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The Fall of Jericho – a sermon

The Lord be with you

Due to the weather cancellation of tonight’s (March 7) Lent service, I’m posting the text of the message. Included also are the Bible lessons and the Collect (prayer)

Blessings in Christ

Wednesday March 7
Commemoration of Perpetua and Felicitas, Martyrs
Sermon: The Shadow of Christ: The Fall of Jericho (Joshua 2, 6)
Text: Joshua 6:2
Lections: Joshua 6:1-7, 15-17, 20, 25; Psalm 44:1-8 (1); Hebrews 11:29-31; Mark 10:46-52

Collect: We thank You, O Lord, that while You are just, You are the justifier of all who rest their faith in Jesus. We praise You, O Jesus, that You gave Yourself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age. Amen. (Lutheran Study Bible, footnote, page 350)

Joshua 6:1-7, 15-17, 20, 25
6 Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. 2And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. 3You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. 4Seven 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. 5And 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.” 6So Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the LORD.” 7And he said to the people, “Go forward. March around the city and let the armed men pass on before the ark of the LORD.” …
15 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. 16And 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. 17And 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. …
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. …
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.

Psalm 44:1-8 (1)
1 O God, we have heard with our ears,
our fathers have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
in the days of old:
2 you with your own hand drove out the nations,
but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples,
but them you set free;
3 for not by their own sword did they win the land,
nor did their own arm save them,
but your right hand and your arm,
and the light of your face,
for you delighted in them.

4 You are my King, O God;
ordain salvation for Jacob!
5 Through you we push down our foes;
through your name we tread down those who rise up against us.
6 For not in my bow do I trust,
nor can my sword save me.
7 But you have saved us from our foes
and have put to shame those who hate us.
8 In God we have boasted continually,
and we will give thanks to your name forever. Selah

Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.

O God, we have heard with our ears,
our fathers have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
in the days of old:

Hebrews 11:29-31
29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

Mark 10:46-52
46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.


The Message

And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. Joshua 6:2

The chances are good that you have not heard many sermons based on a text from Joshua. That is because it isn’t used much in our pericope system. In the one-year series, it is used on the Sunday we remember the Baptism of our Lord. That story is about the Israelites crossing the Jordan, like the Israelites cross the Red Sea, and is viewed as a type of baptism. Because we used the three-year series, we do not hear this reading. In the three-year series, a reading from Joshua is assigned, as a second choice, in series B, for the Sunday that falls between August 14th and the 20th. That happens to be the series we are using this year and the actual date this year is August 19. The reading comes from Joshua 24 and includes the stirring words of Joshua, “choose this day whom you will serve … as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). That’s it. There are no other assigned readings from Joshua.

Our story today, which you probably remember from Sunday school days or maybe a Bible study on Joshua, but not from sermons, falls into two parts, the story of Rahab and the story of the taking of Jericho. The story of Rahab starts in Joshua 2 but concludes in chapter 6.

To recap the historical account quickly; Israel crosses the Jordan after God divides the river, even though it is the season when the Jordan floods its banks. The people have strict orders from God to destroy the Canaanites, whose wickedness has become “full” (Genesis 15:16). Examples of that wickedness include acceptance of child sacrifices, homosexuality, idol worship, and the like. Joshua sends out two spies who enter Jericho. They stay at Rahab’s place. Rahab was a prostitute who lived in an apartment located in the city walls. The spies are discovered and Rahab helps them escape. She and her family are promised sanctuary. When the Israelites arrive, God has them march around the city once each day for six days, while blowing on horns. On the seventh day they marched around seven times. At the conclusion of the seventh trip around, the horns are sounded and the people raised a mighty shout, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. The Israelites storm the city, killing the survivors, but find Rahab and her family are brought to safety. Rahab goes on to live in Israel, continuing in her new faith, and marries a good Israelite from the tribe of Judah.

There is way too much in this story to consider it in detail. One topic we will not be considering tonight is war in the Old Testament, and war in general. God willing, I’ll post something on this subject later in the year. There is a great article in the Concordia Commentary on Joshua that considers this topic, for those who are interested. Tonight, we shall focus on the shadow of Christ as seen in Rahab and the taking of Jericho. Even then, we will only skim the surface.

Rahab had three strikes against her. First, she was a prostitute. According to the Law, such people deserved death (Leviticus 20:10). Second, she was a Canaanite. According to the Law they were to be utterly destroyed (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). Third, she was a resident of Jericho. This wicked city, and its inhabitants, was specifically designated for destruction (Joshua 6:17). Rahab stands condemned under the Law.

However, in this she is no different from any of us. The Law condemns all sinners to death (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). This truth is as old as the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:17). Even if we do not feel we are sinners, we know that we are because Scripture tells us (Psalm 119:176; Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8). So, under the Law, we stand with Rahab, the prostitute.

