Allow me to set the scene for you.
Moses, the legendary leader of Israel, is dead. The wanderers have returned once more after forty long years to the edge of the promised land. Only the Jordan river lies between them and their inheritance. As Moses’ life drew to a close, a younger, God-fearing man named Joshua stepped up to claim the mantle as the leader of the people of God. Israel now stands on the cusp of a new journey, a journey full of war and grace.
The gravity of his position no doubt weighed heavy upon Joshua. After all, the earth itself swallowed men who dared to challenge Moses’ authority. This was no small calling. Yet God promised his presence to his servant, encouraging him away from the fear and anxiety. Furthermore, God solidified his choice of leader through the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River into the promised land, similar to the people’s crossing of the Red Sea in Moses’ time. Israel would look to Joshua as they had looked to Moses. The future looked bright.
After sending spies into Jericho and hearing a good report, Joshua prepared to take the first city in the promised land. I imagine that Joshua pondered the ways he could lead a siege against the city, considering the strengths and weaknesses of the city to determine how he should attack. I imagine that he was growing confident in the people’s ability to storm the city. I imagine that the people were preparing for a battle. I doubt anyone, including Joshua, was prepared for God’s directions.
Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.”
I wonder if Joshua thought God was playing a joke on him. He was ready for war, and God told him to walk. I’ve never studied military strategy, but I doubt this technique shows up in the journals of many conquering generals. To choose such a strategy would require a total surrender of one’s common sense, and it would, for Joshua and the people, necessitate a total trust in God’s power and plan.
When you read Joshua six, you’ll see how the story ends. Joshua leads the people to do exactly what the Lord commands, and the Lord miraculously topples Jericho’s walls. The craziest sounding battle plan resulted in total victory. Why? Because the Lord was the one doing the work, not the people.
We find a truth here that many of us struggle to embrace, namely that success and failure ultimately rest in the will of the Lord. We want to prove ourselves, to show that we can conquer our own foes without the help of anyone else. But God knows better than to let us remain stuck in our foolish self-confidence. He put the Israelites in a situation where victory could only come by his hand, and, in so doing, he showed them who was truly in control (If you keep reading, you’ll find that the very next chapter illustrates this point from another angle as God allows Israel to be defeated because of her disobedience).
As we seek to live the lives God called us to live, let us remember that this truth applies to us as well. When living for God means looking foolish to the world, let’s remember the story of Joshua and Jericho and trust that God’s ways are higher than our ways. When we are tempted to trust in our own strength or merit, let us remember that God is the ultimate mover, the final authority. And when we wonder if the road he’s called us to walk will really end in victory, let us remember the victory at Jericho and rest in the comfort that can only come by obedience to sovereignty.