“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after being marched around by the Israelites for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute welcomed the spies in peace and didn’t perish with those who disobeyed.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been given a request or an instruction that simply didn’t make sense? Did you do it? If you did, why did you do it? There is probably one of a couple of reasons behind your acquiescence. One is simply that the person asking possessed a sufficient authority over you that you felt compelled to do it. The other reason is that even though you don’t understand it, you have enough trust in the person asking to do it anyway. Another way to put this second reason is that you have faith in the person. In the last bit of Hebrews 11 before the big finale (which we’ll talk about next week, Lord willing, and then on to chapter 12), the author mentions two of the stranger stories in the Old Testament. Let’s talk this morning about trusting God even when it doesn’t make sense.
Saying these are two of the stranger stories in the Old Testament really is saying something because there are a lot of strange stories in the Old Testament. Sometimes it almost seemed like God delighted in giving the people of Israel weird instructions and then expecting them to demonstrate their faith through obedience. If we’re not reading carefully and from a position of faith, it starts to become a bit easier to see how someone could come away from reading the Old Testament with the sense that God is arbitrary and even perhaps just a bit cruel with the kinds of things He asked His people to do. The trouble with this is that when the people trusted God in these moments, He invariably came through for them in incredibly powerful ways. What’s more, the things God asked them to do and the ways He asked them to do them removed any possibility of their thinking they played some kind of a significant role in the outcome beyond their faithful obedience. It’s almost like that was God’s point in the whole thing…
In any event, the story of the people marching around the city of Jericho is one of the more well-known Old Testament stories. It makes the cut for all the Children’s Bibles because it’s fun and easy to tell to kids. It’s got a built-in moral to the story as well: Just trust God and He’ll win all your battles. But if you start thinking about it, the story is weird. The people were all set to begin their conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership. God had just reaffirmed to Joshua and all the people His intentions to give them the land stretching out before them. It was going to be their homeland for centuries to come. They were charged up and ready to go. Then they came to the first city on their conquest tour.
Jericho’s walls were legendary. Now, we think of it as a city, but it is probably better to think of it as a military outpost. It was the first place any army with visions on moving into the land would arrive. As a result, it was built to withstand and rebuff their efforts. The walls were high and thick and nobody was going to be able to break them down. Any armies that got close would be turned into pincushions by archers on the top of the walls. It really was a daunting prospect. The very thought of it had to make the Israelite forces at least a little nervous.
And then their newly installed leader came to them with the military strategy they were going to use to overcome this monumental challenge. They were going to march around the walls. That was it. They were going to march around the walls once a day for six days. Then, on the seventh day, they were going to march around the walls seven times. Ta-da! But wait, there’s more. After they finished their seventh trip on the seventh day, they were to shout really loud. Surely that would put the fear of God into the hearts of the soldiers stationed there. Right?
Like the people had done over and over again during their long journey from slavery in Egypt to this moment, though, when push came to shove, they marched. And they marched. And they marched. And they shouted. And the walls came a tumblin’ down. It’s almost like this was God’s plan all along. The walls fell and the people destroyed the city and its inhabitants entirely with two exceptions. One exception was Achan’s faithlessly and selfishly taking a bit of the plunder which wound up costing them their next battle. That’s a story for another time. The other exception is what the author mentions next: Rahab.
Before the people moved toward Jericho, Joshua sent a couple of spies to scope things out and see what they were up against. Why he decided to do that given how well things went the last time spies were sent into the land to scope it out (a misadventure of which he was directly a part) is beyond me, but they did it anyway. The spies wound up staying with an innkeeper who lived in the walls of the city named Rahab. She’s called a prostitute here, but while she may have truly been a prostitute, she was more likely primarily an innkeeper who offered extra services to well-paying customers. Either way, when she learned who the spies were, she shifted her allegiance to them and their people and their God right then and there. She helped hide them from city officials when word got out they were in town, and as a reward, she was guaranteed safety for herself and everyone in her household.
Rahab is actually one of the more incredible examples of faith in the Old Testament narrative. She placed all of her faith in these spies and their God not on the basis of anything she had seen, but merely on the basis of what she had heard as rumors; rumors that were more than 40 years old, no less. Would that all of us had such trust in God as she did. Her faith was so extraordinary that when she became a part of the people to the point she wound up marrying a man from the tribe of Judah, God continued the genetic line that would end in Jesus through her.
So then, what does all of this have to do with us. Two things. First, sometimes God does indeed ask us to do things that don’t make sense in the moment. He calls us in directions the people around us don’t understand and don’t support. In those moments, we have to reckon with just how much we trust Him. That’s the only question that matters. And if we want that answer to be affirmative in any way, we’re going to need to invest in our relationship with Him. You are not going to trust your life into the hands of a stranger you’ve just met off the street. But a friend who has been faithfully by your side for years? That’s almost a no brainer. If we are going to trust God when something significant is on the line, we will do it because we have been cultivating a deep and rich relationship with Him in the years leading up to that moment. Incredible faith never comes out of nowhere. It comes because it has been planted and exercised. Do the work now so you will be able to stand in those moments when they arrive on your doorstep.
The second thing is this: Your willingness to trust in God even when it doesn’t make sense isn’t something you do just for you. You do it because it just may be that there is someone else paying attention to your actions who will be drawn to faith themselves because of your example. In this way, faith in God is missionary in its function. I know this can feel like a lot of pressure, but the eternal fate of the people around you in some ways rests on your decision to follow God faithfully in whatever your context happens to be. Your faith is not just for you. So, trust God when it’s hard, and it just may be that someone else will too.