The Curses

11 That day Moses charged the people, saying, 12 “When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. 14 And the Levites shall declare to all the men of Israel in a loud voice:

15 “‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’

16 “‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

17 “‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

18 “‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

19 “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

20 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s nakedness.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

21 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with any kind of animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

22 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

23 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

24 “‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

25 “‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

26 “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ Deuteronomy 27:11-26 ESV

In this passage are recorded the words of Moses instructing the Israelites to conduct a special ceremony in conjunction with the construction of the memorial and the altar to God. Moses had made it clear that these things were to be high priorities, having instructed the people to complete them “on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 27:2 ESV). The inscribing of the law onto the plastered stones, the building of the altar to God, and the offering of sacrifices to Him were all to be completed within the first 24 hours of their arrival in the land. And verses 11-26 contain one more important task the people were obligated to complete that very first day.

As soon as they crossed over the Jordan, Joshua was to divide the tribes into two separate groups. One group was to stand on Mount Ebal, while the other was to make their way to Mount Gerizim. The Levites would stand in the valley between the two mountains and shout out the blessings and curses that would come with their decision to keep or disobey the law of God.

The fulfillment of this order from Moses is recorded in the book of Joshua.

At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them. – Joshua 8:30-35 ESV

But it is important to note that this event took place after the Israelites had won a victory against Jericho, an endeavor that took six days to complete. This was followed by an attempt by the Israelites to defeat the city of Ai. But because of sin in the camp, the Israelites were routed by the people of Ai. After several days of delay, during which Joshua ascertained the guilty party and had him executed, the Israelites finally defeated the city of Ai. But more than a week had passed since they had entered the land. It was after their destruction of Ai and its inhabitants that Joshua finally got around the carrying out the instructions given to them by Moses.

When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and struck it down with the edge of the sword. And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai. But Joshua did not draw back his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had devoted all the inhabitants of Ai to destruction. Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their plunder, according to the word of the Lord that he commanded Joshua. So Joshua burned Ai and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening. And at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the gate of the city and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day. – Joshua 8:24-29 ESV

One of the things Moses had repeatedly warned the people about was the need for them to obey God completely. He had clearly warned them, “You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today” (Deuteronomy 27:10 ESV).

And yet, just days after having entered the land and after having experienced a miraculous victory over the city of Jericho, God accused the entire nation of unfaithfulness.

“Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings.” – Joshua 7:11 ESV

While it turned out that one man was guilty of the crime, God held the entire nation accountable. And until Achan was exposed as the guilty party and dealt with accordingly, God’s judgment would hang over every single Israelite. God warned them that they must deal with the sin in their midst, or they would continue to fall before their enemies.

“Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.” – Joshua 7:12 ESV

Once Achan and his family were eliminated, the curse was lifted and the people enjoyed a great victory over Ai.

So, when Joshua finally got around to carrying out Moses’ instructions regarding the memorial of stones, the building the altar to God, and the recitation of the blessings and the curses, he had the full attention of the people. They had just seen first-hand what happens when anyone disregards or disobeys God’s commands. Thirty-six Israelites had needlessly died in battle against Ai because Achan had chosen to disobey God.

The recitation of the blessings and curses was intended to remind the people of Israel of just how serious God was about obedience. The people would have walked anywhere from 20 to 25 miles to get from Ai to Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, in spite of their weariness after two battles.

Their defeat against the city of Ai was a powerful reminder of just how dependent they were upon God and how vital the link was between their obedience to God and their future success in the land. If they chose to disregard God’s laws and do things their way, they would find themselves isolated and alone, fighting battles without the assistance and power of God.

There are 12 curses listed in this section, perhaps as a recognition of the 12 tribes of Israel. The list appears to be rather random, dealing with everything from idolatry to lack of love for one’s neighbor. The diversity of the offenses seems intended to represent the broad application of the law to every area of daily life. Any form of disobedience was going to bring the curse of God against them. It was not the significance or seeming magnitude of the transgression that mattered. It was the disobedience itself.

Dishonoring your mother and father, moving a neighbor’s boundary marker, taking advantage of a blind person, or failing to show justice would all result in a curse upon the nation. And with the reading of each successive curse, the people were to shout their affirmation by saying, “Amen!” This word in Hebrew simply means “So be it!” The people of Israel were affirming their understanding of the curse and acknowledging that God was just and righteous in His pronouncement of it. The punishment fit the crime.

Disobedience of God’s holy law was going to have consequences. He had given them free will to obey or disobey, but their choice would not be without ramifications. And as we will see in the next section of verses, the decision to obey God always delivers a far better outcome.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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If Only Achan Had Waited.

