Watching the Walls Fall
Rev. Brian Bill
[Video Drama: “The Speculators”]
There’s a big difference between just thinking about something and actually doing it. As we learned last week from the opening chapters of Joshua, God called His people to take the first step if they ever hoped to cross the Jordan River. Now that they’re on the other side, they’re faced with incredible obstacles and amazing opportunities. Likewise, you and I are faced with multiple situations where God calls us to not just think about making a move but to actually do it. Some of us have thought about thinking of doing something but we haven’t moved far from the comfort of our couches.
Actually, before we think about “doing,” God wants us to focus on our “being.” Our work must flow out of our worship, our serving out of our sanctification. We’ll notice that there is something more impenetrable and imposing than the walls of Jericho; it’s the will of Joshua. That must be dealt with first. God wants our wills to fall before the walls that we’re facing will fall. Here’s a one-sentence summary of the sermon today: The walls fall only after the will falls.
Isn’t it tough when we don’t know why God does things the way He does? Many times we’re left in the dark but there are occasions when God explains Himself very clearly. God chose to have His people cross the Jordan when it was at flood stage because He loves to do that which seems impossible to us. He wants our wills to fall in submission to His will and then He does His work. We see two reasons why He did what He did in Joshua 4:24: “He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.” Let’s look at God’s purpose for bringing His people into the Promised Land.
Why God Does What He Does
1. To demonstrate His honor to all people. God has a missionary heart; His plan of redemption has always included all the peoples of the earth. That’s one reason we are proposing to take on the support of three new missionary candidates. Each one is working in the least-reached part of the world, commonly referred to as the 10/40 window. The 10/40 Window is an area that contains the largest population of non-Christians in the world. Of the 55 least evangelized countries more than 45 are located in this region. This “final frontier” of missions extends from 10 degrees to 40 degrees north of the equator, and stretches from North Africa to China. I encourage you to stop by the bulletin board in the hallway to get to know these couples better. We’ll also be sending information to PBC members before our business meeting on February 13th because we’ll be voting on whether or not to add these servants to our missionary family:
• Mike and Robin Wahls (Ghana)
• Dirk and Jamie Kaiser (Kazakhstan)
• Andrew and Alanna Brown (Turkey)
The pagan prostitute Rahab certainly understood something of God’s greatness when she said in Joshua 2:11: “…For the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth above.” We know that the people in the land of Canaan were well aware of God’s power in Joshua 5:1: “Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until we had crossed over, their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.”
2. To display His holiness to His people. God has chosen to bless the earth through His chosen people but that will only happen if they revere Him. And they won’t revere Him until they submit and surrender to Him. The walls fall only after the will falls. In chapter five we see that before they can conquer others, they must first allow God to conquer them. They have to get some things right with Him before they can fight for Him. The same is true for us. We want to do something for God, or maybe we just think about doing it, and God says, “Slow down. I want to make sure you’ve surrendered your will to my will.” Jericho was the first visible obstacle ahead of them but it was not the first thing that had to be dealt with. The outward never is. The biggest problem is always me and my will. Before Jericho could be taken care of, the junk inside Joshua had to be dealt with. We see three ways in which God begins to break down their wills in Joshua 5.
• Covenant Renewal. In verse 2 we read: “At that time the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.’” Circumcision was the sign that they were God’s covenant people, first given to Abraham in Genesis 17:11: “You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” When they were wandering in the desert for 40 years, the older generation had died but their sons had never been circumcised. It was critical that this happen according to Genesis 17:14: “Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” This renewal was a reminder that God had not left them and that He would fulfill all His promises to them.
While every Jewish male understood the importance of this, it certainly didn’t seem to make for good military strategy! It would have made much more sense to do this when they were on the east side of the Jordan. Without going into great detail, the procedure would certainly have incapacitated the men for a few days. Imagine what it would have been like for a soldier in the army of Israel who had probably been thinking through some military strategy. Now you’re laid up for a few days. You’ve crossed into enemy territory and are poised to march in and take the land. The Jordan River is roaring behind you so you have no escape route if your enemies come after you. God’s people must learn that His ways are always best. God’s essentially asking: “Do you really trust me? Do you believe I can protect you? Will you obey even when it seems outrageous to do so?” Everything about this seems designed to point out that God’s ways are not our ways.
