Joshua and the battle of jericho
Time to Shout
When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.… So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.
Joshua 6:20–21, 27
According to Lieutenant Colonel Faris Kirkland, former professor of military science at the University of Pennsylvania, the most exciting lecture he ever heard was on an ancient general’s military tactics. The lecturer was a visitor to his class, not even a regular teacher. But he held his students spellbound as he described this man’s military strategy: a sudden strike into the heart of the enemy’s territory, thus dividing his forces, then campaigns to the south and north. He described techniques of psychological warfare, the elements of speed, surprise, and terror.
Who was this ancient military genius? The students suggested Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun. It was only at the end of the lecture, after all possible names had been exhausted, that the teacher revealed the identity of the one whose battles he was describing: Joshua.
The First Obstacle: Jericho
At one time the brilliant British field marshal Edmund H. Allenby must have studied this book too, for Joshua’s strategy was the one he adopted in his successful liberation of Palestine in World War I.
Palestine is a hilly country, and the major passage through it is a connecting road that runs from south to north through the highest portions of the land. Joshua’s strategy (and Allenby’s) was to drive westward from the Jordan Valley to that high road, thus dividing the country. Then, when the enemy forces were divided, they would first destroy the opposition to the south and then the opposition to the north. This is the outline of the campaign described in Joshua 6–11.
Before the country could be divided, a wedge had to be driven from the Jordan River valley to the mountains. The first obstacle was at this point: Jericho. Jericho was a military fortress built to defend the eastern approach to the high country. It could not be bypassed; to bypass Jericho would mean leaving a large military force at one’s rear. But, on the other hand, conquering Jericho was a dismaying challenge. Jericho’s walls were high, its position advantageous. What was Joshua to do with an obstacle of these proportions?
If Joshua had held a council of war, it is not hard to imagine the advice he might have been given. One adviser might have argued that the way to take fortified cities is by siege ramps. An approach to the top of the walls must be constructed. (This was the way the Romans took fortified cities more than a thousand years later.) Another might have argued for starving Jericho’s defenders into submission. “Seal up the city,” he might have argued. “They cannot hold out forever. Eventually they will come to terms, open the city gates, and surrender.”
The story shows that Joshua adopted none of these counsels; in fact, he did not even seek them. He was already in touch with one who was the true strategist and commander.
The true commander, whom we met at the end of chapter 5, had a unique plan for this battle. He told Joshua:
See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 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 all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.
From a human point of view, nothing could have been more useless, in spite of the obvious necessity of attacking this outpost. High walls do not fall to the noise of tramping feet. Cities are not won by trumpets.
Yet this is precisely what happened. The story tells how the people followed the commands of the Lord. Each day for six days they walked in silence around the watching city, and on the seventh day they repeated this apparently futile exercise seven times. No one spoke. The only noise was the sound of the rams’ horns blown by the priests. Then, on the seventh circuit on the seventh day, when the city was entirely surrounded by the Jewish armies, Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!” (v. 16). The people did shout! It was the time to shout! “When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city” (v. 20).
Jericho was destroyed in accordance with God’s command to Joshua. Only Rahab and her family were spared because of her having saved the two spies.
Preparation: The Path to Victory
I was in a meeting in which a pastor was reporting on the revivals that have been taking place in the South American country of Argentina. That country is wide open to the gospel, and tens of thousands of people are coming to faith in Christ regularly in large open-air meetings. What is so striking about this revival, as it was related to me, is the preparation that had been made for it as long as twenty years before. At that time, the leaders of the Argentinian church began to pray for revival and ask themselves what they should do to prepare for the blessing they were asking God to send. Where would they put the people they were asking to be converted? How would they disciple the anticipated additions to the church? Their plan was to train leaders for greatly expanded churches and to establish strong Christian homes in which counseling and discipling could be done.
I think of that report as I study the account of the Jews’ conquest of Jericho, for one thing that is unmistakably clear is that there had been preparation before the shout of victory.
· Some of that preparation had started forty years earlier in the preparation of Joshua and Caleb and the soldiers that had been trained in the wilderness.
o The lessons learned when God provided water, manna, quail, the ten commandmenst, when God chasitised them, etc
· More preparation had taken place after the Jordan River had been crossed.
o There was a reinstitution of the covenantal rite of circumcision
o and a new observance of the Passover.
o The hearts of the people had to be right before there could be a full outpouring of God’s blessing.
