5 Steps to a Miracle
May 13, 2019
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Few stories in the Bible are better known than Joshua and the battle of Jericho. We learned to sing this song in Sunday School:
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,
And the walls come tumbling down.
And then comes this verse:
“There’s none like good old Joshua
At the battle of Jericho.”
You may talk about your men of Gideon
You may brag about your men of Saul
There’s none like good old Joshua
At the battle of Jericho.
We only need to know one crucial fact: It was totally impossible to bring down those walls.
Totally, absolutely, completely and utterly impossible.
Jericho stood between them and all God had promised.
A smart man would walk away.
Sometimes you must “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”
Yet God’s people won a great victory that day. How did it happen? Hebrews 11:30 answers with two words. “By faith.” That’s all it says. But the story seems so incredible that we need to investigate further.
As we study Joshua 5-6, we discover five steps to a miracle. In putting the matter that way, I’m not suggesting that if we take these steps, God will work a miracle for us. But these steps are principles that reveal how God works with his people in every generation. They are as true today as they were in Joshua’s day.
Step #1: Yield Your Right to be in Charge
In order to understand this story, we need to start with a strange encounter recorded at the end of Joshua 5:
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 5:13)
This seems like a natural question. “Whose side are you on, anyway?” It reminds me of the time when someone asked President Lincoln if he thought God was on the Union side in the Civil War. Lincoln wisely replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
“My greatest concern is to be on God’s side”
Here is the rest of the story:
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord
I have now come.” 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 5:14-15).
We tend to think in terms of us vs. them. Are you Republican or Democrat? Are you on my team or the other team? Are you for us or against us? We all like to think we are on the “right” team, but God doesn’t join human teams. In this case, Joshua met the commander of the army of the Lord (probably a preincarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ).
Note how Joshua responds. He falls on his face and asks what message the Lord has for him. He doesn’t ask, “How can we win this battle?” or “Can you help me bring down the walls?” All those human considerations go out the door when you come face to face with the Lord of the universe.
This brings us to a key message of the book of Joshua: God’s work must be done God’s way in order to receive God’s blessing. Every Christian would agree with that, but when facing a crisis, we want to tell God how to answer our prayers.
God’s work must be done God’s way
It doesn’t work that way.
At some point we must yield to the Lord. I say “at some point” because yielding doesn’t come easily to most of us. We often sing these words in church:
Have Thine own way Lord
Have Thine own way
Thou art the potter I am the clay
Mold me and make me after Thy will
While I am waiting yielded and still
It’s one thing to sing it.
It’s another thing to mean it.
Have Thine own way, Lord!
There is a place for the sword and the spear, and there is a time when we must advance against the enemy. But first, we must learn this lesson:
“The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31).
We can make all the plans in the world, but if God doesn’t bless our efforts, it will come to nothing. We don’t need God on our side; we need to make sure we are on God’s side before the battle begins.
Step# 2: Face the Challenge
If you ever travel to the Holy Land, you will no doubt visit the remains of the ancient city of Jericho. To get there you either travel down through the mountains from Jerusalem or you take the River Road coming south from the Sea of Galilee, running parallel to the Jordan River. The city itself is located not far from the river, an important point to keep in mind when you read the story of Joshua’s amazing conquest. The Canaanites built Jericho as a kind of “gateway fortress” to their land. Any invading enemy would have to deal with the walled city of Jericho. You couldn’t bypass it. Jericho was too large and too strong to be ignored.
What was Jericho to Joshua and the people of God?
A city of pagan unbelief.
A city of strategic importance.
A city of human impossibility.
You couldn’t bypass Jericho
When we say that the people of Jericho were pagans, that’s an understatement. The Canaanite religion included child sacrifice and gross sexual immorality. It could never coexist with the true worship of God. It must be confronted and defeated. Because the walls were so high they seemed to reach to the sky (Deuteronomy 9:1), the city must be completely defeated, or the Jews would never be safe.
In the last 140 years archaeologists have done an enormous amount of research on the ruins of ancient Jericho. We now know that the city had two walls—an inner wall and an outer wall, both built on a slope, making it virtually impregnable to any attacking army.
The road to the Promised Land ran through Jericho. Stamp over it one word: Impossible!
#3: Follow the Plan
At first glance God’s instructions seem very odd:
March around the town once a day for six days (v. 3).
March with the ark of the covenant in the front (v. 4).
