Faith in action

The Israelites’ miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt was followed by 40 years of wandering in the desert because they didn’t believe that God would give them the land he had promised to (Numbers 14:3-4). After the entire generation that had rebelled against God died in the wilderness, the Israelites were directed to go back to the land of Canaan and were given another opportunity to enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:7-8). Joshua who replaced Moses as Israel’s leader was told, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:5-6). Joshua 3:1-4 states:

Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.”

Joshua’s statement, “You have not passed this way before,” (Joshua 1:6) had to do with the way the Israelites were going to cross over the Jordan. The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) refers to “a course of life or mode of action” (H1870). During the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before them” (Exodus 13:21-22), but when the people crossed the Jordan River, they were told, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it” (Joshua 3:3).

The change in the Israelites mode of action was directly related to them crossing over the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land. Prior to crossing the Jordan, the Israelites’ mode of action was sight, the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire were visible at all times, leading them along the way. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan, they set out when they saw the ark of the covenant being carried by the priests, but had to keep a distance between them and it of more than a half a mile (2000 cubits), making it impossible for them to actually see it as they crossed the river, forcing them to walk by faith and not by sight. Joshua warned them, “Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go” (Joshua 3:4). The Apostle Paul related walking by faith and not by sight to operating in the spiritual realm. Paul said:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:1-7)

Paul talked about a house that was not made with hands being our eternal home and said that we must put it on that “we may not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:3). The Greek word that is translated to put on, ependuomai (ep-en-dooˊ-om-ahee) has to do with superimposition, where something is placed or laid over something else, typically so that both things are still evident (Oxford Languages). In that sense, the believer’s heavenly home is something that is added to our earthly home, the physical body that we now live in. Jesus’ resurrected body was similar to the physical structure he inhabited before his death, but according to Paul, something was added that was not made with hands that changed its architecture and made Jesus’ body indestructible (2 Corinthians 5:1, 4). Jesus eluded to this when he predicted his resurrection three days after he was crucified. John’s gospel tells us, “So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:18-22).

The Israelites crossed the Jordan River on foot, at a time when doing so was impossible. The Jordan River was overflowing all its banks (Joshua 3:15) and “was most likely greater than 100 feet wide and greater than ten feet deep” (neverthirsty.org). “The Lord did not stop the flow of the Jordan until the priest’ feet were actually in the water, requiring them to exercise their faith. The swollen condition of the Jordan River at that time of the year emphasized the power of God on the Israelites’ behalf” (note on Joshua 3:15-17). Afterward, Joshua 5:13-15 tells us:

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

“The ‘commander of the army of the LORD’ may have been a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. He used a phrase similar to the one spoken by the Lord when he called to Moses from within the burning bush and commanded him to take his shoes off (v. 15, cf. Exodus 3:5). The statement “Now I have come” (Joshua 5:14) suggests that Jesus’ appearance on the scene was linked to and likely dependent upon the events that had just transpired: 1) the Israelites crossing of the Jordan River (Joshua 3); 2) the new generation being circumcised (Joshua 5:1-9); 3) and, the first Passover in Canaan being celebrated (Joshua 5:10-12). Jesus’ role as commander of the army of the LORD is connected with God’s judgment.

The fall of Jericho demonstrates how God’s judgment of unbelievers and believers’ acts of faith work together to accomplish God’s will. Joshua 6:1-5 states:

Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.”

The manner in which God instructed the Israelites to march around the city of Jericho was meant to convey a specific message to the people of Jericho. The Hebrew word that is translated manner in Joshua 6:15, mishpat (mish-pawtˊ) is properly translated at “a verdict (favourable or unfavourable) pronounced judicially, especially a sentence or formal decree (human or [participle] divine law, individual or collective), including the act, the place, the suit, the crime, and the penalty…It is used to describe a legal decision or judgment rendered” (H4941). The conquest of Jericho was more than just a military confrontation with people who were entrenched in a formidable stronghold. While God was bringing judgment upon those who had long refused him, he was also working on behalf of the people with whom he had just renewed his covenant. The fall of Jericho sent a powerful message to the Canaanites that the Israelites’ successes were not merely human victories of man against man; they were victories by the true God of Israel over the Canaanites’ false gods. This event, which closely followed the crossing of the Jordan by miraculous means, impressed upon the Israelites that the same God who had led their fathers out of Egypt and through the Red Sea was with Joshua, just as he had been with Moses. Recent archeological research at Jericho has confirmed the Bible’s account, revealing that the city was destroyed around 1400 BC.

