19. The Uncertainty of Jericho

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 19. The Uncertainty of Jericho

Mark 10:1  Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

Mt 20:28  As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him.

Context : We have considered Jesus’ warning to his disciples (which they were unable to take in) and we’ve seen his two visits to Bethany as well as his retiring to the east of the Jordan. We have also noted the way Jesus followed the leading of his Father, and so his travels at time seem a little erratic, although they always bore fruit. Some put going to Jericho as before the raising of Lazarus although, as I hope to show, the indications are that he went to Jericho and then on his final trip to Jerusalem. If I am correct then he has been ministering to the east of the Jordan, keeping away from possible too-early opposition from Jerusalem, was called back to Bethany to raise Lazarus and then returned east again to give time for the word to spread while he was able to continue ministering out of sight, so to speak. Note, in passing, that John does not mention Jericho in his Gospel, as he usually didn’t pick up on the events clearly recorded in the Synoptics unless they were specific things that would show the glory of Jesus in what John was conveying (e.g. feeding of the five thousand).   Also bear in mind what we said about the different mindset that the writers had from ours, not being particularly concerned to itemize each step. Let’s see how each of the Synoptics cover this time.

Matthew: “Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests.” (Mt 20:17,18) That was followed by the incident involving James and John’s mother and then immediately afterwards we find,As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. (v.29) For Matthew, the incident that follows where two blind men are healed, is the important thing showing the coming of the kingdom which is a priority in his Gospel.  (see v.30-34) All we know from Matthew is that they have been to Jericho where this healing occurred.

Mark: We start in chapter 10 with, “Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.” (v.1) A reference “When they were in the house again,” (v.10) would suggest that is the Judea part, probably back in Capernaum but we can’t be certain; it may just be a place where they were staying in the east. Direction and warning after a section of teaching: “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.” (v.32) The fact of going to Jerusalem, Mark interestingly informs us, creates a sense of fear in some of those following. Obviously they knew the rumblings in the authorities in Jerusalem and feared the outcome of a further visit. Then comes the James and John incident followed simply by, “Then they came to Jericho.” (v.46a) Peter, reporting through Mark in his Gospel remembers that (apparently) one of the two blind men stood out as a local character: “As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.” (v.46b) and healing follows (v.47-52) and this man follows them, hence the reason he stands out to Peter.

Luke: Now we’ve already noted that Lord records their journey south – “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee,” (Lk 17:11) and picks up on him healing ten lepers along the way (v.12-19). Teaching follows until in chapter 18 we read, “As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.” (Lk 18:35) and healing follows (v.36-43) As there would have been numerous beggars it does not need to be a contradiction; it is just whoever Luke used as a resource remembered that particular one. The end of it is worth noting: “When all the people saw it, they also praised God.” (v.43b) Into chapter 19 we read, “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus,” (v.1,2) and the whole incident involving Zacchaeus is revealed. Jesus’ popularity with what we might refer to as the underclass (involving tax-collectors and ‘sinners’) would have been seriously boosted by this incident. After finishing teaching we then read, “After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” (v.28)

Why Jericho? We may look at these parts of the records and wonder why Jericho? There is uncertainty hanging over this part of the journey all the time – why? Well each of the accounts emphasize a different aspect of what went on. Matthew seeks to emphasize the coming of the kingdom in the way two blind men are healed. Peter, through Mark, is more focused on one of then who was a local character who ends up following them. Luke, the doctor, the people-person, the one interested in people, picks up on the gentle way Jesus healed the beggar on the way into town – getting into town is not so important that Jesus can’t pause up to help a beggar on the way in.

As far as Luke was concerned the big issue in Jericho was the calling and the change brought about in the chief tax-collector, Zacchaeus, whose area of control probably covered the whole of the south of Judea at least. His significance was the equivalent of saying the mayor of London or of New York getting saved. An amazing transformation that may have ongoing long-term effects.

But why have we bothered to cover this part of the trip? Well, apart from the fact that it happened, if it was on the way back from the area to the east of the Jordan (and Jericho is a few miles west of the Jordan), it shows Jesus in no rush to get back to the conflict in Jerusalem but, taking his Father’s leading, picking up some significant popularity while ‘bringing in the kingdom’ through miraculous healings and life transformations.       Right up through this time, it is as if he pushes out what has got to come in Jerusalem and simply concentrates on bringing the love and goodness of the Father into each situation he finds as he travels. On the way down from the north he had healed ten lepers. In Bethany he had raised Lazarus from the dead, to the east of the Jordon he continues teaching and healing, on the way back through Jericho he shows his love for the outcasts by healing blind beggars and his love for the sinner called Zacchaeus. If I had that lot on my resume I would be thrilled.

