Selected highlights from this sermon.
When God decides that a city, or an individual, needs to be judged, it will happen in His time and in His way. When He determined that Jericho’s wickedness had gone too far, He gave the city to Joshua—in a most unusual way.
Recounting the story of Joshua’s march around the city of Jericho, Pastor Lutzer shows us that God is always trying to teach us that sin is contagious and that sin will ultimately lead to judgment.
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When we stop to think of the word city, which occurs more than 600 times in the Bible, we know that God has a great interest in cities, whether it is Jericho or other cities of the world. And I’ve begun a series of messages on Great Cities of the Bible. Last week it was Babylon. Today it is Jericho. And next week you have to be here. It’s going to be on one of my favorite cities, and that is Jerusalem.
But as we think about the city Jericho, I want us to walk through its history very briefly today, and then to see how God sometimes judges cities in very specific ways. And certainly Jericho is an example of that.
First of all, a few words about its beginnings! And you may take your Bibles and turn to Joshua 6 because this is the most extensive listing of the city of Jericho in the Bible where Joshua gained fame by his conquest of Jericho, a conquest that was given to him by Almighty God. But 12 miles north of the Dead Sea there is a spring, and because of the spring and because there was water there, civilization tended to gravitate toward that area. Archeologists and historians tell us that the city of Jericho is surely one of the earliest and oldest cities in all of history dating back to at least 8000 B.C. And because of its location it played a strategic part in Israel’s history. Its size began to grow.
You need to understand that Jericho was, of course, there during the days of Abraham when he was a wanderer in the land that God would eventually give him as an inheritance. Jericho was already in place at that time, commanding that area, the southeast area of the land of Canaan. And then during the time when Israel was in Egypt, the city began to grow, and it became even a stronger Canaanite fortification. Archeologists tell us that it occupied perhaps 20 acres. Maybe it was a mile and a half around – something like that. And huge walls were built around it.
About a year ago Time Magazine had an article entitled “Score One for the Bible,” because what they said was that the walls now had been positively identified, and that the story in the book of Joshua was finally proven true, because for years archeologists quibbled about the walls and whether these were the right walls, or whether they were earlier walls or later walls. Now Time Magazine has an article, “Score One for the Bible.” I think that’s such an insult to the Bible. Why didn’t they entitle it “Score One for the Archeologists,” because at last the archeologists have caught up with the Bible?
But nevertheless, they have discovered the walls and now the story of Jericho is essentially believed, even though the humanists would like us to say that the cause of the collapse of the walls happened to be an earthquake. Or there’s another theory that said that as they marched around, the ground became so hard that when they blew the trumpets it was the sound vibrations that resonated against the walls, and so the walls collapsed. But the point is that God spoke, as we shall see, and the walls collapsed because of Almighty God.
So Jericho grew in size. It grew as a fortification. It also grew in its wickedness. Archeologists tell us that Jericho was filled with homosexuality. It was filled with immoral impurity of various kinds. It was cruel to its children. It was pagan. It was occultic. It was everything that one could experience in a decadent society at that time, so those were its early beginnings.
And there it was in the southeast corner of the land, commanding that whole area and becoming very important for the Canaanite fortifications. Of course, when the sixth chapter of Joshua opens, they have crossed the Jordan River, they have come to Gilgal where their reproach of defeat had been taken away, and now suddenly they come before Jericho. And that’s why I have mentioned a few things about the beginning of the city.
And now I speak about the destruction of the city. And with your Bibles open to Joshua 6, notice that the Lord God gives Joshua a promise in verse 2. “And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.’” The Lord says, “Joshua, it’s already done.”
Now we may look at this passage and say it doesn’t make sense because at that time Jericho wasn’t theirs yet, but God, the Bible says, speaks about those things which are not, as if they are because so far as God is concerned already it had happened. As long as the people believed God, He was going to do a miracle, and the walls would indeed go tumbling down.
Notice the specific instructions that the Lord gives to the people: “You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.”
