The Book of Joshua Series
Conquering the Land
“The Destruction of Fortresses – Victory at Jericho”
Joshua 5.13 – 6.21
During the past month we have been going through the book of Joshua and today we come to the familiar story of the fall of Jericho. After forty years of wandering in the wilderness the Lord called and commissioned Joshua to lead the children of Israel into the Promise Land. The Lord commanded Joshua to lead the people to the eastern bank of the raging Jordan River where the Lord miraculously cut off the waters into one heap allowing the children of Israel to cross on dry land and take their first steps onto the Promise Land. The people camped at Gilgal where the Lord rolled back the reproach of forty years of spiritual neglect and the people celebrated the Passover on the plains of Jericho.
Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing 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?” He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord.” And Joshua 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 said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (5.13-15)
The Captain of the Lord’s Host
While camped at Gilgal Joshua waited for instructions from the Lord of how to make conquest into the land. And it came about that Joshua saw a man with a drawn sword. Joshua being on military alert didn’t know at first who this person was so he inquires, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down. The fact the Joshua bows down and worship this man indicates that he knew that this was the Lord Himself. This encounter reminds us of how the Lord appeared to Abraham in Genesis chapter eighteen, to Jacob in Genesis chapter thirty-two, and to Moses in Exodus chapter three.
The man that Joshua saw was the pre-incarnate Christ. This is what theologians call a Christophany or Christ appearance. You see, Christ has always been the manifestation of God to humanity. Christ is the radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact representation of His nature. (Heb.1.3) So on the plains of Jericho Joshua meets the One to whom his name points, Jesus. Joshua meets the greater Joshua. And the captain of the Lord’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. The Lord’s command for Joshua to take off his sandals was just as He commanded Moses to do prior to Moses leading the people out of Egypt. (Ex.3.5)
And here we see the Lord commands Joshua to take off his sandals prior to entering in the conquest of the land. The Lord’s command for Joshua to take off his sandals was an affirmation to Joshua that the Lord would be with him as He was with Moses. (3.7) So on the eve of beginning the conquest of Jericho the Captain of the Lord’s Host wanted Joshua to know that He was the Captain of the conquest and Joshua was His subordinated. Just as Joshua had led the Lord’s army under Moses now he would lead the Lord’s army under the command of the Lord Himself.
The Conquest of the Land was a Spiritual Matter
Joshua chapter six introduces us to a new phase in the book of Joshua. Joshua would lead the people into a total of thirty-one campaigns in their conquest of the land. (12.7-24) Conquering the land would begin at Jericho and the central highlands (chapters 6-9), then move to the south (chapter ten), and lastly to the north (chapter eleven). But I want you to see that the Lord appearing to Joshua prior to the conquest of Jericho underscores the fact that the conquest of Jericho and the conquest of the land was not a military matter but a spiritual matter. This is very important to understand. The conquest of the land was not a military matter but a spiritual matter.
To understand the conquest as a spiritual matter we need to remember that the covenant God instituted with Abraham had two basic features. One being the “Promise Land” and the other being the “descendants of Abraham.” Both the Promise Land and the descendants of Abraham were essential to bring forth the Christ. Therefore, possession of the land and keeping Abraham’s descendants together as a nation were imperative to fulfill both the birth and the birthplace of the Lord’s Messiah. This is why the conquest of the land by the people of Israel must be understood as a spiritual matter. Without the nation of Israel and possession of the land the birth of Christ would have never happened and the covenant promises of God in Christ would have never been fulfilled.
So as Joshua stands bear footed on the plains of Jericho the Lord said to him, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors.” (6.2) Jericho was an unconquerable, walled city. Excavations reveal that its fortifications featured massive stonewalls that towered eleven feet high and fourteen feet wide with the top sloped at a thirty-five degree angel. And behind those walls was a mighty army that could match any army that came against them.
But notice the Lord does not say, “Maybe I will.” No, He says, “I have given.” Joshua could move forward with confidence because, even before the conquest began, God promised saying, “I have given Jericho with its king and valiant warriors into your hands.” Brothers and sister, in Christ we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Rom. 8.37) This means every child of God can enter every spiritual battle with the assurance that the battle has already been won and, through obedience, the outcome is certain.
The Destruction of Fortresses
As we consider chapter six of Joshua this morning my focus will be on the destruction of fortresses. Jericho was a fortress that had to be destroyed for the conquest to begin. Today we often encounter strongholds that impede our spiritual progress. Fortresses like doubt, disappointments, and discouragement. Fortresses like difficulty at work, or at home, or an issue with your personal character. Again, a fortress is anything that impedes the advancement of your spiritual journey. These fortresses look to be insurmountable and they are if we attempt to destroy them through human ability or reasoning. But the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. (2Cor.10.4) Today as we consider the fall of Jericho the Lord will show us biblical principles that will enable us to destroy fortresses and progress in our spiritual journey.
