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1. The conquest of Jericho 5:13-6:27
The parenthetic comment about Jericho that opens this chapter (Joshua 6:1) emphasizes the fact that the city had strong fortifications.
As in the previous section, the writer recorded the command of God first (Joshua 6:2-5; cf. Psalms 108:12-13) and then Joshua’s execution of the command (Joshua 6:6-21; cf. Joshua 3:7-8; Joshua 4:1-3; Joshua 4:15-16). Unlike Moses, who at the burning bush argued at length with the Lord about His plan (Exodus 3:11 to Exodus 4:17), Joshua obeyed without question.
The terms "Lord" and "ark" occur interchangeably here (Joshua 6:8). The Lord was over the ark, and the ark represented the Lord’s presence.
Evidently the whole Israelite nation did not march around the walls of Jericho. Only warriors and priests circled the city (Joshua 6:3-4; Joshua 6:6; Joshua 6:9, et al.). The "people" referred to in the context (Joshua 6:7; Joshua 6:16, et al.) were these people, not all the Israelites. Probably representatives of the tribes participated in this march rather than all the soldiers of Israel. The line of march was as follows: soldiers, priests, the ark, and more soldiers (Joshua 6:6-9; Joshua 6:13).
Jericho was not a large city. Archaeological excavations have revealed that its walls enclosed only about eight and one-half acres.
The trumpets the priests blew (Joshua 6:4; Joshua 6:9, et al.) were not the long silver trumpets but rams horns (shophars). The blowing of trumpets in Israel reminded the people of God’s activity for them. The priests used them to call the people to follow God who was going before them in the wilderness. Both functions were applicable on this occasion. The trumpet blasts signaled judgment to the Canaanites but victory to the Israelites (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
"The first time that we read of a trumpet-blast is at Sinai, where the Lord announced His descent upon the mount to the people assembled at the foot to receive Him, not only by other fearful phenomena, but also by a loud and long-continued trumpet-blast (Ex. xix. 16, 19, xx. 14 (18). After this we find the blowing of trumpets prescribed as part of the Israelitish worship in connection with the observance of the seventh new moon’s day (Lev. xxiii. 24), and at the proclamation of the great year of jubilee (Lev. xxv. 9). Just as the trumpet-blast heard by the people when the covenant was made at Sinai was as it were a herald’s call, announcing to the tribes of Israel the arrival of the Lord their God to complete His covenant and establish His kingdom upon earth; so the blowing of trumpets in connection with the round of feasts was intended partly to bring the people into remembrance before the Lord year by year at the commencement of the sabbatical month, that He might come to them and grant them the Sabbath rest of His kingdom, and partly at the end of every seven times seven years to announce on the great day of atonement the coming of the great year of grace and freedom, which was to bring to the people of God deliverance from bondage, return to their own possessions, and deliverance from the bitter labours of this earth, and to give them a foretaste of the blessed and glorious liberty to which the children of God would attain at the return of the Lord to perfect His kingdom (vid. Pentateuch, vol. ii, p. 466-7). But when the Lord comes to found, to build up, and to perfect His kingdom upon earth, He also comes to overthrow and destroy the worldly power which opposes His kingdom. The revelation of the grace and mercy of God to His children, goes ever side by side with the revelation of justice and judgment towards the ungodly who are His foes. If therefore the blast of trumpets was the signal to the congregation of Israel of the gracious arrival of the Lord its God to enter into fellowship with it, no less did it proclaim the advent of judgment to an ungodly world." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, pp. 69-70.]
The warriors and priests were to remain silent as they circled the city each time except the last. God evidently used this strategy to impress on the people of Jericho, as well as the Israelites, that the deliverance was not by human might or power. It was by the Spirit of the Lord (cf. Zechariah 4:6). He commanded the final shout on the seventh day to announce His destruction of the wall. It was a shout of victory and joy for the Israelites.
