Series: Joshua | Onward
Theme: Walls and Worship
Bible Reading: Joshua 6:1-27
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Week #2 of our special re-opening sermon series “Joshua | Onward” we are looking at a key moment in the Joshua journey. Just after the joyous re-entry into the Promised Land, Joshua is confronted with a huge hurdle, the walls of Jericho. What are the hurdles that we are finding as we move into this new era of church life? And how can the trust of Joshua and the Israelites guide us? And what is the important role of worship in the Jericho story?
We are moving onward – as we reopen, as we prepare for a huge Christmas season and an even bigger 2022 – we are opening up the story of Joshua to see what guidance, wisdom or encouragement that is relevant.
We are particularly looking at three key moments in the story of Joshua and the Israelites journey back into the Promised Land. Let’s remember the story so far.
God chose Abraham and his descendants to be the people of God and promised them a place to live – the Promised Land. But after only living in this land for 4 generations – about 100 years – they end up in Egypt and enslaved for the next 400 years. God hears their cries, rescues them through the seas, leads them through the desert to the edge of the Promised Land. Then in Numbers 13, Moses sends in 12 spies who check out the land – one who happens to be a very young Joshua – and it is as good as the stories they remembered, but there are people living in their now … big, scary people. And the people panic and refuse to enter … and end up wandering in the desert for another 40 years (or a long time).
Last week we picked up the story when Moses died, Joshua becomes leader and they are to get ready as the time had come to enter the Promised land. God commanded them to be “Strong and Courageous” – of which we learnt last week that Strong and Courageous was not being fearless and mighty in battle but rather to be strong in our faith, to trust in God and to be committed or be determined in doing what was right. Be strong and courageous.
They are now camped on the east of the Jordan and they are ready to enter. In chapter 2 Joshua – just like Moses – also sends some spies into the land to check out what is there, which is where we first meet Rahab who helped them. Then in chapter 3 and 4, God (with a bit of a nod back to the Exodus), parts the River Jordan and Joshua leads all the people across on dry land and into the Promised Land. And then in chapter 5:10 we read that they celebrated their first Passover in the Promised land where they remembered God’s saving power! And all was great.
But moving forward deeper into the Promised Land, two significant things happen … 1) Joshua meets the angelic commander of God’s army (which I will come back to in a moment) and 2) they are confronted with the walled city of Jericho.
Things had been going really well up to this point – they had crossed the Jordan, they had settled and celebrated Passover … and they are feeling confident as they are moving onward. They are feeling great but they come around the corner and there dominating the horizon is the walled city of Jericho. You can almost imagine them pulling up in shock as they consider this first hurdle or barrier before them. Jericho was a strategic and well protected military outpost. If they were going to keep moving onward, they had to deal with this wall.
We are supposed to be relating this story back to us, so I am wondering in our situation of reopening and heading into the Christmas Season and Kevin arriving and 2022 … what are the issues or walls that are before us? Can we see anything on the horizon that makes us pull up in shock as we realise that we wonder how are we going to get past that?
What are the hurdles or things that might make us hard to move forward as a church or as individuals?
You might like to write some of your thoughts in the comment section why I share a few that I think.
I think one of the walls that we are facing as we emerge out of lockdown is … feeling exhausted. Lockdown might have been physically less intensive, but in terms of drain on our emotions or our energy … lockdown has left many of our inner wells drained. And now as we need to consider the busy Christmas season and then launching into 2022 … we are so tired we are wondering whether that wall is just too big. And this is being reflected in other walls – like wondering whether we are going to have enough leaders for our Christmas programs? Or enough people on rosters?
Another wall which I know that Church Council has been trying to address is that our church only has one manse and from next year we are going to have two ministers! For the past couple of months, a small team has been battling with this crazy housing market to try and secure an appropriate home for Kevin and his family and at times this seemed an insurmountable wall.
So – what about you? What walls can you see on your horizon? As I said, you can write them in the comment section – and as you ponder that, I have another 3 minutes with Kevin Video for us to watch before I launch into part 2 of the sermon…
So glad that worked this week. Back to the story … Joshua and the Israelites come around the corner and they are confronted with the looming wall of Jericho. How were they going to move past this wall and onward into embracing the inheritance of God’s promised land for them?
Ok … let’s pause this and talk about the huge elephant in the room. As the people of God, why are they declaring war on the Canaanites? It doesn’t seem ok to drive people from their homes just because you want their land? And how do we understand those difficult verses from our bible reading – verses 20 and 21: … the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city … and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.
The whole issue of war, plunder and killing in the Old Testament is hard and complicated as it seems to go against the love, peace and inclusion of the rest of the Bible, and I don’t think that there is a simple or satisfying answer.
We might argue that it was the land that God promised the Israelites, so therefore taking it by force is ok. But the Canaanites also claimed the land as their own, and the Israelites had been gone for the previous 400 years.
