What the battle of Jericho can teach us about faith
You’re probably familiar with the story of Jericho. In a time of strife, Joshua led the Israelites against Canaan, but they were stymied by the fortified city of Jericho. The city was a hardened bunker, with towering walls surrounding the entirety of the city and thick securely held gates barred any entry. Breaching the walls or gates was not an option and scaling them would have been a torturous bloody affair. Normally in this kind of situation, the solution would be a siege. A brutal war of attrition where the city and its people would be slowly starved into surrender after months of blockading by the attacking army. It is a horrible kind of war that maximizes suffering for all involved while drawing out an inevitable ending.
But the Lord spoke to Joshua and told him of another strategy, one that could only be accomplished through the grace of God. Joshua relayed the orders he received from God to his men. They were to march around the walls of the city once a day for six days straight, playing trumpets and carrying the Ark of the Covenant the entire time. On the seventh day, the soldiers were to march again, this time making seven circles around the walls and at the end of the march blast their horns and cry out in a loud roar. As soon as they did, the great walls of the city fell, reduced to rubble in an instant. Fully exposed, the Israelites easily stormed the city and emerged victorious.
Like I said, this is a familiar story, and like most familiar things it’s easy to take the story of Jericho for granted. On it’s face, it’s an impressive miracle and a testament to God’s ability to make anything happen. But if you look closer, it is also a story about the importance of faith and obedience.
Try to imagine it from a less familiar point of view. Put yourselves in the shoes of one of the soldiers serving Jericho. Once you do, it becomes a much different story.
A Different Point of View
You’re a footman soldier in a brutal time. You’re one of the lowest ranked members of the Israelite army, armed with a simple spear and a flimsy shield made of layered leather and wood. War is not pretty and survival is the exception not the rule for someone in your position. Even at the start of this campaign your thoughts turn to home and what you’ve left behind. Hopefully, this can all be settled quickly and with God’s mercy you’ll be able to return home healthy and maybe with a bit of coin in your pocket to bring home to your family.
But then marching into Canaan territory a hush falls over the assembly of armed men as soon as the towering walls of Jericho come into view. Over 11 feet high, 14 feet wide, capped with an even taller stone slope. These are impenetrable, unscalable, massive walls, and everyone knows what that means - a siege.
Your heart sinks as the men begin to mutter amongst themselves about the task ahead of them. Maybe you’ve already been a part of a siege, or maybe you just know other soldiers who have been through them. What they are telling you about them is not good. As soon as you see those walls you know you’re going to be here for months, and that’s if you’re lucky. Sometimes a siege could stretch into years if the city were prepared with enough supplies.
That’s a year of misery. A year of baking in the sun, waiting. A year of foraging for food and firewood in a sparse and increasingly picked over desert. A year of throwing things over the walls and dodging rocks and arrows coming back. A year of looking over your shoulder, ready for the day an ally army of Jericho tries to ambush you from behind.
You settle in, the experienced captains are already giving some basic orders. Dig a trench here, start setting up a barricade there, take an inventory of supplies and a headcount of the men. Everyone has to report in now so they can keep track of the inevitable deserters and casualties of attrition that are sure to add up in the coming months.
But then you get word that Joshua, the commander, has different orders for everyone. Drop the shovel, stop what you’re doing, and line up. You’re part of the advanced guard, get up to where the Ark and priests with trumpets are, we’re going to march around the city. Oh yeah, and no shouting or chanting, unless you have a horn in your hand keep quiet.
What is this? A show of force? A declaration of some kind? But hey, fine, I’d rather march than dig I guess.
Then the next day the same orders are repeated. And the next day. And the day after that.
What is going on? We should be fortifying the perimeter, making sure they can’t get any spies out. We should be harassing them with slings and arrows, not shuffling our feet and babysitting priests.
Maybe you start to grumble to the other men. It isn’t exactly unreasonable to have some questions in this situation, but one doesn’t ask such questions too loudly either. Most of the other troops don’t understand what’s going on either, but then you hear it from an older captain – Joshua is getting his orders from God. You ask around, Joshua is well respected. They say he went up with Moses on Mount Sinai when he made the first tablets with the commandments. They say God talks to him directly.
As a footman soldier with little education and maybe not many hours in temple, what do you do with this information? You have two choices, you can either believe in Joshua and follow his orders, or start looking for an exit opportunity, a chance to desert.
On the seventh day things get even more strange. Today you’re told you won’t just be marching once around the city, but seven entire times. And at the end, everyone is going to yell. It seems like a cruel joke. Walking around the city seven times will take the entire day, no breaks. You’ll eat and drink while keeping pace. You’ll shiver in the early morning as the first light of dawn creeps across the cool sands, and scorch in the heat of the sun in the afternoon as your sandals bake to your feet.
But finally, the seventh cycle is complete. A cheer erupts from the exhausted army, the trumpets sound, brighter and crisper than ever before. There seems to be an extra force with them, those old priests summoning up something deep from within themselves, stronger, bigger than they themselves are.
Like a bolt of lighting, you hear a sharp, loud crack. Then it all happens at once. The walls tumble down, reduced to bricks, then stones, then rubble as they collapse. Those thick proud gates fold in on themselves and splinter like matchsticks. Over the din you hear Joshua himself, "charge!” and in that moment you know the city is yours. It is yours because God wanted it that way and no other reason.
Imagine how it would feel in that moment, to go from frustration and confusion to utter jubilation so quickly. To emerge from uncertainty and doubt to complete success. We can have it in our lives too.
The Lesson of Jericho
The lesson from the battle of Jericho is that faith is difficult. That it is impossible to understand God’s plan. Like the footman told to march around the city, we simply don’t have the perspective to see God’s will in motion. What may seem arbitrary or pointless to us in the moment could be the most important thing in our lives, the very path to our success and joy.
It also teaches us that we must put in the work ourselves. It’s not enough to say, "I trust in God” and then do whatever you feel is the best way forward. We need to listen for God in our lives, whether that voice comes through scripture, your pastor, or His will working through you, and then obey His instructions to the letter.
What would this story look like if Joshua hedged his bets? What if Joshua heard God say "take all your men and march around the city” and thought "sounds good, but just in case I’ll spare a few men for guard duty. And maybe a few to dig some fortifications. And well we should probably reserve our best men, so they are ready in case of an attack. How bout I just have half the men march around the city?” Do you think God would have thought that was following his will? No. Those walls would be standing today if Joshua waivered liked that.
Jericho teaches us that obedience to God is not something you can do in degrees. You must place your faith fully in Him, even when it’s hard to do. Even when conventional wisdom rails against it, or when the people around you begin to grumble or doubt. Faith can work miracles, but it must be true and complete.