5. Destroying Fortresses; Victory at Jericho (Joshua 6:1-27)
A plan for conquering the land of Canaan with its fortified cities and giants was, of course, crucial, but God never leaves His people to their own strategies. He comes to their aid with His own divinely-provided plan. Indeed, we are repeatedly warned in Scripture against leaning on our own understanding or plans (Prov. 3:5-6; Jer. 9:23-24; 17:5). Undoubtedly, the strategy for invading the land was based on the geographical lay of the land. Campbell writes:
The pattern of divine strategy for the conquest of Canaan was based on geographic factors. From their camp at Gilgal near the Jordan River the Israelites could see steep hills to the west. Jericho controlled the way of ascent into these mountains, and Ai, another fortress, stood at the head of the ascent. If the Israelites were to capture the hill country they must certainly take Jericho and Ai. This would put them on top of the hill country and in control of the central ridge, having driven a wedge between the northern and southern sections of Canaan. Israel could then engage the armies of the south in battle followed by the more remote enemy in the north. But first, Jericho must fall—and it would if Joshua and the people followed the Lord’s plan of action.28
James Boice has this historical note:
At one time the brilliant British Field Marshal Edmund H. Allenby must have studied this book, too, for Joshua’s strategy was the one he adopted in his successful liberation of Palestine in World War I. Palestine is a hilly country, and the major passage through it is a connecting road that runs from south to north through the highest portions of the land. Joshua’s strategy (and Allenby’s) was to drive westward from the Jordan valley to that high road, thus dividing the country. Then, when the enemy forces were divided, they would first destroy the opposition to the south and then the opposition to the north. This is the outline of the campaign described in Joshua 6-11.
Before the country could be divided, a wedge had to be driven from the Jordan River valley to the mountains. The first obstacle was at this point: Jericho. Jericho was a military fortress built to defend the eastern approach to the high country. It could not be bypassed; to bypass Jericho would mean leaving a large military force at one’s rear.29
In view of the lay of the land and the distribution of towns and fortresses, the strategic plan was to drive a wedge between the enemy’s lines of defense in order to conquer the land in three campaigns: one in the center of the land, one to the south and one to the north. They thus attacked the central portion first, which prepared the way for operations to the south and then to the north. The map below, taken from the Ryrie Study Bible, shows Israel’s movement into the central portion of Canaan.30
Our text divides easily into three parts:
1. The Plan or Strategy for Victory (6:1-7)
2. The Path or Sequence to Victory (6:8-21)
3. The Promise Fulfilled, the Sequel to Victory (6:22-27)
The Plan or Strategy for Victory
1 Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in. 2 And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors. 3 And you shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days. 4 Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. 5 And it shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead.”
6 So Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant, and let seven priests carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the LORD.” 7 Then he said to the people, “Go forward, and march around the city, and let the armed men go on before the ark of the LORD.”
If Joshua had met with his military advisors, no one would have come up with this plan. The plan set forth by the Lord in chapter 6 certainly illustrates the principle of a number of passages from the Bible like Proverbs 14:12 and Isaiah 55:8f. God’s plan of salvation and deliverance is not a plan that man would design if he could or could if he would because of his basic alienation from God and proneness to depend on his own solutions. So today, men are prone to believe in a plan of salvation and sanctification that in some way or another introduces works into the equation rather than faith alone in Christ alone. Such a gospel is called by some easy believism when the truth is simple trust in Christ is not easy; it goes against the very grain of man’s makeup.
The directions given to Joshua by God for the conquest of Jericho obviously seem strange when compared to any human strategy men would devise, but only if we fail to think in biblical terms of the life of faith and man’s inherent inability to accomplish his own salvation or sanctification. Joshua 6, therefore, illustrates several vital concepts for walking by faith and dealing with the spiritual enemies we face in this life.
The Preparations of Jericho (vs. 1)
Verse 1 is a parenthesis designed to introduce us to the plan for the overthrow of Jericho, but in the process, it shows us how Jericho, having stopped its normal activities, was preparing for a siege by Israel, but undoubtedly fearful with melted hearts because of the mighty works of God. They knew about the Red Sea and they had surely heard about the miracle at Jordan.
The Promise From the Lord (vs. 2)
Before the Lord outlined His plan, He graciously assured Joshua of victory. Note the emphasis: “See, I have given.” Joshua was commanded to see, understand, and so reflect on the fact, as a matter of confidence, that Yahweh had already given them victory. Victory is always by the Lord’s hand, and since victory is by God’s power, we should expect it to be something that bypasses dependence on man and his own strength or abilities. So with the word “see” Joshua is called to see with eyes of faith and to envision Jericho as destroyed. Likewise over and over again in the New Testament, we are assured of our triumph over sin and Satan. “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14). See also Romans 6:1-14; Colossians 2:6-15.
The words “have given” represent a prophetic perfect in the Hebrew text which describes a future event or action as having already been accomplished. Victory was assured by the promise of an omnipotent, faithful, and immutable God.