And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.” Joshua 8:1-2 ESV

Achan saw and he took. He violated the command of God by greedily grabbing what God had expressly ordered to be given to the treasury of the Lord. Achan let the lust of his eyes get the best of him and he ended up being stoned to death for his efforts. But if only he had waited. At the battle of Jericho, God had made it clear that no one was to take anything of value away from the city. There was to be no plunder. No livestock was to be taken. Every single living thing was to be put to the sword. And all the gold, silver and vessels of bronze and iron were to be dedicated to God. The victory at Jericho was to be seen as God’s alone. He had brought it all about. And, in a way, it was a test for the people of Israel, to see if they would remain obedient to His command. But they had failed the test because of the actions of one man.

But when God exposed the sin of Achan and commanded Joshua to deal with it severely, the people followed Joshua’s lead and removed the sin from their midst. They cleansed themselves from the impurity created by Achan’s actions, reconsecrating themselves to God. And God, knowing that all of this had been a blow to the confidence of Joshua, encouraged him to stay strong.

“Don’t be afraid and don’t panic! Take the whole army with you and march against Ai! See, I am handing over to you the king of Ai, along with his people, city, and land. – Joshua 8:1 NLT

This is similar to the words spoken by God to Moses when the people of Israel were preparing to attack King Og and the nation of Bashan.

But the Lord said to me, “Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” – Deuteronomy 3:2 ESV

Joshua had been a part of that battle and God was reminding him that just as the people of Israel had enjoyed victories over Bashan and the Amorites, they would defeat the people of Ai. Their set-back had been temporary and due to disobedience. But now that they had purged the sin from their midst, God would deliver the city of Ai into their hands. Victory in the life of the child of God does not come through self-effort and is never the product of self-confidence. And anytime covetousness or greed enters into the equation, the outcome will result in failure. Achan had allowed the things of this world to influence his decision-making, and his desire for material wealth clouded his thinking. He sought an earthy reward and was not satisfied with the God-given reward of victory over a more power enemy. But here is the important lesson in all of this: Had Achan been willing to wait, he would have received all the plunder he could have taken. Had he been patient, God would have allowed he and all the Israelites to enjoy all the tangible benefits of their victory. Look closely at the instructions God gave to Joshua.

Do to Ai and its king what you did to Jericho and its king, except you may plunder its goods and cattle. – Joshua 8:2 NLT

This time, things would be different. Whereas at Jericho, God had forbidden the taking of any plunder and had commanded the destruction of all livestock, in this case He gave different instructions. They could plunder all the goods and keep all the animals for themselves. There was no command to dedicate all the gold, silver and vessels of bronze and iron to God. There was no prohibition on taking the livestock. God was allowing them to take the treasures of Ai as their own. He was rewarding them for their willingness to do things His way and not their own. If only Achan had been willing to wait, he would have enjoyed the blessings of God. But oftentimes, man’s disobedience is fueled by his impatience. We are not willing to wait on God. We seek immediate self-gratification. We want instant results. But God would use wait. He would ask that we place a higher priority on obedience than on personal reward.

There is a well-known verse in the book of Malachi that speaks of this principle of obedience and blessing.

“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” – Malachi 3:10 NLT

At Jericho, God had put the people of Israel to the test, and they had failed. At Ai, God was once again testing the people of Israel, but in a way, they were being given an opportunity to test the faithfulness of God. By doing exactly what Joshua commanded them to do and doing it according to the will of God, they would discover the goodness of God. They would learn that doing things God’s way comes with remarkable benefits.

Achan had stolen from God. He had squirreled away “a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels” (Joshua 7:21 ESV). But his guilt was evident because he had buried them in the ground inside his tent. He couldn’t enjoy what he had taken. His crime had saddled him with a guilty conscience. What he thought would bring him joy, brought him misery and, ultimately, death. But had he waited, he would have had all the plunder he could carry and the clear conscience that comes with living in obedience to the will of God. The Bible has quite a lot to say about ill-gotten gain.

Tainted wealth has no lasting value,
    but right living can save your life. – Proverbs 10:2 NLT

Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors. – Proverbs 1:19 ESV

1 What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night,
    thinking up evil plans.
You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out,
    simply because you have the power to do so.
When you want a piece of land,
    you find a way to seize it.
When you want someone’s house,
    you take it by fraud and violence.
You cheat a man of his property,
    stealing his family’s inheritance.

But this is what the Lord says:
“I will reward your evil with evil;
    you won’t be able to pull your neck out of the noose.
You will no longer walk around proudly,
    for it will be a terrible time.” – Micah 2:1-3 NLT

The author of Hebrews reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). God was calling the people of Israel to have faith in Him, to believe that He exists and that He will reward them at just the right time and in just the right way. They simply must believe. But they must also obey. God gave Joshua very simple, but clear instructions: “Lay an ambush against the city, behind it” (Joshua 8:2 ESV). Their victory at Ai was going to be dependent on their willingness to do things God’s way. Their blessing, in the form of plunder, would be directly tied to their obedience. Just as marching around the walls of Jericho for seven days had made no sense, the battle plan that God gave Joshua for the defeat of Ai would seem illogical and unnecessary. But they were learning the invaluable lesson that doing things God’s way always comes with God’s blessings.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Devoted to Destruction.

