Scripture: Judges 6:1-20
This year was my eleventh consecutive year to volunteer as a church camp director. For the past several years I have served at Camp Indicoso in Southern Indiana, but for the first four I was part of a team at Camp Adventure on the Lake Webster backwaters. One of the water features at Camp Adventure was called the Blob. The blob is a water activity that basically involves a giant air mattress. One person sets on the edge, and other person jumps from 30 feet up. Simple physics does the rest, and the person on the end goes flying up in the air before splashing into the lake. I often ended up going to the blob multiple times in the week because I was able to jump and get larger campers into the air when their friends might not be able to, or for adventurous smaller campers I could really send them flying high. So I would accompany groups to the blob and it was not uncommon for me to jump, roll off, climb out of the lake and do it all over again.
For the most part the blob was good fun for everyone, but at least once a year, there was always at least one group that had a less than positive blob experience. This is because inevitably a teen (usually the one who demanded to be first) will get to the top, and completely freeze. Even though the safest way down from the platform is to jump on the soft air pillow below, they are unable to get over their fear. This causes the lifeguards to try in vain to convince them to jump, as the time fleets away. Eventually the person had to be helped down the steep stairs. A lot of the activities at church camp like the blob or the zip line are designed to help youth overcome their fears. When they do, it is fun to witness. For example, one year I remember a teen who was afraid of heights, but his mother had on her bucket list to go down a zip line. Even though he was scared the entire time, this teen successfully climbed and jumped off the platform so he could tell his mom he did it. The flip side though is when a teen succumbs to fear, they cannot overcome, and they give up-feeling defeated. In my experience at camp those times are uncommon, but they are always heartbreaking to witness. Fear can have a powerful hold on us. We can rationally know, and logic our way through all of the reasons why we do not need to be afraid, but at the same time we still are unable to make ourselves take the leap.
The bible has a lot to say about faith and fear. There are several highly quotable scriptures on the subject like Isaiah 41:10 which reads, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” None of the verses from this morning’s scripture are as quotable, but this is a story that speaks to faith and fear. Like all of the scriptures we are examining this month, this is a well-known scripture, and a go-to VBS story. However, when we really try to put ourselves into the story we quickly see it is one that teaches us to trust God fully in the face of our fears.
This morning’s scripture reading was just from the end of the story, but the full story of Joshua and battle of Jericho can be found in Joshua 5:13-6:27. To fully appreciate the story we have to go way back to Number 13. This is a full generation before the battle of Jericho. The Israelites had left Egypt and were heading towards the promise land. Scouts were sent out and spent forty days surveying the land. When they came back they reported, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger that we are.” In response to this report, the Israelites gave in to fear and terror. They refused to go claim the promise land, and wanted to go back into slavery in Egypt! This made God furious, but in the end God forgave the people. However, there were consequences and the generation that left Egypt was not going to be allowed in the promise land, so the Israelites were wondering nomads in the desert for forty years.
At the end of this time, the chosen people once again are ready to enter the promise land, but they once again have to overcome their fear. The first obstacle standing between them and the promise land is Jericho. Jericho was truly an ancient city. For thousands of years before Joshua people had lived at that site. It was also a walled city, with an extremely formidable wall that was over 30 feet tall. Just as before, the Israelites send scouts into the land to spy and gather information. The spies report back about the formidable walls, and the Israelites had to face their fear. This time though the Bible does not record they gave into it.
Joshua has to decide what to do, and he comes up with an answer by having a divine experience. Joshua 6:13 records, “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. This man who claimed to be the commander of God’s army also told Joshua to take off his shoes because the ground was holy. In this meeting a battle plan was given. The army of Israel was to march around the city for six days. During this time seven priests were to carry trumpets in front of the Ark of the Covenant. Then on the seventh day, they would march seven times, then after a loud shout the walls would collapse.
