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The great symbolic victory at Jericho
When Joshua stood by Jericho he knew that the battle of Jericho must be won because, now that they had crossed the Jordan, Israel's troops had no place to retreat to easily. Further, they could not bypass the city because that would leave their women, children, goods and cattle at Gilgal exposed to certain destruction. Joshua was surely found (Joshua 5v13-15) going about the Lord's work and gathering information about the city and its fortifications in preparation to launch his attack. He was naturally concerned about several things. First of all, he needed a plan of action. Just how would they go about attacking Jericho, probably the best fortified city of Canaan? Besieging a city like Jericho was something for which they had little or no experience. Further, they undoubtedly lacked equipment like battering rams, catapults, scaling ladders or moving towers. All they had were swords, arrows, slings, and spears which naturally would seem totally inadequate for the task before them. So how would Joshua prepare his army and how should they go about taking the city? He must have felt like the weight of the world was pressing down on his shoulders.
Can we fault Joshua for being at Jericho and surveying the situation and seeking the Lord's will on the taking of the city? We learn later that another great leader, Nehemiah, did the same when faced with the fallen condition of the walls of Jerusalem and, interestingly, the inhabitants of Jericho were later taken captive to Babylon, but returned with Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 2:34; Nehemiah 7:36) and assisted in repairing the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:2). But nevertheless, Joshua needed an encounter with the God he served that he might grasp afresh an important truth, one that was equally vital as part of his preparation for victory by the power of God. As all of God's saints tend to set their eyes on the enormous tasks facing them at times, something may have been missing in Joshua's perspective or mind-set as he looked over the city of Jericho. Perhaps he simply needed to be reminded of some very important truth for both clarification and encouragement.
Pondering these heavy thoughts, Joshua probably knew that he needed another mighty miracle from God and was startled when he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand (Joshua 5v13-151). Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you for us or for our adversaries?" When this Warrior with drawn sword replied, "No, rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord," Joshua knew that his prayers were answered and fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, "What has my lord to say to his servant?" The Captain of the Lord's host (who many commentators, from the times of the early Church Fathers, recognise as being the Lord Jesus Christ appearing as a manifestation of God, a Theophany [from the Greek theos, God, and phanero, manifest]), or better, based on the truth of John 1v1-18, a Christophany (a manifestation of the pre-incarnate Christ, who, as the Logos, is the one who reveals God). If only a man or an angel, he would certainly have repelled Joshua's worshipful response (vs. 14) for we can compare the response of Paul in Acts 14:8-20 to those who wanted to make them into gods and the response of the angel to John in Revelation 19:10. The Warrior said to Joshua, "Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy." Joshua immediately recognized that he was being addressed by deity and obeyed. The Captain of the Lord's host no doubt was indicating by the drawn sword that He was going to fight with and for Israel and also that God's long-suffering delay of judgement was over and the iniquity of the Amorites was now full (Genesis 15v16). The Israelites were to be the instruments by whom judicial punishment would fall.
Joshua was given the same kind of experience that his predecessor Moses had seen forty years earlier at the burning bush. The inspiration of that event which Moses experienced in his encounter with God, when he was instructed to remove his sandals from his feet because he was on holy ground, was now given to Joshua who would also never forget this experience of meeting God face to face. The response to Joshua's question about whose side the Man was on, actually meant, "I am on my own side." The important issue to Joshua was: "Whose side are you on?" We still use the terminology that "God is on our side," but it is more important for us to recognise that God is on His own side and the real question to men and women is "are you on His side?" Joshua was now a man totally dedicated and prepared for his task. He had witnessed the power of God in drying up the Red Sea and the Jordan River and knew that God had not changed in those forty years. He had the assurance from God that he would be successful and that his way would be prosperous and he was also spiritually prepared after having the encounter with the visible manifestation of God and being told to remove the sandals from his feet.
As the one who had come to take charge, the Lord was also reminding Joshua (and us) of both God's personal presence and the powerful provision of His vast hosts. The promise of God's personal presence always carries with it the assurance of God's personal care. Likewise, the promise of His powerful provision always carries with it the promise of His infinite supply and power no matter how impossible the problem may appear to us. So there was more, infinitely more, than Joshua's army. There was Joshua and his army, but there was also the myriads of God's angelic forces who always stand ready to do God's bidding and to serve the saints. Three other passages can serve as helpful examples for us to grasp the issue here and its significance to our daily walk:
First, by comparing 2 Kings 6:8-17. When Elisha was at Dothan with his young servant, he found himself surrounded by the army of king Ben-Hadad, who, during the night had marched out and surrounded the city of Dothan. The next morning, when Elisha's servant went out to draw water, he saw the vast army surrounding the city. Being fearful and greatly distressed, he cried out to Elisha, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" Elisha responded, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Elisha then prayed, "O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see." We then read that "the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." They were not alone for they had with them a host of God's angelic forces who soon struck the armies of the king of Syria with blindness.
