************ Sermon on Joshua 6:26 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 18, 2005
"Saved by Grace"
Topic: TruthWe may laugh or smile or be sad about this, but it is important to know who broke down the walls of Jericho. And, in answering that, we also find the reason for the strange curse in the text before us this morning.
A pastor asked a class of Sunday School children, "Who broke down the walls of Jericho?" A boy answered, "Not me, sir!" Upset, the pastor asked the teacher, "Is this typical?" She replied, "I believe this boy is honest, and I really don't think he did it." The pastor went to the chairman of the education committee. "I've known the boy and the teacher for years," said the chairman, "and neither of them would do such a thing." Aghast, the pastor went to the chairman of the deacons. "Pastor," said the chairman, "let's not make an issue of this. Let's just pay for the damage and charge it to maintenance."
I Jericho and her Curse
A To understand our text this morning we must recognize the importance of Jericho. Jericho was a strategic city from both a military and economic point of view. It was right on the border of the Promised Land. It stood watch over the shallows of the River Jordan. It was the first line of defense against any enemy approaching from the East.
Furthermore, Jericho was located just off what later came to be known as the "king's highway." The king's highway was the central trade route from Edom to Damascus and from Egypt to Mesopotamia. From Jericho the highway branched off straight to Samaria and Jerusalem. This city, then, was a key to Israel's domination of Palestine.
Because Jericho controlled the trade routes and was the gateway into the heart of Canaan, its Canaanite rulers made it into a strong, almost invincible, fortress city. As such, Jericho had high, thick walls; well-fortified gates; guard towers; and well-armed soldiers.
B We must make sure that we also understand the curse in front of us this morning. Joshua says,
(Josh 6:26) "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.'"Joshua's words do not mean that Jericho must remain a complete ruin, an uninhabited waste-field, for ever and ever; nor do they mean that a curse will rest on anyone who does try to build a home or business in Jericho. That this is not the case is obvious when we read elsewhere in Scripture that Jericho was inhabited again shortly after Israel's conquest of Canaan (Judges 3:13; 2 Sam 10:15).
The point of Joshua's words is that Jericho must remain an open city – a city without walls and gates. It is not to be fortified in any way or form. Joshua pronounces a curse on anyone who dares to reconstruct fortress Jericho – on anyone who rebuilds its walls, raises its towers, and rehangs its gates.
The curse comes down to this: God does not want a fortified Jericho to guard the eastern entrance to the Promised Land and to protect the precious trade routes. And, whoever does rebuild fortress Jericho will have his sons taken from him.
C Some 450 years later, during the reign of King Ahab, an architect/builder rebuilt Jericho as a fortress city. He did this in spite of the curse of God. He found out in a horrible way that no one can mock God's Word and get away with it; he found out that God does what He says; he found out that God's Word must be taken seriously; he found out that no one can silence or ignore the Word of the Lord. This is what we read about that incident:
(1 Ki 16:34) In Ahab's time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the LORD spoken by Joshua son of Nun. Did you catch that last phrase? What happened to Hiel is exactly what Joshua said would happen.
When Hiel of Bethel rebuilt fortress Jericho he lost all of his sons. The curse began with the oldest and continued as Hiel progressed in his work; when he finally finished the project, he lost the last of his sons, the youngest. We don't know how the Lord took his children – whether it was by drowning, illness, accident at the construction site, or whatever. But however it was done, Hiel experienced the full curse and wrath of God.
The death of one's children is always a horrible thing. But in the Ancient World it was especially horrible. Hiel lost all of his sons. Back then a man's sons took the place of a pension plan and social security. It was the duty of sons to look after elderly parents. An old couple without sons would quickly perish.
Furthermore, sons were necessary to carry on the family name. Without sons Hiel lost his place in the covenant community. He was not to live on in future generations. There would be no memory of him after he died. His name was erased from the congregation of Jehovah.
II The Message of Jericho's Stones
A The question we are faced with is why. Why did Joshua pronounce a curse on anyone who dared to rebuild fortress Jericho? Why did the Lord want Jericho to remain an open city? Why doesn't God want a fortified Jericho to guard the eastern entrance to the Promised Land and to protect the precious trade routes?
As you know, different cities are known for different things. Selma, for instance, is known as the "Raisin Capital of the world." Exeter is known for its murals. Castroville bills itself as "the Artichoke Capital of the World." Gilroy is known as the "Garlic Capital of the World." San Francisco is known for its Golden Gate Bridge. New York is known for the Empire State Building. London, England, is known for Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and the Parliament Buildings. And, God wants Jericho to be known for its fallen stones and broken down walls.
