ŇBy faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.Ó Hebrews 11:30.
From the beginning of this chapter to this thirtieth verse, we have heard two sorts of examples of faith: the first, of believers from the beginning of the world to the flood. The second, of such as were from the time of the flood to the giving of the law at Mount Sinai; and of both these, we have hitherto entreated. Now here, and so forward to the end of this chapter, is set down a third order of examples of faith, namely, of such as lived from the time of the giving of the law to the time of the reign of the Maccabees.
This thirtieth verse contains the first example of this rank; namely, the example of JoshuaŐs faith, and of those that went with him into Canaan. And their faith is commended unto us by a notable fact of theirs: the causing to fall the walls of Jericho; the history whereof we may read at large in Joshua chapter 6. The sum of it is this: Whereas the Israelites came unto Canaan, and could not enter into the land by reason of the strength of Jericho, by which they must needs pass, nor could win it by reason of the huge walls of Jericho; the Lord promiseth to deliver Jericho into their hands; only the people must do this: they must compass about the walls seven days, and carry the Ark of the Lord with them, sounding with ramŐs horns, and shout, and so the walls fall down. Now the Lord having made this promise unto them; the Israelites, and especially Joshua, obey His commandment, and believe His promise; and thus doing, by faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. Indeed the power of God was the principal cause of this ruin of the walls; but yet because upon their believing God shewed this power, therefore is the downfall of them ascribed unto their faith.
Here are many notable points to be learned:
1. First, whereas the text saith, By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, we may observe the wonderful power of true faith. Joshua and the Israelites believed GodŐs promises, that He would overturn the walls of Jericho; and as they believed, so it came to pass. So our Saviour Christ saith (Matt. 17:20), If a man had but as much faith as a grain of mustard seed, he shall say unto the mountain, remove hence, and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible unto him; signifying that by the power of true faith, such things as are impossible unto manŐs reason, shall be brought to pass, if God have promised them; as we see in this place, the mighty walls of Jericho fell down by faith, which to manŐs reason is impossible. So the Lord promiseth to Abraham, the he should be the father of many nations; yes, that all the nations of the earth should be blessed in him. This was strange, but Abraham believed it; and as he believed, so it came to pass; for many nations descended from him; and after the time of ChristŐs ascension, when all the nations of the world were called to the light of the gospel, they were blessed in Christ, the promised seed of Abraham; and therefore is he called the father of the faithful in all nations. And to come unto ourselves; to miserable men it may seem a strange thing that the power of the devil, and the strength of the flesh, should be overcome in us; yet let a man believe this promise of God: God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoso believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). I say, let him believe this effectually, and he shall find by faith the kingdom of sin and Satan, in his heart and conscience, weakened every day more and more. And therefore St John saith not without cause, This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith (1 John 5:4).
2. Secondly, here observe that among the causes of the change and overthrow of towns, cities and kingdoms, this is one, namely, faith in Gods promises. Many men have written of the change of kingdoms, and do give divers reasons thereof; but most of them omit the principal, and that is faith; by virtue whereof many times kingdoms and towns are brought to ruin and overthrow. God promised to Abraham and to his seed that He would give them the land of Canaan for their inheritance; now, they believed this promise, and here we see it comes to pass as they believed; Jericho by faith is overturned, and the rest of their cities and the people of Canaan dispossessed. So that we see that faith in GodŐs promises is a means to GodŐs people to overturn cities and kingdoms that are enemies to Christ and to His gospel. God hath made a promise unto His church that the whore of Babylon (Rev. 18:2), that is, the kingdom of Antichrist, shall flourish for a while, but after it shall be destroyed; yea, such a ruin shall come unto it, that the kings of the earth, and all great men and merchants shall bewail the destruction thereof. Now this promise being received by faith, and believed of GodŐs church, shall undoubtedly come to pass. It is in some part verified already (for we see some kingdoms and people have renounced the cursed doctrine and tyranny of Rome; and many Christian princes have already shaken off the popeŐs yoke), yea, and this promise shall come to pass daily more and more. Let all the kings of that sort do what they can, and let the people set themselves never so much against GodŐs church, yet Babylon shall down; for God hath promised so to His church, and His church believeth the same; and therefore by their faith it shall be brought to pass, in despite of the devil.
