An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Faith of Israel
In the preceding verse we had the faith of the believing remnant of Israel under the command and example of Moses, in our present text we have an exhibition and triumph of their faith under the leadership of Joshua. There we beheld what faith accomplished under their exodus from Egypt, here we see what it achieved upon their entering the promised land. As the yoke of bondage was by faith broken asunder, so by the same faith the people of God were to obtain possession of Canaan. Thereby we are taught that the true life of the saint is, from beginning to end, one of faith. Without faith no progress can be made, no victories be obtained, no fruit be brought forth unto God’s glory. It is solemn to note that an interval of forty years’ duration comes in between Hebrews 11:29 and 30. Those years were occupied in the wilderness. They were a judgment from God because of unbelief (Heb. 3). Reader, how many years of your life record no actings of faith to the praise of Divine grace?
The remarkable incident referred to in our text is related at length in the 6th chapter of Joshua, which opens by telling us, "Now Jericho was straitly shut up, because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in." Israel had reached the borders of Canaan. They had safely crossed the Jordan, but could not enter the land because of Jericho, which was a powerful fortress barring their ingress. This was one of the cities which had affrighted the spies, causing them to say, "The people is greater and taller than we: the cities are great and walled up to heaven" (Deut. 1:28): to their eyes the cities appeared impregnable, and far too secure for them to take.
Jericho was a frontier town. It was the key-city at the entrance to Canaan. Its capture was absolutely necessary before any progress could be made by Israel in their conquering and occupying of their promised inheritance. Failure to capture it would not only discourage the children of Israel, but would greatly strengthen the morale of the Canaanites. It was the enemy’s leading stronghold, which doubtless, they considered to be quite invulnerable. Yet it fell to a people who possessed no artillery, and without them fighting any battle. All they did, in response to Jehovah’s order, was to march by faith around the city once each day for six days, and then seven times on the seventh day, when they gave a great shout, and the walls fell down flat before them. Many important lessons are taught us therein, a few of which we will briefly, mention, before dwelling at greater length upon the outstanding one.
First, God’s ways are often entirely different from ours. Who ever heard of a powerful fortress being completely demolished in response to a company of people walking around it? Ah, God delights in staining the pride of man. The leader and lawgiver of Israel was preserved in an ark of bulrushes. The mighty giant of the Philistines was overcome by a sling and a stone. The prophet Elijah was sustained by a widow’s handful of meal. The forerunner of Christ dwelt in a wilderness and fed upon locusts and wild honey. The Savior Himself was born in a stable and laid in a manger. His selected ambassadors were, for the most part, unlettered fishermen. Striking illustrations are these of the sentence beginning this paragraph. The things which are highly esteemed among men are abomination in the sight of God. It is well for us to remember this.
Second, God is independent of all natural means and superior to all the "laws of nature." It is true that, as a general rule, God is pleased to bless the use of natural means, and that He frequently accomplishes His ends by the operations of those laws of nature which He has set in motion; but it is a great mistake to imagine that He is tied down either by the one or the other. What natural "means" were employed in Israel’s crossing of the Jordan or their capturing of Jericho? What natural "means" were used in the preserving of Daniel in the lion’s den or Jonah in the whale’s belly? And what "laws of nature" were observed in connection with the birth of Isaac, the feeding of Elijah by the ravens, or the preserving whole the three Hebrews in Babylon’s fiery furnace? Yes, God is superior to all means and laws. It is well for us to remember this too.
Third, formidable difficulties and powerful oppositions are encountered in the Warfare of Faith. One will not follow the path of faith very far before he comes face to face with that which challenges all his courage and defies all his natural resources and powers. Jordan rivers and Jericho fortresses still exist. But though the one may be unaffordable and the other appear impregnable, yet they are the veriest trifles to the Almighty. The dimensions which they assume unto our vision, are largely determined by the measure in which our hearts are engaged with the omnipotent One. Those formidable difficulties and powerful obstacles are placed in our path by God, for the purpose of testing us, for the training of faith, as opportunities to trust in and glorify the Lord.
Fourth, Satan’s strongholds cannot stand before a people who are obedient to and who rely fully upon the living God. This fact is surely written in large letters across Joshua 6. The Canaanites were completely under the dominion of the Evil one, yet here we see one of their principal fortresses tumbling down like a frail booth when a powerful wind strikes it. To unbelief these cities might appear "walled up to heaven" and seem impregnable, but faith laughs at such things, knowing that God has only to breathe upon them and they will collapse at once. Thus it was in the early days of Christianity, when the imposing citadels of Paganism crumbled away before the faithful ministry of the apostles. Thus it was at the time of the great Reformation in the sixteenth century, when the kingdom of the Papacy was shaken to its very foundations by the courageous preaching of Luther and his contemporaries. Thus it was, in many parts, some fifty years ago, when the high places of heathendom fell down before onslaughts of the missionaries.
