TEXT: Joshua 6:1-20
The inaugural battle, the battle for Jericho, was indeed a most important battle in many ways. It was a vitally important from a Tactical point of view. Jericho stood at the foot of the Western Hills of Canaan. If the Israelites were going to control the crucial area of the hill country from which they could then begin to fan out into the rest of the land, then they were going to have to take the fortress city of Jericho which lay at the foot of the Hills and then that of Ai which lay further up the mountainside. So the battle for Jericho was crucial from a Tactical point of view. It was also crucial from a Morale point of view. This would be the Israelites first experience of conflict. Defeat here would have serious negative repercussions upon the people, probably causing them to despair and turn back. They certainly wouldn’t be in any mood to have another go at taking the city of their first attempt failed. It was also vitally important, from a Spiritual point of view in that, as we are going to see, it would be a real test of their faith in and obedience to God. Failure to take Jericho would result in them being unable to take possession of the land and thus unable to enjoy the blessings which lay before them.
Although this passage records actual historical events which took place over 4,000 years ago, you will discover that there are spiritual principles contained within this narrative which far from being bound to and applicable only to that generation of God’s people transcend the boundaries of time and of culture and are still relevant and applicable to us, God’s people today.
Let’s look at this narrative then together. The first thing I want you to notice with me this evening is
1) THE STRONGHOLD THAT MUST BE CONQUERED.
As I have already intimated in my introduction, Jericho was the first occupied city that Israel encountered in her campaign to take possession of Canaan. As far as cities go it wasn’t a particularly big city. Archaeological investigations have unearthed the city boundaries and we are reliably told that in area it probably covered no more than eight acres of land and contained somewhere around 20,000 people. But although it wasn’t a large, nor hugely populated city it was nevertheless a well-fortified city with a strong military presence. In keeping with the custom of cities which were located close to borders of other lands, Jericho was built to withstand invasion by enemy forces. It was surrounded on all sides by two walls of defense. The first was about twelve feet high, the second built about fifteen feet back from the first and running parallel with it the whole way round the city was over 30 feet high and the two walls were joined together by large pieces of very smooth polished stone running at an angle of 45degrees from the lower wall to the higher. This of course not only made it extremely difficult for enemy soldiers to get from the outer lower wall to the inner wall it also made any who tried to do so easy targets for the archers within the city. Here and there around the wall there were huge gates which were the only means of entrance or exit from the city and these gates were reinforced with iron and once firmly secured from the once closed, it was extremely difficult for enemy forces to penetrate the city. In human terms, once closed up against a siege from hostile forces, Jericho was impregnable. It was a formidable stronghold. And yet Israel had to conquer this city if they were going to enjoy the blessings of their inheritance. And when they came to the city they found it, not with its gates open welcoming them in, but with its gates firmly shut with the intention of keeping them out. The inhabitants of Jericho had no intention whatsoever of making things easy for the Israelites. They had no intention of surrendering their city to these people. The Battle for Jericho had to be fought, the enemy had to be attacked and destroyed, the city had to be taken if the blessings were to be enjoyed.
So here was this enemy stronghold standing in the way of the enjoyment of the blessings of their inheritance.
And you know brethren just as Israel had to face up to the reality of this stronghold’s existence and the need for it to be engaged in conflict and conquered if the blessings which God intended them to enjoy were actually to be personally experienced, so too you and I have enemy strongholds in our life, things which are standing in the way of us going forward into the full enjoyment of the blessings of our spiritual inheritance in Christ. Blessings which are ours, blessings which God has given us in Christ, blessings which are there for the taking but blessings which will only be enjoyed when we begin to wage war and conquer the Jericho’s of our life.
What are some of those things that could be regarded as Jericho’s in our lives?
Well there is the Jericho of some particular sin in our life. Some sin which is barring our way into that experience of a deeper and richer spiritual experience and hence barring the way into the enjoyment of the fullness of the blessings of the gospel of Christ. There are some specific area of your life which you have never subdued and brought under control. Some sin that you have never really confronted, that you have never really begun to wage war against. It is still there in your life standing not yet assailed. No inroads have been made into it. No battle plan drawn up or put into effect in an effort to conquer it. And while it remains unconquered any desire that you might have to experience a more meaningful and more satisfying Christian life will flounder.