Now, of course, when we think about Jericho being a fortification, and trying to make the analogy of the fortifications that we need to demolish in order to enter into the Promised Land, so to speak, the exact instructions that God gave to Joshua don’t really apply to us. I know that there have been people who have marched around a house that they wanted, or marched around an area that they wanted, and that may be okay in specific instances, but most of the time we’re not doing that. But the principles I think apply. I want us to notice how they carried out these instructions.
First of all, they marched around the city defenselessly. They did not have weapons. In fact, the Canaanites had iron. They were far ahead of others in terms of the use of iron. And the Israelites didn’t. The Israelites did not have a well-disciplined army. They did not have the same weapons, and the Lord says, “Nevertheless, I want you to march around the city.”
Jesus said to the Christian Church, “Behold I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Christ says, “It’s okay if you are weak as long as you understand where your strength resides. As long as you keep looking to the promises of God, it’s okay if the walls of the city seem to be so strong that they cannot be broken down.” So they marched defenselessly.
They marched patiently. I’m sure that at the end of the evening there were people who wondered why they should do it for another day. Especially the children wondered why they should do it for another day because it appeared as if nothing happened when they marched around the walls. The walls were just as strong and just as high, and yet they were supposed to do it again and again.
Sometimes people come to me with problems, and they may be doing all the right things, and yet they have not found the solution to their problems. And there are times when I have to say to them, “Just keep doing what you are doing because you are doing the right things. Someday God is going to reward your obedience, and out of the blue you are going to find a change.”
It was Dr. Alan Redpath who said, “There are some people who are marching around their Jericho and perhaps they are quitting on the twelfth time around their personal Jericho.” You see, the total number of times was thirteen, wasn’t it? Six days you go around once each day. On the seventh day you go seven times. But they were to do it patiently.
They did it silently. Notice what Joshua said in verse 10: “But Joshua commanded the people, ‘You shall not shout or make your voice heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.’” There are times to shout, and there are times to simply stand still and see the salvation of God. There is nothing as thrilling as having God as your defender, as God taking up your cause and fighting your battles. And there are times when you need to just let God do it, and be still and know that He is the Almighty. So the Lord said, “I want you to march silently.”
He said, “I want you to march unitedly.” Notice that the text tells us that first of all the priests went around, and then there were men of war, and then there was the Ark. And you can almost visualize [something] like a serpent. These people went around the walls of the city – hundreds of thousands of people in a very organized march, going around the city because they knew that this victory was one that not just one person would have, but that they would all share together. There are some of you here today who are struggling with deep needs in your life that you are never going to be able to conquer on your own. It is only when you accept the united strength of the body of Christ. It is only when you come for prayer and say, “I am in a pit so deep I need someone else to lend me a hand to help me out of the pit.” It is then when God will begin to do a wonderful work in your life. Not a one of us can live the Christian life on our own. And so they marched unitedly.
They marched expectantly. You know, sometimes when we read this passage of Scripture we think that they did not know what God was going to do. God didn’t tell Joshua, “Now Joshua, when you do this on the seventh day the walls are going to collapse.” (chuckles) God just kept this a secret and said, “It’s your responsibility to be obedient. It is my responsibility to figure out how you are going to conquer the city.” Let us always remember that we have our responsibilities, and there is God’s responsibility, and we must keep those distinct. And so they were just obedient, believing that in the end God would somehow give them the victory.
And of course, they marched triumphantly, because notice it says in verse 15: “On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day.” They had to! Think of walking 10 or 12 miles. Well, it says here: “On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout, for the Lord has given you the city.’” Verse 20: “So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city.” God said, “It’s yours.”
I want you to know today that it doesn’t matter how high your wall is. It really doesn’t make any difference to God how deep its foundations. When God chooses to speak, walls collapse because no matter how high the wall is, God is higher still. And God is able to take down fortifications, the kinds of things that stand in our way of spiritual progress - the habits, the addictions, the lack of discipline that cause us to constantly fall into the same sins over and over again. God is able to speak to those things if we are obedient, and to make sure that we are victorious.