• Spiritual Renewal. The second step in surrender is for them to slow down and celebrate the Passover. It had been about 39 years since they had observed this important reminder of how God had freed them from Egypt. God had delivered them through sacrifice, substitution and satisfaction of a perfect lamb’s life. According to verse 11, the day after Passover, they ate some of the produce of the land and the manna stopped. God was now going to provide for them from the land. He’s actually taking away something that they no longer need and giving them another opportunity to trust Him. He does the same with us, doesn’t He? What has God taken from you recently because He wants you to trust Him more fully?
• Mission Renewal. Joshua is probably chomping at the bit, ready to take on the task ahead of him. The men are now circumcised and Passover has been celebrated. He’s ready to rumble. But God knows he’s not quite ready because his will has not yet fully fallen before Him. Verse 13 tells us that Joshua was near Jericho, likely scouting out the situation so he could come up with a strategy. The third step Joshua needed to take was to have an encounter with the Almighty: “…He looked up [maybe he had been looking down] and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’” This is what theologians refer to as a “theophany,” or a manifestation of God that is tangible to the human senses. I think it was actually a “christophany,” an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ.
Whatever the case, Joshua does what we tend to do. He wants God to be on his side and against the other side. We often think in terms of win/lose with people. Specifically, I’m right and you’re wrong. My music is better than your music; my political views are correct and yours are not; and the Badgers are better than the Illini. It’s far better to think in terms of win/win and to remember that we must be on the Lord’s team. The answer Joshua receives in verse 14 is jolting: “Neither. But as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” It’s the wrong question to ask God whose side He is on. The right question is this: Am I on His side? We don’t recruit Him; He recruits us. We can’t use Him; we should delight that He uses us. Notice that He is a warrior with a sword drawn. We need to get out of the way, fall to our knees and jump back into line. We’re not in charge; God is.
Joshua’s will finally falls when we read: “Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’” Do you see it? Joshua refers to God as “Lord” and sees himself as “servant.” Joshua’s will had to fall down before the walls would fall because the walls fall only after the will falls. This is really important because the mission Joshua is about to receive would not make much sense if had not surrendered to God’s will. One more thought before we leave chapter 5. Bringing back memories of Moses’ encounter with God on the mountain in Exodus 3:5, Joshua is commanded in verse 15 to “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” Joshua did so immediately. In a similar way, we must see God as holy. Exodus 20:20 tells us “…that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” Here’s the deal. If we don’t view God as holy, we won’t surrender our will to His will and we’ll sin at will as well.
We come now to Joshua 6, which begins a section up through Joshua 12 that focuses on one battle after another. Chapters 13-22 explain how the land is divided up between the tribes and the final two chapters deal with Joshua’s farewell speech. We spent some significant time in chapter 5 because I believe that the toughest task was for Joshua’s will to be conquered, not Jericho’s walls. The real battle of Jericho was fought right here and it was won when Joshua fell to the ground because the walls fall only after the will falls. Once Joshua has surrendered, Jericho’s surrender becomes imminent. Friend, what about you? Have you surrendered to God’s will? Are you living in covenant relationship with Him? Are you spiritually in tune with Him? And have you settled the servanthood issue so you can hear His message and participate in His mission?
Archaeologists tell us that Jericho was not a big city, covering some 10 or so acres (a bit bigger than the size of our church property) with up to 20,000 inhabitants. It was located about five miles west of the Jordan River and was the spiritual center of moon-worship. Because of its strategic location it controlled a wide area of land and God’s people would have to deal with this city if they were to take possession of the Promised Land. Standing at the foot of the western hills of Canaan, the Israelites couldn’t go into the area with Jericho standing because they would have been attacked.
The city was built to withstand any invasion. The walls were anywhere from 30 to 60 feet high and from 12 to 45 feet thick, depending on which commentator or archaeologist you consult. We do know that the wall was so wide that one could drive a chariot on the top and that Rahab had her house there. Huge gates were reinforced with iron and were impregnable. This city was also important from a morale point of view. This was Israel’s first challenge and if they lost it would be disastrous. But God was most concerned with what He wanted to teach them spiritually. They needed to walk by faith knowing that the walls fall only after the will falls.
Joshua 6:1 gives us a picture of how petrified the people in Jericho are: “Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one went in.” This is a fulfillment of Exodus 23:27: “I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run.” Because of fear the people of Jericho were hunkered down. Archaeologists have discovered large jars of grain at Jericho which indicates that they were stocking up to withstand a long siege. The phrase “tightly shut up” also implies arrogant confidence that no one could harm them.
Let’s take a look at what happened next. Keep in mind that because of what God first did inside Joshua in the previous chapter, these outward steps while successful are secondary. These timeless principles have direct application to our lives.
