Joshua f’it de battle of Jericho…
And de walls came a-tumblin’ down.
This black American spiritual [song] was inspired by an exciting, miraculous and spectacular event in the history of the children of Israel on their way to their “Promised Land.” The story is found in Chapters 5 and 6 of the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible. For an oppressed slave people as the black Americans in the South of the U.S.A. were, back in the 1700s and 1800s, this Bible story gave them hope of sure victory over the obstacles confronting them on their way to freedom, their “Promised Land.” While great progress has been made toward that freedom (or “emancipation”), pockets of oppression can, sadly, still be found in places, waiting to be broken down.
As the people of God — spiritual Israel (Galatians 6:16; 1:2) — Christians face the same challenge which the children of Israel faced on their way to conquering and possessing the land God had promised to their “fathers” and to themselves. The high and formidable wall around the mighty city of Jericho presented a challenge to the Israelites’ destroying the inhabitants of the city and then possessing the land as their own, and thus inheriting God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants to give them this land. [See: God’s Kingdom and Israel and The Children of Abraham.]
What challenges do Christians face in their lives — especially after they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin — on their way to the kingdom of God? The story of the encounter by the children of Israel with Jericho offers a number of meanings and lessons for Christians, especially as they celebrate God’s “spring festival” of the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread at this time of year (Leviticus 23:4-8). It is no mere coincidence that the conquest of Jericho took place during the Days of Unleavened Bread, as we shall explain.
Start at Gilgal
It is mighty significant that the conquest of Jericho had to start at the incident in Gilgal, as told in Joshua 5:1-9. The children of Israel who were born during the people’s 40-year wandering in the wilderness had not been circumcised, until they came to a place near Jericho. After all their males were circumcised, the place came to be called “Gilgal,” meaning “rolling” — referring to the “reproach of Egypt” (as being uncircumcised was regarded) having been “rolled away.” This took place probably on the 10th day of the first month of the year that the children of Israel came out of their wilderness wandering and had reached the east bank of the Jordan River (Joshua 4:19). Sufficiently healed from the bloody ritual, the males — and all the other children of Israel — were ready to take the Passover four days later. (As Exodus 12:44, 48 instructs, only circumcised males could take part in the Passover.)
Thus Joshua 5:10 relates, “Now the children of Israel camped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight on the plains of Jericho.”
Centuries after this incident at Gilgal, the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians about the true significance of the ritual or ceremony of circumcision, and its connection with the sacrifice of our “Passover Lamb” Jesus Christ for the cleansing of our sin and that of all mankind. “In Him [Jesus Christ] you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses…” (Colossians 2:11-13).
This ties in neatly with what Paul also wrote in Romans 6:3-11, about a Christian’s being baptized (which symbolizes having one’s “old man” “buried” with the crucified Christ) and coming up out of the water of baptism (which symbolizes being “risen” with Christ, to a new life). It’s about our being “justified” — being forgiven of our sins — through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and through His resurrection from the dead.
The issue of physical circumcision of Gentiles (non-Israelites) coming to faith in Jesus Christ had become so bothersome that a general conference of church leaders had to be called in Jerusalem to resolve it (Acts 15). [For more details on this issue, see: Freed From Bondage and God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 1, the section on “The Passover and the Jews.”]
Seven-day march around Jericho
Joshua 6 then continues the story with God’s instruction (through a mysterious “Man” — either an angel of God or the LORD Himself, Joshua 5:13-15) to Joshua. In sum, the people of Israel were told to march around the walls of Jericho once in the next six days, and seven times on the seventh day. On that last day all the people were to give out a shout, accompanying the blowing of trumpets — and the walls of Jericho would come tumbling down, God promised. So it happened just as God promised: on the seventh day the walls came down, and all the people within the walls perished, except Rahab and her family [because she had hidden the Israelite spies who scouted the land (Verse 17; 2:1-21, etc.)]. It is very likely that the march around Jericho’s walls took place right within the God-ordained 7-day festival called “Days of Unleavened Bread” (Leviticus 23:6-8). The walls came down, evidently, on the seventh and last day of that festival.
In Isaiah 55:10-11, God says: “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” God’s instruction to the children of Israel through Joshua was not a pointless exercise in speech or writing! God’s word has meaning and purpose that those who sincerely seek them will find, with God’s guidance and inspiration! Proverbs 28:5 promises to sincere seekers: “But those who seek the LORD understand all.”
