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 (Manna 75: Towards Maturity)
Conquest of Canaan— Jericho (II)
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Conquest of Canaan—Jericho (II)

Based on a sermon by Caleb Lee—Singapore

In our previous issue, we studied two of the protagonists of the conquest of Jericho: Rahab and the inhabitants of Jericho. The latter serves as a reminder to us to quickly repent when we have stepped out of God’s love. In contrast, Rahab serves as an example of faith that is demonstrated through immediate action. Part 2 of this article focuses on Joshua and the people of Israel who went to war.


Acknowledging the True Leader

So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshipped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” Then the Commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Josh 5:14–15)

Being the leader of the people of Israel, Joshua may have considered himself to be the commander of the Lord’s army. But this encounter reminded him who was actually in charge. Joshua might have been appointed to lead the people of Israel, but God was the true ruler and commander. To his credit, Joshua responded immediately and appropriately to acknowledge God as the commander of the Israelites.

The consequences of being too presumptuous can be deadly, as the following example illustrates.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” … And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.”

(Isa 6:1–5)

In this passage, there are two persons who had made the same mistake. One of these is King Uzziah who started off as a very good king. He did what was right in God’s eyes; he sought out the Lord (2 Chr 26:4–5). He modernized agriculture and improved the nation’s economy; he was a brilliant military tactician and weapons inventor (2 Chr 26:6–15). Unfortunately, he let fame get to his head; he forgot who the true ruler of the Israelite nation was. He overstepped the boundaries of his royal office by burning incense, which was the exclusive duty of priests. When warned of his error, he reacted by losing his temper. Consequently, he died a leper (cf. 2 Chr 26:16–23).

The other is Isaiah, narrator of the above passage. Being the prophet entrusted with the task of proclaiming judgment on the people of Israel and reprimanding them for their sins may have led him to think more highly of himself than he ought (cf. Isa 1–5). But at the sight of God’s awesome glory, he realized his own lowliness and immediately acknowledged his uncleanness (Isa 6:5). In response, God sent a seraphim to touch his mouth with a piece of coal, and he was cleansed of his iniquity.

We can thus see the dramatically different ends befalling two leaders. Both had received reminders of their error. But one persisted in pride and died; the other realized his error and was cleansed.

Taking God’s Side

And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” (Josh 5:13)

Joshua’s question “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” is a very natural one. Humans are wont to divide the world into different camps—friend or foe; ally or competitor. Such categorization may be useful in society or at the workplace to help us guard against danger. However, we may unknowingly bring such a mindset into church—dividing our brethren into “friend” or “foe” camps, depending on whether their stances on issues align with ours; or claiming our spiritual “lineage” from different leaders (cf. 1 Cor 3:4). Worse, we begin to think of God in this way as well. When things go well for us, we are full of praise and thanksgiving. When we encounter obstacles, we wonder whether God is on our side.

Doubting God’s support is tantamount to making ourselves—instead of God—the center of our faith. In contrast, we can make God the center by asking whether we are on His side. This question can also help us examine ourselves to see whether we have unnecessarily placed ourselves in different camps. The most important position for us to be in is to be on the side of God. How do we do this?

When the Commander of the Lord’s army replied that He had come “as Commander of the Lord’s army,” Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped. He did not stop there but continued to ask what God’s command was and went on to fulfill it. Because of his obedience, the walls of Jericho crumbled before Israel.

Besides acknowledging his true leader, Joshua’s example highlights what a person on God’s side will do—he seeks to know what God wants and immediately does what God commands. And each time we take God’s side, we shall fell the strongest of walls; the seemingly impossible becomes possible.


Obeying God’s Word

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives for yourself, and circumcise the sons of Israel again the second time.” So Joshua made flint knives for himself, and circumcised the sons of Israel at the hill of the foreskins. … So it was, when they had finished circumcising all the people, that they stayed in their places in the camp till they were healed.”

(Josh 5:2–3, 8)

It took a certain amount of faith for the men of Israel to obey God’s command to be circumcised at that particular moment. Geographically, they were very near the city of Jericho. It does not take a veteran soldier to know that alertness and top-level fitness would be absolutely critical if one’s enemies were just a stone’s throw away. While these able-bodied men were recovering from circumcision, their enemies could have easily attacked and slaughtered everybody. Despite such a risk, the Israelites obeyed God’s command, for they understood that circumcision was the sign of the covenant between them and God, which the Lord had established with Abraham (Gen 17:10–14). Wandering in the wilderness, they had no chance to be circumcised. This would have rendered them ineligible to receive God’s promised blessings under the terms of the covenant between God and Abraham.

Apart from physical circumcision, God also expected His people to circumcise their hearts:

“The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day. Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.” (Deut 10:15–16)

When the people of Israel willingly subjected themselves to God’s command and underwent physical circumcision at Gilgal (Josh 5:9), their hearts were also truly circumcised.

