A thing is often thrown into relief if it is placed in juxtaposition with its opposite. This is a method very frequently adopted in Scripture. Joshua chs. 6 and 7 constitute a case in point. In Chapter 6 there is victory at Jericho; in ch. 7 defeat at Ai. In ch. 6 the road to victory is traced; in ch. 7 the road to defeat.
We may learn much by considering these two inspired records, for, in principle, Israel’s position then is ours today. They were brought into contact with those who were them relentless opponents and whom they were to overcome. The world today is our relentless enemy, and ‘who is he that overcometh the world’ save the one who ‘observes to do’ that which is written and heeds the lessons of others’ failures.
Obedience brought victory; disobedience brought defeat. It may have seemed utterly absurd and quite unorthodox to march round the city’s walls once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day, but that was the procedure laid down by the Lord and from it they dare not depart. The people of Jericho may have scoffed but to obey is better than to avoid their sneers. It may have been contrary to common-sense but what of that? ‘The foolishness of the preaching’ today produces mockers and scoffers: the wise of this world despise it but the believer has been told by his Lord to ‘preach the word’ – that is the method: and to preach ‘Christ crucified’ – that is the message. He dare not, on peril of defeat and worse, depart from that injuction. There was no addition of human ideas to the divine command in chapter 6, nor is there any trace of their adopting the enemy’s tactics. Would that it were entirely absent today! Is this the cause of our lack of success? Success is only one of the many things which are lost by disobedience. Adam lost his innocence and happiness: Moses lost the land: Saul lost his throne: and Samson lost his strength, then his liberty, then his sight, and then his life. Disobedience is a thief always.
The giving to the ark its proper place was an integral part of the cause of Israel’s victory. Before it went the armed men; then followed the priests and after it the rereward, so that the ark was ‘in the midst.’ How often does that phrase ‘in the midst’ occur relation to the Lord Jesus Who is the Antitype of the ark! ‘There am I in the midst’ – ‘In the midst of the congregation will I sing praise,’ ‘in the midst of the throne stood a Lamb’ and so on. CHRIST MUST BE GIVEN HIS PROPER PLACE. The preacher is but the earthen vessel: the light is the central thing. It is Christ Who must be upheld before the inhabitants of the city. They may not understand or know Him but He must be seen.
The priests’ shoulders were to bear the ark and with their lips they were to blow the jubilee trumpets. For six days – the whole period typically of our sojourn in the flesh – we are always ‘to bear about in our body the dying of Jesus that the life also of Jesus maybe manifest.’ Living and preaching – these two things should never be divorced. The Lord Jesus ‘began both to do and to teach.’ Paul could refer to the things ‘seen in him and heard from him’ and he enjoined Timothy to ‘take heed to himself and the teaching’ – what he was and what he said. He, moreover prayed for the Thessalonians that they might be established in ‘every good work and word’ (see R.V.). Always this is so – the life before the lips: conduct before preaching. Is our lack of success because we fail here? Ever let us remember that it takes more power to light an electric lamp than to ring a bell. More power is required to shine than to make a sound.
There was complete separation on the part of Israel from the inhabitants of Jericho. They were outside the city and there they kept till the day of victory. For them that separation was compulsory but what a different history, for example, would Lot’s have been had he kept outside of Sodom! And what a different history would Israel’s have been, had they not later intermingled with the nations! This world has still the Jericho-character: it is the enemy of God. All that is in it is not of the Father. We, therefore, must not love it. Whosoever wishes to be its friend makes himself an enemy of God. When the things of Jericho capture the heart of the people of God as they captured Achan’s they are on the high road to defeat. No man can serve two masters and if the believer gives his heart to this world (no matter in however respectable a fashion it may be) he unfits himself for effective testimony. Not that the servant of the Lord is to be a Pharasaical separatist. Like his Lord he will receive sinners and eat with them, not with the view of enjoying their pleasures but that they might enjoy his.
The time of victory is not yet; the six days have not yet been completed. This is the time when Christ is outside the world He being refused His proper place in it. He does not lift up His voice nor cry. With Him are His people; they must be content to be outside also. There they must remain until the day of victory. Sad if, Corinthian-like, some reign as kings whilst their brethren are in the gladiator arena. The day of victory will certainly come when He Whose right it is will, by power and judgment, take to Himself the reigns of this world’s government and His people shall then reign with Him. Then its defensive edifices will collapse. But that time has not yet come.
We must be content at present to take the outside place and leave the world with its gold and silver and Babylonish garments. If these things be hidden away in our lives somewhere, we not only shall involve ourselves in grievous chastisement but weaken the whole effort of God’s people. Perhaps here is the root of our weakness! Perhaps gold and silver are ‘at the bottom’ (7. vv. 21 and 22) of our every Ai-defeat.
One last word. They all worked together in unison and harmony. There were not detached segments or independent enterprises. All had one end in view and strove toward it. Unity is strength and is an instructive demonstration to onlookers.