There Was No Battle at Jericho!
The really amazing thing about the battle of Jericho is that there was no battle! It is something which is summarized for us in Joshua 6:2, when the Lord says to Joshua: "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and it's fighting men." When we turn to the pages of the New Testament and ask the question, "How did the walls of Jericho fall down?", the letter to the Hebrews gives us the explicit answer: "not by military warfare or power, but by faith in the promise of God" (Hebrews. 11:30).
The verses we have read give us the narrative of that glorious divine victory. They do so, in a series of four stages, each of which is packed full of drama and carrying for us the most important spiritual lessons we could ever imagine. And you will have noticed that the camera angle of the story of the destruction of Jericho pauses on a series of absolutely essential elements of what God was doing here. And I want us to follow that camera through the narrative of this story and try to see the angle that is given to us through the divine lens. No narrative in Scripture is simply the retelling of the story. It is meant to make us understand what God is able to do among his people.
1. And this narrative begins with Joshua's encounter at the end of chapter 5 with the commander of the Lord's army.
We are meant to imagine what is taking place here. It is evident from the whole narrative of the Book of Joshua that the conquest of the city of Jericho, which stands as the first obstacle to their occupation of the land of Canaan, is absolutely paramount to the taking of the whole land. Joshua's strategy is to drive the people straight through into the center of the land and work out north and south. And if he is to do this, the city of Jericho is the first obstacle that they must surmount.
But the way the story is described in v. 13 is insightful and important. Joshua is near Jericho, (and I hope I'm not reading too much into this), but we are told that he "looked up" which would lead one to think that prior to that he had been looking down. He had to look up in order to see this unusual figure before him. But notice that, first of all ,his eyes were cast down. He had gone out, no doubt, as many military commanders do, to survey the scene. And it may be that the scene had left him discouraged, for although he had considerable military experience as a leader amongst God's people, the one thing that he knew nothing about was siege warfare. And chapter 6:1 tells us that Jericho was locked and barred to him, and Joshua had neither the artillery nor the experience to break through and take the city.
So, as he wondered, "How on earth this city and its walls were going to be breached," he was cast down. God was bringing him into territory that he had not been in before, to face things he had no experience of, and then as he lifts his eyes in his contemplation, this strange figure, apparently armed, appears before him. And fearless Joshua goes up to him and says, "Are you for us, or are you for them?" And his very asking of that question shows that he is not yet an expert of how God goes about His work and he is concerned about the answer. "Are you friend or foe?" And the man is standing with a sword in his hand. "I am neither, but rather as the captain of the Lord's army have I come." (note 6:2 "Then the LORD said to Joshua", the assumption being that it is this captain who is speaking). And you see what he is saying. "Stop trying to use me! Submit to Me! I am not your co-pilot!"
Despite all that he has done, there is a lesson that he still has not learned, His question is this: We have to take the city of Jericho. How is God going to fit into that purpose? And God comes to him and says to him: Joshua, that is never the question you should be asking. You should never be asking the question: How is God going to enable me to do this? The only question that is relevant for the servant of God is this: How am I going to fit into the purposes which God has designed? How am I going to fit into the ways in which God is going to win His victory? Not, How is God going to fit into my plans? But, Are you prepared to fit into God's plans?
This is the God who had met with Moses at the burning bush at the beginning of this grand exodus and entry into the promised land. And the only thing Joshua can do is to bow himself silently before Him and say, "What message does my Lord have for His servant?"
You see, he had stood before the Lord of hosts and said: Are you my servant or their servant? And the Lord of hosts had swept aside his question and said to him, The only relevant thing here is whether or not you are willing to bow before Me and be My servant and do what I tell you to do.
And if there was any real battle of Jericho that Joshua fought, it was here. The real obstacle was not the walls of Jericho, but the will of Joshua to be a servant to the Lord of hosts. For Joshua's recognition that as a servant of the Lord he never accommodates the Lord to his purposes but accommodates himself to the Lord's purposes.
I remember in the preface to Antonia Fraser's huge biography of Oliver Cromwell that she quotes these words about him written by the English poet John Milton:
"He first acquired the government of himself and over himself gained the most signal victories so that on the first day he took the field against an external enemy, he did so as a veteran in arms consummately practiced in the exigencies of war."
The reason why his new Model Army was such a resounding success was because of a battle fought and won in the soul of Oliver Cromwell. And because God had won the battle and slain Cromwell's pride he was able to fight any battle externally.
And something of that is always true for us. Before we can learn to serve Jesus Christ fruitfully, we must first of all learn what it means to submit to Jesus Christ absolutely. And recognize that Jesus Christ is the real commander of the Lord's army. And to recognize that He will not allow us simply to have Him in manageable portions simply to help us along (Jesus as the co-pilot). He is only satisfied when we are prostrated before and crown him Lord of All. So you do not say to Him: are You going to be for me? The real issue is that He says to us, Are you unreservedly for Me?
Are you? Can you really say that right now? I am unreservedly for Jesus Christ and I will bow willingly before His command.