I’ve spoken about the early beginnings of the city of Jericho. And I have mentioned the destruction of the city. Now I want us to look at the judgment of the city. The title of my message today is Jericho, A City Under Judgment.
Notice what the Lord says in verse 17: “And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent.”
What the Lord said is this: “I don’t want you take anything from it. The gold and the silver shall be taken to the treasury of the Lord, but I want you to burn all of the clothes, all of the articles of furniture and all of the other things that are of value. I want you to burn it all because God says it’s a sacrifice to me, and I don’t even want you to have articles and artifacts that come from that city because even those things may draw you into sin.”
And I want you to know today that you need to get rid of anything that is in your home that draws you into sin, whether it’s pictures or books or magazines or videotapes. Until you get rid of anything that is sensual that draws you into sin, there will always be that allegiance that will be in your heart towards them. And so the Lord says, “I want you to do away with that.”
Now also the Lord asked them to destroy everything. It says in verse 21: “Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.”
How critics of the Bible have choked when they have come to this passage of Scripture. They’ve said, “How mean of God to think that Joshua was to go in and to slaughter these people - men, women and children, to kill everybody – how awful! Where is justice?” Well, as I’ve already reminded you, first of all, Jericho was a very wicked city, and what God is trying to teach people in the strongest possible terms is to remember that sin is contagious.
And if you were to live with these people, soon you would be drawn away to their ways, and to serve their gods, just as Christians do today. Many of us do because of the struggles that we have, living in a very pagan, sensual, godless world. And so the Lord in the strongest way is saying, “Don’t you understand that these people were ripe for judgment, and what they received was just?” You may question that, but then God doesn’t call you and me every day to check on what we think about how to run His universe. And by the way, God thinks that He is doing a pretty good job of running His universe, even if you and I struggle with it and we don’t understand.
Now I want you to know that there is also a curse that was placed upon the city. Verse 26: “Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, ‘Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates.’”
Now I want you to take your Bibles and turn to 1 Kings 16 where this passage of Scripture was completely fulfilled. Five hundred years after Joshua made the statement during the days of Ahab when there was lots of unrighteousness in the Land, the Lord throws in these verses of Scripture to remind us of the faithfulness of His Word, and that He has a long memory. It says in verse 34: “In his days (that is in the days of Ahab) Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.” God remembered it.
You see, the Lord can do as He wills. And if He says that a certain city should not be rebuilt, it should not be rebuilt. And today you can go to the land of Israel, and you can stand on top of the ancient Canaanite city of Jericho, and no one is living there. It is of interest to archaeologists and to people like us who are interested in the Bible, but that Jericho has never really been rebuilt.
Now I must tell you that there are three Jericho’s and that’s why my next stage is the rebuilding of Jericho. Here’s what happened. After the time of the Old Testament, the city was rebuilt, and you have the New Testament city of Jericho, which is actually south of Old Testament Jericho. And you find there that King Herod had a palace because it was a very beautiful place to be, especially during the winter because its temperature was so nice and warm. And you remember reading of instances in the New Testament of Jesus Christ healing people in Jericho. There were lepers in Jericho.
One day when Christ was there He met Zacchaeus who was a leader and a tax collector in Jericho. So you have Old Testament Jericho. You have New Testament Jericho, and if you go to Jericho today, you find that there is modern Jericho that is even in a different place. So really there are three Jericho’s, all clustered together in essentially the same area.
But as an illustration of the way in which He loathed the iniquity of the Canaanites, the Lord said, “Jericho will not be rebuilt, and those who attempt to do it are going to be judged.” And 500 years later, a man was judged exactly as Joshua had been told by the Lord.
Now what I’d like to do is to take all of these things that we have been talking about and draw them together, and in three simple conclusions, talk about the way in which God judged this city, and the judgment of God in general.
First of all, I want to tell you that the city of Jericho reminds us that judgment always happens in God’s time. When the Lord spoke to Abraham He said, “Abraham, I want you to go into the land of Egypt, and you and your descendants are going to be there for 400 years, and then I’m going to bring you out.” And He said, “The reason I am not judging the people in Canaan yet is because the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” God says, “Their cup isn’t full yet. They have not yet sinned to the ‘nth’ degree. This is not yet the time for judgment. It will happen but this is not the moment.” And you know God determines the time of judgment.
