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Joshua 6: No Excuse for Disobedience Print E-mail
Sunday, 24 February 2008

Unfortunately, we are often very good at finding excuses for our disobedience to God.  We do not even resort to flimsy ones like ‘the dog ate my homework’ (I know, that would not be one for our disobedience to God, but you get my point).  Rather, our excuses are normally more sophisticated than that.  We say things like: ‘Nobody’s perfect so you can’t expect me to always obey,’ or ‘The commands of Christ are difficult to follow and surely He doesn’t expect us to follow them all,’ or (following the previous one) ‘I keep the majority of God’s commands so you can’t really fault me for struggling with certain ones.’  I cannot tell you how many times I have used these excuses and others to try and justify my disobedience to God. 

Of course, we all know the truth: these excuses are nothing but excuses.  No matter how much we try to convince ourselves that they make it alright to disobey, we know that they do not.  So then, how do we fight against these excuses?  How do we make war with them so as to continue our battle against sin?  The story of Israel taking the city of Jericho in Joshua 6 offers some insight into these struggles.  As we look at it together this morning, I want us to identify some reasons why we have no excuse to disobey the Lord.  We will consider three from the text.

First, the Lord often gives seemingly strange and hard instructions.

Again, one of the traps that we fall into is thinking that the Lord’s commands are just too strange and too hard to keep.  Yet, we need to remember that we are not the first to find ourselves in situations where it is difficult to obey.  We are not the first to be given strange commands or hard commands.  I think about Adam and Eve and the command to avoid the fruit of one tree or Noah’s command to build a huge boat or Abraham’s command to sacrifice Isaac.  These are strange and difficult commands, but they are to be obeyed nonetheless.  What about Joshua 6?  I see two difficult commands in this passage.

First, they are given strange instructions for the battle of Jericho.  Look at verses 1-5.  We have already noted at 5:1 that the people of Canaan were afraid of Israel because of what the Lord had done at the Jordan.  Once again we see that it is the Lord who has given Jericho into your hand.  The only real problem that we see in this text is the walls of the city.  The king and the men of war are afraid, but they are seemingly protected behind the walls.  So the Lord gives Israel instructions concerning the walls.  Of course, His instructions are strange to us.  They are to march around the city once for six days with the ark being carried by the priests.  Then on the seventh day they are to march around the city seven times.  After the seventh time, the priests are to blow the trumpets, or rams’ horns (‘shofar’) and the people are to shout and the walls will fall. 

Now it should be noted that the ‘shofar’ were normal for battles in those days.  Yet, the strange part is that after they are blown and the people shout, the walls will just fall down.  This sequence of events was not normal.  I should note as well that the term translated ‘shout’ and ‘great shout’ was used in war contexts as well as for times of praise.  When you put all of these instructions together, you see that victory belongs to Israel before the battle even begins.  Yet, as strange as the instructions are, they are to obey them and bring glory to God in the battle of Jericho.  Victory is sure, but obedience is necessary.  March around the city, blow the trumpets, raise a shout, and claim the victory.

Second, they are given the difficult instructions to destroy the people of Jericho.  Because of the blowing of the trumpets and the walls falling and the great victory, we often fail to remember that the story of Jericho’s defeat is a story of great judgment.  We like certain parts of the story while neglecting the other parts.  Yet, the Lord calls Israel to execute judgment on the people of Jericho.  Look at verses 15-19and 21.  These are hard verses for us to read.  Yet, this is not the only time that the people of Israel are called to execute such judgment on a city.  In fact, we will see this again in the book of Joshua.  So, not only are the people given strange instructions concerning the battle, but they are also given hard instructions concerning the people.  Indeed, the Lord often gives His people such commands.  Therefore, we cannot use such as an excuse to disobey any more than Israel could at Jericho.

Second, the Lord has reasons for His instructions.

Now, we should note at this point that the Lord does not always reveal His particular reasons for certain commands.  Yet, normally we can identify His reasons.  What are some of His reasons in this text?

First, He gives such instructions so that He will receive all the glory.  Again, note the first words that the Lord says to Joshua at the battle of Jericho: See, I have given Jericho into your hand (v. 2).  This victory belongs to the Lord.  I mean we have to answer the all important question: who brought the walls down?  Did they fall because of the noise of the horns?  No.  Did they fall because of the noise of the people’s voices?  No.  So, what brought them down?  The Lord did it.  Granted, the people obeyed the Lord in all His instructions, but it was the Lord who brought the wall down.  It happened exactly as He said it would.  Look at verse 20.  Thus, these strange instructions were given so that He might receive all the glory.

