4. Victory At Jericho (Josh. 6:1-27)Related Media
As we continue to make our way through some of the experiences of some of the O.T. characters, we are currently studying the life of Joshua: A Faithful Warrior. In the last study we learned about “Facing Challenges With Caution And Courage” (Josh. 3:1-4:24) as the Israelites crossed over the Jordan into the Promised Land. Now in this study, let’s look at their first encounter with their enemy, the Canaanites, at “The Battle of Jericho.”
Of all the O.T. stories that grip our imaginations, I suppose the top three would be David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions’ den, and Joshua and the battle of Jericho. I think that what engages us at a deep visceral level are three factors: first, the sheer magnitude of God’s power; second, the utter uniqueness of God’s plans and methods; and third, the absolute assurance of God’s success.
Though these stories on the surface appear simple, they are full of challenging theological lessons, implications, and questions. The first question that arises, as we begin studying this passage, has to do with the instructions God gives to Joshua to attack Jericho (6:1-5).
The subject before us in this passage is: “Trusting and obeying God’s Word.” And the overall theological principle of this passage is that God is with us during our most difficult challenges and provides us with a way out. This principle is confirmed in 1 Corinthians 10:13 which states that God is faithful: he will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it (NET Bible).
Sometimes we may not understand God’s ways or his purposes in our lives, but we know that He always has our good and blessing in view, for we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). The “good” that He has in view for us is our conformity to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). Thus, the “good” that God plans for us does not imply pleasant or happy experiences necessarily, but it does mean the greatest blessing we could ever want or have – being more and more like Christ. Let’s bear that in mind as we study this passage. Notice first that…
I. When God’s People Face Enemies, God Provides A Battle Plan (6:1-7)
The battle of Jericho marks the beginning of the Israelites’ conquest of Canaan as they take possession of it in accordance with God’s promise and instructions. As with the crossing of the Jordan, so now God gives the people explicit instructions about what they are to do. As we study these instructions, it becomes clear that…
A. Sometimes, we cannot understand God’s ways (6:1-5). That would certainly have been true if we had been participants in the battle against Jericho in which God’s plans would have been incomprehensible from a human perspective.
Now Jericho was strongly fortified because of the Israelites—no one leaving or entering (6:1). Despite the fortification of the city, Jericho feared an invasion by the Israelites to such a degree that a city-wide lockdown was in force. Perhaps the expectation of an imminent attack was because they knew that the Israelite spies had been in town and had escaped. Undoubtedly, this step was taken not only as a defensive action to protect the inhabitants of Jericho against invasion but also as an offensive tactic to repel the Israelites, to prevent them from gaining entrance. But, as we shall see, no protective action by Jericho could withstand God’s power.
In spite of the fortification of Jericho and its appearance of impregnability, God assures Joshua of victory: “Look, I have handed Jericho, its king, and its best soldiers over to you” (6:2). God has predetermined Israel’s victory. Then, God gives Joshua explicit instructions as to how this battle is to be won: “3 March around the city with all the men of war, circling the city one time. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry seven ram’s horn trumpets in front of the ark. But on the seventh day, march around the city seven times, while the priests blow the rams’ horns. 5 When there is a prolonged blast of the horn and you hear its sound, have all the people give a mighty shout. Then the city wall will collapse, and the people will advance, everyone straight ahead” (6:3-5).
So, here’s the plan: For 6 days the Israelites are to march around the city once a day in accordance with God’s order of procession. Though 6:3-4 is addressed to Joshua, who is to be accompanied by “the men of war” and “seven priests,” 6:7 makes clear that God’s address to Joshua is an all-inclusive command for all the people to march. Then, on the 7th day this procession is to march around the city seven times (not just once) in the same manner, at the end of which the priests are to blow their ram’s horn trumpets and upon hearing a “prolonged blast of the horn” all the people are to give “a mighty shout,” at which sound the walls of Jericho will fall down flat and the people are to march straight ahead into the city. Thus, God instructed and assured Joshua.
To any objective observer, God’s instructions to Joshua must have seemed bizarre. At the very least, this battle plan is truly unique, isn’t it? Who could have thought up such a plan as this and make it successful? No one except God - that’s the point. This battle plan makes no sense to human logic or military strategy. In fact, the key to this strategy was not military action, just obedience to the word of the Lord through the ceremonial routine of the priests blowing the trumpets while carrying the ark around the city, followed by the shout of the people.
