I don’t know about you, but I love a good story. When we were pastoring in Mirror, we had a group of old retired rail roaders in our church who were all in their 80s by this time. And they were the masters of telling a good story. We spent about a year working on a new church building, and every day these guys would bring us coffee and snacks – and as we took our coffee breaks, they would regale us all kinds of captivating railroad stories. They’d tell us of train wrecks or unimaginable snow storms or having their trains be part of some old western movies. It was always fascinating to hear bits and pieces of their life stories.
Unfortunately, I’m not quite a master story teller like they were, but I’m going to give it a try. Today and perhaps off and on throughout the summer, I want to tell you some stories.
You see, the Bible is an amazing storybook. It has got some of the most fascinating and unbelievable tales imaginable. And what makes it all the more fascinating, is that it’s true! Although some of the stories are certainly hard to believe – the Bible is not a fantastic work of fiction. It is the true story of the Almighty, everlasting God interacting with the people that He created. It’s quite an incredible book!
And in the Bible we find a huge variety of different kinds of stories. There is a genre for everyone.
- If you like adventure, read the story of Joseph or King David or Esther – I always thought the book of Esther would make a fantastic movie!
- If you like romance – read the Song of Solomon (that’s got all kinds of that mushy stuff)
- If you’re into history – read through the books of the kings and Chronicles.
- You want war – read through Joshua & the Judges.
- Poetry? Read the Psalms
It’s like that opening scene from the Princess Bride where the Grandfather is about to read a book to his sick grandson. The Grandson says… “Has it got any sports in it?” And the Grandfather says, “Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!”
That stuff is all in the Bible too. And so much more! But unlike the Princess Bride, as I’ve mentioned, it’s all true.
And so I want to spend some time just reading through some of the amazing, true stories of the Bible – not only because they are great stories, but there’s much that we can learn from them.
Remember, the Bible is really the story of God. It’s almost like his autobiography – it tells us how God has interacted with individuals and mankind as a whole throughout history. It shows us what God is like and how we are to interact with Him.
And so hopefully as we go through a few of these stories, we’ll get to know God in some new ways – we’ll have a better understand of who He is and how He works in the world – and perhaps most importantly, we’ll see how God still wants to have an personal relationship with each one of us even today.
So where do we start? Well, one of my favourite things to read in the Bible is some of those amazing battle stories! The Old Testament in particular records all kinds of battles – and you’re likely familiar with many of them. David & Goliath is probably the most famous. Joshua vs the city of Jericho is another. Gideon and his 300 men vs the massive armies of the Midianites is yet another. There’s all kinds of great stories.
And today we are going start with one of those famous battle stories – the story of Joshua and the City of Jericho. Now if you’re not familiar with the story, let me set the stage for you.
This story takes place about forty years after Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. After leaving Egypt, the Israelites cross the Red Sea (which is another fantastic story), and they eventually head towards the Promised Land – that is, the land that God promised to give Abraham and his descendants over 400 years previous to all this.
When they arrived at the edge of the promised land, Moses sent out 12 spies (including Joshua and his buddy Caleb) to go and scout out the land and the people. There were to find out what the land was like. Is it a good land? How does it produce? What’s the soil like? What kind of people live there? What are the cities like? Etc, etc…
Well, after exploring the land for 40 days, they found that the land was awesome. In Numbers 13:25 it records that….
“When they came to the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them!” Numbers 13:25
Can you imagine a cluster of grapes so large that it takes two people to carry it? That’s an impressive cluster of grapes. Can you gardeners imagine a land that produces like that? But the fruit wasn’t the only thing that was supersized in the Promised Land. Let me read for you the rest of the spies’ report starting in Numbers 13:27:
27 This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. 28 But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan Valley.”
30 But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!”
31 But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” 32 So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. 33 We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!” Numbers 13:27
You can imagine how discouraging this report would be. So to make a long story short, even though the land is awesome, the Israelites end up being too scared to go in and take the land like God told them too. So because of their disobedience, God declares that none of that generation would enter the promised land. They would wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation who had refused to obey the Lord had all died off and then their children would be the ones that would go in and take the land.