1. We fight from victory, not for victory. Notice verse 2: “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.” In the Hebrew this actually reads: I have already delivered Jericho into your hands. This is a very important point.
When Joshua and his people looked at the city they were to see it as already defeated. Likewise, in our lives, we must see that the victory is already ours as stated in 1 Corinthians 15:57: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the language of Romans 6:11, we are to “count ourselves as dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” It’s already true, but we must reckon it as so. Jesus has conquered sin but we must claim that truth in our life.
Let me illustrate. The staff has always known that this church is generous and gracious. This was evident once again when we received our Christmas bonuses. Thank you so much! When I received the check and saw the amount I was humbled and happy. Now, I could hang on to this check for a year or two and have happy thoughts about all of you but if I never endorse it and put it into my account, I won’t enjoy the benefits. Likewise, Joshua and his people were told that the victory had been won but until they acted on it, the victory would not have been theirs.
2. God expects exact obedience. In Monday’s Pantagraph I read an article about the 10th Annual “Wacky Warning Label Contest.” The top prize went to this tag on a front-loading washing machine: “Do not put any person in this washer.” Coming in second was this label on a boat: “Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level.” My favorite was found on a cell phone: “Don’t try to dry your phone in a microwave oven.”
Let’s be honest. The message God was giving to His people seems funny and a bit wacky as well. Verses 3-5 summarize what God commanded the people to do: “March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.” While this probably seemed silly and not very strategic to the armed men, they chose to obey anyway. I’m struck by the excruciating detail and the need for daily repetition. Sometimes God just wants us to keep doing what we’re doing, day in and day out; as long as we’re being obedient.
If we were to read the rest of the chapter we would discover this order in the parade lineup: The armed men were out front, followed by seven priests with seven trumpets. Next in line was the Ark of the Covenant, followed by the rear guard of troops. The trumpets were to keep sounding while this processional marched around the city once a day for six days. There are at least two kinds of trumpets used in the Old Testament. These particular trumpets were shofars, made from the horns of rams, and were used to announce the joyful Jubilee and the coming of the King. Commentators estimate that this trip around the city took from 30 minutes to an hour each day.
On the seventh day, they got up early and marched around seven times. All the people were with them this time and after hearing a long blast they were to give a loud shout. Most commentators estimate that this would have taken up to 14 hours because everyone was now involved. I’m reminded of the song sung by the enemies on Veggie Tales’ “Josh and the Big Wall” that goes like this: “Keep walking but you won’t knock down our wall. Keep walking but she isn’t going to fall. It’s plain to see, your brains are very small…to think walking, will be knocking down our wall.” This was a very unusual strategy but shows us the truth of what God says in Isaiah 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”
I was on the wrestling team in high school and wasn’t very good, winning only about half my matches. My greatest embarrassment was getting pinned during our homecoming match in something like 15 seconds! On occasion I would win by forfeit either because the other guy was injured or was scared to get on the mat with me (not). I still needed to weigh in and put my uniform on but I didn’t have to wrestle. I would be declared the winner and my team received six points. Because the Israelites walked by faith they won by forfeit when the walls fell. They were declared the victors even though they had done nothing but simply obey.
3. We must be patient while God works. God could have wiped out Jericho immediately but he chose to wait a week. They walked around a total of 13 times in 7 days and nothing happened. The walls just stood there, mocking them. My guess is that the enemies were ridiculing them as well. I wonder if the Israelites felt like they were just going in circles and not getting anywhere. Have you ever felt like that? Sometimes God wants us to keep plugging away, being patient as we trust that He knows what He’s doing. One pastor suggests that the reason it took so long for the walls to fall is because it took seven days for the Israelite’s attitudes to change. I would put it this way: The walls fall only after the will falls.
Impatience was one of Israel’s besetting sins. Hebrews 6:12 tells us that they eventually learned how to be patient, perhaps in large part by walking around this city: “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” Abraham was given the promise of a son and had to wait 25 years for Isaac to be born. If you’ve been waiting, hang in there. Don’t despair. Don’t bail. Keep walking.