In ancient warfare cities such as Jericho were either taken by direct assault or surrounded in the hope to starve the inhabitants into submission. Invaders would try to weaken the walls with fire, or tunnel under the walls, or heap a mountain of earth to serve as a ramp. Each of these methods of assault took weeks or months and usually caused heavy losses. But the Lord had other plans telling Joshua, “You shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days. Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. It shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead.” (6.3-5)
The Perfect Plan for Victory
If Joshua had met with his military advisors, no one would have come up with this plan. Have you ever noticed that God’s plan is usually not the plan we would have designed? As believers we must learn that victory can only be achieved by following God’s Word. Again I will make the point that the conquering the Promise Land was a spiritual matter. Therefore victory can only come on the basis of spiritual obedience. Thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ! (2Cor.2.14a)
The number seven plays a prominent role in the Lord’s plan. Seven priests, with seven trumpets were to march around the city seven days with seven trips around the city on the seventh day. Seven is a significant number in Scripture. It is often referred to as “God’s number.” Seven signifies perfection and in this case it should have reminded the children of Israel that God’s plan is always perfect no matter how foolish it may seem. For example, today many think that the message of salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ is foolishness, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. (ICor.1.18) We must remember that God has chosen the foolish
things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong. (ICor.1.27)
The Spiritual Weapon of Faith
The children of Israel had to humble themselves and look like fools in the eyes of the enemy by walking around the city day after day knowing that God was going to use the foolish things to shame the strong. Brothers and sisters, if we want to destroy fortresses in our lives we must humble ourselves and submit to God’s perfect plan even if it makes us look foolish. The fortress of Jericho was going to come down by the spiritual weapon of faith not human ability or ingenuity.
The book of Hebrews tells us, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days.” (Heb.11.30) The children of Israel employed the spiritual weapon of faith. The spiritual weapon of faith is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb.11.1) So as the children of Israel march around the city they had a deep conviction that God’s plan was perfect and an assurance that God would destroy the fortress of Jericho. And if we want the fortresses in our lives to be destroyed we must have a deep conviction that God’s plan is perfect and an assurance that God will destroy the fortresses in our lives. We must be people of faith, even if it makes us look foolish!
Focused on God’s Presence
After receiving instructions from the Captain of the Lord’s Host Joshua calls the priests and the people to get them arranged for their daily parade around Jericho. (6.6-11) A group of armed soldiers would take the lead followed by seven priests blowing seven trumpets, the Ark of the Covenant would follow, and then the rear guard. (6.9) These trumpets were not the flashy silver trumpets we would see today but they were rams’ horns that had been bored out hollow. These trumpets were not showy and produced a dull sound. They were used at religious feasts to proclaim the presence of God. So the priests blowing the ram’s horns and being followed by the Ark of the Covenant was the ultimate display of God’s presence among His people. Normally, the priests and the Ark of the Covenant did not go with Israel to battle. But here the Ark of the Covenant would be prominent in this victory, even as it was in the crossing of the Jordan River. Israel had to keep their hearts and minds on the Lord who was present with them, instead of putting their hearts and minds on the difficulty of the task in front of them. Brothers and sisters, keeping our hearts and minds focused on the Lord and not being distracted by the enormity of the stronghold in front of us is key to the destruction of fortresses in our lives.
All the people were commanded to be silent, not to speak a word, nor make any noise as they marched around the city. (6.10) The march around Jericho would have taken about an hour. Can you only imagine how difficult this would have been? Several hundred thousand people marching around the city without speaking a word not even a whisper. The passage doesn’t tell us why they were to be silent, but perhaps it was to illustrate the principle of being silent before God is a sign of trust.
This reminds me of when the previous generation was trapped at the edge of the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army quickly closing in on them and the people started murmuring against Moses. Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” (Ex.14.13-14) And here as the new generation is marching around the fortress of Jericho they too are commanded to remain silent and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for them.
It is easy for us to talk, talk, and talk about the difficulties in our lives. But it takes the Spirit of God to enable us to remain silent before the Lord. The Lord tells us in Proverbs, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” (Pr.10.19) Listen, there are times when talking is appropriate but there comes a time when we should remain silent before the Lord and watch Him destroy the fortresses in our lives. (Zec.2.13; Hab.2.20) This reminds me of the instruction giving through the Apostle Peter to Christian wives saying that they can win over their disobedient husbands without saying a word. (IPt.3.1) What? Without saying a word? So, do you believe that God can destroy the fortresses in your life without you saying a word? He did at Jericho.
The residents of Jericho must have hurled insults at the people as they marched silently. But the people were commanded to remain silent before the Lord. The people modeled our Lord Jesus who while being reviled, He did not revile in return . . . but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. Brothers and sisters, we are often quick to speak but we must understand that being quiet is a sign of trust in God. (Is.30.15) On the seventh day after circling the city seven times Joshua will call upon the people to shout but now they were to remain silent. Trusting in the Lord and waiting for the appropriate time to speak is a way we destroy fortresses in our lives.
