The Lord Fought The Battle Of Jericho
The first lesson from Joshua 5:13-6:5,20 presents the familiar account of the battle of Jericho. We're going to take another look at that battle today to help us understand how the Lord's victories affect the battles in our lives. Here is our starting point, The Lord Fought The Battle Of Jericho. June 6, 2010.
Memorial Day is past, but its purpose lingers, remembering battles from the past and those who served, especially those who gave their life to ensure our freedoms. Some battles carry huge significance in history books because they proved to be the turning point in a war. Every battle – no matter how large or small, no matter whether it involved several divisions or a depleted squad of handful of soldiers – every battle is significant if you were one of the soldiers fighting in it.
Today the first lesson from the book of Joshua presents the familiar account of the battle of Jericho. That battle was very significant, too. At stake was God’s reputation to save his people and carry out his promises. We’re going to take another look at that battle today to help us understand how the Lord’s victories affect the battles in our lives. Here is our starting point, The Lord Fought The Battle Of Jericho.
For the glory of the Lord
Using Moses as the leader, God had guided the Israelites out of Egypt to the border of the promised land. Moses’ successor, Joshua, led them across the Jordan River, and there stood the first obstacle, the fortress of Jericho! But why were the people of Jericho not just the bad guys but considered to be God’s enemies? If you could peer into their churches you’d know. Their churches weren’t chapels but brothels. The inhabitants of Jericho were so corrupt that they were a sewer stink in God’s nostrils. In addition, from a practical standpoint, Jericho’s fortress blocked the highway from the Jordan River into the interior of the land. If Israel was going to conquer any of the territory in which God wanted them to live, they would first have to get past Jericho. God’s promise to send a Savior from sin through that nation in that land was at stake.
So, what was God going to do about the situation? “The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD … but keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring disaster on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury.” The entire city and everything in it were devoted to the LORD. That means none of the plunder would go into Israelite coffers. None of the people were to become Israelite servants. None of the animals would increase Israelite flocks and herds. Everything connected with Jericho was devoted to the LORD, either designated for destruction or dedicated to his service. Any Israelite who pocketed a few bracelets or rings from dead Jericho-ites was not just violating God’s command to keep hands off. That person was detracting from God’s victory by claiming he had a right to plunder as if he had done the fighting and deserved credit for winning the battle. But God wanted to make it clear, “The Lord fought the battle of Jericho.”
This biblical record serves as a warning to all who detract from God’s promise to do the work of saving us all by himself. You don’t have to look too far to find folks who want to claim that they’ve had a hand in that pie. But before we point the finger at others, let’s take a look at what’s hiding in the closets of our lives. Even little withdrawals from God challenge him to withdraw his love. God will not tolerate anyone or anything which robs him of full credit for his victories and makes him slide over to share his throne with someone or something else.
Jericho was a town with massive walls, but the whole city was probably not much more than the size of a few city blocks. The Israelites had six hundred thousand soldiers. We would expect Joshua to organize boot camp for his soldiers, train them in battle strategy, assemble weaponry, and then lay siege to Jericho, cutting of its water supply, waiting to starve out the inhabitants. But God himself gave Joshua battle plans, “March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days … On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.” City walls thirty feet thick don’t just crumble from trumpet blasts and people silently marching around. But God was teaching the Israelites an important lesson. He promised that those walls would tumble by his doing. At the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city. The LORD has given us the city!” What a sight that must have been! The dust and debris cried out in testimony, “The Lord fought the battle of Jericho, and it was all for the glory of the Lord!”
What does that mean? The Israelites gave him glory when they witnessed Jericho’s ruin. Surely the other inhabitants of the land must have given him glory when they heard of Jericho’s collapse and shivered in their boots. How could their man-made gods hold up before this God who miraculously crushed cities? We give glory to the Lord when we stand in awe of his almighty power. But giving glory to the Lord means more than awe. It includes trusting his promises and relying on him – in good times and in bad!
