Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
Reflection: Jericho’s Wall
By John Tillman
If you ask most Christians how the inhabitants of Jericho responded to Israel and their silent marching around the city, most will probably say they taunted them and that the point of the story is that the Israelites demonstrated faith by following God’s strange plan despite being made fun of. This is a complete fabrication. There is no textual evidence to suggest that the Israelites were teased or taunted at all by Jericho.
Scripture doesn’t shy away from a great taunt. The scriptures are full of them. God himself delivers sharply barbed taunts. Even Jesus gently taunts Nicodemus. But no taunts are recorded here.
Jericho wasn’t in a taunting mood. They were terrified. No matter how funny the French Peas are in a Veggie Tales video, the reality is that scripture tells us multiple times how terrified everyone in Canaan was of Israel, but it never tells us once that they taunted Israel or made any comment about God’s plan of marching around the city.
It’s not difficult to see why Jericho was terrified. This gigantic group of former slaves destroyed the entire army of Egypt—the world-wide superpower of its day. Today, this would be comparable to the United States military being wiped out by an opponent. Then this same group traveled through the desert completely destroying any king or nation that stood up to them. Then, these desert-crossing, dangerous, religious fanatics show up at Jericho’s border, crossing the river without permission and in a miraculous fashion.
One possible reason for our extremely poor handling of scripture, in this case, is that, when teaching children, we are so uncomfortable with the idea of God ordering the Israelites to wipe out an entire city, we need a distraction. “Perseverance amidst taunting” is a kinder-gentler lesson to teach children.
This erroneous reading of scripture turns the power dynamic upside down allowing us to feel “persecuted” like the Israelites and justified in destroying our enemies.
But God isn’t interested in destroying people we call our enemies. If the commander of the Lord’s army was not on Joshua’s side, we can rest assured that the commander of the Lord’s army is not on “our” side today. Especially if we define our side so narrowly as to exclude those outside of something so meaningless and trivial as a political party.
The lesson of Jericho’s wall is not that God’s plans are weird, and people will make fun of us, but we should follow God anyway. The lesson of Jericho’s wall is that it is God who initiates judgment, not us. The lesson is that we don’t deserve what God has given us and that if we are unfaithful, we too will face God’s wrath and no wall will stand in its way.
*Tomorrow, as the United States marks its independence, may we be reminded of our utter dependence on God and that our true citizenship is in the new Heaven and the New Earth to come.
Prayer: The Request for Presence
Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
Indeed, our heart rejoices in him, for in his holy Name we put our trust.
Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, as we have put our trust in your. — Psalm 33.20-22
– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.
Joshua 5-6.5 (Listen – 2:38)
Psalm 132-134 (Listen – 2:42)
Joshua 6.6-27 (Listen – 4:47)
Psalm 135-136 (Listen – 3:53)
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Read more about Over Jordan
When we cross over the Jordan with Christ, the land has no enemies to be defeated. It has no cities to march around and no battles to be fought.
Read more about Prayer for Enemies
How quickly do we celebrate our enemies’ sufferings? Should we, rather, pray for them instead?