2. The second aspect of this narrative moves us from the encounter with the commander of the Lord's army to the equally astonishing collapse of the walls of Jericho.
Now Jericho wasn't a very large city. But at the beginning of chapter 6 we are told that the city was tightly shut up. That is, it was both barred and tightly shut up. Secure, that is, until reinforcements came from the cities round about to push back the people that had crossed the River Jordan. It's a classic siege!
It's tough to attack a fortified city once the gates are closed. One of the things you could do was to starve them out, but that would take months. One of the tried ways was the use of battering rams on wheels. That's why the gates were usually made in a series of two or three, to ensure that once one was broken time would be given to throw rocks, or pour hot oil on the men trying to batter down the second gate. It could take a great deal of time and it was very clumsy and difficult.
The siege of Jerusalem 588-7 B.C.:
In 588 BC the kingdom of Judah, now a vassal state, rebelled against its Babylonian masters. Jerusalem, under its puppet ruler Zedekiah, was put under siege. In mid-summer of 587, the walls of the starving city were breached when battering rams pierced its northern defenses. Zedekiah , accompanied by some of his guards, fled from the city toward Jericho.
Captured and brought before Nebuchadnezzar, his end was cruel. After being made to witness the slaying of his sons, his eyes were put out and he was carried off in chains to Babylon where he subsequently died.
The Siege of Minas Tirth
Lord of the Rings fanatics will recall the vivid description in The Two Towers of The Siege of Minas Tirth. The defenders cannot withstand the well-prepared attack, however, and a day later survivors retreat back into the city, chased by the enemies; Faramir is brought in last, wounded by a poisoned dart. Huge numbers of enemies, led by the Captain of the Ringwraiths himself, encircle Minas Tirith and start a siege, digging trenches of fire and preparing great engines of war. Denethor is broken to see Faramir mortally wounded, and he gives up all hope and the defense of the city and retreats into the houses of the dead, intending to burn himself and Faramir. He releases Pippin of his service, and Pippin runs looking for Gandalf who might still prevent Denethor from committing some madness. Denethor fears they will be starved out of the city, even if they fail to penetrate the walls. Meanwhile the enemies attack the city gate with a huge ram, and break it open after several attempts. The Lord of the Nazgul rides in and is confronted by Gandalf alone.
And God's strategy is that unusual. Yes, there are armed men, and they go forward, but they are followed by priests who carry in their hands, not swords, but huge trumpets made of rams horns. Unlike the silver trumpets which were used to summon people to worship, the trumpets used here were the ones used to announce the Year of Jubilee throughout the land, to announce the presence of God's kingdom would bring liberty to the captives. And the central theme, mentioned again and again in this passage, is the ark of the covenant of the Lord, behind which come more armed men, and behind them the entire congregation of the people. And we are supposed to grasp the significance of this. Because in the book of Exodus we are given a glimpse of how it was that the people of God moved forward in the wilderness. They had a particular formation with the ark of God and the tabernacle at the very center. A people whose whole focus was centered in the presence and power of God. A recognition that the presence and power of God subdues kingdoms. [Note that in chapter 6, the actual attack is described in 2 verses vv. 20-21. The "ark" is mentioned some 14 times!).
Now, I suppose that some of us might ask, How on earth was this done? And there are many different theories as to how it was done. This marching round the city of Jericho, this blowing of the trumpet, this sudden shout worked. Was it an earthquake? And this author of Joshua, who is not uninterested entirely in what may take place in the natural realm, has no interest in answering the question, "By what secondary means did God accomplish this?" His chief concern is to emphasize that God did it by means which to human sight would seem folly. Folly!
It's like a coach saying to his basketball team, "Here's the game plan. I want you to go out and hold the ball for four quarters. Don't take any shots. Even if you have an open layup, don't take it. In the last seconds of the game, throw the ball up in the air, and it will end up going through the hoop and we’ll win!" Seems daft, doesn't it?
Can't you imagine these thousands marching around in ordered silence, with these priests blowing on horns, and this box in the middle, day after day after day. Don't you think that after a few days, some of the residents of Jericho were leaning over the city walls and throwing things at them, and taunting them, and provoking them? Shouting and whistling. But you see, it is an evidence of that great principle that comes to its fulfillment in the great instrument that God has used to destroy everything that stands in His way: the cross of Jesus Christ. What you have here is, in cameo and miniature, an example of what God does again and again in the history of redemption. He plans to build His kingdom by ways that to human wisdom is foolishness. But the wisdom of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, and the weakness of the cross is stronger than the strength of men. And here is shown, for a moment, that fundamental principle.
Paul will say, we are able to pull down strongholds in this world, because our weapons are mighty through God. And what they? Our humble Christian testimony, our fragmented Christian lives, our great weapon is that we go into our room and we talk to an invisible God and we plead with him to advance his kingdom in the world. God delights to use fragile vessels in an enterprise that this world counts as folly in order that His kingdom might advance in this world. Prayer is like that! What could be more foolish than that? You know it, some of you, that you thought as I did, that Christians were loony folk, certifiable, reading an outdated book that at best could be published in miniature paperback excised of its extraneous unscientific material. God takes the foolish things of this world to confound the things that are mighty, and the weak things of this world to confound the things that are strong.
