Once Israel set their faces towards the promised land they marched forward with a singular determination. This conquest had been forty years in the making and excitement rippled through the ranks as they all contemplated what lay before them. But the journey to Canaan was not all smooth. It seemed they faced an obstacle at every step, some more subtle than others but each daunting in equal measure.
First, they were faced with the armies of Sihon and Og, ruthless, marauding, and without mercy, especially for a gaggle of escaped slaves who had been wandering in the desert for nigh on forty years. But by the grace of God, the armies of Israel were victorious and they continued their forward march towards Canaan.
They set up camp near the Jordan River and the Dead Sea not far from their final destination. It was here that Balaam found them. Hired by Balak, King of the Moabites, to curse Israel, Balaam was, in fact, a prophet of God who chose to sell himself for some quick money. But it was not an easy thing to accomplish because no matter how much Baalam wanted to curse God’s people he just couldn’t do it. Ultimately it took a talking animal to stop him in his tracks. But though he was compelled to refrain from action his heart still clung to the reward that Balak had offered him and so Balaam tried to find a way to lead God’s people into sin.
Instead of raining down curses upon them as he had originally planned to do, Balaam instead led them into sin, knowing that if they could be prevailed upon to transgress God’s law, in a public show of idolatry and vice, then God would be compelled to withdraw his blessing from them.
And so Balak brought in music, dancing, idolatry, and sexual immorality into the very midst of the camp. The people were besotted by the wild and sensual sins laid before them and easily slipped into the trap that Balaam had spun for them, as deftly as a spider spins his silken web waiting for his unsuspecting prey.
After the incident with Balaam, Israel moved to Kasesh Barnea once more, subdued and humbled by their deep apostasy but equally repentant. In preparation for crossing the Jordan, Joshua sent out two spies on a reconnaissance mission of Jericho, the first city they would encounter as soon as they entered Canaan.
It was here that the men met Rahab, a harlot whose house was built into the city wall. What the men were doing in the home of a harlot is, in and of itself an interesting question, but in this instance, God worked out this bizarre circumstance for their good. When the men of Jericho heard about the Hebrew spies they sent out search parties to ferret them out.
Anxious for their safety and believing in the success of their mission, Rahab hid them among the stalks of flax laid out to dry on her roof. Before they slipped away into the night she extracted a promise from them, one that was based on her own faith in the promises of God. Rahab believed that God would give the Israelites the land and she chose to act on her faith. She pleaded with them to spare her and her family in lieu of the kindness she had shown them.
They agreed and instructed her to bind the measure of scarlet rope that she had used to lower them down to the ground in the window of her house. The scarlet cord would be her salvation, for when the armies of Israel saw it, they would spare the lives of all those who were inside.
The two spies returned to Joshua with a favorable report. Jericho was shaking in its boots, terrified of the armies of Israel that were encamped just beyond the Jordan. The report encouraged the Israelites and braced them for what lay ahead.
The first task before them was crossing the Jordan River, a raging body of water that had overflowed its banks as a result of recent rains. God commanded Joshua to tell the priests to take up the Ark of the Covenant and wade out into the rushing waters. The priests complied and as soon as their feet touched the waters the river parted.
Israel surged across the dry bed of the Jordan River, clambering up the far bank. A smattering of Canaanites, out in the fields, watched their progress in slack-jawed disbelief, then promptly ran off to report to.
The Israelites took Jericho not long after. The city was fortified and nigh impregnable but they didn’t need to lift a finger to bring down the walls. God commanded them to march around the walls once a day for six days and on the seventh day he directed them to march around it seven times. After the seventh revolution, they were instructed to stand still, shout and blow their trumpets. This they did with enthusiasm and the walls of the city fell down flat. All but a single portion holding the home of Rahab the harlot.
The story of the fall of Jericho would always serve as a reminder to God’s people that victory over every obstacle they faced belonged to God and he would secure it for them if they were willing to follow His leading.