June 10, 2010 David Balzer

Joshua 5:13-6:27: Joshua DIDN’T fight the battle of Jericho:

The movie “The Matrix” was on last week. One of my all-time favourite movies. Keanu Reeves plays a computer programmer called Neo. The basic idea of the movie is that LIFE, as Neo experiences it, ISN’T REAL. It’s one big computer simulation. Virtual reality. Called “The Matrix”

All the things he experiences every day. The things he sees and hears and tastes and touches and smells/ are simply the result of electrical signals sent to his brain by a computer. His actual body and brain are somewhere completely different. A different reality exists compared to what he can experience with his senses. What is REAL goes against common sense.

And at various times during the movie, Neo has to step out in faith. To respond to what he BELIEVES is true/ but what COMMONSENSE tells him is nonsense.

He sees a boy holding a spoon. As he watches, the boy makes the spoon droop, and then twist around itself into a knot. “The trick”, the boy says to him, “is to remember that THERE IS NO SPOON”.

His eyes SEE a spoon. His hand TOUCHES a spoon. But each of those senses are just electrical impulses. Signals sent to his brain by the virtual reality computer.

And Neo learns to respond to what he BELIEVES is true/ rather than what COMMONSENSE tells him.

And Joshua’s learning that lesson too. Commonsense tells him that water can’t come from a rock. Commonsense tells him that a river in flood can’t be crossed. Commonsense tells him that water can’t stand up in a heap.

But he’s learning that when it comes to the ways of God/ commonsense doesn’t have the answers. God’s plans aren’t bound by the normal rules of physics/ or geology/ or maths/ or logic. There’s a BIGGER REALITY than what Joshua experiences with his senses.

And Joshua’s learning that God is much bigger/ and more wonderful/ than any mould we try to fit him into. And he’s learning to walk in the faith that accepts that.

And in today’s story we see three such challenges. Three times where God’s way clashes with our way.

Firstly, God ISN’T on our side.

Secondly, Joshua DIDN’T fight the battle of Jericho, and

Thirdly, God’s justice ISN’T fair.

Now, I hope, that as I made each of those statements you stopped and thought to yourself, “Hang on a minute! That’s not right! He must mean the opposite!”

No, I meant EXACTLY what I said!

God ISN’T on our side.

Joshua DIDN’T fight the battle of Jericho, and

God’s justice ISN’T fair.

1. God ISN’T on our side

Let me explain what I mean. Firstly, God ISN’T on our side. We’re looking at Ch 5 v 13.

Joshua the general/ is getting ready for war. The spies have come back. The plans are about to be laid. But God’s got OTHER plans. Have a look at verse 13.

(Josh 5:13 NIV)  Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

Joshua’s mind’s on the battle. He’s thinking strategies. He’s thinking conquest. Perhaps he’s even looking down at the battle plans on the ground. Because he looks UP, and he sees a man standing there with a drawn sword.

His mind’s in “fight” mode, so he comes out with a perfectly question. “Are you for US, or for OUR ENEMIES?” Who’s side are you on? It’s a pretty important question to establish – especially since the guy’s carrying a drawn sword. If he’s an enemy, take your eye off him for a second, and you could be .

But there’s a problem with the question. It’s a double-sided question. And they’re difficult to answer. Let me give you an example. How would you answer if I said to you, “Is your pet-rabbit male or female?”

You could either say, “He’s male”, or “She’s female”. But there is another way of correctly answering that question.

“Is your pet rabbit male or female?” Yes. He is either male or female.

The problem is with the question. It’s a double-sided question. A better question would be “Is your rabbit male?” If the answer is yes, we know it’s a boy. And if the answer is no, we know it’s a .

And it’s the same with Joshua’s question. He doesn’t ask, “Are you a friend?” His question is “Are you for us, or for our enemies?”

And the man answers, “Neither”. It’s literally “NO”. Joshua thinks there are only two answers to the question. You’re either on Joshua’s side, or on the enemy’s side. But this warrior comes up with a third option. He’s on NEITHER side.

And in v14, we find out the reason why. He’s part of a BIGGER reality. A reality that Joshua’s five senses can’t help him with. Look at v14.

(“Are you for us or for our enemies?” {14} “Neither,” he replied,) “BUT AS COMMANDER OF THE ARMY OF THE LORD I have now come.”