But the preparation did not stop there. In fact, it continued right up to the very moment of the shout. Everything before that moment was preparation of the hearts of the people. The story stresses three steps. Silence, Initial Obedience, Obedience to the very end
1. Silence. This morning I urged you to go to God when troubles come---and cry out---this is still a good idea. But at some point---and especially after you know what God wants---it is time for silence-----
The first step in the preparation of the people for this climactic week was the command to keep silent. They were to be utterly quiet as they encircled the doomed city. Their lips were not to speak a word. The text says, “Joshua had commanded the people, ‘Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!’ ” (Josh. 6:10).
This must have been a difficult thing for the people to do. For one thing, there were several million people, and it is hard to imagine any large group of people moving anywhere without an increasingly noisy hum, then roar of voices. There were soldiers to get in line, children to keep track of, a route to be pointed out and taken. How this could be accomplished in silence I do not know, but this is what the people did. Moreover, the people would have had difficulty ignoring the taunts of the encircled citizens of Jericho. On the first day the Canaanites would probably have been quiet too, watching to see what the encircling armies would do. It would have been bizarre: a silent attacking force watched by silent defenders. But silence would hardly have lasted beyond the second day. By then, the defenders would have begun to mock the Jewish soldiers: “What do you think you’re doing, marching around our walls? Do you think we’re so foolish as to have left a door open somewhere? Are you afraid to fight? Why don’t you try to get in? We’ll show you how a city should be defended. Cowards!” Under such circumstances, it would have been difficult for the Jewish people to have kept silent.
What do you think they were thinking about? I suspect they must have been thinking that there was no possibility of conquering Jericho unless God delivered it to them. Jericho’s walls were high. The gates were shut. Each circling of the walls would have helped them realize that if there was to be a victory, it would have to be given to them by God.
Silence before God; this is a lesson we all need to learn. The Argentinian evangelist Luis Palau writes, “What a rare commodity! How difficult this is to achieve. If we’re not speaking verbally, then there are a thousand mental voices inside our thoughts, each vying for the last word. Listen to God? How can he possibly get a word in edgewise? This passage seems to be saying, ‘Hush. Don’t talk so much. Be quiet before the Lord after you’ve poured out your heart to him. Let God speak.’ ”
F. B. Meyer calls “Silence!” the hardest of all commandments:
That our voice should not be heard; that no word should proceed from our mouth; that we should utter our complaints to God alone—all this is foreign to our habits and taste. As death is the last enemy to be destroyed in the universe of God, so is the restraint of the tongue the last lesson learned by his children. We like to air our grievances; to talk over our ailments; to compare ourselves with others; and to discuss the likeliest remedies. We tell our friends our secrets under strict promises of confidence, to discover in bitter experience the truth of the Master’s words, that what is told into the ear in closets will be proclaimed upon housetops.
It is only the still heart that can reflect the heaven of God’s overarching care, or detect the least whisper of his voice through its quiet atmosphere, or know his full grace and power.
2. Obedience. The second step in the preparation of the people for the conquest of Jericho was obedience. Obedience is an essential part of true faith, which is why, I suppose, the actions of the people are cited in Hebrews as a demonstration of faith. “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days” (Heb. 11:30, emphasis mine).
What is it that most honors God and which God most delights to honor? Is it eloquent profession of faith? No. Many have called Jesus “Lord, Lord” but have later fallen away and ceased to serve him. Is it the exercise of great natural abilities or talents? No. There are many who have had great abilities but have squandered them on worthless ends, like the prodigal who squandered his father’s money. Is it an attractive appearance or personality? No. Saul stood head and shoulders above his countrymen, a great physical specimen, but he finished his course badly. The true answer to the question is found in Samuel’s words to Saul after he had sinned by failing to destroy the Amalekites completely, which God had told him to do. Saul pleaded that he had almost entirely destroyed them and that he had spared what he did spare only to make sacrifices. But Samuel declared,
Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
1 Samuel 15:22
That is the answer. The thing that most honors God and that God most delights to honor is obedience. Even Jesus was honored and given a name above every name because he was obedient: “… obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:8).
What is the last thing or the things you know that you are supposed to be doing? Do them---obey God
3. Obedience to the very end. The third step in the preparation of the Jewish people for victory was obedience to the very end. This is involved in the previous point, of course, because obedience that is not total is not real obedience; it is disobedience, as the story of Saul’s failure to destroy the Amalekites shows. It is only necessary to highlight this as a separate point because of our frequent failure to continue on this path.
