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Stories for Children and Grown-ups: The Day the Walls Tumbled Down

January 23, 2011

Sermon: Stories for  Children and Grown-ups:  The Day the Walls Tumbled Down
Text: Joshua 6:20

We have learned through this series, Stories for Grown-ups and Children, that stories we identify as those for children are for grown-ups as well.

Joshua had the enormous and difficult task of following in the footsteps of Moses.  Though Moses was not always the most popular leader, he had led the people of Israel faithfully for forty years to the threshold of the Land of Promise.  When the mantle of leadership fell on Joshua, he must have had some qualms.  Joshua accepted this role during a time of crises.  When I consider the type of guidance Joshua offered, I think about our current needs.  We are in political turmoil.  In many ways, we are still in a financial crisis.  Perhaps our biggest crisis is the moral mayhem of our land.  God is still looking for many leaders, not just a few good men.  God is looking for each one of His people to assume a role of leadership.

We know little background information about Joshua.  We do know that he was the son of Nun, which is possibly a way of saying that he came from a rather low estate.  I doubt anything in his lineage was particularly noteworthy.  Low estate or not, Joshua fell in line with some of the great leaders who also came from humble beginnings:  Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln.  General Douglas McArthur listed Joshua among the ten greatest military leaders of all time.  President Teddy Roosevelt stated that his favorite book in the Bible was Joshua.  He often quoted from that book.

What is important about Joshua is that he was one of twelve spies Moses had sent into the Land of Promise.  Only he and Caleb had returned from a reconnaissance mission with a favorable report saying, “God has promised us this land, and we can take it.”  Because of their belief in God’s vow, they were the only two in the group of Israelites allowed to enter and settle in the Land of Promise.  All others who had wandered for forty years were denied entrance because of their lack of faith.

Joshua, somewhere between the age of sixty and eighty, was certainly prepared when he assumed this responsibility.  He had been working at Moses’ right hand for forty years.  Moses had given the people of Israel a great beginning, but now Joshua stood before God.  This was a time of great opportunity for him.  God reminded Joshua that he and the people were to be obedient.  The Old Testament reminds us repeatedly that when God’s people had been insistent on departing from God’s Word and going their own way, they had always gotten in trouble.  In Joshua 1:8, God emphasized to Joshua the need for obedience:  “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.”  God then offered Joshua great reassurance in Verse 9:  “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; I will be with you wherever you go” With this promise, Joshua recognized that the presence of God would be with him.

Joshua 1:9 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible.  It has been important throughout my life.  On the day I was installed as pastor of this church, Rabbi Sam Cohan read that verse in both English and Hebrew.  I have taken that passage as a watchword for my ministry here.

When God gives us a responsibility such as the one He gave Joshua, we are tempted to cut and run, to retreat.  We become so overwhelmed with discouragement that we cannot possibly see how we can accept the bold vision of God.  Joshua, however, went forward.

Charles Swindoll says that the ABCDE’s of leadership are clear in Joshua:  a positive attitude, a firm belief, the capacity and willingness to do what God had requested, a sense of determination, and an enthusiasm to follow and do God’s bidding.  Joshua is a prime example of how God can mold and shape a person to be the kind of leader He desires.

I want us to look at a few scenes from the book of Joshua.  In the second chapter, we see God working in an unusual way.  We wonder why He would use the unlikely Rahab, a harlot, to accomplish His purpose.  Rahab represents what is sometimes called the oldest profession:  prostitution.  You might excuse her and say that she was a woman who did whatever she could to make a living.  Rahab’s role involved hiding Joshua and several other spies in her home so that they could scout out the circumstances within the city of Jericho.  Rahab was endangering her own life, according to ancient laws of the time.  The Code of Hammurabi stated that if a prostitute did not inform the king’s palace that felons had banded together in her house, she would be put to death.

Why would Joshua send his spies to Rahab’s house?  Perhaps he thought that people were accustomed to seeing foreigners in the home of a harlot, and they would ask no questions.  Perhaps Joshua knew that he and his men would have an easy escape route from her home if detected.  Joshua 2:15 tells us that her house was part of the city wall.  Regardless of the reason, Joshua accepted the fact that God had appointed this woman to play a role in the overthrow of Jericho.  Rahab’s name appears in other books of the Bible.  Hebrews mentions Rahab among those included in the Hall of Faith.  The book of James mentions Rahab as an example of someone who is “righteous.”  Her willingness to lie for Joshua is an example of how deeds come from faith.  Believe it or not, Matthew includes her in the genealogy of both King David and Jesus.

