We consider in our broadcast today the account recorded for us in Hebrews 11:30. We read, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.” From Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, to the conquest of Canaan. The writer to the Hebrews does not interest us in the history in between. We know there were many events that took place during Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Few of them, however, reveal the faith of this nation. Much of her stay in the wilderness was with murmuring and complaint. We are told that the bodies of many in Israel fell by the wayside in the wilderness because of their unbelief. All those who left Egypt at the age of 20 and older died in the wilderness, never seeing the land of promise—and that because of Israel’s unbelief. In contrast to this we find that Joshua and Israel now cross over the Jordan River and into Canaan by faith. Moses had died on Mt. Nebo before Israel entered the promised land. God had appointed Joshua to take Moses’ place, imparting on this man the spirit that had resided in Moses.
The authority God had invested in Joshua was confirmed at the waters of the Jordan River. The priests that bore the ark of the covenant stepped into the waters of Jordan and the waters of the river were stopped at the point of crossing, forming a dam as it were on the north side of the crossing. Israel crossed over the river and now were set to inherit the land of promise. The first city Joshua was called to fight against was Jericho—the gateway to central Canaan.
Before crossing over the Jordan River, however, Joshua had sent out two men to spy out the city. The Scripture relates to us the event of the harlot Rahab hiding these spies on the rooftop of her house. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of the destruction of Jericho before relating the account of Rahab. The account of Rahab’s faith, therefore, follows the verse we consider today. We read of it in verse 31, which means, of course, we will learn of Rahab’s faith after the fall of Jericho. But the way that it is recorded here in Hebrews 11 makes this seem quite natural. So, though we will consider the faith of Rahab after the fall of Jericho, it will not seem out of place in the order of events. Today we concentrate on the fall of Jericho—a mighty city that in unbelief resisted the armies of the Lord and therefore God Himself.
In this connection we will learn that the victory of Israel over her enemy is given to her by God. We will also learn that this is always true of the church. The victory she receives over this world and sin is always freely given her by God for the sake of Jesus Christ. At the same time, this victory is received by the church in faith. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down.
I. Israel’s March
The city of Jericho lay almost directly west, perhaps a little to the south of Gilgal. In fact, Israel’s camp in Gilgal lay dangerously close to the city of Jericho—about two miles away. We read that the city of Jericho was securely shut up. This was true because when the king of Jericho and, for that matter, all the kings in Canaan heard of Israel’s crossing of the Jordan, “their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more” (Joshua 5:1). It was not that Jericho was small and unprotected. This city was heavily fortified. Though it is true that the city could not have been very large, it was surrounded by high wide walls. So wide were the walls that people built houses on them. The gates were, no doubt, wrought of iron or thick wood. Oftentimes there were two sets of gates one had to pass through to enter a city. In other words, this city was not exposed to an attack with no form of protection. Israel could not just enter into the city and defeat it. We learn in Joshua 5 that Joshua was by himself looking over the city of Jericho in order to figure out a way to do battle. While Joshua was contemplating the method of warfare, God Himself gave instructions as to how the city was to be taken.
God did this by sending to speak with Joshua the “Captain of the Lord’s host.” His appearance was that of a man with his sword drawn. In fact, Joshua was not certain at first whether this man was an enemy or a friend. He quickly learned that this was not a mere man, but in fact a divine being. We say that, because Joshua fell on his face and worshiped this Captain of the Lord’s Host. Also, because Joshua was told to take off his shoes because he stood on holy ground. God in His holiness stood before Joshua. For this reason, we again are presented with the angel of Jehovah who appeared at times to certain people in the Old Testament. We already a couple of times in our series of sermons on Hebrews 11 explained the identity of this angel. He was a prefiguration of Christ. Here too He appeared to Joshua, but this time as the Captain of the armies of Jehovah. Joshua now received instruction from this Captain as to how God would Himself give the victory to Joshua and Israel.
Before considering what happened, however, we must identify Jericho from a spiritual point of view. The king and the inhabitants of this city were wicked. When confronted with God and His power, they refused to turn from sin and worship Jehovah. They did not open the gates of their city and invite Israel to enter, in order to learn of Jehovah God who had done great things. They were enemies of God. They stood in opposition to the Captain of the Lord’s host. Jericho represents the heathen of this world in their strength, who stand opposed to God’s kingdom and as a result against the church of Jesus Christ.