As explained earlier, Paul saw the deeper, the true and spiritual, meaning of physical circumcision: the “circumcision made without [human] hands” — our cleansing from sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. [See: Two Goats Together.] Paul also had something to say about the meaning of the Days of Unleavened Bread, as we shall see (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
Thus, when we come to the details of what happened as told in Joshua 6, we will see — and hopefully be amazed at — the valuable spiritual lessons that we can learn about God’s plan of salvation, and our vital part in it. The lessons are concerned, particularly, with what a Christian is to do after he has received Jesus Christ as Savior from sin. Many teach that a Christian need not do anything by himself after this; one simply has to believe — and leave all the “work” to Christ and His Spirit. [For more on this issue, see: Being and Doing, God’s Spirit and Obedience and Saved for Good Works.]
Details of the seven-day march
First and foremost, we need to remember that the instruction for the children of Israel to march seven days around Jericho’s walls was God’s — not Joshua’s or that of any other ordinary man. The NKJV capitalizes the reference to “a Man” (Joshua 5:13), including the pertinent pronouns (“He” and “Him”) to highlight the extraordinary status of this Person or Being. In Joshua 6:2 the “Man” is identified with the “LORD” who gave Joshua the instruction. Today many who profess to believe in Jesus Christ think that the “feasts” listed in Leviticus 23 are feasts only of the Jews, and for those who are under the “law of Moses” — as if it was Moses who gave the instructions about the feasts. Leviticus 23 clearly shows that the feasts instructed here are the “feasts of the LORD” (Verses 2, 4), and God calls them “My feasts” (Verse 2). [See: God’s Feasts in the Book of Acts Mere Time Markers — or to Be Observed? and Moses and Jesus — Are They Contraries?]
Let us, then, examine each detail of God’s instruction to Joshua, and extract some meaning or purpose for each, as also supported by the “whole counsel” of God’s Word.
1. “All you men of war.” In Joshua 6:3 Israel’s “men of war” were directed to march around the city once, and then again likewise in the next five days (to make a total of six). They were to march in front of the “ark of the LORD,” which was followed by seven priests who bore and sounded seven “trumpets of rams’ horns” (Verses 4, 7, 9, 13). The other men of war were to march behind these priests as the “rear guard” (Verses 9, 13). What could these details mean to Christians today?
a. We are “Christian soldiers.” Like Israel’s men of war, true Christians have to understand that they are called to be “Christian soldiers.” They are not in this calling to salvation just to “take it easy,” especially when the going gets tough, as it often will get. Paul said that Christians are in a warfare or battle, not against flesh-and-blood beings but against “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12) — against the wiles of the very devil himself (Verse 11)!
Paul exhorted his beloved student or “protege” Timothy: “You must endure as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3). Paul added: “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (Verse 4). Twice, Paul exhorted Christians to “take up [or “put on,” KJV] the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13; compare with Romans 13:12). For the time being, you can surf the internet and find many writings about “the whole armor of God.” [I hope, in future, to write an article here, with fresh insights into this vital subject.]
In the midst of false prophets (or preachers) and false teachings about Jesus Christ, as He prophesied about our end-times (Matthew 24:5, 24), a true Christian is in a battle for truth — God’s true Word (John 17:17). Jude 3 exhorts Christians to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” — the true faith as is supported and is consistent with God’s Word, the Bible. The great “deceiver” Satan is busily at work among his “ministers” (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 11:12-15) proliferating false, un-Biblical teachings. As the ultimate “tempter” Satan is also busy urging people to sin against God, against oneself, against other people, and against our environment. Christians are called to make war with sin!
Hebrews 12 :1 exhorts Christian solders to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” And to endure in that race, they must be “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Verse 2). He endured the cross, and so must a Christian — whom Jesus commands to take up his own cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24) — endure as he strives against (battles with) sin (Hebrews 12:4). This is the Christian exercise that the Days of Unleavened Bread pictures, as God’s people strive to remove all leavening and leavened products (symbolic of sin during this festival) in their home.
b. God must be in the midst of us. Just as the ark of God borne by the priests (symbolic of His presence) was in the middle of the forward and rear troops of Israel’s men of war, so a Christian soldier needs God to be in the center of his life in order for him to win the battle for truth and the battle against sin — after he has been justified (forgiven/cleansed of his past sin through God’s grace in Jesus Christ) and thus made “righteous” before God. While confronting the challenges he faces, a Christian soldier has be sure to “look to Jesus” and not on the weight and magnitude of one’s sin, daunting though it often is.
