A foolish war strategy? Joshua’s capture of Jericho

Jericho was a military fortress, a strongly fortified city built to defend the eastern approach to Canaan, the Promised Land. After crossing river Jordan, Jericho presented the biggest huddle for the Israelites in their mission to conquer Canaan.

The story of the capture and destruction of the city of Jericho as narrated in Joshua Chapter 6 makes for an interesting read and, probably, the city goes down in the history of mankind as the only one that was conquered using the most irrational military strategy.

Military Strategy

According to Joshua Chapter 6, the Israelites were commanded by God to march round the city walls once every day for six days and seven times on the seventh day. It was a rather outlandish march seeing that a section of the instructions read “‘do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout.” Joshua 6:10

After marching round the city for the seventh time on the seventh day, “When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.”

Now if that is not a militarily irrational, illogical strategy, tell me what is! It is said that in ancient warfare, such cities could only be taken by assault or by surrounding the city and starving the people to submission. Such missions usually occasioned heavy losses for the attacking forces.

And here we have Joshua commanding a silent army and a horde of Israelites armed with the ark and trumpets.

Baffling story

This story triggers a few question in my mind. Why did they have to march silently? And how were they to do that, anyway? Several hundred thousands of people to march around the city without uttering a word? What went through in the minds of Israelites as the marched for two, three, four days without any results? Knowing that they had previously been impatient with God and had flatly disobeyed him, did they consider giving up on the 5th or 6th day? And for the war strategy, did they consider it ridiculous? Foolish even? Did the military advisors raise any objections to the strategy?

But the most interesting part of this story is seeing how resolute Joshua was. By human standards, the instructions given to him by God were obviously strange and, though it seemed foolish, Joshua followed them faithfully. And it is easy to see why.

Joshua had learnt early in life to trust in the immutable God of Israel. Having been Moses’ disciple since the day they left Egypt, Joshua always remained on the Lord’s side even when all of Israel went against God. He was always ready to serve the living God.

He had witnessed all the wonders the Lord had done during the forty years in the wilderness. And when Moses was about to die, he handed over the leadership mantle to Joshua saying “‘be strong and courageous…the Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deut 31:7-8

Further, God had already promised Joshua that “I have delivered Jericho into your hands” Joshua 6:2.

What challenges does this story throw to us?

We all have our little jerichos, obstacles which obstruct us from possessing the canaans which God has promised us in His Holy Word. These jerichos hinder us from attaining our full potential in life and from fully enjoying our possessions in Christ Jesus.

They may take different forms such as a weakness in character, materialism, challenges in our relationships, physical illnesses, difficulties in places of work or marriages, financial burdens and many others.

How do we face such jerichos in our lives? The account of the fall of the walls of Jericho reminds us that though we have human responsibilities, strategies and power to destroy any strangleholds, victory can only be assured by two parameters; God’s power and our faith and faithfulness to his directions and plans. It is a lesson on man’s improbability and God’s ability.

The normal human behavior to desire instant remedies to all the difficulties of life may sometime run counter to God’s will in our lives. We want to trust in our bank balances, our health, reputation, talent, education, abilities and so on instead of trusting in the Lord alone. The Israelites went round the city on the first day and nothing happened. Second day, third day, fourth day…same result! The same ritual was repeated six times on the seventh day with similar results. But on completion of the seventh round on day seven, all that was needed for the walls to collapse was the sound of the trumpets combined with a loud shout from the men.

So how many times have you sat for that exam and failed, walked into that hospital and the pain persists, sat for job interviews and are yet to be hired? For how long have you prayed for your family, spouse or children, attended counselling session and the challenges are yet to be overcome? For how long have you suffered the pain of childlessness? The message today is that at an opportune moment, the sounds of the trumpets and the loud shout from the army shall be hand and the walls of your jericho shall come tumbling down.

