The River Jordan was at last behind them. Their feet were finally on the soil of
the Promised Land. But while God had promised the land to them, the Israelites still
had to go and get it—and it was occupied by Canaanites who weren’t too keen to give
The Christian life can be a bit like that. We rejoice in God’s ‘great and precious
promises’, but getting into the good of those promises usually spells conflict,
and it can get a bit messy. You will never drift into victory; you have to take the
challenge seriously and see that you prepare sensibly for your personal ‘conquest
of Canaan’. From Israel’s experiences described in the book of Joshua we can learn
what these preparations might include.
For starters, it would certainly help to listen to God’s words of encouragement.
To Joshua as the Israelites’ leader God was fulsome in his encouragement: ‘I will
give you every place where you set your foot…I will be with you; I will never leave
you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people
to inherit the land…Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your
God will be with you wherever you go.’
How wonderful! And if this is how he cheered on his people under the old covenant
you certainly can’t expect him to be any less encouraging to you as you face your
conflicts under the new. He delights to see you enjoying a victorious life. Notice
how parents delight to see their baby girl learning to walk. She stumbles and falls
from time to time, but they rush to prop her up, making encouraging noises, and they
clap and smile when she makes it from the coffee table to the sofa on her feet. That’s
how God is with you!
It also helps to surround yourself with godly supporters, people who will echo to
you God’s words of encouragement. That’s what some of the Israelites did for Joshua,
pledging their support and saying to him exactly what God had previously told him:
‘Be strong and courageous!’ Avoid the company of spiritual pessimists and sceptics.
Gather around you men and women of practicality, faith and confidence. Check out
your closest friends: are they spiritually wishy-washy or are they going places with
It’s time next to reconnoitre the problem. Joshua sent spies into Canaan to look
at the obstacles that lay ahead so that the people would know the scale of what they
had to tackle and would be under no illusions about it. That’s what you should do—especially
with challenges in the area of your character. This, in fact, is where the biggest
challenges lie and where victory is vital. I invite you to look your own main character
weakness in the eye and size it up. It might be a bad temper; drinking too much;
a sharp tongue; the fear of sickness or death; gossiping; procrastination; overeating;
a critical attitude; negativism; self-centredness—or whatever. Face up to it.
It will help, too, to see the situation from the enemy’s point of view. Joshua’s
spies reported: ‘The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the
people are melting in fear because of us.’ Satan, who appears at times so daunting,
is in fact trembling because he knows that God plus one is a majority in any situation
and that you are therefore well able to defeat him.
And while you are at it, take time to clear up any unfinished business that may scupper
your chances of victory. Chapter 5 records God’s command to Joshua to circumcise
the Israelite men. Circumcision, of course, was the sign of the covenant. The older
generation had been circumcised before leaving Egypt, but they had failed to circumcise
their sons, who were now about to enter Canaan. This unfinished business needed completing
before the conquest of the land began. Learn from this. Don’t let yourself be held
back by your parents’ failures. If they were half-hearted in their faith, or not
believers at all, you can look forward to experiencing more of God than they ever
Look out for any untackled issues that the Lord may bring to your attention as you
wait on him in prayer, and give them radical treatment. Make arrangements to pay
back that unpaid debt. Get baptised. Phone and ask forgiveness of the person you
haven’t been speaking to.
All these are sensible preparations for the battle. At the same time there are encouragements
to grasp, the main one being God’s track record of blessing. The Israelites could
recall the Passover, the Exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea—and now the miraculous
crossing of Jordan. In your case you might recall the time you got saved, your baptism,
how God intervened when you felt suicidal, the blessing received at a conference,
the time you were first filled with the Holy Spirit. God who blessed you before can
act to bless you again—that’s the kind of God he delights to be!
You can encourage yourself particularly by remembering that the conflict ahead is
the Lord’s battle. Just before the battle to take the city of Jericho—the first step
in the conquest of the land—Joshua came across a heavenly visitor, ‘the commander
of the army of the LORD’. Joshua had thought that he himself was the commander
of the army, and at a human level he was. But now he knew for sure that God himself
was the ultimate commander, which put the coming conflict in a wholly different light.
Your conflict, too, is God’s conflict. You can count on his active help.
So the signal has sounded. It’s time for you to tackle your Jericho. How should you
go about it?
First and foremost, obey God’s instructions, which may not be what you expected and,
indeed, may not be ‘normal’. There were to be no battering-rams or scaling-ladders
for the Israelites. God told them instead to march round the city once daily for
six days and seven times on the seventh day, with no talking or shouting, just
the sounding of the ram’s-horn jubilee trumpets—which were used at Israel’s religious
festivals to proclaim the presence of God. He would do the rest. So religion had
joined forces with military strength—the army would still be needed to follow through
on the supernatural demolition of Jericho’s walls.
In a similar way, God’s intervention in your own conflict may well join forces with
the medical, the social or the psychiatric to achieve the victory. I remember years
ago some good Christian brothers picking me up on what they saw as a problem with
my preaching. I tended, they observed, to be a bit ‘hard’ and uncompromising in some
of my attitudes, which came over in my preaching and put people off instead of warming
them to my message. I had been completely unaware of this and was keen to eliminate
it. I made it a matter of earnest prayer. At the same time, I arranged that, until
further notice, one of those brothers would sit on the front row whenever I preached
and, if he sensed me drifting in the unwanted direction, would give a light cough
and scratch his ear. No-one else would even notice it but to me it would be a clear
signal. This went on for some months, and it worked, making me aware of the kind
of words and tone of voice to avoid, and the attitudes that prompted them. The Lord
helped me directly, I’m sure, but he also worked through my brothers. He will work
with and through other agencies to help you, too.
