|Vol. 16, No. 2, Mar. – Apr. 1987|
“The people shall go up every man straight before him” Joshua 6:5
IT cannot have escaped your notice that detailed instructions were given to Joshua before the attack upon Jericho. Between the fall of the walls and the final orders concerning the spoils, however, the soldiers had but one order, and that was that each man must march straight forward into the city. This one matter is drawn to our attention twice by the Holy Spirit, who both records the command and states that it was obeyed, “… the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him” (Joshua 6:20). On the seventh day and after the seventh circumnavigation, there came a call to halt. All the men turned to face the city, saw the walls fall down before them, and each man marched forward in the path that God had chosen specifically for him.
Their experiences must have varied greatly. One soldier might have been appalled at the obstacles which immediately confronted him while not so far away his fellow soldier was faced with a relatively easy way through. There were some, of course, who had halted right in front of the gates. For them the immediate approach would be easy, with no masonry to bar their way, but since there would be guards posted at the gates, they might later encounter fierce opposition. At some places the walls may have literally fallen flat, with rubble that could easily be negotiated, but those who had been halted right opposite a tower would have to face far greater obstacles and have to struggle through huge piles of masonry which barred their progress. The instructions, however, were quite explicit and they were that each individual should move straight ahead and not seek an easier way.
This is very true to life. We Christians are in the Lord’s battle and as we move forward we face a whole variety of circumstances in the path appointed for us by God. Some Christians seem to sail through life, with little difficulty, little apparent effort and a minimum of suffering, while others have to battle on and face problems of family, of health or perhaps employment. For them nothing is easy. If, however, we believe that we are God’s own people, fighting in His battles, we must believe that it was He who chose our path for us, saying ‘This is the way, walk in it.’
Returning to Jericho, do you not think that a soldier facing a heavily fortified sector did not look with envy at his neighbour who was confronted by a less guarded section or by less masses of rubble? He might have reasoned that if the march had been stopped some minutes earlier he could have finished up just there. He could easily envy his more favoured neighbours and allow some trace of bitterness against his [34/35] commander who had been responsible for his location. No consideration had been given to him; he had been ordered to stop just there and then to turn and go straight ahead.
It would have been natural enough to complain. It is easy for us to envy our fellow believers, resenting our own lot and arguing that if we had been born in another place and at another time our lot might have been so much easier than it is. I have travelled a lot in Eastern Europe and have often been appalled at the sufferings of God’s people there in those countries of oppression and deprivation. Suppose that some of us had been called upon to endure those trials because of our faith! We do well to pity them, though in fact I have heard them pitying us in the West who are called to be true to God in our affluent society.
Our course is marked out for us; every man must go straight before him. I don’t know how justified I may be in applying this Jericho experience to us, but I do know that it was for all of us that Solomon wrote: “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you … do not swerve to the right or the left …” (Proverbs 4:25 & 27). At the very beginning of this campaign the commander, Joshua, was instructed not to turn to the right or left from the law of the Lord.
Now each Israelite soldier had to look straight before him as he moved forward into victory. He must not concern himself with the activities of his companions. While in other ways we must be careful for one another, in this sense we must not be pre-occupied with the movements of others, but pursue our own God-given way. If the attention of an Israelite was distracted by considering others, he might easily stumble and fall as he clambered over the ruined walls.
At the very beginning of this book the commander, Joshua, was instructed not to look to the right or to the left as he moved into the land with God’s people: “Only be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded thee; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest have good success …” (Joshua 1:7). For the soldier not to go straight ahead but to veer to right or left would do one of two things, either it would leave a gap, an empty space, which no-one else could fill, or it could cause others to stumble and be a hindrance to them on their onward course.
Everyone is responsible to our great commander, and it is to Him that we must give account. We are not called to answer for the way our fellows are taking, but we are responsible for our own progress: “So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more; but judge ye this rather that no man put a stumbling -block in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling” (Romans 14:12-13).
In that resurrection episode by the Lake, Peter wanted to know what John’s way would be but, when he enquired of the Lord, he was told to mind his own appointed task (John 21:22). Each one is different. As these soldiers moved forward to take possession of the city, some were able to move quickly, while others lagged behind, but they were all involved together in the taking of Jericho, and were in good order so long as each kept to the way chosen for him by the Captain of the Lord’s host.
This brings me to my final point. If each warrior that ringed the city went straight ahead as he had been commanded, then they must all have met at a central point. What a meeting that would be! What celebrations of victory would thrill them all! Those who had fought so hard, those who had been wounded, those who had hardly a scratch and those who were exhausted by their efforts, would all meet, knowing that by taking their God-chosen way they had come to have a share in the glories of His total victory.
Imagine the scene! There were those who had struggled painfully, those who had fought hard, those who simply plodded on and some whose tears mingled joy with sorrow. But they were at last together. They had come through. Some may even have avoided the difficulties and deviated in their path, but God was gracious to them all. He gave them the victory.
As to us, we know that one day we will all meet in celebration of Christ’s victory which He has expressed through us as we sought to move forward with Him. Even now we are all moving towards that great Day. Some, scarred with the battle, are coming from frozen Siberia, others from easier circumstances in affluent lands; some from flourishing churches and some from struggling groups or even lonely outposts. But they all have a story to tell of God’s faithfulness as they moved straight forward in His will. [35/36]
“They shall come from the east and west, and from the north and south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). And all of them will have learned the lesson that the secret of victory in this spiritual warfare is to accept God’s appointed way and move straight ahead with Him.