And why is it we are not witnessing the same Gospel triumphs in our generation? Why is it that Romanism has now regained so much of its lost ground, and is forging ahead in so many directions? Why is it that on the "foreign field" the forces of Satan are advancing instead of retreating? And why is it that in the so-called Christian lands a growing number of Jerichos defy the prayers and efforts of the saints? Is it because God’s arm is now waxed short? Perish the thought. Is it because the Scriptures are obsolete and unfitted to the needs of this twentieth century? Far from it. What, then, is the matter? This: there is a grieved Spirit in our midst, and in consequence His power is withheld. The Holy Spirit of God has been "quenched" (1 Thess. 5:19), and therefore the feverish and frenzied efforts of present-day Christendom avail not.
And why is the Spirit of God "grieved"? What is it that has "quenched" His power in our midst? This, we have departed from God’s way, we have ignored His orders, we have substituted human devices, we have put our confidence in carnal weapons. Instead of encompassing the walls of Jericho after the Divine order, we have resorted to worldly allurements, seeking to win over the Canaanites by fleshly attractions. My brethren, we cannot hope to have Israel’s victories until we emulate Israel’s example. We will never again witness a return to apostolic progress until we get back to apostolic methods. There can be no improvement until we truly recognize that it is "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6). And the power of the Spirit will not be manifested in our midst until we once more enter the path of obedience, doing God’s work in God’s prescribed way, and confidently counting upon Him to honor and bless such efforts.
Fifth, but the outstanding lesson to be learned from this incident is that which is stated in our text, where the fall of Jericho is attributed to the faith of the believing Israelites. "Do we think enough of faith, chosen by Divine omnipotent love, to be its channel? God alone doeth great marvels, but it is through the faith of His saints. All the victories of Israel were wrought by faith. Divine power and grace redeemed them on that memorable night; but it was the faith of Moses which kept the passover and the sprinkling of blood. It was God who divided the Red Sea, but in answer to the silent prayer of faith which ascended from the heart of His servant. All miracles of healing recorded in the Gospels were wrought by faith. Jesus prayed to His Father, and then fed the multitude with five loaves and two fishes. Jesus lifted up His eyes to heaven, and then said ‘Ephphatha, Be thou loosed.’ Jesus by faith thanked God that He heard Him always, and then uttered His mighty ‘Lazarus, come forth.’
"And faith was wrought also in the recipient of Divine favor: ‘Thy faith hath healed thee’; ‘Be it unto thee as thou hast believed.’ Such were frequently Christ’s words. The people who perished in the wilderness entered not into God’s rest because of unbelief; and because of their unbelief, Jesus could not show many miracles in some places: ‘Believe only, and thou shalt see the glory of God.’
"Israel’s history is the history of God’s omnipotent saving grace and of man’s faith. From heaven descend miracles; from earth ascends faith. From the election of Abraham to the birth of Moses, from the passover and the Red Sea to the dividing of the river Jordan, all is miracle, and all has to go through the faith of some chosen saint. Israel is before Jericho, a wailed and fenced city; it is not by power and might, but by faith, that they are to take it" (Adolph Saphir).
Let us consider the various aspects of faith which were manifested by the believing Israelites on this memorable occasion. 1. The daring of their faith. When Israel crossed the Jordan, they, as it were, burned all their bridges and boats behind them. They were cut off from flight; they had no houses to which they could retire, and no fortress to which they could retreat. They were now in the enemy’s territory, and victory or death were the only alternatives. To march peacefully and quietly around those walls of Jericho seemed a perilous undertaking: what was to hinder the Canaanites from shooting at or casting down rocks upon them. It was truly an adventure of faith, and it is venturesome faith which God delights to honor. Unbelief is hestitant and timorous, but bold faith is confident and courageous. O to be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might."
There are three degrees of faith. There is a faith which receives, when as empty-handed beggars we come to Christ and accept Him as our Lord and Savior: John 1:12. There is also a faith which reckons, which counts upon God to fulfill His promises and undertake for us: 2 Timothy 1:12. There is also a faith which risks, which dares something for the Lord. This aspect of faith was exemplified by Moses when he ventured to confront the king of Egypt and make known Jehovah’s demands. This daring of faith was manifested by David when he went forth to engage the mighty Goliath. We see it again in Elijah, when, single-handed, he encountered the host of Jezebel’s false prophets on Carmel. We see it again when Daniel dared to be cast into the lion’s den rather than comply with the idolatrous edict of Babylon’s king. We see it again and again in the journeys and ministry of the apostle Paul, who flinched not before dangers of every imaginable order, that he might make known the unsearchable riches of Christ.
