“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.”
How unique is this thirtieth verse in Hebrews 11. Whereas throughout this chapter we read of the faith of the people of God, of Abel and Noah and Abraham etc., here we simply read that “by faith the walls of Jericho fell down.” However, by implication the faith of God’s people is surely stated here. Do we not read here “by faith”? This is surely the faith of God’s people. Besides, we also read: “after they were compassed about seven days.” They were compassed about by Israel: this was surely an act of faith.
“By faith,” we read. Now faith itself has no power. Faith has no power in itself, did not itself cause the walls of Jericho to crumble and fall down. Faith, here in Hebrews 11, is the gift of God, God’s means peculiarly adapted unto God’s revelation to His people of His salvation. Faith is never a substitute for atonement, which the Lord, then, would graciously accept from us instead of atonement. Neither is faith a means whereby we do good works—good works which God accepts as a ground for our salvation, as Roman Catholicism teaches. And neither is faith ever a condition which limits God, so that God will act provided that we first believe.
Faith is God’s means. God, of course, caused the walls of Jericho to crumble and collapse. And faith, as God’s gift, is here the way in which this occurs, the means peculiarly adapted as that means of God which He bestows upon us and works in us. Faith always clings to God, in Christ Jesus, looks away from self and seeks all its salvation and help in and from the Lord. How true this is also in this passage in Hebrews 11.
Jericho, some five to six miles from the Jordan, a rather small city (Israel marched around it seven times in one day), was a fortress, encircled by a very strong wall, a wall so wide that houses were built upon it. And it appears from Joshua 6:1 that the people of Jericho were determined to defend it.
Joshua is instructed by the Captain of the host of the Lord. Notice what we read in Joshua 5:13-15. And this continues into chapter 6. Joshua was standing near Jericho, undoubtedly beyond the reach of any flying arrow, considering, how to attack the city. The Lord, however, does not permit him to be in doubt very long. Soon he beholds a man standing over against him and with a sword in his hand.
Who is this warrior? Upon the inquiry of Joshua He replies that He is the Captain of the host of the Lord. He is undoubtedly the same as the Angel of the Covenant, and He Who visited Abraham at Mamre with two angels. He is personally the Christ, the Son of God, and the revelation in the Old Dispensation of the Triune Jehovah, as the God of His covenant, the God of our salvation. In Bethlehem He becomes Immanuel. He calls Himself the Captain of the Lord’s host. This explains why He appears as a warrior. As the Captain of the Lord’s host, He now gives Joshua His battle instructions. He leads the army of the Lord; He presently causes the walls of Jericho to collapse and crumble. So Christ is here, at the battle of Jericho!
We read of these instructions in Joshua 6:2 and also inJoshua 6:3-5 and in Joshua 6:10. First, He informs Joshua that He has given Jericho into Joshua’s hand. How vital this is! And then follow the battle instructions. We might be inclined to say: what a ridiculous scheme of battle! The people of Jericho, watching Israel from the walls, must have thought them a crowd of fools!
The fall of Jericho is a wonder. As one may suspect, many and various interpretations have been given .of this incident. Why discuss them at this time? Some, seeking to rationalize the incident, say that God caused an earthquake to destroy these walls. This may very well have happened. However, is it not wonderful that an earthquake would occur only underneath the walls and not the city (not a home was destroyed), and that that part of the walls was not affected where Rahab’s house stood? Indeed, the fall of Jericho is a wonder. I need not rationalize it. All I need know, and this is quite enough, is that it was God Who caused these walls to crumble.
The fall of Jericho is a wonder, a divine wonder of grace.
What is a wonder? A wonder, in Scripture, belongs to the sphere of divine grace. A wonder is always divine grace in operation. The wonder in Scripture is the grace of God. God’s grace is that marvelous work of God whereby He translates man, and all creation as man is its king and head, out of the power of sin and guilt and corruption and death and lifts it up into everlasting life and glory. Whenever we see a miracle in the Bible, we see a sign or symbol, a picture of this wonder-grace of the living God. The Word of God is full of miracles. That is also what we have here at Jericho. What causes these walls to collapse is the power of God, the power of His grace; what we have here is a mighty symbol of this grace of God.
