The Lesson of Not Coming Into Sin
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The Bible is replete with instructions and exhortations about coming out of sin. Equally important, however, is the concept of avoiding sin in the first place.
Jericho is a vivid case in point. The story of the fall of that ancient city took place during the season of the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread that marked the beginning of the Israelites' inheritance of the Promised Land.
After wandering 40 years in the wilderness, the unfaithful and rebellious first generation of Israelites had died off. Moses also died, and God had named Joshua as his successor. God then allowed the second generation to enter Canaan and form the beginnings of the Kingdom of Israel.
In the spring the Israelites came upon the plain of Moab with the Jordan River in front of them. As He had previously parted the Red Sea, God now miraculously opened the Jordan, and they entered the Promised Land. "The Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over, that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever" (Joshua 4:23-24, emphasis added throughout).
A fresh start
Once Israel passed into Canaan, God instructed that the male Israelites should be circumcised, since the previous generation had not obeyed even the simple command involving circumcision. God was forging a holy nation, and its male residents were to bear this sign that they were God's special treasure and an obedient people (Genesis 17:11; Exodus 19:5).
Next, with the powerful fortress city of Jericho nearby, the Israelites celebrated the Passover and began keeping the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread (Joshua 5:10-12). Once they entered the Promised Land, they no longer needed the miracle of the manna, and it ceased to appear on this first day of Unleavened Bread.
God showed them that their 40-year journey had come to an end and they no longer needed the supernatural food. As God had told them through Moses, "you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not" (Deuteronomy 8:2). The Israelites were finally inheriting the Promised Land, which God had promised to their forefather Abraham more than 400 years earlier.
As they began to eat unleavened bread made from the grain of the land, God instructed them in how they were to capture Jericho, a major obstacle to them in their conquest of the land. Seven momentous days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread were to follow, along with a spiritual lesson for the ancient Israelites and for us.
Facing the fortress of Jericho
God ordered the priests of Israel to march around the city on each of the seven days of the feast. The Jewish historian Josephus marks the time: "So on the first day of the feast the priests carried the ark round about, with some part of the armed men to be a guard to it . . . and when they had done this for six days, on the seventh Joshua gathered the armed men . . . and told them these good tidings, that the city should now be taken" (Antiquities of the Jews, book 5, chapter 1, paragraph 5).
The biblical account begins: "Now Jericho was securely shut up because of the children of Israel; none went out, and none came in" (Joshua 6:1-5). The huge city doors had been sealed shut, and no one could enter or leave the heavily fortified settlement. No one could go in or out other than through the gates in the sturdy walls.
Archaeologists have described Jericho as one of the oldest cities in the world. By Joshua's time it had already seen civilizations come and go. For the last several centuries it had successfully resisted all attempts to conquer it. Its massive fortifications had discouraged any invader.
Hundreds of years earlier Abraham and Lot had journeyed to the Jordan Valley and the area around Jericho. To the south were the "cities of the plain," which included Sodom and Gomorrah. These had been destroyed because of their wickedness, but Jericho continued as the chief city to their north and one of the gateways to the land of Canaan. Since it occupied such a vital strategic and commercial location, the Canaanites had heavily fortified it.
In this century, archaeological evidence of the excavated Jericho shows that the level of the site that corresponds to that era had a double wall. The first part of the wall was a towering structure of huge stones 15 feet high topped by a brick wall eight feet high. Excavators found that, even if this first wall were breached, the attackers would find themselves trapped inside a pit and looking up at a higher second wall from which defenders could hurl deadly spears, rocks and arrows.
As the Israelites camped near Jericho, the residents of the city remained mostly confident that they could withstand any siege. The Israelites looked puny to them; they had few weapons and no siege towers or battering rams. Bizarrely, a group of priests walked around the city every day blowing horns. What did that have to do with capturing a fortified city?
Yet the inhabitants were concerned, not because of the Israelites, but because of the reputation of Israel's God, who had separated the waters of the nearby Jordan. "So it was, when all the kings of the Amorites who were on the west side of the Jordan, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan from before the children of Israel until we had crossed over, that their heart melted; and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the children of Israel" (Joshua 5:1).
A fortress finally falls
On the final day of Unleavened Bread, in what must have become a joke to the populace of Jericho, the Israelite priests marched seven times around the city. The Israelite soldiers were poised nearby, but they must have appeared powerless. The city dwellers must have thought this the most ridiculous and ill-equipped army they had ever seen.
Yet, when the priests completed their seventh encirclement, they sounded their trumpets, and instantly a mighty earthquake shook the town. The walls noisily heaved, cracked and crumbled.
Normally, since the walls were reinforced from the outside, they would have collapsed in a heap, which still could have provided protection from the invaders. But in this case the walls appeared to defy gravity and fell out and flat, allowing the Israelite soldiers to quickly move over and through the rubble. The Bible account says that "the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city" (Joshua 6:20).