And us? Can we apply some of what we find here? What I find coming through here is that, first of all,  the pattern of their travels overall, or the strategy of Jesus, although often seeming unclear, seems to be a strategy involving a general desire to get closer to Jerusalem, bring the blessing of God to aggravate the religious authorities, and yet keep at a sufficient distance but not to provoke confrontation too early. Having said that, there is also just this sense of Jesus continuing to take any and every opportunity to bring the love and power of God to bear in changing people’s lives for the good. Yes, there may be that big pattern strategy (which the disciples probably couldn’t see) but behind it, there is this taking every moment left to him to continue to bless people. In a sense, it doesn’t matter about the long-term strategy, the question is what will I do with today? Can I catch something of the Father’s heart and the prompting and leading of His Holy Spirit, so that TODAY will be a day of blessing others, those closest to me and perhaps further afield, TODAY will be a day when Jesus will use me? Can we see it like that?

Snapshots: Day 125

Snapshots: Day 125

The Snapshot: “when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed.” (Josh 6:20) Obedience comes in various forms: “follow me” (Mt 4:19), “stretch out your hand” (Ex 7:19, Mt 12:13), “come” (Mt 14:29). Perhaps no instructions have ever been so bizarre for taking a city as Israel received here, a series of things they had to do culminated by a loud shout – and then the city would fall – and it did! God’s instructions sometimes seem to defy logic or common sense but then, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong, (1 Cor 1:27) which is why He chose you and me and we forget that at our peril. Why these things? “so that no one may boast before him.” (v.29) Right!

Further Consideration: In the previous study we started contemplating the wonder of the transformations that take place in us, physical, mental and emotional changes as we grow as human beings, and then changes in belief, understanding, and then behaviour, as the children of God that we came be as we turned to Christ.

But now we go even deeper into that as we face a vital truth, a double truth actually, that God knows far better than we do how life can work and, even more, He has the power to bring about things that are beyond our usual human capabilities.

And this is something more that chews at the human mind, at human pride, and that is how can God do miracles? Our old self aided and abetted by the enemy whispering into our minds, and sometimes helped along by those who belong to him, starts reasoning and rationalizing. Many years ago, in a church service, one of our people died. A nurse in the congregation confirmed her death. No pulse, no heartbeat, she knew what she was doing, she was dead. But we prayed and she came alive. The rational mind says the nurse was wrong; somehow it seems important to us to be able to explain it like that.

When I was a lot younger I had a non-believing friend and we used to talk stuff together. One day the subject of the taking of Jericho came up. “Oh, it’s easy,” he said, “When an army marches over a bridge they have to break step otherwise the rhythm of their marching will set up vibrations that shake the bridge to pieces. That’s what happened with Jericho.” “Amazing,” I replied, “Joshua had taken his men over so many bridges he knew this? Why is it so hard to believe God told him? And maybe, just maybe, it happened like that – but not so much on desert soil.” But it was that same thing, the need to explain it away. Why? Because a miracle demands accepting that God is on the scene and that has a load more repercussions!  So let’s stop listening to the enemy’s daft suggestions and just say, “Awesome, Lord, good one!”

6. To Joshua

“God turned up” Meditations: 6 :  To Joshua

Josh 5:13-14 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence.

It is a sad thing that there is so often a ‘them-and-us’ mentality in so many Christians. It may be about ‘us’ and other churches, or it may be between ‘us’ and the non-Christian world around us. Whatever it is, there are certain obvious characteristics to it: there is a sense of division, of being different and, even worse, of ‘us’ being superior, ‘us’ being right and ‘us’ having God on our side. It is a very small minded view born out of insecurity!

There are certain things about wars and fighting that everyone knows, things you hear and pick up along the way. The particular thing I have in mind is the sentry’s challenge, “Halt, who goes there?” It always struck me as being a bit odd because if it was then enemy they would probably shoot at you. Sometimes that challenge had added to it, “Friend or foe?” But it is fundamental in a battle situation, that challenge, because you need to know if you are about to be attacked.

This little encounter that Joshua has is interesting. Israel have entered the Promised Land and next day they intend to go and take Jericho. They are there at the Lord’s bidding. The supernatural supply of manna has just stopped so they will now be living off the wonderful provision of this land. It is very much a new day. They are on the plains of Jericho and Joshua is perhaps out on reconnaissance. Suddenly he is aware of a man simply standing before him – but he has a sword in his hand, so he is a potential threat. Who is he? Is he one of his own people? Rather unlikely! Is he from Jericho? Again somewhat unlikely.  So who can he be?

Joshua challenges him: “Are you for us or for our enemies?” It is a legitimate challenge, it would seem, but the answer that comes back is startling! “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Wow! Joshua is under no illusions about who it is before him: Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence.” This may not be God Himself but it is the next best thing, His representative.

There was Joshua minding his own business – well God’s actually – getting ready to take Jericho, and suddenly someone from ‘head office’ turns up. When inspectors turn up at a school or business or whatever other organization it is, everyone scurries around to please them for they know they are under the microscope, but it doesn’t seem to be that sort of thing here. This ‘man’ has come to tell Joshua that God is there – or at least His powerful representative is. His brief response has got two important elements to it. Let’s take the latter one first.

As commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Hold on, which army?  The Lord’s army! Which army is that? Is it the fighting men of Israel or is it an angelic host. A revelation of the latter came many years later when Elisha and his servant were shut up in Dothan: “And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17). What this suggests is that when God instructed Israel to fight it would be a twofold army – human and angelic, but the important issue, Joshua, is that you are not the boss! God is, and this is his representative who has come to oversee the coming conflict against Jericho. There are those who suggest that the vibration of the army marching around Jericho was what brought down Jericho’s walls, but the presence of the Lord’s army commander suggests it was the angelic host doing what Joshua’s army could not do.

But there is another important element to this man’s response. It comes in the one word, “Neither.” i.e. I’m not here on your behalf or the enemy’s behalf. Hold on, aren’t you here on our behalf?  No, you don’t understand; you’re here on God’s behalf.  Yes, you are going to have this as your land but this is God’s plan and without Him you can’t do anything meaningful and the glory is going to be all His. You are serving Him not Him serving you. So no, I’m not here on your behalf; you’re here on my behalf, let’s just get that straight.

And Joshua understands and he falls down in reverence of the One from heaven. It doesn’t matter whether this is an angel or a theophany (human representation of God), this is the presence of God come down from heaven so, “The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.” (Josh 4:15). When God comes, the place is made holy because God (or His representative from heaven) is holy. Respect that, honour him, worship and bow down before heaven’s presence.

This is all about getting a right perspective on life. If God calls you to service, He will guide you and equip you and empower you. He is the One who is working out His plan and He is the one who will give you the strength you need (see Phil 2:13 & 4:13). We are not here to glorify ourselves but to glorify Him. Being faced with a battle with the enemy confronting you? Remember, the battle is the Lord’s. Let Him direct it, equip and empower you with His grace. We’re part of His army, not Him part of ours!

Walk of Victory

WALKING WITH GOD. No.13

Josh 6:15 On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times

In olden days, when taking a fortified city, you would lay siege to it, pile earth against its walls and pound them with catapults until a breach was made. Even today we pound cities with rockets or bombs from aircraft until the place is just a pile of rubble. To simply walk round a city is not one of the recognised ways of bringing a city down – but that was what Joshua did!

We said in the previous meditation that something Joshua had to learn was that the Lord is the commander of the army, not him. It was the Lord’s wisdom and the Lord’s power that would subdue the land. Israel had fought and had conquered a couple of kings on the way to the land (and now no doubt feel more confident) but once in the land, the place that first confronts them as they cross the Jordan, is Jericho, a highly fortified city. They have no experience of taking such cities. So how did it happen?

The first thing to note is that the Lord declared, “I have delivered Jericho into your hands” (6:2). He had decreed it, so it was as good as done! When we are confronted by any battle we need to seek the Lord and gain assurance from Him that this is a battle that He wants us to fight and if it is, that He wills victory for us.

The second thing to note is that the Lord gives instructions as to how this city is to be taken (6:3-5). Now there is a problem with this because of the nature of the instruction: march round the city once a day for six days and on the seventh day march round it seven times. The priests were to blow trumpets as they went, the ark was to be carried, and the army was to follow the ark (the women and children were probably glad they just had to watch from a distance!) Now the problem about this is that it sounds crazy! Making so much noise meant that this was not an attack of stealth. Doing nothing to the walls meant they were unlikely to come down. Humanly speaking this was a waste of time. Now we put it like this so that we realise that this was an act of pure faith, of pure obedience. The Bible says that faith comes by hearing the word of God. They have had God’s word, so now all they have to do is obey it.

So for six days they go out and walk (march) round Jericho in silence – well, except for the priests’ trumpets blowing, and then on the seventh day, they go round seven times and on the seventh time as the trumpets blow, they shouted at Joshua’s command – and the walls fell down. All that was left was to go in and take the totally demoralised city.

Now it is very unlikely that you would be called to go and march around a city for seven days, but the overall principle is the same for you in any battle you face and, let’s face it, we do face battles day by day, against demonic powers, and against people being used by the enemy.

Principle Number One: we are the Lord’s army. We do not do what we feel like and we certainly don’t fight battles the way the enemy does, using insults, innuendos, lies etc. Our weapons are righteousness, and righteousness is simply doing what God wants.

Principle Number Two: The Lord is the commander of this army and He knows how this particular battle is to be fought. We need to keep close to Him, to seek His face and to listen for His wisdom. He knows, we don’t, and even if we don’t understand how it could possibly work, we need to do it. That was the problem that Naaman suffered when Elisha told him to go and dip in the river Jordan seven times to get healed of leprosy. How can that possibly help? I don’t know but that’s what God said, so do it. He does and he’s healed. Why? Because that’s the way the Lord set it up, so that he could express his complete reliance on the Lord!

Principle Number Three: our part is to express faith and simply be obedient to what He says in His word and by His Spirit. We are to do no more and no less than what He says. That is our part! And then we are to leave the outcome up to Him! Again, as with the Naaman example above, God simply looks for our obedience, our complete reliance upon Him, that says, ‘Yes, you are God, and I acknowledge that.’ Very often it seems that that is all He is looking for, and then He moves!

This is the walk to victory, and it is a walk of faith. It means receiving God’s word and responding to it in total submission to Him, and then watching the Lord exercise His power on our behalf. May it be so!