In the good old days, walls were reliable barriers that protected important cities. Well-built walls that were manned by well-trained troops proved decisive in defending a well-prepared city from enemies’ attacks. But enemies were no fools either. Brilliant strategists had come up with different ways to overcome them. A common strategy was to lay siege until the city ran out of supplies and had to surrender. A clever strategy from a popular story was the Trojan Horse that the Greeks used to fool the Trojans. Then there was the theory about how the Persians overcame the mighty wall of Babylon by diverting the river Euphrates that flowed into the city and waded under the city wall while the Babylonians continued their feasting. But the most ridiculous strategy of all time had to be the way Israel brought down the wall of Jericho.
So what did they do? According to divine instructions passed down through their leader Joshua, fighting men were to march around the city once each day for six days, with seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. Then on the seventh day, they were to march the city seven times, after which the priests would make a long blast of the rams’ horns, upon which the fighting men would give a shout so great that the wall would fall down flat. No sensible human leader would give such nonsensical instructions to their men to march like clowns around the city and hoping that something miraculous would happen. But contrary to human wisdom, the wall did come down!
Well, we know that walls are meaningless in modern warfare. What about spiritual warfare? Are these instructions helpful in tearing down spiritual walls in order to claim victory over something, whether it is a new mission field that we are embarking on or a stubborn sin that refuses to go away? I remember organizing a prayer walk for the church when we started P21 ministry. I had no issue with it until I learnt from someone that prayer walk came about because of such passage. And it seemed that I had organized it because I was also convinced by Scripture that it was an important step to take in order to claim victory over Punggol. That’s the issue I had, not with the act of prayer walk but the theology for doing it. So as today’s sermon text brings us back to the wall of Jericho, I was again reminded of it. So can we or can we not walk and pray? Why did God give Israel those instructions?
I believe those instructions concerned only Israel and for that particular context of Jericho only. There were still wars to fight but we do not read of such strategy later. On the contrary, they had to fight like real soldiers. Then Israel tried to copy bits of it when they battled against the Philistines, thinking that they had God’s power with them but lost the ark instead. Furthermore priests, trumpets of ram’s horns, marching and shouting are also not the kind of things we find the apostles doing and so why should we? So what’s the point of God giving them these strange instructions? I believe the point is to let us know that victory comes not by human might but by the power of God. And this is especially crucial in the case of Jericho because it was the first city in the land to conquer. If Israel had fought like warriors and overcome the city, they might become boastful of themselves. So these instructions were meant to humble them before God lest they became proud and arrogant.
And what’s the point of the author recording these instructions clearly and showing how Joshua passed it down carefully and how the people followed it accordingly if there was nothing supernatural about it? I believe it is to let us know that God grants victory when his people obey his instructions faithfully. It is the same in Exodus where the author records in details the instructions that God gave to Moses for making the tabernacle and then repeats the same details all over again as Israel went about building it, i.e. to show us that Israel found favour with God because they obeyed everything he had instructed, nothing more and nothing less, i.e. until they began to rebel. So the lesson is about faith and obedience. It is about knowing who God is and how we can draw close to him when we learn to trust and obey, and not because there are some magical power hidden behind some special numbers, equipment or formulas that if we are able to decipher or decode, we will have access to divine power at our disposal. People with such thoughts think they can manipulate the Almighty One with his words.
So can we or can we not walk and pray? Why not? Though not explicit in Scripture, I believe that as our Lord Jesus travelled from one place to another with his disciples, he could have prayed with them along the way. And whenever Paul reached a new city, he could have surveyed the place and prayed for it before he began his ministry. It is about having a prayerful attitude in all circumstances. So if we are beginning a new outreach ministry like P21 or SQ, it can be helpful to go to the place, have a good look at it so that we may know what lies ahead before us and be able to pray with wisdom. So there is a time to walk and pray and let us do it because we want to be prayerful and humble before the Lord as we trust and obey.
Pastor Ronnie Ang
November 18, 2012