And in each of the instances mentioned above we behold in the sequel how God honored those trusting and daring hearts. It is venturesome faith which He ever delights to reward. He Himself bids us come to the throne of grace with holy "boldness," that we may find grace to help in time of need. O how this rebukes our timidity and reserve. How few today are prepared to risk anything in the service of our Lord. How little of the courage and daring of our fathers is now in evidence. What a lot of trembling and fearful soldiers are found today in the army of Christ. O how urgent is the need for some Spirit-filled man of faith to go forth and cry in the language of Carey, "Ask great things of God; expect great things from God; undertake great things for God." It is well to look before we leap, but many look so long that they never leap at all!
2. The obedience of their faith. This appears from a reading of Joshua 6:3, 4 and 6-8: all concerned carried out the Lord’s instructions to the letter. To do nothing more than walk and walk and walk around the walls of Jericho must have appeared a childish and ridiculous thing; yet the believing remnant complied with the Lord’s command. God promised to deliver Jericho into their hands: Joshua and his believing fellows rested on His word and carried out His orders. The Lord requires us to use whatever means He prescribes, no matter how unlikely and inadequate they may seem to us. It is true that Divine power overthrew Jericho’s walls, yet it was also by faith’s obedience they fell. God had made it known that the manifestation of His power should be via a particular way; it was inseparably connected with certain actions which were to be performed by His people.
How was Israel to capture that mighty fortress of the Canaanites? Consider their condition! For centuries they had been a nation of slaves. For the last forty years they had been weary wanderers in the wilderness. And now their great leader, Moses, was dead! They were without any military experience, devoid of artillery, and had no trained army. All true; but they were not left to themselves: the living God was for them; and so long as they responded to His revealed will, all went well with them. In like manner God has not left us to our own devisings, but has given us plain and full directions, and He requires us to do the work which He has appointed us in the way He has commanded. Implicit obedience to His orders is absolutely essential if we are to have His blessing.
Implicit obedience unto the known will of God marked all Israel’s arrangements for the siege of Jericho. Minute instructions were given them for their strange campaign. They were to march in a certain order, each being required to take the place assigned him. They were to march at a specified hour, and encompass the city a given number of times. At the command of the Lord they were to be silent, and at the command of the Lord they were to shout. There was no room for human scheming, no place for carnal planning, no need for human reasoning as to what should be done. Everything was prescribed for them, and faith’s obedience was all that was required from them. The orders which God gave to Joshua might have seemed unreasonable and absurd to his men, yet they must be faithfully executed if victory was to be theirs. And as it was then, so it is still. But O how slow we are to learn this lesson.
Reader, the commands and precepts of God often appear strange unto carnal wisdom. How absurd did God’s orders appear to the great Naaman, when he was bidden to bathe his leprous body in the Jordan. How contrary to all human ideas was it for God to send the prophet Elijah to be fed for many months by a widow who had naught but a handful of meal and a little oil. How unreasonable it must have seemed to the twelve apostles when Christ bade them tell the great multitude to sit down, and only five small loaves and two little fishes were in sight. And how unreasonable does it appear unto multitudes of professing Christians today when they are told to cast away all the worldly devices which have been brought into the "churches" and substitute fasting and prayer. How slow we are to recognize that it is the obedience of faith which God requires.
3. The discipline of their faith. "And Joshua had commanded the people, saying, Ye shall not shout, nor make any noise with your voice, neither shall any word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then shall ye shout" (Josh. 6:10). Their silence at the beginning was as necessary as their shouting at the finish. Why? These men were the immediate descendants of the greatest grumblers who ever lived. Their fathers complained and murmured until God swore in His wrath they should not enter into His rest.
How much mischief had been caused if every man had been left free to express his "opinion"! How many would have been ready to advise Joshua what method of strategy to employ. One would have reasoned that the only way to capture Jericho was by starving out its inhabitants through a protracted siege. Another would have suggested the use of ladders to scale its walls. Another would have advocated heavy battering-rams to force a way in. Another would have suggested tunneling under the walls. One and all would have ridiculed the plan which Joshua adopted. Ah, my readers, if the Jerichos which now confront the people of God are to be captured, then not only must the mouths of murmurers be stopped, but all leaning unto our own understanding must be abandoned.
O how often are the sinews of faith cut by the injudicious and unfriendly criticisms of those who pose as our Christian friends. How often is the man of God hindered by the Christ-dishonoring doubts and carnal suggestion of his fellows. A brother in the Lord, who had been without employment, recently wrote us that he had been rebuked for not making known his needs to his friends. Ah, let us not forget that the very first line which the Holy Spirit gives us in His picture of the "blessed" man is, that he "walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly" (Ps. 1:1). How much mischief is wrought by people perpetually talking of the difficulties in the task confronting us. All real Christian work is beset with difficulties—Satan sees to that!