To the people of Jericho, God’s strategy undoubtedly must have seemed weak and contemptible, perhaps even insane, until their fortified walls fell down flat. Then, their jeering must have changed to utter dread and panic. In fact, until then the people of Jericho must have felt pretty smug and secure inside the city walls, because they made no attempt to attack the Israelites as they marched around the city. But now the God whom they had heard about, and His miraculous ways with Israel from the exodus to the present moment, now becomes very real and undeniable.
We could ask the same question of God’s plan of salvation. Who could have thought up such a plan and expect it to be successful? No one except God – that’s the point. Like the Israelites as they prepared to invade Jericho, we can claim no merit for our salvation. We can do nothing for it, nor can we plead any entitlement to it. It’s all of God’s grace and redeeming power - that’s the point. As the apostle Paul notes: We have this treasure (the gospel) in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us (2 Cor. 4:7). Just as the Israelites’ victory over Jericho was a powerful testimony to the saving grace and act of God, so with our salvation. It is all of Him and nothing of us except our obedience to, and faith in, His word.
Any doubts the Israelites may have had about God’s battle plan gives way to their faith in the God of the Jordan crossing. As at the Jordan so now, Joshua and the people have to trust the Lord, not their own power or plans. They are completely dependent on God, to whom alone the victory could be attributed. Walking around the city walls may have seemed inadequate, even foolish, but it ensures that the Israelites know without a doubt that their victory is from the Lord.
I suppose the Israelites had learned from the crossing of the Jordan immediately prior to this event that God is all-powerful, that God’s ways are unfathomable (Rom. 11:33), that God’s love and care are unceasing, and that God’s strategies are incomprehensible to our minds. Such unique and powerful ways of God had been demonstrated many times before, such as Noah and the ark, the plagues in Egypt, and the crossing of the Red Sea. The same God who ordered the priests to step into the waters of the Jordan just before this is the God who now orders them to attack Jericho in this way. Strange? Yes. Will it be successful? Without doubt.
Though sometimes we cannot understand God’s ways, nonetheless,…
B. Our response to God must be unquestioning obedience (6:6-7). Joshua faithfully repeats God’s instructions. First, he instructs the priests to “take up the ark of the covenant and have seven priests carry seven rams’ horns in front of the ark of the Lord” (6:6). Then he said to the people, “Move forward, march around the city, and have the armed men go ahead of the ark of the Lord” (6:7). Joshua didn’t change God’s instructions or question them. Everything is done exactly as God planned and ordered it.
After giving them their instructions, Joshua gives the final command: “Move forward.” This surely is the acid test, this is crunch time – will they or will they not move forward in faith as God has prescribed through Joshua? Will they give in to fear? Will they rebel against Joshua? Will they simply turn back and defy the Lord? No, the order and composition of this vast congregation of people advances around the city exactly as God had commanded.
Joshua had demonstrated faith as a spy when he and Caleb checked out the Promised Land for Moses and brought back a good report. He recognized the good things of the land that God had promised them and was not intimidated at all by the potential opposition from the giants there. Once again here, Joshua demonstrates unswerving obedience to, and trust in, God. He believed God implicitly; he trusted God completely. Here we see in Joshua confidence in God, not doubt; boldness for God, not fear.
When God’s people face enemies, God provides a battle plan. And..
II. When God’s Instructions Are Followed, Victory Is Assured (6:8-21)
A. By faith, God’s instructions are followed exactly (6:8-15). 8 After Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord moved forward and blew the rams’ horns; the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. 9 While the rams’ horns were blowing, the armed men went in front of the priests who blew the rams’ horns, and the rear guard went behind the ark. 10 But Joshua had commanded the people, “Do not shout or let your voice be heard. Don’t let one word come out of your mouth until the time I say, ‘Shout!’ Then you are to shout.” 11 So the ark of the Lord was carried around the city, circling it once. They returned to the camp and spent the night there (6:6-11).
The people move forward around the city, with the armed guards ahead of the seven priests who were carrying the ark and the rear guard behind them. The continuous sound of the ram’s horns not only indicates the ceremonial nature of the event, but also provides leadership and encouragement to the people, much like the noise of fans at a football stadium, I suppose, that encourages the players.
