Theme: Total Obedience to the End
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.
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. 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. 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.” 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. 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. 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.”
There’s a third step in the preparation of the people for their victory, though it overlaps the one I’ve just given. First of all, be silent. Second of all, obey. But thirdly, obey in all things to the very end. I call this “total obedience to the very end.” This third point is important because obedience that is not total and to the end is not true obedience. It’s really disobedience. And we have to emphasize this because of our tendency to start out well at the beginning. We really do obey, and we want to follow God. But we don’t do it to the end. And so, we miss the blessing. We have to stress that because God does not operate on our timetable. Now, we Americans have tight timetables, and we keep moving it up all the time. And if God doesn’t operate on our timetable, well, God better watch out because He’s going to miss what we’re doing. That’s the way we think. And yet, we have to learn that God moves when God will move. And we have to wait for Him. And to do that, we have to keep obeying until He moves.
Now, that was the case with the people. As you read this story carefully, you sense that Joshua did not tell the people exactly what was happening. God told Joshua exactly what was to happen, but when Joshua gave his commands to the people, he did not give the whole thing. Apparently, Joshua told the people what they were to do one day at a time. After they had carried out Joshua’s instructions, they came back to camp. And absolutely nothing had happened. The walls of the city were still there. The people had not surrendered, and so far as they could tell, they were no closer to a victory over that city of Jericho than they had been 24 hours earlier. Perhaps they said to themselves, “Well, alright. It didn’t work today. We’ll see what Joshua has in store tomorrow.”
The next day the command was precisely the same. The people did as Joshua said, but absolutely nothing happened. This same thing went on the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth days. And they came to the seventh day, and once again Joshua gave the people their instructions. But this time it was different: he told them to encircle the city seven times. But after they had done that, still nothing happened. Then at the end of the seventh time around the city, the command was given, “Now, it’s the time to shout.” The priests blew the horns, the people shouted and, well, you know how that particular story ended.
This story reminds us of another story in the Old Testament, one that also concerned a military leader. Naaman was a Syrian general. He had carried off some captives, one of whom proved quite helpful to him as the story unfolds. We discover that although Naaman was a conquering general, he was also a leper, for which there was no known cure. Naturally, it was a matter of great distress in the kingdom. And one of these slaves who had been carried off from Israel was a young girl who was a servant to Naaman’s wife. And she said to her mistress, “If Naaman, the master, were in Israel, there’s a prophet there, Elisha, who could cure him.” So, the wife went to her husband and said, “This girl here says that there’s a prophet in Israel who can cure people.” And Naaman said, “Well, nobody here is achieving anything in terms of my cure. It’s a desperate situation.” Naaman then went to the king and asked to go to Israel to see if Elisha could heal him.
When Naaman got to Israel he inquired of the king, but the king was frightened because he thought that this would provoke a quarrel with their Syrian enemy. The king told Naaman where Elisha was, but Elisha could not receive Naaman. So the prophet sent him a message: “Go wash in the Jordan River seven times, and then you’ll be cured.” Now, we know that Naaman didn’t like that. He didn’t like being rebuffed, and he didn’t like the directions. Naaman thought that Elisha would come out, wave his hands over him, touch his leprosy, and heal him. But instead, Elisha told him to go wash in the river. Why does he have to wash in a muddy river in Israel when there is perfectly good water in Damascus?
Although he did not like what Elisha told him, one of his servants said, “You know, I’ve never seen anyone cured by bathing in a muddy river either, but it is worth a try. You’ve come a long way. If the prophet had told you to do some great feat, you’d go do it, while this is just a little thing. Why don’t you try it?”
So Naaman went into the river. But when he came out, he was still not cured. However, the servant reminded Naaman that Elisha told him to do it seven times. Even as he kept going into the river each time, the spot was not looking any better. It was only after he came out of the water the seventh time, in utter, total obedience to the command of the prophet, that he was cured.
That’s what we have to learn to do with God; we need to be faithful in our obedience to the very end. We know that it’s not so hard to start out obeying God. You know there are things you’ve been told you should do, and so you start out doing them. But God sometimes tests us in our obedience, and when that happens, what is hard is persevering in your obedience. I look at that situation, and I find myself asking why God does it that way. Why if it’s so hard does God do that with us? Well certainly it trains us in character. But I think maybe it does something else.
Here were these people walking around the walls seven days and seven times on the seventh day. I don’t know what they were learning as they went around the walls, but I suspect that at least one thing they were learning is this: that city is never going to be taken by us unless God intervenes. You see, the first time around, you might have been looking for a weak place in the walls. The second time, you might have been looking for a door that somebody accidentally left open. But after you’d gone around that city 13 times, you would know that you were never going to get in unless God made the opening. Maybe that’s why God calls upon us to obey over such a long period of time, often in difficulty and certainly time and time again. It is so we will learn that if the victory is going to come, it’s going to come by God, who is in the business of knocking down walls and giving His people victories.
1. Why does it seem that Joshua did not tell Israel from the beginning all of God’s plan for taking Jericho? What was that meant to teach them?
2. From the lesson, what does Dr. Boice suggest is the reason why God calls us to persevere in obedience?
REFLECTION: Can you think of a situation when God called you to persevere, and you were not sure you could make it through the trial? What sustained you along the way until God’s purposes were made clear?