************ Sermon on 1 Kings 16:34 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 7, 1997
1 Kings 16:34
"The Message of the Walls of Jericho"
Stones (HOLD UP STONE). I want you to imagine stones. Big stones. Small stones. Heaps of stones. Pile upon pile of stones.
I want to preach this evening on stones. I want to preach this evening on the stones of Jericho. I want to preach this evening on the stones of the walls of Jericho.
I Jericho's Strategic Importance
A Our text tells us that Hiel (pronounced "high el") of Bethel "rebuilt Jericho." We must make sure we understand exactly what Hiel was trying to accomplish. When our text tells us that Hiel "rebuilt Jericho" we must not think that the city of Jericho was still in a state of complete ruin — as it was when it was destroyed in the days of Joshua. We know from elsewhere in Scripture that the city was inhabited again not long after Israel's entry into Canaan (cf Judges 3:13; 2 Sam 10:15). The purpose of Hiel's building plan, then, was not to make Jericho suitable for human habitation, for the city was already inhabited. What, then, was Hiel trying to do? Even though people lived in Jericho it was an open city — a city without walls and gates. It was not a fortified city. What Hiel was trying to do was to make Jericho a fortress again, just as it had been when Israel first came to the Promised Land. He was taking Jericho's piles of stones (HOLD UP STONE) and was using them to rebuild Jericho as a fortress city.
Perhaps you noticed this, perhaps you didn't, but the story of Hiel introduces the story of Ahab, King of Israel. In other words, we are to see the hand and spirit of Ahab behind the project.
B Why did King Ahab commission Hiel to rebuild the walls of Jericho? Why did King Ahab want Jericho rebuilt as a fortress city? What was his purpose? What was his goal? What did he hope to accomplish?
Jericho was a border city of Israel. It not only separated the ten tribes from Judah and Benjamin but, in standing guard over the shallows of the River Jordan, it also separated the Northern Kingdom from the heathen kingdoms across the Jordan — for it was at Jericho that people crossed from the east to the west side of the river.
Furthermore, Jericho was located just off the King's Highway. The King's Highway was the central trade route from Edom to Damascus and from Egypt to Arabia. From Jericho the highway branched off straight to Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and to Jerusalem, the capital of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Thus Jericho was the gateway to the riches of the world and it guarded the approach to both Jerusalem and Samaria.
At the time of Ahab, Mesha, the king of the Moabites, was engaging in extensive military operations. He had wrested the land on the eastern side of the Jordan from the tribe of Reuben and the half tribe of Manasseh. And, it looked like nothing could stop him from crossing the Jordan at the shallows by Jericho and thus attack Israel and even Samaria.
Because Jericho controlled the trade routes and was the gateway into the heart of Canaan, the Canaanite rulers made it into a strong, almost invincible, fortress city. Ahab decided to do the same thing. To Ahab, a Jericho that was not rebuilt was a permanent threat to the security and peace of his realm — for what, then, could stop the enemies of the east from swooping in and devastating the land? It is obvious that Ahab saw Jericho as a very strategic city from both a military and economic point of view. So he decided to rebuild fortress Jericho.
II The Fallen Walls Speak of Living by Grace Through Faith
A Hiel of Bethel was commissioned by Ahab to rebuild Jericho's walls. But something happened to his family as he carried out his work: he laid the foundation at the cost of his first-born son and set up the gates at the cost of his youngest son. Hiel the builder was struck by a divine curse for rebuilding Jericho as a fortress city. It was Joshua who pronounced this divine curse at the time Jericho's walls fell down:
(Josh 6:26) At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: "Cursed before the LORD is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: "At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates." Imagine this: the words which God had spoken through Joshua some 600 years earlier still stood. Hiel was cursed just like Joshua said he would be.
B The question we need to ask is this: Why did Joshua pronounce a curse on anyone who might dare to rebuild this fortress? Why did the Lord want Jericho to remain an open city?
The answer to this is that the Lord was speaking through the fallen stones and broken down walls of Jericho (HOLD UP STONE). The open city proclaimed a message from the Lord to Israel and the world. The ruined fortress is a most eloquent statement about the strength, the might, and the power of God. The fallen walls of Jericho proclaimed the Lord's great victory over the might of Canaanite kings and gods.
As you well know, congregation, Israel and Joshua could not take the credit for destroying Jericho. All Israel did was march around the city, carrying the ark, and blowing horns. We know from the Biblical record that Israel did not use any siege machines: no catapults threw large stones against the walls in order to punch holes through them; no creeper was placed against the city wall so that under its safety a tunnel could be dug under the wall in order to collapse it; no towers were slowly rolled to the city walls so that arrows, hot oil, and rocks could be thrown upon the defenders; no battering rams were used to splinter the gates and shatter the walls. Israel had no horses and chariots, no charging elephants, no missiles. The walls fell down, the city was destroyed, the defenders were killed, only by the might, power, and strength of the Lord. The ruins of the once mighty walls testified to the great power of God. The ruins of the once mighty walls spoke to all who passed by of Israel's God and His unlimited strength.
C A rich message is contained in Jericho's heap of stones (HOLD UP STONE). Jericho's heap of stones speak of curse and blessing, of judgment and grace, of the punishment of the Law and the wealth of the Gospel.