Put seven priests in front of the ark (v. 4).
On the seventh day, march around Jericho seven times (v. 5).
Have the priests blow rams’ horns as they march (v. 5).
On the seventh time around on the seventh day, have the people shout (v. 5).
When the people shout, the walls will come down (v. 5).
When the walls come down, enter the city and conquer it (v. 5).
All of that seems strange enough, but Joshua added a few refining details to the plan:
1) He instructed the people to be silent as they marched around the city (v. 10).
2) He put soldiers in front of the priests and behind the ark (v. 13).
3) He had the priests blow the ram’s horn (the shofar) continually (v. 13).
At this point, the people of God face a clear choice. Either they attempt to take the city by following God’s instructions, or they come up with their own plan and suffer overwhelming defeat. It’s all to their credit that they did what God asked them to do.
The “Joshua Plan” doesn’t seem promising
For six days they marched one time around the city and then returned to their camp. On the seventh day, at the end of the seventh time around the city, the priests sounded a long blast, and the people shouted as loud as they could.
What are the chances of this working? Here’s the whole plan:
That sounds like something you’d see at a football game. From a human perspective, the “Joshua Plan” doesn’t seem very promising:
Marching + Trumpets + Shouting=????
How exactly will that bring the walls down? Years ago I visited the Great Wall of China, a fantastic wall that stretches for hundreds of miles in northern China. What would happen if you marched up to the wall and began blowing horns and shouting? Not a single stone would move.
So far what we’ve got is a History Channel special called “Greatest Military Blunders.”
But the story isn’t over yet.
# 4: Remember the Promise
What gave the people any hope of taking Jericho? The answer is simple. They only had to remember the promise of God. We get two hints of this in the story. First, God said he was going to give them the city. This is what God said to Joshua before he gave him the plan:
See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men (Joshua 6:2).
Notice the past tense. When God gets involved, it’s as good as done. When God speaks, you can take it to the bank. That’s what gave Joshua the confidence to follow God’s plan. He knew God had guaranteed victory. All he had to do was obey what God told him to do.
Second, God put himself in the middle of the battle plan. By placing the ark of the covenant in front of the people, God was saying, “I’m going to lead this parade.”
“I’m going to lead this parade”
I wonder what the people of Jericho were thinking. We already know (from Rahab’s testimony in Joshua 2) that they knew about the miracle at the Red Sea, and they knew about the defeat of Sihon and Og, the Amorite kings. Furthermore, they could see for themselves that God had miraculously heaped up the water of the Jordan River, allowing the Jews to walk across on dry ground. The daily march around the city was a kind of divine psychological warfare to unnerve the citizens of Jericho. They knew an attack was coming, but they didn’t know when. It must have been terrifying to watch the Jews march around the city day after day and then return to their camp. But then you wonder, did the fear begin to wear after the third day? Did the Canaanites start laughing at those “crazy Jews” and their silent march around the city? Or was it a kind of nervous laughter, wondering what would happen next?
Although the people of Jericho did not know it, they were defeated before the walls ever fell. They lost the battle when God got involved. Let’s redo that equation one more time:
March + Trumpets + Shouting + God = “The walls came a-tumblin’ down!”
God made all the difference! Those high walls couldn’t keep him out. The God who created those stones could easily blow them over. We don’t know exactly how he did it, only that he did it, and the city was then taken by Joshua and his people.
God made all the difference!
There was a day when Robert Morrison was a passenger on a ship to China. History records that he was the first Protestant missionary to China. One day the captain of the ship asked a rather disparaging question. “What do you think you’re going to do? Convert China?” “No,” came the quiet reply. “I don’t think I’ll ever convert China. I think God will.” That’s the same faith that brought down the walls of Jericho.
#5: Never Give Up
Why march around the walls six days in a row? Why march seven times on the seventh day? Couldn’t the walls have fallen on the first day or the third or the fifth? The answer is yes, the walls could have fallen any time God desired. So why all the marching? The answer is clear. This is how God ordinarily works. The Lord could have said, “Sit tight! Let me handle this.” But his normal plan is to use people to accomplish his purposes. So even though God caused the walls to fall down, the people still had to march, they still had to shout, and when the walls fell down, they still had to take the city, fighting door to door.