15 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. 16 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. 17 And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. 18 But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” 20 So 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. 21 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.

22 But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” 23 So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel. 24 And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. 25 But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

26 Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho.

“At the cost of his firstborn shall he
    lay its foundation,
and at the cost of his youngest son
    shall he set up its gates.”

27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land. Joshua 6:15-27 ESV

The seventh day finally arrived, and it was on this day that the people of Israel were to march around the walls of Jericho seven times. We are provided no explanation for this change in protocol, except that it was the will of God. He had commanded it. So, they marched as they had the previous six days, but on completion of their seventh circuit around the wall, the priests blew their shofars and the people broke their silence with a collective shout of victory. And when they did, the walls of Jericho crumbled and fell. There is no logical reason for this to have happened. Nothing the Israelites had done over the past seven days had contributed to the weakening of the walls of Jericho. Their marching had not weakened the foundations of the walls. The constant blowing of the shofars by the priests had not damaged the structural integrity of the walls. This was a work of God. And the seven days it took for the walls to fall had been less a battle than a religious rite. The priests, the ark of the covenant, the shofars, the ceremonial procession –  it was all a visual reminder of God’s power and presence. He was going before them. He was leading them. And their faithful following of the ark of the covenant provides a tangible expression of the peoples’ dependence upon God. The walls standing between them and the city of Jericho were too great for them to overcome. They had no means by which to breach the defenses of Jericho. But by faithfully following God, they were able to see Him do what only He can do. He brought down the walls. He removed the barrier. Like the Jordan River held back by the hand of God, so the people could cross over on dry ground; God leveled the walls of Jericho so the people could enter into the city unobstructed and unhindered. The walls of Jericho represented the hope of the people of Jericho. That stone barrier had been their protection for generations. They had placed their faith and hope in their mighty wall on many occasions and had yet to be disappointed. Until this fateful day.

God was greater than their wall. He was more powerful than some stone structure erected by the hands of men. He destroyed their great wall and exposed the unreliability of all man-made forms of salvation.

Once the wall had collapsed, the people of Israel had clear instructions from Joshua as to what they were to do. And his instructions echoed those given by Moses many years earlier.

16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 20:16-18 ESV

Joshua had told them, “And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction” (Joshua 6:17 ESV). They were to destroy anything and everything. There were to be no inhabitants spared or spoil taken. Only Rahab and her family were to be protected, in keeping with the agreement made between her and the two spies. All the gold, silver and other forms of precious metals were to be dedicated to God and placed in the treasury of the Lord. And the text records that the people obeyed the command of Joshua.

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 6:21 ESV

We find these verses hard to read and even more difficult to justify. They seem barbaric and unjust to our modern sensibilities. They appear to paint God as some kind of heartless and vengeful monster who shows no regard for the lives of men. How can a God who demands justice and mercy from His people also demand that they completely destroy another people group, including their innocent women and children. But what we fail to recognize is that this is far less a battle between two people groups than it is a war between righteousness and wickedness. The real enemy here is sin. The nations occupying the land of Canaan were known for their wickedness and moral corruption. God had chosen the people of Israel and given them His law, in order that they might display to the rest of the world what living in a right relationship with Him might look like. But God knew that the influence of sin was going to be a constant threat to their testimony. The presence of these pagan nations and their immoral practices would make it next-to-impossible for the people of God to keep themselves set apart for Him. So, He demanded the removal of the temptation. He commanded the destruction of anything and everything that might cause His people to fall away. It is a picture of the way in which believers in Christ as to purge their lives from their old ways of living. The apostle Paul provides us with similar admonitions to eliminate anything that would hinder or harm our relationship with God.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. – Ephesians 4:31 NLT

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. –  Colossians 3:5 NLT

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. – Colossians 3:8 NLT

…put to death the deeds of your sinful nature… – Romans 8:13 NLT

Sin is contagious. It is a dangerous and deadly disease that, if allowed to exist, will spread throughout the body of Christ infecting all with whom it comes in contact. The same was true for the people of Israel. God knew that the people of Jericho were infected by sin and the pagan practices of their false religions. To treat the residents of Jericho with kid gloves was to invite destruction. To wink at the wickedness that permeated the city of Jericho would prove to be a deadly mistake. And God knew it.

And God had Joshua put a curse on the city of Jericho, demanding that it never be rebuilt. It was to be a permanent reminder of God’s judgment against sin. The broken walls would form a perpetual memorial to God’s righteousness and the ultimate fate of all who stand opposed to Him. The rubble of Jericho would form a monument to the folly of sin and a life lived without God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

March. Madness.