After their circumcision, the people were able to partake of the Passover (Josh 5:10–11). The purpose of the Passover was to remind the Israelites how God had delivered them from Egypt. But this particular Passover in Joshua chapter 5 was more significant: during the first Passover, the people of Israel had physically come out of Egypt, but their hearts had remained there. In contrast, during this particular Passover observance, Egypt had been totally removed from their hearts, and the people finally enjoyed true deliverance.

This incident reminds us that if we want true blessing and deliverance, our obedience to God must not be contingent on the surrounding conditions. Even though it may be inconvenient or even dangerous to fulfill God’s command, we must still do it, for God neither speaks nor commands frivolously.

Listening and Persisting

And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him. (Josh 6:4–5)

The people of Israel were commanded to circle the city for a total of thirteen times. Even more unusual, the people were to remain silent as they walked. Why was silence so important?
There are two possible reasons.

Listening to God’s Signal

First, silence was crucial so that the people could hear the trumpets sounded by the priests. The function of the trumpets was to rally the people to march as well as to shout (cf. Josh 6:4–5, 8). Although it was the same trumpets, different sounds signaled different things. The people had to know what they were supposed to do. Today, are we familiar with the sounds of God’s trumpets? Are we able to hear God’s voice? Do we understand what God wants us to do?

Test of Faith

Second, God commanded the people to be silent in order to test their faith. Imagine walking around a city for six days without anything happening. The people of Jericho may have initially wondered what was going on and perhaps even had been slightly fearful. But as the days passed without any attack, they may have started to mock the Israelites.

If we were the people of Israel, would we have endured the mockery and the seeming pointlessness and just carried on fulfilling the routine until the seventh day? On the seventh day, the Israelites still had to endure Jericho’s derision and go round the city another seven times. But relief soon came—after the Israelites had completed their seventh circuit of the city, the trumpets blasted, a signal to the Israelites to shout. The power of God was manifested and the walls of Jericho collapsed.

The Christian journey requires not just obedience but also endurance. We must have the faith not just to do, but to persist in doing what God has commanded. We must continue to hold fast to the promise of God, even if our efforts appear to have changed nothing and our present difficulties have not been resolved.

An oft-cited but still highly important example is praying for the Holy Spirit. We may have been praying for decades without apparent effect. We may have fasted, wept, pleaded, or knelt for hours; we may have been ridiculed by friends who do not believe in the Holy Spirit or tongue-speaking and been urged to leave the true church. Through these, God seems to be keeping silent. When the urge to give up seems strongest, recall how the Israelites kept marching yet another round, on yet another day. And trust that our God is a faithful God who is true to His promises.

Thoroughly Removing Sin

When the Israelites finally took Jericho, they killed all the men and women, the young and the old, and the animals. They had to destroy all the accursed things and burn down the entire city. They were warned that anyone who tried to rebuild the city would lose his son (Josh 6:16–21, 24, 26).

Many are puzzled by these extremist instructions; some point to this as evidence that the Jewish / Christian God is a cruel God. Understanding history and the context will give us a clearer picture.

Jericho belonged to one of the seven nations that God had marked for destruction in the land of Canaan. One of these nations, the Amorites, can be taken as an example of God’s intention. The wickedness of the Amorites can be inferred from God’s comment to Abraham that the Amorites would be destroyed when their iniquities exceeded God’s tolerance (cf. Gen15:16). Far from being cruel, God had been forgiving and longsuffering towards Jericho. However, finally, their sin and recalcitrance reached a point where God had to execute justice. The people of Israel were thus God’s instruments for punishment.

The command to kill everyone in the city ensured that there would be a thorough removal of all the iniquitous practices and culture that had so displeased God. In addition, it also served as a reminder to the Israelites:

“Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the Lord your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. As the nations which the Lord destroys before you, so you shall perish, because you would not be obedient to the voice of the Lord your God.” (Deut 8:19–20)

God had promised that the Israelites would be able to conquer nations much more powerful than they (Deut 9:1–4). This was not because the Israelites were righteous, but because the Canaanites were unrighteous. So when God used the Israelites as an instrument of judgment, He also wanted to remind them that if they were wicked and sinful, they too would be removed from the land.

The holy God cannot tolerate any sin. Hence, extreme measures must be taken to combat it. Jesus once taught that if the right eye caused us to sin, it ought to be plucked out; a hand that caused us to sin must be cut off. The Lord stressed, “It is better for you to enter heaven blind or maimed, than to not enter heaven at all” (Mt 5:30; Mk 9:34). Therefore, sin must never be treated lightly; indeed, we must go to extreme efforts to thoroughly remove it from our hearts and lives.


God had promised the Israelites to help them conquer Jericho. Likewise, God has promised us victory over sin and eventually, eternal life. However, we must also do our part. Joshua, the great general of the Old Testament, teaches us to recognize who our Leader is; ensure that we are on His side always by being eager to know and do His will. From the Israelites, who successfully conquered the bastion of Jericho without a single offensive blow (except on the trumpets), we learn to obey God by faith, even in the face of inconvenience and danger. If we make an effort to listen to His voice, persist in doing His will, and quickly remove sin from our hearts, God will surely give us the victory.

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Author: Caleb Lee