When the command is given the people dutifully move forward as they begin their seven day ritual around Jericho (6:8-9), but they are to do so in utter silence until Joshua gives the order to shout (6:10). Like a parent repeating important instructions to their children, Joshua says, “Don’t let one word come out of your mouth until the time I say, ‘Shout!’ Then you are to shout.” Any shout from the Israelites prior to Joshua giving the command would both alert the people of Jericho and would be a premature claim to victory.
You see, the path to victory demands absolute obedience, right down to the last letter. The excitement of finally taking possession of the land, after years of wanderings and failings, might have caused them to forget the Lord’s instructions. But they must not get ahead of the Lord, even though the temptation to shout on the first day may have been overwhelming.
Notice that God’s presence, symbolized by the ark, is still in their midst, as it was at the Jordan. The ark remains at the center, protected here by the armed men in front and behind. In a Christian context, this surely reminds us of Jesus’ promise that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them” (Matt. 18:20). His presence is among us when we gather in assembly. In a sense also, we protect the Lord’s holy presence (1) by collectively and individually judging any known sin in our lives, (2) by not eating and drinking unworthily at the Lord’s table, which is tantamount to blaspheming the work of Christ (1 Cor. 11:27-29), and (3) in the context of Matthew 18:20, by reconciling with those who have sinned against us. May we always be alert to anything that might defile the congregation of the Lord’s people and use every effort to be holy, for He is holy.
Thus, the seven day routine begins. Day 1 to 6, the people, the troops, the priests with the ark and the ram’s horns circumnavigate the city once each day, returning to the camp at night (6:11-15). One might wonder, “Why the repeated circumnavigation of the city?” Perhaps we can understand this as demonstrating the grace of God in giving the inhabitants of Jericho that extended period of time to repent, to capitulate to the Israelites. But in spite of the constant blowing of the horns, warning the people of Jericho, there is no evidence of any repentance on their part.
On day 7, they begin at dawn because on that day they must march around the city seven times in the prescribed manner until Joshua gives the order to shout. And when he does…
B. By faith, God’s victory becomes immediately evident (6:16-21). After the seventh time, the priests blew the rams’ horns, and Joshua said to the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city” (6:16). But before doing so, Joshua has two additional instructions and a warning. First, the additional instructions: (1) “The city and everything in it are set apart to the Lord for destruction” (6:17a); (2) “only Rahab the prostitute and everyone with her in the house will live, because she hid the messengers we sent” (6:17b). Second, a warning: “18 Keep yourselves from the things set apart, or you will be set apart for destruction. If you take any of those things, you will set apart the camp of Israel for destruction and make trouble for it. 19 For all the silver and gold, and the articles of bronze and iron, are dedicated to the Lord and must go into the Lord’s treasury” (6:18-19).
These reminders are timely, aren’t they? In moments like this it would be so easy to plunge ahead and forget the conditions of the attack – forget that the city, its people, and its contents “are set apart to the Lord for destruction”; forget that Rahab and her household are set apart for salvation because of her faith in God and her demonstration of faith to the spies. But Joshua wants to make certain that these matters are properly attended to.
The word translated “set apart” (or “devoted to”) in this context means to give over something or someone to the Lord, either for destruction or for the Lord’s treasury. In both cases, the connotation is of being wholly given over to, set apart for, dedicated to the Lord. The city, its contents, and its inhabitants are “set apart to the Lord for destruction” (6:17a). The Israelites must not take any of the contents of the city. Indeed, they are to keep away from those things or they themselves would also be “set apart for destruction” (6:18). The only exceptions to this rule are: (1) Rahab and her household are to be protected (6:17; cf. 2:9-13), and (2) “all the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are dedicated to the Lord and must go into the Lord’s treasury” (6:19).
Unlike the secular wars of the day, they were not to touch the unclean things; they were not to take the spoils of war – either material things or people. They were to be spiritually pure and be separate from such an ungodly place and people. But within the city, there is one family whom God honors for their faithfulness – they are to be spared. Judgement belongs to the Lord our God (Isa. 33:22; Rom. 2:1-16). Everything and everyone are His to do with them as He sees fit – destruction for the rebellious and salvation for the faithful.
Picking up the flow of thought from 6:16, So the people shouted, and the rams’ horns sounded (6:20) and just as God had promised, when they heard the blast of the ram’s horn, the people gave a great shout, and the wall collapsed. The people advanced into the city, each man straight ahead, and they captured the city. 21 They completely destroyed everything in the city with the sword—every man and woman, both young and old, and every ox, sheep, and donkey (6:20-21). When God’s instructions are followed, victory is assured. The people shouted, just as God had instructed Joshua. The walls collapsed, just as God had promised Joshua. The people advanced into the city, just as God had described to Joshua (cf. 6:5). They captured the city, just as they were commanded. And they completely destroyed everything in the city with the sword - every man and woman, both young and old, and every ox, sheep, and donkey, just as they were instructed.
