Joshua 6:1-11, 14-16October 15, 2017
James 1:2-5, 12Pastor Lori Broschat
WHEN WALLS FALL DOWN
In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.
Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand. Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.
Every obstacle is an opportunity to see God at work. Obstacles are not yours to work through alone; they are God’s pleasure to solve for you. Let’s face it, humans have limitations, but one thing we are very good at is creating problems for ourselves and undervaluing God’s willingness to help us out. We build up walls only God can help us knock down.
There were walls standing between the people of Israel and the promised land of Canaan. Well, two walls, to be exact, around the city of Jericho. Now, Jericho wasn’t the only obstacle to claiming their promised land, it was only the first of many, but it was symbolically important because it was the first. It wasn’t a big city, but it was a city with big walls. The outer wall was 14 feet high and 6 feet wide, the inner wall was as high as 26 feet. It sat on an embankment angling up to around 40 feet high.
Jericho is believed to be the oldest city in the world, established back in the 9th century BC. It represented a corruption of worshiping false gods and other sins that would pollute the chosen people of God, and so it had to be destroyed. We don’t necessarily like these parts of the Bible, but only God can decide how He will respond to sin. Not everyone was killed in the battle; God did spare some and we will find out who they were.
This spring when I helped my young friend Abbie with her social studies project I learned a lot about castle design. I did not know many were built with an outer wall and an inner wall, much like the city of Jericho. Everything about a castle was designed for defense and protection because raids were frequent. If you were inside the castle you should feel safe, but if you were on the outside trying to get in, you should feel frustrated.
Tactically there are five ways to capture a walled city: going over the wall using ladders, digging a tunnel under the wall, smashing a hole through the wall, laying siege until the city is starved into submission, and some sort of subterfuge like the Trojan Horse. God’s plan involved a little less physical labor and a lot more faith.
The Canaanites trapped inside the walls would have had reason to fear, unless they were uninformed. History would have likely passed down the story of how the Israelites’ God defeated the Egyptians by letting the Red Sea close in around them. Those camped outside the walls would have had no reason to doubt, but like all humans they may have felt a reason to hesitate in the plan. One author points out that if having peace were the ultimate criterion for following God’s plan, nobody in the Bible would have done anything God asked.
The sequence in the Bible is usually not: calling, deep feeling of peace about it, decision to obey, smooth sailing. Instead, it’s usually: calling, abject terror, decision to obey, big problems, more terror, second thoughts, repeat several times, deeper faith. Does that seem about right in your life? Have you experienced even more steps from the calling to the deeper faith?
Joshua was not hesitant. God’s promise to him was worded in such a way that it was as if it had already been accomplished. Before disclosing the plan to Joshua, God promised “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.” He did not say, I will deliver, but I have delivered. It’s a done deal. You will see those walls collapse and you will be victorious.
Let me share with you something of the verses preceding our passage today. Joshua 5 says, “On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land; unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites.”
The last time they had celebrated the Passover feast was the night before they left Egypt for good. For forty years God had provided quail and manna to feed them. Now the manna stopped because they did not need it anymore. The land was producing for them. They were about to enter the land of milk and honey as promised to Abraham. They weren’t headed for a disaster with no food supplies. The time had come for them to claim their home and live their lives.
The promise given, it was time for the procedure. God didn’t expect them to passively sit and wait until He knocked the walls over. First, they had to have ownership of what they were about to gain, and second, they needed to create a moment in history which would be recalled for generations. I imagine when God sees us struggling with some problem or some self-made obstacle, He is not satisfied to swoop in and solve our problems for us.
God wants us to be active players in our own lives, not spectators. He rescued us from our sins and from the eternity of death, but He also wants us to participate in our salvation. I’m intrigued by this verse from Psalm 108, “Give us help against the enemy—human help is worthless. With God, we will triumph: God is the one who will trample our adversaries.”
At first glance, it may seem that we have no strength whatsoever, that our help is useless. However, with God, we will triumph. God may be the one to trample the adversary, but we triumph with Him. His victory is our victory. God gets the credit, but we get a share of the glory.
This was the plan, to be followed to the letter: all the armed men were to march around the entire city one time per day for six days. It’s estimated that with the size of the city this would have taken about thirty minutes. Not too much to ask. What could we be doing to improve our situation by obeying God with half an hour of our day?