1 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.” So Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord.” And he said to the people, “Go forward. March around the city and let the armed men pass on before the ark of the Lord.”

And just as Joshua had commanded the people, the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord went forward, blowing the trumpets, with the ark of the covenant of the Lord following them. 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. 10 But Joshua commanded the people, “You shall not shout or make your voice heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.” 11 So he caused the ark of the Lord to circle the city, going about it once. And they came into the camp and spent the night in the camp.

12 Then Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. 13 And the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord walked on, and they blew the trumpets continually. And the armed men were walking before them, and the rear guard was walking after the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets blew continually. 14 And the second day they marched around the city once, and returned into the camp. So they did for six days. Joshua 6:1-14 ESV

Joshua and the people of Israel stood on the western banks of the Jordan River, camped at a place called Gilgal. They were just a few miles from the city of Jericho, which would be the site of their first attempt at taking possession of the land provided to them by God. The men of Israel had followed the Lord’s command and been circumcised. The nation had just celebrated their first Passover in the new land. And Joshua had received a reassuring visit from the captain of the Lord’s armies, the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ Himself. Now, Joshua received news that they were to take the city of Jericho, but the battle strategy given to him by the Lord was anything but conventional. In fact, it was outright strange. They were preparing to attack one of the most formidable cities in the entire region, an 8-1/2 acre walled fortress guarded by, according to the Lord’s own description, “mighty men of valor.” And yet, God’s battle plan involved the army of Israel walking around the circumference of the city, following the ark of the covenant as it was carried by the Levitical priests. They were to do this for six consecutive days, then on the seventh and final day, they were to march around the city seven times, and after their final lap, the priests were to blow their shofars, the people were to shout, and the walls would fall. That was the plan.

And the truly amazing thing is that there is absolutely no indication in the text that the people showed any signs of dissent or disagreement with this plan. In fact, it tells us that Joshua commanded the people, “Go forward. March around the city and let the armed men pass on before the ark of the Lord” (Joshua 6:7 ESV), and “just as Joshua had commanded the people, the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord went forward…” (Joshua 8:8 ESV). They simply obeyed. What a stark contrast to the day, 40 years earlier, when the people of Israel stood on the eastern shores of the Jordan, poised to enter the land of promise, but they refused to do so. They heard the reports of the spies and listened to their warnings about giants in the land, and they stood their ground, disobeying the expressed will of God and threatening to kill Moses and Aaron.

Yet, on this occasion, the people responded with willing obedience. And it is important to consider just how strange this battle plan must have sounded to them. They were an ill-equipped and inexperienced band of former farmers and peasants who had spent the last 40 years wandering around the desert. They were not seasoned soldiers and they lacked any of the weapons of modern warfare that the troops inside the walls of Jericho would have had. Not only that, they were going up against a city that had a virtually impenetrable barrier around it. They had no siege engines. They lacked any kind of trebuchet or catapult that could bring down the walls of the city. No, all they had was a strange-sounding battle plan that involved a great deal of walking and waiting.

Imagine what it was like that very first evening, as the men made their way back to their camp in Gilgal. They had walked the circumference of the city wall, in silence, as the priests blew their shofars and the enemy soldiers on the walls hurled taunts and ridicule their way. These men must have questioned the wisdom behind this bizarre tactic. That night, around the camp fires, there must have been whispered discussions regarding the credibility of the Lord’s battle plan. But they obeyed. They got up the next morning and did it all over again.

And the people of Jericho must have scratched their heads in wonder as they watched, day after day, the inexplicable ritual taking place just outside their walls. What were these crazy Jews doing? What did they hope to accomplish by walking around the city in some kind of strange parade? The people of Jericho must have felt comfortable and safe inside their city, surrounded by their walls and protected by their superior army. But little did they know that God Almighty was the one behind all the events taking place just on the other side of their impregnable walls.

And, the people of Israel kept walking. For six days, they did what God had told them to do. In the face of opposition, in spite of their own doubts and in direct contradiction to all common sense, they obeyed. God had promised to bring down the walls. But that promise was directly tied to their faith and their faith was to be displayed in the form of obedience. Partial obedience would not suffice. A single trip around the walls was not going to bring them down. Half-hearted commitment was not going to result in an all-out victory. They were going to have to take God at His word, and obediently follow His directions – down to the very last word.