A second example is found for us in Matthew 26:52-53. With the disciples still reluctant and perplexed over the fact that Christ must go to the cross, Peter drew his sword and struck the high priest's slave cutting off his ear. Jesus replied, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?"
A final example of God's angelic armies and their ministry to God's people is seen in Hebrews 1:14, which reads, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?"
In this, we see the second reason for the Commander's description of himself as "the Captain of the Lord's hosts." He was assuring Joshua of God's provision through His mighty angelic armies or His heavenly legions.
What was Joshua's appropriate response? He fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, "What has my lord to say to his servant?" How we each need this response - the response of worship and submission. Joshua quickly got the picture. He had been thinking of a conflict between the Israelites and the Canaanite armies. Perhaps he had been thinking of this as his war. Certainly he felt the load of responsibility on his shoulders. But after being confronted by the divine Commander, he was reminded of a truth he had heard Moses declare many years earlier when they stood on the banks of the Red Sea. There he had heard Moses say, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still" (Exodus 14:13b). Joshua learned afresh the truth that David also learned and would later declare, when facing Goliath, "the battle is the Lord's" (cf. 1 Samuel 17:47).
As an outworking of his worship and submission, we also see the inquiry of faithful servant Joshua, looking to his Commander for direction with his words, "What has my lord to say to his servant?" The passage reminds us that God is not present to fight our battles or help in our causes or jump to our rescue when we get in trouble, instead, it reminds us that the battle is His and that our role is that of soldier-servants. We are here to serve Him, to do His will, to follow Him and depend on Him completely.
The children of Israel were also ready for their task. Their spirits were high, their adrenaline was no doubt pumping, and they were eager to go up from Gilgal and tear down the walls of Jericho brick by brick in their own power, but this was God's holy war and He was going to demonstrate to them that He did not need them to conquer the land. So, rather than ask them to perform militarily, He said, in effect, "I do not want you to do anything. I am going to demonstrate to you that even though you are confronted with an impossible task, humanly speaking, the victory is Mine." Jericho was a representative city which had existed for many centuries and stood there as a citadel, the bastion of strength for the land of Canaan due to the nature of its construction and location next to the Jordan River. So this symbolic victory was designed to teach the Israelites that God was the source of all power and they should be totally reliant on him alone for their salvation. Just as they were restrained from any military activity whatsoever so they would be forced to be totally reliant on their God, Christ brought salvation through His mighty triumph at Calvary when all the might of the world's military, as represented by the Roman occupying forces who policed His illegal execution, were defeated by the blood of Jesus and He led all the forces of darkness in a "triumphal procession" (Colossians 2v14-15; Ephesians 4v8).
In Joshua 6:13-14 we read the details of how the Israelites marched around the city once a day for six days, and on the seventh day they marched around the city seven times. They were also instructed to be totally silent for, in verse 101, we are informed that:
Joshua had commanded the people, saying, Ye shall not shout nor make any noise with your voice, neither shall any word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then shall ye shout.
We can imagine how difficult it would be for the people to keep quiet in these circumstances. No doubt the defenders tried to bolster themselves for the ensuing siege which they would have been anticipating by standing on the walls of the city and hurling insults down on the marching group outside. Joshua's army would have been itching to fight and their "blood would be boiling," but they had to humble themselves in marching around the city in total silence. For the zealous Christian witness this scenario should be familiar, for we should always be ready to endure insults and ridicule yet the Lord has told us that the battle is His:: "The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But victory belongs to the Lord" (Proverbs 21v311). We only have to wait for him to bring the victory!
Somehow they held out until the seventh day came and, after the seventh journey around the city they were told to shout. As their shout finished the walls of Jericho fell flat and thus they were spared a two to three year siege and this symbolic victory demonstrated that, regardless of the fortifications put up by the inhabitants of Canaan, God could overcome all obstacles in a moment. The Israelites ran into the city with the intention of obeying all God's instructions and in the midst of all the turmoil, confusion, and the noise of battle, verse 22 records that Joshua instructed his two spies to go to Rahab's house for, despite the chaos, they kept their promise to save her and her household.
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