But Rahab knows that God’s Gospel is greater than his Law. Those who are turned to Christ in faith receive forgiveness, new life, and a place among God’s redeemed people. Rahab’s own words and actions confirm her faith in the Lord. Not only did she hide the two spies and then help them to escape, but when she speaks to the two spies, she said “the LORD, your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11). She used the name of the God of Israel, not some idol or generic name for God. She confesses that the LORD, the God of Israel, is the God of the heavens and earth, leaving room for no other so-called god. She also confessed that she knew the Lord had given the land to Israel. Finally, when she extracted an oath from the two spies to ensure her safety, she made them swear by the LORD, using the name of the true God again and not one of the idols of Jericho (Joshua 2:12). She knows how the Israelites left Egypt. She knows how the Israelites took the cities across the Jordan that had refused them safe passage (Numbers 21). She knows how Jesus had divided the Jordan so the Israelites could cross the Jordan. In fact, this information seems to have been general knowledge in the city as Rahab often used plural pronouns (Joshua 2:8-14). But, while the whole wicked city had heard, only Rahab put her faith in Jesus, so only Rahab was saved. So it is today. Many have heard of Jesus, but the Holy Spirit has worked saving faith only in some. Many reject the work of the Spirit and cling to the ways of sin, just like the Jericho citizens. Rahab put all her eggs in the Jesus basket. All true believers do the same. (In this she is like Perpetua and Felicitas, whom we remember today on our Church calendar.)

Rahab foreshadowed God’s great mercy in Christ. We might think of the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus forgave (John 8:2-11). We might think of the woman Jesus spoke with at a well who had been married five times and was living with a man currently without the benefit of marriage (John 4). We might also think of the woman of ill-repute who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50). In each case, these ladies, condemned by the Law, were saved by their faith in Jesus. To use the image of St. Paul, Rahab became a wild olive shoot that was grafted onto the olive tree of Israel, just like you and me (Romans 11:17).

We have time for only one more Rahab point, though I could go on and on. The blessings God bestowed on her go well beyond simply becoming a citizen of Israel (Joshua 6:25). Matthew tells us that she actually becomes an ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:5). So Rahab is a reminder that Jesus is for all people, no matter what their walk of life might have been and no matter what their nationally is. The Gospel is for all people and is stronger than the Law. Now that doesn’t mean that if your occupation is sinful you should continue in that occupation, but it does mean that occupations do not bar you from Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. It is, after all, a gift and therefore not earned or merited. People like Rahab truly accent that for us all.

That’s it for Rahab. We have to push on to Jericho.

Jericho was not large by modern standards, but it was plenty big by Late Bronze Age standards. Archaeologists tell us that it would have taken no more than an hour to walk around the city. It was an important city, sitting on trade routes. Archaeologists also confirm that it was a wicked city. As I said, things like prostitution, sorcery, and child sacrifice were common. Obviously, even though the true faith had once thrived in the land, as the story of Melchizedek and the sojourn of the patriarchs makes clear, it had long been suppressed if not extinguished (Genesis 14).

Most all of the Early Church Fathers considered Jericho as a type of the world. They could do this by using both the stories of the Flood and the Exodus for background. In the Flood, the sinful world was destroyed, and only eight people were saved (Genesis 6-8). In the Exodus, Egypt was basically destroyed while the people of God were rescued. Egypt is used to represent the fallen world, a place of spiritual slavery, in parts of the Bible (Nehemiah 9:17; Revelation 11:8). In each of those cases, the rejection of God’s mercy in Christ led to destruction. The Fathers also noted the role of water in each example, The Flood and the crossing of the Red Sea are both used in the Bible as pointers to baptism, and so the crossing of the Jordan was also thought of in this way.

Using this line of thinking, the victory of God at Jericho represents the victory of Jesus on the Last Day. The image of the people in Jericho shutting themselves in represents all efforts to keep the word of God, the Gospel, from penetrating peoples hearts. Even on the Last Day, people will reject God and his love, preferring their own fallen ways to the bitter end. The fall of the walls represents the ultimate futility of depending on anything but Jesus.

This reminds us of the time Jesus was asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” He answered, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23-24). In Matthew, Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).

So, if Rahab represents the few who are saved on the Last Day, and the fall of Jericho represents the many who perish on that Day, then the trumpets being blown by the Levites can remind us of the trumpet blown to announce that Day. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

51Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

We might also think of what was written to the Thessalonians:

15For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)

One final thought. Just as the judgment against Jericho waited until the sin of the people was “full,” so the judgment of the world will not come until the time is full. The Holy Spirit will have reached all that He can with the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. There will not be a single person left behind who might have come to faith in Jesus if the Lord had only tarried a bit longer.

Well, that brings us to the end of this message. As I said, we only scratched the surface. But we have seen that Rahab reminds us of the mercy of God in Christ and the fall of Jericho reminds us that this present age will come to and end with the return of Jesus. May we be found numbered with Rahab, and all the Old Testament faithful, on that great Day. Amen.

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