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.
Despite all odds, “the Lord said to Joshua, ‘I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men'” (v. 2). The battle was already over, though the fighting was yet to commence. Based on such assurance, Joshua would soon make the same claim to the people before their victory was apparent: “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!” (v. 16). David echoed such confidence centuries later: “Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless. With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies” (Psalm 108:12-13). God’s statement to Joshua is in the past perfect tense, a completed action. For the One who transcends time, the victory was already certain.
Such assurance served to call the people to faith. They must believe in God’s power before they could see it. Just as the priests had to step into the Jordan before its flood waters could be stopped, so these people must advance on Jericho as though the battle is already theirs. Such faith does not merit God’s power, but receives it. There is much God cannot do in our lives until we wish it to be so. He respects our free will always.
To fight your “Jericho,” believe first that God has already granted you the victory. And advance on your vision in confidence. John Henry Newman’s admonition is worth repeating:
Fear not that thy life shall come to an end,
but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning.
Fear not that you may try and fail,
but rather that you may fail to try.
For only then can the purposes of God be defeated. Believe God for his power and victory, and they will be yours.
Do the next thing (vs. 2-14)
Now the army is ready to fight. But their “commander” will lead them into the most unusual strategy in military history.
Ancient armed forces assaulted a walled city in one of five ways: (1) climbing the walls with ladders or ramps; (2) digging a tunnel under a wall; (3) smashing a hole in the wall with battering rams or weapons; (4) laying siege to starve the city into submission; or (5) tricking the inhabitants, as with the wooden horse at Troy and the ambush later at Ai (Joshua 8:1-23). Joshua and his army attempted none of these strategies.
Instead, their “next thing” was marching around the city once a day for six days. The city itself covered only five or six acres of land. Even though the Jewish armies stayed far enough from the walls of Jericho to be safe from bow and arrow attack, their first ranks would still have ended the march before the rear ranks began it. This tactic thus encircled the city completely, bringing further terror to the enemy within the city walls.
But it brought them no closer to apparent victory. Their armies encamped at night lay exposed to enemies from other Canaanite cities, and from warriors within Jericho as well. And their strategy made no progress toward military conquest, or so it seemed. Why such a strange war plan? So the people could learn again that their victory would come not from human force but divine help. The later word of the prophet could headline the entire episode: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6).
As with the manna and the grain, the Jordan crossing, and even back to the first Passover and the parting of the Red Sea, the children of Israel were reminded again and again that their Lord would win their battles. He does not share his glory. They would learn to do the next thing, to be obedient to the next word from God, while waiting for him to bring them victory.
In spiritual conflict, we must always stay faithful to the last word we heard from God. His will is not a five-year plan, but a flashlight in the dark. It does not show the road in its entirety, but just the next step we must take. And then the next. Great visions from God are fulfilled through daily obedience. Annie Dillard was right: how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Do the next thing God reveals to you. Be sure each step proceeds in the right direction. And in God’s timing, his plan will always succeed.
Stay obedient to God (vs. 15-27)
At last their victory was at hand, one of the most famous in all of literature. You know the story: on the seventh day, the armies were told to march around the city seven times, with seven trumpet blasts. Then the fortified, impregnable walls of ancient Jericho collapsed—completely, not just a breach here and there, but in total (v. 20). The obedience of the people led to one of the greatest victories in Jewish history.
But their obedience was not yet complete. Now they were required to exercise self-restraint and total faithfulness to God’s call to herem, the complete dedication of people and things to God, usually through total destruction. This ban was originated in the Levitical code (Lev 27:28-29), and later applied to the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). It meant that everything and everyone in this land belonged to the God of Israel, and must be returned to him as a sacred offering. And it served to judge the sin and wicked idolatry of these pagan peoples (see discussion in the first lesson of our series).
The people were tempted to keep some of the material possession, as we will see next week. But all save one was obedient to God’s call to faithfulness.
A third obedience was exercised next with Rahab, the prostitute who had sheltered the spies earlier. She had been promised shelter and protection for her assistance (2:14), a commitment which must now be kept. And so she lived “to this day” with the Jewish people, and served as an example of repentant faith (cf. Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25).
After the inhabitants were destroyed and their possessions placed in the treasury of God’s house, with Rahab and her family safely secured, one final obedience was required of Joshua and his people: cursing this ancient city. If rebuilt, it would serve again as a pagan shrine and obstacle to the Lord’s rule in the land. It would tempt later generations to self-sufficient rebellion, as indeed it did, with Joshua’s curse fulfilled during the time of King Ahab (cf. 1 Kings 16:34). Such disobedience would cost a father his sons, and a nation her leaders.
The God of the universe will always win the victory he intends for his people, but we must stay obedient to him. If Israel had attempted a convention strategy against Jericho, their foray into the Promised Land would likely have ended there. The story of God’s redemptive history through his chosen people would have been drastically different. Their obedience made possible the Lord’s glory and that of his servant Joshua (v. 27). Such faithfulness to God is the ultimate key to fulfilling his vision for our lives as well.
Henry David Thoreau’s sentiment transcends the romanticism with which it was expressed: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
What is your great life goal and purpose? Are you seeking to fulfill a vision which transcends your ability and resources? Good. You are joining God at work. Now believe him so you can see his mighty hand; do the next thing his will presents to you; and stay obedient to his will and word. The result will be worth all it costs you.
It is reported that a bishop from the East Coast many years ago visited a small, Midwestern religious college. He stayed at the home of the college president, who also taught physics and chemistry. After dinner, the bishop declared that the millennium could not be far away, since everything about nature had been discovered and all inventions completed.
The young college president politely disagreed and stated that there would be many more discoveries. When the bishop challenged him to name one such invention, he stated his assurance that within 50 years, men would be able to fly. “Nonsense,” sputtered the bishop. “Only angels are intended to fly.”
The bishop’s name was Wright. He had two boys at home who would prove to possess greater vision than their father. Their names: Orville and Wilbur.
Seek God’s dream for your life. Pray with Michelangelo, “Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.” Then trust your Creator and Lord to bring his purpose to pass in your life and ministry. Stay obedient to his call. And Jericho is yours.