"To emphasize the divine intervention, no secondary causes for the collapse of the wall are mentioned. It would be no less a miracle were we to find that God used an earthquake to bring the walls down." [Note: Madvig, p. 281.]
The writer did not explain the reasons for Israel circling Jericho once a day for six days and then seven times the seventh day. This strategy did give the king of Jericho an opportunity to surrender. The uniqueness of this approach undoubtedly impressed everyone with the supernatural character of the victory. It involved almost incredible faith for the Israelites (Hebrews 11:30). There was probably also some significance to the number seven. This may have impressed the Israelites further that the victory was a complete work of God, following the pattern of the seven days of creation.
"The emphasis on the number seven (fourteen times in this chapter [cf. Exodus 24:16; 2 Kings 3:9; Job 2:11-13; Ezekiel 3:15]), the use of ceremonial trumpets (made from ram’s horns), the presence of priests, and the prominence of the ark all indicate that the conquest of Jericho was more than a military campaign; it was a religious event. Israel must always remember that the land was God’s gift to them." [Note: Ibid., p. 278.]
"The significance of this repeated marching round the town culminates unquestionably in the ark of the covenant and the trumpet-blast of the priests who went before the ark. In the account before us the ark is constantly called the ark of the Lord, to show that the Lord, who was enthroned upon the cherubim of the ark, was going round the hostile town in the midst of His people; whilst in Joshua 6:8 Jehovah himself is mentioned in the place of the ark of Jehovah." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 69.]
Excavations at Jericho by John Garstang between 1930 and 1936, and more recently by Kathleen Kenyon between 1952 and 1958, have confirmed the collapse of the wall under itself as recorded. They also reveal that the invaders burned the city (Joshua 6:24), though there was some disagreement between Garstang and Kenyon concerning when this took place. Garstang held that the collapse of the wall and the burning of the city took place at approximately the same time, as the text records. However, Kenyon believed the city burned at a much earlier date and fell at a much later date. [Note: See Kathleen Kenyon, The Bible and Recent Archaeology, pp. 10, 36-38.] After discussing the views of Garstang and Kenyon, Bruce Waltke concluded as follows.
"Although meager, yet the textual and the archaeological evidence regarding Jericho in Late Bronze IIA and B [1400-1200 B.C.] remarkably coincide, and once again the archaeological evidence suggests a conquest during the first quarter of the fourteenth century. Even more conclusive, however, is the evidence that the city was not occupied during the mid-thirteenth century B.C., thereby precluding the option of the commonly accepted late date for the Exodus [ca. 1280 B.C.]." [Note: Bruce K. Waltke, "Palestinian Artifactual Evidence Supporting the Early Date of the Exodus," Bibliotheca Sacra 129:513 (January-March 1972):42. See also Wood, pp. 44-59.]
"On the basis of the scarabs and pottery found in the cemetery associated with City IV in Jericho, it is impossible to date the fall of that city subsequent to 1400 B.C., despite all of the negative findings of Kathleen Kenyon (as we have previously shown). On the other hand, there are absolutely insurmountable objections to the Late Date Theory [ca. 1280 B.C.] on the basis of archaeological discovery." [Note: Gleason L. Archer, "Old Testament History and Recent Archaeology From Moses to David," Bibliotheca Sacra 127:506 (April-June 1970):108. See also Leon Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History, pp. 94-99, for a good discussion of the archaeology of Old Testament Jericho.]
There are some things about Jericho that archaeology has not revealed.
"Jericho is a classic example of incompleteness in the archaeological record caused by the depredations of man and nature combined where-as at Dibon-the literary record (here, the Old Testament) retains phases of history lost to the excavator." [Note: Kenneth Kitchen, The Bible In Its World, p. 89.]