3. Third is the salvation of Rahab and her family. Joshua's encounter with the captain of the Lord's army, the collapse of the defenses of the city of Jericho, and the salvation of Rahab and her family.
How was Rahab delivered? Now we need to read this narrative carefully because we are told on at least two occasions that Rahab was spared because, e.g. v25, she hid the men whom Joshua had sent as spies to the city of Jericho.
Now, you need to understand that statement in the light of this whole narrative. The author is not telling us that Rahab merited this salvation. No, what he is really saying to us (as James explains) is that Rahab demonstrated her faith in the amazing promise these spies had brought to her. She demonstrated her faith by hiding these spies. It was the evidence that she was prepared to risk her life for the promise God had given to her. So, the marvelous story in chapter 2 of the way in which she had received the spies and now in chapter 6 of how she was delivered. And in verse 23, she is brought out with her family and because they were ceremonially unclean they were put, first of all, in a place outside the camp of Israel. But do you notice in verse 25, they are brought from outside the camp to inside the camp. She lives among the Israelites to this day.
Now, I wonder if it crosses your mind that there is something unfair in this situation? After all, it seems that it was by accident that these men had knocked on her door in the first place. They didn't knock on anyone else's door. Isn't it unfair to save only Rahab and her family? And it is interesting that Rahab herself has already explained that this was not the situation. Chapter 2: we have all heard what God has been doing among you. 2:10 we have heard how the Lord… They had all heard. But only one woman and her family circle took hold of this great God, 2:12 "show covenant grace (chesed) to me and my family." They all heard of how God had forged His covenant with His people and was marching on. But there was only one household who turned to that covenant Lord and said, more or less what David says at the beginning of Psalm 51, "O God, show Your covenant mercy to me and blot out all of my transgressions."
You see, it wasn't that it was impossible for anyone else, closed up in Jericho, to be saved, but that these were the only ones who turned in repentance and faith to Him and pleaded with Him that He might show mercy upon them, and experience His covenant kindness. It's possible to tremble before the judgment of God and yet never ever to appeal to Him for His mercy. The amazing thing about this is that it takes the movement of century after century to see what God was doing in the life of this woman. Because if you have ever read those long lists of genealogies at the beginning of the Gospels, you will see that in the genealogical table of Jesus, is this woman Rahab (Matt. 1:5). Isn't that amazing?
4. Yes, Joshua's encounter with the Captain of the Lord's hosts, yes, the collapse of the city walls, the salvation of Rahab, but fourth there is the solemn fact of the destruction of the city of Jericho.
And if you haven't felt this, you haven't really listened to the passage: there is something appalling about what happened in the city of Jericho. The people went in and slew every living thing. And there is no way to sanitize this. There were bloody bodies everywhere: men, women and children. Women speared and gored and children with indescribable wounds that would make you sick to your stomach to have witnessed. Only the gold and the silver was taken out for the treasury of the Lord. And it is important for us to approach this, recognizing the fact that the Pentateuch has set all this up for us in such a way that this destruction was completely righteous. From Genesis 15, when we are told that the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full, and then when we are told in Deuteronomy of the iniquity of these people, the total destruction of these people is being set up for us as something which is without fault or blame on God's part. I say that, because even those of us who reckon with God's righteous character would have difficulty walking around the spilled entrails of these dwellers of Jericho.
Indeed when we are told in 6:1 that it was shut up, we are being led into this very principle because it was a commandment in Deuteronomy that if a city opened up its gates and pled for mercy, then mercy it would receive. If Jericho had only opened up their city gates, but instead God came down and destroyed them.
Now, our tendency is to say that it is inconceivable that human sin could receive such judgment. If that is the judgment of God, how inconceivable is the sin that brings it down. We learn that chiefly at the cross, when we hear our Savior crying out, "My God I am forsaken!" We come to appreciate its depth by seeing its judgment.
And what this story really is, as a miracle, is that God is momentarily switching on a light and saying to us, "This is how it will be when Christ comes at the end." Every miracle does that: when He heals, restores, raises the dead, He is saying, "This is what I will do when I come to restore all things." And this one is saying that when He comes to restore all things, He will utterly destroy everything that stands in His way. Everything that stands in His way. That's why they marched around even times. Why seven? Because the number seven is the number associated with creation. They are marching round seven times to produce an un-creation. As God is building His kingdom He is destroying everything that stands in the way of that kingdom. And we are given here a glimpse of how it will be at the end of time: the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, the heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare and everything will be destroyed." The apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1: "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels, He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power on the day He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed."
O beloved, be like Rahab. Be like Rahab and hold on to the promise of mercy that is in Jesus Christ. How is it with you and with the Captain of the Lord's hosts?