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Joshua Didn't Fight the Battle of Jericho (2)

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Joshua Didn't Fight the Battle of Jericho
John Butler / General
Joshua /

1. Who’s on Whose Side? 5:13-15

A. The Strange Warrior

Joshua is most likely out on a reconnaissance of Jericho. He encounters a Stranger Warrior, with sword drawn.
Who is this man standing before Joshua? A couple of clues comes from his description and what he tells Joshua. We’re given this description of his stance: ‘his drawn sword in his hand’. This language is used in to describe the angel of the Lord as he stood in before Balaam on the road.
He tells Joshua to take off his shoes because it was holy ground. That is, almost verbatim, the charge that God gave to Moses at the burning bush ().
So then, along with his describing Himself as ‘the commander of the LORD’s army’, is we are left with the fact that He is the angel of the Lord. But who is the angel of the Lord? In , at the burning bush, the angel is identified with God and speaks as if he is God. The Old Testament elsewhere indicates that the angel of the Lord is God (see ). The same is true here in ; the appearance of the angel of the Lord evokes awe, submission and worship on the part of Joshua, because the angel is God. Some commentators argue that the angel of the Lord is the Second Person of the Trinity, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.

B. The Submitted Warrior

Joshua challenges him: Who have you come for, that is, on whose side have you enlisted? Neither, He says. The question is, whose side is Joshua on? When this Strange Warrior identifies Himself, Joshua submits himself to Him and His direction. The point of the exchange seems to be that it was not for Joshua to claim the allegiance of God for his cause, however right it was, but rather for God to claim Joshua.
So often we want to turn to God to get answers, to know His plans (particularly, how those plans affect us). And that’s a good thing. But sometimes, we turn to Him more for His answers, than for knowing Him and recognizing Him as God. That is, for what we hope to get, rather than for loving Him for who he is. Examine our prayer lives — do we seek Him in prayer primarily for what we want from Him? Or do we seek Him, first?

2. This is Your Battle Plan? 6:1-5

A. The Outcome is Certain

Jericho is “Shut up” — graphic re it being on a tell. The text literally says, ‘Jericho was shut up and it was shut up’; the double use of the verb is emphatic to underscore that from a military vantage point Jericho is secure and seemingly impregnable.
To our eyes it is impossible.
God’s declaration is that it is certainly going to fall. “…sometimes nothing looks so unlikely as the decree of God.”

B. Not your typical military operation order

It becomes quite evident that this breakthrough isn’t going to come about by any human means, conventional or unconventional.
Why has the Lord planned a seven-day ritual before he causes the city to fall? Part of the answer lies in exercising Israel’s faith. Yes, the walls will collapse by the work of the Lord. But he wants Israel completely resting its faith on him before he hands over the gift. Just as the days at the river forced the people to place all confidence in the Lord before the miracle, so now during seven days of marching around mighty Jericho, the Lord will direct all faith toward himself. The author of Hebrews stresses the faith aspect of the coming victory. He says, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days” (). Their obedience to the Lord’s commands will show their faith, a faith the Lord will build up during the seven days of spiritual and physical exercise. Their faith will lead them to accept God’s promised victory. The Lord always wants much more than that his people receive his material gifts. He wants an ever-growing trust in him as the giver of those gifts. To that end he directs and rules our lives. Our faith in him and growth in that relationship is far more important than the individual gifts, just as Israel’s faith in him was much more valuable than Jericho.

3. The Action at Jericho, 6:6-21; 26-27

A. The centrality of God in the circumstances, 6:6-15

Chapter 6 mentions God’s ark 10 times. it is God’s presence, symbolized by the Ark, that will make all the difference.
God is fighting Israel’s battle, and we need to recognize and acknowledge the centrality of His presence and activity in the conquest.
We are to be struck with the relative passivity of God’s people in this operation. Usually, God operates through the instrumentality of His people. But this time, it is different. Yes, they do have a role in the marching and shouting, but in it all God appears to be setting the stage for His activity and glory to be front and centre. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

B. The devotion of God’s people, 6:16-21

The priority of obedience to God’s command
In the midst of any command, there is also the potential for disobedience. There is always defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory.
The wall falls down flat. It seems to just disintegrate before their eyes. Bryant G. Wood, an authority on Canaanite pottery, presents strong evidence for a 1400 B.C. destruction of a level of the site for Jericho. There is clear evidence of levelled walls and destruction by burning. Large stores of grain, mostly scorched, in the houses were also destroyed at the same time. This abundant grain correlates with two facts from the Joshua account: (1) Jericho was taken during Nisan, the month of the spring barley harvest; (2) the city did not fall after a long starvation siege, common at the time, but after just seven days while plenty of food was still in the houses (Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1990).