In the course of this intrigue, Rahab told a lie to save Joshua and his men.

In 1804, the Baptists in Kentucky engaged in a huge debate about whether telling a lie is ever justified.  The question was, “If hostile Indians attack a village, is it OK to lie in order to protect innocent children?”  One group of Baptists protested, “No, it is never OK to lie, even if it costs the children their lives.”  The other group said, “Well, in that circumstance, it would be permissible to lie.”  The second group became known as the lying Baptists.  Their numbers have greatly increased since that time, as we all know.

A pastor was standing with his children at the door of the church.  As members of his congregation were leaving following the service, a lady handed him a delicious looking carrot cake.  She said, “Pastor, I made a cake for your family.”

The pastor gladly received the cake, and the children were excited about eating it.  When they arrived home, the pastor placed it on the kitchen counter.

Once the pastor’s wife discovered who had sent the cake, she said, “You need to throw it in the trash.  Have you ever seen the cats she has all over her house?  Have you ever seen them walking on the kitchen counters?  That cake will be full of cat hair!”

The pastor removed the cellophane wrapper, cut a thin slice of cake, and held it up to the light so that he could get a better look.  He could see lots of cat hair in the icing and in the batter.  It was not a carrot cake.  It was a cat-hair cake.  He threw it in the trash.

The following Sunday morning after the worship service, the pastor again stood at the door with his children.  When the woman who had baked the cake reached him, she asked, “Pastor, how did you enjoy the cake I made for you?”

The pastor, who had been teaching his children to tell the truth, did not want his children to hear him tell a lie.  He answered, “Well, I’ll tell you.  A cake like that just doesn’t last long at our house.”

Rahab’s lie was necessary as a part of God’s plan for Joshua and the Israelites.

Joshua must have been an excellent administrator.  When Clare and I plan to leave on a trip at 6:00 in the morning, it is close to noon before we ever get away, even if it is just to go away for a week.  Joshua assumed the difficult task of organizing these people to enter enemy territory, into the Land of Promise.  The group came to the Jordan River, filled with water that is quite chilly and deep, but not so wide.  Crossing this formidable river appeared to be an impossible task for this large number of Israelites.  They had no bridge to cross, and they were carrying the Ark of the Covenant.

Joshua, like Moses before him, moved towards this water.  The Bible states that when the priests stuck their toes in the edge of the river, the waters parted, leaving the dry ground.  I am not sure how God did that, but I do not have to know.  Once they reached the other side, Joshua told each tribe to select a man to remove a rock from the riverbed and pile it with the others’ stones to construct a memorial there.  Joshua informed the Israelites that in the future, when someone asked the meaning of the rocks, they could explain that the stones served as a reminder of what God had done at that spot.  That memorial was a teaching tool for a new generation to follow, a way to remind them of God’s faithfulness.  Joshua gives us an important lesson here about passing on significant facets of our life to future generations.

How do you pass on spiritually significant events in your life?  Maybe the nicest gift we received for Christmas this past year was one given to us by a niece and her husband.  This husband, an expert with video equipment, recorded my dad sitting in front of a video camera soon after his ninetieth birthday.  Dad talked about forty-five minutes, telling of his conversion to Christ, how he accepted Jesus as his Savior.  He also shared stories about how he met my mother, how they got married, and how they lived their early life.  That record of my father on tape is much better than a pile of stones.  I can imagine my grandchildren watching that video in years to come.  They will learn about their great-grandfather and the way God worked in his life.

Most archeologists would agree that Jericho is the oldest city in the world.  It is here that Joshua and the Israelites encountered their most formidable assignment:  taking the city and destroying its thick walls.  In some places, those walls were wide enough to hold a house.  For six days, Joshua and his men “played” the game Follow the Leader.  They walked around the walls of the city, carrying, as always, the Ark of the Covenant before them.  That Ark was a symbol of God’s presence with them.  Joshua knew that God would fight the battle of Jericho for him.  God had promised, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid.  I will be with you wherever you go.”

On the seventh day of walking around Jericho, the priests blew the shofar, a big ram’s horn.  The walls tumbled.  Regardless of what you think about this marching around the wall – superstition, magic, or psychological warfare – their marching was a simple act of humility and obedience.  When Joshua did what God told him, God fought the battle and won the victory.  God gave Joshua the victory.

