The City of Jericho
As one of the few gateways into the Judean Mountains, Jericho was a natural place for the Israelites to begin conquering the Promised Land.
Jericho has a fascinating location and history. It is the lowest city in the world (more than 1,000 feet below sea level), and also appears to be the oldest. Archaeologists have discovered remains dating back to 8,000 BC, years before Abraham lived!
Jericho stood by a mountain pass near the northern end of the Dead Sea. As one of the few gateways into the Judean Mountains, Jericho was a natural place for the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. After crossing the Jordan, it was the first city they defeated.
Jericho stood on one of the few roads connecting the Via Maris, a major trade route to the west, and the King's Highway, which ran through the east. As it did in ancient times, the city still boasts a pleasant climate with plenty of sunshine and a lush oasis watered by Elisha's Spring.
As he did so many times throughout history, God chose an unlikely person to carry out his plans. Because of a prostitute's faith, the Israelite spies sent to Jericho were spared from danger.
After traveling along the Kings' Highway toward the Promised Land, the Israelites stopped across from Jericho on the Jordan River. To learn more before attacking, the Israelites sent spies into the city.
Joshua 2 records the spies' journey and introduces an unlikely hero: a prostitute named Rahab. After hiding the spies, Rahab revealed that her city had heard of Israelite victories east of the Jordan. "When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below" (Josh. 2:11).
Because God's people were effective witnesses, Rahab was saved. She put her trust in the God of Israel, and when Jericho was eventually destroyed, she and her family were the only ones spared.
As he did so many times throughout history, God chose an unlikely person to carry out his plans. Because of a prostitute's faith, the spies were spared from danger. But even more significant was her part in God's plan of salvation: Rahab was one of only four women mentioned in the genealogy of the Messiah (Matt 1:5).
God's Battle Plan
God gave his people a strange battle plan. But trusting that the battle belonged to God, Joshua led the Israelites around Jericho and the city fell.
Shortly before their attack on Jericho, Joshua saw a man standing near the city holding a drawn sword in his hands. This man told Joshua that he was the "commander of the army of the Lord" (Joshua 5:14)
Joshua fell facedown before this messenger of God and listened to him explain God's plan of attack: The Israelites would march around Jericho for six days and then seven times on the seventh day. On their final march, they would blow trumpets and shout, and the city walls would collapse.
This plan must have sounded bizarre to human ears! But Joshua acknowledged an important truth: The battle was not his own to fight, the battle belonged to God.
Trusting in God's provision, the Israelites followed his strange battle plan and marched around the city. Just as God's messenger had predicted, at the trumpet blast and shouting the city of Jericho fell.
The Israelites scknowledged God as Provider by offering their first fruits to him each year. As they entered the Promised Land, the city of Jericho was their first fruits offering to God.
After destroying Jericho, Joshua told the Israelites: "Cursed before the Lord is the man who under takes to rebuild this city, Jericho- at the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations, at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates" (Joshua 6:26)
In effect, Joshua was saying that any person who attempted to rebuild Jericho would lose all of their children in the process. But why would it be so wrong for someone to rebuild in such a strategic location and beautiful climate?
During their time in the wilderness, God had given his people a number of covenant rules. One of these guidelines required that the Israelites give the very first part of their harvest as an offering to God. By giving their first fruits to him, the Israelites acknowledged God as the giver of all good things and declared their faith that he would provide the rest of the harvest.
As they entered the Promised Land, Jericho became Israel's first fruits. Recognizing that God had provided the victory, they gave the city to God and trusted that he would provide further victories.
Later in Israel's history, King Ahab allowed Hiel to rebuild Jericho. In defiance of the firstfruits principle, Hiel tried to take what rightfully belonged to God. But he paid severe consequences for his sinful act: "He laid its foundation at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest" (1 Kings 16:34).
As we confront evil today, we need to remember that the battle belongs to the Lord. Christians must follow God's calling, no matter how impossible it may seem.
Like the Israelites, contemporary Christians are called into battle. We must confront the evil aspects of our society with God's standards.
The battles are numerous. Pornography, injustice, abortion, and greed—these are just a few of the evils that we must defeat. These evils are deeply entrenched in our culture, making them difficult battles for Christians to fight.
As we confront evil, we need to remember the lesson Joshua learned thousands of years ago: The battle belongs to the Lord. He is the one with the ability to redeem the world he created. Instead of forging ahead with our own plans, Christians must follow God's calling, no matter how bizarre or impossible it may seem.
As we put our trust in God's faithfulness rather than our own ingenuity and strength, we can become useful instruments in God's battle against evil.
Giving Our First Fruits
God challenges us to demonstrate our faith by giving our first fruits - money, time, and talents - to him.
God is an amazing provider, and Christians have testified to this fact throughout history. Many famous hymns and contemporary choruses celebrate the goodness of God in providing what we need.
Sometimes, though, we sing of God's faithfulness and then live as if we are relying on ourselves. Instead of using our gifts to serve God first, we often use our gifts to provide for ourselves and then give what is left over to him. Such attitudes and actions violate the firstfruits principle.
God calls us to a deeper faith. He asks us, like the Israelites, to recognize him as the giver of every good thing. And he challenges us to demonstrate our faith by giving the first fruits of what we've been given—money, time, and talents—to him.
If we faithfully give God our first fruits, the world around us will see the power and provision of God, not ourselves. As we fight the ungodly values of our culture, we must trust him, not only for the big victories, but for the day-to-day provisions as well.
Will you trust God to provide for you in the battles ahead—will you give him your first fruits?