Compass the City

When a situation seems hopeless, we should remember God is just getting warmed up.

I hope I’m not weird for saying this, but I love watching stuff blow up. It’s probably because I’m a tomboy at heart and far preferred capture the flag to playing dress up when I was kid. I was precocious, to say the least, and wielded bottle rockets and Roman candles in creative and dangerous ways (much to my parents’ chagrin). Even now, though I’ve mellowed and am less likely to singe off my eyebrows, I’m still amazed by the sight of controlled demolition. Experts use a few well-placed explosives, and boom—a once sturdy building collapses in on itself in seconds but leaves neighboring structures untouched.

It should come as no surprise, then, that one of my favorite Bible stories is the battle of Jericho—the one where, as the old spiritual puts it, “the walls come a tumblin’ down, hallelujah.” But the ka-boom isn’t the best part. The most impressive moment occurs well before the breathtaking dust-drenched climax.

It comes at the very beginning when the Lord tells Joshua, “See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour. And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days . . . and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times” (Josh. 6:2-4 KJV).

Many translations use the word “march,” but “compass” means something more than simply “to move or walk around.” To compass something is to take in the sum total of it, to “comprehend or grasp [it] mentally.” And that’s what God asked those men to do—to walk around those walls with their eyes wide open, to take a hard look at what they were up against. Why? Because, according to all accounts, it was a sight to behold, a real marvel of Bronze Age engineering.

Dr. Bryant G. Wood, a biblical archaeologist, says Jericho was built atop a hill and “surrounded by a great earthen . . . embankment, with a stone retaining wall at its base. The retaining wall was some 12–15 feet high. ‘On top of that was a mudbrick wall 6 feet thick and about 20–26 feet high.’ At the crest of the embankment was a similar mudbrick wall whose base was roughly 46 feet above the ground level outside the retaining wall.” In essence, the army of Israel was looking at a wall roughly the height of a modern five-story building, one tightly shut against them and topped with a plethora of men eager to keep them out of the city.

For all intents and purposes, Jericho was indestructible. But that didn’t matter to God.

God asked Joshua and his soldiers to look at—really look at—that city from every possible angle. These men knew exactly what it took to fight an armed and well-defended adversary who held the high ground. However, every day for six days straight, they studied towers too high to scale, fortifications that couldn’t be pierced by arrow or sword, and walls sunk so deep in the earth they could never be tunneled under. Some time before the multiple passes they made on day seven, they must have recognized that even with an army of laborers and thousands of hours to work, they could never have brought it down in their own strength. For all intents and purposes, Jericho was indestructible.

But that didn’t matter to God.

And it didn’t matter to Joshua or the people of Israel either. After all, they knew from firsthand experience that “the Lord is great and . . . is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:5-6). They’d tasted manna, drunk the water that flowed from a rock, and seen the Jordan River part before them (Ex. 16; Ex. 17; Josh. 3). It’s safe to say they were well acquainted with their littleness and the overwhelming grandeur of God. During those 40 long years in the wilderness, they had learned what it meant to have strength in weakness—and that it was far better to let the Lord direct their steps than to choose their own way.

There’s no indication in the text that they debated obeying God. Instead, it simply says, “So [Joshua] had the ark of the Lord taken around the city, circling it once; then they came into the camp and spent the night in the camp . . . they did so for six days” (Josh 6:11, 14). I love the simplicity of that two-letter word: so. It tells us everything we need to know about the people’s mindset. They must have questioned God’s command at some point, wrestled with it in their hearts. However, He had asked them to do something, and though it might have felt foolish, it was done to the letter.

There was no grumbling at Jericho as there had been a generation before when the 12 spies scoped out the Promised Land (Num. 13-14). Israel’s rebelliousness had been burned away like dross, and in that moment, as they stood at the foot of an insurmountable barrier, nothing remained but faith. And what happened after those seven days of obedience? They witnessed the greatest controlled demolition of all time, one brought about by trumpets and triumphant shouts.

We worry and wring our hands when it would be far better to lace our fingers together in prayer and surrender ourselves to God.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the Lord works this way. Oftentimes, He has to show us how impossible something is—not to shame us or break us down, but to make His might all the more apparent. After all, we’re fallible creatures prone to astonishing moments of shortsightedness. We worry and wring our hands when it would be far better to lace our fingers together in prayer and surrender ourselves to God. It’s no wonder we need to be reminded early and often that “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all” (John 3:31). It may be that by utterly destroying a wall, filling in the trenches that once defined a dysfunctional marriage, or curing a disease doctors believed untreatable, God finds a way to remind us exactly who He is.

The apostle Paul was an educated man who knew the power of a well-chosen word, but even he was at a loss to describe God’s omnipotence. In Ephesians 3:20-21, he writes, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (NKJV, emphasis added). The Greek word Paul uses requires not one but two English adverbs to convey how much greater God is than our finite minds can comprehend. It’s the reason why the Lord loves to do the impossible. Every time He does, the walls we’ve fabricated to confine Him are irrevocably smashed, and He gets the glory that is His due.

Related Topics:  Sovereignty

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