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The fall of Jericho (Josh 6:1-21)

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I guess we’re all familiar with the expression, “out of the frying pan and into the fire”. Its an expression that means things have gone from bad to worse. As we come to Joshua chapter 6 today, the people of Israel could be forgiven for thinking just that! With God’s help they have just crossed the river Jordan in full flood – a raging torrent that had threatened to sweep them away – only to come face to face with a brand new challenge.

Because having crossed the Jordan, the people of Israel now stood beneath the walls of Jericho. They had come to the first city in Canaan. They had arrived at the first city they must conquer if they are to claim God’s promised land. A city with strong defences and a king’s army of trained fighting men.

We could forgive Joshua and the Israelites for feeling intimidated and fearful. How would they ever penetrate the walls of the city? Without siege machines or cannons, how could they hope to conquer the fortress city of Jericho? Verse 1 tells us it was totally “shut up” and must have seemed impenetrable.

As God’s people today, Christians may sometimes feel we face our own walls of Jericho. Things like personal temptation, persecution, and the prospect of our own mortality. And collectively, as a Church, we may feel intimidated by our increasingly secular society – a society that treats our Christian faith with hostility or, at best, indifference.

But today’s passage reminds us that in such situations, God is at our side. Whenever we are intimidated by sin, suffering or secular society, God’s certain promises can be relied upon, his commands can guide us, and ultimate victory is assured. 

A certain promise (v.2)

God begins our passage today by giving Joshua a certain promise. A sure and certain promise that the Israelites will succeed – the walls of Jericho will be overcome, the city will fall. Listen again to his words in verse 2: “the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men”.

I love the fact that this promise is given in the past tense! I have delivered Jericho into your hands, says God. It is a certain promise, a done deal, a fact already. When God commits to something, nothing can stop it happening. Neither the waters of the Jordan, nor the walls of Jericho, could thwart God’s good purposes for his people. Victory was certain.

The same is true of the great promises God makes to every Christian in the New Testament. Promises of forgiveness and life forever - through faith in Christ. Every Christian’s experience of sin and death will one day end. Both will be defeated and destroyed.

Listen to this great promise from Romans chapter 8: “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Did you notice that our glorification is described in the past tense? As Christians, our destiny beyond the grave is to receive glorified bodies in a glorious new creation. And that destiny is so certain, so sure, that it is described in the past tense. It’s so certain, the Bible can speak as if its already occurred. It’s the same type of certain assurance that God gave Joshua outside Jericho.

A strange command (v.3-5)

God followed up his certain promise to Joshua with a rather strange command. Look again at what God says in verses 3 to 5: “March round the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Make seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march round the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, make the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”

God gives these rather strange commands to Joshua and the Israelites to remind them that victory will come from himself alone. He doesn’t ask the Israelites to build siege machines or adopt hi-tech military tactics. Rather, he asks them to exercise trust and obedience in him and his power.

God was about to give the city of Jericho to the Israelites as a free gift – a gift to be received by faith. In a similar way, Christians receive all the benefits of Jesus’s victory over sin and death by believing in him. Forgiveness and new life are free gifts to be received by faith in Christ.

Did you notice that once again the ark of the covenant would be in the middle of the action? That special golden box would once again signal that God is present with his people, just as it took centre-stage in the crossing of the river Jordan. As we learnt last week, God remains with us today in times of trial. He strengthens us inwardly by his Spirit, and leads us by his words in Scripture. Like Joshua and the Israelites, our right response is to trust and obey – even when God’s ways sometimes seems strange, unusual or unpopular.

A total victory (v.6-21)

After seven days literally walking around in circles, the time came for the Israelite priests to blow their trumpets one last time, and for the people to give a great shout. And at that moment, the city wall “collapsed” and Jericho lay defenceless (v.20). The city could now be conquered with ease, and the Israelites achieved their first foothold in the Promised Land. It was a total victory, a God-given victory - the first of many achieved by the Israelites as they conquered Canaan.

A lot of people today are troubled by battles like this in the Old Testament. They seem rather brutal - even genocidal - to our modern ears. Can such violence be reconciled with Christian morality and New Testament teaching? Well let me try!

Firstly, we need to recognise that the instructions given to Joshua and the Israelites were historically specific. They were given to the nation of Israel by God for a specific time and place. They are not commands for Christians today. We are not to take up arms and conquer foreign lands for Christ. People are won to the Christian faith today by preaching, persuasion and the power of the Holy Spirit – not by swords and spears.

Secondly, we need to recognise that in God’s good eyes the Canaanites did deserve judgement. The Israelite army were God’s instrument to punish the people of Jericho for centuries of sin. In verses 17 to 19 we see that the Israelites weren’t there to fill their own pockets with “silver and gold” or to commit indiscriminate acts of violence. No, they were there to impose God’s justice on a sinful city.

If we were to flick back to earlier chapters in the Bible we would see some of the crimes of the Canaanites spelt out - we would read about their wickedness (e.g. Lev 18:24, Dt 9:4-5, 18:12). For example, they practiced pagan idolatry and child sacrifice, amongst other evils. For hundreds of years God had shown great patience to the residents of Jericho and Canaan - he had given them plenty of time to repent, but his patience was at an end (Gen 15:16).

The New Testament tells us that one day God’s judgement will fall on the whole world. So the experience of Jericho should be a solemn, sombre warning to those who ignore God’s ways today. Now, as then, God is being patient, giving people time to repent and come to Christ for forgiveness (2 Pet 3:9).

Thirdly, and finally, we should see God’s grace in today’s story as well as his judgement. The attack on Jericho was not indiscriminate. As we read in verse 17, Rahab and her family were to “be spared”. They were to escape God’s judgement because they had turned to him for grace and mercy. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, Rahab was a prostitute who had turned to the Lord for forgiveness and had hid some Israelite spies who stayed with her. Thankfully, every Christian is in the same boat as Rahab. Because of our faith in Christ crucified, we’re under God’s grace not his judgement. Our duty and joy is to share this Gospel of grace with others.