God’s will doesn’t always make sense. His ways are sometimes strange and illogical to us. But Joshua seemed to know that their capture of Jericho was going to require complete dependence upon God. He knew they were undermanned and poorly equipped for the job of taking the city of Jericho. He realized that any hope they had of conquering the land of Canaan was directly tied to their reliance upon God. The captain of the Lord’s armies had appeared to Joshua with a sword in His hand, and He had claimed, “I have come.” He was there to do battle on behalf of the people of Israel. And He had a plan. His was not a normal, run-of-the-mill battle plan, but a divinely ordained strategy that was going to unleash the power of heaven through the willing obedience of ordinary men. The greatest effort required of the people of Israel was not their daily walk around the walls. It was their faith. It was their continued confidence in God’s plan and their faithful reliance upon His promise: “the wall of the city will fall down flat” (Joshua 6:5 ESV). Their faith in God, while demonstrated by their obedience to the will of God, was going to ultimately manifest itself in the miraculous display of the power of God. The walls would fall. Their faithful walking and waiting would turn impenetrable walls to rubble, an unconquerable army to fallen foes, and a ragtag group of wandering Israelites into a powerful force led by the captain of the Lord’s armies.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Scarlet Cord.

Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”

15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. 16 And she said to them, “Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way.” 17 The men said to her, “We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. 18 Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. 19 Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.” 21 And she said, “According to your words, so be it.” Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

22 They departed and went into the hills and remained there three days until the pursuers returned, and the pursuers searched all along the way and found nothing. 23 Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them. 24 And they said to Joshua, “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” – Joshua 2:8-24 ESV

ScarletThreadRahab had a fear of Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, yet had never met Him or worshiped Him. She had only heard about Him. She told the two spies that word of His mighty acts, done on behalf of the people of Israel, had made their way all the way to Jericho. They knew about the parting of the Red Sea. They had heard about the destruction of Sihon and Og. And these stories had made an impact on the people of Jericho. She told them, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you” (Joshua 2:9 ESV). All of this was in direct fulfillment of the promise that God had made to the people of Israel.

“I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.” – Exodus 23:27 ESV

Notice that it was God’s reputation that had made its impact on the people of Jericho. Rahab made it clear that their fear of the Israelites was based on the power of the God of the Israelites.

“…there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” – Joshua 2:11 ESV

The God of the Jews had struck fear into the hearts of the people of Jericho. But it was because He acted on behalf of His people. He was the power behind their military success. He was the one who was going before them and fighting their battles for them. Rahab was convinced that this God had given the land of Canaan into the hands of the Israelites and there was nothing she or anyone else in her well-fortified city could do about it. Except ask for mercy. Which she did. She pleaded with the two spies to reward her willingness to protect them by sparing the lives of her household. What Rahab did at that moment was an act of faith. We know so, because of what the author of the book of Hebrews tells us.

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. – Hebrews 11:31 ESV

While Rahab made it clear that the fear of God had melted the hearts of all the people of Jericho, she was the only one who turned to God in faith, asking His representatives to show her mercy. While the king of Jericho was busy sending his soldiers to capture the two spies, Rahab was busy begging for her life to be spared. She knew she deserved death, but was trusting that the God of Israel would spare her life. So, she asked the two spies for a sign or symbol to assure her of their intentions to extend mercy to her and her household. And the sign they gave her was a scarlet cord or string, which she was to tie in the window of her home. We know from the passage, that her home was located inside the wall that surrounded the city, and the window was the same one through which she allowed the two spies to escape. By placing the scarlet cord in her window, it would act as a sign, telling the Israelite forces to spare all those inside that home. But it also exhibited her faith, not only in the word of the two spies, but in their God. And the spies made it clear that Rahab must gather all those whose lives she wished to protect from destruction and bring them into her home. As long as they remained there, they would find protection. But if they left for any reason, their blood would be on their own hands. The scarlet thread was their guarantee of salvation.

This story should conjure up images of the first Passover. As God was preparing to bring His tenth and final plague upon the people of Egypt, He commanded Moses to have each household among the people of Israel select a one-year-old, unblemished lamb. They were to take that lamb and sacrifice it, sprinkling some of its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. And God told the Israelites, “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13 ESV). The people of Israel had to step out in faith, obeying the word of God and following His command to sprinkle the blood on their doorways. Then they had to gather in their homes and wait to see what God would do. And God warned them that no one was to leave their homes until the morning. They were to stay within their homes, protected by the blood of the lamb and under the promise of God.

The scarlet cord in the window was a similar sign of God’s power to save. It was to be a reminder of God’s willingness to “pass over” Rahab’s house and to spare all those who had sought shelter behind the simple red thread hanging in the window. What makes this story so amazing is that it reveals the incomparable ways of God. That the two spies sought shelter in the home of a prostitute is amazing enough. But that her home just happened to be within the wall of the city with a window that provided a way of escape should not go unnoticed. And that this sinful woman, by even the pagan standards of Jericho, should exhibit faith in the God of Israel, ought to jump out at us. And as we saw in yesterday’s study, Rahab had already been preordained by God to be in the lineage of Jesus, the coming Messiah and Savior of the world. Nothing that happened that day in Jericho was a case of happenstance or chance. This was all the work of a sovereign God who had already orchestrated the order of these events long before they happened. It was He who had prepared the heart of Rahab, placing within her the fear that motivated her faith. It was He who directed the two spies to choose her home as their place of refuge. It was He who prompted the spies to act as His agents of salvation, offering Rahab a sign or token of His mercy in the form of a simple scarlet cord.