Second, He gives such instructions because He commands our complete obedience.  Notice how the structure of the passage highlights Israel’s complete obedience.  Look at the command in verse 3-4a and the obedience in verses 8-14.  Again, look at the command in verses 4b-5 and the obedience in verses 15-21.  The Lord commands complete obedience from Israel.  In fact, we will see next week what happens because they actually fail to completely obey in how they deal with some of the devoted things (see 7:1ff).  The Lord expects His people to obey His commands and His instructions are given to see if we will in fact obey.

Third, He gives such instructions and demands such obedience because He is holy.  Why would the Lord call for the destruction of the people of Jericho?  Look at Deuteronomy 20:16-18.  Here are the Lord’s instructions concerning the peoples who inhabited the Promised Land.  Israel is to devote them to destruction.  The reason for such destruction is given in verse 18: that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.  The peoples of the land were wicked and their practices were an abomination to the Lord.  In Leviticus 18 we are told of some of their heinous sins.  Verse three tells us that the sins being condemned in this chapter were practiced by the Egyptians and the Canaanites (see also verses 24-30).  Then, we are told of their numerous sexual exploits (v. 6-20), that they sacrificed their children to their gods (v. 21), that they practiced homosexuality (v. 22) and bestiality (v. 23). 

These were among the many sins of the peoples of Canaan and Egypt.  The Lord had judged Egypt with the plagues and He is now judging Canaan with the conquest of Israel.  His holiness demands that sin be judged.  Thus, He calls for the destruction of Jericho.  We often question such commands because we limit the greatness of God’s holiness and at the same time limit the ugliness of man’s sin.  We skip this part of the story because we don’t like to talk about sin and judgment.  Yet, we do so at our own expense.  We do not do anyone any favors by ignoring God’s holiness or man’s sinfulness.  The failure to recognize these will only lead to our own destruction as Joshua warns in verses 18-19 and Israel realizes in 7:1ff (not to mention the book of Judges and the rest of Israel’s struggle with disobedience).  We must see that God demands our complete obedience because He is holy and for our own good, which leads us to our last reason that we have not excuse…

Third, the Lord blesses those who obey Him.

The Lord rewards the obedience of His people.  This is not the ‘health-wealth gospel’, for it emphasizes primarily material blessings.  But we do need to remember that the Lord does indeed bless His people.  How do we see this in Joshua 6?

First, the Lord blesses Israel by giving them Jericho.  The Lord told them that if they obeyed His commands, then the walls would fall (v. 5), which is exactly what happened (v. 20).  The author of Hebrews commends their faith in Hebrews 11:30.  Second, the Lord blesses Joshua by granting him fame in the land.  Look at verse 27.  Of  course  this involves the promise for future victories as we have already seen.  Every act of God on behalf of Joshua goes before him into the land of Canaan filling the peoples with fear and guaranteeing his victory, which we will continue to see play out in the book.  Likewise, we should mention that the Lord will honor Joshua’s curse on Jericho as well (see 1 Kings 16:34).  Third, the Lord blesses Rahab and her family by protecting them from judgment.  You might be wondering, ‘Why wasn’t Rahab judged with the rest of Jericho?’  Look at verse 25.  Rahab was spared because of her faith in Yahweh, which was demonstrated by her protection of the spies.  She became a part of Israel due to her faith in Israel’s God, which is commended in Hebrews 11:31 and stands as a picture of our redemption through Christ (see Ephesians 2:11ff). 

These reasons come to us as believers and teach us that we have no excuse to disobey.  Granted, we will never be perfect on this side of glory, but that should never be an excuse for us to sin.  We are not the first people to be given difficult commands.  Likewise, we need to realize that the Lord has reasons for His instructions. 

As I was studying this passage this week, I could not help but think about our call to maintain holiness among the Lord’s people, the Church, through Church discipline.  The Lord instructs us in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 on how to deal with our battle against sin in the Church.  Likewise, the message that all of those outside of Christ will spend eternity in Hell is difficult.  In our present context, sometimes these instructions and this message seem as strange and hard to us as those given to Israel at the battle of Jericho.  Yet, the Lord is holy and calls His people to be holy.  He commands all people to repent and believe.  And as hard as it may be to see, we must remember that the Lord blesses those who obey.  We are without excuse for disobedience.  Indeed, Jesus has given us the victory and has called and equipped us to obey all His commands.  May we trust in His victory and follow Him in obedience.  To Him be all the glory.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 04 March 2008 )

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