Facing Your Jericho
By Stephen A. Seamands
Jericho is staring Joshua in the face, with its imposing, impenetrable walls towering over him. This was a fortified city if there ever was one, armed with all the sophisticated weaponry of that day. It was in lockdown because they knew the Israelites were going to attack.
More than any other obstacle, Jericho was standing between Joshua and the people of God, preventing them from taking over and occupying the land God had promised them. (You can read the story in the book of Joshua.) If they could take Jericho, the rest was sure to follow.
What is the equivalent of Jericho in your life today? What’s keeping you from your promised land? We all have them, don’t we? Imposing obstacles that stand in the way. Yours may relate to your job, your finances, your ministry, your marriage, your children, your family, your physical health, your relationships, your stage in life. But we all have them, don’t we?
Well, as the old African-American spiritual said, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down.” They certainly did. The Bible says, they “fell down flat” (Joshua 6:20) – like a pancake.
But what about your Jericho? The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8 that in all things we can be “more than conquerors” through Christ. What do you need to do to win the battle?
Well, let’s look at what Joshua did.
1. Look up. “When Joshua was by Jericho,” the Scripture says, “he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand.”
The first thing Joshua did was that he “looked up.” But notice where he was when he did this. He was “by Jericho.” It is not looming in the distance, but right there in front of him. Jericho – staring him in the face.
Yet he looked up. Don’t miss that. Because your Jericho is like that too, isn’t it? You can’t get away from it. You can’t help thinking about day in and day out. It gets your attention. It’s in your face.
Ultimately, whatever gets your attention gets you. It has a way of consuming you. The more you think about it and focus on it, the bigger it gets, the more overwhelming it becomes. The more it weighs you down. And the more it keeps you from thinking about anything else.
But now notice, Joshua “looked up and saw.” That means he turned his eyes and his attention away from Jericho. And if he hadn’t done that, Jericho wouldn’t have fallen.
I wonder if that’s what you need to do right now. Is your attention so fixed on your Jericho that you’re not looking at anything else? Turn away from it right now. Look up and see.
The reason I attend worship services, and read the Bible every day, and pray, and meet with other Christians in a small group is because it helps me to look up.
2. Fall on your face. Joshua looked up and “he saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand.” Who was this man, anyway? We’re not told his name, but he was armed and dangerous.
But who exactly was he? As Christians we read the Bible backwards, reading the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament, in the light of Christ. Christian writers and commentators of the Bible have suggested that what we have here is an appearance of Christ, the pre-existent Son of God.
As the Son, the second person of the Trinity, he existed from all eternity, and so he could appear like this to someone. Theologians have a word for this, they call it a “Christophany,” an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ, that is, before he became flesh and dwelt among us.
Joshua saw a man standing before him. He didn’t know who he was. He just knows this guy is ready to fight. Now he wants to know whose side is this guy on? Is he on our side or their side? But Joshua doesn’t get the answer he was hoping for or expecting. Instead, Joshua gets a push back that stops him in his tracks. “Neither,” says the man, “But as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
In other words, “Joshua, you wanted to know if I was on your side or their side. And you were hoping I’d be on your side because you know you need help. You’re in over your head and you know it.
“You’ve got Jericho facing you, and you were hoping I would come along and help you with it. Then you could tell me what to do because you’re the commander in chief of Israel’s army and I would help you fix it, make it go away. And we would all live happily ever after.
“But no – that’s not what I’ve come to do. I haven’t come to serve you. I’ve come to take over. Forget about whose side I’m on. The real question is whose side are you on. I haven’t come to put myself at your disposal, so that you can use me to accomplish your agenda. I’m here to accomplish MY agenda. I want you at my disposal. You’re not in charge here, Joshua. You’re not the commander in chief anymore, I am.”
That answer stops Joshua in his tracks. He realizes he’s asked the wrong question.
So what about you? Have you been asking the Lord God to fight for you, to help you with your Jericho. “You need to fix this for me, Jesus. You need to make this Jericho go away. Here’s what I want you to do.”
We do that with Jesus, don’t we? Use him to get what we want. Jesus becomes the divine pharmacist we use to fill our prescriptions when we have aches. He’s the interior decorator we turn to whenever the house needs a makeover.
Jesus stands before us today and he says, “No. That’s not why I’ve come. Not so you can tell me what to do, but so I can tell you what to do. As the Commander of the Army of the Lord I have now come.”