Remember the story about Peter, who saw Jesus walking on water in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:22-33)? While his eyes were on Jesus, Peter was able to walk, miraculously, on the water as Jesus did. But when he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the turbulent waters, Peter began to sink and had to be saved by Jesus.
2. “You shall march around the city.” In Joshua 6:3-4 the LORD commanded Israel’s men of war to “march around the city” once in six days and seven times on the seventh day. In the same manner, a Christian soldier is called to “march” or walk in God’s way. And as Israel’s men of war marched with God’s presence (through the ark of the LORD), so a Christian soldier has to “walk with God.” The Bible mentions many righteous people who “walked with/before God” or walked in His statutes, etc. To name a few: Enoch (Genesis 5:22), Noah ( Genesis 6:9), Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 24:40; 48:15), David (1 Kings 6:12),and Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:1-2).
The apostle John tells us: “He who says he abides in Him [that is, he is in the presence of God and Christ, in Spirit] ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). The apostle Peter also exhorts us: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
The rather sentimental poem “Footprints in the Sand” has misled a lot of people into thinking that when we are overcome by many trials and tests while overcoming sin, we can stop walking and leave it to Christ to carry us in His loving arms and to walk God’s walk for us. That is not what the “battle of Jericho” pictures! True, Jesus tells us to come to Him and cast our heavy burdens upon Him (Matthew 11:28; 1 Peter 5:7). But let’s not forget that He also commands us to “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me…” (Matthew 11:29). He assures that “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Verse 30). And that is because Jesus has promised to be with His true disciples, in Spirit, “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20; Galatians 4:6), no matter how difficult the Christian life may be.
Like Israel’s men of war who marched around the city of Jericho as God commanded, and did not stop until they finished their course, so must a Christian soldier walk with God in all His ways until his course is done. As a righteous person a Christian may stumble many times, but he stands up every time he falls (Proverbs 24:16) — and keeps on walking in God’s way towards God’s kingdom.
3. “Seven” — days, times, priests, trumpets. Bible students have long studied and understood the significance of the number “7” in the Bible. Seven is considered as the number of completeness, fullness, or perfection. The seven days of the festival called “Days of Unleavened Bread” picture the Christian’s determination to complete the Christian call to walk “perfect” before God, as He had asked Abram [later renamed Abraham] to (Genesis 17:1). Jesus said: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). In Hebrews 10:38, God says: “But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”
Jesus also reminds us: “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). Recall that God (through His angels) had warned Lot and his family not to look back on Sodom and Gomorrah as God was overthrowing these wicked cities with fire and brimstone (Genesis 19:12-26). Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt, a grim reminder for all not to follow her bad example, by looking back to — as though longing for — our old life of sin! [See: The Deceitfulness of Sin.]
God’s priests who sounded the trumpets daily in their march around Jericho represent the work of the priests and ministers of God to teach His people His law (Malachi 2:7). The trumpet sounds are symbolic of warning or reminder about sin, which God’s people are to overcome. As Isaiah 58:1 commands His ministers: “Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sin” — their transgression against God’s law (1 John 3:4, KJV).
The psalmist offers a “weapon” in our warfare, as “Christian soldiers,” against sin: “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Verse 9 of the same psalm asks and answers: “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.”
4. Minding details of God’s instructions. The walls of Jericho could not have fallen if the children of Israel “did their own thing” instead of minding specific instructions of God through His servant Joshua. Besides the order of the train of soldiers and priests, they were to do exactly as God instructed: march around Jericho just once within six consecutive days, with the priests blowing their trumpets; rest in their camps until the following day to do the same routine; march seven times around the city on the seventh day, with all the people (and not until then) shouting loud along with the trumpet sounds.
God’s laws contain both the weightier matters (Matthew 23:23) as well as “the least of [God’s] commandments” (Matthew 5:19) — which Jesus says we are not to break! Psalm 119:126 speaks volumes of our times today: “It is time for You to act, O LORD, for they have regarded Your law as void!” It’s time people checked their lives against God’s living and active law — and repent of casting aside and disobeying that law! [See: Transgressions Under the First Covenant.]