C. The question of genocide

This order to put to death the people of Jericho, from the oldest person to the youngest baby, and everyone in between (except Rahab and those of her family who have fled to her house) constitutes one of the great dilemmas in understanding the Old Testament. Sometimes people attempt to explain away this order, but it is evident that it is annihilation of the Jericho populace that is in view. And looking at this some would argue that it is unworthy of God to be depicted as sanctioning and ordering the destruction of the Canaanites at Jericho. How could a holy and loving God give instructions for the utter annihilation of the Canaanites? Or, why would we want to serve such a God? This is a question of what is called theodicy, which is an attempt to understand the nature and actions of God in the face of evil and suffering. Again, how could God act this way?
A foundational observation to make is that God does, in fact, order the destruction. There is no way around this truth. Moses tells the people before the conquest:
But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded (; cf. ).
How could God order such a thing? First, it needs to be pointed out that Israel is to take possession of the land by the immediate hand of God, who has an absolute right to exercise his power in any way he wills. It is God’s desire, good pleasure and purpose for Israel to inherit Canaan. When the apostle Paul explains the sovereignty of God to the men of Athens he includes the following description: ‘And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place …’ ().
Secondly, the Canaanites were in no respect innocent as they stood before God and Israel. Were they a peaceful, righteous, upright people? Were they in some way undeserving of God’s justice? In God explained to Abram that his descendants would not inherit Canaan immediately but would come back in the fourth generation, ‘for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete’. The implication is that God was being patient with the present inhabitants of the land but that when their sins had reached the limit, he would use Abram’s descendants to bring judgment upon them. When God promised him that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan, he said it would not occur until ‘the fourth generation’ because ‘the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete’ (). Since the time of God’s giving this promise to Abraham, the Canaanites have been heaping up sin. recounts the wicked behaviour of the Canaanites: they practise child sacrifice, incest, adultery, temple prostitution and various other abominations. Therefore, we see God’s justice going forth against the Canaanites in the book of Joshua because they rejected God and his law.
Israel acts as an instrument of God’s judgement on the Canaanites. In one sense this should not be troubling since elsewhere God uses pagan nations to punish his own chosen people (; ). Why would he not employ the elect nation as a means of judgement on ungodly peoples? The Lord employs secondary causes in judgement, such as fire against Sodom and Gomorrah, or rain against the people in Noah’s day. At Jericho, God simply uses Israel as his instrument of justice.
On another level, sometimes grieve or even cringe at the thought of God’s judgment. That is natural. Jesus wept over unrepentant Jerusalem and the impending destruction of the children within its walls (). God says: “As surely as I live … I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (). There is no hint that Israel enjoyed its role in the taking of life at Jericho. They were acting under God’s orders as the agents of his judgment. As “the Lord of all the earth” he has the perfect right to end the time of grace of those who have mocked his love and chosen their sin. We cringe not so much at the physical death of Jericho’s citizens as at their eternal loss.
Israel must not in all this assume a holier-than-you-all attitude, for God will not bring his people into the land because they are righteous and deserving; ‘it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you’ (). The conquest is not a bunch of land-hungry marauders wiping out, at the behest of their vicious God, hundreds of innocent, God-fearing folks. In the biblical view, the God of the Bible uses none-too-righteous Israel as the instrument of his just judgment on a people who had persistently revelled in their iniquity. Old Testament’s view on all this is this—the conquest is not gross injustice but the highest (and most patient []) justice.
The order for total destruction also serves the purpose of God protecting his own people. In the Lord provides the following reason that Israel is to destroy the many nations before them: ‘… that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.’ Jericho, which probably means “moon city,” may have been an ancient centre of moon worship. We know Canaanite worship included detestable practices such as ritual prostitution. “Children were even sacrificed in funerary jars, buried at the foundations of temples and other buildings.” The full-grown sin of Canaan and the spiritual protection of Israel called for radical action. To put it simply, cohabitation with pagan nations in the land of promise makes Israel vulnerable to fall into wickedness.
If our every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse, if we have the guilt of our first Parent’s sin and our own sins upon us, and God is indeed just, then the question is not, “why God punishes the wicked -- some now, all eventually,” but rather, “why does He save any, why does he show mercy to any at all?” If we see it in this light, the question is not, “why did God destroy all the people of Jerusalem,” but rather, “why didn’t he also take-out everyone outside of Jerusalem as well?”
13:1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
We live in a society today where many believe the Bible to be old-fashioned, outdated and obsolete; that such passages as today are outrageous, and anyone believing such or defending such a God to be despised and hounded out of civilised society. It shouldn’t surprise us, because these people mock God and His teachings. When faced with such mockery, what is your response? Do you accept it? Do you join in, so you can fit in? Or do you take a stand for what you believe in, and more importantly, for God?
The “Blessed Man” described in is a man who rejects the ways of the world and the ridicule of the mocker. They believe God, they stand on God’s Word, and they make no excuses for what they believe.
As a believer you should never be ashamed to say you believe the Bible to be the infallible, inerrant, inexhaustible Word of God. That you believe all of it, and more importantly, that you believe the God who has given it.
Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes.” ().
As a believer, you should never be ashamed of what you believe. There will be mockers who attempt to make fun of God and His Word. They will have their day. We must still plead with them to flee God’s coming wrath. Never buckle to the pressure to join in on their foolishness.

D. The curse on Jericho, 6:26-27


4. The Rescue of Rahab, 6:22-25

A. The right response to the threat of judgment

There is an exception to all the human destruction that is to take place at Jericho. Rahab and her family ‘shall live’; they shall be spared ‘because she hid the messengers’ (6:17). Rahab had acted in faith, and therefore she is to be delivered (cf. ). So here is God’s grace being poured out in the midst of great judgement.

B. All who come to Him, He will Not Cast Out

God has called all believers, like Rahab, “out of darkness into his wonderful light”; no matter what their background or nationality, he has caused them to be called “the people of God” (, ). Like Rahab, the church of all believers has been “called out” of the destruction which awaits those who refuse his love and safety.
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