The Principles to Note (vss. 3f)
This battle plan is highly unusual to say the least. The ordinary methods and weapons of warfare like battering rams or scaling ladders or towers were not to be used at all. Rather, Joshua and his men were to employ God’s plan of victory as outlined in verses 3-7. Each day they were to march silently around the city with the priests carrying the trumpets of rams’ horns. The city covered only about 8.5 acres. On the seventh day they were to march seven times around the city and the priests were to blow their trumpets. Though this procedure would never be employed again with other cities, it would serve to teach Israel and God’s people of all ages that though we have human responsibilities in tearing down the strongholds raised up against the knowledge of God, victory is dependent on two things: God’s power and faith and faithfulness to His directions or plan.
The number seven figures prominently in this chapter. In fact it is used eleven times. Seven priests, with seven trumpets were to march around the city seven days with seven trips around the city on the seventh day.
Seven is a significant number in Scripture: (a) It signifies perfection or completion which reminds us that God’s plan, no matter how foolish it may seem to us, is always perfect and cannot be improved upon by man (first cf. 1 Cor. 1:18f and then Rom. 12:2; 11:33-36). (b) Further, the number seven shows that the conquest was part of a spiritual exercise or process designed to set the people apart (sanctify them) for the Lord as a holy people who belong to a holy God. (c) Because of the significance of the number seven to creation and the Sabbath and the fact they were entering into their inheritance, it undoubtedly signified the beginning of a new order and the land as a picture of the believer’s rest in the Lord (see Heb. 4).
We have in this a reminder of 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, “for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” We should note two things about Paul’s emphasis in these verses:
(1) The Nature of the believer’s weapons: As the walls of Jericho were brought down apart from human ability, so the spiritual weapons of our warfare are appropriated through prayer, faith, and various truths of the Word of God.
(2) The Design and Purpose of our weapons: Our weapons are designed to tear down strongholds. Strongholds are those things (human reasoning or ideas, values, and designs, etc.) raised up by a satanic world system and by fallen man that oppose the knowledge of God (biblical principles of grace, eternal values, etc.) and what knowing God intimately should mean in the lives of His people.
(3) The use of the blaring trumpets adds significant spiritual overtones. These trumpets could produce only a few notes. They were used mainly as an instrument of signal. They were used at the time of jubilee in connection with the religious feasts to proclaim the worship and presence of God and they were used in military contexts. Both concepts are applicable here. Here they signaled both God’s presence and announced Jericho’s impending doom. This was not just a military undertaking, the trumpets declared that the Lord of heaven and earth was present to tear down the walls of Jericho.
Application: We each have our Jericho or Ai that stands in the way of our ability to possess our possessions in Christ; virtual strongholds that impede our spiritual progress. It may be a weakness in our character, a physical infirmity, it may be indifference to spiritual things in general or to a specific area we are neglecting. It could be materialism or some life-dominating pattern. It may be a difficulty at one’s place of work, in the home, with a particular personality, or it may be a financial burden. Regardless of the nature of our Jericho, we must realize victory always comes through God’s plan of deliverance—never ours.
The Path or Sequence to Victory
8 And it was so, that when Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the LORD went forward and blew the trumpets; and the ark of the covenant of the LORD followed them. 9 And the armed men went before the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard came after the ark, while they continued to blow the trumpets. 10 But Joshua commanded the people, saying, “You shall not shout nor let your voice be heard, nor let a word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I tell you, ‘Shout!’ Then you shall shout!” 11 So he had the ark of the LORD taken around the city, circling it once; then they came into the camp and spent the night in the camp.
12 Now Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the LORD. 13 And the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the LORD went on continually, and blew the trumpets; and the armed men went before them, and the rear guard came after the ark of the LORD, while they continued to blow the trumpets. 14 Thus the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp; they did so for six days.
15 Then it came about on the seventh day that they rose early at the dawning of the day and marched around the city in the same manner seven times; only on that day they marched around the city seven times. 16 And it came about at the seventh time, when the priests blew the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city. 17 And the city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the LORD; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. 18 But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, lest you covet them and take some of the things under the ban, so you would make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it. 19 But all the silver and gold and articles of bronze and iron are holy to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD.” 20 So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets; and it came about, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, that the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city. 21 And they utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword. (NASB)
These verses give us the sequence of events from the first day’s march around the city to the last day and the collapse of the wall. The statement about the men being able to charge “straight ahead” calls our attention to the fact that they were able to charge in from all around the city. There were not just one or two breaches in the wall where soldiers were able to pour into the city. The whole wall around the city collapsed with the exception of the portion where Rahab’s house was located.
