(Originally published October 14, 2016)
This week’s study covers Joshua 5:13-6:27. We began by looking at Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the army of the LORD. Our first question was, who is this? As James Montgomery Boice points out without equivocation, this is: “…none the less than Jehovah speaking here in a preincarnate manifestation of the second Person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Joshua, An Expositional Commentary, by James Montgomery Boice, Published 1989 by Baker Books]
Boice then points us to further passages in Scripture which reveal with more clarity the legions of the army of the LORD, their purpose, and Christ’s command of them.
“When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:15-17)
“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” (Psalm 34:7)
“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” Matthew 26:53
The army of the LORD is shown to the servant of Elisha in 2 Kings as an innumerable host surrounding the forces of the enemy, in Psalms we see that the angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear the Lord to deliver them, and in Matthew, Jesus makes it clear that at his word there are legions ready to fly to his side. I did a little more searching and in Revelation found a visual of the Lord Jesus Christ actually leading his army.
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11-16)
Now that we have established just who Joshua is dealing with, and the strength of the army at his command, we turned to consider the assertion of the LORD that he was not on the side of either Joshua or his enemies. This sounds strange, because having seen the incredible miracles performed by the LORD on behalf of the Israelites in order to bring them into the promised land, it would seem only natural that the LORD would have answered that, of course, he is on Joshua’s side. Rather, as Boice explains:
“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… This is a most profound principle. Christians have a tendency to marshal God for their programs rather than simply follow him wherever he leads. As a result, the God they speak of seems to many outsiders to be quite partisan rather than the God of all men and women, which he truly is.
Partisan believers who are so sure that God is like their particular denomination… are unpleasantly intolerant of all other expressions of faith.”
The question we are confronted with as we consider this is clear: whose side are we on? Are we partisan believers? Do those looking at us from outside the faith see only another group of bickering quarrelers who can’t agree, much less love one another as the Lord Jesus loved us? Paul writes of this concern in his letter to the Philippians:
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…” and later, “…complete my joy be being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry and conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 1:27, 2:2-3)
If we obey the commands of Scripture and love one another from humble hearts, striving together for the sake of the gospel, we are on the Lord’s side in the battle.
Joshua’s mistake was in where he was assigning the sides. The options weren’t between the Israelites and the Canaanites. The sides in the war were God and the world. Those are ever and always the only two sides in the battle for our hearts and minds. We will see when we reach the end of the book of Joshua that he has learned this lesson himself when, (*spoiler alert*) at the end of his life Joshua declares to the Israelites:
“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
Reading through chapter 6 in its entirety we read a plan of conquest which was clearly the work of the Lord. The Israelites must have been anticipating an arduous battle against the fortified city of Jericho. The walls would require siege ramps and great engines of warfare, or perhaps they would starve the city over a months-long campaign of sealing off every entry and waiting for them to surrender. The battle plan given to Joshua by the LORD was entirely different. The plan was unlike any that a human commander would ever dream up. To quote a philosopher of who I am fond,
“That don’t make no sense!” – Pete, O Brother Where Art Thou, 2000
However unpleasant their options for conventional warfare might be, the prospect of silently marching around the city, even looking like fools as they did so, must have been baffling to each and every one of them. And yet, that is precisely what they did.
“While the Israelites thus abandon their own reason, and depend implicitly on his words, they gain much more by trifling than they could have done by making a forcible assault, and shaking the walls by numbers of the most powerful engines. Only it behooved them to play the fool for short time, and not display too much acuteness in making anxious and subtle inquiries concerning the event: for that would have been, in a manner, to obstruct the course of the divine omnipotence. Meanwhile, though the circulatory movement round the walls might have excited derision, it was afterwards known, by its prosperous result, that God commands nothing in vain.
But the happy fruit of this endurance teaches us, that there is nothing better than to leave the decisive moments and opportunities of acting at his disposal, and not, by our haste, anticipate his providence, in which, if we acquiesce not, we obstruct the course of his agency.” John Calvin [Commentaries on The Book of Joshua, by John Calvin, Volume 4, Reprinted 2009 by Baker Books]
I can’t help but notice that the night that Joshua encounters the LORD in person, before any of the marching around the city commences, even before God has told him how they were to proceed, The LORD says to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand…” (Joshua 6:2) As far as God is concerned it is already an accomplished fact. Which, of course, it was.
As the Lord leads the Israelites around the city of Jericho, symbolized by the bearing of the ark of the covenant by the priests, they march once around each day for six days and on the seventh day they march seven times. We are asked to consider why the number seven is so important in Scripture. In their commentary, Keil and Delitzsch also examine this question:
“The number seven is a symbol in the Scriptures of the work of God and of the perfection already produced or to be eventually secured by Him; a symbol founded upon the creation of the world in six days, and the completion of the works of creation by the resting of God upon the seventh day. Through this arrangement, that the walls of Jericho were not to fall till after they had been marched round for seven days, and not till after this had been repeated seven times on the seventh day, and then amidst the blast of the jubilee trumpets and the war-cry of the soldiers of the people of God, the destruction of this town, the key to Canaan, was intended by God to become a type of the final destruction at the last day of the power of this world, which exalts itself against the kingdom of God. In this way He not only showed to His congregation that it would not be all at once, but only after long-continued conflict, and at the end of the world, that the worldly power by which it was opposed would be overthrown, but also proved to the enemies of His kingdom, that however long their power might sustain itself in opposition to the kingdom of God, it would at last be destroyed in a moment.” (C. F. Keil, italics mine)
Beloved, take heart. Though it seems that everywhere we turn the forces of evil are winning, God is at work. He has given us the means of grace, that through prayer, the Word, and linked arm-in-arm as the church we might continue to march forth into the battle. We follow our commander, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 5:4-5
And Boice helpfully elaborates:
“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 his)
The conquest of Jericho emphasizes (the obedience to the very end) 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 was after six tours around the walls on day seven.
