Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Joshua 6: Following Instructions and the Battle of Jericho

As the Israelites get to Jericho, Joshua has a vision.  He sees a man standing with a sword drawn in his hand.  This must have been a threatening sight because Joshua felt compelled to ask the man whether he was on their side or not.  The man said, “Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come.”  The host doesn’t mean “crowd”; it means “army.”  Joshua might have bristled at this because he might have considered himself captain of the Lord’s army, but he realizes this is either Jehovah or a representative from Jehovah, so he falls down on his face with reverence for the divine manifestation.

The man tells Joshua next to take off his shoes because he’s on holy ground.  This is similar to when Moses was told to remove his shoes at the burning bush.

After that, the scriptures say the Lord tells Joshua the battle plan and what they are to do, so they are pretty sure the man was Jehovah. 

The Lord’s instructions are quite unusual:
3 And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days.
4 And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets.
5 And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him. (Joshua 6:3-5)
As I have noted in a previous post, this is a style of preparation for war which no one would ever have seen before and which we still do not fully understand today.  Some think the Lord knocked the walls down when the people shouted.  Some think the trumpet blasts weakened the walls, some think the marching weakened the walls.  Some think a natural explanation would prove it wasn’t a miracle, but I think that doesn’t take into account the fact that the Lord was the one who gave the battle plan in the first place. 

There are diagrams online of Jericho’s archeological excavations and it shows Jericho was built on a mound with one lower wall built on a retaining wall, then a sloping-up strip of ground, then another wall.  It looked like the wall was made of mud brick.  I have read elsewhere that vibration has been used in a lab environment to loosen soils in columns and bins, so it is possible that all the vibration from marching and blowing trumpets and shouting helped destabilize the walls just enough to cause them to fall down.

Again, whether or not there is a natural explanation, the fact remains that the Lord gave them the battle plan.  This is a great story because it shows us that if the Lord gives you the plan of attack, it takes faith to carry it out, especially when it sounds like something very different from what you expect.

Something interesting I noticed when I was reading was that there was a difference between what the Lord told them to do and what they did.  When you read the Lord’s directions, it seems to say that the seven priests were to carry their trumpets all seven days but only to blow a long blast on the seventh day.  When the text tells what the Israelites did, it says the seven priests blew on the trumpets all seven days.

Why the difference?  At first this seemed like disobedience to me, but when I thought about it, I realized that when the Lord told Joshua the priest were to blow a long blast on the trumpet, He didn’t say how long was “long.”  That meant they had to think about it.  Is 20 seconds “long”?  Is a minute “long”?  Maybe to the trumpeters, but is that really long enough?  Is a day “long”?  And too they would be most anxious to follow the directions as best they could and they might worry that if the trumpeters didn’t blow long enough they wouldn’t have met the Lord’s conditions for the walls to come down.  So, I surmise they decided to have the priests blow the trumpets the full seven days just to be safe.

This shows us that the Lord may give two types of commandments—the kind that are specific and the kind that are vague where you have to try to figure out for yourself what to do.  We’ve been asked to return to the temple often.  How frequent is “often”?  We’re asked to have family home evening.  What happens in family home evening?  We’ve been asked to strengthen our families.  How is that to be done?  (Can you think of any other commandments that are vague like this?)  We know what an easy answer might be if we’re trying to do the minimum, but if we really want the blessing promised for those commandments, we might want to take a page out of Joshua’s book.