The People’s Microphone
Updated: Sep 8
September 6, 2021 Rev. Drew Stockstill
Now Jericho was shut up inside and out because of the Israelites; no one came out and no one went in. The Lord said to Joshua, "See, I have handed Jericho over to you, along with its king and soldiers. You shall march around the city, all the warriors circling the city once. Thus you shall do for six days, with seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. When they make a long blast with the ram's horn, as soon as 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 all the people shall charge straight ahead." So Joshua son of Nun summoned the priests and said to them, "Take up the ark of the covenant, and have seven priests carry seven trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark of the Lord." To the people he said, "Go forward and march around the city; have the armed men pass on before the ark of the Lord."
The Fall of Jericho, Raphael, c. 1515
We continue our sermon series on the book of Joshua this week looking at the famous Battle of Jericho.
It can seem like everything is a battle these days. Elections, voting rights, health care, the climate, budgets, the end of the war in Afghanistan, COVID-19, vaccines, mask mandates.
Then there are the personal battles people experience: depression, maybe a battle with substance use, a health issue. Maybe work has conflicts, or at home, or a relationship. We are told to pick and choose our battles. “That’s not a hill I want to die on,” somebody says. But another is, “itching for a fight,” and somebody else, “just doesn’t have the energy to fight.” Parents of young kids often ask, “Why does everything have to be a battle?”
For some people struggling with suicidal ideation, living itself is a battle.
The Bible sometimes talks about the life of faith as a battle, so, Paul tells us to, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
Does everything have to be a battle?
James Calhoun was mayor of Atlanta, Georgia during the Civil War. When William Tecumseh Sherman, General of the Union Army drew near to Atlanta, Calhoun requested mercy from the US Army for the city of Atlanta and its property. General Sherman demanded the evacuation of all noncombatants and sent a letter in reply to Calhoun, stating, “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.” After reminding Calhoun the cause of this war, Sherman proceeded to burn the city. His letter was remembered simply as the phrase, “War is hell.” Most who have experienced war, regardless of the merits of the conflict, concur – War is cruelty and you cannot refine it. It is hell.
Does everything have to be a battle?
God called Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery, through 40 years in the wilderness, and to the Promised Land. And then God called Joshua to lead the people into battle to take their rightful place in the Promised Land. Joshua was a great military leader. He fought many battles, the most famous being the Battle of Jericho.
The story of Jericho is a thrilling one, the stuff of Sunday School classes and coloring books. Jericho was surrounded by a great wall so thick that people, like Rahab, actually lived in the wall. After the people of Israel crossed over the Jordan River, walking through the river on dry ground, they arrived at the other side of the river, in the land promised their ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey, and 40,000 warriors prepared for battle with Jericho. After a generation of wandering, having just set foot into the land they had so long dreamed of, they come armed for battle. Does everything have to be a battle?
I was hiking recently with my friend who is a Jewish Rabbi in town and I asked him to help me with Jericho. He told me Jewish tradition teaches that before the battles Joshua sent a letter to all the kings of the land telling them of all that God had done and inviting them to not fight. We heard from Rahab, two weeks ago, how terrified the people of Jericho were of the Israelites and their God, and yet, according to my friend, they chose battle. God promised this land to the Israelites long ago, and God keeps God’s promises. Does everything have to be a battle?
So, 40,000 warriors prepared for battle with Jericho. Then Yahweh, the Lord, told Joshua, “See, I have handed Jericho over to you, along with its king and soldiers.” God then laid out a highly unusual battle plan, in that it did not include battle. For everything does not have to be a battle.
You heard how God told Joshua to march around the city of Jericho with all the warriors once every day for six days, with priests blowing shofars (rams’ horns). On the seventh
day they were to march around the city seven times with the priest blowing the shofars and then make a long blast and all the people were to shout with a great shout.
Now this was to be Joshua’s first battle and the plan God gave him, well any military leader would know, it was dangerous. Soldiers could fire arrows down on the people from atop their high wall. Jericho could send out their army to attack as they marched in open, without defense. But just as he did when God called Joshua and told him to be strong and courageous, Joshua trusted God and obeyed because everything doesn’t have to be a battle.