4. God wants us to be quiet and confident. Verse 10 says: “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” God didn’t want them to do any trash-talking while they walked around the walls nor did he want them to complain or murmur about how stupid and silly this all was. Their parents were well-known for being complainers out in the desert and it’s as if God doesn’t want to give them the opportunity to make this same mistake. By keeping quiet, they also couldn’t discourage each other by sharing their fears. This was one more way that God was calling them to surrender their wills to Him. After all, as James 3:2 says, if we can keep quiet and control our tongue, we can “keep the whole body in check.” We need to apply the words of Exodus 14:14: “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Here’s the principle: Don’t dialog with the devil. We’re invited in Psalm 46:10 to “be still and know that I am God.” Interestingly, this psalm was written when Jerusalem was under attack. When we’re quiet our confidence in God will grow and in the process we’ll get to know Him better.
5. Faith brings victory. One Sunday a teacher asked his Sunday School class this question: “Who broke down the walls of Jericho?” One young boy quickly responded, “It wasn’t me, sir!” Joshua would have answered the same way. It was God at work and it was faith that accomplished it. Hebrews 11:30 tells us that the walls came down not by force, firepower or fighting…but by faith: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.” God wants us to move out by faith and then He does His work. They shouted before the walls got wobbly. It’s interesting that Joshua’s name is not used at all in Hebrews 11. The other heroes of faith are listed like this: “By faith Moses…by faith Isaac…by faith Jacob…by faith Abel.” The emphasis here is that God wiped out the walls and He did it when the people put their faith in Him. All the glory is His, as it should be.
There’s a difference between faith and fact. A minister once tried to demonstrate the difference by saying to the congregation: “It’s a fact that you are sitting in pews. It’s a fact that I’m standing behind this pulpit. But it’s only by faith that I believe that you are listening to me.” Friends, if God said it; I believe it and that settles it.
The Israelites got it right in chapter 6 because they moved out by faith but in chapter 7 they focus on the facts and they get it all wrong. After spying out the next city to conquer, they were filled with pride and overconfidence: “Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there” (7:3). Trusting in their own strength, the Israelites were routed and their courage melted. Not only did they neglect to consult the Lord, they lost because a man named Achan sinned by deliberately disobeying God’s clear commands which caused God’s anger “to burn against Israel” (7:1). We must be constantly on guard against overconfidence and be vigilant to make sure we deal with “sin in the camp.”
I heard about an enthusiastic preacher who was exhorting his congregation to become more active and to get moving: “Brothers and sisters, what this church needs is the energy to get up and walk.” One of the members shouted out: “Let her walk brother, let her walk.” The preacher, feeling energized now, said a bit louder: “But we cannot be satisfied with walking, we’ve got to pick up speed and run.” The same member chimed in: “Let her run preacher, let her run!” The pastor was really into the message now and declared: “Running is not enough either. One of these days the church has got to fly!” The same member replied, “Let her fly preacher, let her fly.” The preacher then said, “But if this church is going to fly, we’re all going to have to work harder and give more.” To which the member said with little enthusiasm: “Let her walk brother, let her walk.”
Friends, it’s time to not just think about thinking about making a decision. It’s time to put feet to our faith. I close with two questions.
1. Will you right now, to the best of your ability, fully surrender to the Lord? The battle is not always against other things but is often with ourselves. It might involve giving or forgiving. The walls fall only after the will falls.
2. What’s your Jericho today? What insurmountable obstacle are you facing? Will you trust God enough to do something that feels and looks foolish? Will you take the risk?
• Fight from victory, not for victory
• Obey God exactly
• Be patient while God works
• Be quiet and confident
• Exhibit faith
This isn’t really my personality and it’s not really the practice of our church but I wonder if we could work at shouting to the Lord? Shouting in Scripture has to do with excitement, celebration or even warning. While we’re accustomed to doing this at sporting events, we are less comfortable doing so in church. I’m not sure why that is. If a sports team can get us excited, shouldn’t the God of the universe be worthy of our applause?
Joshua 6:16: “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!” Drop down to verse 20: “When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in and they took the city.”
Numbers 23:21: “The LORD their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them.”
1 Samuel 4:5: “When the ark of the Lord’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook.”
Ezra 3:11-13: “With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: ‘He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.’ And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.”
We’re going to end our service today by singing “Shout to the Lord.” Let’s do so with gusto.
My Jesus, My Savior
Lord there is none like You
All of my days, I want to praise
The wonders of Your mighty love
My Comfort, My Shelter
Tower of refuge and strength
Let every breath, all that I am
Never cease to worship You
Shout to the Lord, all the earth
Let us sing. Power and majesty, praise to the King.
Mountains bow down and the seas will roar
At the sound of Your name
I sing for joy at the work of Your hands
Forever I’ll love you, forever I’ll stand
Nothing compares to the promise I have in
Nothing Compares to the promise I have in YOU!