Read: Joshua 6, Hebrews 11:30-31
Our walk with God sometimes brings us up against some very big obstacles. But through faith, and obedience, we can see the walls come tumbling down. That’s the lesson Israel learned at Jericho.
The exciting story of Israel’s escape from slavery in Egypt is called the Exodus, and it’s told in detail in the Bible book of the same name. The literal meaning of Exodus is “a way out.” This book describes how a ragtag collection of Hebrews managed to find a way out of hopeless bondage in Egypt, not by their own ingenuity or strength but by faith, through the mighty power of God, the Savior. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you are living by faith and obediently following the Lord you will never run into any serious problems. That is just not so. In fact, the walk of faith is never guaranteed to come without any detours or apparent dead ends.
What faith does mean, though, is that if we trust him, God will always open a way for us to get through the struggles we face. “Fear not,” says the Lord through his prophet Isaiah, “when you pass through the waters I will be with you and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you” (Isaiah 43:2). That promise was literally realized during the exodus when God made a way out of no way through the Red Sea for his people to escape! And then he took care of them leading them through the wilderness for forty years, until they reached the promised land of Canaan — though the way was often hard, and followed many twists and turns until it finally led home.
Israel’s history is continued in the Old Testament books of Joshua and Judges, which recount the story of how God’s people entered and took possession of the land, though with imperfect success. Some of our most familiar Bible stories come from this history, and today we’ll look at one of them: the story of Jericho, and how its walls came tumbling down.
You might think that once the people had emerged from their wilderness wanderings and crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land, all their problems would be over. If you did think that, though, you’d be wrong. The very first thing that confronted Israel in Canaan was another seemingly impossible obstacle. Jericho was one of the oldest and strongest cities in all the world. Its soldiers were numerous, its defenses seemingly impregnable. The Israelite spies sent to scout out Jericho found unexpected help there from a woman named Rahab who saved their lives and helped them escape. For some reason that the Bible does not explain, she decided to cast her lot with Israel and more importantly, with Israel’s God. There was no earthly reason for her to do so; everything pointed to Jericho being on the winning side. But Rahab chose to believe in God, and in the end, that proved to be her salvation. The book of Hebrews describes it this way:
By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish . . . because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. (Heb. 11:30-31)
So the real lesson of the story of Jericho has to do with faith, and what faith can accomplish.
The Walls Come Tumbling Down
Faced with the formidable challenge of taking a strongly manned walled city, the Lord told Joshua how to proceed. Instead of military strategy Joshua was given a set of divine instructions to pass on to the people, and very curious instructions they were. A careful and precise order of march was laid out. First came an armed guard, then seven priests carrying trumpets, then more priests who carried the ark of the covenant, and finally a rear guard of soldiers. But this was not a fighting array. They were merely to lead Israel’s host on a sort of parade. All the people, not just the army, would follow, walking around the city of Jericho in silence broken only by the sound of the trumpets, once a day for six days (Joshua 6:6-14). What a strange procession that was! It must have puzzled the Israelites almost as much as it did the people of Jericho.
Joshua didn’t tell the people what God had told him, about what would happen on the seventh day. Joshua merely said that everybody was to keep still until he gave the order to shout. I wonder if anyone thought Joshua had a screw loose somewhere; if they did, they kept it to themselves and followed orders.
What purpose could God possibly have had in directing the attack on Jericho in such a manner? The first and most obvious point is that this “attack” was no real attack at all, at least not in the military sense of the term. The truth is, Jericho was not going to fall as a result of any conventional tactics. The disparity of forces was too great; Israel had no real chance to take the city by relying on its own strength. Every advantage lay with the defenders in Jericho, whose walls, incidentally, according to the archaeologists, were especially tall and strong. Perhaps one reason the Lord had all the people march around the entire city every day was to show them just how hopeless their task was. No one could possibly miss the point that the victory, when it finally came, was a divinely ordered miracle.
The truth is, nothing can really be accomplished spiritually in our own strength. It is not by might or power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord. We know that, we just don’t always believe it. We prefer to think that we can manage with our own energy, brains, and resources. So often the first thing God has to do before he can accomplish his work through us is to reduce us to helplessness, so that we have no hope except in him.
On the seventh day at Jericho things were different. This time the march around the city didn’t end with the first time but continued for six more revolutions. Something was up! After the seventh time around the city there was a pause, then the trumpets blasted and the people cried out with a mighty voice, the walls collapsed, the city was taken, and all except Rahab and her family destroyed. Thus judgment was visited upon evil, and the promise of grace was kept to faithful Rahab. This is how the victory is won at every Jericho God’s people face. It’s always his victory; we simply follow his instructions, do what we’re commanded to do, wait with expectant faith even when things seem hopeless, speak when we’re told to, and then cheer as we see God’s mighty act of salvation.
The fact that the New Testament writer of the book of Hebrews highlights these events from the battle of Jericho must mean that they have some lessons to teach us about the meaning of faith. And they do. They show us some of the things faith can accomplish. Here’s one: Faith can overcome evil. No matter how strong and frightening the powers of darkness seem to be, we know that those who trust in God will defeat them in the end. Jesus said that faith in him is the rock on which he builds his church, and even the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Like the walls of Jericho, the strongholds of evil in our culture today seem impossible to destroy but their walls will come tumbling down if we stand united and confront them with the power of the word of God. And faith can overcome the evil in your life too. It can conquer the strongholds of sin that you face. It can defeat the giants of despair. These things won’t happen in our strength but by trusting in God’s power and living by his word.
Here’s another lesson. Faith can save you and make you one of the people of God. I love Rahab’s part in the story. Not only is she listed as a hero of faith in Hebrews 11, but according to Matthew she was one of the ancestors of Jesus (Matthew 1:5). Think of that. That really is amazing. An ancient Jewish prayer ran this way, “God, I thank you that I am not a gentile or a woman.” Well, Rahab was both. And that’s not all. She was also a prostitute; not exactly a shining example of virtue! But she was saved, she became not just part of Israel, but part of Israel’s royal line.
Remember, salvation isn’t a reward for living a good life; it’s a gift of grace bestowed upon those who believe in Jesus Christ. Whatever she was or had been, when the decisive moment came, Rahab chose faith. By faith she identified with the people of God, and that decision was her salvation. She became one of them. You know, you can too. Salvation from sin, victory over evil, new life as a child of God, all these can be yours, by faith. But you have to choose. No one else can make the decision to believe for you. You must commit yourself unconditionally to the Lord Jesus. Now would be a good time if you haven’t ever done that!
Because there’s one more thing to remember. One day the final victory for the people of God will be won in much the same manner as the victory was won at Jericho. There the people marched and watched and waited. The trumpet blew and there was a great shout and the walls came down. The victory was won. It makes me think of the way the Bible describes a coming day of victory. This too will come as God’s people watch and wait. And there will be a cry of command and then the sound of the trumpet.
“For the trumpet shall sound,” writes the apostle Paul to the Corinthians, “and the dead shall be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52). And he goes on in 1 Thessalonians, “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16).
As God’s people watch and wait for his appearing, that’s what will happen. What a day of victory that will be! Be sure you don’t miss it. Are you ready? Are you watching? Are you waiting?