30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. – Hebrews 11:30 ESV
Moses was gone. An entire generation of Israelites had died during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, all because they had refused to believe God and enter the land He had promised them. Their disobedience had brought God’s judgment and that generation would never enter the rest that God had promised to provide for them.
Now, Joshua led a new generation of Israelites into the promised land. They would not just waltz into the land and take over without a fight. The occupants of the land of Canaan were going to have a real problem with the descendants of Abraham showing up and making claims that the land belonged to them because Yahweh, their God, had given it to them. The land and all its provisions were not going to come without a fight. But God would give some important news to Israel’s new leader, Joshua.
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the Lord‘s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. – Joshua 5:13-15 ESV
This occasion is reminiscent of Moses’ experience at the burning bush. Joshua, like Moses, had a personal and up-close encounter with God Himself in the form of a theophany. Joshua saw what he believed to be a man and this stranger announced himself as the commander of the army of the Lord. The word “commander” can be translated as “prince” or “captain.” Some believe that this “man” was actually the pre-incarnate Christ, and Joshua’s immediate reaction reveals his awareness that he was speaking with more than just a man. He fell on his face and worshiped. The very next chapter records the words that the commander of the army of the Lord shared with Joshua.
Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.” – Joshua 6:1-5 ESV
These instructions must have sounded strange to Joshua. The city of Jericho was the very first city they encountered after crossing the Jordan River and entering Canaan, it was well-fortified and heavily armed. Yet, the Lord was telling Joshua that He would give the city into their hands. But the conditions for achieving this victory were a bit odd.
The Lord was explicit in His details, leaving nothing to chance or to Joshua’s imagination. For six days, they would make a single circuit around the walls of the city. No arrows would be fired. No spears would be thrown. Imagine the reactions they would have gotten from the people inside the city and the soldiers looking down on this strange spectacle from the tops of the walls. Safely ensconced within their walled fortress, the citizens of Jericho would have hurled taunts and rained down ridicule on the hapless Israelites as Joshua led them on the bizarre parade around the city walls.
The men of Israel would have struggled with feelings of shame and embarrassment as they marched in a silent column around the city, listening to their enemies question their sanity and manhood. Their swords hung at their side, unused. They were exerting their energy walking in circles rather than fighting their enemy. Under the direction of Joshua, the fighting men of Israel faithfully obeyed the instructions of the commander of the army of the Lord.
The armed men were walking before the priests who were blowing the trumpets, and the rear guard was walking after the ark, while the trumpets blew continually. – Joshua 6:9 ESV
No one said a word. No one fired off a single arrow. And in keeping with the commander’s instructions, no one could respond to the jeers and insults coming from behind the walls of Jericho. But the people of Israel continued to walk day after day for six days. But then the seventh day came.
On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction.” – Joshua 6:15-17 ESV
This day was going to be different. Six days of seemingly pointless activity were going to be followed by an incredible miracle from God. Just as they had the previous six days, the people marched in silence, but this time they circled the city seven times. And after their final trip around the city, “the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword” (Joshua 6:20-21 ESV).
For seven days they had walked and waited. For a solid week, they had done as they had been told. They had been faithful and obedient to the Lord’s command. That doesn’t mean they didn’t struggle with doubts or questions regarding the Lord’s plan. There was most likely a fair share of grumbling and grousing around the campfires at night. The people probably wondered if Joshua had really heard from God at all. There was probably a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on.
But they walked. For seven days they did as they had been told. Their walking was evidence that they were trusting God. They didn’t know exactly how the walls were going to fall because God had not explained that part of the plan. But they knew the role they were assigned to play. They were to march. They were to obey. And they were to wait on the Lord.
God’s plan required that their pride take a back seat. Their physical abilities had to be used for walking and not fighting. But as the author of Hebrews tells us, “by faith the walls of Jericho fell down.”
It wasn’t their faith that caused the walls to fall. That miraculous accomplishment was God’s doing. But their faith was instrumental in God’s power being unleashed and put on display. Had they stopped walking, the walls would not have fallen. Had they decided to take up their swords and attack the city in their own strength, the outcome would have been radically different.
Their faith was in God. Over a seven-day period, they maintained an “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). They kept walking because they believed God would deliver a victory. They were convinced it would happen, not because they marched but because their God had promised it. Their marching was simply an expression of their faith in God. Sometimes trusting God requires us to step out – in faith – and walk in seemingly meaningless circles. We have to do what appears to be pointless and sometimes even ridiculous so that God can prove His faithfulness.
But if we truly trust God, walking and waiting is well worth the effort. He always comes through – in His way and according to His will. The walls will fall. The victory will come. The enemy will be defeated. And our obedience will further increase our faith in His power, provision, and protection.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.