This guy’s got bigger fish to fry than just Jericho. He’s the commander of THE LORD’S army. He’s not on Joshua’s side like Joshua imagines. If anything, Joshua is on the side of the LORD.

The commander is saying, “The only side I’m on is the LORD’S. And that’s why I’m here now. The Lord’s army’s got battles all over the place. And this is just one of them.


It’s the sort of mistake that many people make today. “God’s on my side. He’s my little genie in the lamp. Whenever I’VE got a problem, I just pull him out, give the lamp a rub, and HEY PRESTO – he fixes things up.”

You mightn’t think you treat God like that. But think about how you pray. Is it little more than a glorified wishlist? “Hi, God. I’d like this and this and this and this. And please fix up this, and heal this person. And make this situation better. And please find me a parking spot. And …. “

And this sort of thinking gives itself away in the way some people evangelise. “Come to Jesus, and life will be better. Become a Christian and you’ll get joy, or success, or prosperity, or health, or good relationships. Come to Jesus, and God will be on your side.”

But God says, “No! I’m not on your side, OR your enemies. Your job is to fulfill MY purposes. Not the other way around. You’re to work on MY wishlist. Not the other way around.

Listen to Eph 1:11-12.

(Eph 1:11-12 NIV)  In him we were also CHOSEN, (having been predestined according to the PLAN of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, {12} in order that (?we might have a successful, happy and fulfilled  life?)

No! We were chosen in order that WE MIGHT BE FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.

God says, “I’VE got plans for YOU. YOU are on MY side. Not the other way around. Don’t follow me because it MAKES YOU HAPPY. Follow me because it’s TRUE.

And this is what CS Lewis found. He was a hardened atheist. But gradually God broke down his barriers. The last thing he wanted was to give himself over to another person.

But he couldn’t get away from the TRUTH that God was there. Lewis wanted to argue. Use philosophy and logic. But, in his words, “My adversary (that’s God) … would not argue about it. He only said, “I am the Lord, I am that I am. I am”

He describes his horror once he realised that. “Amiable agnostics talk cheerfully about ‘man’s search for God’. To me they might as well have talked about a mouse’s search for a cat…

(And a bit further on he says) “Total surrender, the absolute leap in the dark, was demanded. The reality with which no treaty can be made was upon me. The demand was not even ‘All or nothing’. I think that stage had been passed… Now the demand was simply ‘All’.

“The steady, unrelenting approach of him whom I so earnestly desired NOT to meet… That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

CSLewis was someone who recognised that it wasn’t God who was on HIS side. But that he needed to be on God’s side. He bowed to TRUTH, not convenience. God isn’t a convenient God, who fits into your boxes.

He recognised that he needed to side with truth. Then deal with the consequences later.

And you need to follow the example of CS Lewis. You need to recognise truth – whatever the consequences. You need to join God’s side. Have you done that?

Well, Joshua DID respond the right way. Look at the second half of v14.

(Josh 5:14 NIV)  …Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Joshua recognised the reality. He learned the first lesson. He was ready to join God’s side. And he was ready for the second lesson.

2. Joshua DIDN’T fight the battle of Jericho

The second lesson was that Joshua wasn’t to fight the battle. This was to be GOD’S fight.

Ch 6 starts by describing the difficulty of the task. Verse 1

(Josh 6:1 NIV)  Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.

This might have been the very thing Joshua was puzzling over when the commander arrived. But while commonsense mightn’t have seen any solution. It was no problem for God. Verse 2

(Josh 6:2 NIV)  Then the LORD said to Joshua, “See (look – “check it out” a modern translation might say!), I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.

“Excellent” says Joshua. He looks up, maybe hoping to see some way to conquer the city. But what does he see when he looks up? “Jericho, tightly shut up. No one going out or in. No HUMAN solution at all. And that’s the point.

God continues. V4.

(Josh 6:3-5 NIV)  March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. {4} Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. {5} When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.”

The strangest military plan ever! But that’s because it ISN’T a military plan. It’s a religious procession. It’s about obeying God, and honouring him. Because HE’S THE ONE who’ll deliver Jericho into Joshua’s hands.

And Joshua doesn’t doubt for a minute. He goes straight to the priests and organises the Ark. He goes straight to the people and orders them to follow the Ark.

