Sermon on March 06, 2022


“Draw circle


(Joshua 4+5)

This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here

Honi lived in a time between the Old and New Testaments. The last Jewish prophet had died almost 400 years ago. It was a time when God didn’t talk much. Miracles were only vaguely remembered. One wasn’t sure if they even existed.
Maybe this situation is like in your life. It feels like 400 years ago that God performed a miracle . It feels like 400 years ago that God spoke and that you were brave in your faith. But there was a man who believed that even when people couldn’t hear God, God still heard them. And he prayed a lot. His name was Honi.
At that time there was a long-lasting drought, life-threatening. So the people went to Honi and asked him to pray. I don’t know if they didn’t trust themselves or didn’t really know how because God hardly played a role in the country anymore.
So Honi prayed to God in front of the people: “Give rain.”
All people look at you, maybe you know that. You’re praying for something, and now people are waiting to see if something happens. Happened to Honi … nothing. Stupid, sometimes it’s the same in our lives and we stand there stupidly in front of others and are demotivated ourselves.
How did Honi react ? Honi took a staff in his hand, drew a circle around himself and prayed:
“Lord of the universe, I swear before your great name that I will not depart from this circle until you have shown mercy to your children.”
People marveled at this prayer, but Honi continued to pray. Lo and behold, while he was praying, raindrops fell on the ground. Just very easily.
Then Honi prayed : I did not pray for such rain, but for rain that fills the cisterns, pits and caves.”
The drizzle turned into a downpour. Lightning and thunder shook, people fled in fear, the rain was so heavy.
Then Honi prayed again: “I did not pray for such rain, but for the rain of your favour, your blessing and your goodness.”
Then, like a pleasant shower, it began to rain steadily and calmly, the earth turned to mud, the cisterns filled up, Honi went back to his hut.
Before that day it was hard to believe, but on that day it was impossible not to believe.
And the story of the circle maker was henceforth considered one of the most important prayers in the history of Israel.
This story is in the Jewish Talmud and admittedly it’s a bit crazy and one can now argue about whether one can do it that way or not.
She reminds us of Elijah praying for rain and rain came.
And it reminds us of the story of the land conquest of the people of Israel.
This people who wandered through the desert, God had promised them the land of Canaan, after all they had passed through the Jordan and built a monument there, but now the city of Jericho was before them.
Fat city walls.
Huge high.
The inhabitants were cruel and barbaric.
They even burned their sons and daughters as sacrifices to their idols.
Opposite them stood the people of Israel with almost no experience of war.
But there was no way past Jericho if Israel wanted to take the promised land.
I want to ask you this morning : What is your Jericho? Where you are standing in front of a wall and don’t know what to do next. Where do you wish to change?
Maybe it’s your job?
Maybe your marriage?
Another relationship?
Your health?
One is searching?
your debt?
Your past guilt?
Your behaviors and your character that bothers you?
Your negative thoughts, your worries that keep you from experiencing joy and peace?
That point in your life when you might need a miracle.
I think we experience situations like this again and again that want to rob us of the blessing that God has in store for us in the promised land and where we don’t know what to do. Before we look at how the people of Israel take the city, let’s go back a step.
We have spoken over the last few Sundays about the importance of committing your life to Jesus.
Baptism as a public memorial of this decision and the Lord’s Supper showing us the love of Jesus who took our guilt upon himself on the cross and gave a new covenant that if we accept his gift of forgiveness we will belong to the family of God, that he promises us a life of spiritual blessing and makes us heirs of heaven.
We talked about our new identity and the importance of monuments that should remind us of all the good things and miracles that God has done in our lives.
All of this is important when we think of Jericho.
But as if all of that wasn’t enough, Joshua has another encounter:
When Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing opposite him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked him, “Friend or foe ?” “Neither,” answered the stranger. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army. And now I’m here .” Joshua fell on his knees in awe and said, “I am your servant! What do you command me, Lord ?” He said to Josua: “Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground !” And Josua did what he had commanded him.


