The story of the Battle of Jericho is one that is probably more familiar to children than most adults. Like many of the bold tales of God’s deliverance and judgment found in the Old Testament, many Christians aren’t quite sure what to do with city walls that fall down due to shouting and trumpet blowing. But I am convinced that a deeper understanding of the events of Jericho is the key to a deeper understanding of what the 21st century church has been called to be and do. Just as an older generation of grumblers in the wilderness had to come to terms with the fact that their children would be the ones to inherit the promised land, so an older generation of 20th century pew dwellers need to come to terms with the fact that the “good old days” are long gone and the future is now in the hands of their offspring.
The context for the Jericho story begins, not in Joshua 1, but in Numbers 13. Moses sends a party of 12 men—one from each tribe of Israel—to spy out the land of Canaan. When the spies return, 10 of them give a report of defeat, informing Moses and Aaron that although there was indeed milk and honey flowing in the land, it was also inhabited by giants which would be too strong for Israel to overcome (13:31). When Caleb (from the tribe of Judah) and Joshua (from the tribe of Ephraim) try to give their report to the congregation—that if the Lord is fighting for Israel it makes no difference how big the Canaanites are—they are shouted down and threatened with stoning. It is a classic case of the two spies walking by faith and the other ten walking by sight. Joshua and Caleb don’t deny the report of what the other spies saw, in fact they confirm it, but they don’t limit God to what their eyes can see. Caleb gives a good report by saying:
The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us—a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them. (Num. 14:7-9)
At this point, after Moses intercedes for the children of Israel, God informs him that all the men of the generation that witnessed the exodus from Egypt will by no means enter the promised land. In a covenantal role-reversal, God informs the Israelites that the children they were claiming to protect from the Canaanites (14:3) will be the very ones to take possession of the land.
Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition. I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die. As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land died by a plague before the LORD. But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive out of those men who went to spy out the land. (Num. 14:31-38)
Thus begins Israel’s 40-year desert wandering as a divine judicial punishment for their covenantal unfaithfulness and unbelief. Because of their good report, Joshua and Caleb are the only spies to remain alive. God later tells Moses that Joshua will be his successor and the one to lead the next generation into the promised land (Num. 27:15-23).
Fast forward 40 years. Moses and the rest of the previous generation (those over 60 years of age, Num. 14:28-29) have died and Joshua is preparing the next generation to cross the Jordan River into Canaan. Like Moses before him, Joshua again sends spies ahead of them to view the land. Interestingly, he only sends two, rather than twelve, recalling the good report of the minority from the first mission, 40 years earlier. When the two spies enter the city of Jericho, they encounter Rahab, a harlot, and she gives them refuge in her house. Rahab tells the men that she knows God has given the land to them and that all the inhabitants of the land are terrified of Israel. “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2:10-11). In exchange for her kindness to the spies, Rahab asks for protection for her family’s household during the siege. The men grant that if she is faithful to her promise to keep quiet, they will repay her kindness when they destroy the city.
Notice that the inhabitants of the land were fearful of the Israelites. They had heard the stories for the last 40 years and they knew that this day was coming. In fact, Jericho had surrounded itself with a wall for this very reason. In Joshua 6:1 we read this: “Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in.” Jericho was “tightly shut” because of the sons of Israel. The pagan inhabitants of Canaan (Jericho probably means “moon city,” indicating it as a place of celestial worship) knew that they were living on borrowed time. They had spent much time and money to fortify themselves behind massive brick walls ((The walls that surrounded Jericho are believed to have been double walls, with the outer wall being about 30 feet high and six feet thick and the inner wall, also about 30 feet tall, being about twelve to fifteen feet thick (R.K. Harrison, Old Testament Times: A Social, Political, and Cultural Context [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005], 168). If this is correct, this means that the “walls” of Jericho could have been more than twenty feet thick!)). Even so, their hearts melted with fear when they heard that the Israelites had crossed the Jordan (Josh. 5:1, cf. 2:11).
This important point should not be overlooked or taken lightly. Modern Christians must remember this every time they encounter hostility, slander, and ridicule from the city of man. The citizens of this city are not interested in inviting you in for cordial discourse. The walls they have erected around their castles of humanism are not primarily designed to protect what is inside, but to prevent outsiders from entering. The walls are there because God’s people are in the land. Whether or not they will admit it, their “hearts are melted and no courage remains in them” because of God’s covenant people. If you think this is hyperbole, listen to what political scientist Gary Segura has written (and was used as evidence by the plaintiffs’ opposition to Prop 8 in California):
[R]eligion is the chief obstacle for gay and lesbian political progress, and it’s the chief obstacle for a couple of reasons… [I]t’s difficult to think of a more powerful social entity in American society than the church… [I]t’s a very powerful organization, and in large measure they are arrayed against the interests of gays and lesbians…[B]iblical condemnation of homosexuality and the teaching that gays are morally inferior on a regular basis to a huge percentage of the public makes the…political opportunity structure very hostile to gay interests. It’s very difficult to overcome that. ((See the entire document here. Segura’s comments can be found on page 101.))
It’s very difficult to overcome only if they actually allow the church to be engaged in the debate. This is why the church is regularly marginalized, ignored, and not invited to be a part of the discussion: the opposition is afraid of this “very powerful organization.” The older generation can’t seem to understand why the church’s voice has been steadily losing influence during the last 50 years, but the new generation is unconcerned with this because, like Joshua and Caleb, they know that the Lord has promised to give them the land. The giants on the borders and the walls around the city are not barriers to the God of heaven and earth, and if God is for us, they are not barriers to us either. Rather than being frustrated and put off by the walls, we must begin to recognize that their very presence indicates that God is still at work in the land.
To be continued…