JOSHUA 5:13-6:25

AUGUST 23, 2009


Play Audio


            Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho,

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho

and the walls came a tumblin’ down, down, down, down

dumby-bee do-bee down, down, down, down, down,

dumby-bee do-bee down, down, down, down,

dumby-dee do-bee down, down, down to the ground ... ugh!


            That was the version of the song we sang with high schoolers when Trudy and I were doing student ministry way back in the 70’s.  I don’t know if anyone is still singing that version or the more traditional version, but either way the song about Joshua and Jericho remains one of the best known biblical songs of all time, and this morning we are going to look at the event that inspired the song, and while doing so we will note three things about the story itself.  First, we will note the comical aspect of this story, second, we will note the sobering aspect of this story, and finally third we will note the practical aspect of this story.  We’ll begin with the comical.

            I wish I could have been present to hear the reaction of Joshua’s military commanders after Joshua received the battle plan from God.  I can just imagine them saying, “Okay, Joshua, let’s get this straight.  You want us to gather the people behind the Ark of the Covenant and march around the city, without saying a word, for six straight days, all the while blowing seven trumpets as we march.  Then on the seventh day you want us to march around the city, not once, but seven times and then we we are all worn out from all that marching we are to blow the trumpets and shout at the top of our lungs, and all at the same time, the walls -- those walls which are eighteen feet high and three feet thick, will come tumbling down.  That’s the plan?”

            And can you imagine the response Joshua would have received from a Dwight Eisenhower or a George Patton or a Norman Schwarzkopf or a Colin Powell, or a David Pietraeus when they heard the battle plan?  If they had heard such a plan they would have contemplated a temporary military coup.  They would have suspected that the forty years in the wilderness had finally taken its toll on Joshua.

            So when we really think about it, there is a comical side to this story, however, there is a sobering side to it as well.  In fact, it is more than sobering, it is troubling.

            By that I mean, this story and others like it in the Old Testament, have caused some Christians to reject the Old Testament as a reliable source of information about God.  They say, “The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are so different from one another they cannot be the same God.”  And even worse, stories like this have led some not only to reject the Old Testament, but Christianity as well.

            Some of us here today are old enough to remember the activist atheist, Madeleine O’Hare.  What we might not remember was the fact that she was raised in a Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the church did not make her an atheist but reading her bible did.  When she was a teenager she vowed to read the Bible from cover to cover, and she did, and the stories of God-ordained cruelty and the stories of genocide in the Old Testament turned her away from Christ.  She did not have any use for a God like that, and it is rather troubling when we stop to consider what happened at Jericho.  We sing the fun song “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho,” but when we step back we must ask, “How could a good God command such horrible things to happen?  How could a wonderful, loving, merciful God command that everybody and everything in Jericho be wiped out - men, women, children, animals, including puppy dogs and kittens.  How could a good God do such a thing?”

            Before we move on to the practical side of the story, I want to make three comments about those questions.

            Comment #1: when reading an account like this we need be careful in judging another time with a 21st century ethical standard.   Reading an account like this offends our 21st century sensibilities, but we need to keep in mind that there is a whole lot of difference between 13th century B.C. and 20th century A.D.  In Joshua’s time, life was harsh and standards different.

            Have any of you watched the old television show Star Trek?  If so, do you recall all the times Captain Kirk would reflect on some barbaric 20th century practice?  Now, what was he doing?  He was judging our century by his century’s standards.  What was normal for us seemed barbaric to him.

            Comment #2: God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Let me put that another way.  The God of the first Joshua is the God of the second Joshua.

            Let me explain.  My name in Spanish is “Ricardo.”  In French it’s “Richard” and Joshua’s name in Hebrew is “Joshua” and Spanish is “Jesus” and his name in Greek is “Jesus.”  Trudy and I named our son after Joshua, and so did God.  Why do you suppose God named his son after this Old Testament character?

            One possible reason for that has to do with the meaning of the name.  “Joshua” literally means, “God saves,” so naming Jesus after Joshua, God is telegraphing Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus will have a ministry of salvation.

            Another possible reason, however, is that God wanted to link the two.  God wanted to link the Old Testament Joshua with the New Testament Joshua.  He wanted to make sure that they may have more in common than we might first suspect.  In the New Testament God’s grace and mercy and love may get more air time whereas in the Old Testament, God’s anger, wrath and holiness may get more air time, but we also find God’s grace and mercy and love in the Old Testament just as we find God’s anger, wrath and holiness in the New Testament.  In linking the two, God wanted to make sure we linked the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament.

            And finally, one last comment, when reading this story we need to keep in mind that sin is highly contagious.  Look with me at Joshua 6:18.  Note what God said to the people as they prepared to go into Jericho.


            As for you, keep away from the things devoted to destruction, so as not to covet and take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel an object for destruction, bringing trouble upon it.


            Trudy and I both battled the flu this past week.  It was not the swine flu, at least we don’t think it was.  We just called it the “piglet” flu.  It knocked me out for three days and Trudy for two days, and he got it from our son.  He got it on Saturday and I came down with it in the late morning on Tuesday and Trudy came down with it Tuesday evening.  It was awful, and it quickly spread through our family.  So does sin, and Jericho was a horrible place.

