Joshua 5: 13-6:27

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: No obstacle is insurmountable with the power of God.

Goal: Seek God’s highest purpose for your life, trusting him to supply all that is needed to make that vision a reality.

Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist who survived the death camps of the Holocaust, made a discovery which transcended the horrors he experienced. He studied those who survived the ordeal, and those who did not. After examining several factors, including health, vitality, family structure, intelligence, and survival skills, Dr. Frankl concluded that none of these were primarily responsible. The single most important factor in survival was a sense of future vision—an impelling conviction that they had a mission to perform, an important work left to do. Survivors of POW camps in Vietnam and elsewhere have reported the same fact: a compelling vision of the future is the primary force in survival and success.

Every human being needs a vision—a motivating, captivating, empowering purpose for life. Standing before the House of Commons in June of 1941, Winston Churchill said: “I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby.” Will Rogers advised, “If you want to be successful, know what you are doing, love what you are doing, and believe in what you are doing.” John Stuart Mill believed that “One person with a belief is equal to a force of 99 who have only interests.” Elton Trueblood was convinced that every successful person needs a philosophy, a program, and a passion. Paul could say, “This one thing I do” (Philippians 3:13).

What is your “one thing”? As the proverb has it, if you chase two hares, both will escape you. What is God’s highest purpose for your life?

Forgetting all limitations, costs, and problems, if you owned the proverbial “magic wand” and could make of your life its highest contribution to the Kingdom of God, what would you attempt to do? Frank Gaines was right: only the one who sees the invisible can do the impossible.

This week’s study will teach us to look for God’s invisible, highest, best purpose for our lives. Then it will challenge us to dedicate ourselves to this one purpose, trusting our Lord to supply our need and make effective our work. We each face a Jericho. We can each be a Joshua. Let’s learn how.

Join God at work (5:13-15)

Joshua was “near Jericho” (v. 13), perhaps to scout the city one last time. Here “he looked up”—the Hebrew tense conveys the element of surprise. He had not expected to find a warrior outside the city. But here was “a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand,” clearly ready for battle. We sense Joshua’s courage, as he was willing to face the man as a foe or join him as a friend.

Little did he know the identity of this “man.” A “theophany” is an appearance of God. As with Abraham (Genesis 18:1-33), Moses (Exodus 3:1-12) and Gideon (Judges 6:11-24), a man stood before the divine. Some believe this figure to be an angel; others see him as the preincarnate Christ. The “man” calls himself “commander of the army of the Lord,” probably a reference to an archangel such as Michael (cf. Daniel. 10:13, 20-21, 12:1; NavPress 68).

All this time of preparation, Joshua had assumed the battle was about him and his people. Bernard Bailey was right: “When they discover the center of the universe, a lot of people will be disappointed to learn they are not it.” It turns out this “commander” was not on Joshua’s side but the Lord’s. God has his own purpose, which we must join. When a lady told President Lincoln she was praying for God to be on their side, the president replied wisely, “Pray rather that we would be on his.” You and I are not the commanders of the spiritual army which is our church. The Lord alone is Lord.

How do we join him at work? First, we fall before him in reverence, on our face and with bare feet on holy ground (vs. 14-15). Next, we listen for his word: “What message does the Lord have….” Last, we surrender to his cause: “…for his servant?” Paul called himself the “servant” or “slave” of the Lord (cf. Philippians 1:1). We choose to obey his call so we can hear it, for his plan is always bigger than ours

The Japanese Carp or Koi is a favorite fish of collectors. These fish will grow proportionately to the size of their surroundings. In a fish bowl they grow to a length of only two or three inches. In a pond they can grow to three or four feet. The size of their vision determines their growth and significance.

So it is with God’s people. Surrender to God’s plan for your life, before you know it. Do not limit him to your vision. Rather, yield to his dream for your ministry. It will be greater than your greatest plans. And worth whatever it costs you.

Believe God first (6:1-2)

Now Joshua and his armies were ready to fight their first battle in their promised land. And against one of their most formidable foes: “Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in” (v. 1). “Tightly shut up” means that the city was enclosed and fortified, the way we would board up the windows for an approaching hurricane.

Such fortifications were daunting in the extreme. Jericho was one of the most secure cities in the ancient world, built typically with double walls. In Joshua’s day, the walls were so thick that Rahab could live in an apartment built within them (2:15). These high walls had discouraged the first spies sent into the land, 40 years before (Numb 13:28). Now the city was filled with “fighting men” (v. 2), indicating grammatically that all were great warriors.

The strength of Jericho conveyed spiritual significance as well. The city’s name most likely meant “moon city,” as the community was the center of Canaanite moon worship. This battle would pit Israel’s God against the Canaanite pagan moon deity. Just as the crossing of the Jordan had “defeated” Baal, so this conflict would defeat a second god sacred to the Canaanites, further proving that Israel’s God was the one true Lord.