This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Joshua series “New Beginnings”
The Battle Plan
This is the very beginning of the Jews conquering the Promised Land and the way they are doing it doesn’t make sense to us. We are not accustomed to seeing things conquered the way they set about doing it. The first thing Joshua did was to obey what God him and had the whole army circumcised. During the days following the circumcision, a small enemy army could have killed all their soldiers. They had been a people wandering in the wilderness without direction and not really even a nation. They had forgotten what God had told them to do as His people. They first had to establish themselves as followers of God’s ways and the first thing they needed to do was to be circumcised and establish themselves as God’s people. Christians need to do the same thing. We are God’s people and should do things God’s way, which will always be different from the way the world does things. Many times, we wander in the wilderness, following every wind of doctrine of the current trends of the world. We take on the ways of the wilderness in which we wander. Christians need to establish ourselves as different, even if it makes us vulnerable to the world. The Jews did just that.
The next thing they did was equally strange. They are to attack the city of Jericho, a city well known for its fortified walls. The people of Jericho felt completely safe because nothing could penetrate those walls. The Jews were to take the Ark of the Covenant, the place where God dwelt among the people of Israel, and seven priests were to carry it around the city one time for each day. “The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark,” while the rest of the Jews were to walk silently behind the Ark. They were to do that each day for six days. It was like a six-day-long worship service to focus the people on the Ark and on God. They were claiming the land for God.
The last day, they were to march around the city seven times. This may have been one of the greatest worship services of all time. When many of us worship today, we are self-conscious. We wonder how we look or what other people are thinking about us or if we might say the wrong thing, but worship is not about us. The focus of worship is supposed to be on God. When we look back on this battle today, many of us follow that same focus. We think of Joshua and the Jews who were fighting the battle, but that isn’t where the focus was. God fought the battle of Jericho. The Israelites knew the focus was not on them, but on God. They spent seven straight days worshiping and focusing on God. Without the presence of God, there was no way the Jews would have conquered Jericho, let alone the rest of the land.
The last day, they marched around the city seven times, God’s number of completeness. The worship was finally complete. The Jews had taken the Ark and the presence of God and claimed this city and really the whole land for God. The people finished the worship by shouting. When they shouted, the walls, the power center of this city, fell down. If the archeologists are to be believed, the walls fell outward. They did not fall by the power of the Israelites but by the power of God. This would be like a nation trying to conquer our country and when they shouted, their God suddenly made all our weapons melt. God has the power to do that. If all the nuclear bombs in the world went off at the same time, God could snuff them out more easily than I could snuff out a candle. We think of ourselves as being strong and powerful and we sing about Joshua’s sword and spear, but those things are totally insignificant compared to the power of God. This story is about God and His power. We are impressed by the power men develop, but any power we have is nothing compared to the power of God. We don’t like to look at God’s power, because if we do we will obviously have to be in submission to that power.
The next thing in the story is a violent incident that really bothers us today. God told the Jews to destroy all the people of Jericho except for Rahab and her family. They were even to destroy all the children and the animals. We think of ourselves as nonviolent people and are offended by such actions. We are really no less violent, but we have hidden our violence. Back on the farm each year we had a day when we butchered hogs. There was almost a ritual around the butchering. It was always my grandfather who shot the pigs and it was always done in relative quiet. Garrison Keillor talked abut butchering in one of his stories. He accurately portrayed the way it was done. He said it was a solemn time. There was no joking around. We realized we were killing these animals for our food. We participated in the violence of it; it is violent and bloody.
As a child, I grew up watching this ritual each year. I don’t know if I could do it today, but I’ve seen it done enough times that I could probably figure it out. We usually butchered in the winter because the carcasses needed to cool before they could be cut up and there were few large coolers in which to cool them. On days when we had people over, Grandma would usually kill a chicken or two, pluck them then cook them for the meal. Most of us have never participated in that sort of thing. We buy our chicken in buckets, already killed and cooked. We buy our meat wrapped in cellophane at a meat counter in a grocery store. We don’t do any killing or even see any blood. Just because we don’t see it, that doesn’t mean that there was no violent killing. It is not as though the violence is not there. We call the places where the animals are killed slaughter houses and that is what is done there. We insulate ourselves from much of the violence of life. People used to die in homes, but today we seldom see people die. Surgery is done by a small group behind closed doors. We rarely even see the birth of babies. I don’t think our world is any less violent or bloody; we have just hidden the blood and violence. We push those things into the background and put up a facade of non-violence.
We read about people in Old Testament times who sacrificed animals and think they must have been terrible people. Actually, they just lived closer to the daily violence of the world than we do. I have wondered why people today are so concerned that those animals were sacrificed. Today, possums seem to have a very hard time crossing our roads. I would say that it is likely each year more animals die on our highways than were ever sacrificed to pagan gods. At least the animals that were sacrificed in the Hebrew Temple were eaten by the priests instead of being left to rot along the highway. Those animals are sacrificed each year to enable us to drive high speed cars and trucks on our highways. If we stopped driving cars, a lot of possums would be spared—but, we overlook that and the other violence that is all around us.
The violence of our world is still here. It is just covered up so we are not aware of it. Very few of us are even aware of the fighting that goes on around the world or even that slavery still exists. We isolate ourselves from the terrible treatment people inflict on one another. The fact that it is hidden does not mean that the violence has gone away. The Bible even indicates that God is willing to use violence to limit evil. There is at least one recorded incident when Jesus used violence. He took cords and drove the money changers out of the Temple because they had turned God’s house into a den of thieves. That was an evil worthy of using violence to limit. God may continue to use violence to limit evil until the day comes when He will eliminate evil without eliminating us.
There are passages in the Bible that speak of a time when swords shall be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. It also speaks of a time when the lion shall lie down with the lamb. Those are wonderful passages from Isaiah, chapter two and eleven. We think that by our effort we will be able to make that happen, but we need to read the whole passage. We can, at best, create the illusion of doing that. Woody Allen once said, “The lion will lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.” We can’t take the violence out of our world by our efforts; the best we can do is create an illusion of peace. The peace Isaiah spoke of comes indirectly. If you read the whole passage, you will find that Isaiah says there will be a day coming when all the nations of the world will fall down and worship God. When that happens, then the lion will lie down with the lamb and swords will be beaten into plowshares. If we want that day to come, then we need to work to have all people fall down and make Jesus Christ Lord of their lives.
We come into relationship to God through Jesus Christ. He absorbed the violence of this world and the violence of God when He died on the cross. When we come into that relationship to God, we begin to become new people. Even if we want to eliminate the violence in the church, we need to make Jesus Lord in our lives. Our denomination has been going through a terrible time of verbal violence toward each other. I would rather go back and participate in a couple of butchering days on the farm than go back to a couple of presbytery meetings we have had. If we want to bring peace, it will not be by political manipulations, but by everyone’s falling down and calling Jesus Lord. We will need to look to Him to direct our actions. We should not keep trying to have our side win, but instead look carefully at what Jesus might want. When Jesus is truly Lord in all our lives, then all the violence that permeates our lives and our world will finally cease. Only when Jesus is finally Lord of our lives will we have peace.