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 directives unto the end.”
Beloved, are you enduring a long obedience that appears to have no end in sight? Hold fast the confession of your faith, for it is the Lord who goes before you, is fighting beside you, and is encamped around you.
If you have been born of God you will overcome.
This is the primary encouragement that we find as we look deeply into the conquest of Jericho. The battle and the victory were entirely the Lord’s work and the Israelites had only to trust and obey. Keil explains that Jericho was not only the first town that the Israelites were to encounter in the promised land, but it was the most strongly fortified town in the entire land of Canaan, and, as such, was the key to winning the promised inheritance.
“The Lord would give His people the first and strongest town of Canaan, as the firstfruits of the land, without any effort on their part, as a sign that He was about to give them the whole land for a possession, according to His promise; in order that they might not regard the conquest of it as their own work, or the fruit of their own exertions, and look upon the land as a well-merited possession which they could do as they pleased with, but that they might ever use it as a gracious gift from the Lord, which he had merely conferred upon them as a trust,…” (C. F. Keil)
The fall of Jericho was to show the Israelites that he who began a good work in them would bring it to completion… And they ought therefore to continue in faith and obedience to follow God wherever he was leading them.
We next looked at the ban under which the LORD had placed the town, that Jericho and everything and everybody in it were to be devoted to destruction. This is a difficult truth for us to hear, so we must be very careful to look through the lens of Scripture. The Lord had given the Amorites over 400 years and now their iniquity was complete (Gen 15:16) The Lord was bringing the Israelites into the promised land to fulfill his promise to Abraham, but also as a judgement upon the wickedness of the idolatrous people now residing in Canaan. God is a holy and righteous judge, and he had suffered long the evil of the people of the land, and now, their time was up.
“The indiscriminate and promiscuous slaughter, making no distinction of age or sex, but including alike women and children, the aged and decrepit, might seem an inhuman massacre, had it not been executed by the command of God. But as he, in whose hands are life and death, had justly doomed those nations to destruction, this puts an end to all discussion. We may add, that they had been borne with for four hundred years, until their iniquity was complete. Who will now presume to complain of excessive rigor, after God had so long delayed to execute judgment? If any one object that children, at least, were still free from fault, it is easy to answer, that they perished justly, as the race was accursed and reprobated. Here then it ought always to be remembered, that it would have been barbarous and atrocious cruelty had the Israelites gratified their own lust and rage, in slaughtering mothers and their children, but that they are justly praised for their active piety and holy zeal, in executing the command of God, who was pleased in this way to purge the land of Canaan of the foul and loathsome defilements by which it had long been polluted.” John Calvin (italics mine)
And so, Jericho was offered to the LORD as an offering of the firstfruits of the land, set apart as an offering the LORD for destruction. “But no devoted thing that a man devotes to the Lord, of anything that he has, whether man or beast, or of his inherited field, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord. No one devoted, who is to be devoted for destruction from mankind, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death.” Leviticus 27:28-29
As we finished our study we considered again the salvation of Rahab from the city of destruction, and how our own salvation is similar to hers. And here is where our study of Joshua beautifully corresponds with our memorizing of Ephesians, for only this week we have put to heart the passage that tells us:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of the world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” Ephesians 2:1-6 (italics and underline mine)
And finally, there is a lot of sounding of trumpets in the account of the fall of Jericho. What do they mean and how are we— as the church—to be sounding trumpets of warning to the world around us? Keil and Delitzsch actually give a lot of space in their commentary to discussing the trumpets. They begin by pointing out the role of trumpets beginning at Sinai with the giving of the covenant and then on through the many feasts that were established for the tribes of Israel. And:
“…to bring the people into remembrance before the Lord year by year at the commencement of the sabbatical month, that He might come to them and grant them the Sabbath rest of His kingdom, and partly at the end of every seven times seven years to announce on the great day of atonement the coming of the great year of grace and freedom, which was to bring to the people of God deliverance from bondage, return to their own possessions, and deliverance from the bitter labours of this earth, and to give them a foretaste of the blessed and glorious liberty to which the children of God would attain at the return of the Lord to perfect His kingdom.”
And then it gets closer to home for the fall of Jericho and the time in which we now live:
“The revelation of the grace and mercy of God to His children, goes ever side by side with the revelation of justice and judgment towards the ungodly who are His foes. If therefore the blast of trumpets was the signal to the congregation of Israel of the gracious arrival of the Lord its God to enter into fellowship with it, no less did it proclaim the advent of judgment to an ungodly world.
Thus the fall of Jericho became the symbol and type of the overthrow of every worldly power before the Lord, when He should come to lead His people into Canaan and establish His kingdom upon earth.” (C. F. Keil)
So how are we to sound the trumpets of warning to the lost world around us? We are to declare the gospel in its universal call to all who will hear. God is the changer of hearts, but we must be his ambassadors declaring the good news of salvation in Christ to those around us who are yet dead in their trespasses and sins. As C. H. Spurgeon vividly puts it,”If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.” Because, Christian, such once were we.