This reminds me of the song “Four days late”, where in reference to Jesus’ act of raising of Lazarus from the dead, the song goes ”but His way is God’s way Not yours or mine When He’s four days late He’s still on time

We are called to approach our jerichos with the same attitude that the Israeli had; if we want to overcome our obstacles, we must submit to God’s way by faith. God knows what is best for us and we should patiently wait upon him at all times. The lesson here is that whatever the circumstances of life, our prayer should be that God’s will be done and that He may give us the strength, will and discipline to patiently wait for Him.

Joshua’s Jericho story also reminds us that faith without action is dead and obedience is the clearest evidence of faith. Joshua and the Israelites had to religiously obey, and without grumbling, all the instructions which God had given them on how and when to capture Jericho. God had the power to destroy the city right on day one while the Israelites watched.

But he made them go round the city thirteen times. The walls fell and the Israelites had easy victory because God said they would not because of their efforts. We are equally called to participate in the destruction of our jerichos.

Its only through obedience that our faith is put to work. It is not enough for us to say “I believe” and then sit down and wait for miracles to happen. God has the ability to make us pass exams or miraculously heal our many infirmities. He does it every day. But sometimes we have to study the voluminous course text, take those bitter drugs or withstand some other inconveniences for us to achieve the solutions we seek in life.

And why did the Israelites have to march while silent? Difficult to decipher but a guess may do for us for now.

Can the demand to observe silence while matching round Jericho be interpreted to signify the importance to keep quiet, calm down, stop all this running up and down seeking earthly solutions and to just take some rest as we reflect on God in the midst of our trials and temptations in life? Could it be a reminder for us to stop our tendencies of spending more time complaining and seeking consolation from people than we spend talking to God and seeking comfort from him?

 

 

 

Blessed are the barren and breasts that never nursed! Really?

There is this story in Luke 23 where Jesus, on his way to Calvary, encountered a group of women who were weeping for him. Jesus was a sorry sight; hungry and possibly not taken a bath for the past 24 hours, had also been scourged, mocked, spat on, had a crown of thorns and carrying a heavy cross, but he turned to the weeping women and asked them not to weep for him but instead to weep for themselves and their children “For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!”” Luke 23:29

Wait! Did He just say that? I can imagine the shock and disbelieve on the faces of these women. “How insensitive? What a thankless fellow, this man is!” they may have asked among themselves. Did Jesus bless barrenness?

Barrenness is a violation of God’s original plan for man since right from the creation time, He commanded man to be fruitful and fill the earth. Barrenness is against the promise in Deuteronomy 28:11 “The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity – in the fruit of your womb…”

It would therefore be inconceivable how Jesus would imply that at any one point in time, barrenness would be preferable to fertility.  A fruitless love may actually be seen as the devil’s mockery of the Creator’s gift to the creature.

It is a difficult task trying to understand this verse using the three-pronged bible-study formula of what did the text mean at that time and to whoever it was intended? What does it mean in the modern world? And how does it apply to my life?

So what did the text mean then? Bible interpreters and commentators are in agreement that Jesus’ message to the women was a prophecy of what would befall Jerusalem later in AD 70 during the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Jesus’ prophesy in Matthew 24:19 “how dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!” contextualises the message to the lamenting women. It’s clear that His seeming insensitivity is not the absence of love, but the deepest expression of it.

And what does the text mean now? Well, no idea, but could the following be among the possible meanings?