We praise God and give him glory when we recover from disease or injury, when we are graduated from high school, college, or grad school, and when we accomplish something special at work. We hear athletes state, “All praise and glory to God,” after a victory. But what about when a disease doesn’t go away or when it’s terminal? What about when school is hard or work is boring? Have you ever heard an athlete state, “All praise and glory to God,” after a loss? But that’s the point of the battle of Jericho. It’s not so much that the walls came down but that everything depended on God. And in the ultimate battle, the battle for our soul, everything depends on God. You might think, “That’s obvious!” But have you gone down this path? – “I figured if I followed the Lord, everything in my life would be OK. But it didn’t turn out that way. I got cancer. I lost my job. I even went to church and still had problems in my family. I prayed, and my grandma still got sick and died. How am I supposed have greater faith in God when he doesn’t come through for me?” The answer does not lie in “I” because the more I rely on my following, my praying, my doing, the more my faith falters. Did the Israelites bring down the walls of Jericho? No! The Lord fought the battle of Jericho. Christianity is all about watching what God does. Faith is all about receiving. Do you want stronger faith? Then step back. Let God do his work. You and I didn’t make the earth. We didn’t send our son as a Substitute for all. We didn’t battle Satan from the wilderness to Calvary. Our Savior God did. Even if our world collapses around us and everything seems to be going wrong, we still have the victory that really counts – life with him in heaven. At Jericho the Israelites sang as they did when they crossed the Red Sea, “O Lord, in your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed”(Exodus 15:13), and we sing, too, because the Lord fought the battle for our soul and won.
With the people of the Lord
I used to think of the ancient Israelites as pious, picked-on people who had such a rough time in Egypt. How awful that they had been forced into slavery and back-breaking manual labor! When God sent ten plagues to convince the Egyptian king to let them go free, I pictured them as praying for the Lord’s arrival and lifting their hearts and hands in thanks to God as they followed him through the Red Sea. But what does the biblical record show? They were basically heathen. They had no more interest in the true God than the Egyptians did. It took just a couple months, and as soon as Moses let them out of his sight, they were performing lewd dances around a golden calf and calling that worship. On the journey to the promised land they belly-ached and broke their promise to follow the Lord. What’s my point? They were not so special. They did not deserve to be treated as special. Yet God told them, “Out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”(Exodus 19:5-6).
On top of that, the almighty Creator could have shoved his heel through the clouds and crushed Jericho like a soda can and erased it from the map. But he did not do that. Instead, he allowed the Israelites to participate in his victory. That would be like a military commander inviting someone who has never handled a weapon of any kind, “Come and join me in the battle headquarters. You can watch the tactics and the battle unfold, and, when the battle is over and we win, we’ll give you a star.” Surely the Lord fought the battle of Jericho, but he also gave the Israelite nation the privilege of joining him in victory by marching around the city and blowing trumpets. That says a lot about God doesn’t it?
I go to bed at night praying that my grandkids never have to live through a war. But who knows if more terrorist attacks will occur within our nation’s borders or whether my grandkids grow up and join the brave forces of the U.S. military fighting for freedom. But whether Jesus’ prediction of wars and rumors of wars always occurring strikes closer to home or not, there’s a battle going on inside my heart and yours. We are born with plaque stuck to our spiritual arteries, namely, a natural tendency to curve in on ourselves, to see ourselves as having no need for God because we pride ourselves in being self-sufficient and getting all we need and more, and if we put our nose to the grindstone and our shoulder to the wheel, all will turn out just fine. All of that self-orientation has turned our in-born plaque into a Jericho-thick wall around our hearts. We’re not by nature pious, hand-folding people, waiting for rescue, or silently marching around and blowing trumpets, always doing exactly what God tells us to do. No! We’re the mean-spirited, God-defying Jericho-ites. We deserve to be crushed by the heel of God’s anger. Did you know that happened? That crushing happened when Jesus told his Father, “I’ll take their place. Crush me for their iniquities.” Jesus did that for us so that God now declares, “You are mychosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God(1 Peter 2:9).
On top of that our gracious God gives us the privilege of participating in his victories. He has given us the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God(Ephesians 6:16-17). The promise of God’s pardon and of his powerful weapons plunked right into our hands frees our souls from a dreamy, make-believe view of how life on earth should be better and gives us sure and certain hope to say, “Sure! Life is the pits, but our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). The promise of God’s pardon and of his powerful weapons plunked right into our hands also grabs our attention, takes us by the hand, puts us in God’s battle headquarters, and empowers us to participate in the battle to save others. Surely the Lord fights the battle for the souls of lost sinners, but he gives us the privilege of joining him in his victories. We get to tell friends and acquaintances our story, which is really Jesus’ story, his victory for us. We can share an article from our church magazine or newsletter or an insight we gleaned in Bible class – all as participants with God to save souls. That says a lot about God, doesn’t it?
We live in a constant Memorial Day, remembering the battle for out souls and who died to win it, Jesus. But he did not stay in a cemetery. He came back to life to live with us and help us in our battle against our tendency to be self-oriented by strengthening our faltering faith and by allowing us to participate in battles to free other souls from the devil’s grip. Look what God did at Jericho! Look what he did for you! Then trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding(Proverbs 3:5). Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on June 6, 2010