Pastor Craig Carter
In our current sermon series — reading through the Old Testament books of Joshua and Judges — we have learned some important life lessons on courage, leadership, and faith from characters like Joshua and Caleb.
More than anything the book of Joshua reads like a history book as it describes the Israelites’ invasion and occupation of the Promised Land of Canaan. It chronicles three separate military campaigns that include thirteen battles through which 31 cities are conquered.
Of course, the most famous of those was the battle of Jericho. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who does not know that ♪♪ “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came a-tumblin’ down.” ♪♪ But it’s not just a story for children to sing about or re-enact as our kids did a couple of weeks ago during children’s church. It contains spiritual truth that is applicable to everyone, young and old alike.
The reason the battle of Jericho was fought, along with all of the battles recounted in the book of Joshua, was because God wanted the Israelites to live a peaceful existence. The Lord desires the same thing for us as well, but unfortunately, many of us do not know “the peace that transcends all human understanding.”
That’s because we are battle weary from fighting enemies such as worry, fear, anger, jealousy, prejudice, lust, greed, and broken relationships, to name a few. Still others of us are kept in constant bondage to painful memories from the past, sinful habits in the present, and uncertainty about the future.
These hurts, habits, and hang-ups are referred to as “strongholds” in the Bible. They seem as impenetrable and unconquerable as the 30-foot walls that surrounded the heavily fortified city of Jericho. But, if we’ll learn a few lessons from our Israelite friends, the walls that stand between us and victorious Christian living will come a-tumblin’ down, too.
How do we defeat sin, evil, and strongholds in our lives? The battle of Jericho, which is representative of the victories won by the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan, gives us a winning battle plan. Let’s begin by looking at the war-fighting strategy the Lord gave Joshua and his army:
Now the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid of the Israelites. No one was allowed to go out or in. But the Lord said to Joshua, “I have given you Jericho, its king, and all its strong warriors. You and your fighting men should march around the town once a day for six days. Seven priests will walk ahead of the Ark, each carrying a ram’s horn. On the seventh day you are to march around the town seven times, with the priests blowing the horns. When you hear the priests give one long blast on the rams’ horns, have all the people shout as loud as they can. Then the walls of the town will collapse, and the people can charge straight into the town.” (Joshua 6:1-5 NLT)
Four principles emerge that give us a winning battle plan for living in victory:
1) Victory comes by attacking specific targets.
God had given the Israelites His word that the Promised Land belonged to them (hence the name). But before they could possess and enjoy it, there were some resident enemies that needed to be dealt with. That’s what the book of Joshua is all about. Canaan was conquered as the Israelite army attacked and defeated these opponents one-by-one, with Jericho being the first.
We learn to live victorious Christian lives in much the same way, but most of us don’t like to take that approach. We prefer what I’d call a “nuclear strategy. “Lord, rid my life of all sin, evil, and unrighteous thoughts and behaviors.” In other words, “Lord, just blow all of my problems to smithereens!”
While that sounds good, it isn’t (in general) how God works. Instead, He chooses to fight the battle one enemy at a time. In war-fighting terms, it’s precision airstrikes rather than total annihilation. This principle explains why the Apostle Paul, in his New Testament letters, often lists certain behaviors that are not to be practiced by believers. By calling out these specific sin targets, Paul probably stepped on some people’s toes, but he didn’t seem to mind.
Like most of you, I’d love for God to come into my life, level it and start from scratch. But I’ve found He’s much more likely to clean house by going from room to room. And, being a guest, He only goes where He’s given permission to enter. We do that by confessing our sins and expressing our felt needs to Him. That is sometimes a difficult and oftentimes a painful process, but the end justifies the means because the victory it brings is worth it.
You and I need to be like military planners in a war room. As intelligence information comes in (via the Holy Spirit), we must target specific areas for attack. Then it’s time to go after them with all available resources.
2) Victory comes according to God’s plan (instead of human means).