When James Montgomery Boice preached on this passage, he noted that the Lord gave the instructions to Joshua personally, and not to the people. That means the people only learned about the plan one day at a time. All he told them on Day 1 was, “March around the city and keep your mouth shut.” There must have been some perplexed Jews after the first day. I imagine them saying, “General, what’s the plan?” And Joshua said, “Tomorrow we’re going to do it again.”
God uses people to accomplish his will
In this case, faith meant marching in total silence around the city day after day. Imagine the scene. It’s the longest parade you’ve ever seen. First the soldiers, then the priests blowing the trumpets, then the priests with the ark, then more soldiers, then thousands of armed men marching in total silence.
This strange procession circles once around the city on the first day and then retires to their camp.
Next day the same.
Next day the same.
Next day the same.
Next day the same.
Next day the same.
Dr. Boice remarked that partial obedience is never enough. What if the Jews had stopped marching after the first day? Or the fourth day? Or the sixth day? Or on the fifth time around on the seventh day? The walls would not have fallen because the miracle would not have happened. Here’s how Dr. Boice applies this truth:
Not only is there no substitute for obedience to God, there is no substitute for obedience in all particulars—to the very end. And when God does not act as quickly as we think he should or in precisely the way we are convinced he should act, we are still not justified in pulling back or adopting an alternative procedure.…It was only when the people had obeyed God faithfully that victory came and the walls tumbled (Boice, “Joshua,” Loc. 1027).
There is no substitute for obedience
On the seventh day, the army marched around Jericho seven times. This is what happened next:
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 (v. 20).
That’s how faith works.
Don’t you think there were some doubters?
Don’t you think there were some critics?
Don’t you think there was some grousing in the ranks? Probably. Complaining seems to be part of human nature. These are real people who are tramping around in the heat day after day. It’s hot and dusty and extremely frustrating.
But they did it. When they took the step of faith, God honored it, and the walls of Jericho fell to the ground.
Impossible, Difficult, Done
I ran across a quote from J. Hudson Taylor, a man of dynamic faith whose missionary efforts helped open China to the gospel. Time and again he saw God do amazing things in the face of hopeless circumstances. Reflecting on his experiences, he remarked that “there are three stages in any great task undertaken for God: Impossible . . . Difficult . . . Done.” Here’s one thing you learn whenever you start to do anything for the Lord: It won’t be as easy as you think. It’s not hard to see why we have unrealistic expectations. After all, when we work for God, our motives are lifted to a higher plane. We search the Scriptures, we seek godly counsel, we pray for guidance, and we believe God is pleased with our efforts. But things move slowly. What we thought would take weeks takes months. And sometimes months turn into years. Enthusiasm lags, we feel stuck in the mud, the curious become skeptical, and doubt takes dead aim at our faith.
Why should it be so? Couldn’t the Lord set it up another way? Yes, he could—and sometimes he does. But often God lets us struggle and sweat so that we learn to trust him at a deeper level than ever before.
Sooner or later we all end up facing a wall of impossibility. The bad news is that it really is impossible. The good news is that God loves to start with an impossibility.
God starts small
When God wants to do something big, he starts with something very small.
When he wants to do the miraculous, he starts with the impossible.
We’d rather start big and go from there. Not so with our Heavenly Father. He starts with the impossible and then turns it into reality.
Joshua and Jesus
And that brings me to my final point. The real battle of Jericho was not with the Canaanites. The real battle was in the hearts of the people of God. Would they believe what God had said? Would they risk public humiliation if the walls didn’t come down? Would they do what seemed absurd (from a human point of view) in order to see God do the impossible?
I love the little chorus that goes like this:
Faith, mighty faith
The promise sees
And looks to God alone,
Laughs at impossibilities
And cries, “It shall be done.”
Keep your eyes on Jesus
Hebrews 11:30 says the walls fell “by faith.” How will we face and conquer our own walls of impossibility? Where do we find the faith? If we move on to Hebrews 12, we find the answer. “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (v. 2).
He is the author and finisher of our faith.
He starts it and he finishes it.
He’s the Captain of our salvation. Keep your eyes on him.
Do you know the Old Testament name for Jesus? It’s Joshua! That’s right. The name Joshua means “God saves” in Hebrew. In Greek it was shortened to “Jesus” or “Savior.” The Old Testament Joshua points us to the Lord Jesus Christ who leads his people to victory.
Keep your eyes on him.
Look to Jesus.
Follow him wherever he leads.
When King Jesus leads the way, the walls must come tumbling down. This is the word of the Lord.