A Different Kind of Obedience

On the banks of Canaan, the Israelites halt and wait for Yahweh’s orders. They “numbered” themselves and formed the armies for battles. Even as they listen to God’s teachings on how to live in the promised land, their swords and arms are restless. They are ready to battle because they want it already: this promised land is finally within their reach, and their feet are antsy to run and get it.

They wait for God’s orders. They polish and sharpen their weapons. They kiss their wives and children “goodbye”. Their hearts vibrate with a certain prowess, a courage they’ve only imagined while dragging their caravans through the scorching dessert for 40 years. The mighty men’s nostrils puff up and their lungs exhale vapors of readiness and anticipation: the battle will be fierce but victorious for the Lord is on their side.

And then God speaks.

His orders sound nothing like what they’ve imagined! Instead of running fiercely into battle, the armed men are to march silently around Jericho, the first Canaanite city to be sieged. Not one day. Not even two. But seven days. And on the seventh day, they are to march seven times. They were to lead seven priests with seven trumpets and the arc of the covenant in this encircling. The noise of the swords was replaced with people’s silence and only the blaring of trumpets. The men led a convoy of priests and trumpets making the whole episode look more like a Lord of the Rings’ scene with Elves in the Shire rather than a savage combat from the Gladiator. This beginning of the siege of Canaan looked nothing like what they have planned. They wanted roars, weapons clicking, blood, danger, courage, confrontation. Instead, God has them march, encircle, be silent, blow trumpets, wait, and then shout one loud, big, bombastic shout at the end.

How bizarre these orders must have felt to a people who numbered themselves and prepared carefully for war. How silly they must have looked to the Canaanites who peaked through the fortress’ holes to mock an army who resemble some traveling circus rather than a composed army for battle!

But God…

He chose to script every step of their conquest by His own doing. It was to be the Lord who fights for Israel, not Israel for themselves (Joshua 10:14; 23:3). As the name Joshua attests, (which means “The Lord is my salvation”), people are led into Canaan not by their Numbers, but by God’s hand. The mighty men learn what boasting in weakness does when God’s strength meets them every day. Fighting God’s war means submitting to His voice that leads like a trumpet. It’s His voice that should always lead the swords in our hands and feet in our marches, not the sound of our meager, self-made strength. God’s holiness carries through battles, too. The Israelites learned that fighting God’s battles has everything to do with utter submission more than with personal stamina.

Fighting God’s way, no matter the war, will look nothing like what we’d planned, expected, or even imagined. What God will ask of us, the world will mock, dismiss, or simply reject. But the story of the army on the banks of Canaan teaches us that obedience to God and His Word, even when it feels awkward and looks silly, is more courageous than numbers and skills. More powerful than talents. More worshipful than all spiritual rites. Obedience, when offered on the altar of self-sacrifice, will burn with a pleasing aroma to God. Obedience is more beautiful and powerful than ten thousand armies. For it was through such obedience that our Christ gave His life and won for us an eternal victory, welcoming us into the heavenly promised land. Victorious power rests not in our numbered strength and tactics, skills and experience but in the powerful Yahweh alone.

Lord, sanctify our obedience to You, today. For we see so many ways in which we’d rather fight and do it our way than obey and follow your sure, beautiful words. Lead us in quieted submission so we can hear Your leading voice. Teach us to follow You even when obeying you has us mocked and ridiculed. Embolden us to follow Your Word in our world so we can be different.