Although we are not told what was going on in the spiritual realm while the Israelites were marching around the city of Jericho for seven days, the appearance of the commander of the LORD’s army just before Joshua received his instructions (Joshua 5:13-15) suggests that a spiritual battle was about to or perhaps, had already taken place. Paul talked about spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). Paul made it sound as if spiritual warfare involved hand to hand combat when he said, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers etc.” (Ephesians 6:12). There seem to be both spiritual and physical elements to warfare as illustrated in the battle of Jericho. What is clear from Hebrews 11:30 is that faith plays a critical role in believers’ victories. It states, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.” According to this verse, the reason why the walls of Jericho fell down was because the Israelites’ faith was working when they did what God told them to and marched around the city of Jericho for seven days in a row.

Jesus explained to his disciples that faith and unbelief are counterproductive to one another. When they were unable to heal a boy who was demon possessed, the disciples asked Jesus, “’Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you’” (Matthew 17:20). Jesus’ reference to the disciples’ little faith didn’t have anything to do with its size, but rather its ability to accomplish their objective. The Greek word oligopistos (ol-ig-opˊ-is-tos) is derived from the words oligos (ol-eeˊ-gos) which means “puny” (G4641) and pistis (pisˊ-tis) which means “persuasion” (G4102), the idea being that you have a weak argument or you are unconvinced of something. When Jesus indicated that it only takes faith like a grain of mustard seed in order to move a mountain, he meant that faith is a very powerful substance and it can accomplish anything even though it is usually possessed in very small amounts. Paul described faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV). The key words that Paul used, substance and evidence have to do with proving that something is the truth as opposed to fiction or just a lie. What Paul was getting at was whether or not something that was said could hold up or from a legal standpoint, be able to bring about a conviction in a court of law. The Greek word that is translated substance, hupostasis (hoop-osˊ-tas-is) refers to “what really exists under any appearance, reality, essential nature” and is spoken of God’s essence or nature in Hebrews 1:3 (G5287).

Joshua 7:1 tells us that the people of Israel broke faith with God when they disobeyed his instruction to keep themselves from the things devoted to destruction. The Hebrew word that is translated broke faith, maʿal (maw-alˊ) means “to cover up; (used only figurative) to act covertly, i.e. treacherously” (H4603). Joshua wasn’t aware that Achan the son of Carmi had taken some of the devoted things and hidden them among his own belongings and “Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, ‘Go up and spy out the land.’ And the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, ‘Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few.’ So about three thousand men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai,and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:2-5). Joshua moved forward with attacking Ai without receiving any instructions from the Lord and listened to the men that were sent to spy out Ai who were convinced that they could destroy Ai with only a few thousand men. The reason why Joshua made this mistake was because of the broken faith between God and his people.

Although Joshua was unaware of Achan’s sin, God wasn’t. Joshua 7:10-13 states:

The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.”

The Israelites were instructed to stay away from everything in Jericho that was devoted to destruction because it would “make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it” (Joshua 6:18). Achan’s decision to take some of the things and hide them in his tent caused the LORD to remove his protection and the people of Israel were unable to stand before their enemies (Joshua 7:12).

The Hebrew word that is translated stand in Joshua 7:12, quwm (koom) means to “come about” and “is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). Essentially, what this word has to do with is God’s will being carried out. You might even say that quwm is an indicator of whether or not God is involved in or permitting a particular thing to happen. Paul’s discussion of spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians began with the statement, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11, emphasis mine). The Greek word Paul used that is translated stand, histemi (hisˊ-tay-mee) “means ‘to make to stand,’ means ‘to appoint’” (G2476). The point that Paul wanted to make was that we are dependent on God for spiritual strength. We cannot stand against the schemes of the devil unless we are relying on the Lord to do it.

God told Joshua that he wouldn’t be with the people of Israel anymore unless they destroyed the devoted things from among them (Joshua 7:12). The next morning, through a process of elimination, Achan was identified as the guilty person (Joshua 7:16-19). “And Achan answered Joshua, ‘Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath’” (Joshua 7:20-21). When Achan was confronted, he revealed that his action was motivated by covetousness. The real problem was not so much that the devoted things had been brought into the camp, but that Achan’s heart was not right with the LORD. Jesus explained to his disciples that the condition of our hearts determines God’s ability to interact with us and to utilize our faith. Jesus said, “’Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person’” (Mark 7:18-23).