The march of Israel around this city took place according to the specifications of the Captain of the Lord’s host that met with Joshua the day before. The small army of Israel left Gilgal and marched to the walls of Jericho. They then organized themselves into a small procession. Half of the armed men were placed at the head of the procession. In the middle of it, seven priests carrying seven horns made of rams’ horns preceded the priests that bear the ark of the covenant. Afterward the second half of armed men followed the priests. It must have been a strange sight to watch this procession of men circle the city once and then leave back to their camp. What made it rather eerie was that the men made no sound. They marched in complete silence, not saying a word to each other. The only sounds that were heard were the repeated, mournful bellows of the rams’ horns by the priests and the marching of feet. Six days in a row this took place. On the seventh day the procession circled the city seven times instead of once as on the other six days.
Can you imagine what the inhabitants of this city were experiencing? Some commentators conjecture that the men on the walls were beginning to mock and shout from the walls. I wonder. If I were in that city, having heard what God had done to the waters of the Jordan, reminding me of what God had done at the Red Sea to the armies of Pharaoh, I think I would be sitting nervously in silence. But then, unbelief is a strange thing. It laughs in the face of God. Perhaps the inhabitants of the city of Jericho were becoming comfortable. Perhaps they did find what was going on humorous. On the seventh day, and after the seventh circuit of the city, on that day the small army was called upon to shout when they heard the loud blast of the trumpets.
Before considering the result of this strange occurrence of events, let us take a close look at the significance of this formation and this march of Israel. If we fail to do this we will also fail to understand the wonder that took place before Jericho.
What was in the very center of this procession? Or rather, who was circling this city with the army of Israel? Yes, the Captain of the Lord’s army was going before the army of Israel. But who was at the center of this march? Jehovah! How was this true? The ark of the covenant on which God had taken up His dwelling place in Israel was in the midst of this army. This army did not march about Jericho alone! God was in her midst. We are reminded of Psalm 46:5-7: “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” God was fighting this battle on behalf of Israel. Israel did not fight her enemies alone—just as you and I do not battle our enemies alone! God is on our side.
This is also signified by the number seven. The writer to the Hebrews calls attention to this detail in our text: the walls of Jericho fell after they were compassed about seven days. Likewise, seven priests blew upon the rams’ horns. On the seventh day Israel marched around the city of Jericho seven times. This number stands out in the account of the fall of Jericho. You see, the number seven in Scripture always has spiritual significance. It is the number of God’s covenant. It is the sum of 3 plus 4. The number 3 refers to the triune God, and the number 4 refers to man (4 corners of the earth or the 4 winds of heaven). God with man—3 plus 4. God’s covenant is that relationship of fellowship in which God dwells with His people in His love and favor. God in His covenant fellowship with Israel now marched about this city of Jericho.
One more detail. The priests were in this procession, not just armed men. The priests were representatives of the whole nation of Israel. Israel was a nation of priests, set apart to the service of the most high God. This procession represented Israel—God’s chosen people—whom God had set apart to Himself as His people in all the earth. Israel could not lose this battle! Everything pointed to a sure victory over her enemy.
II. Jehovah’s Power
With a great shout and a long blast upon the trumpets, immediately the walls of this great city collapsed and fell flat. Not that they imploded on themselves, but they fell into the city, killing those defending the city on the wall and those just inside of the walls. This small army of Israel was now able to march into the city and kill all its inhabitants. The city lay under God’s curse for her sin, and every living thing of that city, men, women, children, and every beast, were put to death by the sword of the Israelites in obedience to God’s command. The victory over Jericho had been won by a miracle of great proportions.
Now, as with all the miracles of God, there are those who would contend that this was not a miracle. The higher critics of the Bible deny the wonder of this event. They say that all of this occurred by natural means. Some say that by coincidence a great earthquake happened at this particular moment. Others give what they think is a more plausible explanation. They contend that the city of Jericho was built over a fault—a great hollow under ground. The only thing that kept this city from collapsing earlier was the sand between that fault and the surface. But when the children of Israel marched around this city it made the sand sift into that fault, and when the shout went up, the ground could not take it anymore and gave way, causing the walls to collapse. Unbelievers enjoy undermining the sovereign power of God over His creation. They will use every opportunity to explain things from a natural point of view rather than in terms of God’s great power and control over creation. The walls of Jericho fell, fellow saints, because God made them fall! Just as Jesus made the band of soldiers fall backward, so also God made the walls of Jericho to collapse. This was a miracle that reveals to us not only God’s control over His creation but also His jealousy for His people, whom He has saved to Himself. No one stands against His cause and His people in this world!