There were all kinds of generations that came and went, and it appeared as if God was rather tolerant of what was happening, but then suddenly the judgment came to that generation of Canaanites to the people of Jericho.
You know it says in Ecclesiastes 8:11 that because God sometimes does not immediately judge evil, people think it is safe to do wrong. That’s an interesting insight. Because God does not always immediately judge, evil people think it’s safe to do wrong. They say, “Look at what I’m doing and I’m getting by and my business is better than ever despite this adulterous relationship. Despite the fact that I am dishonest, God is blessing me. Here are the green sheets to prove it.” Ah! Do you ever think to yourself that God has forgotten to judge you because you’ve gotten by so long? Remember that judgment always takes place according to God’s time, and He keeps the books.
There’s a second lesson. Judgment always happens in God’s way. It always happens according to His specifications and the way in which He wants to bring it about. So far as I know, Jericho is the only city in all of history that God decided to judge the people and have the walls fall down flat. There is no other instance in all of history where He judged the people quite like that, so God does it differently.
Because of the sin and iniquity of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord decided to rain fire and brimstone from heaven, and all of the sulfur (sulphur) in that region was ignited, and you had a great fire. And today you can stand at the top of Masada in Southern Israel and look at where Sodom and Gomorrah used to be, and all that you see are hills and planes and rock. There is nothing left of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sometimes God does it that way.
There are other times that He may judge a city like He judged the city of Jerusalem. He had the armies of Titus gather around the city, and Jerusalem fell to the pagan hordes of the Romans. God does it in different ways. Always remember that God has His way.
You see, even if God had not judged the city in this way, if He had not judged Jericho the way the text is telling us, that would not have made any difference because every single individual on Planet Earth is going to stand before God individually giving an account to God and being personally assessed on the basis of what they knew and what they did with what they knew and their response to the living God. So in the end it all balances out. We may think that God seems to be harder on some cities than on others, or he judges this city this way, and the other city the other way. The fact of the matter is that it all balances out because God is the one who controls judgment. God controls it. And every single individual is going to stand before the living and the true God.
There’s a third lesson and that is that judgment is always mingled with mercy. If you have your Bibles still open to the sixth chapter of Joshua, I want you to notice that it says in verse 25, “But Rahab the prostitute and her father's household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.”
The harlot Rahab was spared. Now that was merciful. Remember in the second chapter when the spies came and they met with her, she hid them in her house, which was on top of a wall because these walls were very huge and people actually lived on top of the walls. And then she made an agreement with them. And she said, “I want you to know that I will hide you and keep you from the king and from his soldiers as long as you promise me that when the judgment falls I will be spared.” And God graciously granted her request – very graciously.
And the agreement was that she would tie a red string from her house on the wall and let it be there on the wall so that when the Israelites came and would look at that thread, they would remember that that red rope was her house, and God said, “Spare her and don’t allow her to die with all the other wicked people.” And they very graciously kept that promise.
I want us to think about the harlot Rahab for just a moment. She was a woman who theoretically should have been condemned because she was a Canaanite, and God said, “Be sure to kill the Canaanites.” She should have been condemned because she was immoral, and God condemns those who are immoral. She had all of these things against her and yet miraculously she was spared and she became a heroine of faith. Why? First of all, it was because she knew more than she realized. She didn’t understand the significance of that cord hanging out of her window, but Bible commentators throughout the ages have pointed out that that red cord represents a trail of blood that is found in the Bible that begins in the book of Genesis and ends in the book of Revelation. It is the fact that without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins. And that cord represented that trail of blood of sacrifice so that when you get to the book of Revelation it says, “Praise be unto Him for all people and all nations, and all tongues because through Thy blood they have been redeemed for God.” She knew more than she realized. And also she believed what she knew. She said, “We heard about your God. We heard about how He dried up the Red Sea so that you could go across it. We heard about the way in which He was providing for you when you were in the desert, and our hearts trembled for fear because we know that Jehovah is the true God.”