Joshua told his people the plan. We don’t know how they replied. In Moses’ day they would have argued and grumbled and complained and declared they would surely die. But it seems they simply trusted Joshua. Joshua told the people one thing God did not tell him. He said, “You shall not shout or let your voice be heard, nor shall you utter a word, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.”
The next morning at dawn Joshua got his soldiers and priests and the Ark of the Covenant and they began their march, rams’ horns blowing and all. They did this for six days. “On the seventh day they rose early, at dawn, 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…’ So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it.”
The great, famous battle of Jericho was no battle at all. It was a week of marching, and trumpets blowing, and finally the whole people of God raising a great shout. It doesn’t sound like a war, it sounds like praise; it sounds like worship. Not everything God wants to give us involves us struggling and fighting and battling. God wants us to praise and worship, to trust and obey God, to join our voices together to shout, sometimes for joy and sometimes for justice and sometimes in grief, but to shout together and give ourselves over to the mystery of God’s power.
There used to be a popular saying, “Jesus is my copilot,” have you heard that? How about, “Jesus take the wheel,” or what about, “Let go and let God?” I kind of like them, they are cute, but they are totally off. You know what those sayings miss? The battle of Jericho wasn’t a battle, it was God keeping God’s promise and the soldiers marching and priests blowing trumpets and the people keeping their mouths shut and trusting God and the walls just fell down flat and the people walked on in. Friends, Jesus can’t be our copilot because we aren’t flying the plane. Jesus can’t take the wheel because he’s already driving the car and we’re in the back seat singing to the music. We can’t let go and let God because we aren’t holding on, God is holding on to us. Not everything has to be a battle when we are following God. Does that mean everything is easy? NO! But it means we can always trust God to work God’s good will no matter what.
On that hike with my rabbi friend this week a member of his synagogue joined us. This week begins the most holy of high holidays in the Jewish faith, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It begins with a time of repentance, confessing sins of the past year, and hopes for the new year. Rabbi told me this was to be a Mucar hike.
Mucar means chastisement. It was part of the preparation for the new year. We were to chastise each other, or what I might call some friendly correction and encouragement, regarding how we could improve ourselves. We were hiking a particularly steep portion of the Appalachian trail. On the way up, we were huffing and puffing and feeling thoroughly chastised; more silent, like the people of Israel were commanded to be as they simply marched around the city. On the way down, we could breath and think a little easier. After some good chastising, I asked for some thoughts on Jericho. Rabbi said, “You know we blow the shofar, the ram’s horn, as part of our Rosh Hashanah celebration, just as they did at Jericho.” His congregant added, “And this year, there are many walls that need to come down, aren’t there?” He said, “There are of course the walls that Covid has created, but also the many other walls that are keeping us from what God wants for us.”
There are so many walls among us. But God does not desire us to fight every battle to bring down every wall. God’s work is to bring about the unity among us God created us for. God will remove all that separates us from God, and God will remove every wall that keeps us from enjoying the life God made us for, lives of love, of flourishing, of celebration and unity, and God will remove every wall that separates us from each other. The Apostle Paul said, “there shall no longer be Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free,” and we may add, gay and straight, Republican and Democrat, Christian, Jew, and Muslim, but simply a people united in our kinship as Children of God living fully in the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, saved by Christ’s grace and love.
As Joshua commanded the people, for a time that may require us to be silent, to listen, to trust, but there is also a season when together, as a people trusting God we join our voices to shout. The walls of Jericho didn’t come down through a battle but through a people united in their trust of God who lifted their voices together in praise and power. Imagine, beloved, the walls that will crumble when we all lift our voices together in hope, in peace, in praise of God.
You may remember, when God called Joshua to take over the leadership of the people of Israel after Moses died, God commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous. It was not only for the many battles that lay ahead that he had to be strong and courageous, it is for trusting God to make a way when we see no way, trusting that God has a hold of us and will never, ever let us go, it is for trusting God that we need the most strength and courage. So, beloved, be strong and courageous in your trust of God to bring down whatever barriers stand between you and the good life God has created you for. Be strong and courageous to come together in this place, week after week, in fellowship and praise because not everything has to be a battle, but everything can be praise. And all God’s people lift their voices together to shout Amen! Amen.