|"All That It Takes" Joshua 6:1-20 November 9, 2014
Today brings us to the second of our three weeks in the book of Joshua. As I said last week, the book of Joshua is about the Israelite's conquest of the Promised Land after having wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Last week we heard how God stopped the flow of the Jordan River so the Chosen People could walk across on dry ground. This week brings the Chosen People to the walls of Jericho.
Jericho was an ancient city that had already been standing for centuries before the arrival of the Hebrew people. It was a fortified city, meaning that it was surrounded on all sides by two strong walls. The outer wall was six feet thick. The inner wall was reportedly twelve feet thick. Atop both of those walls sentries were posted to keep guard. There was absolutely no way for anyone to break into the city of Jericho without the governing authorities of Jericho granting them entry. And they were not about to grant entry to thousands of Israelites who claimed that this was their land and demanding that the residents of Jericho leave post haste. Our story for today starts off by saying, "Now Jericho was closed up tightly because of the Israelites. No one went out or came in." When you have a six foot wall surrounding a twelve foot wall with armed guards atop each wall, to say that it was "closed up tightly" is an understatement.
So why didn't the Israelites just bypass Jericho altogether? Go into some other areas that were a little less populated and a lot less fortified. Well, the simple answer is that God told them to go to Jericho and said that he would deliver it into their hands. So if they were going to remain in faith, they had to go to Jericho.
But beyond that, God had good reason for not allowing Jericho to continue to stand as it was. Jericho was located in strategic position where it would be easy for those who were opposed to God and God's people to gather up strength and forces and weapons and then go out to attack and have a safe place to retreat back to when the battle was over. As long as Jericho stood as it was, the people of God would never be safe in the land that God had promised them. Leaving well enough alone was not an option. There was no well enough.
Jericho was an obstacle that had to be dealt with. Someone once said, "I don't mind a few obstacles as long as they don't get in my way." Jericho was right smack dab in the middle of the way. It was standing just beyond the Jordan River preventing the Chosen People from claiming the Promised Land. How would they deal with this obstacle? With what were they going to approach these impenetrable walls?
They actually had quite a few options. They could charge at the walls straight on and get killed. Or they could try to scale the walls and get killed. Or they could try to dig their way under the walls and get killed. All kinds of options. Not any good options.
There must be some way, though. God had told them, "I have given Jericho and its king into your power, along with its mighty warriors." If God had promised it, then there must be some way for it to happen. But I don't think that for the life of them any of those Israelites could imagine for one second what that way might be. Every which way they might decide to go seemed to lead to death. The way that God talked, though, it was as if the battle had already been won.
Let's pause there for a moment and consider that. There wasn't anything that the Israelites could figure out to do to conquer Jericho. But to God, the victory was already a done deal. What are the obstacles that you're facing right now in your own life?
Maybe some illness. Maybe uncertainty about work or finances. Perhaps there's anxiety about a relationship or dissention in the family or a loved one going through struggles and you just don't know what to do. What is your Jericho? What walls are you up against right now?
Perhaps you can't see a way forward right now. It could be that every option you can conceive of seems like a bad option. You may feel like there's no way beyond certain walls. I want you to hear this word right now, not from me, but from God. God is saying to you, "Whatever is oppressing you, whatever is standing against you, whatever is blocking you from receiving the fullness of my blessing, I have delivered you from those powers. I have already overcome those obstacles. I will knock down those walls."
You might not be able to see how victory could possibly come in this situation, but from God's perspective, victory is so assured it's as if it has already happened. I don't know what those obstacles are that you're facing right now, or how exactly that victory will get worked out in your life, but know this - God does. God already has a plan worked out. God Almighty, who created all things, who set all things in motion, who holds all things in the palm of his hand, has a firm grasp on you as well. God will not let you go. Just as surly as the Lord said to the Israelites, "I have given Jericho and it's king into your power," so too God is promising right this very moment, "The victory is yours!"
Before they could claim it, though, the Israelites had to follow God's directions. First, they were to march around the city one time, each day, for six days. The priests out in front carrying trumpets could blow the trumpets as they walked around the city, but no one was to speak. Not a word. That means that the people who thought this was silly idea couldn't grumble to the person next to them while they walked around the walls, "This is ridiculous! Don't you think this is ridiculous? This is the silliest thing we've ever done. What's this supposed to accomplish, anyway, walking around these walls like a bunch of morons." None of that!
Notice, too, that neither God nor Joshua ever called for a vote. This has got to be the most un-Methodist story in the whole Bible! No committee meeting to discuss the plausible that this plan might work. No study committee to weigh all the options and make recommendations. No visioning sessions. No Charge Conference to determine the will of the congregation. I don't think Joshua even asked if there was a second to his motion. The Lord told Joshua, Joshua told the priests and the people, and everyone did as the Lord and Joshua said.