So that’s just what happened. Now, forty years later, that generation has all died off (with the exception of Joshua and Caleb who had wanted to obey the Lord in the first place). Even Moses is now gone, so Joshua is now the new leader of the Israelites and they are now ready to enter the promised land.
And so the book of Joshua begins with God telling Joshua – “The time has come to enter the promised land. Be strong and courageous.” That’s where we get the famous verse in Joshua 1:9…
“This is my command – Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
That comes out of this story here where God is telling Joshua “Now’s the time to go take the Promised Land.”
And so Joshua obeys. The Israelites cross the Jordan River (which is kinda the border of the promised land) and the first city they came to was the city of Jericho. And this is where we pick it up in Joshua chapter 6 – verse 1.
“Now the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid of the Israelites. No one was allowed to go out or in.” Joshua 6:1
I find it interesting that it’s the people of Jericho who were afraid of the Israelites. 40 years ago the Israelites were so afraid of them that they wanted to go back to Egypt – but now, we see that it’s the Canaanites who were actually afraid of the Israelites. They locked themselves in their fortified city and no one was allowed out or in. There’s got to be a lesson about fear in that somewhere, but I’ll leave that to you to think about.
Now the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid of the Israelites. No one was allowed to go out or in.” 2 But the Lord said to Joshua, “I have given you Jericho, its king, and all its strong warriors. Joshua 6:1-2
So far, I’m sure that all sounds really good to Joshua. Be strong and courageous. I’m going to hand over the city, it’s king, and all it’s warriors over to you. But then God goes on to explain how He’s going to do it. He says in verse 3….
3 You and your fighting men should march around the town once a day for six days. 4 Seven priests will walk ahead of the Ark, each carrying a ram’s horn. On the seventh day you are to march around the town seven times, with the priests blowing the horns. 5 When you hear the priests give one long blast on the rams’ horns, have all the people shout as loud as they can. Then the walls of the town will collapse, and the people can charge straight into the town.”
Let’s pause here. Many of us have heard this story before, and so we’ve probably lost some of the initial craziness factor in God’s strategy. Because this does not make any military sense.
Doing 13 laps around the city, then blowing horns and yelling really loudly does not sound like a great strategy to me. And I’m sure this was not what Joshua had in mind either. You’ve got to remember that the city of Jericho was fortress. It was a heavily fortified & walled city.
Now, in our day & age, we don’t have city walls for defence like they did back then, so we might have a hard time understanding what these walls were like. And, actually, Jericho had three walls. You see, Jericho was built on a hill. So at the base of the hill, they had made an outer wall, which was really a retaining wall – built into the side of the hill. This stone retaining wall was about 12-15 feet tall, but it was backed by solid earth, because it was dug into the hillside. So for all intents and purposes, it was as thick as the city was wide. That’s a pretty good wall. You’re not ever going to punch through that wall. Your only option is to go up and over.
But of course, that’s a lot easier said than done, because on top of that first retaining wall, they build another wall of brick. This wall was about 20 feet tall and about 6 feet thick. So if you’re on the outside looking up, you’ve got about 32 feet of wall to scale that is impenetrable on the bottom and 6 feet thick at near the top. And then, if that wasn’t enough, there was a third wall further up the hill. This inner wall was another 20 feet tall and six feet wide.
So this place is a fortress. The only logical way that you could ever take this city is to wait them out. Set up camp outside the city – lock up the whole place for a few years and wait until they run out of food. That was about the only logical option.
But God had another plan that defied logic. In God’s plan, all they had to do is march around the city once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day – doing things the way God had instructed, and when they were all done, to blast their horns and yell as loud as they could. Then the walls would fall down and they could go up and take the city.