The conquest of Jericho emphasizes this achievement by the Jewish invaders. Careful reading of the story shows that Joshua did not tell the people how many times they were going to be required to circle the city or precisely what was going to happen at the end of their seven days’ marching. The people were given their instructions one day at a time, and at the end of their assignment for that day, having encircled the walls, they were directed back to their camp. And nothing happened! They had obeyed Joshua, who had been obeying God. They had encircled the walls. But when they returned to camp, the walls were still standing, no one had surrendered, and the Jewish armies seemed to be no closer to the final conquest of Canaan than they had been the day before. So it was after the second day … and the third … and the fourth … and the fifth … and the sixth.… So it also was after six tours around the walls on day seven.
The situation reminds me of what must have happened after the Syrian general Naaman had been told by Elisha that he would be cured of his leprosy if he bathed in the Jordan River seven times. We know he did not like the idea, because he protested about the inferiority of the Jordan River to the rivers of his own country. “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” Naaman asked (2 Kings 5:11–12).
It must have been a great trial to this proud general to wash in Jordan’s muddy waters seven times, and I can imagine him objecting to his servant who, in this story, had more spiritual sense than Naaman had. After he had bathed once, Naaman would have protested: “Look, I bathed in the river, but I am just as I was before. Nothing happened.”
“The prophet said you had to bathe seven times,” the servant would have answered.
After the second immersion, the protest would have been the same. There was not even the slightest hint that the method was working. Not a single spot had cleared up. The only difference was that the general was wet and muddy. So on after the third washing and the fourth and the fifth and the sixth. “Nothing is happening,” the angry Naaman would have declared.
“You’ve only dipped yourself in the water six times,” the servant would have said. “The prophet said seven.” It was only after the seventh washing, after total obedience to the very end, that “his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy” (2 Kings 5:14).
We need to learn the lesson the Jewish armies learned before Jericho and Naaman the Syrian learned in the muddy Jordan River. Not only is there no substitute for obedience to God, there is no substitute for obedience in all particulars—to the very end. And when God does not act as quickly as we think he should or in precisely the way we are convinced he should act, we are still not justified in pulling back or adopting an alternative procedure. Arthur W. Pink has written of this story, “Seeming failure did not warrant them in adopting other measures; they must adhere strictly to the divine directions unto the end.” It was only when the people had obeyed God faithfully that victory came and the walls tumbled.
Demolishing Strongholds in our own lives
I close with applications.
If you are a Christian, you are a soldier in God’s army and are engaged in a war where many enemy strongholds need to be conquered. We see them everywhere.
a. As we spoke about this morning there are fortresses in our own lives. Things in our lives that may seem insurmountable. Grief, anger, unforgiveness, addictions, failures.
a. God and will give you the victory.
b. Follow his ways
b. There are fortresses of evil in our land, in the church, and, we must confess, in ourselves. They are surrounded by high walls. The gates are sealed. They are manned by strong and experienced defenders. What are we to do against such ancient outposts of God’s and our enemy? The answer is that we are to assault them in the way God has told us to wage warfare: by prayer, by the Word of God, and by our testimony. When we look at evil’s forces we may think the ancient weapons of the church are inadequate, and we may be greatly tempted to abandon them and use the world’s tools. This is a mistake. We need to listen to God and obey faithfully to the very end. When we do, then in God’s own time, the walls of Satan’s strongholds will tumble.
The apostle Paul wrote, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4).
The book of Revelation says of the saints’ battle against Satan, “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11).
if you are not a Christian—if you are still in arms against the Lord Jesus Christ, the rightful ruler of this world and all in it—you must remember that the victory won by the Jews at Jericho, followed by the destruction of the entire city, is a picture of what will surely come to you in the day of God’s judgment. You have shut your heart against God. You have manned the battlements of your life, and although you are trembling, you refuse to repent of your sin and turn to God for his cleansing. What folly! How can you hope to stand against the only sovereign God of this universe? If you do not come to terms with God now, if you continue to hold out, you will perish in the final judgment, and your doom will be just.
The Bible says, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way” (Ps. 2:12).
Rahab did that. The Bible says that the Jewish armies “burned the whole city and everything in it.… But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho” (Josh. 6:24–25). Her position was neither better nor worse than yours, and she was saved. Why should her experience not be yours? Why should you too not escape wrath through faith in the God of Israel?
James Montgomery Boice, Joshua, Originally Published: Old Tappan, N.J. : F.H. Revell, c1989. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 50.