Possessing the Land: The Conquest of Jericho
Dr. Brian Allison
Deng Xiaoping died recently (February, 1997). He was 92 yrs. old. He was the ultimate authority of the Chinese Communist party. He was perhaps the main force, over the past 30 years, for determining the policies of China, both nationally and internationally. Xiaoping was the chairman of the Central Military Commission, the Chief of Staff of the People's Liberation Army. He himself was a soldier, a man of war. He knew what it was to experience the heat of battle, and to execute military strategies and achieve military goals. Deng Xiaoping's relationship to China, in many respects, was similar to Joshua's relationship to Israel.
Joshua too was a great military leader. He too executed effective military strategies. He too achieved various military goals. A primary example of these facts is the conquest of Jericho, recorded for us in Joshua 6. Here we have the first military campaign of Joshua and the Israelites, having entered into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. Let us remind ourselves of the story, as well as the principles that we can derive from this story, for our own spiritual profit. We read, "Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in" (6:1).
God's people evoke fear in their enemies
That was quite a situation. Jericho was closed up like a vault. Why? Well, the obvious answer is that the inhabitants of the land were fearful of the Israelites. Fear makes one hide; it makes one break off contact with people; it causes one to find some shelter. And so it was with the people of Jericho. They were fearful of Israel, and so they shut their gates so that no one could enter or leave. Recall the language of Joshua 2:8-11. After Joshua had sent the spies into the land to survey the situation at Jericho prior to their attack, the spies were given shelter by Rahab the harlot. We read, "Now before they [the two spies] laid down she [Rahab] came up to them on the roof, and said to the men, 'I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And when we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath." So, the inhabitants of Jericho were stricken with fear, riddled with terror, and thus they sought to shelter and protect themselves.
Now, what we need to remember is this: when God is working powerfully in the lives of His people, and for the good of the church, the enemies of God's people are typically filled with fear. These opponents realize that something more than a natural explanation accounts for what is taking place, both in the lives of God's people and in the life of the church. For instance, recall the account of Ananias and Sapphira. Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit. They had pledged to give to the Lord (that is, to the Church) a certain amount of the income from the sale of their property; and they did not, but held back some of what they had pledged. We read that God was pleased to strike them down dead because of this deceitful act. Now, we read in Acts 5:11, "And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things." When God is pleased to move and work, and to demonstrate His power, the result is fear, not only in the lives of God's people, but also in the lives of those outside the Church. There is the recognition that something is taking place that falls beyond natural explanation; and so it was with these people at Jericho. They had heard the reports of what God was doing – these tremendous miracles – and they were filled with fear.
Now, I suggest to you that the inhabitants' fear was not simply a human reaction to the display of God's power, or a reaction to hearing the reports of these great miracles, but rather it was a divine imposition; that is, God was pleased to instill fear into their hearts; it was a divine act, designed to weaken them, and erode their resistance. For instance, when Moses recounted to Israel their history, he rehearsed the words of God, "This day I [God] will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under the heavens, who, when they hear the report of you, shall tremble and be in anguish because of you" (Deut 2:25). We find similar language in Deuteronomy 11:25, "There shall no man be able to stand before you; the Lord your God shall lay the dread of you and the fear of you on all the land on which you set foot, as He has spoke to you."
What I am saying is this: coupled with a natural fear at what God is pleased to do, in the demonstration of His power, is a supernaturally induced fear. When God has a plan, a mission, a purpose that He wants us to accomplish, He is pleased to make people responsive and cooperative. He is pleased to instill fear in order to break down resistance and opposition. Remember what Christ uttered to the Church in Philadelphia, "He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens" (Rev 3:7).
God overcomes His people's enemies
So, Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel. The account continues. Joshua 6:2 reads, "And the LORD said to Joshua, 'See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors'." Now, Jericho was a formidable defence; perhaps at this time, one of the most fortified of all the cities in Canaan. It was the gateway to the southern part of the land of Canaan. Accordingly, if Jericho were to be sacked, then a very strategic site would have been secured.