At least some of the people had to have felt pretty silly just walking around those walls. They were walking around walls that had stood for centuries and that no weapon could penetrate, armies that had been trained and had all the arms they needed to defend their city. They had no weapons, no army, no specific plan of attack. All they had was the Ark of the Covenant. And that was all that it took.
The Ark of the Covenant contained the Word of God and God had promised to be with them in power whenever the Ark was present. The Covenant was a two way promise that God would be with his people and the people would make the Lord their God. The Covenant assured them that as long as they did things God's way there was no army, no enemy, no wall, no defense, no power in all this world or beyond this world that could prevail against them. So when the Lord said, "March," the people marched. For six days they marched. No murmuring, no talking, no questioning, no complaining, only walking around the walls, following the Word of God. Can you picture it?
This is the second place in the story where we need to pause and consider.
When you're up against a challenge and you're turning to God for help, do you tell God what to do for you or do you allow God to tell you what to do? Are you willing to do whatever God asks, no matter how silly it might seem to someone else looking on? Are you willing to do all that it takes, even when it doesn't make sense to you how this could possibly make a difference?
I know this isn't easy for some. Some people discern God's voice more readily than others. Most people don't get an audible voice from heaven telling them word for word exactly what to do. For most people, God's voice is more like what we might call intuition, it's a sense that you get within yourself of what you need to do. Sometimes that intuition seems to run dry. Sometimes people find themselves at a crossroads, trying to make difficult life decisions, asking, even pleading with God for direction, and the answers don't seem to come. What then?
What then is you continue to pray, you continue to listen, and you continue to move forward step by step, day by day, not knowing God's plan but trusting that the Lord is with you and that when the time is right, you will know. That's what it means to walk in faith. Walking in faith doesn't mean we know what's coming next. It means that we trust whatever is coming next is of God. And so we stay in step with God as best as we can, walking by whatever light we've been given in the moment.
For six days the Israelites walked around those walls and nothing happened. On the seventh day, they were to walk around seven times. On the seventh time around, at Joshua's command, they all let out a shout and the walls came tumbling down. Why seven days? Why seven times? To remind them of the seven days of creation. To remind them that nobody else but God Almighty who created them and everything that exists could have accomplished what happened that day. There was no way in all the world that the Israelites could ever have knocked down those walls. Not in seven days. Not in seven years. But all that it took was for the God who said, "Let there be light" and there was light to say, "Let the walls fall down," and the walls fell down.
And just the fact that the walls fell down, that was not the only miracle that occurred that day. Even after the walls came down, the Israelites were still up against an army that had weapons and training that they could only dream of. And yet the battle was so easily won that the story just kind of skips over that part as if it was a foregone conclusion. Because that's exactly what it was. It was a foregone conclusion that God would win the day.
Nobody at that time would have bet on the Israelites against the armies of Jericho. Even without the walls there it was inconceivable that this ragtag group of Hebrews that had been wandering in the dessert for forty years could go up against the armed and trained forces of Jericho and win. Impossible! But with God on their side, the people of Jericho didn't have a prayer.
This brings us to the final point for us to consider this morning. The Bible shows us over and over again, and this story is a perfect example, that when the people of God remain in faith and follow God's ways, miracles do happen. The Israelites couldn't have done it, but God could. God can do anything. And God will do everything he has promised to us when we hold up our side of the bargain.
Now please don't misunderstand me - this doesn't mean that if we are faithful we will get whatever we ask for. It doesn't mean that if I pray the right words and do the right things God will give me whatever I want. God is not a genie or a cosmic Santa Claus.
What it means is that God will deliver on all of God's promises. Whatever goodness and blessings God has planned for you - and believe me, God has goodness and blessings planned for each and every one of you - that goodness and those blessings will come to fruition. All that it takes is for you to stay in faith until it happens. God will remove all the obstacles that are in your way. God will help you through every challenge, strengthen you through every struggle. The Lord will win the battle for you.
Oh, you might have to walk around those walls a time or two, or seven. Or a hundred. It may seem like you've passed this way so many times that you've dug a rut so deep you could never climb out of. But if you are walking with God, then just keep on walking. And when the time is right, those walls will come crashing to the ground, the Lord will lift you up out of that pit, the enemy will go fleeing into the wilderness, and the city will be yours for the taking. And looking back, you won't mind that had to walk around so many times, because you'll be in the Promised Land! Let me say that again - you'll be in the Promised Land! What's it matter how long it took to get there or how silly you felt at the time or how hard fought the battle was? All that will matter is that the victory will be yours in Jesus Christ.
All that it takes is a little bit of faith in a really big God. May it be so. Amen.