Rahab helped the spies escape. She tied that cord in her window and she gathered her family members. Then she waited. And she trusted. She risked death so that she might experience life. She stepped out in faith and placed her life in the hands of a God she had never met and based on the words of two men she knew nothing about. And it was the scarlet cord hanging in her window that gave her hope. And the apostle Peter reminds us:

18 you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. – 1 Peter 1:18-21 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

An Unexpected Ally.

1 And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out. – Joshua 2:1-7 ESV

JerichoYou would think that Joshua would have learned from Moses’ experience from 40 years earlier. It was at that time that Moses had sent spies into the land of Canaan. Upon their return, the spies had good news and bad news. They had found the land to be rich in produce and abundant in natural resources, but it was also occupied by well-armed nations living in well-fortified cities. And while the spies had brought back proof of the kinds of fruit available in the land, the people only heard the bad news and chose to rebel against Moses and Aaron, refusing to enter the land God had given them.

27 “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” – Numbers 13:27-29 ESV

But, in spite of what had happened four decades earlier, Joshua sent in two spies. Their mission was to reconnoiter the area surrounding the city of Jericho. Jericho was not a large city, but it was located on the eastern border of the land of Canaan and would have been one of the first cities the Israelites encountered as they entered the land from the east, passing across the Jordan River.

One might argue that Joshua showed a lack of faith in God by sending in the two spies. After all, God had assured Joshua, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses” (Joshua 1:3 ESV). He had given Joshua a guarantee his success. “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life” (Joshua 1:5 ESV). So, why was Joshua intent on sending in spies? It seems that Joshua’s purpose for this mission was not to gather information in order to determine whether or not to enter the land. He was simply seeking news regarding the fortifications of the city of Jericho. He was doing what any good military leader would do – he was assessing the capabilities of his enemy.

We are told that the two spies entered the city of Jericho and chose the house of a woman named, Rahab, in which to spend the night. The Jewish historian, Josephus, describes Rahab as having been an innkeeper. The text tells us she was a prostitute. It could be that Rahab owned and operated a brothel in the city of Jericho. This kind of destination would have provided the spies with a certain amount of anonymity, since it was the kind of place where men’s secrets were well kept and jealously guarded. But the important thing to note is that Rahab’s name is mentioned at all. This obscure woman, who practiced one of the oldest and least respected occupations in human history, has her name included in the story of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan. And Rahab’s role in the Israelites victory over Jericho would be just the beginning of her influence over and association with God’s people. She is included in chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, a section often referred to as the “Great Hall of Faith.”

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. – Hebrews 11:31 ESV

Not only that, we see her name appear in Matthew 1, in the genealogy of Jesus. Rahab would go on to marry a Hebrew named Salmon, and the two of them would have a son named Boaz. Boaz would become the father of Obed. Obed would father a son named Jesse, and Jesse would become the father of David, the eventual king of Israel. But most importantly, from David’s line would come Jesus the Messiah. So, Rahab would not only play an important role in the salvation of the two spies, but in the redemptive plan of God to bring salvation to mankind through the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ.

It seems that news about the people of Israel had gotten out. The people in Jericho had heard about their presence beyond the Jordan River. The size of the Israelite nation had obviously grown over the 40 years they had been wandering in the wilderness. It has been estimated that there were as many as 3.5 million of them by the time they reached the Jordan. It would have been impossible to disguise the movements of a group of that size, so it is no wonder that Rahab knew exactly who the spies were when they arrived. She also knew why they were there. News of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and their conquests in the land east of the Jordan had spread. And Rahab seems to have concluded that it was only a matter of time before this massive force of people made their way into the land of Canaan, wiping out anyone who stood in their way. And from what she ends up telling the two spies, Rahab feared the God of the Jews more than she feared their army.

“…the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” – Joshua 2:11 ESV

Rahab took a great risk in providing shelter for the spies. And the danger inherent in her decision became apparent when the king of Jericho heard about the presence of the two spies and sent soldiers to Rahab’s house in order to find and arrest them. And this sets up a scenario that has raised all kinds of ethical questions over the centuries. When the soldiers asked Rahab about the spies, she lied. She had hidden them in her house, but told the king’s soldiers that they had left and she had no idea where they had gone. Was Rahab wrong in doing this? Did her motive to protect the two spies justify her decision to lie on their behalf? Interestingly enough, in his chapter on the relationship between faith and works, James includes Rahab as an example.