  • In our highly competitive and capitalistic world, would the poor and those of limited means represent the barren? The poor have been made to suffer the humiliation of indecent housing, poor sanitation, and malnutrition and this compares to the humiliation suffered by the barren. Despite their deplorable living conditions, a number of studies, including by Gallup, have shown that the poor nations are the happiest although the UN’s happiest reports have a completely different result. In addition, other studies such as the one by Oishi and Diener have concluded that although life satisfaction was substantially higher in wealthy nations than in poor nations, meaning in life was higher in poor nations than in wealthy nations. Can this verse be applied to challenge (encourage?) the poor to focus on a kingdom beyond what they can see and touch, since Jesus offers something more bigger and better than what the world offers? Could Jesus, the Restorer of what is broken, be calling the poor to focus beyond their present troubles in order to find healing?
  • In the pro-life and pro-choice debates, pro-lifers have argued that right from the biblical days and up until recently, barrenness and sterility have been considered a curse but there has been a dramatic shift in attitudes towards children who are now seen more as a burden not a blessing. It is argued that the days are here when the biggest danger is the possibility of conceiving or getting too many children. One writer paraphrased it as follows ““Women of Jerusalem, do not weep for me but weep for your descendants. For the days are coming when people will actually say blessed are the barren. The days are actually coming when people will prefer not to have children or to have as few as possible. The days are actually coming when expectant children will be aborted and the capacity to do this will be called a right, where women with difficult situations will be taken to abortionists and those who bring them will think they are doing something good.” Is the message of Luke 23:29 applicable in this pro-life and pro-choice debate?

And what does the gospel text portend to me as an individual? I find the gospel message pointing towards a day of hardships and trials akin the suffering and pain of childlessness. It might be hard for us to conceive of that possibility now, but we are reminded that whatever the circumstances in our life we should always trust that God’s plans for us are perfect. He knows better than we do what is best for us.

We are reminded of the story of Joseph son of Jacob. When he was sold to Egypt by his brothers and later sent to jail on trumped-up charges, his life appeared completely messed up. However, in the background God was preparing Joseph for a higher call as a prime Minister, a role which saw him save not just the government and the people of the country which unjustly jailed him, but also the whole of his father’s household including his brothers, who sold him, and their dependents.

Another example from the Gospel is Jesus’ passion and death for the sake of man’s salvation. As was noted above, Jesus was a sad sight and as Isaiah described Him “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Is 53:2-3.

Isaiah goes further to ask “Seized and condemned, he was taken away. Who would have thought any more of his destiny?” Is 53:8.

This was a perfect representation of the feeling of all those who were with Jesus at His crucifixion.

During his passion, Jesus’ cross was a sign on defeat, humiliation and a symbol of the ultimate conquering of the evil over good. Although human beings, including Jesus’ disciples, may have given up on Him being the Christ, God was not done just yet.

Three days later, upon His resurrection, the role of the cross was reversed and it became a sign of victory and a representation of the triumph of life over death and good over evil.

It is evident that we might find ourselves in circumstances of barrenness in which it might appear as if nothing is happening in our lives or as if our life is not worth living any more. For such moments, we called to remember that God could be doing a lot in the background and we should wait upon Him for his timing is best.

Our barren circumstances may be represented by periods of extreme suffering due to illnesses, rejection, financial distress, strained relationships or even actual incidences of childlessness. We are called to wait upon the Lord for our moment of salvation is coming and even though the salvation may not come in the exact nature or form we expect, we should always be pray  for the will of God to be done in our lives. We should love God in all the circumstances since it is better to love the gift giver more than the gift.

This Man Jonah! And The Lessons From The Belly Of A Fish.

There are those moments in life when you are at peace; at peace with your family and friends, at peace with your Maker; your business is flourishing or you just got promoted in your workplace and your relationship with your boss is at its peak. However, just while at that glorious moment and without any warning, things suddenly take a turn and you are left wondering what on earth struck you.

This must have been Jonah’s experience when the word of God came through to him saying “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it…” He was a renowned prophet with an excellent relationship with the Lord when this ‘unpleasant’ assignment came his way and he thought that he could run away from it and from the presence of God by taking a ship headed the opposite direction. He would later learn the folly of his undertakings.

As expected, his disobedience displeased God and the result was that a violent storm threatened to break the ship prompting an investigation which identified Jonah as the culprit. He was thrown overboard and ended up spending three days and three nights in the belly of a fish before he could resume his journey to Nineveh.