1. Look to Jesus, not Jericho

Joshua is on the way. He looks, what else, at the fortress that lies in front of them. Yes, God had done a miracle at Jordan. Yes, God had told him to be strong and brave because he would be with him. But these walls were already of great caliber. And the further he looks at the city…
But stop.
What’s this.
A moment ago he was lost in thought, now he looks up. Who is this? It’s not human, we can tell by the answer.
“I am the commander of the army of the LORD”
An angel? No, because angels, as we read in the Bible, do not accept prostration to them. There is only one answer:
It is Jesus himself who meets Joshua here.
Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground, which evokes the encounter of Moses with God.
I find the answer to the question: friend or foe fascinating.
Jesus says neither.
God does not take sides.
He is for all people.
He is a just God.
The capture of Jericho and the Israelites’ campaign raise questions. Volker Aßmann already gave good answers in his sermon on February 6th. We shall never wage war.
We die for our enemies; we don’t kill them. We do not curse unbelievers; we share the gospel with them. We love her. We invite you. We approach them.
The Canaanites were known for their cruelty to others. They even sacrificed their own children. But even they were candidates for the grace of God.
God spoke to Abraham several hundred years earlier about their cruelty and at the same time said that he would continue to be merciful because their measure was not yet full. Had the people of Jericho admitted their guilt and changed their lives, God would have accepted them as he rescued the harlot Rahab from among them.
At the end of January 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King a telephone threat. It wasn’t the first time.
But that night, while his wife and children were asleep, the burden of the human rights movement was too heavy on his shoulders. He decided the risk was too great. He began to create an exit strategy. At midnight he bent over the kitchen table and prayed: I’m afraid. People look up to me as their leader, and when I stand before them weak and discouraged, they will back down too. I am at the end of my strength. I do not have anymore. I’m no longer up to it all .
King later described what happened next: I felt God’s presence like I had never felt before. It seemed I could hear the soft promise of an inner voice saying, Rise for justice, rise for truth, and God will be by your side forever.
Faced with a tremendous challenge, King shifted his focus and looked to God.
Right from the start we saw how important our line of sight is.
Jesus does not leave us alone, he reminds us again and again.
We are allowed to take our eyes off our Jericho and look to Jesus.
And we should never go to Jericho before we go to Jesus.