Now if you were one of those Israelite soldiers, what would you be thinking as you hear these instructions? You know how the story ends, but these guys didn’t. They never heard this story when they were in Sunday school. All they knew was that they were going up against these Jericho-ians who looked like giants who were in an impenetrable fortress, and Joshua, their new leader expects the walls just to fall down on their own after they march around it 13 times. Now tell me, if you were one of those Israelites, what would you be thinking?
I would be thinking something like, “This is a terrible idea. There is no way that this is going to accomplish anything. We are wasting our time and we are looking like complete idiots doing it.”
It’s almost like when God asks us to do certain things today. When God prompts us to invite our neighbour to church, or to publicly stand up for the truth, or to pray for the lady in front of us in the grocery line, we might have those exact same thoughts.
“This is a terrible idea. There is no way that this is going to accomplish anything. We are wasting our time and we are looking like complete idiots doing it.”
I can think of several occasions in my life where God has prompted or led me to do something that doesn’t really seem to make sense in the moment. And often my first response is to question whether God really knows what He’s doing and try to make an excuse not to do it. I think those very thoughts. “This is a terrible idea. There is no way that this is going to accomplish anything. It’ll be a waste of time and I’m going to look like a complete idiot doing it.”
But over the years, I’ve discovered that regardless of the potential outcome, obedience to God is always the best choice. Time and time again, God has proven my fears to be unfounded and often, my obedience to God leads to incredible blessings for me and for others.
Which is exactly what we see in Joshua’s case. Regardless of what Joshua and his men must have thought about God’s strange instructions, they chose to obey. We continue in verse 6.
6 So Joshua called together the priests and said, “Take up the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, and assign seven priests to walk in front of it, each carrying a ram’s horn.” 7 Then he gave orders to the people: “March around the town, and the armed men will lead the way in front of the Ark of the Lord.”
8 After Joshua spoke to the people, the seven priests with the rams’ horns started marching in the presence of the Lord, blowing the horns as they marched. And the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant followed behind them. 9 Some of the armed men marched in front of the priests with the horns and some behind the Ark, with the priests continually blowing the horns. 10 “Do not shout; do not even talk,” Joshua commanded. “Not a single word from any of you until I tell you to shout. Then shout!” 11 So the Ark of the Lord was carried around the town once that day, and then everyone returned to spend the night in the camp. Joshua 6:6-11
Now if you’ve ever obeyed the voice of God and nothing happened – you can probably relate to Joshua and the Israelites at this point. These guys had stepped out in faith, carefully obeying God exactly as He had prescribed, and nothing happened. Not a single brick or stone fell off that wall. It seems as if their obedience had so far resulted in nothing. I can almost imagine the talk around the campfire that night.
“I told you this was a terrible idea. We didn’t accomplish anything. That was a total waste of time and we looked like complete idiots doing it.”
Now of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps these guys had a lot more faith in God that I give them credit for. Maybe they were confident that God knew exactly what He was doing even if they didn’t see the results. Maybe they trusted God even if they looked like complete idiots as they silently marched around the city and nothing happened.
We don’t really know, but we do know this. We know that they got up the next morning and they obeyed God once again. Verse 12 says…
12 Joshua got up early the next morning, and the priests again carried the Ark of the Lord. 13 The seven priests with the rams’ horns marched in front of the Ark of the Lord, blowing their horns. Again the armed men marched both in front of the priests with the horns and behind the Ark of the Lord. All this time the priests were blowing their horns. 14 On the second day they again marched around the town once and returned to the camp. They followed this pattern for six days.
For six days, Joshua and Israelites faithfully obeyed God with no apparent results. I wonder how often they doubted the effectiveness of this tactic? I wonder how often they doubted God? I can’t say for sure, but marching around the city once a day all week with no results could have been pretty discouraging to say the least.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you have experienced that in your life. Not the marching around the city bit, but discouragement in following God.