3. Thirdly, here we learn that when any city, town or kingdom is to make war either in defence of themselves, or in lawful assault upon their enemies; a special means for good success herein, is true faith. Christian policy is a commendable thing in this case; but if policy be severed from faith, it is nothing. Faith in GodŐs promises of protection and assistance, doth far surpass all worldly wisdom. And therefore good king Jehosaphat, when he was to fight against the huge armies of the Moabites and Ammonites, gives this counsel to his people (2 Chr. 20:20), Put your trust in the Lord your God, and ye shall be assured; believe His prophets, and ye shall prosper; giving a most notable instruction, and shewing that the best help for our defence is faith in God, whereby we rest upon His Word and promise that He will help us; yet this taketh not away the use of means, but it gives the blessing and efficacy unto them. Faith, we know, is called a shield among the spiritual armour of God, whereby a man awards the blows of Satan; and though that be the principal virtue of it, yet is it also a notable shield to defend men, even against their outward visible enemies, and a most strong engine against them to work their overthrow. Hence David saith, he will not be afraid for ten thousand of the people that should beset him round about (Psa. 3:6). They therefore that would defend themselves against their enemies (yea, and overcome them in lawful assault), must embrace and obey true religion; and with Christian policy, join faith in GodŐs promises; for by faith we make God our captain, and through Him we shall do valiantly, and beat down our enemies on every side.
4. Lastly, here we may learn, what a vain thing it is to trust in outward worldly means. The walls of Jericho were both strong and high, and hard it had been to have overthrown them by ordinary means; but yet we see it proved but a vain thing to trust unto them, as the men of Jericho did; for they found but little relief and defence in them; for the Lord lays them flat to the ground; and so the people of Israel went straight forward and took the city. So likewise it is a vain thing to trust to manŐs strength, or in the strength of an horse, or in the number of men, or in riches, or in gifts of wisdom and learning, or in any other outward means whatsoever; the reason is because God can overturn them with the least breath of His mouth.
This must admonish us that howsoever we use ordinary means of our preservation and help, yet ever we must cast our whole care on God, and put all our confidence in Him for help and safety; for without Him all other outward means are nothing but vain helps; for vain is the help of man (Psa. 60:11). And thus much for the fact itself.
Further, this fact is set out unto us by two circumstances, to wit, by the means which they used, and by the time which they observed for this exploit.
1. For the first, when they come to Jericho, this strong city, which they must needs subdue (or else they could not this way enter and possess the land), they do not go about to overturn the city by undermining, battering or sealing the walls; but according to GodŐs appointment, they go one by one in order round about the city walls day by day for one weekŐs space; and on the seventh day, they compass it seven times; during all which time they kept great silence, save only that seven priests sounded upon seven trumpets of ramŐs horns before the ark, till Joshua bade them shout. Now in common reason, a man would judge this rather to be some childish sport, than a means to fling down these great walls. Nay, consider it well, and it may seem a course tending rather to overthrow themselves, than the walls of Jericho; for they marched not in battle array, as though they would pitch a field against the people of Jericho, or lay siege to their city; but they went in length one before another, so as they might compass the city about. Now if the men of Jericho should have come forth, and made assault upon them, in all likelihood, the Israelites would have been overthrown, so weak and feeble were the means. And yet the Lord, for weighty causes, prescribes this course to them; to wit:
(1) First, hereby to try the faith of His people, whether they will believe His promise or no, when they are enjoined to the weak and feeble means, and in manŐs reason, foolish.
(2) Secondly, to make manifest in the weakness an insufficiency of the means, His own all-sufficient power and wisdom, for the furtherance of His glory; for through weakness is GodŐs power made perfect (2 Cor. 12:9). Hence, our Saviour Christ, when He was to cure the man that was born blind, tempers clay of spittle and lays it to his eyes (John 9:6). A means in common reason, rather fit to make a man blind, than to recover his sight; and yet Christ useth it for the furtherance of GodŐs glory, in the manifestation of His divine power, whereby the people might know He was able in Himself to do whatsoever He would.