The Bible makes no mention of what happened next. It simply states “Joshua had spoken to the people.” Can you imagine how that conversation had to go down? His battle plan was to march around the city, and wait for the walls to fall. That was it. Can you imagine the skepticism? Can you imagine what they naysayers might have said? There had to be doubt among the Israelites. There had to be fear. However, unlike the last time the Israelites were to take possession of the land the Bible does not say that fear won out. Joshua did as God had commanded, and the people did as Joshua said. They marched around the city, but still they had to be afraid. Now presumably, they marched outside the range of arrows. Despite that, there had to be fear as they walked. Surely the soldiers of Jericho tried to see if the Israelites were in range. Can you imagine the fear of walking, seeing the arrows fly through the air and not knowing if you were out of range or not? Even then, each day had to be a new day to conquer fear. After two or three days of making the same march it had to be a bit predictable. There was no guarantee that their enemy had not set a trap. Each day, each step around that city would have been one filled with fear.
Despite the daily battle with fear, the Israelites were faithful. They followed the directions, and on the seventh day after the seventh lap, the trumpets blew, and the walls fell. There is archeological evidence that supports this part of the story. Excavations of ancient Jericho reveal that the cities walls did fall, most likely due to an earthquake. The Israelites completely defeat the army of Jericho, and they have taken their first step to claiming the promise land as their own.
At first glance it seems extremely odd that God would give such specific instructions about how to take Jericho. Other than God clearly loves the number seven, what is the reason for marching seven days, with seven trumpets, and on the last day marching around the city seven times? The whole thing seems rather odd. We have to remember though, that the first time the Israelites were supposed to enter the promise land, they gave into fear. Perhaps the reason for the specific instructions was to see if the Israelites would listen, to see if they would be faithful in trusting God. The book of Hebrews commends Joshua and the ancient Israelites for their faith. Hebrews chapter 11 first defines what faith is: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” It continues in verse 30 “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.” God brought Jericho’s walls down, but the Israelites had to be confidence and trust in God to deliver. To do this though, they had to face their fear.
Faith and fear have an inverse relationship. Fear is easily one of the greatest enemies of faith. In his classic science fiction novel Dune, Frank Herbert wrote: “Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.” I would argue that fear is not just the mind killer, but fear can suffocate faith. If faith is confidence of what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see, then fear is what erodes our confidence and makes us doubt what we are sure about. I know I have experienced this, and perhaps you have as well. We can be fired up, ready to serve God, ready to take a step in faith but somewhere between the altar and the door that fire fades. Fear causes questions to rise and doubt to gain too large a foot hold and we allow negative thoughts to dominate our internal monologue. Thoughts like : “I could not really do that,” “it wouldn’t work anyway”, or “I am just not the right person for that.”
Fear causes us to play it way too safe and not follow where God is leading us. When we act out of fear, we cannot act out of faith. We cannot have confidence when we are terrified we are going to fall. Fear is the mind killer. It does not allow us to examine a situation wisely and fear makes it impossible to take anything on faith. When we have faith, when we trust in God, and fully confidence in Him, then fear cab not win. This does not mean we are not afraid, this does not mean we have zero doubts. What it means is that we claim the truth that God is greater than our fear, that God is more powerful than our terror, and that we are confident in what we hope for and we have assurance in what we do not see. We can absolutely have that confidence with a shaky voice and trembling knees.
God gave the Israelites a mission to claim the promise land, and he gave them specific instructions on how to defeat Jericho. To do so, the Israelites had to overcome their fear and have faith in God. As the Israelites marched around the city day after day, they had to be anxious, they had to be nervous, there had to be fear. Howe could there not be? Despite those aprhensive feelings, the Israelites chose faith over fear. In the same way, God gave us a mission to love our neighbor, to care for those in need, to make disciples, and to transform our world. I sincerely believe that both to us as a church and as individuals, God continues to lead us with specific instructions on how we do that. How is God leading you? What do you placed deep on your heart, that you know that you need to do? Who do you need to reach out to, invite, serve, or love? God is leading each of us, God is inviting us to jump. Will you do it? Or will you give into the same old fears: “I am not the right person”, “they will never listen to me”, “I do not want to offend”, or “I just do not have what it takes.”
May you not let fear, the mind killer and soul crusher, win again. May you be confident in what we hope for and have assurance in what we do not see. May you be faithful in following God. Whatever, God is calling you to do might be a bit scary. That is good, everything that is truly significant and meaningful is at least a little scary, but by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit may you overcome and be faithful in spite of your fear. May the walls of fear that have held you back come tumbling down. Not only that, but may you have the kind of faith that you can be commended for. May your faith that God is with you be the kind of faith that inspires others to tear down their own walls of fear. May they all come tumbling down.