Often when we obey God, we do it expecting Him to do certain things for us. We expect that our obedience will result in God’s blessing in some way. And it does, but God’s ways and God’s timing and God’s blessings are often not what we expect and often not what we would choose. We don’t always see immediate results. In fact, there are times when we don’t see results period. Sometimes the results of our obedience are completely unseen to us. And when we can’t see the results in front of us, we can get discouraged and disheartened.
But we have to trust that God knows what He’s doing. One of my go-to verses in times of discouragement is Galatians 6:9 which says…
“So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9 NET
It is easy to grow weary in doing good. It is easy to grow weary in obeying God without seeing those immediate results. But what keeps us going is the knowledge that in due time, we will reap if we do not give up. God will work out his plan and we reap the benefit of our obedience. Now that might take six days, it might take six years, or it might take a lifetime, but we can trust that we will reap if we do not give up. We must not grow weary.
Thankfully, in our story, the Israelites didn’t grow weary. Day seven came around and they were ready to carry out God’s final instructions. Verse 15.
15 On the seventh day the Israelites got up at dawn and marched around the town as they had done before. But this time they went around the town seven times. 16 The seventh time around, as the priests sounded the long blast on their horns, Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the town!
(Then jump down to verse 20)
20 When the people heard the sound of the rams’ horns, they shouted as loud as they could. Suddenly, the walls of Jericho collapsed, and the Israelites charged straight into the town and captured it.
Joshua 6:15-16 & 20
The Israelites obedience paid off. God knew exactly what He was doing and as always, God kept his Word and gave them the victory over the city, it’s king, and all it’s strong warriors.
So what’s the lesson for us? Why did God have that story recorded in the Bible for us to read thousands of years later? What does He want us to learn about Himself?
Well, let I’m sure there are many lessons in here that we could learn, but I’ll quickly mention two.
#1. God knows what He’s doing even though we don’t.
There are many, many times when we don’t know what in the world God is doing. There are many times when we don’t understand how he is going to keep his Word or how He is going to bring good out of our situation or why He leads us to do things that don’t make sense.
But God knows what He’s doing. This story is just one example of that. We see this throughout the Bible and I know many of us can testify that we’ve seen that in our own lives. There are many times in my life when I’ve looked back and said “Wow! I’m so glad that God led me like he did. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I’m so glad God knew how this was going to work out.”
Romans 11:33 says..
33 Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!
34 For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to give him advice?
35 And who has given him so much
that he needs to pay it back?
36 For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.
God knows what He’s doing even though we don’t. He is in absolute control and he will work out every situation for his glory.
And that ties right into the second lesson from the story.
#2. Obeying God is always your best choice.
And I know that sounds like a very “Christian” thing to say – of course, the pastor would tell you that obeying God is always your best choice. But it really is!
Can you imagine if the Israelites had tried to take Jericho any other way? What other strategy or tactic could they have employed that would have given better, more effective results than simply marching around the city and shouting loudly? Taking cities like Jericho would often require years of sieging and massive expense – and the win was never a guarantee. But this took them one week and the win was handed to them when all the walls fell down. Obeying God really was the best choice.
And it always is. We’re often tempted to do things our own way because we think our way is better. Maybe God’s way seems ridiculous or difficult or unnecessary.
- Doing kind things for the neighbours who act like a jerk seems ridiculous.
- Confessing your sin to someone and making things right with someone you’ve wronged might seem unnecessary.
- Reserving sexual intimacy for marriage might seem really difficult.
But obedience to God is always your best choice. Again, you might not see it in the moment, but when you look back, you’ll always be glad that you choose to obey God.
So I don’t know what sort of things you’re facing this week. I don’t know what situations God has allowed to come into your life that maybe you don’t understand. Maybe God is asking you to doing something that doesn’t make sense. Maybe you have no idea what God wants you to do at this point – it’s just a difficult situation…
But I know this much. God knows exactly what He’s doing. God’s wisdom is far beyond ours. God is faithful. God is trustworthy. And even though we don’t see how this is going to work out, we can have confidence in our God – He knows exactly how this is going to work out.
Our job is simply to trust and obey. Obeying God is always your best choice.