Read it Again: And the Walls Came a-Tumbling Down

by | Jul 2, 2023


Meg Peery McLaughlin
Read it Again: And the Walls Came a-Tumbling Down
July 2, 2023
Joshua 6: 1-21

This past week at Vacation Bible School the theme was God’s big beautiful world.
We told bible stories about growth:
and that which enables it–stories about dirt and seeds and water.

The water story came from the Hebrew Scriptures,
when Moses was in the wilderness, and the people were complaining of thirst,
so Moses strikes the rock, and water gushes forth.
I was really impressed with the kids’ memory of the larger arc of the story.

So in case you’re not as up to date as the kids,
here’s your 60 second Old Testament plot review:

Way back in the beginning, God says to Abram, Go—to the land I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation,
I will bless you, and through you all the nations of the world will be blessed.

And after quite a long while, Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah, then
Isaac and Rebekah have twins and baby B Jacob steals his birthright from Esau.
Jacob has 12 sons, Joseph being daddy’s favorite,
who is stripped of his special technicolor coat and sold to into slavery in Egypt.
Joseph befriends the Pharoah, and it goes well for a while,
but one day there is Pharoah in Egypt who doesn’t remember Joseph,
and so once again the Hebrews are oppressed;
and that promise to Abraham of land and blessing feels like it’s a long way off.

Pharoah even commanded the death of all Hebrew baby boys,
but thanks to some rebellious midwives, a little guy named Moses was born,
pulled out of the bullrushes to grow up and hear God calling to him through a burning bush. Moses goes to Pharoah, and says LET MY PEOPLE GO.

Moses leads the people through the Red Sea,
into the wilderness where they wander, complain, and eat manna,
and after the whole golden calf incident, they get a do-over on receiving the law.
which they start carrying around in a special mobile home situation.

Moses climbs Mt. Pisgah and gazes at the land that is just across the Jordan River, and God reiterates the promise: “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ But Moses dies just short of the finish line. And so it is Joshua who leads the people across the Jordan into the land of Canaan. And the first place they reach is Jericho.

So now, let us listen to God’s word for us from Joshua, chapter 6.
But first, let us pray:

Here we are, O God, with this old story,
somehow and someway may we hear it in it
echoes of your everlasting promise of blessing
and your call for us to be a blessing to all the nations of
your big, beautiful world. Amen.

Now Jericho was shut up inside and out because of the Israelites;
no one came out and no one went in.
The Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have handed Jericho over to you, along with its king and soldiers. You shall march around the city, all the warriors circling the city once. Thus you shall do for six days, with seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. When they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and all the people shall charge straight ahead.’ So Joshua son of Nun summoned the priests and said to them, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant, and have seven priests carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark of the Lord.’ To the people he said, ‘Go forward and march around the city; have the armed men pass on before the ark of the Lord.’

As Joshua had commanded the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord went forward, blowing the trumpets, with the ark of the covenant of the Lord following them. And the armed men went before the priests who blew the trumpets; the rearguard came after the ark, while the trumpets blew continually. To the people Joshua gave this command: ‘You shall not shout or let your voice be heard, nor shall you utter a word, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.’ So the ark of the Lord went around the city, circling it once; and they came into the camp, and spent the night in the camp.

Then Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord passed on, blowing the trumpets continually. The armed men went before them, and the rearguard came after the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets blew continually. On the second day they marched around the city once and then returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

On the seventh day they rose early, at dawn, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout! For the Lord has given you the city. The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers we sent. As for you, keep away from the things devoted to destruction, so as not to covet and take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel an object for destruction, bringing trouble upon it. But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.’ 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. Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.

This is the Word of God.
Thanks be to God.


In ancient near eastern warfare, you had three options for taking such a walled city like Jericho.
1. You could take the city by ruse.
Think the trojan horse tactic. Sneak in, or somehow get invited in. Then, surprise attack.
2. You could wait it out.
Cut supply lines, and wait for the city to get so hungry that they give up, surrender.
3. You could breach the walls.
Find weak points to push through, or figure out ways to climb over.

But none of that is what happens in this story.
Call the Pentagon, nowhere do armies take the tactic described here.

Grab some preachers.
Have them lead a processional.
Have the whole army walk in a circle.
Be very quiet. Don’t be chit chatting.
But do bring instruments. Blow horns.
Do that six days in a row.
Then on the seventh day,
do that whole thing seven times.
Then, everybody shout in one voice.

And the walls,
the walls will come a-tumbling down.

This is quite a story. And admittedly it’s not one we read that much,
or any of the book of Joshua, really.

One scholar has said that Joshua is the least attractive text in the canon.
Because once the walls come a-tumbling down,
the men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys
are all cut down. Every last life. It’s genocide.

The book of Joshua tells the story of conquest in the name of God,
which reads an awful lot like the doctrine of discovery in our own US history.
And ALL of it reads quite different for the native folk who were there first.

