The Fall of Jericho

joshua jericho3rd Sunday after Pentecost

The second sermon in a summer series
on Joshua and the Judges

Joshua 2 & 6

“And the walls came a-tumblin’ down!”  Oh yes…this is one of those Bible stories which we learn early on in our Sunday School days.  Round and round and round they went.  Then with mighty blast of trumpets and a great shout from the people, the walls of Jericho crash in ruins.  Exciting stuff!  Powerful!  Glorious!

It’s no surprise then, that this episode has become immensely popular for so many sermons on “victorious Christian living.”  The account of Joshua at Jericho is supposed to contain all kinds of spiritual principles which a person can employ to break down walls in his or her own life.  Joshua’s battle at Jericho purports to be a step by step plan for you to enjoy your own victories in life.

Yeah…well…  I’ve read some of those sermons.  Their advice can be helpful…but it has nothing at all to do with Joshua.  These sermons never suggest that you march in circles around your problem for a week, and then make a whole lot of noise.  Nor do they ever suggest, as happens in this story…gasp!…that the key to victory comes in part by visiting a brothel!  Gasp!  Choke!

But you see, today’s episode is not about principles, spiritual or otherwise, which a person can employ for their own victorious living.  This is God’s battle!  And as He so often does in the Bible…and as a person of faith might witness in his or her own life…God wages His battles by some mighty curious means!  And today’s is a prime example.

2:1, “And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’  And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there.”

And before you can even raise an initial question, the commentators jump with embarrassed speed to explain how it was move a strategic move, being a public house and all, where no one would notice two strangers coming and going.

“Me thinks they doth protest too much!” Okay, it may have been strategic, but why not the corner tavern?  Why not the local Holiday Inn?  Because this strategy, if it was that, doesn’t work!

V2, “And it was told to the king of Jericho, ‘Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.’  Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.’”

The king is ready for these spies.  He’s been expecting spies.  How could he not have heard of the massive wave of people who had left Egypt and had been slowly crossing the Sinai wilderness these many years in the direction of his city!  But in v4 Rahab hides the two spies and then lies to the king’s soldiers, telling them that the men had already escaped.

Now this is a big ethical dilemma.  If this is supposed to be God’s battle, why in the world involve a prostitute?!  Why a lying prostitute?!  A Pharisee of the Law will have fits trying to explain it.  Not so by the vantage point of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

By the Gospel we see that it’s not so much that this woman is involved in the oldest profession, it’s all about who she is.  As happens a lot in the 4 Gospels, the righteous advocates of the Law demonstrate little faith, while the Rahab’s of the New Testament have a surprisingly strong faith!

Rahab tells the spies, v9, “‘I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.’” A remarkable faith! A remarkable woman!  All the more remarkable when we read in Matthew, chapter 1, her place in Jesus’ family genealogy.  She eventually marries an Israelite and is the mother of Boaz, who also marries a Gentile, Ruth, who is the grandmother of King David!

All of this echoes the scandal of Jesus’ own birth.  Certainly God could have done that in a more tidy way according to the Law, but in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ scandalous birth (in the eyes of the world) is a sign of God’s grace for all people, regardless of the depth of their own scandal.  That’s how we read Rahab’s participation, neither excusing her profession nor limiting the depth of God’s grace for sinners!

So this part of the Jericho story ends with Rahab asking the spies to promise to spare her and her family when the city falls.  They in turn promise that if she doesn’t report them, and ensures that she hangs a scarlet cord from her window on the city wall as a sign, and stay inside when the battle starts, she and her family will be spared.  Promises!  Faith!  But now…on to the battle itself!

Chapter 6 begin, “Now Jericho was shut up inside and out because of the people of Israel.  None went out, and none came in.  And the Lord said to Joshua…”  There’s that phrase again.  This is always the Lord’s doing, what He accomplishes by His Word.  V2, “And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.’”

“I have given…”  Before Joshua gives a single command, God tells him that it’s a done deal.  The city is already as good as fallen, because God has already done it.  Now…will Joshua believe God and do as He says?  Indeed he does.

V3, “You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once.  Thus you shall do for six days.” V4, “Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark.  On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets.  And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.”

Joshua has been a military commander now for many years.  He has seen many battles.  He has devised many strategies.  But never would he have heard such a thing as this!  What commander would dare such a thing?  Yes, the fabled Greeks would employ that wooden horse trick a couple centuries later, but this strategy makes no sense…except that it comes from God, from the God who had already said, “I have given the city into your hand.”

And there is our theme once again.  If God has made a promise, then regardless of how absurd the plan, faith trusts that promise.  It happened with Abraham.  And remember all that blood on the doorframes in Egypt.  That was odd, but it spelled the difference between life and death for those believed God’s promise.

And we have greater promises by a greater Joshua! “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  It’s a promise!  The battle is in His hand, though a crucifixion is an odd way to fight a battle!  “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.”  It’s a promise, though washing someone in water seems odd!  “Take and eat.  Drink this, all of you…for the forgiveness of sins.”  It’s a promise, as curious as the others.  But faith seizes hold of the promise and lives…faith, whether from a person of scandal like Rahab or from a person of acclaim like Joshua, faith alone seizes upon what God has promised and acts accordingly.

And so, trusting the promise, Joshua did as the Lord commanded.  For six days, the Israelites circled the city of Jericho once each day.  Half the army in front and half behind the priests carrying the ark and those 7 ram’s horns.  The whole time they circle the city the priests were blasting away on those ram’s horns, but the people didn’t make a peep. Joshua had commanded the people, v10, “You shall not shout or make your voice heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I tell you to shout.”  Very strange…

Now the first day, the men of Jericho probably thought it was curious. (Perhaps the Israelites probably did too!)  The second day, likely more so.  After six days of this daily parade, perhaps both Jericho and Israel were getting weirded out by this strategy…perhaps Jericho started to dismiss it; Israel, doubting that it would do anything.

But on the seventh day, round the city Israel marched, not once, but seven times, blasting away with those ram’s horns.  But after the seventh round on this seventh day, v16, “Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout, for the Lord has given you the city.’”

Now the test.  The people must respond in faith.  Do they doubt? “Yeah right, like shouting will accomplish anything. Let’s attack them!”  But shout they do, and, v20, “As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went straight up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city.”  Wow!  It worked!  Hallelujah!

But then…they also annihilated the entire population of the city, men and women, young and old, people and animals, except for Rahab and her family.  A lot of bloodshed that day.  But we’ll wrestle with all the bloodshed in a future sermon.

It wasn’t spiritual principles that felled Jericho.  It wasn’t Joshua’s sincerity or the volume of the trumpet section in Israel’s marching band.  Amid all the noise of victory, it is easy to forget that beginning and end and through and through, this is about a promise from God and faith in that promise.  And that is a recurring theme which runs from Genesis to Revelation, from the ancient world to ours.  When God has made us a promise—and in Jesus He has made us many promises—when God has made us a promise…well…ain’t no walls gonna stand in His way!