Theme: The Challenge before Them
This week’s lessons teach us how Israel was going to achieve their victory over Jericho, and what things God wants from us as well.
SCRIPTURE: Joshua 6:1-5
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.”
A number of years ago, there was a teacher at the University of Pennsylvania who taught in the ROTC program in the area of military strategy. His name was Lieutenant Colonel Ferris Kirkland, and he would often speak to his students about the most stirring lecture he had ever heard. Kirkland had invited a guest lecturer to his class to talk about the strategy of an ancient military general. The guest described to the students how this man, even so many years ago, exercised techniques that soldiers have used many times since. Kirkland gave some examples, such as driving into the very center of the enemies’ territory and thus dividing his forces. Then, having divided the enemy army, one would then conduct a clean-up operation, first on the one side and then on the left. He also talked about surprise tactics and psychological warfare.
After he got to the end of the lecture, he had the students reflect on who this general might be. They suggested a number of possibilities. Napoleon came first to mind for many, as well as Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great, and so on—all the great military conquerors of history. And none of these was the answer. When the guessing was all ended, the lecturer described who this ancient military genius was. It was Joshua, and the campaign he was describing was the campaign we have for us in the sixth through eleventh chapters of the book we have been studying.
Israel struck to the west from the desert, and then when they had divided the country, they conducted a campaign on either side. In Joshua’s case, they first went to the south in a series of battles that the Bible records, and then finally to the north, where the wrap-up operations began. The problem that confronted Joshua at the very beginning of the campaign was that this way of entering the country was obviously known to the defenders and, therefore, they had made elaborate precautions to defend it. At the easternmost approach to this way that led up to the high road that linked the country stood the great, ancient fortress of Jericho. Jericho really wasn’t much of a city in size. We speak of it as a city, but it was really more like a military outpost, not large but terribly well defended. It was surrounded by high, solid walls. And anyone who was attempting to invade the country from the east would obviously have to take Jericho first. You couldn’t bypass Jericho and simply make your way inland because that would leave a large military force at your rear, leaving that part of your army exposed.
On the other hand, because of the defenses it was very difficult to overpower this city. Undoubtedly those who lived within it were experienced in warfare, and any military leader approaching the country the way Joshua did must have pondered what was to be done about the city. Perhaps it was around this time, when Joshua was trying to figure out what to do, that the commander of the Lord’s host appeared to him with the instruction for the battle.
You notice that Joshua did not do what we would normally expect of a military commander. Joshua did not assemble his war council to determine the best way to attack Jericho. They did not try to take the city using the standard methods of the day. They did not try to construct siege ramps, nor did they try to cut off Jericho’s food supply and starve the city into surrender. Instead, the Lord specifically told Joshua how to go about the conquest of the city, as peculiar as the plan was from the standpoint of military strategy. And Joshua obeyed the Lord’s instructions. We read of it in Joshua 6, starting in verse 2: “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have the seven priests carry trumpets on ram’s horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout. Then the wall of the city will collapse. And the people will go up, every man straight in.’”
What was it about Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land that looked like the result of military planning? What about the taking of Jericho was surprising because it was not consistent with what an army would do?
Why did Joshua handle Jericho the way he did? What lessons was it meant to teach?