The brief description of the capture of the city seems almost anticlimactic after the build up to this point throughout the chapter. But by structuring the narrative this way, the author conveys the idea that the description of the battle itself (6:20-21) is less important than the preparation for the battle (6:2-19) and the consequences of the battle (6:22-26). What is most important is that when God’s instruction are followed, victory is assured. It’s that simple! Thus the author of the book of Hebrews writes: By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after being marched around by the Israelites for seven days (11:30).
Faith is the key to victory in the Christian life. This does not mean, in our N.T. context, that we will always be assured freedom from trial or dominance over opposition. What it does mean is that when we are obedient to God, He stands side by side with us in the trial, giving us the strength and courage to be faithful to him.
When God’s people face enemies, God provides a battle plan. When God’s instructions are followed, victory is assured. And…
III. When God Acts, He Is True To His Word (6:22-27)
The consequence of this invasion is that the faithful are spared and the enemies are destroyed; salvation is assured for believers and condemnation for God’s enemies. Four details conclude this narrative:
A. The agreement with Rahab is fulfilled by the spies (6:22-23). It is poignant and appropriate, isn’t it, that the same two spies who made the agreement with Rahab now fulfill that agreement. Just as God is faithful to his word to Israel through Joshua, so Joshua is faithful to the word of the spies to Rahab to spare her and her family because of her faith, which she demonstrated in her actions (to the point of risking her life) and her words.
B. Jericho is totally destroyed and cursed (6:24-26). The entire city and everything in it is burned except (1) the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron which they put into the treasury of the LORD’s house (6:24) and (2) Rahab’s household because she hid the messengers Joshua had sent to spy on Jericho (6:25).
At that time Joshua imposed this curse: The man who undertakes the rebuilding of this city, Jericho, is cursed before the Lord. He will lay its foundation at the cost of his firstborn; he will finish its gates at the cost of his youngest (6:26). This was not an empty curse. In fact, Hiel the Bethelite did rebuild Jericho but it cost him the life of his firstborn son, Abiram, and his second born son, Segub, according to the word of the Lord he had spoken through Joshua son of Nun (1 Kgs 16:34). God is not mocked. He carries out what He says.
C. Joshua’s leadership is affirmed (6:27). The author confirms that what God had told Joshua about his leadership of Israel (3:7; 4:4) was true and, as evidence of it, his fame spread throughout the land.
So, we come to the end of this brief study of the battle of Jericho, one that is emotionally exciting, intellectually fascinating, and theologically challenging. The structure of this passage that we have followed in this study is as follows:
I. When God’s People Face Enemies, God Provides A Battle Plan (6:1-7)
A. Sometimes, we cannot understand God’s ways (6:1-5).
B. Our response to God must be unquestioning obedience (6:6-7).
II. When God’s Instructions Are Followed, Victory Is Assured (6:8-21)
A. By faith, God’s instructions are followed exactly (6:8-15).
B. By faith, God’s victory becomes immediately evident (6:16-21).
III. When God Acts, He Is True To His Word (6:22-27)
A. The agreement with Rahab is fulfilled by the spies (6:22-23).
B. Jericho is totally destroyed and cursed (6:24-26).
C. Joshua’s leadership is affirmed (6:27).
Our summary of the overall theological teaching of this passage is that God is with us during our most difficult challenges and provides us with a way out. How we should thank God that He is the same God today as when He gave the Israelites their victory at Jericho. He is wholly trustworthy and perfectly consistent in his judgement of sinners and his salvation of believers.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this passage (and many others like it in the O.T.) raise many challenging theological lessons, implications, and questions. One such issue is trying to understand and explain the apparent difference between the God of the O.T. and the God of the N.T. Typically, I think many of us, who have been reading the Bible for many years, tend to emphasize the victories in the O.T. and ignore the indiscriminate slaughter. We readily accept God’s love and grace but can’t quite align that with His wrath and justice. Some, therefore, conclude that either God is not all-powerful or that God is not all-loving. Of course, neither of those positions is satisfactory because the Bible tells us that He is both.