Jericho's heaps of stones speak first of judgment and punishment. When God's hands shook the very foundation of the walls, the Canaanites were being punished for their sins were too numerous and grievous to be tolerated any longer. Jericho's ruins testified to God's radical judgment against sin. The ruins informed every passer-by that although God is long-suffering and gives the sinner plenty of time to repent, the sinner's days are indeed numbered. There will come a day when the sinner is judged.
THE PUNISHMENT OF THE LAW AND THE CURSE OF SIN — that's the message of judgment spoken by Jericho's heaps of stones (HOLD UP STONE).
The fallen walls present another message as well — a message of grace and blessing. The fallen stones proclaim that the Promised Land was entered and possessed only the might and power of God. The fallen stones proclaim that the city and the land was given to Israel only as a gift of God's grace.
It was the Lord Who had broken the gates and smashed the walls. But the people could only receive this gifts of God through faith. Not through military might or the power of weapons or tactical cunning, but only through faith did Jericho's walls collapse. I am reminded of the words in the book of Hebrews:
(Heb 11:30) By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.
BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH — that's the message of salvation spoken by Jericho's heaps of stones (HOLD UP STONE).
No wonder God did not want Jericho rebuilt. No wonder there was a curse on whoever rebuilt the city as a fortress. There is a message in Jericho's heaps of stones for Israel, for the world, for us — a message of judgment and punishment, of grace and blessing, of the might and power and strength of God. To rebuild the walls is to silence the message and stop the testimony of the stones (HOLD UP STONE).
III Conflict of Human Strength Versus God's Grace
A Ahab had a choice, a choice all of us have as well. He had a choice between living by grace and through faith or relying on human strength and accomplishment.
Ahab chose not to live by faith. He chose not to live by the grace of God's power. He decided that the Lord was not His fortress and strength. Because of his unbelief Ahab was deaf to the message of the heaps of stones of Jericho's walls (HOLD UP STONE). And when he became deaf to the divine message of Jericho's ruins, he could not help but perceive an unfortified city as a danger to the kingdom. Instead of trusting in God, His power, His grace, Ahab put his trust in weapons, armies, fortifications, and walled cities. The fallen walls of Jericho should have been seen NOT as a threat but as source of comfort and security, for they testified to the tremendous power of God. The stones showed God to be the most secure border defense possible — but Ahab was deaf and blind to this. All he saw was an unfortified border city which could not defend the King's highway or guard the shallows of the River Jordan.
In the fallen stones of Jericho the Lord had written a message above the gateway to Canaan: THIS CITY AND LAND WERE RECEIVED BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH AND WILL NOT BE PRESERVED BY HUMAN POWER. Ahab took an eraser and tried to rub out this message. He wanted to write in his own message instead: ONLY THROUGH THE POWER OF AHAB, ISRAEL'S KING, AND THE BUILDING EXPERTISE OF HIEL, WILL CANAAN BE PROTECTED AND PRESERVED.
What a clear choice is being presented to us this day: man lives either by faith in God's grace and power or he lives on the basis of his own efforts and strength. Canaan and God's covenant people either bear the mark of God's grace and power or the mark of human power and greatness. Canaan either proclaims God's power or man's power. Two powers were locked in combat on the battlefield of Jericho's ruins. Which voice will be heard at the gateway to Canaan — the gospel of grace or the gospel of human strength?
B As I have already said, this same choice confronts us as well. We can take our own Jerichos and we can let them speak of God's grace or man's might. Which will it be? We can live realizing all depends on God's grace and might or we can live like it all depends on us and our efforts. Which will it be?
There are two kingdoms at war in the world: the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan. Which kingdom are we a part of? Those in the kingdom of Christ live by grace through faith and say and sing:
A mighty fortress is our God,Those in the kingdom of Satan live by human strength and might and say, "I can look after myself."
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
IV God's Word Cannot be Ignored
A Hiel found out that God's Word cannot be ignored and that God's Word cannot be broken. Through Joshua God had pronounced a curse upon anyone who dared to silence the message of Jericho's stones (HOLD UP STONE). Because he rebuilt the walls of Jericho, God struck down each of Hiel's sons in death. The curse began with the oldest and continued as Hiel progressed in his work: when he finally finished the project all of his sons were dead.
B We would have to say, then, that it wasn't only the ruined walls of Jericho that had a message; the rebuilt walls had a message as well. The ruined walls said: RECEIVED ONLY BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH. The rebuilt walls said: CURSED BE ANYONE WHO REFUSES TO LIVE BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH.
BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH. CURSED BE ANYONE WHO REFUSES TO LIVE BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH. That's the message of the stones of the walls of Jericho (HOLD UP STONE).
Next Sunday, the Lord willing, we are celebrating the Lord's Supper. In the Lord's Supper we see and hear the same message as we hear from the stones of Jericho's walls. A message that we are saved only by grace through faith. A message that everyone is cursed who refuses to live by grace through faith.
Now, you man wonder why I am preaching on this for my first sermon.
Topic: WitnessingWell, I am like that little boy's grandmother: because as your pastor you will hear me constantly preach about the cross and grave of Christ and the necessity to believe. As your pastor you will hear me constantly preach about grace and faith. That's what you can expect from me.
Title: Jesus' grandma
Perhaps you have heard about the little boy who returned home after his first Sunday School class. His mother asked, "Who was your teacher?" and the little boy answered, "I don't remember her name, but she must have been Jesus' grandmother because she didn't talk about anyone else."
My hope and prayer is that you, unlike Ahab and Hiel, will listen to this wondrous message and will live by grace and through faith.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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