The question is why? Why does God want Jericho to be known for its fallen stones and broken down walls? The answer is that the Lord spoke through the fallen stones and broken down walls of Jericho. The open city proclaimed a message from the Lord to Israel and the world. The ruined fortress was a most eloquent statement about the strength, the might, and the power of God. The fallen walls 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. Israel did not use any siege machines: no catapults threw large stones against the walls in order to punch holes in 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, no chariots, no charging elephants. The walls fell down, the city was destroyed, the defenders were killed, only by the might, the power, and the strength of God. So the ruins of the once mighty walls testified to all who passed by of the great power of God.
B We can say that Jericho's heap of stones spoke of curse and blessing, of judgment and grace, of punishment and salvation.
They spoke first of judgment and punishment. When God's hand 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 patient with the sinner, there comes a time when His patience runs out, and the sinner is made to pay for his or her sins. Jericho's heap of stones, then, spoke of sin and God's judgment upon that sin.
We need to hear this message today – that God judges sin. Sin, ungodliness, and evil runs unchecked today and very few people think there may be eternal consequences. I attended a meeting this past week which left me upset and disturbed. I learned about Drug Exposed Infants. Babies are coming out of the womb hooked on drugs or alcohol and for fifty days they are screaming with withdrawal pains. Yet, their birth-parents are allowed to take them home where they continue to be exposed to illicit drugs. A cycling buddy of mine works as an investigator for the Welfare department. His job is to investigate welfare fraud. He tells me that most welfare cheats will not get caught because his case load is way too big. Getting closer to home, within and without the church are people who try to take advantage of their neighbors instead of loving and helping them, people who cheat and steal and lie – and they justify it by calling it good business! Many Christians seem to have no problem with cursing or using foul language either in person or on web-sites; I'm always ashamed and appalled by the language I hear in CVC's parking lot after school.
God does not tolerate sin, my brothers and sisters. That's what Jericho's walls say. Sin is punished. But, for those who believe in Jesus, it is Jesus Who takes on sin's punishment.
The fallen walls presented another message as well – a message of grace and blessing. The fallen stones proclaimed that the Promised Land was entered and possessed only by the might and power of God. They proclaimed that the city and the land were given to Israel only as a gift of grace.
It was the Lord Who had broken down the gates and smashed the walls. But the people could only receive this gift of God through faith. Not through military might or the power of weapons or the cunning of General Joshua, but only by grace and through faith did the walls of Jericho collapse. The book of Hebrews says,
(Heb 11:30) By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. "By grace and through faith" – that's the message of salvation that was heard from Jericho's broken down walls.
No wonder God did not want Jericho rebuilt. No wonder there was a curse on whoever rebuilt fortress Jericho. There was a message in Jericho's heap 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 was to silence that message and stop that testimony.
III A Choice Between Human or Divine Power
A Hiel of Bethel was one of God's children. He knew about the curse Joshua had pronounced upon Jericho. So why did he rebuild Jericho as a fortress city?
Because King Ahab hired him to do this. King Ahab saw an open Jericho as a danger to the kingdom and the trade routes. Without the walls and gates how could invading armies be stopped and how could the all important trade caravans be protected? All he saw was an unfortified border city which could not defend the king's highway or guard the shallows of the River Jordan. The fallen walls of Jericho should have been seen not as a threat but as a source of comfort and security, for they testified to the tremendous power of God. Those fallen stones told and showed God to be the most secure border defense possible – but Ahab was deaf and blind to this.
Ahab had a choice, a choice all of us have as well – a choice between living either by grace through faith or living by human strength and accomplishment. Ahab chose not to live by faith. He chose not to live by God's grace and power. He decided that the Lord was not His fortress and strength. Because of his unbelief, Ahab was deaf to the message of Jericho's ruins. Because of his unbelief, Ahab chose to ignore God's word and rebuild fortress Jericho.
The Lord had written a message above the gateway to Canaan: "This city and land were received by grace and through faith, and not by human power." Ahab tried to erase that message. He tried to write in instead, "This city and land depends upon human power and might."
What a clear choice is presented: man lives either by faith in God's grace and power or he lives on the basis of his own efforts and strength. The people and land either bear the mark of God's grace or the mark of human power and greatness.
B As I already said, this same choice confronts us as well. We can live by grace or by our own strength. We can live realizing it all depends upon God or we can live like it all depends upon us.
What message is written above Trinity United Reformed Church? Does this church, her programs and ministries, her members, speak and testify to human greatness or to God's grace?
What message is written above Central Valley Christian School or Sierra Village or Love INC or Bethany Christian Services or any other Kingdom cause we are involved in? Do they speak and testify to human greatness or to God's grace?
What message is written above you, your business, your home, your dairy, the way you do your work? Do they speak and testify to human greatness or to God's grace?
"By grace through faith." "Cursed be anyone who refuses to live by grace through faith." That's the message of the walls of Jericho.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page