About 40,000 soldiers—men “armed for battle,” Joshua 4:13 calls them—crossed the Jordan ready to fight for possession of their promised land. They had undoubtedly trained for years in various forms of warfare, and they were ready for their big test…ready to prove themselves as warriors and heroes.
It had been scary stuff…
Some might have vaguely remembered the spies’ report of forty years ago. They would have been children then, when the twelve spies returned from Canaan. Ten of the spies discouraged the people with their descriptions of how the land “devours those living in it” and of the Nephilim—people of great size who were stronger than any Israelite (Numbers 13:31-33). It had been scary stuff, enough to make the people rebel against Moses and Aaron. Now all those grown-ups were dead except for Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who had shown confidence in the Lord.
Those boys who heard the spies became young men who matured into old men and leaders of the army. For forty years, they prepared themselves for this one season of warfare.
- They studied.
- They trained.
- They drilled.
- They honed their mental faculties.
When the time was right, they and all the people crossed a flooded Jordan River on dry land (Joshua 3:14-17). This obvious miracle frightened the people living in the promised land, and they all shut their gates and locked their doors. Nevertheless, the soldiers were ready to go!
Then God said they all needed to be circumcised. I’m sure there was a collective sigh and grimace. Not fun. And it took a few days to heal.
But now—finally—these 40,000 soldiers were ready to prove themselves in battle. They would fight!
Their first objective was Jericho, but “the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in” (Joshua 6:1). They looked to Joshua for their plan of attack.
He gave directions to the priests first. Then Joshua turned to the army.
Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord. –Joshua 6:7
This was not what all those soldiers had anticipated, but they obeyed. Maybe after their circumferential stroll, they would get to the fighting.
They silently followed the ark around the city, “then the army returned to camp and spent the night there” (Joshua 6:11). I wonder how much grumbling took place in camp that night. I wonder how many soldiers complained to their wives, how many secretly questioned Joshua’s leadership, how many plotted a hypothetical attack of their own.
Joshua got everyone up early the next morning, and they did it again. They marched around the city once, then they went back to camp and hung out for the rest of the day. Imagine the looks on their wives’ faces when they wandered back into camp so early, without mud stains or injuries, without even a single heroic story to exaggerate.
Was each day harder
than the one before?
They did the same thing again the next day. And the next. For six days in a row, they marched around the city once, then returned to camp. Was each day harder than the one before? Was obedience on the fourth day more difficult than on the second because they saw no results? On the sixth day, how many seriously considered pulling the covers up over their heads and skipping that ridiculous parade?
You see, the common soldiers didn’t have the advantage of Joshua 5:13-6:5. They didn’t know the commander of the army of the Lord (5:14) had promised Joshua the victory on the seventh day (6:4-5).
After six silent walks around the city on six consecutive days, the soldiers mustered on the seventh day with different instructions. They marched six more times around the city, just like the other days (but multiplied). As they made their seventh circle, they listened for the priests’ trumpets to sound, then they shouted for all they were worth!
When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed. –Joshua 6:20
The soldiers rushed straight in across the rubble and conquered the city. Finally, they fought! But they all knew God had given the victory before they even drew their swords.
The “So What?”
The Scriptures say God worked in this way so that Joshua’s reputation would spread throughout the land (Joshua 6:27). And it did. Hearing about the dried-up Jordan River and the demolished Jericho walls, knees started knocking all over the place. People who are afraid don’t fight well. This big victory at the beginning almost guaranteed future victories. (Except it didn’t. Just read Joshua 7, about their defeat at Ai.)
But I wonder if there are other reasons God worked in this particular way. I mean, why delay for a week? Why not cause the walls to fall on the first day of marching? (I have lots of funny suggestions about alternative ways to make the wall fall, but we’ll save that for another time.)
Maybe the daily parade was as much
for the soldiers to learn humility
as it was for the conquered people
to learn God’s sovereignty.
Maybe the daily parade was as much for the soldiers to learn humility as it was for the conquered people to learn God’s sovereignty. They thought they were the ones to conquer Canaan, but God set them straight right from the beginning. He was handing them this land on a silver platter, so to speak. All they had to do was obey.
Obedience started every morning when their eyes fluttered open, while their heads still rested on their pillows (Not sure the Israelites had pillows, but you get the picture.) Every morning, they got up and walked. Even when it wasn’t what they had trained to do. Even though it seemed silly. Even with their doubts and lack of understanding. They got up. They did it anyway. That’s faith demonstrated by obedience.
Faith that demands results isn’t really faith.
Much later, James wrote, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:18b). My Christ-follower friend,
- when we put our feet on the floor in the morning despite the urge to stay in bed…
- when we decide to obey even though we don’t understand why God directed us this way…
- when we don’t know why God has us doing something…
- when we persevere despite a lack of results…
- when we do something that’s nothing like what we anticipated, nothing like what we trained for…
Obedience: It isn’t always easy. What are you thinking now that you’ve read this? What stands out to you? What would you add? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
- Faith Is In the Gap
- The Weight of Waiting
- Moses Didn’t Part the Red Sea (for the other end of the Israelites’ journey)