Brothers and Sisters,
Let’s continue in our devotional thoughts for this week to sit with the book of Joshua, once again building on yesterday. Joshua chapters five and six recount Israel’s campaign against the city of Jericho, a “gateway” city, if you will, to the rest of the Promised Land. In Joshua 5:13-6:5, Joshua encounters a messenger of Yahweh, described as “commander of the army of the LORD” (Joshua 5:14). This angelic warrior (or, perhaps, maybe even a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus) gives Joshua the battle plan for taking Jericho. That plan involves marching around the city once on each of six days, and then seven times on a seventh day. At the end of the seventh circuit on the seventh day, God commanded the following: “And when they [the priests] make a long blast with the ram’s horn [their trumpets], 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” (Joshua 6:5, ESV). If you skip ahead to chapter six, verses 15-21, that’s exactly what happened!
There is much that is fascinating about the account of Jericho, but I’m struck particularly by the phrase straight before him. A quick word study (tied to the English Standard Version translation) shows that the Hebrew term here refers generally to that which is “opposite” a person, that which is “before” someone, that which is right in front. When the walls came down, God meant for each warrior to enter the city by moving straight ahead. Why? Well, I guess I don’t know for sure, though I could postulate some reasons for this command. For instance, moving straight ahead when Jericho’s walls collapsed would demonstrate the utter sufficiency of God’s work in bringing those walls down. There would be no need for Israel’s army to search out an access point into the city, because God intended to lay Jericho wide open. Each warrior moving “straight before him” would visually display the totality and perfection of God’s work to judge Jericho and exalt Israel. Perhaps that’s part of the “why.”
Now, as interesting as the “why” question might be, I’m struck much more by the results of God’s command, especially with respect to the experience of each individual Israelite warrior. When God dropped the walls of Jericho, he required that each warrior move straight ahead into the city. This means that whatever each warrior faced in the city was uniquely prepared for him by God. While each soldier labored to obey God’s command to destroy everything and everyone inside Jericho (a grave task indeed, see Joshua 6:17a, 21), by moving straight ahead in obedience to Yahweh he would encounter only that which Yahweh meant for him to do. His task would be his task, tailored to him by the sovereign Lord of the universe. He would be prepared to accomplish it, not in his strength, but in the Lord’s, and he could trust that he would face nothing God did not intend for him to face…if only he would obey and move straight before him.
Like yesterday, let’s bridge from the experience of an Israelite warrior assaulting Jericho to the experience of a Christian assaulting the gates of Hell. To follow after Jesus is to walk a straight and narrow road (Matthew 7:13, Acts 13:10, Proverbs 3:5-6). And, as we considered yesterday with Ephesians 6, that road often runs right into battle. Yet, this need not be (should not be) any cause for fear on our part. The God who commands us to go “straight before [us]” will not fail to prepare, in detail, for everything we’re going to face. He will not leave us unequipped to victoriously encounter whatever lies ahead. Consider how the Apostle Paul makes precisely this point in a slightly different context. In Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV), when writing of our salvation he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Following straight behind Jesus to assault the gates of Hell is a very good work indeed. Let us then hear the charge given to Joshua by the commander of Yahweh’s hosts before the fortress of Jericho: “…the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.”
So, dear Christian, press on! The battle lies ahead, and it is there that God means for you to be. You have no armor on your back, only a breastplate, the breastplate of righteousness, the righteousness of Christ. It will withstand any assault, and all the work that lies ahead is tailor-made for you by God himself. The trumpet sounds…don’t stand waiting…