The soldiers of Christ must be trained: faith must be disciplined: each one in the ranks of the Lord’s hosts must learn there is "a time to keep silence and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:7). The children of Israel were not ordered to go forth in battle array and make any sally upon this garrison of the Canaanites. Instead, in solemn silence, in sacred procession, they were to encompass the city. This was a great trial of faith for such a procedure seemed very unlikely to accomplish the desired end. Not only so, but it would expose them to the contempt of their enemies, who must have sneered at their harmless procession. Yet this was the way which God had ordered: He loves to do great things by contemptible means, that the glory may be His.
4. The patience of their faith: "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days." They did not fall the first day that Israel marched around them, nor the second, nor the third. No, it was not until they had journeyed about them thirteen times, that the power of God was displayed. And why? To test their patience, as well as their faith and obedience; to prove whether they really believed the Lord’s promise or no, when He enjoined the use of such weak and unlikely means; and to give them a more distinct apprehension that the conquest of Canaan was the Lord’s, and not theirs. When nothing happened the first twelve times Israel encompassed Jericho, it became the more evident that their enemies would not be overcome by the power of man, but by God.
Not only the mercy, but the timing of it, is in the hands of God, and therefore are we bidden, "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him" (Ps. 37:7). Alas, how sadly do we fail at this point. How easily we become discouraged if our Jericho does not fall the first or second time we encompass it: "the vision is yet for an appointed time... though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come" (Hab. 2:3). But O how impatient is the flesh. It was at this point that Abraham failed: when Sarah bare not the promised son, he determined to have one by Hagar. It was at this point Moses first failed—taking things into his own hands (Ex. 2:11, 12), instead of waiting God’s time. "Tarry ye at Jerusalem" was the last word which the Redeemer gave unto the apostles before He ascended.
"Men ought always to pray, and not to faint" (Luke 18:1). How much we need to take this word to heart: how often we have "fainted" when victory was almost in sight! Ah, we thought that the walls of our Jericho would never fall; but they did, at the appointed time. God is in no hurry, and it is required of us that "he that believeth shall not make haste" (Isa. 28:16). But we find it much harder to wait than we do to believe: that is, probably, the weakest spot in our armor, and the point at which we fail most frequently. Then let us be more definite and earnest in begging the Holy Spirit to work in us the spiritual grace of patience. Let us seek grace to lay hold of that word, "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal. 6:9).
5. The anticipation of their faith: "So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city" (Josh. 6:20). Our space is nearly exhausted, so we must condense. What we would now particularly observe is that the people shouted before the walls fell down—it was faith expecting the victory. "What things so-ever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive, and ye shall have" (Mark 11:24). It reminds us of the missionary Moffatt, who labored for years among the Bechuanas and saw not a single seal to his ministry. Some of his far-distant friends in England wrote him saying they wished to make a present, and asked him to specify what it should be. He answered "a communion set." Months after, when it arrived, more than a dozen converted natives sat down with him to remember the Lord’s death!
How the whole of Joshua 6 has been recorded for our learning. "The walls of unbelief, superstition, and ungodliness, yield to no earthly armor and power. It is not by compulsion, nor by reasoning; it is not by weapons which this world supplies, that these walls can be destroyed. It is by the Word of God, and by the Word declared in faith. Ministers and people, they who blow the trumpet, and also the people who are with them, are to be united together in the power of God" (Adolph Saphir). Each of us is confronted with a Jericho: whether it be the preacher in the field of service where God calls him to labor, the Sunday-school teacher in the call before her, or the individual Christian who is seeking to overcome some habit or disposition. Remember Joshua, and take courage! If there be the daring, the discipline, the obedience, the patience, and the expectation of faith, the victory is sure in God’s appointed time.
Once more we have been shown the wondrous power of real faith to bring to pass that which is beyond mere nature: compare Matthew 17:20, 1 John 5:4; persevering trust and obedience enabled Israel to accomplish what had otherwise been impossible. Again, we have seen that faith in God’s promise of protection and the use of His appointed means, far surpasses all worldly methods of defense: compare 2 Chronicles 20:20. Contrariwise, we behold what a worthless thing it is to trust in outward and material things: the walls of Jericho were both strong and high, yet they afforded no security against God’s power—"vain is the help of man." Though God required Israel to use the utmost of their courage, submission, and patience, yet He took it upon Himself to bless their efforts and effect the work of power. Barriers more difficult than the walls of Jericho stand between the Christian and holiness: how are they to be removed? By faith’s obedience; compare 2 Corinthians 10:4, 5.