God promised the overthrow of Jericho. According to human standards, Jericho was a formidable defence; but according to God's standards, it was, in the words of Mao Tse-tung, a 'paper tiger'. Jericho presented absolutely no challenge to God. So, God promised victory beforehand; and that was Joshua's assurance. Here is the point: victory is guaranteed, regardless of the opposition and strength of the enemy. So, Deuteronomy 7:23,24 reads, "But the LORD your God shall deliver them before you, and will throw them into great confusion until they are destroyed. And He will deliver their kings into your hand so that you shall make their name perish from under heaven; no man will be able to stand before you until you have destroyed them." And that's exactly what happened as Israel entered the Promised Land.
My Christian brothers and sisters, that is what will happen in your lives too. God says to you, "It doesn't matter how formidable the enemy is. It doesn't matter how strong the enemy is. It doesn't matter what the odds are." God will deliver your 'Jericho' into your hands. Remember that God is omnipotent and you need not be afraid of anything. Is there something of which you are afraid? God promises victory. Isaiah 54:17 reads, "'No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their vindication is from Me,' declares the Lord." Do you believe that? God guarantees victory; He will fight for you. It is by His power you will overcome. So, it was with Israel.
God's deliverances are often unconventional
God instructed Joshua exactly how Jericho was to be taken. He said to Joshua, "And you shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days. Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. [Incidentally, these were the same trumpets that were blown to celebrate the Year of Jubilee – the year of release]. And it shall be that when they make a long blast with the rams' horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead" (6:3-5). Joshua was the leader, but God was in charge. God is the authority. God clearly rehearsed how the victory was to be secured.
Now, what do you think about the military strategy here? The Lord simply wanted Israel to walk around the city, and eventually to shout and blow trumpets – no ramparts, no scaling the walls, no assault with the weapons of war. What do you think about the strategy? Does it strike you as being rather strange? Humanly speaking, it does not make sense, does it? I am sure that some of the inhabitants of Jericho were amused; and some were confused. What a display of apparent entertainment! Isn't that the typical response to the ways of God?
God often does things in a way that doesn't make any sense to the world. It seems crazy. It seems ridiculous. It seems irrational. The point is this, my brothers and sisters: you are to be obedient to God's voice and His leading, regardless how silly it sounds or how senseless it appears. Now, our problem is this: we think God's leading and direction must make sense. We think that His plan must conform to our agenda and liking. We self-justifiably excuse ourselves, saying, "No, God wouldn't have me do that; God wouldn't have me sacrifice this. God doesn't want me to be a fool for Christ. No, God wants me rather to do this. I find this more acceptable. This is the rational thing to do." The problem comes when we think that God needs to conform to our sense of rationality. Often God is not pleased to work that way; and often we find ourselves in the situation where we have to say to the Lord that it seems absolutely ridiculous what He is calling us to do; it seems absolutely irrational to proceed in a particular way.
Christian, stop trying to make God conform to your common sense and your rationality, in order to justify your ways. The Scriptures teach, "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,' declares the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isa 55:8,9). Again, we read, "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God" (1 Cor 1:27-29).
God pledged victory to Israel. It would not be achieved through their own strength, power, or ingenuity. No, God simply said to walk around the city. And when they were good and tired, they were to shout. God Himself would bring down the walls. Through their apparent irrational behaviour, God was going to make His glory known, so that His name would be exalted. That is God's way, isn't it? Again, think of the first miracle of Jesus in Cana. They ran out of wine. Mary, the mother of Jesus, came to Him and informed Him that they were out of wine. Jesus instructed the servants to fill some pots with water. How strange. Perhaps the Lord did not hear correctly. They were out of wine, not water. From our human point of view, it did not make sense what He told the servants to do. It seemed irrational. That is God's way. When you think you have God pinned down, and when you think that you have God in a box; when everything seems to be rational to you, according to your understanding and standard, you probably have a God of your own making.