The people and the priests were commanded to march around the city for seven consecutive days. As I mentioned last week after experiencing the miraculous crossing of the Jordan they people must had been ready to attack Jericho right then and there. But what we saw was the Lord commanded the people to wait several days in Gilgal recovering from circumcision. Then He had them celebrate the Passover. Then He allowed them several days to nourish themselves on the produce of the land. Now that Joshua had met with the Captain of the Lord’s Host the people must had been anxious to strike the fortress of Jericho. But Joshua tells them the plan for victory was going to take another week. Another week! Come on! This reminds us that the Lord often works slowly. As I’ve said before we all want fast faith, microwave miracles, and instantaneous divine interventions but sometimes the Lord works slowly. Brothers and sisters, those who wait on the Lord are the ones who’s strength will be renewed, who will walk and not become weary and will destroy fortresses in their lives. (Is.40.31)
One of these seven days was a Sabbath day. Jewish historians say that it was the last day, the seventh day of marching. Regardless, we see that because the people marched on a Sabbath shows that the conquest of Jericho was not a military matter but a spiritual matter. The people marching on the Sabbath shows that marching around Jericho was an act of spiritual worship and not work. Following God’s perfect plan is spiritual worship that often takes time but it will eventually lead to the destruction of fortresses in our lives.
Then on the seventh day they rose early at the dawning of the day and marched around the city in the same manner seven times; only on that day they marched around the city seven times. At the seventh time, when the priests blew the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city. The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the Lord; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. (6.15-17)
Devoted to Destruction
The first part of verse seventeen reads, “The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the Lord,” which is easy for the modern reader to digest. The Lord is the Captain of the Lord’s Host, it was His perfect plan, so everything should belong to Him. And when the modern reader reads, “The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it” they often conclude that the Lord is just placing restrictions on the people by not allowing them to take anything. But this word “ban” is the Hebrew word “herem,” which means “devoted to destruction.” This means that everything must be utterly destroyed. (6.21) Everything except for Rahab and her household who had repented and turned to the one and living God. (6.17, 25)
Even though “herem” is a hard reality for the modern reader of Scripture, it is central to understanding the Conquest. If we are going to gain any insights from the rest of the book of Joshua we must attempt to understand the concept of “Devoted to Destruction.” Sometimes we can mistakenly think that God is acting like a selfish bully who wanted to give His kids the land and therefore kicked out the innocent people who were already there. But in reality, the Canaanites were full of iniquity and wickedness.
The Lord told His people before they ever entered the land that “it is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Dt.9.5) It’s important to note the Lord telling Israel that their possession of the land and the Canaanites’ being kicked out was not because of Israel’s righteousness, but was because of Canaanite wickedness. The Lord through “herem” is imposing divine judgment for the sins of the Canaanites.
But you must understand that God over and over again in Scripture tells the children of Israel that they will suffer the same fate if they do not follow the Lord and obey His law. Yes, God gave His special electing love to Israel but His threats and promises of punishment for unfaithfulness show His fairness and His commitment to justice.
One of the dangers we face when reading the Bible is setting ourselves up as judges of God Himself. Some people say, “I reject the bloodthirsty God of the Old Testament but I accept the loving God of the New Testament as seen in Jesus.” But a person cannot with integrity reject the God of the Old Testament for the God of the New Testament because they are one and the same God. Instead, believers should be students of redemptive history and understand that these things were written for our instruction. (ICo.10.11) Even though the practice of “herem” stopped after the conquest of the land was complete the spiritual concept “herem” continues today.
God’s Word calls us to be devoted to the destruction of anything that impedes the progress of our spiritual journey. Embracing the spiritual concept of being “Devoted to Destruction” is important to my sanctification. The Bible tells us the “put to death the deeds of the body.” (Rom.8.13) This sounds like spiritual “herem.” As believer we must be devoted to the utter destruction of those things that seek to block our walk in Christ. As believers in Christ we must be committed to destroy any speculation and every lofty thing that rises up in opposition to the knowledge of God. As believers in Christ we must take every thought captive to assure that we are being obedient to Christ. (2Cor.10.3-6) Thoughts of lust, thoughts of anger, thoughts of fear, thoughts of greed, bitter thoughts, evil thoughts they all must be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. So, spiritually we are called to be “Devoted to Destruction” of our fleshly desires and motives.
Brothers and sisters, what we learn from chapter six of Joshua is that we often encounter fortresses in our lives that impede the progress of our spiritual journey, our walk in Christ. These fortresses cannot be destroyed by our ability, our strength, or our ingenuity. These fortresses can only be destroyed by divinely empowered weaponry given by the Lord Himself. This weaponry includes a God given faith that results is a deep conviction that God’s plan is perfect and an assurance that God will destroy the fortresses in our lives. This weaponry includes humbling ourselves and submitting to God’s perfect plan. This weaponry includes keeping our hearts and minds focused on the Lord and not being distracted by the enormity of the stronghold in front of us. This weaponry includes trusting the Lord in silence and waiting for the Lord’s time. This weaponry includes being totally devoted to the utter destruction of those things that seek to block my walk in Christ. Thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ! (2Cor.2.14a)