes back to camp and tells the other Israelites what they are supposed to do. It seems the Israelites have learned their lesson in the desert. They do not raise a complaint. They do not argue that this will not work. This is the one of the only times where the Israelites actually do what they are asked to do.
Well, the Israelites may have trusted God's plan, but I am willing to bet the people of Jericho thought they were crazy. They had the city shut up tight, expecting a protracted siege. When they saw the Israelites break camp in the morning and come marching toward them, trumpets blaring, they probably expected an immediate attack. The people went into their homes and huddled together. They tried to find the best hiding spot they could, so that they would not be found. The city was eerily quiet, and the trumpets of the Israelite priests could be heard clearly over the high walls. But that was the only sound. The people could hear them approach the main gate, but they did not stop there. They turned and began to travel around the city. As the trumpets passed by the gate all that could be heard was the sound of marching. Hundreds of thousands of people marching in step, in silence. The people listened as the trumpets travelled all the way around the city and reached the gate again. They did not stop there, however. They began to recede into the distance, and the people realised the Israelites went back to camp. People began to venture back out of their homes. They looked at each other incredulous, and fits of laughter broke out around the city. All they did was march around the city! These people sure are great tacticians. Who gave them their instructions anyway?
Taking these instructions at face value, they seem crazy. How many brilliant generals have marched around their opponents? When you read of the exploits of the great military men there is not one that has a plan like this. This doesn't even seem like a plan. But these are God's instructions. They seem crazy, but God promised that they would work.
Page 2: God gives us weird instructions.
Sometimes God's instructions for us seem crazy too. There are so many places in the Bible where God gives direct commands and they seem absolutely bonkers. Sometimes they are tied to the culture in which they are given, but sometimes they are not. It is hard for us to tell the difference. John Calvin thought that all the instructions given in the first five books of the Bible could be discussed under the ten commandments. If you look through his commentary on Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers he has grouped all of the commands under the individual ten commandments. To Calvin there were no crazy commandments. Every piece of instruction was precious. There are no culturally bound laws, everything has an application to us here and now. The problem is trying to find that application. It is hard for us to think of applications for the sacrificial requirements outlined in Leviticus, for example. Or this command in Deuteronomy 20:19,20 "When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an axe to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them? However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls." How does this apply to us today? It does not have anything to do with our everyday lives, unless of course you are laying siege to your neighbour's house. It does not even have that much to do with war anymore. What is its use? Well, Calvin places this under the 8th commandment, “You shall not steal”. Calvin explains that to totally destroy the surrounding countryside of a town at war with you, you steal from future generations. There are many such applications which Calvin has made. Some we may not agree with, but I think the point is made sufficiently. None of God's commandments or instructions can be thrown out.
Every commandment or instruction is an application of a universal principle, something that is true at all times and all places. Jesus himself summed up all the law and the prophets when he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mk 12:30,31) So each and every commandment we have is an application of these two principles. That is why Paul gave us the tests he did at the end of 1 Cor 10. Remember, there Paul said we should test all our actions and see if they are to the good of our neighbour or the glory of God. Sometimes it is hard to tell what the proper action would be in a certain situation, and that is why God gave us some specifics.
We are not allowed to look at God's commands and say, “Well, that might have been good enough back then, but we are living in the 21st century. Surely God doesn't expect us to follow these anymore.” I have heard people say, “Well, we are so much more sophisticated now, those rules just do not apply anymore.” Well, I am sorry to say, but God's rules apply to all people, at all times. We are not above the law because we live here and now. We cannot ignore God's requirements because we go to church and are Christian. Our faith must be evidenced in works, and we know what is good because God gave us the regulations and instructions we would need. They may seem strange to us, but God promises that if we follow them, we will succeed. We will achieve what he has called us to do.
Page 3: The Israelites follow God's instructions and succeed.
By following God's commands the Israelites achieved what God called them to do. They stuck it out for all seven days. Each day only took them about half an hour, and they had the rest of the day to think about what Joshua was telling them to do. He gave them their orders, and they followed them because the hand of God was on Joshua. They must have had a lot on their minds when they got back to camp everyday. I am sure the taunts from the townspeople must have been ringing in their ears while they slept at night. In the Veggie Tales version of this story, the people of Jericho throw slushies at the Israelites. This is an obvious embellishment, but it is not that far of a stretch to think that the people of Jericho threw things at the Israelites. They may have tried to rain showers of arrows into the ranks of the people. The Israelites may have marched far enough away from the city walls that they could not be reached by anything out of the city. We really do not know. All we know is that they listened to God's instructions, and marched around the city.
