If you have ever attended our church, you are aware of the jar of “standing stones” on the communion table. This passage from Joshua 4 is where we get support for this practice. Joshua instructs the people to set up 12 stones, one for each tribe, on the promised land side of the Jordan for a specific purpose: “This is that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord’s hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the Lord your God.” (4:24) The entire chapter shows us that the greatest enemy of faith may be forgetfulness (Dale Davis). We need to take whatever step we can to remember what God has done (4:6-7; 21-24). In the church, we remember, not only with our standing stones, but in our weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Beginning in chapter 5, the focus shifts to the actual taking of the land. I found the preparation for this military action interesting. First, all those born in the wilderness are circumcised. Then, the people celebrate the Passover. This is followed by the first meal that includes the produce of the land. Finally, the angelic commander of the Lord’s army appears to Joshua. Addressing these in order, it seems the male children should have been circumcised before now but that Israel’s disobedience and lack of faith kept them from doing so. The Passover meal then reminds them why they should trust God before encountering the occupants they are to displace. God promised to provide for them and told them that this would be a land flowing with milk and honey, and now they taste with their own lips the produce of their future home. Finally, the commander of the Lord’s army shows that it is God who will fight for the people. Needless to say, they are in good hands.
Chapter 6 is the famous account of the fall of Jericho. Contrary to the old spiritual, Joshua did not “fit the battle of Jericho.” God did!. But that did not relieve Joshua and the people from their responsibilities. While God had already given Jericho into Joshua’s hands (6:2), there was still considerable (and strange) work to do (6:3-5). Spurgeon comments on this passage, reminding us that although God is in fact sovereign in salvation, we still have a necessary part to play: “We are to win the world for Christ; this is our highest ambition, and it will be in Christ’s name our grand accomplishment. But it must be by work, by testimony bearing, by preaching of the gospel, by continual prayer, by encompassing the city, perpetually serving God, and walking in the path of obedience.” As we consider God’s instruction for taking Jericho, they honestly don’t make sense to us. We may not understand what God is calling us to but our obligation is to trust and obey. And God calls for full obedience, not just to the commands we like, understand, or naturally agree with, as we will see in the following chapter.
In chapter 7, directly on the heels of the miraculous fall of Jericho, comes Israel’s embarrassing defeat at the hands of an inferior force at Ai. There may be a number of ways for us to approach this text, but I will simply make several observations and corresponding comments from the story:
1) Individual sin has corporate consequences – As Americans, we don’t like this and it seems unfair. But this is a key reason why unrepentant sin in the church must be subjected to discipline. Otherwise, the witness and the effectiveness of the church can be tainted.
2) Prayer is the appropriate first response – Joshua hits his face and cries out to the Lord, not in unbelief but in despair. When we are hurting, lost, confused, or angry, cry out to God! He hears and he cares.
3) The best prayers are ultimately God-focused – Joshua ends his prayer of despair with these words in 7:9: “And what will you do for your great name?” Joshua’s appeal to God to act is based upon a concern for God’s name to be revered by the pagan nations who will hear of Israel’s defeat.
4) Don’t expect victory with unconfessed sin – Not every hardship we face is the result of some sin, but perhaps more often than we care to admit, our sin is being addressed through God’s discipline.
5) Dealing with sin requires radical amputation – Unrepentant sin, whether our own or in our church body, cannot be tolerated. It is a destructive and infectious force that must be dealt with radically.
Much more could be said here but that will do for now. I would love to hear your thoughts and how God is using your time in his Word to teach and form you into greater Christ-likeness.