5. “Shout!” Some people have wondered whether the magnitude of the people’s shout in unison, plus the trumpet sounds, caused the walls of Jericho to crumble. Yes, these were all a part of God’s instructions and provisions that had to be in place. But in the ultimate sense, it was by God’s power and intervention — through a miracle — that the mighty walls of Jericho fell. [The “miracle” of TNT and other blasting compounds were not available then!] As the LORD told Joshua: “See! I have given Jericho into your hand…” (Joshua 6:2). This by a miracle probably next in magnitude and spectacle to the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, which most likely also happened on the seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. [See: The Real Red Sea Crossing.]
Our understanding about the men of Israel giving out a great shout on that seventh day should not focus on the physical but rather on the attitude of a person toward sin, and overcoming it in order to gain the victory over sin. One cannot shout loud without exerting a lot of effort — and energy or force! Jesus’ enigmatic words in Matthew 11:12 should shed a bright light on this: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it [God’s kingdom] by force.” The word “violent” is rendered from the Greek biastes, which means or implies being energetic. Jesus tells His disciples to “watch” (Matthew 25:13; 26:41; Mark 13:33, 35, 37; Luke 21:36) — from the Greek gregoreuo, meaning to be vigilant or awake. Again, as Christian soldiers we cannot be negligent and careless, as it were “asleep on the job.”
The apostle Paul tells Christians: “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep [spiritually speaking], as others do, but let us watch and be sober…” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6). A lethargic Christian cannot overcome sin! [See: Laodicean Christians.]
God’s Word abundantly shows — regardless of what men say otherwise — that it is those who endure to the end (Matthew 10:22) and overcome their sin, Satan and this sinful world that will be “saved,” that will enter or inherit God’s kingdom (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 25; 3:5, 12, 21; 21:7). This requires willful and willing effort to do as God requires.
Partnership with God
If there’s a strong message in the observance of the Days of Unleavened Bread, as Christians are told to (1 Corinthians 5:8), it is this: if we are to walk with God at all, we must agree with Him (Amos 3:3) — on His terms. The apostle Paul tells Christians that, since “Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us,” we should “keep the feast [of Unleavened Bread], not with old leaven [which is] the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
Through Christ God freely offers us sinners “justification” (forgiveness/cleansing of our sins) to make us “righteous” (clean, holy, perfect and sinless — thus acceptable) in His sight. But after we are cleansed, God expects us to strive against sin — try hard to “sin no more” (John 5:14; 8:11), to put away “malice and wickedness,” things contrary to the law of God.
At the same time, as God commands that His people eat unleavened bread during this seven-day festival, we are to pursue or follow God’s way of “sincerity and truth.” Jesus said in His prayer to God the Father: “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Psalm 119:142 affirms of God: “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth.” Verse 172 also says: “For all Your commandments are righteousness.”
However, try as we might with all our human strength, it is impossible for flesh-and-blood Christians to overcome sin, and to keep God’s commandments, without God’s help. Like the high and formidable walls of Jericho, our sins are impossible to conquer — and we cannot possibly obey God’s commandments — on our own strength.
The apostle Paul compared our sins, which he exemplifies in “arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God,” to “strongholds” — mighty fortresses — that need to be pulled down, before the human thought can be brought “into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Like the walls of Jericho, sins not repented of and remain not forgiven present an obstacle to a Christian on his way to God’s kingdom. 1 Corinthians 6:7-10 and Revelation 21:8 list some of those sins that can hold men in the grip of addiction and despair. They have such a pull on the carnal mind toward sin that it has become a “law” in our human state, making it impossible for us to obey God’s law, without God’s help (Romans 7:13-25; 8:7). “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” ( 2 Corinthians 10:3-4).
That is the next step in God’s plan of salvation as pictured by the festival following the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread — the Day of Pentecost or Feast of Weeks. For more on this, see: God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 2 , the section on “The Feast of Weeks/Day of Pentecost and the Jews,” This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation and Predestination.
Our own “walls”
It’s easy to see our spiritual challenge as something like the walls of Jericho — outside of us. It’s more difficult for most people to see their own “walls” which they have set up for, and in, themselves. As the articles I will refer you to explain further, “walls” are the definitions each of us human beings has put up about what is right and what is wrong, apart from what the supreme God has laid down. These are the walls, as they oppose God’s way, that we are to break down and destroy! [See: No Walls, No Ceiling? The Great Wall and “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]
May God give us the eyes to see our need to break down our “walls of Jericho” — and trust in His unfailing help for us so we can see them tumbling down! And we can march right on to our “Promised Land” — God’s kingdom, ultimately culminating in the New Jerusalem.
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.