Could you imagine how weird it would have been to be there on the seventh day? By this time a trail had been worn around the city where everyone was walking. Most of the people of the city had stopped coming to look at them, because they always did the same thing. But today was different. Instead of going back to camp after one circuit of the walls, the people in the city could hear the trumpets continue around the city. As the march progressed, the people became curious. More and more of them began to file out onto the walls to see what was happening. But the Israelites kept marching, and they kept silent. The Israelites had not said one thing the whole time they were marching. They had not responded to the taunts of the people of Jericho, they had not issued threats against the city. They had not even discussed any terms of surrender. We know that God wanted the city of Jericho to be dedicated to him, there were no terms of surrender which would have been acceptable.
The people of Jericho began to get bored. Walking around the city seven times would have taken almost four hours, and there was nothing happening but people walking. The walls began to empty off again, and still the Israelites marched. Finally, after going around the city seven times, the people stopped. Inside the walls the people could tell because the priests's trumpets stayed in one spot. They stopped what they were doing to listen. Just then, Joshua gave orders to the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord.” Then the people shouted. All the pent up energy they released at the walls. All the confusion they had over God's instructions was directed at the walls. All the rage and anger that had built up from the taunts of the people of Jericho was hurled against the stone. From inside the city it sounded like crashing thunder. The shouts seemed to come in peaks and valleys, like waves crashing against a rocky cliff. Everyone in the city was stunned. They had not heard such noise before. It seemed to fill their heads, and beat against their skulls. Then, the ground began to rumble as the walls started to fall down. Those beautiful walls which provided the people of Jericho their protection, they were brought down by the hand of God. They fell with a mighty crash, and the Israelites rushed into the city, and devoted everything to God.
The Israelites had learned to trust in the Lord. They had followed his instructions, even though they seemed crazy, and they succeeded in conquering Jericho.
Page 4: God's way makes us succeed.
When we follow God's instructions, we will succeed in doing what God calls us to do. God gives us all the general instructions that we find in the scriptures, the ten commandments, Jesus's summary of the law, Paul's entreaty to be patient and not quarrelsome. These are all general instructions meant to guide every believer. But God also has an individual plan for each and every person. One of the characteristics of Reformed thought is that all believers have a calling in life. Whether you have a septic pumping service, or you raise Lipisaner Stallions, you both have a calling from God to do that. We must all try to find what God is calling us to do, and then be a faithful witness as we work in that field. The key is that we live out God's call wherever we are placed by Him. We must remember that our occupation is more than just a way to make money, it is a way to serve people and to be a witness to others.
God promises that when we follow his leading in our lives, we will be successful, but remember, that success may not be financial. Our reward is in heaven, not on earth, so do not expect great riches simply because you are Christian. Your riches are stored for you in heaven, eternal life in communion with God. Compared to that, what is a million dollars, or a new house, or a new car?
There was one person I know who was totally committed to God's will in his life. He did everything according to the will of his father in heaven. Many times it got him into trouble with people who were not as in tune with God's will, but he stuck to his guns. He knew all along what God's will was for his life. He knew what he had been sent to earth to do. He knew he had come down from heaven to save us all from our sins by dying on the cross, and yet in the garden of Gethsemane he prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt 26:39) Even so, he put his trust in his father's plan. He accepted the plan of his father. Because he did so, because he followed God's instructions, because he allowed himself to be arrested, accused, whipped, beaten, tortured, taunted, stripped, nailed to a cross, and hung there to die, because he did all this he succeeded in reconciling us to God. Because Christ followed God's will for his life, we now have the hope of eternal life. Because he allowed himself to be lifted up on a tree, we can look on him and live. Because Jesus followed the will of the father, he succeeded in defeating Satan.
The Israelites followed God's leading when they attacked Jericho and they were successful, Jesus followed God's leading when he died on the cross and he was successful. If we follow God's leading in our lives, we will be successful.
Let us Pray
Almighty creator, we thank you for the evidence of your love and direction we have from the scriptures. We praise you for the plan of salvation you have outlined to us. We thank you for sending your son to die for our sins on the cross. We thank you for the promise we have that we will succeed in what you have called us to be, if we listen to you and follow your instructions. Lord, grant us all clarity as we search for your will in our lives.