Centrally the wonder of God’s grace is Christ Jesus, in the way of His incarnation, suffering and death, resurrection and glorification. It is through Christ and because of Him that the people of God and all things are translated out of sin and death into everlasting life and glory. Of this mighty grace of God all miracles are signs and pictures. Whenever we see a miracle in Scripture we see a picture of this grace. When the dead are raised to life, the blind see, the deaf hear, etc., we see a picture, in natural life, of what the grace of God accomplishes spiritually. And when the walls of Jericho fall down, it is the grace of God that does it; it is a wonder of grace, a symbol of God’s grace as it destroys the power and kingdom of the world, and establishes His own kingdom, symbolically at Jericho, and centrally and finally in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Proper is, first of all, the destruction of, Jericho as such. We must understand the meaning of Jericho and Canaan. Jericho was the key to the entire land of Canaan. A mighty fortress, it was the kingdom of darkness and of this world, and the nations of Canaan, too, were this kingdom of darkness. They had heard of the exploits of Israel’s mighty God but were determined to resist and destroy the cause of Israel’s God, Jehovah. Besides, their measure of iniquity was full. Sin’s manifestation had reached its climax, in as far as that was possible for these nations in the Old Dispensation.
Canaan was the land of the promise. In that land the Lord would establish His kingdom. To be sure, it was all a type and shadow of the kingdom of God as it would be established by the Lord in Christ Jesus. Yet, although a type, it was nevertheless also very real. There Israel enjoyed the forgiveness of sin through the blood of the Old Dispensation. There God would reveal to Israel His statutes, and Israel would love and serve Him as His people. There Israel would be the Lord’s distinctive people; the Lord would rule over them by His grace and Spirit.
This explains why Jericho’s fall is proper. Fact is, the kingdom of God in Christ and the kingdom of darkness cannot exist side by side. There is simply no room for both. And this applies throughout the ages. Sin and grace, God and Mammon, Christ and Belial, etc., can never exist together; it is always either-or. Sin is always completely devoted to sin; and the grace of God, too, is absolute. This applies to us now only in principle. And in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ the kingdom of this world will be completely destroyed, and God will be all in all.
Proper, secondly, is the manner of Jericho’s fall. On the one hand, Israel is led by the ark. The ark is the outward symbol of the presence of Jehovah. In all heathen temples an idol was in their holy of holies. But in the temple of the Lord was the ark. In that ark from which extended two golden seraphim, giving it the appearance of a throne, were the pot of manna, the rod of Aaron that budded, and the ten commandments. The symbolism is plain. It is a beautiful picture of God’s rule over His people as He rules over them, through the mercy seat, the blood of Christ, and by writing His law into their hearts. This ark, now, leads the way as it did in all of Israel’s wilderness journeyings. The meaning is that Jehovah, or the Captain of the Lord’s host, or Jehovah as in Christ, the God of our salvation, is always leading us, also here at Jericho.
On the other hand, we must note the number seven. Seven is the symbolic number in Scripture for God’s covenant. As such it can be either a combination of 3 plus 4 or 6 plus 1. As 3 plus 4, seven is the number of God’s covenant as the communion of the Triune God with man, with His people in I Christ Jesus. As 6 plus 1, seven is the number that symbolizes the rest of God’s covenant; it is the I week with the sabbath, labor with the rest; 6 is the number of man, the week without the sabbath, labor without rest, the hopeless folly and futility of the natural man. How beautifully this is symbolized here! Seven priests must carry the ark, and these are preceded by seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns. Seven days they must march around the city of Jericho, and upon the seventh day, undoubtedly the sabbath day, they march around the city seven times. So, the entire incident is characterized by the number seven, the number of God’s covenant, symbolizing Israel’s entering the rest of God. It symbolizes God’s victory over all Israel’s enemies. It symbolizes their being led by the Captain of the Lord’s host, Jehovah as the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Applying this to Jericho, apparently what a folly we have here! How foolish the entire maneuver must have appeared to the inhabitants of Jericho! Nothing happens to the city during all this marching. Finally the loud blast upon the trumpets, the shout of victory of the people, and, mind you, there is no victory in sight. And then the walls of the city crumble and collapse.
By faith Israel got the victory. Indeed, the Lord had given Jericho into the hands of Joshua. But Israel must march. The Lord is surely testing and trying the faith of His people. After thirteen circuits there was still no sign of collapse. Utterly foolish this marching appears. But Israel must believe, must continue to believe against hopeless odds; their eye must be fixed upon the Lord, the Captain of the Lord’s host and the number seven; they must believe the Word of God in Joshua 6:3-5. And they got the victory. Not because of their faith, but in the way of their faith the Lord gives His people the victory.
How true this is throughout the ages! Do we recall the incident of Naaman? How foolish it seemed what he was commanded to do! But Naaman believes. And he is cleansed. We, too, must believe in the Captain of our salvation and His blood of Calvary. We must believe in a cross, and surely that cross appears to be utter folly! Is death the way of life? Does shame lead to glory? We must trust wholly in God, always, also when such faith appears to lead us into ruin. Yet, believe in God, and in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then we shall never be put to shame. In the way of faith the Lord will save us. Even over against hopeless odds. Salvation must be and is wholly of the Lord.