And for seven days, the people obey. They march around the city. One long procession. Not a sound, except for the blast of the trumpets. No one speaks. No one answers the cries of abuse from the city walls. No one disobeys God. They just march.

Until we get to the end of the last lap. The end of the seventh lap on the seventh day. The end of their test of obedience. Have a look at v20.

(Josh 6:20 NIV)  When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.

The shout was a sign of victory. The victory had been won already because 1) God had promised it, and 2) They’d played their part. They’d been obedient. They’d learned the lesson.

The lesson in the whole story / was that it was GOD WHO FOUGHT THE BATTLE OF JERICHO, not Joshua.

And it’s a lesson we need to learn, too. The battle is God’s. Let me suggest there’s a lesson for two sorts of people. For people who are CONFIDENT. And people who are DOUBTING.

Firstly, perhaps THIS is you – Things might be going well. You could be feeling quite pleased with how well you’re going as a Christian. Bible reading’s regular. Prayer’s not too bad. People at church think pretty highly of you. You come up with good answers at Home Group. People at work, or school, even ask your advice about Christian things.

But the battle is God’s. Everything you have comes from him. Give him in the glory in everything. Acknowledge your dependence on him every day.

You see, our tendency is to STEAL GOD’S PRAISE. Assume that when good things happen, it’s because of our cleverness. But THE APOSTLE PAUL recognised that he was simply an ugly old clay pot. Nothing special. But he was a clay pot that contained a RICH TREASURE – the treasure of the gospel he proclaimed. He knew who REALLY deserved the credit. 2 Corinthians 4:7

(2 Cor 4:7 NIV)  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that THIS ALL-SURPASSING POWER IS FROM GOD AND NOT FROM US.

The power to change lives is not in MY words, or Paul’s words, But God who changes hearts through his Spirit. And who brings down walls by his power.

This is also a lesson for another sort of person. It’s for those of you who DOUBT.

Every day we look at whatever city we’re trying to conquer – and it’s shut up tighter than a drum. And we forget that it’s God who fights our battles. We lose hope, and confidence, and courage.

It might be persevering with leading that Youth Group, or talking to your best friend, or your mum, about Jesus. It might be resisting the temptation of anger, or lust, or bitterness. It might just be struggling to continue following God in the stresses of life.

All of these might seem like Jericho – shut up tight. No human way forward.

But the commander of the Lord’s army says to you, “Look up. Check it out. I have delivered Jericho into your hands”

Joshua was called to RECOGNISE the true state of reality. To KNOW that / changed his attitude and his actions.

And it’s the same with us. God has reserves of power way beyond what we can see or understand. But it’s all about KNOWING. And in Eph 3, Paul describes it as KNOWING the DEPTHS OF THE LOVE that God has for us in his Son. Verse 16

(Eph 3:16-21 NIV)  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may STRENGTHEN YOU WITH POWER through his Spirit in your inner being, {17} so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, {18} MAY HAVE POWER, TOGETHER WITH ALL THE SAINTS, TO GRASP HOW WIDE AND LONG AND HIGH AND DEEP IS THE LOVE OF CHRIST, {19} AND TO KNOW THIS LOVE that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. {20} Now to him who is able to do IMMEASURABLY MORE THAN ALL WE ASK OR IMAGINE, according to his power that is at work within US, {21} to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Knowing that God loves us deeply/ gives us significance and purpose. That gives us the faith to continue following him.

Lesson 2. Joshua DIDN’T fight the battle of Jericho. The battle was GOD’S. Thank God.

3. God’s justice ISN’T fair

The third lesson we learn from this story is that God’s justice ISN’T fair. Now there’s a sense in which this is true. And a sense in which it’s NOT true. So give me a few minutes to explain myself.

God’s knocked the walls of Jericho down. And the people rush in. And God commands them to COMPLETELY DESTROY every living thing in the city. Nothing is to be spared. And that’s what they do. Look at v 21.

(Josh 6:21 NIV)  They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it–men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

Now our immediate reaction is “That’s a bit much! Was that REALLY necessary? It doesn’t seem FAIR. Surely not EVERYONE deserved that. What about the babies?”

It’s all to do with the difference between what WE think is fair/ and what GOD thinks is fair.

