Summary: Joshua Pt. 4


More than twenty years ago I heard a lively old Negro spiritual recorded by Elvis Presley in one of his gospel collections. The title of the song was “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho,” and the words to the chorus were:

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho;

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho

And the walls came tumbling down.

The truth about the battle at Jericho was that Joshua did not even lift a finger, have a strategy, or lose a soldier. At Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a sword in his hand, anintensity on his face, and an ultimatum from his mouth. Jericho was Joshua’ first real battle since his appointment as the leader of the next generation of Israelites. So far, he had successfully commanded all tribes to enlist for battle (Josh 1:10-12), obtained a convincing spy report on Jericho, and led Israel safely across Jordan River. Now the general was up against a wall, literally. As long as the gates were shut, no battle was possible. What should he command his army to do? Storm the gates, scale the walls, or severe the supplies?

What message did the Lord send to Joshua by visiting him at the brink of war, guaranteeing him victory in the fight, and safeguarding the lives of all the Israelites?

God is the Rightful Commander

13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up 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?” 14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” 15 The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

One of the most renowned Chinese fables is the story of the fox’s impersonation of a tiger’s might. One day a hungry tiger caught a fox for lunch in the forest, but the fox howled, “You cannot eat me. Heaven has appointed me the king of the jungle. If you don’t believe me, follow me around and see how the jungle creatures fear my presence.”

The tiger took the fox’s challenge and followed closely the fox that was leading the way to observe the animals’ movements in the presence of the fox. Of course the animals scampered for their lives upon seeing the tiger. Seeing the dramatic reaction of the creatures indeed surprised the tiger who did not realize that his presence was the cause of the commotion.

The fox spoke in glee: “Didn’t I tell you they fear me?” The tiger acknowledged, “You truly have influence in the forest. Everyone fled at your presence!” The tiger then stuck to his agreement and let the fox go, not wanting to harm such a popular and central forest figure.

Like people God had chosen for a task, so far – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, Joshua’s understanding of God was inadequate, incomplete and imperfect. He had a warrior mentality, a hero complex, and a general’s bravado. His thoughts were fixated on clearing all obstacles, crushing the opposition, and advancing his troops. The problem with this state of mind and way of thinking was that he couldn’t recognize friend from enemy. He did not know a man from his camp, from the opposite camp, or the heavenly camp. It did not occur to him that an enemy would have already attacked him instead of answering questions, that God made the first move to approach him even though it seemed like Joshua came near, and that he was to speak only when he was spoken to.

Joshua asked two questions. Instead of correctly asking, “Who are you?” Joshua rudely asked, “Who are you for?” Joshua did not seek the identity of the armed swordsman, did not wonder why the two were left alone, or give the visitor much of an option. On whether the stranger was on the side of Israel or her enemies, the visitor corrected: “Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Joshua had an unhealthy and confrontational us-against-them, win or lose, and yes or no mentality. Like many mindless warriors in their empty campaigns, their futile quests and their senseless fights, Joshua had hardened himself for battle, the war had become personal, and his motives were mixed. However, the visitor did not come to fight, ask or mention about fighting.

Knowing his mistaken role and myopic vision, Joshua fell on his face and asked a broader question: “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” The heavenly visitor did not come to offer, solicit, or discuss warfare strategy. Talk was cheap, secondary and minor. The commander of the army of the Lord had come with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua’s job was to get out of the way, get down on the knees, and get back into line. He was never in charge of things or on top of things; The Lord was.

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