What might some of those sins be?
- Is it your violent temper which flares up at the least provocation and which manifests itself in abusive language and conduct?
- Is it that old sin of deceit by which you are prone to telling lies to people, either to get yourself out of an embarrassing situation or perhaps in order to try to impress someone by pretending to be what in reality you are not.
- Is it the formidable and seemingly impregnable fortress of selfishness that stands in the way of you progressing further into and taking actual possession of the Promised land of personal spiritual blessing.
- What about envy, Jealousy? Jealous of that other person who has something that you dearly want – a stable job, financial security, a partner in life, academic success, some position of authority and responsibility in the church, a beautiful house, obedient believing children.
Is Jealousy the enemy stronghold that you have to face up to, wage war against and conquer in your life?
- Is it lack of discipline in the realm of your personal private devotions?
- Is it inconsistency and irregularity in your public devotions, by which after all these years as a Christian you still haven’t managed to conquer the undisciplined of failing to attend God’s house for worship every Lord’s day morning & evening.
You young people, is your Jericho an unwillingness to stop going along to that place that you are going to in order to socialize with some friends and which because of the nature of the place and the company that you are keeping is having a detrimental influence on your Christian life.
Is it your fortified city, your Jericho, your money, your wealth? Is this where your first major battle needs to be fought? Maybe for years you have been unwilling to bring this aspect of your life into line with God’s requirements and consequently this is proving to be a barrier to your enjoyment of a deeper and richer experience of God in your life as a Christian.
Brethren the Children of Israel had to conquer Jericho before the land could be possessed and the blessings enjoyed. And we too as Christians have to wage war against and overcome those Jericho’s of personal sin which stand in the way of our entering into a fuller and deeper and richer experience of the Blessings of our inheritance in Christ.
The Christian life is a life of conflict, conflict with the world, the flesh and the devil. That we are meant to be waging war against the enemies of our soul, the sin in our life, those things that bar our way from going on into the deeper experiences of spiritual blessing, is clear from the military analogy that is used time and time again in scripture. Paul talks about the need to be ‘a good soldier of Jesus Christ’ He tells us that we are to ‘put on the whole armor of God.’ that ‘the weapons of our warfare are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds…’
One of the Martyrs from the early days of the Christian Church – John Chrysostom who gave his life for the cause of the gospel in 407AD said ‘You are but a poor soldier of Jesus Christ if you think you can overcome without fighting, and suppose that you can have the crown without the conflict.’
2) THE NEEDED ENCOURAGEMENT JOSHUA EXPERIENCED
Before the battle against Jericho began, it seems as though Joshua went on a personal reconnaissance mission to get a look at the city that he and his people were planning to attack. And it was while he was surveying the city, probably giving some thought as to what might be the best military strategy to adopt in seeking to take the city, perhaps realizing for the first time as he gazed up at those high well fortified walls and the huge sturdy seemingly impenetrable gates just how difficult a task he faced, that he suddenly found himself confronted by a man, a soldier, who had his sword drawn as though ready to engage Joshua in a fight – v13 “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’s first reaction was to challenge the man in respect to whether or not he was for or against Joshua’s cause. The reply he received was not what he had expected. This warrior replied “Neither, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
One commentator translates the original Hebrew sentence here, ‘Neither, I Am, The Captain of the Lord’s hosts, has come to you.’ If indeed this is what the man said, then we can understand Joshua’s reaction in falling prostrate in reverence before this man. He realized he was in the presence of no ordinary man, but rather in the presence of God himself in Human form. This is what in theology is known as a theophany, an Old Testament appearance of the second person of the Godhead before his incarnation. What we have here is God appearing to Joshua prior to his assault upon Jericho, an appearance which was not only designed to be a source of encouragement to Israel’s leader but also to be the means by which he would receive instructions as to how to conquer Jericho.