I’ve heard a story about Mike O’Connor. When he’s telling non-Christians about God’s eternal punishment of non-Christians, he says something like, “You know, you seem like a nice guy. If it was up to me, I’d let you into heaven. That seems fair to me. But the problem is/ it’s not UP to me. And God says that that’s not what we deserve.”

God’s measuring stick for fairness is PERFECTION. Our measuring stick is whether someone’s “a good bloke” or not. So it’s no wonder that we think that God’s justice isn’t fair.

And some Christians have a hard time getting past that!

But there are three things about God’s justice/ that may make this chapter a little easier to stomach.

1. Firstly, God’s justice is CLEANSING JUSTICE.

The destruction of Jericho wasn’t just because they were wicked. It was also to PROTECT Israel. To help stop her from being infected by their sin. Listen to Deut 20:16-18.

(Deu 20:16-18 NIV)  However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, DO NOT LEAVE ALIVE ANYTHING THAT BREATHES. {17} Completely destroy them–…–as the LORD your God has commanded you. {18} Otherwise, THEY WILL TEACH YOU TO FOLLOW ALL THE DETESTABLE THINGS THEY DO in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.

It’s like the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in Britain a few years ago. Terrible pictures of huge piles of burning carcases. Whole herds destroyed. And it wasn’t just INFECTED animals either. Neighbouring farms were wiped out as well. Just to be on the safe side. Drastic measures were called for. Because foot and mouth disease is a terrible disease.

And perhaps part of our problem is we’ve been immunised/ anaesthetised/ to how terrible sin is. A drastic solution was required to prevent an epidemic.

2. The second thing we can say about this justice is that it’s PATIENT JUSTICE. Right back in Gen 15, God tells Abraham that his descendants will live back in Canaan – but that it will take 400 years before that happens. Listen to Gen 15:16

(Gen 15:16 NIV)  After 400 years your descendants will come back here,(that is, Canaan)  FOR THE SIN OF THE AMORITES HAS NOT YET REACHED ITS FULL MEASURE.”

God is patient with the Canaanites. They might turn away from their sin. But in reality, it will be 400 years of sin building up and building up, until in God’s timing judgement comes. His justice is patient.

3. The third thing we can say about God’s justice/ is that it’s MERCIFUL JUSTICE.

You might have noticed that what I read before from v 21 of Josh 6 wasn’t EXACTLY true. Because everyone in the city WASN’T destroyed. Look at v22.

(Josh 6:22-23 NIV)  Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the ‘s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” {23} So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.

The whole city DESERVED destruction. Yet, Rahab’s family escaped. God was just. But he was also merciful. Did Rahab DESERVE to die. Yes. But God was merciful. Rahab was no better than the rest of the city. And Israel itself was no probably no better than Jericho.

But God chose to be merciful to some/ and to execute his just judgement on others. And that’s why I said that, in a sense, God’s justice ISN’T fair.

Which is just as well for us. Because we don’t deserve salvation anymore than anyone else. God mercifully chose us to be saved. I’m glad that God’s justice isn’t fair, because if it was NOONE would be saved! I’m glad God is merciful. That he forgives anyone who calls on him in faith.

And we need to be a church just like that. A church that’s RADICALLY SEPARATE. And that’s GRACIOUSLY INCLUSIVE.

We need to be RADICALLY SEPARATE. To give sin its full weight. To recognise its seriousness. How contagious it is. We need to encourage each other to live holy lives. To confess our sins to each other. To be accountable to each other for our behaviour.

There must be no hint of condoning or accepting continual, unrepentant sin. We need to be radically separate from sin.

But we also need to be GRACIOUSLY INCLUSIVE. Just like Israel. They accepted and included Rahab.

God has shown us mercy. His justice towards us WASN’T fair. We mustn’t judge other people because of their backgrounds. Their upbringings, their past lifestyle, their weaknesses. If these people are earnestly desiring to follow Jesus, then we must accept them unconditionally.

The three wonderful lessons this morning are that

1. God ISN’T on our side. We’re on HIS. Thank God!

2. Joshua DIDN’T fight the battle of Jericho. It was God’s battle. Thank God!

3. God’s justice ISN’T fair. He shows mercy when we don’t deserve it. Thank God!

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