Specifically, it raises the question of how a good God can order such death and destruction, at least as it appears in passages like the one we have just studied. Some people never get past this apparent dichotomy, never get past the questions and arrive at acceptable answers. Some conclude that they cannot believe in such a God. I understand fully how a passage like this that contains such preordained destruction could shake one’s faith, or, at the very least, make one question who God is and how He acts.
While it is beyond the scope of this article to tackle this subject adequately, if you have been asking questions about the God of the O.T. compared to the God of the N.T., let me suggest the following for you to consider:
1. Be assured that God is unchanging and perfect in his nature, character, and actions. Therefore, He is unchanging and perfect in His goodness and in His justice (cf. Num. 23:19; Ps. 145:17; Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8; Heb. 6:17-18; 13:8; James 1:17; Tit. 1:2).
2. Remember that God is sovereign. That means that He is answerable to no one. It means that He has the right to execute judgement as, when, and how He so chooses. And sometimes that doesn’t match our understanding or expectations of God. Remember also that 22 because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! (Lam. 3:22-23). So there you have it – the sovereign execution of God’s judgement and the sovereign extension of his saving grace to those who do not deserve it.
3. Consider the progressive nature of God’s revelation in the Bible. We are not told everything in the O.T. that God reveals to us in the N.T., but when read together it becomes evident that the God of the O.T. is exactly the same as the God of the N.T. His love and grace are shown out in both the O.T. and the N.T. (e.g. Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Jn. 3:16). And His wrath and justice are told out in both the O.T. and the N.T. (e.g. Jer. 30:23; Nahum 1:2; Rom. 1:18; 2:5; Rev. 19:15).
In the O.T. when the Israelites repented, we see God time and time again extend his grace to them, despite their disbelief and disobedience, just as He does to us today. Note also, that God’s justice in the O.T. is often deferred to give more time for people to repent, but ultimately his justice is meted out. In the N.T. we see God’s love and grace manifested every single day in the withholding of His justice, giving people the opportunity to repent and believe in Him before it is too late (2 Pet. 3:9). But the N.T. is also perfectly clear that His justice will be executed one day (2 Pet. 3:9; Acts 17:31). And when it is, it will be perfectly consistent with who God is (holy, just, loving) and with the ample warnings He has given of judgement to come on those who do not repent and believe in our Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:12-13; Rom. 6:23; Acts 20:21).
4. Remember that God’s redeeming love is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ - specifically, in His miraculous incarnation (Lk. 1:39-45; 1 Tim. 3:16), His perfect life (Phil. 2:5-8; Heb. 1:2-4), His substitutionary death on the cross (1 Cor. 1:18-31) and His glorious resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-8).
To human thinking God’s plan of redemption makes no sense. The Jews demanded visible, miraculous proofs of who Jesus was and the Greeks sought after philosophical reasons for human and divine existences (1 Cor. 1:22). But, Paul writes, we preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23a). Instead of visible proofs and logical arguments, God chose crucifixion as the means of our redemption. This completely contradicted both the Jews’ and Gentiles’ understandings and expectations of the Messiah. Thus, the Christian gospel is to the Jews a stumbling block - they trip over it; they can’t get passed it - and to the Gentiles the Christian gospel is foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23b) – they laugh and jeer at it. But, compared to the highest level of human wisdom, God’s foolishness is wiser, and compared to the greatest demonstration of human strength God’s weakness is stronger (1 Cor. 1:25). Indeed, 27 God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. 28 God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world – what is viewed as nothing – to bring to nothing what is viewed as something (1 Cor. 1:27-28). Why? …so that no one may boast in his presence (1 Cor. 1:29). But rather, Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31).
That’s the point! God’s plans and ways and purposes are so far “other” than ours that when we grasp a sense of his magnificent glory and unfathomable wisdom and infinite power, then we have only one option – not to doubt God nor to boast in ourselves, but to trust and glory in Him alone. Though we cannot fully understand God (after all He wouldn’t be God if we could), what we need above all else is faith. That’s how the walls of Jericho fell down (Heb. 11:30) and that alone is how we can have peace with God (Rom. 5:1).
So, in conclusion, remember that God’s plans and ways are far above and beyond our comprehension. “8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. 9 “For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9). Indeed, God accomplishes his purposes, “not by strength or by might, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord of hosts (Zech. 4:6).
I know these comments do not do justice to this topic, but I suggest these few thoughts for you to consider.
Related Topics: Character Study, Christian Life