By Charles Johnston:
In my previous post (The Story of Salvation; Joshua part 1) we looked at Joshua’s life leading up until he arrived at Jericho. It is in Jericho that Joshua would gain his ultimate victory. If you ask any Christian, or Jew, what Joshua is known for they would most likely say it’s for conquering Jericho. Although he had an eventful life up until this point, and had won some impressive victories, I’d have to agree, because Jericho wasn’t just another military victory. When the walls came down it was through a very unlikely means, and that ensured that all Israel knew who to thank for the victory. (Hint, it wasn’t Joshua)
Also I’d like to encourage you to read the entire book of Joshua, at 24 chapters it can be read slowly at 20 minutes a day and finished in a few days.
When the Israelites arrived at the promised land, they cross the Jordan river via a miraculous event (Joshua 3:15-17) that was another foreshadowing of baptism, just as the passing through the Red Sea with Moses was. To enter into the promised land they had to pass through the waters, at a spot near where Jesus would be baptized over 1000 years later, just as we enter the Church (which is the fulfillment of the covenant with Israel. See Romans 11:17, Galatians 3:29 & Lumen Gentium paragraph 9) through the waters of our own baptisms.
After they had crossed into Canaan, the promised land, they erected a monument at Gilgal and had the Passover there. They had come into the promised land but now they had to take possession of it. Standing in thier way was the fortified city of Jericho.
Jericho being both a very real physical obstacle, and what could be seen metaphoricaly as the sin and temptations that we must all overcome in our journey towards the eternal home. Just as God provided divine assistance in conquering the city of Jericho, so too does He offer us His grace to resist temptation and overcome the walled cities of sin, not the least of which is through frequently receiving the sacraments and the graces that flows through them.
While encamped outside Jericho, Joshua has an encounter with a heavenly VIP. Their encounter is recorded at the end of chapter 5:
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and said to him, “What does my lord bid his servant?” And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Two major things I’d like to point out about this passage:
1. The exact identity of this heavenly visitor isn’t known. There are two competing theories here that both have thier merits.
- A) One theory is that this is St Michael the Archangel, because as we know from scripture that he is the commander of the heavenly armed forces (Revelation 12:7), so devising and executing a battle strategy would seem to fit nicely into his job description.
- B) The other possibility is that this is an account of Theophany; a pre-incarnate appearance of the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Logos or Word of God. One indicator of Him possibly being the visitor’s identity is that when Joshua bowed down and worshipped he was not repremanded for that act, as St John was in Rev 19:10 & 22:9. If the visitor was an angel, or even the Archangel Michael, he surely would’ve told Joshua to cease his bowing and worshiping and told him to worship God as the angel told St. John, but the fact that He didn’t is somewhat telling. This scene is very reminiscent of a verse that many apologists use to indicate, especially when debating Muslims, that Jesus was claiming to be God; when St Thomas bowed down and called Jesus “my lord and my God”, if Jesus never intended for us to think He was God He would’ve told Thomas to stand up and worship God only. But Jesus accepted His worship because He is God. Also if you consider that chapter breaks are a more recent innovation, then you could read the last few verses of chapter 5 concurrently with the begging of chapter 6. At the very beginning of chapter 6 the Lord tells Joshua how to go about laying siege to Jericho, if read in this manor it becomes almost impossible to see the visitor as anyone else.
2. The second major point in this passage, and the most important in my opinion, is when Joshua sees this stranger approaching, with a sword drawn, he asks a very reasonable question. Joshua asks “are you for us or for our adversaries?”
I say it’s a reasonable question because whenever we meet someone, who’s intent is unknown, especially if they are visibly armed, it’s a good idea to see where they stand. Are they on our side or our enemy’s. But the answer he received probably isn’t exactly what he expected. “Neither” was the reply.
The reason I see this as so important is that it will play out over and over again through the entire history of the Old Testament, the people of Israel assuming that God is on thier side and then getting themselves into lots of trouble. But Joshua was wise enough, and close enough to God, to pick up on what was written between the lines here.
God is not on any side, we can be on His side, but He is not on our side. I don’t mean to say that God doesn’t love us, or isn’t looking out for our best interests, or that Israel wasn’t His chosen people, because that isn’t what I mean at all.
We serve God, He doesn’t serve us. In what situation does the servant dictate who’s side the master is on? Only when we equate ourselves with God could we dictate such terms.
God loves us with an infinite love, Saint Paul points this out in his letter to the Romans. God, the creator and master of the universe died for us while we were “still sinners”, or put in another way; the master died for the servant while that servant was in a state of open rebellion against the authority of the master.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
So saying that God isn’t on our side doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us. If He didn’t love us why would He die for us? What I mean is that we need to check our own position and see that it is on the side of God, and not ask what His position is.
God is truth, God is righteousness, God is holiness, God is the essence of being itself, all the things that we are supposed to try and emulate, He is. We must conform ourselves and our positions to Him, not conform Him to us.