Joshua and the Israelite army were accomplished fighting men. They knew all about battle strategies and war-fighting tactics. But when confronted with a formidable enemy entrenched deep within the walls of a heavily fortified city, God provided them with a rather unorthodox plan.
The soldiers were to march around the city in silence while the priests blew ram’s horns and carried the Ark of the Covenant, once a day for six days. Then, on the seventh day, they were instructed to do the same thing seven times, only this time the people were to shout as the trumpets were sounded.
It’s not in the text, but I have a feeling Joshua had a tough time selling this plan to the battle-ready troops. Unbelievably, they followed the plan and it worked to perfection. The walls of Jericho collapsed, the Israelite army rushed in, captured the city, and their first and foremost enemy was history.
God’s plan for bringing victory to our lives may not be as complicated, but it oftentimes seems just as odd. Actually, anything that is beyond our human experience or pushes us outside our comfort zone is viewed as rather peculiar and uncalled for, isn’t it?
Why do I need to go to the altar?
Why must I confess my sins to someone else?
Why should I tell my problems to another person so they can lay hands on me and pray for me?
Why should I be anointed with oil?
The answer to all of those questions is simple: Because God says so!
The Lord often uses unusual means to accomplish His work so that it is clear to everyone Who is responsible. Don’t you think it was fairly obvious when the walls of Jericho fell flat that something supernatural was going on? God is in the glory business and He wants to ensure that He gets it.
A winning battle plan for sin, sickness and all that ails us is found in James’ New Testament Letter.
Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:13-16 NLT)
You may have some strategies for self-help and self-improvement — and if you don’t, just buy one of the more than 100,000 books on Amazon on the subject. And while they may be of some assistance, remember that ultimately, “It is the Lord who gives victory.” (Proverbs 21:31 GNT) Therefore, accept no substitutes and don’t settle for anything less than “God-help.”
3) Victory comes through persistence.
How hard do you think it was for Joshua to muster the troops for the seventh trip around Jericho on the seventh day?
I’m sure the feeling was, “Okay, Joshua, we did it the first day, and the second and so on. Then today we took a few extra trips around the city but this is getting ridiculous. What difference is one more circuit going to make? Enough already!”
Most of us can identify with that sentiment, can’t we? “God, I’ve prayed to be set free from this addiction over and over again … I’ve gone to the altar countless times…I tried to forgive my mom for years … BUT nothing ever changes. So why keep at it and give it one my try?
If you’ve ever felt that way, consider the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 7: “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7 GNT)
The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.
Persistence ultimately pays off. The walls fell after the 7th time on the 7th day!
So, “Jesus told his disciples…they should always pray and never give up.” (Luke 18:1 NLT)
Football legend Vince Lombardi famously stated, “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” It’s a principle that applies on the football field and on the battlefield of life.
Or as Norman Vincent Peale said, “It’s always too soon to quit!” So when you’re ready to give up, pray one more time!
The final principle of the battle plan for living in victory is to understand that…
4) Victory comes through faith.
When all was said and done, the Israelites’ conquest of Jericho was a matter of faith. Think about the incredible faith it took to implement God’s strategy. And it took even more to continue it for seven days. But the ultimate act of faith came when everybody shouted.
The seventh time around, as the priests sounded the long blast on their horns, Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!” (Joshua 6:16 NLT)
It was time for the Israelite people to lay it all on the line. What if nothing happened? What would have become of their reputation among the other folks occupying Canaan? More importantly, what about their very lives since they were now “sitting ducks” with no other battle plans?
But they believed God and claimed the victory that the Lord had promised.
The Lord said to Joshua, “I have you given you Jericho…” (Joshua 6:2a)
When the people heard the sound of the rams’ horns, they shouted as loud as they could. Suddenly, the walls of Jericho collapsed, and the Israelites charged straight into the town and captured it. (Joshua 6:20 NLT)
According to the New Testament, our enemy, Satan, has already been defeated. While we still have some “mopping up” operations to carry out, the victory is ours. In order to claim it, we have to exercise faith.