God requires trust and obedience from His people
Why did they have to go around Jericho once for six days and seven times on the seventh day? What was the purpose? Surely, there must be something tremendously theologically profound to explain this. Do you know what the answer is: simply because God told them to do it this way. God could have said to go around the city fourteen times. God could have commanded them to go around the city ten times each day, for thirty days. They were to go around as many times as they did, and for as many days as they did, simply because God told them to do so. Now, the point is this: God's people must learn to obey, regardless what is required, and regardless how unusual or meaningless it seems. That is the lesson; and it is an essential lesson. God does not have to justify Himself and give you a reason for why He requires what He does. For example, some may ask, "If God is sovereign, why do we need to witness?" Because God has commanded us to witness. But you retort, "But God can save whoever He wants, whenever He wants. He doesn't need us." Yes, but He is pleased to have us witness. He does not have to give an answer to anybody, and the sooner we learn that, the better. Do you need an answer from God before you are prepared to conform to His expectations or commands?
Israel was to learn not only obedience, but also that God does things His way, according to His good pleasure. God said seven days. God has His time frame. I'm sure that many Israelites wanted a quick, decisive strike. Could God have overthrown Jericho in one minute? Most certainly. Why seven days? Again, because God wanted it to be seven days. His people had to be taught discipline. They had to be taught to wait upon the Lord. The seven days was not for God's sake, but rather for Israel's sake.
One thing that I have discovered in ministering to people is that many have great difficulty in waiting upon the Lord. They bemoan, "Lord, it hurts now. Can I get some relief now." And God is pleased to say, "No. You wait." So, Israel needed to learn to wait upon the Lord. And we too need to learn to wait upon the Lord. We are such impatient people. We want our happiness and our peace now. This past Friday night in our Discipleship class, the question was raised concerning persevering prayer: "How long are we to pray, waiting for an answer?" Answer: We pray as long as it takes. "Well, when do we stop praying?" We stop praying when the Lord releases us from the burden, or when it is very clear that the answer isn't coming. "That means that we could be praying for ten, fifteen, or even more years." That's right. "Do you mean that I could be praying for this particular matter for perhaps the next twenty-five or thirty years?" That's right; because God may want you to wait. His time frame is not our time frame. "Well, I don't know if I can handle this pain for the next twenty-five or so years." Well, God will not give you any more than you can handle. You need to learn to wait. Some of us may have to wait a very long time before God answers our prayers. He has His purpose and plan; and He only does what is good for His people. "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rm. 8:28).
God requires faith from His people
So, God gave instructions to Joshua for Israel. These instructions which were given to Joshua were carried out immediately. There was no delay, no negotiating, no rationalization. He carried them out immediately. He told the people what to do. We read, "But Joshua commanded the people, saying, 'You shall not shout nor let your voice be heard, nor let a word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I tell you, "Shout!" Then you shall shout!" Now, again the question is this: Why this instruction? (What we need to understand is that these instructions are object lessons for Israel. They are being taught. They are being trained in God's school so that they might know how to live well in His presence). So, why this instruction; what is the significance? Again, Israel had to learn obedience – to do something simply because God commanded it. But God was not only teaching Israel obedience, He was also teaching them faith – to act on the basis of believing in God's Word.
Now, think about these instructions to Israel again. Israel was to walk once around Jericho everyday, for six days, not saying a word; on the seventh day, they were to walk around Jericho seven times, not saying a word. At the end of the seventh encirclement, the trumpets were to sound, and then with all that pent up energy, Israel was to shout aloud, with the expectation that the walls of Jericho were going to fall down. If you had been an Israelite, what would you have thought? Would you have said, "Are the walls really going to fall down when we shout?" Hebrews ll:30 reads, "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days."
So, God was teaching His people faith. God's Word will come to
pass, regardless how incredible and how amazing it sounds. God
wants you to accept His Word by faith; to believe the impossible;
to trust that He "is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond
all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within
us" (Eph 3:20). Do you believe that God is able to bring
the walls of your 'Jericho' crashing down to the ground? All things
are possible to him or her who really believes. Do not try to
make sense of God. Do not try to figure out God according to your
limited understanding. Simply trust in His Word, and rest in His
love; and wait in expectation for His goodness. And what Israel
enjoyed, you too shall enjoyed – "So the people shouted, and
priests blew the trumpets; and it came about, when the
people heard the sound of the trumpet, that the people shouted
with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people
went up into the city every man straight ahead, and they took
the city. And they utterly destroyed everything in the city, both
man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with
the edge of the sword" (6:20-21). Praise the Lord! God delights
in bringing victory to His people. Rejoice Christian. This God
is your sovereign King and Captain.