Archeology has debated the very existence of the wall and its destruction at the time of Joshua.  In 1990, TIME Magazine carried a story called “Science:  Score One for the Bible” that  focused on this very issue.  Many scholars, who have conducted research at the site, claim that this ancient city and its wall were indeed destroyed.  Kathleen Kenyon, one of the archeologists, had discoveries that “were largely consistent with the Bible story,” according to the article.  Several possible causes of the destruction include earthquake, flood, erosion over the centuries, or fire.  Evidence indicates that the Bible is accurate about what happened at Jericho.

Do you remember the Berlin Wall, which was built in 1961 and torn down in 1989?  I wonder how many times I heard about Checkpoint Charlie.  The Romans built Hadrian’s Wall, which was seventy-three miles long, to protect what they called Britannica.  It was built in the north of England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea to keep Scottish invaders out of the land.  The 5,500-mile-long Great Wall of China was intended to keep the Huns out; but it could not stop Attila.  The Western Wall, part of the old temple in Jerusalem, is sometimes called the Wailing Wall because Jewish people offer prayers there.  I have seen with my own eyes the Great Wall of Zimbabwe though I honestly did not know what I was seeing at the time.  This ancient wall built by the Bantu people was a fortress in the country that was then known as Southern Rhodesia.  Robert Frost, in his poem “Mending Wall,” wrote, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

The truth is that every single one of us has a wall like the one that surrounded Jericho.  We all have something like a fortress around us, though it is not actually made with brick and mortar.  My guess is that each of us may have a wall of despair, a wall of doubt, a wall of fear, a wall of disappointment, a wall of bitterness.  Regardless, that wall is impossible to breach unless we commit the battle to God with humility and obedience.

In the very last chapter of Joshua, we see this mighty leader at a place called Shechem where he had called the people together for a covenant renewal service.  Joshua spoke to them,

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.  Throw away the gods your ancestors worshipped beyond the Euphrates and in the Nile, and serve the Lord.  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of your ancestors or the gods of the Amorites…But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”
(Joshua 24:14-15).

In this speech, Joshua told the people that they must make a choice.  We, too, must make choices about a college, a career, a spouse, our values, and our lifestyle.  The most important choice that faces us is whether or not we choose God.  You can see, as the people of Israel did, how God has been active in our lives.  We often hesitate because we feel that we will never measure up to God’s high standards.  We hesitate because of the wrong-headed thinking, “I have to clean up my act before I choose God.”  The answer is just the reverse.  We choose God first, and then He helps us clean up our act.  We may say, “The commitment is too great.  I cannot do this because it is going to require too much of me.”  The commitment is going to require a lot of you, but the choice is worth the commitment.  Joshua says, “You need to choose God today.”

The evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody told a compelling story about the greatest mistake he thought he ever made.  On Sunday night October 8, 1871, Moody preached on the question of Pilate, “What shall I do, then, with Jesus?”  In his sermon, Moody made the statement, “Each of you must make a decision about what you are going to do with Jesus.”  Moody concluded his sermon by saying, “We are going to pick up this topic next Sunday right at this point.  I want you to be prepared to make a decision then about what you are going to do with Jesus.”  Ira Sankey led the concluding hymn, which included the lines, “Today the Saviour calls:  For refuge fly.”

No sooner had that worship service ended than bells began to clang, signaling that the great fire of Chicago was blazing through the city.  Much of the city was destroyed, and hundreds of people lost their lives.  Until his death, Moody thought about members of the congregation in the service that night.  He had not pressed for an immediate decision.  He worried that some who had died in the fire had never made a decision to choose Christ.

I know that we have to think about and pray about this important decision, but it is a decision that should not be postponed.   We must come to a point of decision.  Joshua says, “Choose you this day whom you will serve.  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  Joshua was a faithful servant.

Clare and I like the song “Find Us Faithful,” by Steve Green.  Listen to these words:

May all who come behind us find us faithful.
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey.
May all who come behind us find us faithful

We have, in Joshua, an example of faithfulness, humble obedience to God, boldness, and a courageous attitude.  Just as God called Joshua, God calls every person to a position of leadership, to be a leader even in our own home.  We are to remember God’s promise to Joshua, “Be strong and of good courage.  Do not be afraid.  I will be with you wherever you go.”  We are to know that God makes the same promise to each of us.

Have you made a decision to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life?  We invite you to make that decision, not tomorrow, not next week, but today.  Make a decision as God leads.

Kirk H. Neely
January 2011
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