How often do we see this, especially in modern culture, people claiming that God is on their side of an issue. Sometimes they are right in roundabout way, sometimes they are wrong in a roundabout way, but always they are wrong on substance because God is side we are supposed to be on.
God made a covenant with the descendants of Abraham (See Story of Salvation; Abraham) that He then reinforced with The Mosaic covenant (see Exodus 19-24), and later came the Davidic and Solomonic covenants. The common denominator among all these was fidelity to God and His commands.
When faced with an obstacle, or a dilemma, we shouldn’t wonder if God is on our side. But we should always ask ourselves “am I on God’s side?”
The Siege Begins
And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given into your hand Jericho, with its king and 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. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; and on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, as soon as 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 every man straight before him.”
Now we come to the event that Joshua is perhaps most famous for, the siege and destruction of Jericho. This isn’t the first city the Israelites would lay siege to, it was far from the last, and was likely not even the most fortified. So what was it about Jericho that makes it the most famous event in the life of such an illustrious man like Joshua?
It’s because of the audacious battle plan, a plan dictated by God to Joshua, a plan that would leave no doubt as to who the victory belonged. In purely human terms, both strategically and tactically, it was a terrible plan. Without divine intervention it would’ve been no more than a protest march around the city walls. But by placing themselves on God’s side, and following the plan with a firm trust and reliance on God, the Israelites were victorious.
Think about what God was asking them to do… and then ask yourself if you trust God enough to carry out these orders. I’m not sure I could honestly answer yes, but I know why Joshua was able to. Recall back to when Joshua first received his commission from God, he was commanded to have courage multiple times, and he was told to meditate on God’s law day and night (Joshua 1:7,8). By meditating on God’s law, Joshua strengthened his relationship with God and was able to recall all that God had done for him and all of Israel. He trusted God when he said He would be with him always, even on a marching band march around a fortified city!
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
And the rest of the story is well known history. By firmly relying on God for thier victory, the Israelites were able to conquer this well fortified city. Just like we can conquer fortified cities in our own lives, maybe not literal cities, but metaphorical ones in the guise of personal sins and vices. Just like Jericho was preventing them from fully possessing the land, so too can personal persistent sins and vices prevent us from fully living our Christian lives. By relying fully on God like Joshua, and not on ourselves (Proverbs 3:5) we can, by the grace of God, overcome (Romans 6:14).
So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.
This is also a good time to point out the relationship between faith and works. Had Joshua just had faith, but didn’t put that faith into action, he wouldn’t have taken the city. It was by believing in God, and then letting that faith be turned into action, that he was able to take the city and continue the process of taking possession of the land (another concrete act).
(As a side note, during the destruction of Jericho the harlot Rahab and her household were the only ones spared. To read more about her and how it’s never too late to be reconciled to God, read God’s Unlikely Heroes )
The Farewell Speech
Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to She’chem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God.
Just like Moses before him, Joshua gathers together the people and gives them a final exhortation to follow God and no others. In the speech he recounts the history of the Israelites from Abraham to Moses, and asks the people if they would like to continue in a covenantal relationship with God. If they answer yes they must swear to obey God in all things and live by His law.
“Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
And if you be unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua 24:14-15 (emphasis added)
Joshua throws down the gauntlet to the Israelites. “Choose this day” he tells them, they cannot serve both the false gods that some of thier fathers had carried with them from Egypt, or the false gods of the surrounding nations, and the One True God of Israel. They had to choose, either truth itself, or living a lie. You cannot tell a lie and the truth at the same time, and so too you cannot serve a lie and the embodiment of truth.
Jesus would later say that no one can serve two masters;
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
This choice that was offered to the Israelites that day, is a choice that is offered to every single one of us. We must also decide who we are going to serve.
To quote another famous descendant of Abraham, Bob Dylan, “you gotta serve somebody. It may be the devil, it may be the Lord, but you’re gunna have to serve somebody.”
This is a choice that can’t be put off, because by choosing not to serve God we serve ourselves and our own self interests. This is the surest road to perdition. This is the path that Lucifer chose when he declared “non serviam” (I will not serve). He decided to serve himself, and in doing so he made himself his own god, to serve and to be served by those who fell with him.
Refusing to serve God, at the exclusion of all other things we set up as false gods (money, power, pleasure, glory, etc), is the work of the devil, who was the first person to refuse God. Choosing to serve God is the first step on the path towards our eternal home, it is the only way to get to where we are destined to go. Theologians say that there are no persons in hell that didn’t choose to go there, it is a positive choice, by choosing to serve anything other than God we are choosing our own destruction.
This is why worship of God, and God alone, is the first of the commandments that He gave to Moses on Mt Sinai. And when Jesus was asked the greatest commandment;
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.
If you love God you will choose to serve Him, just as the Israelites promised to on that day that Joshua called for them to make thier choice.
So now I lay that same challenge to you, 3400 years after Joshua first did.
Choose this day who you will serve. God or yourself.
(For the rest of the posts in this series, go to this link The Story of Salvation )