The manner in which God here reveals himself to Joshua must have been tremendously encouraging to him. He was about to go into battle and God comes to him as a mighty warrior, one who is the captain of the Hosts of the Lord, the reference there being not to the army of Israel but rather to the innumerable company of mighty angels who were ready and willing to do his bidding. Joshua wasn’t going to attack Jericho alone, the unseen spiritual forces of heaven were going to be with him and for him to ensure victory.
What a tremendous encouragement this must have been for God’s servant prior to engaging the enemy. The Lord of hosts was with him. He was not going to fight in his own strength. He had supernatural spiritual resources available to him which were going to guarantee him victory if he went forward in faith and obedience. Listen to the message the Captain of the Lord’s hosts brought him – “see I have delivered Jericho into your hands with its kings and fighting men.” Joshua would not forget this meeting, this revelation. I am sure it must have proven to be a tremendous source of strength, confidence and encouragement to him not only as he went up against Jericho but in all his future battles.
And you know brethren isn’t this our confidence as we square up to and prepare to enter into battle with those Jericho’s in our life that need to be confronted, conquered and captured so that we can go forward into and enjoy those rich blessings of our spiritual inheritance in Christ. So that we will be able to live in the enjoyment of all that God intends for us in this life as His children. We do not face those battles alone.
We, like Joshua, have tremendous spiritual resources at our disposal and available to us and looking to the captain of our salvation to come alongside us and help us in our battle we can and by faith will get the victory over our personal, our family our congregational Jericho’s. This is the victory that overcomes the world – even our faith.
That sinful habit which is standing in the way and is proving to be a barrier to you experiencing and enjoying closer fellowship with God, that habit which is barring your progress into the fuller experience of God’s grace in your life, you can overcome it, you can conquer it if only you will look to God by faith and seek his help in the battle. Try to overthrow that Jericho on your own and you will find you will fail – ‘the arm of flesh will fail you, you dare not trust your own’ But looking to Christ, going forward into the battle with his strength we will overcome and get the victory.
3) THE OUTRAGEOUS BATTLE PLAN.
I am sure that Joshua and the people must have given some thought as to how to go about taking Jericho.
- Some perhaps thought that the best way would be to surround the city cut off its water supply, and just sit there until the food supplies ran out. The people in Jericho as time went on would become physically weak, psychologically disillusioned and emotionally distraught and would eventually either surrender or would be in no fit state to resist an onslaught.
- Others perhaps would have favored a surprise attack upon the city, perhaps at night, hoping to catch the people off guard and thus overthrow them.
- Others might have considered the usual approach – building ramparts and getting battering rams and basically having one big massive push against the city with a view to capturing it.
But as it turned neither these nor indeed any other humanly conceived strategy was going to be adopted. The captain of the Lord’s Host after assuring Joshua that the city would be given over to them went on to give him details of how this enemy stronghold was to be overcome.
And what an unusual strategy or outrageous battle plan it was –v3-5 READ: The army and the priests were to walk round the city walls once each day for six days carrying the ark of the covenant and rams horns. They were to do this in absolute silence. On the seventh day they were to march round the walls seven times this time the priests were to blow their horns as they marched. Then when the circuit had been completed the seventh time the Priests were to give a long loud blast on the horn which would be the signal for all the people (who by this stage numbered well over 2 million) to shout at the top of their voice upon which it was promised that the walls of the city would crumble and fall down, thus making entrance into the city and the overthrow of the enemy in the ensuing panic relatively easy.
Now you have to remember of course as we read the narrative here of Joshua being told what to do and him going and telling the people about this strategy that we know the end of the story. The people to whom Joshua relayed this plan didn’t. And in a sense you could well understand it if some of them thought this was a crazy idea.
- Maybe some of them thought Joshua was losing his marbles, that the heat of the sun had got to him and he had obviously been hallucinating and was now talking nonsense.
- Maybe some of them upon hearing plan A wanted to know immediately what Plan B was because they were quite sure they were going to need it. In human terms the strategy seemed so ridiculous, so foolish.