How does Joshua respond to the abrupt, jarring answer he got? Here is what the Scripture says: “And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and he said to him, ‘What do you command your servant, my Lord?’” (Joshua 5:4).
Joshua fell on his face. He surrendered. He said, “Not my will, Lord, but Thy will be done.” His question changed from, “Are you here to help me?” to “What can I do to help you.” Do you need to fall on your face? Your Jericho is before you. Christ, the commander of the Lord’s army is here. You’ve been praying, “Jesus help me to solve this problem, to fix it, to resolve it the way I think you should.”
“Forgive me, Lord. Today, I’m changing my prayer. Not my will, but let your will be done. Take my Jericho. You fix it, you resolve it as you see fit. Use me, Lord to accomplish that.”
Do you need to stop telling God what you want, and start asking God what he wants? Joshua fell on his face. Before the walls of Jericho could fall down, Joshua had to fall down. Do you need to fall on your face, to surrender, to stop praying my will be done and start praying “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?
3. Take off your shoes. In the presence of the man with the drawn sword, Joshua fell on his face. But notice what he did next. “The commander of the army of the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.’ And Joshua did so” (Joshua 5:15).
First Joshua looks up, then he falls down, now he takes off his shoes. This is interesting. And again, not what Joshua expected. He’s just said, “What do you command your servant, my Lord.” In other words, “I’ll do whatever you ask. Just tell me, I’ll do it. You’re the commander in chief now.”
And if you’re a military man, like Joshua was, and you know there’s going to be a battle to fight, you’re probably expecting to be given an order to carry out that has to do with preparing for battle. But instead of being told to get his boots on and put the troops on high alert, the first order Joshua gets is, “Soldier, take off your boots. The place you are standing is holy.”
Oddly, the commander of the Lord’s army calls Joshua to worship first, not to war – to adore, not to attack. He calls him to wait in the presence of God. “Slow down, Joshua, take your shoes off. I am here. Be still and know that I am God. Jericho can wait.”
This is always the order in spiritual battle. First we ascend into worship. Then we descend into war. Worship causes our God to get bigger. Of course that’s not literally true, but God does appear bigger in our eyes. We see him for who is always is and was and is to come! We are captured by his overwhelming beauty, his loveliness, his power, his goodness, his strength, his love.
And after we’ve been in his presence, gotten a fresh glimpse of who he is, then instead of telling our God how big our problems are, we start telling our problems how big our God is!
4. March and Shout. To conquer Jericho, Joshua had to look up, fall on his face, and take off his shoes. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See I have handed over Jericho to you” (Joshua 6:2). Now march around the city for seven days, and on the seventh day, march around it seven times, and after you’ve done that have everyone shout – for the Lord has given you the city.
In the face of Jericho, God calls Joshua and the people to exercise faith. As it says in Hebrews 11, the great faith chapter of the Bible, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled seven days” (11:30).
So God says, “I’ve handed over Jericho to you. It’s a done deal. I have given you the city. Take me at my word. So as an act of faith, march around it because the city is in your hands. No, you can’t see it yet. It hasn’t become actual yet, but make no mistake, it’s real, it has happened.
“And keep marching. Be patient – march around for seven days until the circle of time is completed. It may look like nothing is happening. The novelty of marching around the walls may have worn off. The people of Jericho, looking down on you from inside the walls, may ridicule you and tell you you’re crazy. But don’t stop.”
According to Hebrews 11, “faith is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot see” (NLT). Stay at it until the unseen real (what God’s word says) becomes the seen real (what you can actually see). Stay at it until your faith becomes sight.
And when you’ve marched around the city for the very last time, for the seventh time on the seventh day, shout in anticipation of what God’s going to do. Don’t shout after the walls fall down. That’s what we would expect. We shout after the batter hits the home run or team scores a touchdown. No, do it before in faith as bold anticipation of what God’s going to do.
He’s here with you at this moment, the risen and reigning Lord Jesus – the man with the sword in his hand – standing by your Jericho. So look up and see, fall on your face, take off your shoes, march around the city, and shout.
Stephen Seamands is professor emeritus of Christian Theology at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is the author of several books including Wounds That Heal: Bringing Our Hurts to the Cross and Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service. This article appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of Good News. Cover art: Wesley21 Art.