2. It’s a spiritual battle

The Israelites now stood before Jericho. What you should do? Climbing up walls with ropes, building siege towers and battering rams, tearing down gates, just like we see in the movies? God had a different plan:
1 Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in.
2 And the LORD said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour.
3 And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days.
4 And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets.
5 And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram’ horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him.
6 And Joshua the son of Nun called the priests, and said unto them, Take up the ark of the covenant, and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams’horns before the ark of the LORD.
7 And he said unto the people, Pass on, and compass the city, and let him that is armed pass on before the ark of the LORD.
8 And it came to pass, when Joshua had spoken unto the people, that the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’horns passed on before the LORD, and blew with the trumpets: and the ark of the covenant of the LORD followed them.
9 And the armed men went before the priests that blew with the trumpets, and the rereward came after the ark, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets.
10 And Joshua had commanded the people, saying, Ye shall not shout, nor make any noise with your voice, neither shall any word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then shall ye shout.
11 So the ark of the LORD compassed the city, going about it once: and they came into the camp, and lodged in the camp.
12 And Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the LORD.
13 And seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’horns before the ark of the LORD went on continually, and blew with the trumpets: and the armed men went before them; but the rereward came after the ark of the LORD, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets.
14 And the second day they compassed the city once, and returned into the camp: so they did six days.
15 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they rose early about the dawning of the day, and compassed the city after the same manner seven times: only on that day they compassed the city seven times.
16 And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the LORD hath given you the city.
17 And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.
18 And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it.
19 But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the LORD.
20 So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.
Shofar Horn (Wikipedia)
You have to imagine what people thought back then: What should we do? Roaming around town, just like that? 6 days long?
About 3-4 km, so half an hour and that’s it ? Jericho people will think we’re stupid. The people of Israel draw a circle around Jericho
But what they are doing has meaning. For one thing, the priests blow shofar horns all the time while marching around Jericho .
I brought you a picture:
Luther later translates this as a trumpet, and Bible scholars are reminded of the signal of Jesus’ return. The shofar commemorates the planned sacrifice of Isaac, in whose place a ram was sacrificed.
It is blown among the Jews at the end of the great Feast of Atonement and originally at the beginning of the Great Year of Jubilee to proclaim deliverance from all guilt.
And it is blown at the Jewish New Year festival of Rosh Hashanah as a request for God’s goodwill and mercy for the coming year.
God Himself commands:
If you are involved in a war in your country with an opponent who is harassing you, sound the alarm with your trumpets! Then I, the LORD your God, will remember you and save you from your enemies.
This shofar mixes some exciting aspects:
It is the call of the Watchers to wake up from a mindless way of life and turn back.
It is the announcement of forgiveness of guilt.
It is a call to prayer, a request for God’s mercy and goodwill.
It is the announcement that God is coming
And at the same time it is already the sound of God’s victory and the proclamation that God is King and reigns.
6x the people move around the city.
The number 6 in the Bible stands for man, for the humanly possible.
And what the people of Israel are doing is walking around this city wall, looking at this wall, and realizing it’s humanly impossible to take this city.
Yes, humanly that is impossible, maybe also in your life.
But the ark of the Lord is with them. The Ark of the Covenant, which represents God’s presence. And that’s a difference. Whether I’m revolving around something or whether I’m talking to God about it. 3-4 km, every day.
God is with you and that is a difference. He sees your Jericho and you are not alone. When the people of Israel march around the city for the 7th time and act as God says, the walls fall down all by themselves and the people can take the city.
All by yourself?
No, God acted.
And this number also has a meaning:
7 stands for God, for his power, for his actions, for his possibilities. What is impossible for men is possible with God. And so the walls of Jericho collapse.
But do you notice something:
The Israelites never lifted a finger except to go around blowing the horns.
What kind of warfare is this?
It’s a spiritual battle! And at the end of the day, the Bible makes it clear to us that every fight is a spiritual fight.
Because our fight is not directed against beings of flesh and blood, but against the powers and forces of darkness that rule over the earth, against the army of spirits in the invisible world, which stand behind all evil.
Peter warns us
Be sober and awake; for your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom to devour.
He is interested in our not experiencing the spiritual blessings that Jesus has in store for us and the full life that Jesus wants us to have.
But there is good news.
We read in the New Testament that Jesus came to earth to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8).
The devil is already defeated. Jesus achieved victory on the cross. And now we read:
For everything that is born of God, did we already talk about what it means to be born of God, a new birth, that’s what the Bible says, if we entrust our lives to Jesus, then we become children of God, we belong to his family, and everyone who does that, who overcomes the world; and our faith is the victory that has overcome the world.
our trust in Jesus, to live with him, to do what he says .
And whoever does that is on the side of the winner, then you overcome the walls and God stands by you.
And how does that happen?