24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? – James 2:24-25 ESV

James indicates that Rahab was showing her faith in God by taking in the two spies and helping them escape. This in no way justifies her decision to lie. Lying is always a sin. God was not dependent upon the lies of a prostitute in order to protect the spies. The truth is, Rahab put herself and her family at great risk for doing what she did. But God protected her in spite of her decision to lie. God did not ask her to lie. That was not part of His plan. But God used this woman, in all her human frailty, to accomplish His divine will for the spies and, eventually, for the fall of Jericho. Not only that, God would include this less-than-stellar individual in the lineage of His Son, Jesus Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Unwavering Faith From An Unlikely Source.

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. – Hebrews 11:31 ESV

Now things get really interesting. Up to this point in the chapter, the author of Hebrews has been dealing with some fairly significant and well-known individuals in the family tree of Israel – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Joseph, and by extension, Joshua. But it should catch us a bit by surprise to read the name of a prostitute in this great “Hall of Faith.” To understand her presence in the list of the faithful provided in Hebrews 11, we have to go back to the original story found in the book of Joshua. When it came time for the people of Israel to begin their God-ordained occupation of the land of Canaan, Joshua sent out spies to determine the situation in Jericho. “And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there” (Joshua 2:1 ESV). There is a lot we don’t know in this story. We don’t know why they chose Rahab’s house. Had they been given her name by someone else? Where they aware that she was a follower of Yahweh? Did they choose a prostitute’s house because they believed no one would think to look for them there? The passage doesn’t provide us with answers to these questions. But we do know that someone ratted on the two spies, and the king of Jericho sent soldiers to Rahab’s house to find them. “Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land’” (Joshua 2:3 ESV). But rather than turn the two spies over to the king’s soldiers, she hid them, and she covered for them. “But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, ‘True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them’” (Joshua 2:4-5 ESV).

Rahab protected the two Israelite spies. Why? Because she was a God-fearer. She had somehow heard about the God of Israel and believed in Him. Word of God’s powerful and miraculous deliverance of Israel from captivity in Egypt had gotten out, and Rahab  determined that He was the one true God. She knew that Jericho was no match for God, so she protected the spies and asked them to return the favor when the time came.

Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” – Joshua 2:9-13 ESV

I tend to believe that the two men inadvertently ended up at Rahab’s house and that they had no idea she was a believer in Yahweh. That would have been the last thing they expected from a woman who made her living as a prostitute in a pagan city. But God, in His divine plan, arranged for them to go to the very house where they would find a woman who had become a believer in the God of Israel. She was so convinced of God’s power that she knew Jericho was going to fall. She only asked that she and her family be spared. She believed with all her heart that the God of Israel was the “God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” The spies made an agreement with Rahab, instructing her to tie a scarlet thread in her window. That would act as a sign, much like the blood on the door post and lintels during the Passover. That threat would tell the Israelite troops to spare all the individuals found in that house. And when the walls of Jericho fell, we are told,  “But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho” (Joshua 6:25 ESV).

You might be tempted to say that Rahab’s faith was in the two spies. She believed they would keep their word and spare her life. But while there is some truth to that, the thing that drove her actions from the outset was her belief that God was the one true God and that He would give their city into the hands of the Israelite troops. Their God was greater. And in her action of providing protection for the two spies, she was acknowledging that she believed in God. Hebrews 11:6 tells us “without faith it is impossible to please him [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Rahab definitely believed God existed. And she was seeking His protection and the reward of her life being spared. Rahab had no track record with God. She had simply heard the stories of His deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. She had heard about His redemptive power illustrated in the parting of the Red Sea. She had heard the stories about His defeat of the Amorites. For her, the rumors and hearsay became cause for belief. And her faith that God was real and that He had the power to save as well as destroy would lead to life, rather than death. Everyone in the city was doomed to destruction, but her faith in God resulted in her salvation.

Rahab would go on to spend the rest of her life living among the God’s people. She would marry and have children. In fact, you read her name in the gospel of Matthew. She is listed in the lineage of David.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. – Matthew 1:2-6 ESV

And from David would come the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Not only did Rahab’s faith result in the sparing of her own life, it paved the way for the coming of Jesus, the Savior of the world. Her faith had long-lasting repercussions. Out of faith in God, she gave a friendly welcome to the spies, and that faith would result in her redemption and allow for the coming of the Redeemer of the world.

Walking In Circles In Faith.

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 was not going to come without a fight. But God would give Joshua, the new leader, a piece of important news.