Besides the armed men marching, there would also be seven priests, each carrying a ram’s horn, going before the ark of the covenant. If you remember anything about Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know that the ark was not just a trinket box the Israelites carried around with all their historical souvenirs like the tablets on which the commandments were written.
The ark of the covenant was powerful and spiritual because it represented the presence of God. As they said in the film, an army that carries the ark before it is invincible. God placed Himself in the middle of the procession with soldiers in the front, followed by the priests blowing the ram’s horns, then the ark, followed by soldiers. They were strongly commanded not to make any noise other than the sound of the horns.
For six days, they repeated this procession. One can only imagine what the people of Jericho were thinking and doing in those days. Were they stocking up weapons and ammunition? Were they plotting their escape? No one went in and no one went out the whole time. It gave them time to prepare, but then it also gave them time to imagine the worst. When we’re the ones behind the wall we might feel safe, comforted, invincible. It’s when we encounter a wall that we fall apart. God’s plan for Israel was just the opposite.
In six days, nothing remarkable happened. It was on the seventh day that the story takes a turn. On that day, they marched around the walls seven times. Contrast this with the story of creation, how God worked six days and His work was complete, so He rested on the seventh day. Here we see what looks like six days of nothing too exciting and the seventh day things begin to escalate quickly.
On the seventh trip around Jericho, as the priests blew the horns for the seventh time, Joshua commanded the people to shout loudly and boldly. As they did, the walls of Jericho collapsed and the people were able to march into the city and destroy it. The only people who survived were a woman named Rahab and her family, in appreciation for Rahab’s protection of the two men who went to Canaan to spy out the land.
Imagine the confusion. Picture the chaos. Try to hear the noise. Is this how we expect God to deliver us from our obstacles, with chaos, confusion and noise? I find it interesting that humans are born with only two inherent fears. Psychologists have determined that fear of falling and fear of loud noises are universally part of our species. So here we have loud noises causing falling walls and yet somehow it succeeded in gaining Jericho for the Israelites.
It’s clear that the ways in which God chooses to work are many and varied, and rather unexplainable by us. It seems reasonable to us that the people of Israel would have had reason to fear, if they were only counting on themselves and their own strength. Fear is self-centered; faith is God-centered. Fear turns you toward yourself; faith turns you toward God. One is illness, the other is health. Fear nervously tries to hold your world together; faith surrenders your world to God, and you and He work it out together.
God has so ordered the moral universe that He responds to our faith when it is actually put to work. Our faith is the evidence to others that we truly believe in Him. History records Robert Morrison as the first Protestant missionary to China. One day the captain of the ship on which he was traveling asked a rather disparaging question. “What do you think you’re going to do? Convert China?” “No,” came the quiet reply. “I don’t think I’ll ever convert China. I think God will.” That is the same faith that brought down the walls of Jericho.
The same faith is available to bring down whatever walls you have encountered, walls of your own making or the design of another person or force. Whether your obstacles are manmade, spiritual, emotional or physical, God stands ready to topple them. When you enlist His help, He can make your 14-foot walls look like the curb on the street, ready to step over.
The other day I was watching a video of a pastor friend speaking about trying to find good, trying to find joy with all the ugliness in the world at present. She admitted that where she finds joy is often in small things like having all three of her sons home at once, or leading a Bible study at church. Then she also admitted that she is guilty of something we probably all share, and that is tunnel vision.
We become focused on something and we can no longer see anything else. We want to limit the options around us because we have given so much priority to something or someone that is vexing us. We give power away when we do this, unfortunately, power that may be useful to God. If faith is how we move mountains and topple walls, then lack of faith combined with lack of clear vision is how we limit God’s ability to show us something wondrous.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not for one minute insinuating that God’s power depends on us, but our ability to seek and accept His help, and to celebrate His work in our lives does depend on us. We have the blinders on when we see only what is right in front of us, blocking our way, killing our joy, hampering our faith. We limit God’s presence and power in our lives because we have the problem. God has the solution.
“My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.” May it be so for all of us.
Gaebelein, Frank, general editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 3, pg. 377
Ortberg, John, All the Places to Go – How Will You Know? pg. 177-178
Jones, E. Stanley, The Way, pg. 97