            I think back to God’s conversation with Abraham.  The conversation took place some 800 years prior to the battle of Jericho.  Abraham was trying to get a handle on what God was like, and he had heard that God was going to level Sodom and Gomorrah, and that action piqued Abraham’s curiosity, so Abraham started asking God some questions.  Abraham asked God, “If there were 50 righteous people in the city would you spare it?”  God said, “Yes.”  Abraham asked, “If there were 40 righteous people in the city, would you spare it?”  God said, “Yes.”  And if you recall, Abraham kept lowering the number until he got to ten, and God would spare the city if there were only ten righteous people in it.  But Abraham never went below the number ten, partly because he didn’t want to make God mad with all the questions, but mostly because the implication was if there were less than ten he would spare it.

            And what we need to know about Jericho was there were less than 10 righteous people in Jericho.  The city was an open sore.  Rahab was the only righteous one there, and God spared her and her family.  The city was so bad God said, “Destroy it, for it will pollute you.” 

              And picture yourself in the desert for 40 years.  For 40 years all you have been eating is manna.  Bamanna bread.  Mannacoti.  Manna loaf.  And then you get to Jericho, which is an oasis in the desert, and you see this scrumptious table of food, sort of like a cruise line buffet.   And in the desert you haven’t bathed for awhile, and you see this magnificent baths in Jericho, and you have lived under a strict sexual code in the wilderness, and Jericho has a red light district.  What would we do?  Most of us would probably sell out.  Eventually we would wear down, so God, in the formative stages of the nation of Israel, tells Joshua that Jericho needed to be leveled so as not to infect their lifestyle.  He didn’t want the Israelites to get the Jericho flu.  Sin is highly contagious.

            Well, enough of that.  Let’s turn now to the practical side of the story.  What practical lessons can we take away from the battle of Jericho?  Well, as I pondered the story I thought about all of us who need a major victory in our lives.  Some of us are facing modern day Jerichos.  We are facing tough battles, well fortified situations, and I began asking, “What did these people do that enabled God to work so mightily in their lives?”  And I noticed a couple of things.  I noticed two practical principles that brought victory to them.  Let’s turn to those two principles now.

            Principle #1: The people precisely followed the plan of God.  Every day God said they should march around the city and every day they marched around the city.  And God said they should remain silent as they marched, and every day they remained silent as they marched.  God said to follow the Ark of the Covenant as they marched, and every day they followed the Ark as they marched.  God said there should be seven priests with trumpets, and there were seven priests with trumpets.  God said on the last day the people were to shout, and on the last day the people shouted.

            They did exactly what God asked them to do.  The lesson here is that there is a correlation between obedience and blessing.  I think of all the couples who have come into see me for pre-marital counseling.  When they come in I give them five commandments for a healthy marriage.  I tell them if they do these things, they will have a great marriage.  If they fail to do them, they probably won’t have a great marriage.  It’s that simple.  Just follow the plan, both of them, not just one, but both of them, and they will be successful.  If one of you ignore these commandments, you are going to have problems.

            It’s like weight control.  We all know what we need to do to be successful  The problem is not knowledge.  The problem is obedience.  Follow the plan and the blessing will come. 

            So principle #1 is follow the plan.  Now principle #2: keep following the plan.

            I don’t know about you, but about the third day of marching around the city, my feet would have started hurting and I know I would have said, “I know we are being obedient, but there has got to be a better way of doing this.  I mean, it’s a long way around these city walls and I’m tired of walking.  Let’s take tomorrow off.  Six out of seven days is pretty good.”

            Yet, sometimes pretty good is not good enough.  As someone aptly put it, “Success is holding on five minutes longer.”

            One of the keys to success is persistent obedience.  Are you having a tough time with a co-worker, neighbor or family member and are you getting tired of acting in a Christian manner?  Well, keep on keeping on.  Are you faithful in your devotional times, but are not making contact with God?  It’s like your prayers go no further than the ceiling?  Well, keep on keeping on.  Does it seem like your kids will never come back to church, and you are tired of praying for them?  Well, keep on keeping on.

            Let me close with golf story.  It involves a husband and his wife who were playing golf together and when they came to the fourth hole, the husband hit his ball behind a big old barn and the wife said, “Look, I believe we can fix this thing.  We’ll open both ends of the barn and if you hit it just right it will come through the barn, and you will be back on the fairway, and won’t have to take a penalty stroke.”

            So she went and opened both doors of the barn and he hit the ball, but it hit the side of the barn and struck her on the head, killing her instantly. 

            Six months later he was on the same golf course playing with a friend.  He was on the same hole, and he hit the same shot behind the barn.  The friend said to him, “Look, I believe we can fix this thing.  I’ll open both sides of he barn and if you hit the ball straight, you can hit it through the barn and onto the fairway.”

            The widowed husband said, “No, I don’t believe I’m going to do that.”  He said, “I tried the same exact shot six months ago when I was playing with my wife and ended up shooting a nine on the hole.”

            If we were just as tenacious about our faith as golfers are about golf, we would see the promises of God fulfilled over and over again.

            Keep on, keeping on.  Amen.