Now look what course the Lord here takes for the battering of the walls of Jericho, the like He useth in overthrowing the kingdom of the devil, the spiritual Jericho; especially in the New Testament. For after ChristŐs ascension, when He intended to destroy the kingdom of darkness under which all the nations sat, He sets apart a few fishermen, simple persons, wanting worldly wit and policy, neither did He put a sword of flesh into their hands, but the Word of God into their mouths; and thus sent them to dispossess the devil out of all the world, and to batter down the kingdom of darkness by their preaching. And now in these latter days, wherein the antichristian kingdom of the pope had spread itself through all places almost, God used the same weak means to overthrow it. For He set apart a silly monk, and endued him with gifts to preach the truth; by which means the kingdom of antichrist received a greater wound than if ten princes had set themselves against it. And strange it is to see how God overturneth all the stratagems devised against His church, and how He vanquisheth the power of sin, by the weak means of the gospel preached, and by the prayers of the church; than which, to the world nothing seems more feeble or foolish.
The consideration hereof, is of special use; for it may be we shall see kings and people of great power and number, to make revolt from the gospel of Christ, and to fall to antichrist, embracing popery; whereas indeed, we must be grieved, but yet withal, here is good cause of comfort unto us; for we must know that SatanŐs kingdom must be battered down, not so much by the power of kings, as by the breath of GodŐs mouth; not so much by the sword of flesh, as by the sword of the spirit. So it is said that the man of sin, even antichrist, must be abolished; not by the power of princes; yea, let all the princes and potentates of the world do their best for him; yet his kingdom must come down in GodŐs good time; for God will consume him with the breath of His mouth, and abolish him with the brightness of His coming (2 Thess. 2:8), that is, by the preaching of the Word in the mouths of His ministers, who are men void of all worldly power and policy.
Yet further, observe the means. They walk about the walls of Jericho seven days together. If men should attempt the like enterprise at this day, in all likelihood it would cost them their lives; for now there are devised such instruments of war, I mean great ordinance, and field pieces, that will kill afar off; and undoubtedly, if there had been such instruments of war in this city, the Israelites could not so safely have compassed the walls for so many days together. Whereby it appears more than probable that in those days there were no guns known; no not amongst the heathen, which at this day are so rife amongst Christians. Whence may be gathered that these later days are perilous times; for now menŐs heads are set to devise more hurtful means against the life of man than ever the savage heathen knew. For besides the invention of guns, which put down all evidence of prowess and valour seen in ancient wars; our age exceeds in contriving such strange kinds of poisons as were never known in former times. For now men have devised poison of that sort that will kill a man not presently, but a week, or a month, or a quarter of a year after; as appears by the confession of those that have given themselves to study and practice such hurtful devices. And it is worth the marking that the principal inventors and practices of such hurtful inventions have been of the Romish religion.
2. The second circumstance to be observed is the time of this exploit. It was not on any of the six days, but on the seventh; and that after they had that day compassed the city about seven times; then when the priests blew the trumpets, and all the people shouted as Joshua bade them, the walls of Jericho fell down; for this was the time which God had appointed for this exploit. The reason why God appointed seven days, and seven times compassing on the seventh day, is not revealed unto us in the Word of God; and therefore we may not curiously pry into it, nor yet (as some do) hence gather that seven is a perfect number. But from the consideration of the very time wherein the walls fell down, we may learn this; that if we would have God to accomplish His promises unto us, we must wait for that time and season which He hath appointed; we must not think that God will accomplish them when we appoint. But we must believe GodŐs promise, and also wait His good leisure, and then will it come to pass. The Israelites compassed about Jericho one day, and the walls never stirred; yet they do so six days together, and six times more on the seventh day, and yet they stand fast. The reason is because GodŐs appointed time was not yet come. Bu on the seventh day, when they had compassed them about the seventh time, all the people gave up the shout, and then they fell down; because that was the particular set time wherein God would accomplish His promise.
Further, whereas they compassed about the walls seven days together, it must needs be that they went about them on the Sabbath day, for that was one of the seven. Now here a doubt ariseth; for this was a servile work upon the Sabbath, contrary to GodŐs commandment, which enjoineth so strict a rest upon the Sabbath day that they might not kindle a fire thereon; how then could they lawfully compass the city on the Sabbath day? Answer: All GodŐs commandments in the moral law must be understood with this exception: Thou shalt do thus and thus, unless I the Lord command thee otherwise; for God is an absolute Lord, and so above the law; and therefore may lawfully command that which the law forbiddeth. In the second commandment He saith, Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image etc., and yet Moses, by GodŐs special appointment, set up a brazen serpent, which was a figure of Christ. Upon such a special command, Abraham lawfully offered to kill Isaac; the Israelites at their departure spoiled and robbed the Egyptians; and Joshua with the people here compass the walls of Jericho on the Sabbath day.