3.Use spiritual weapons

Be strong in connection with the Lord! Allow yourself to be strengthened by his power! Always and everywhere turn to God, led by the Holy Spirit, with requests and supplications. Do not slacken your vigilance, but intercede with perseverance and perseverance for all of God’s holy people.
These two verses are the brackets around what is commonly known in Christian circles as the armor of God, spiritually mind you. Paul encourages us to let ourselves be strengthened by connecting with God. Just as the Ark of the Covenant was at the center of the Israelites, so He is to be the center of our lives.
We should draw circles in prayer around what stands in our way.
This book by Mark Batterson , about experiencing miracles by drawing prayer circles around our dreams, our families, our problems and God’s promises, encouraged me to do it practically for a while and do prayer walks all around Frankenberg do.
When we think of the shofar , then our attitude should be, as Paul also writes in other passages, to be watchful and to use the time, to repent, to confess our guilt, but also to pray with the certainty that it is forgiven. Asking God for mercy while knowing that we are on the winning side, to give thanks and to proclaim that God is King and reigns.
With this attitude, Paul and Silas prayed and worshiped God in the Philippian prison, and the walls of the prison collapsed.
Paul writes in Ephesians 6 that we should live in truth, i.e. truthfully, speech and action should agree.
We should work for justice.
We should trust in God.
Holding onto the certainty of our salvation.
Be willing to share the good news with others.
And surround ourselves with God’s Word.
My weapons in this battle are not those of a weak man, but the mighty weapons of God. With them I destroy enemy fortresses: I bring down false edifices of thought and tear down the pride that opposes the true knowledge of God. Every thought that rebels against God, I take prisoner and put it under the command of Christ.
Many strongholds in our lives are also of a mental nature. They are false assumptions that ignore God’s promises.
Max Lucado writes of the fortress of guilt:
God can never forgive me for that.
Or the fortress of bitterness: I can never forgive this person.
The fortress of self-pity: These bad things always happen to me
The Fortress of Pride: I need to get this under control.
The fortress of self-rejection: I’m not worthy of being loved.
The fortress of failure: I will never recover from this.
The Fortress of Achievement: I must be good or God will reject me.
The Fortress of Appearance: I’m only as good as I look.
The fortress of materialism: I am what I have.
But when we surround ourselves with God’s Word and begin to believe Him more, we can capture those wrong thoughts and throw them out of our lives. Other spiritual weapons that are not mentioned in Ephesians 6 but are good for them are:
The community among themselves.
Worship that draws my mind away from myself to praise and thanksgiving and the greatness of God
Obedience is essential to doing what God says.
Even if it sometimes seems nonsensical or difficult to us or costs us something.
Otherwise the Israelites would not have achieved victory over Jericho if they had not done what God said.
And love is a very great spiritual weapon to love other people, including those who do us harm, whom we don’t understand, whom we can’t stand.
These are all spiritual weapons that God gives us and promises us victory.
However, I would like to end with two caveats
I know both of them from my own life and have to spell them out over and over again.
The first constraint is:
Not all strongholds in our lives are strongholds that God wants us to take. Doesn’t that contradict what I just said?
What do I mean?
There are many things in our lives that God promises us in His Word and also some things that He promises us personally. But there are also some things that we revolve around, which are our own wishes and ideas of a blessed and fulfilled life.
Let’s make this very practical:
Nowhere in His Word has God promised you that particular job, that particular relationship, or whatever. And you circle around it because you want it and you think only in this way and only then will I be happy. Could it be that God wants to bring down a completely different fortress in your life, namely the fortress: That’s the only way I’ll be happy? I know it’s hard, giving up what may have been a long-held dream. That doesn’t happen overnight either. But maybe it’s time to let go and trust God again to do well, even if his thoughts and ways aren’t ours.
And the second constraint is:
I wonder if we don’t sometimes act very differently from Honi or the Israelites of Jericho. We do everything humanly possible . And we so often forget to take God with us. Or we turn our circles in prayer with God. But we give up before the 7th round.
Paul says: Intercede for all with endurance and perseverance.
In the letter to the Hebrews he writes that we need patience in order to actually receive what is promised. And Jesus says, when it comes to unanswered prayers, the widow and the unjust judge, will he find a faith in this world that will keep praying even if he doesn’t see immediate results. Maybe it’s your turn to pick up the path again, to draw another circle and another. God acts in the background. We don’t see some things, but he acts in the invisible world and we can trust him.
God you’re doing fine
Let’s worship God right now.
We play the shofar , so to speak, on our way around our fortress. Whatever your stronghold is that you are thinking of right now. And the first song is called from the lyrics:
No matter how high the mountain, no matter how strong the enemy,
I know my god has won.
How high are the walls when worries oppress me
I know all chains break .
Teach me, God, to understand more and more who you are. Namely that you love me and that you are good.
The certainty deep within me that you are the winner!
Yes, I know my god is greater. He holds everything in hand.
And I know he fights my battles.
He is victor forever.
I wish you this certainty in your life.
That you will take up the spiritual warfare, whatever that is with you, take up the spiritual weapons that God has given you, have the perseverance and know that God is the victor, and that you will experience, like strongholds in yours life will fall and you will experience more of what God has prepared for you.
Let’s get up for the next songs, whoever likes.