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 recalls that of Moses 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. That word “commander” can be translated “prince” or “captain.” It is believed that this “man” was actually the pre-incarnate Christ. 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

This would have been strange counsel to Joshua. The very first city they encountered was fortified and well-armed, and 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. He left 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 behind the walls and the soldiers looking down on this spectacle from the tops of the walls. There would have endured ridicule and countless words of derision. 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. Their strength was being used up walking instead of fighting. According to 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 a shot. In keeping with the command of Joshua, no one could respond to the jeers and insults coming from behind the well-fortified 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, this time circling 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 have doubts. It doesn’t mean they didn’t question 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. 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. God had not explained how He would do it. But they knew the part they were called to play. They were to march. They were to obey. And they were to wait on the Lord. Their pride had to take a back seat. Their physical abilities had to be used 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. It was God. 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. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). They hoped for victory, and 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 walking in seemingly meaningless circles. But if we truly trust God, walking and waiting is well worth it. He always comes through – in His way and according to His will.

 

 

Finger-Pointing Prayers.

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan!  O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” – Joshua 7:6-9 ESV

The nation of Israel had survived 40 years of wandering in the wilderness on their way to the land that God had promised them. Once they set foot in Canaan, the land of promise, they had experienced an extraordinary victory over the city of Jericho. God had delivered this walled city into their hands in a miraculous fashion that clearly revealed it was a divinely ordained victory. Under God’s direction, Joshua had led the people around the walls of Jericho in a grand processional for six straight days. On the seventh day they marched around the circumference of the city seven times. At the end of their last lap, seven priests blew seven trumpets, the people shouted, and the walls fell. Not exactly your run-of-the-mill military engagement. But that’s because it was God’s doing. Nobody could claim credit for the victory but Him.

But the joy of the victory was to be short-lived. Because the next city to be attacked was Ai, a much smaller town that should have been a breeze compared to Jericho. The problem was that “the people of Israel broke faith in regards to the devoted things” (Joshua 7:1 ESV). Just prior to their final “victory lap” around Jericho, Joshua had warned the people “the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction” (Joshua 6:17 ESV). But a single individual would choose to ignore Joshua’s warning and take some of the forbidden plunder for himself. Achan ended up stashing a costly cloak, 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels in his tent. As a result of his sin, the Israelites would suffer an unexpected and humiliating defeat at the hands of the people of Ai. Routed and demoralized, “the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:5 ESV). And it is within that bleak context that Joshua, the God-appointed heir to Moses’ mantle as leader, brought his case before God. His was a very blunt and bleak prayer. It reflects Joshua’s confusion over what had just happened. He began his prayer by asking, “Why?!”

“Why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all?” He was looking for an explanation. He wanted answers. What he had just witnessed made no sense to him. They had gone from overwhelming victory to inexplicable defeat. At this point, Joshua had not idea why this tragedy had happened. He didn’t get it. He didn’t like it. And as far as he was concerned, God had some explaining to do. Had it been God’s plan to release them from captivity in Egypt and drag them across the wilderness for 40 years, only to allow them to suffer defeat at the hands of the Amorites? Joshua even sarcastically commented that it would have been better had they just been content to stay in Egypt. In essence, Joshua questioned God’s integrity and intentions. When he couldn’t explain his less-than-acceptable circumstances, he was quick to blame God. Not only that, he jumped to the worse-case-scenario, automatically assuming that all was lost. Once every other nation caught wind of their defeat, the days of Israel’s existence as a nation would be numbered. It would be just a matter of time before they were just a memory.

This passage is seldom used as a model for prayer. Joshua’s brutally honest verbal fusillade is rarely held up as a healthy example of proper prayer etiquette. And yet, God answered Joshua. He didn’t reprimand him. He didn’t respond with a haughty, “Who do you think you’re talking to, young man?!” Seeing Joshua lying face first in the dirt with his clothes torn as a sign of mourning, God simply said, “Get up!” Then He asked for an explanation for Joshua’s actions. “Why have you fallen on your face?” (Joshua 7:10 ESV). But before Joshua could respond, God gave His own answer. He provided an explanation for what had just happened. “Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:11-12 ESV). God was more than willing to accept responsibility for Israel’s defeat, but He would NOT accept blame for their sin. Joshua could question God’s intentions and motives, but he should never have questioned His integrity. There was and always is a very good reason and explanation for what God does and for what He allows. He is never out of control, caught off guard, mistaken, or ever unjust in His interactions with men. Whether we like or understand the circumstances of our lives, God is sovereignly overseeing each moment. Joshua’s prayer was based on ignorance. He was pointing fingers at God, questioning His intentions and doubting His integrity. But little did he know that sin had entered the camp. Because they had failed to keep God’s command to devote all the plunder to destruction, God was forced to devote them to destruction. Their circumstances were self-inflicted, but God ordained. It was not wrong for Joshua to ask God, “Why?” But it was wrong for him to doubt God’s character. There was a perfectly good reason for their defeat, and it had nothing to do with God’s power or His failure to keep His promises. Our prayers should always begin with what we know about God. His character is unquestionable. His integrity is unshakeable. His intentions are always justifiable. It is perfectly okay to ask God why, but it is safe to say that any blame to be had will never be His. We must always be willing to say along with David, you are “justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4 ESV).