Some interpreters claim that an earthquake caused the destruction. If so, it was a remarkable miracle of timing and localization since the camp at Gilgal (a little more than a mile away) and Rahab’s house remained intact.31
The Prior Preparation
We should not forget that these instructions and the events of this chapter were preceded by a number of things God used to prepare the people to believe and obey Him. Israel had been prepared to trust the Lord by the events of the first chapters and their consecration to the Lord, especially in chapter 5. I am reminded of Luke 16:10, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” Spiritual preparation is fundamental to our ability to appropriate God’s strength in exchange for our weakness.
The Priority of Silence
Can you imagine the difficulty of this? Several hundred thousand people marching around the city without a word, not even a whisper! There were the priests with their trumpets, those with the ark, the armed men and then the rest of the people. This may have included the women and children as well. If this was the case, the silence may be even a bigger miracle than the walls falling down!
The passage does not tell us why they were to be silent, but perhaps it illustrates and teaches the principle of being silent before God and just resting in Him. Does any passage come to mind? What about Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” Then there is Psalm 46:10-11 which reads: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The LORD Almighty is with us …” As this Psalm suggests, the silence teaches us the need to get quiet, to stop our running around that we may rest quietly in Him as we think on Him in the midst of our trials and conquests in life. Our tendency is to gripe and complain to others or seek our comfort from people more than we talk to God and seek our comfort from Him.
The Principle of Obedience Through Faith
Regardless how unusual the plan was or how hard it was to carry out, there was explicit obedience. We read in Hebrews 11:30, “by faith the walls of Jericho fell down …” In spite of the taunts that were perhaps hurled down at them from the walls as they marched silently around Jericho, they were willing to look foolish and simply rest in the Lord. He was their source of strength.
If we want to overcome our obstacles and testings, we must submit to God’s way by faith:
For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness (Gal. 5:5).
22 And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord. He has also rejected you from being king” (1 Sam. 15:22-23).
The Principle of Endurance
Joshua’s command in verse 10, “You shall not shout nor let your voice be heard, nor let a word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I tell you, ‘Shout!’” shows the people must have understood God’s plan would involve more than one day. Yet, a careful reading of the text also suggest Joshua did not unfold the entire plan at the first, but day by day gave them instructions. Each day they would go out and march silently around the city and then return with nothing happening. The walls were still standing and Jericho had not surrendered. Yet, they did not murmur or complain or question Joshua’s instructions. They simply obeyed day after day until the seventh day when they marched around the city seven times. At the command of Joshua on the seventh day they gave the great shout and the walls came tumbling down by the mighty hand of God. Is it not significant that Hebrews 11:30, which says, “by faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been circled seven days,” is followed in the next chapter, 12:1-2, with a charge to run the race set before us with endurance by looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith? This remind us that the Lord often works slowly. We want immediate deliverance, but the Lord often tests our faith and in the process builds our character and our relationship with Him so we find the Lord to be what we really need.
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
Too often we want immediate solutions and all our needs and wants met so we do not have to wait on the Lord and trust Him. We want to trust in our health, our bank accounts, our position in the community, our reputation, in our talent, education, and abilities. We don’t want to trust the Lord alone. For a good illustration of this compare Naaman’s response when he was told he would have to wash seven times in the Jordan river (2 Kings 5:11-14). Cleansing only came to Naaman when he humbled himself and washed seven times, not four or five or even six, but seven. See also Psalm 62:1-8 and the emphasis there of the need for us to wait patiently to find rest, not in our quick solutions, but in God alone. Surely, the Lord was teaching Israel the need to wait patiently to find their rest in Him.
The Promise Fulfilled, the Sequel to Victory
22 And Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the harlot’s house and bring the woman and all she has out of there, as you have sworn to her.” 23 So the young men who were spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and her mother and her brothers and all she had; they also brought out all her relatives, and placed them outside the camp of Israel. 24 And they burned the city with fire, and all that was in it. Only the silver and gold and articles of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. 25 However, Rahab the harlot and her father’s household and all she had, Joshua spared; and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day, for she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
26 Then Joshua made them take an oath at that time, saying, “Cursed before the LORD is the man who rises up and builds this city Jericho; with the loss of his first-born he shall lay its foundation, and with the loss of his youngest son he shall set up its gates.” 27 So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.
In these final verses we see some marvelous facts about God and His dealings with people. First, they demonstrate God’s faithfulness to His Word; they remind us that God, who is immutable and cannot lie, is also absolutely faithful (cf. Jam. 1:17). The promises to Rahab were kept—she and her family were delivered. While it is not stated, evidently that part of the wall on which Rahab’s house was built did not collapse.
Second, they demonstrate God’s grace and mercy. God’s love and plan of salvation is open to anyone who calls on the name of the Lord (John 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:9; Rom. 10:11-13).
Third, in keeping with His faithfulness to keep His promises, the prophecy against any who would seek to rebuild Jericho (vs. 26), also demonstrates God’s severity and the surety of His Word. The prophecy of verse 26 came to be fulfilled in the days of Ahab (see 1 Kings 16:34). Jericho was occupied sporadically after its destruction, but never to the previous degree.