And what is faith? “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV 1984)
What do you hope for? Freedom from worry, fear, anger, painful memories, lustful thoughts, compulsive eating, addictions to tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs? Salvation of a rebellious child? Restoration of a broken relationship?
Faith is taking hold of what you cannot yet see but believe is rightfully yours because you know that God wants you to live an abundant, victorious life.
We need to always keep in mind that faith is not wishful thinking. It is rooted in the faithfulness of a Person. It’s believing that what Joshua said to the Israelites in his closing speech in chapter 23 is absolutely correct:
The Lord your God has fought for you against your enemies…The Lord has driven out great and powerful nations for you, and no one has been able to defeat you. (Joshua 23:3, 9 NLT)
That’s why the trumpets, or ram’s horns, were sounded before the people shouted.
“When you are at war in your land…sound the signal for battle on the trumpets. I, the Lord your God, will help you and save you from your enemies.” (Numbers 10:9 GNT)
The sound of trumpets reminded the people that God was with them, fighting the battle for them. So I have to wonder what the Israelites shouted. I have to believe it was more than a loud scream or war cry. In my mind, it was probably more like: “God did it to the Egyptians and now it’s your turn, Jericho! Prepare to meet your Maker! Yahweh is God! Walls, you’re fixin’ to come down!”
I like the way evangelist, Jack Taylor, puts it in one of his books: “[Satan’s attacks] will stop when God’s people face the truth and take their places of authority on the battle lines, informing the powers of darkness that, ‘We have had enough!’”
That’s faith in the simplest of terms. It’s saying, “I’m taking back from the enemy what’s rightfully mine. God has promised and given it to me…and I want it!”
That’s not arrogance or presumption. It’s absolute trust and confidence in the word of the One who says it is so.
Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57 NIV)
Let me close by giving you two examples…
First, here’s what a losing battle plan looks like. As I prepared this week’s message I remembered a sermon I preached at the start of the year. In it, I mentioned that I can easily identify my #1 problem: worry. So I asked God for His help me overcome it in 2021 and I sensed him telling me to have an attitude of gratitude. “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything…and thank [God]…” (see Philippians 4:6)
So I adopted only one New Year’s resolution: to give thanks in all circumstances. Using the language of today’s sermon, that was God’s plan for defeating the enemy of worry and anxiety. I started the year off right and that battle plan worked…as long as I worked the plan.
But I did not practice persistence and my faith in God’s ability to vanquish worry from my life waned over time. I’ve fallen back into my old ways of trying to “manage” it myself. By God’s grace, I’ve decided to start circling the well-fortified defenses of worry in my life and combating them with the weapon the Lord has given me: gratitude.
Now, for the more successful implementation of a winning battle plan. When I started to type this message, my right hand started cramping. I rubbed and stretched it, but the condition worsened. As I was writing point #2 about God’s plan not always making sense, the pain got so severe I was barely able to type. As I tried to cut and paste the James passage into my manuscript, my hand gave out and seized up on me. I gathered four staff members who were in the office at the time and we went into the worship center. I told them what was going on, one of them anointed me with oil and they all laid hands on me and prayed for me. I felt a sensation of warmth in my back and when I returned to my office the pain was gone and my mobility was restored.
Several of those folks asked me later how my hand was feeling and I replied, “I’m actually starting to think this prayer thing works!” I really am! ☺
I wonder if Joshua didn’t feel the same way when the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and the walls of Jericho fell flat. Identifying the target, following God’s strategy, and keepin’ on in faith until the victory is won – that’s a winning battle plan.
What walls in your life need to come a-tumblin’ down today? What enemies need to be conquered? What ground needs to be taken for God’s Kingdom’s sake?
You don’t need to understand it…just believe it and trust God for the victory.