In 1990 archaeologist Bryant Wood wrote in Biblical Archaeology Review about his findings in Jericho. He mentioned that parts of the outer and inner wall had collapsed outwardly, which allowed the Israelites to enter the city. His conclusions based on studies of the devastation of the city are fascinating. "Was this destruction at the hands of the Israelites?" he wrote. "The correlation between the archaeological evidence and the Biblical narrative is substantial." He lists several points in favor of the biblical account (March-April 1990, p. 57):
- The city was well fortified (Joshua 2:5, 7, 15; 6:5, 20).
- The attack occurred just after the spring harvest (Joshua 2:6; 3:15; 5:10).
- The inhabitants had no time or opportunity to flee with their foodstuffs (Joshua 6:1).
- The siege was short (Joshua 6:15).
- The walls were leveled, possibly by an earthquake (Joshua 6:20).
- The city was not plundered (Joshua 6:17-18).
- The city burned (Joshua 6:24).
Warning to the Israelites
When the Israelites entered the city, God solemnly warned them not to take any of the spoils for themselves. God considered the place impure and unholy from centuries of atrocious sins. "Now the city shall be doomed by the Lord to destruction, it and all who are in it . . . And you, by all means abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take of the accursed things, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it" (Joshua 6:17-18).
Why did God tell the Israelites not to take spoils? After all, their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness meant the Israelites needed new clothing, food and other goods.
Several hundred years before, God told Abraham that in the fourth generation His people would inherit the Promised Land: "But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete" (Genesis 15:16).
God allotted the inhabitants of the land 400 years to live their wicked existence. But, after this period, their sins had greatly multiplied. Theirs was a hopelessly corrupt society, and God did not want the Israelites to participate in their sinful ways. The Israelites had recently been consecrated. They were circumcised, took the Passover and had just finished removing leaven from their midst. They were not to soil themselves with anything of that condemned society.
True to human nature, someone defied God's instructions. "But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan . . . took of the accursed things; so the anger of the Lord burned against the children of Israel" (Joshua 7:1).
The results were immediate and tragic. Because of Achan's sin, the Israelites were defeated by the inhabitants of the next city, Ai.
Joshua grew depressed and fearful, but God told him to remove the sinner and Israel would again be triumphant: "Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff" (Joshua 7:10-11).
Joshua quickly determined who was the guilty man. After Achan confessed his sin, he and his family were stoned to death. God's favor was restored, and the Israelites continued their conquest of the Promised Land.
What can we learn from this? Jericho represents the allure of a wicked society. Sometimes one is tempted to climb up the walls of the world, so to speak, and peer inside. In Jericho the inhabitants enjoyed comfort, wealth and a certain sophistication—all new and tempting to a generation of Israelites who had known only the hardships of life in the wilderness.
Jericho, well guarded, appeared safe inside. Little did the citizens of Jericho know they were living on borrowed time. They paid no lasting heed after they witnessed the destruction of their counterparts to the south, Sodom and Gomorrah. They persisted in their moral and spiritual decline for centuries until it was too late.
As the spiritual descendants of the ancient Israelites (Galatians 6:15-16), we must not allow the allure of worldly society to draw us into it. This is one of the lessons of the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. The apostle John warns: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17).
If we are tempted to peer over the wall and lust after the world's way of life, we might find ourselves on top when the walls come tumbling down! Christ warned us of participating in the sins of the world at the time of the end. "Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot [in Canaan]: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed" (Luke 17:28-30).
When we take the Passover and keep the seven days of Unleavened Bread each year, we remember that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us spiritually, delivering us from enslavement to the sins of the world. God wants us outside of those walls and doing His work: trumpeting God's truths to a world whose society might appear well fortified but one that in the time of God's judgment will collapse.
A time of destruction
As mentioned above, God had told the patriarch Abraham that his descendants would take the land of Canaan "in the fourth generation," but not before, "for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete" (Genesis 15:16).
Just as God waited until the time was right before allowing the Israelites to come into the land of Canaan, He allots us a certain time. We do not know when God will consider the world's sins to have "reached to heaven," but we know He is watching. John in vision "heard another voice from heaven saying, 'Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities'" (Revelation 18:4-5).
One day God will consider that the world's evil deeds have gone far enough. This, too, is described in Revelation: "So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God" (Revelation 14:19). Someday this will happen. On which side of the wall of Jericho will God find us?
The lesson for us is to remember not only how to come out of the world, but how not to be lured back into it. We picture this, during the spring feast days, not just by eating unleavened bread but by avoiding leavened bread. Just as God inaugurated the Passover and Unleavened Bread season by removing Israel from the corrupt society of Egypt, He wanted the Israelites to remember when they entered the Promised Land that they were not to take part in the corrupt practices of the Canaanites.
We must learn this important lesson: We are to come out of sin (symbolized by Egypt) and avoid going back into sin (represented by Jericho). If we succeed, we can inherit our Promised Land, the coming Kingdom of God. GN