So tackle your Jericho, but be sure to do it for God’s glory, not your own. God commanded
the Israelites to take no plunder from the city. ‘All the silver and gold and the
articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury.’
No soldier would sift through his booty afterwards and say, ‘Didn’t we do well?’
The victory was to be for God’s glory alone. There’s a lesson here: don’t tackle
your Jericho primarily for what you can get out of it. As a young man I had a serious
battle with unsociability, but in the end I realised I had to tackle it, not primarily
to get a better social life for myself but because God had spoken to me strongly
about getting this weakness sorted out and I wanted to please him. A better social
life and being liked by people would be a by-product, a bonus.
If you approach the battle obeying God’s instructions and concerned for his glory
alone, you can watch him do a miracle! The account is delightfully simple: ‘When
the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the
men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they
took the city.’
Many sceptics have made weak attempts to explain the collapse of the city walls.
An earth tremor. Some Israelite soldiers undermining the walls while the others marched
round. Vibrations from the trumpet blasts and shouts. Shock-waves caused by the tramping
of the soldiers’ feet. But no, it was God’s supernatural intervention! And he can
do astonishing things for you, too, for which explanations will be equally impossible.
When your ‘city’ is conquered, decide that there will be no going back. Joshua pronounced
a solemn oath over the conquered city: ‘Cursed before the LORD is the man who undertakes
to rebuild this city, Jericho.’ This is especially important for you in the realm
of your character-victories. For myself, whenever I feel tempted to slip back into
my old unsociable ways I remind myself: ‘No, I’ve finished with that. Yes, I’ll always
be the kind of guy who needs his own space, and who needs time alone on a regular
basis, but God has filled his world—and his church—with people and I’ve broken the
back of my old unsociability problem, so I’m going to stay available to people, warm
towards them and ready to help them.’
That was after the battle, of course. But while the battle of Jericho was in progress
the Israelites faced certain dangers that can serve as warnings for you in your own
battles. One is the need to avoid compromise. Chapter 7 relates the sin of Achan,
who secretly took for himself some of the plunder—items that God had ‘devoted’ to
himself: a Babylonian robe, 200 shekels of silver and a 50-shekel wedge of gold.
We can understand the temptation Achan faced and we can excuse him with phrases like,
‘They were only a few small items…’ or ‘In the circumstances…’ But the bottom line
was: his compromise was plain disobedience. Do what God has told you to do, and if
your love for him isn’t enough to make you do it, let ‘the fear of the Lord’ twist
your arm. The consequences of compromise can be disastrous, as Achan discovered.
There is also a constant danger of over-confidence. Faith is one thing; over-confidence
is another. One is good, the other bad. Once Jericho was conquered, some Israelites
went to reconnoitre the next town, Ai. It was smaller than Jericho and they recommended
that a force of just 3,000 is all it would take to crack the place. The small force
attacked the town and were roundly defeated. What had happened? They had underestimated
the enemy’s strength and, more seriously, had failed to consult the Lord. Satan is
no pushover and you need to get the Lord’s directions for each stage of the conquest.
God who told Moses to strike the rock to produce water in the wilderness changed
the directions the second time and told him to speak to the rock. Don’t ever
reduce God to a formula.
A further danger is that you despair at the first setback. After the rout at Ai Joshua
felt like giving up: ‘Ah, Sovereign LORD,’ he moaned, ‘why did you ever bring this
people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy
us?’ This kind of exaggerated reaction doesn’t help. So the car had broken down.
But what was needed was a bolt tightening, not the whole car scrapping and replacing
with a new one. You will face inevitable setbacks in your battles. Don’t over-react.
Find out what needs tweaking, then tweak it and press on in faith for the victory
God has promised.
Setbacks exist to be overcome. How? By your refusing to be discouraged. God was straight
with Joshua at this juncture: ‘Do not be discouraged.’ It’s a command, not a
suggestion, and it comes to you as well as to Joshua. Believe that victory can again
be yours.This time, listen to God’s directions instead of acting unilaterally. He
told Joshua to use an ambush-strategy against Ai. At the same time, he gave him
plenty of leeway with the tactics, and Joshua used common sense in applying God’s
general directions. God often works this way. He will give you the general drift
of the approach he wants you to take in your battle but he never steals your brain.
He expects you to use sanctified common sense in working out the details. So do it.
If you obey the Lord he will fulfil his promises of victory to you, as he did to
Israel: ‘The LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers,
and they took possession of it and settled there… Not one of all the LORD’s good
promises to the house of Israel failed; every one of them was fulfilled.’ That
didn’t mean that Israel’s battles were over, and yours will not be over this side
of glory. Living in victory is a bit like dieting: a quick burst is no good—it must
become a way of life. I still have to work at being sociable. You will have to…well,
whatever it is.
But if you haven’t yet made a start on the conquest of your own Canaan, now’s the
time to do it. With God’s help you can succeed. Listen to his promise once again:
‘I will give you every place where you set your foot… I will be with you; I will
never leave you nor forsake you… Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do
not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.’
This is one essay in the Windows On The Word series. Click the Next and Previous
buttons to move through the series, and Up to go to the list. Footnotes appear in
the right-hand column. Hover over Bible references to see the text.
12. Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:8
3. Joshua 1:17-18
4. Joshua 2
5. Joshua 2:24
6. See Joshua 5:13-15
7. Joshua 6:5
8. Joshua 6:18-19
9. Joshua 6:20
10. Joshua 6:26
11. Joshua 7:2-5
15. Joshua 8:1-2
13. Joshua 7:7-9
14. Joshua 8:1
16. Joshua 21:43-45
The gist of this article
God has always wanted his people to live a life of victory. For the Israelites in
Joshua’s day it meant victory in the conquest of Canaan. For you today it means a
variety of spiritual battles, and you can learn how to win by observing the reasons
for their successes and failures.