But foolish as it may have seemed it was the strategy that the people were called upon to adopt and implement if they were to be assured of success against their enemies. Following such a plan demanded faith, obedience courage and patience of Israel. They had to believe that what God had promised he would accomplish and accomplish by the means he had appointed. Thus they had to obey God’s command through Joshua his servant. They had to actually walk round the walls of the city and so on as instructed. It required courage, because the fact of the matter was they were exposing themselves to danger as they walked round the walls. They put their soldiers in a very vulnerable position. And it required patience, in that the walls didn’t fall down after the first days march, nor after the second. They were going to have to walk round those walls thirteen times before they would see their goal beginning to be realized.
The method God used of course was not only a suitable means of testing the people’s faith in and obedience to Him, as well as their patience and courage, it was also drawn up with a view to impressing upon the people the fact that it was God who had given them the victory. Had they used what we might call conventional human and military tactics to breach Jericho’s defenses they might have gloried in their victory as something which they by their own skill and strength had achieved. Following this strategy, no-one would be in any doubt as to who had given them the victory – GOD.
You know God’s ways of bringing about his purposes are not always the ways we, if left to ourselves, would adopt. And sometimes even when God has given clear instructions as to how to go about some particular aspect of his work, those instructions are not always followed. Take the realm of evangelism for example. There are many Churches today coming up with their own ideas and strategies and tactics to try and get people interested in religion and into the Church and the means God has commanded, that of the simple preaching and communicating of the gospel, regarded by so many as being out of date, ineffective and so on, is increasingly being set aside.
And then there are some Christians who have a particular Jericho in their life that they know needs to be conquered and which they want to conquer, but they try to conquer it, not by the means God has ordained but by some other humanly contrived and widely accepted modern day conventional method which in effect bypasses the need for simple faith, obedience and dependence upon God.
- One example I can think of is drinking. People will try hypnotism, they will try counseling, they will try acupuncture, buy nicotine patches and so on. When what the Christian should be doing is going to God and seeking the strength they need from God to resist the temptation and to have ones will so strengthened by God that one is able to refuse to pick up another bottle of beer or alcoholic drink. Can’t be done someone will say ?
Well it can actually. I did it and many other like me have done it. And I drank for years, latterly 30 or more a day before becoming a Christian. But believing that habit to be not only a waste of money but more importantly, also a slow method of self destruction and thus as far as I was concerned a sin against God, I knew it was something which if I was serious about being a Christian and if I was ever going to go forward in my Christian life, was a habit I had to conquer.
How did I and others like me do it? Well I didn’t go to a hypnotist, nor an acupuncturist, nor a counsellor nor anything like that, I simply asked God to help me. To give me the strength to conquer this habit, believed that he would do so and then by faith I endeavored to resist temptation, turn my back upon what I believed to be that sin in my life and Glory be to His name I got the victory and although in my pre-conversion days I had tried to give up smoking and failed, this time I succeeded and much to my surprise, it was a lot easier than I had expected.
And this of course leads me to the last thing that I want to bring before you for consideration tonight and that is
4) THE GLORIOUS VICTORY THEY ENJOYED:
Although on the human level the military tactics seemed ridiculous, the people nevertheless obeyed their leader. They marched round the walls once each day and seven times on the seventh day and when on Joshua’s command they all shouted the walls came tumbling down. Some have suggested that the explanation for the walls falling down lay in a localized earthquake at that time; others have suggested other what they believe to be rational explanations each with a differing degree of believability, but at the end of the day whether this was a direct act of God or whether God used some particular geological means to bring it about matters not, the point is it happened and God made it happen. The victory he had promised was secured and the initial barrier to progressing further into the land was overcome.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that it was ‘By faith that the walls of Jericho fell down.’
And brethren the victory that Israel enjoyed, we too can enjoy as we by faith do battle and seek to conquer any and every Jericho in our own lives which threatens to hinder our progress into the fuller and richer blessings of our glorious inheritance in Christ.
May God help us so to get the victory!