Happy July 4th everyone. Geez. Aren’t you glad you came to church?
I found reading Rachel Held Evans on these biblical war stories very helpful,
and I commend her book Inspired to you. She writes:

“When it comes to processing these troubling stories,
there are generally three types of people:

1) those who accept without question that God ordered the military campaigns in Canaan and has likely supported others throughout history,

2)those who are so troubled by the notion of God condoning ethnic cleansing that it strains their faith or compels them to abandon it,

3) those who can name all of the Kardashian sisters and are probably happier for it. I’m in the second group: the Bible’s tales of violence are what added some of the first wrinkles to my pristinely starched faith. ”

I will tell you right now I’m not going to be able to remove the wrinkles.
Welcome to UPC, where we have a wrinkly faith.

It does not make any more sense to me than it does to you that
after 7 days of ceremoniously hauling around the ark of the covenant,
which contains in it the 10 commandments, the 6th one which reads: do not kill,
the people of God do the exact opposite.

But I do think the ceremonious nature of this story gives us some insight into interpretation. This chapter of Joshua seems to say way more about worship,
than it does about war.

So here’s a little geeky Bible study for you:

The shofar—a ram’s horn—of which our own Ramses would be proud—
was used prominently in worship. It sounded the sabbath. Even in modern day Jewish liturgy, the shofar calls the congregation to spiritual awakening on Rosh Hashana, and to repentance on Yom Kippur.

7 days—that’s the length of many liturgical festivals: Passover and Sukkot.

And the walking around—
Circumambulation, yes, I just used that word in a sermon,
the circumambulation is also liturgical.
I remember being at an interfaith worship and walking around the sanctuary following the Torah scrolls, and being at the Greek orthodox weddings where the bride and groom walked around in circles too. Anyone been a part of such liturgical parades?

Even the part at which we most cringe is a symbol of worship.
When the whole city is “devoted” to destruction—that is understood as an gift to God—the whole city is the burnt offering, a sacrifice of praise.

It may not soften the terror of this text, but it helps to know that Jericho was the first city taken in the conquest of Canaan. Part of our own understanding of stewardship is that we take the first fruits of our labor, our harvest and devote them, dedicate them to God. Like when the McLaughlin paycheck comes through our direct deposit, the first bank hit from the automatic draft is our tithe. Now, admittedly, we scheduled it that way for cash flow reasons, but it’s also a good reminder to us that God doesn’t get the leftovers.

As much as I still struggle with the book of Joshua,
I do find it instructive that after all that waiting on the promise spoken to Abraham all those generations ago, and all the twists and turns of the people of God since, that when they finally make it over, the first thing that happens looks like…. worship.

The liturgical, communal, worship of God– like what we are doing right now.

And friends, what we are doing right now,
is becoming less and less common in this land of the free and home of the brave.
A few of you have sent me copies of the four-part opinion piece that the NYTimes did about Americans losing their religion.

This “great de-churching” can be traced to a myriad of sources:
nationalism, right wing politics, covid,
the church’s reputation of sexual abuse, hypocrisy,
judgmentalism, irrelevancy. Y’all sometimes the church does not get it right.

And yet, even when we royally wreck it,
God refuses to let us go of the promise, nor let go of us,
so we’re here in worship:
not with a shofar, but with an organ and piano—and some favorite hymns–
not for 7 days in a row – just one–
(though with VBS Mon-Thurs it sure feels like a full 7 days this week).

We’re here to worship which, if I take a clue from this unlikely story,
it means we’re here to remember that never do we ever really do
things by our own might, did we in our strength confide, our striving would be losing.
We worship so we don’t get too big for our britches,
and humbly admit that we do indeed live and move and have our being in God.

We worship to remember our place in the family of those who received the promise long before us: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, Moses and Miriam, and indeed even Joshua, complicated though his chapter of the story may be.
And perhaps we worship to acknowledge how complicated we also are,
and how often we twist the promises of faith to meet our own ends.

We worship to practice giving our first fruits,
not holding anything back, but devoting ourselves to generosity–
lest we believe the lie that we are what we own;
lest we think our gifts make no difference to God and to our neighbor.

We worship to see walls come tumbling down all around us,
walls of prejudice and pettiness
walls of division and dehumanization
walls we put up, or put up with,
walls that need to come tumbling down. Oh may they all come tumbling down.

We worship to stand in a circle—
a big wide circle
where we weep with those who weep
and rejoice with those who rejoice,
where we share bread and wine
and casseroles when needed,
a circle of community made of
people who are their full authentic selves— messy and beautiful,
every last one of us in need of the belonging and grace that is present here,
every last one of us equipped and entrusted to go from here to serve.

We worship to struggle together with these old stories
—even the least attractive of them– because through them God chooses to speak—
speak through them and among us and yes, also in spite of us,
and when we strain to listen—we will hear the promise of God.

And church, this is the promise:
God blesses—freely and abundantly—
that we, in turn, would be a blessing
to all the nations of this big beautiful world.

Perhaps your faith in that is still starched
or it’s all wrinkled,
maybe you know names of the Kardashians
and none of the words to the favorite hymns,
or vice versa.

And sure this thing we’re doing together
is not only a common or popular Sunday activity.

But this is worship, and goodness,
I’m glad you’re here.