Some theologians argue that the Canaanites were not good people, that they were doing wicked things and not living God’s way. (see Leviticus 18 or Deuteronomy 12:29-31) – so in a sense the war was just God’s judgement on them. Maybe.
Or there is some evidence that Jericho was not a city of citizens but rather a military post, as if killing soldiers instead of people they makes it ok.
One thing that both historians and theologians agree on is that much of the battle writing in the Old Testament is not factual reporting but more hyperbole … it is purposely exaggerated. Just like we would do talking about a football match. “We destroyed the other team, absolutely annihilated them.”
So when we read verse 21 that they “destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys”, they are boasting that they won the battle, they didn’t actually kill every living thing. This happens throughout the Old Testament where in one chapter it says they killed everyone, only to be commanded not to intermarry with them in the next chapter – obviously they were not completely wiped out. This understanding might soften the horribleness of the story, but it doesn’t change the fact that people still died in this story of Joshua and Jericho.
I really wish there was a simple way to hold all this together, but there is not. It is just another one of these messy aspects of the Bible that we sit with, without having all the answers.
But I wish to finish with a few encouraging gems that sit within the text for today and see what God might say to us. Actually the first is not within the text but in the verses just before. Joshua is looking at the strong wall of Jericho when a man holding a sword appears. Joshua asks “Are you for us or for our enemies?” If you know the story, the man is an angel, the commander of the Lord’s army … so it is a bit of a funny question to be asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies”. Do you know what the angel replied? Neither. Sorry??. The commander of the Lord’s Army is not there to help Joshua, nor is on the side of the enemy? Who is he fighting for? The angel is on God’s side.
This is simple but profound. It is not Joshua’s battle to bring down the walls of Jericho. No, Joshua and the people of Israel are participants in the narrative but it is not their strength that is going up against the wall. The angel makes that clear. He has not come to help Joshua. He has come to help God because it is God who is going to bring down the walls.
Are you getting this? When we look at the walls before us, the ones that are looming on our horizon … sure, we are part of the solution but it is not in our own strength that we will overcome … it is on relying on God strength and help.
Which is reflected in the instructions that Joshua got within our bible reading. There is no storming the gates or scaling the walls or any other expected military manoeuvre. Actually for the first 6 days they weren’t even allowed to speak but rather the Israelites were to follow the priests and the worship trumpets who were following the ark of the Covenant. Symbolically saying … just simply follow the way of the Lord.
One commentary suggested that this silent worship was an invitation for the people within Jericho to come back to God, to respond to God’s grace and invitation. Maybe. Or maybe it was making it perfectly clear that the walls were coming down only through God’s intervention – because all they were doing was following the ark. Actually the narrative doubles down on this idea in chapter 7 when the Israelites come up against the city of AI and spurred on by the success in Jericho, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it…” rather than first checking in with God … and they got beaten. We have to lean into God’s strength rather than our own.
But back to the Jericho story. They silently follow the ark for 6 days, but on the seventh day on the seventh time around, the worship broke into shouting and walls came down.
Have you noticed that I keep talking about the participation of the Israelites at Jericho as worship? I may be taking a little bit of licence here because all they were doing is marching, but I am not the only one who has suggested this worship angle.
When the Israelites first laid eyes on Jericho it would have been this huge overwhelming wall in the way. The hope of moving onwards would have been fading fast, but God encourages them … don’t worry. I am with you on this. Let’s see what happens if we do things this way. Just follow.
And as they are walking along, for hours as they went around seven times, you can almost imagine them turning the rhythm of the march into worship. Their eyes are focused on the ark ahead, God was leading them onward – and the worship increased. And the trumpet worship band is going off and it feels like the presence of God is right there. God has been faithful. God will continue be faithful. And the worship builds and builds until … we find that the wall that was in the way is just not that imposing anymore, actually in places it is not there at all.
I wonder what it would be for us, with the walls that are looming on our horizon, to not approach them with a sense of doubt about whether we have the strength to overcome them, but rather to instead move into a rhythm of worship. Sure I am already feeling tired and the Christmas season is upon us … but instead of just digging deep and trying to keep going, what about if I … simply worship.
What about the difficult situation about finding Kevin and his family a house to rent in amongst this crazy housing market? I am not sure if this is a result of worship, but certainly our prayers were answered because almost out of the blue, a house has become available in Wahroonga, up here Waitara, which is just perfect of Kevin and Inae. And we applied and we got it. It had been a massive amount of work by the team combined with a bit of a miracle … but we got it.
So, I am going to call the worship band up. As they come up, yes, this is probably a little simplistic. Not all walls come crashing down with worship … but it is a good place to start. Just as the ark went ahead of the Israelites, we need to keep our eyes focus on Jesus, not the wall, focus on Jesus. After all, it is not our strength that will pull down the wall but rather we can do all things in Jesus who strengthen us. Let’s get into the rhythm of those around us who are there to support us, and let us allow ourselves, even in the shadow of the wall, let us allow ourselves to be caught up in worship.