Psalm 18; Joshua 6: 1-20 and Acts 5: 15 – 42
For who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock besides our God? Psalm 18: 31
So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it. Joshua 6: 20
‘But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them – in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’ Acts 5: 39
We reach the climax of the preparations for the conquest of the Promised Land, as the city of Jericho is taken. The well-defended city looked an impossible proposition to attack with the weapons of the time. Success by totally unconventional means was another lesson for the Children of Israel to learn. The instructions given by Joshua must have seemed ridiculous, as a huge procession of armed men and the Ark of the Covenant was to circle the city once each day for six days. The troops were to remain silent, with only the trumpets accompanying the Ark making a sound. A fortnight ago I mentioned psychological warfare, and this is an example of how fear was instilled in the population of Jericho. To what purpose were their enemies marching round once each day? It seems it was to raise the expectation that something was going to happen, rather like the phoney war in the early months of World War II, when the fear of bombing raids or invasion was ever present and people were full of questions. On the seventh day Joshua’s instructions were different. Jericho was to be marched round seven times, and on the final circuit when the trumpets had sounded the Israelites were to raise a great shout. What would happen? I would think they were actually as surprised as the citizens of Jericho when the walls fell flat, but they each charged straight ahead and the city was delivered into their hands; Rahab and her family were the only ones spared, according to the promise she had been given by the two spies in Joshua 2.
The reading from Acts continues the adventures of Peter and the other apostles, with the religious authorities completely perplexed about what to do with this troublesome new faction drawing such crowds and with so many healings taking place. As with the miracle of the walls of Jericho falling flat at God’s command, the jailed apostles mysteriously find the doors of the prison opened in the middle of the night. We have already seen that while the apostles were respectful of those in authority, they saw God’s authority at a higher level. Along with the impelling force of the Holy Spirit driving them, theyhadto proclaim the gospel. This situation of the misled religious powers constantly striving to silence the apostles had to be resolved somehow, and it is interesting to see how Gamaliel’s sensible suggestion in Acts 5: 35 – 39 came to be adopted. Gamaliel pointed out that there had been other leaders who had mounted insurrections or declared themselves Messiah, but that these risings had all petered out. Once the leaders had been killed, the followers would disperse or disappear. If this new Jesus cult was similar, the excitement would die down, the novelty wear off and within a short time things would return to normal. Gamaliel wisely pointed out that if this new faith was of human origin it would fail. However, he added the important point that if the words and works of the apostles were of God they could not be stopped, and they would actually be fighting against God.
Like Nicodemus before him, it seems Gamaliel did not have a closed mind and could perceive that God was behind this new religious movement declaring Jesus Christ to be the Saviour. It would be a losing battle fighting against the divine might of the Holy Spirit! Out of spite or desperation, our reading ends with the apostles being flogged and again told to stop preaching the good news of Jesus. This of course did nothing to stop them teaching and proclaiming, as the succeeding pages of Acts unfold.
In these contrasting passages we see the unconventional ways in which God achieved his purposes. Two thousand years on and the gospel has never been silenced, whatever human authority has attempted in terror or slaughter. May we continue to pray that even through the suffering and hardship brought unexpectedly by the Covid-19 pandemic, many people will come to faith.
Kevin Boak, Lay Reader