Now you think about this for a moment. Here was a woman who never had any Gospel tract that was ever given to her by someone standing out on a street corner. Here was a woman who didn’t have a praying mother to encourage her. She had no pre-evangelism. Nobody was in the city telling her that someday she would need to repent. And yet she was a woman whose heart God so opened that she was converted, believed in God, and was spared from the judgment that is spoken about here in the city. And more than that, of all things, she married an Israelite, possibly one of the spies, and ended being an ancestress of Jesus Christ.
Take your Bibles and turn to chapter 1 of the book of Matthew for just a moment where we have the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Here we read these startling words. And sometimes in these genealogies, by the way, there are gaps. They may say, “So-and-so is the son of,” but actually he may be the great grandson of, but notice it says, “And Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.” But notice “And to Salmon was born Boaz by Rahab.” Of all things!
When Jesus is walking in this world and He’s there in the city of Jerusalem, and He’s born in Bethlehem, and He’s doing all these miracles, in His blood stream as a man there is some blood that belongs to the harlot Rahab. And in the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews when the author wants to catalog all of the heroes of faith and talk about their faithfulness, lo and behold he also lists there Rahab who received the spies with peace. God says that she is included within the family. She’s a part of the family of God. She’s been received and welcomed because whenever God judges there is always mercy. There is always mercy!
You know, some people think that someday God is going to judge the United States for its evil, and I must point this out, and should have pointed out a moment ago. Did you know that God does not always wait for judgment (to judge?), but He immediately must judge sin? It’s just that sometimes He does it much more cataclysmically later on.
What am I saying? Did you know that even today God is still judging sin immediately when it happens, and America is already under judgment? In the Old Testament when the Lord speaks about the Israelites He says, “Do you know what is going to happen if you disobey Me?” He says, “Your families are going to be scattered, and your little ones are going to be crying for you, and there’s going to be no help for them because despite their cries there will be nothing that you can do. That’s what it says in the book of Deuteronomy.
Did you know that God is judging America right now just like that? Little children are crying for their daddies who have run off to marry somebody else. And with a high divorce rate, children are being molested. God says, “I am judging this nation already.” Someday there may be a future judgment like Jericho experienced, but I want you to know that the judgment of God is already upon America and we are reaping it through the emotional and spiritual disorders of our children who are being reared in fractured, dysfunctional families simply because this nation has turned from God. But in the midst of all of that heartache, there’s mercy. It’s people like the harlot Rahab. Children born in homes where they have been misused and abused, and children who are born in homes with single parents because of divorce, and where there has been hatred between the mother and the father are growing up with emotional and spiritual wholeness because of the mercy and the loving kindness and the grace of God.
In the midst of judgment there is always mercy. And I guess that’s where my heart is today. I don’t know your background, and I don’t know your history. I don’t know all that you have been through, and I don’t understand the extent to which you have been hurt and pained by your past. And maybe because of other people’s sins you have suffered greatly, but today I want you to know that the mercy and the loving kindness and the forgiveness and the acceptance of God are available. And as in that scarlet cord, that rope that was hung from the window of Rahab’s house, there is salvation.
So no matter where you are at today, God says, “I receive you if your heart is open to Me. I won’t come barging in. I won’t take that closed heart and force you, but I will work within you, and I am inviting you to open your life to Me so that you can be cleansed and forgiven, received and welcomed and established as a full-blooded member of the family of God. In wrath He remembers mercy.
Join me as we pray together.
Lord, we know that today this has been a heavy message because we don’t like messages of judgment. The opinion polls tell us that this is not what people listen to. And yet, Father, here it is in black and white. And we pray today for those who feel that perhaps they have been judged. Help them to remember that with it there is mercy, there is forgiveness, there is cleansing, there is usefulness, there is hope, there is stature and there is dignity as they come to a Savior, even as Rahab did. And we pray today, Lord, that we might appreciate the Savior who died for us so that we could be forgiven. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
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