God is their refuge and strength. God delivers His people. This is the spiritual significance behind what took place in this battle too. If God were not on their side, God’s people, His church, would be swallowed up alive by their enemies. The church prevails because the Captain of our salvation goes before us to fight our battles. This is true because God dwells with His people for Christ’s sake. He is our covenant God who will not leave us or forsake us.
This promise God gave Joshua: I will be with you. This is the promise God through Joshua gave to His people Israel too. This is the promise God gives to us, His church, today. Why? Because the Captain of our salvation is at the head of His church. We read in Hebrews 2:10, “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” Through His sufferings Christ has won the battle against sin and Satan. He has overcome our foes. He has fought the battle for us. We could not have overcome our own sin. But Christ did this for us though His death and resurrection. This Captain of His church even today fights on behalf of His people, defending and preserving His church. For Christ’s sake we are God’s people and He is our God, who dwells with us in covenant communion. Through Christ we are a people separated unto the holy service of His name.
There can be no doubt that Jehovah through His divine control of all things caused the walls of Jericho to fall flat. Yet, the writer to the Hebrews points out clearly that it was by faith that the walls of Jericho fell down. This does not mean that it was the faith of God’s people that actually caused the walls to fall. Some would contend, of course, that a person with strong faith can perform miracles. For example, if I believe strongly enough that I can heal a sick person or even, as some have claimed, raise someone from the dead, I am able to do this. They would say then that the Israelites were characterized by so great a faith that they made those walls to fall. That certainly is not what we are taught here in this verse in Hebrews 11. This miracle may be ascribed only to God and to what He did for His people for the sake of Christ.
But it is also true that by means of faith the walls of Jericho fell down. The walls of Jericho did not fall down while the nation of Israel slept in Gilgal. The walls of Jericho did not fall down while the people of Israel sat on a distant hill watching. I mean, that could have happened. The army of Assyria was destroyed by God while the city of Jerusalem slept. But that was not the case with Jericho. God called His people to march around this city. If God’s people were not characterized by faith, they would have refused. They would have in fear of their enemy remained in their camp cowering before the might of their foes. God’s people, however, in faith went forth and followed the command of God because they believed that God would give them the victory over their enemies. He was their God. They knew Him and therefore trusted Him. They in faith marched around the walls of Jericho, nothing doubting. And it was by means of the actions of their faith that the walls fell. God used the means of Israel marching around the walls of Jericho to accomplish His purpose.
Again, the character of faith is exemplified in the actions of Israel. Faith is the conviction that something will take place that has only been promised. God promised Joshua and Israel that He would give them the land of Canaan. God promised them that He would give them the victory over Jericho by way of their marching around its walls. They believed these promises of God to them. Faith is that which always looks away from self and to God for deliverance. Even when we look at our salvation from sin the same is true. Faith does not itself deliver us from sin or our enemies. Then salvation would be dependent on us. Faith becomes a work. But faith is always of a character that it looks away from ourselves and always to the cross of Jesus Christ and the power of God’s grace. Salvation, after all, is as much a miracle of God’s grace as the walls of Jericho falling down, if not more so. Such deliverance is ours only through the miraculous work of our Savior.
III. Israel’s Victory
God gave to Israel the victory over Jericho through faith. The army of Israel utterly destroyed this city and everything living. They took nothing out of the city. Its riches were left dedicated to Jehovah for the victory they received. This victory, though received by Israel, was given them by God. A testimony this victory is to God’s sovereign protection of His church. Israel could not rejoice in themselves. There was no boasting when returning from this battle—unless that boast was in God. Christ goes before His people. He fights the battle for them. God destroys His enemies and freely grants to His people deliverance.
Through Christ we do valiantly. We confess, with the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 13:5, 6, “God hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” Now, may we in faith go forth in His service and strong in His might to conquer all evil and stand for the right! Faith has the victory.