Reading the story recently, a few questions crossed my mind:  What kind of a fish was it and what was its size? Why a fish and not say, a snake or a crocodile? Was Jonah conscious for the whole period? If conscious, what was he doing during the three days and what was running through his mind? How much time was Jonah in the sea before the fish ‘picked him up’? Could the fish have swallowed a lamp to illuminate Jonah’s new home or may be a table and a chair for him to use while, say, reading a book. How about some food for him or may be some chemicals to neutralize the acids in the belly of the fish?

My search for answers to these questions led me to Jonah Chapter 2, where I found his prayer at what appears to be the end of his three days stay in this deplorable, putrid, nauseating environment.

Jonah2
Photo Courtesy: Christart.com

Once thrown overboard Jonah must have feared for his life. By his account “The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.” Jonah 2:5-6

Being swallowed by a fish must have exacerbated his fears and everything seemed to have gone wrong. Having been a respectable prophet and, most likely, having had the best of the best in life, his life now seemed to be turning towards the worst of the worst. His good reputation and good popularity amongst Israelites was completely lost and he was headed to ‘hell in the sea’.

Luckily for Jonah, God was not done with him yet. His journey to “the deep” and the belly of the fish marked a new phase of his relationship with God whose beginning is marked by Jonah’s prayer in Chapter 2.

From Jonah’s prayer I got to learn some lessons;

  • When you seek the Lord and cry out to Him, He hears your cry no matter where you are. We have, at one time or another, been in the “belly of the fish”, a point in our lives when we contemplated giving up since everything in life seemed to go wrong; our health, finances, relationships, careers, businesses and so on. At that point in life, it may take a Jonah-like experience to consider our spirituality but as exemplified by Jonah’s experience, it’s never too late to change our ways and turn back to God and call upon His name.
    jonah1
    Photo Courtesy: holyspiritinteractive.net

    It’s while he was in the belly of the fish (probably kneeling or sitting!) after experiencing a near-death experience that Jonah, who had previously flatly rejected to obey God to the point of opting to die than obey, discovered that he could still draw from God’s infinite well of Mercy. In such situation in life the lesson from Jonah is that we should pray, pray and pray some more. “From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry” Jonah 2:1

  • God is in control and we should always have trust in Him. Jonah teaches us that, no matter what we are going through in life, God is always in control. By boarding a ship to the opposite direction, Jonah thought that he could run away from God’s presence. How wrong he was! God, not only caused the violent storm, but also caused Jonah to be hurled to the bottom of the sea and later to the belly of the fish and finally to the city of Nineveh. He was in control of all these events for the glory of His name. He is still in control of all the events happening in our lives. The Bible says that His ways are not our ways and therefore His plans for us may involve being ‘swallowed by a fish’ and during such moments we are called to submit to His will and pray that we may remain faithful to Him.
  • Keep your focus on God at all times: Jonah says “when my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” Jonah 2:7. When we find ourselves in the belly of a fish, it helps a great deal to keep our focus on God. In such circumstances, only God alone deserves our attention and faith since anything else we focus on is likely to fail us miserably, or at best, only offer some temporary relief. Faced with life challenges, it’s a normal human behavior to look for solution from friends, relatives, secular counsellors, self-help books and so on, and though these are not bad in and of themselves, the lesson from Jonah is this: “Do not look around for how the world solves their problems. LOOK UP! There is absolutely no substitute for God’s power”
  • It is all about God’s plan and timings, not ours. “And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” Jonah 2:10. After all the miseries and torments that Jonah brought unto himself and other sailors, God’s plan had to be executed by the person and in the manner He had planned. Often times, when God calls us to a mission, we tend to second-guess the call by considering ourselves inadequate to the task. The story of Jonah reminds us of what happens to people when God wants them to do something and they don’t want to do it; God has a way of bringing us to that place where we want what He wants. Have you been delaying the response to that call to serve in the youth ministry, the ministry for the sick, the poor or the imprisoned etc?
  • Trust God to respond to prayers even before the answer is received: “But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, “Salvation comes from the Lord.”’ Jonah was still in the belly of the fish but he knew that it was enough that the Lord had heard his prayer. In faith and trust, Jonah knew that he would be saved.