"Archaeological research thus leaves confusion and unanswered questions for the present generation. This does not lead us to abandon archaeological research. It reminds us of the great difficulties which stand in our way when we seek to utilize discoveries for historical reconstruction. Archaeology can rarely name sites. Seldom, if ever, can it determine precisely who destroyed a site. It often cannot tell who occupied a site; it can place only relative dates on sites. Only rarely can it excavate an entire site and secure all the evidence." [Note: Butler, p. xxxviii. Cf. ibid., pp. 32-33. On the importance of regarding archaeological conclusions as tentative, see Eugene H. Merrill, "Palestinian Archaeology and the Date of the Conquest: Do Tells Tell Tales?" Grace Theological Journal 3:1 (Summer 1982):107-121; Idem, "Old Testament Archaeology: Its Promises and Pitfalls," Journal of Dispensational Theology 13:39 (August 2009):5-19; Larry G. Herr, "What Archaeology Can and Cannot Do," Ministry 56:2 (February 1983):28-29; and Edwin M. Yamauchi, "The Proofs, Problems and Promises of Biblical Archaeology," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 36:3 (September 1984):129-38.]
Some Christians in recent years have taken to "prayer walking" in which they pray as they walk around a town asking God to save the residents. While modeled after the battle of Jericho, there are some significant differences. The Israelites marched around Jericho in response to a God-given directive to do so. Christians have no such command. In fact, we have been told to do something quite different: to proclaim the gospel to every creature as well as to pray for their salvation. God called the Israelites to announce bad news and to destroy Jericho, but He has called us to announce good news and to seek and save the lost. Whereas there is nothing wrong with walking around a town and praying for it, when this costs thousands of dollars, in some cases, and evangelism is not done, one wonders about the prudence of such an undertaking. Certainly we can and should pray for the lost, but there is no indication in Scripture that geographical proximity renders prayers more effective, though it may aid concentration in prayer. It might be better to stay home and pray, if we do not evangelize, and to spend our money equipping someone else to evangelize. Better still, go and do both: pray and evangelize.
God commanded the Israelites to consecrate all the spoils of this battle to Him since He had given Jericho into their hands as the firstfruits of the land. Rahab and her possessions were exceptions because she had aided the spies. The Israelites were to burn cities under the "ban" (Heb. herem, Joshua 6:17; cf. Deuteronomy 20:16-18) and to kill their inhabitants, including the cattle (Leviticus 27:29). The only objects they were to spare were metal, gold, silver, and vessels of brass and iron. These they were to place in the treasury of the tabernacle (Joshua 6:19; Numbers 31:54). The Israelites completely destroyed only three Canaanite cities west of the Jordan along with their populations: Jericho, Ai, and Hazor (lit. enclosure). They captured many others and slew some of their inhabitants. [Note: Merrill, Kingdom of . . ., p. 110. A major book on the subject of Israel’s complete annihilation of the Canaanites is Peter Craigie, The Problem of War in the Old Testament. See also J. Andrew Dearman, "The Problem of War in the Old Testament: War, Peace, and Justice," Austin Seminary Bulletin (October 1983):5-14; and Ronald Goetz, "Joshua, Calvin, and Genocide," Theology Today 32 (October 1975):263-74. For insight into the depraved lifestyle of the Canaanites, see Charles Pfeiffer, Ras Shamra and the Bible; Peter Craigie, Ugarit and the Old Testament; and idem, "The Tablets From Ugarit and Their Importance for Biblical Studies," Biblical Archaeology Review (September-October 1983):62-72.] Earlier they had devoted Hormah (Numbers 21:3), Heshbon (Deuteronomy 3:1-2), and Og’s towns (Deuteronomy 3:3) to complete destruction.
"Joshua is perhaps best known as a book of war. Israel was at war with the Canaanites, but behind these human soldiers God was waging war against sin. Earlier in Israel’s history God was compared to a warrior (Exodus 14:14; Exodus 15:3; Deuteronomy 1:30; Deuteronomy 3:22; Deuteronomy 20:4). But now Israel experienced His leadership in war as never before. God is constantly at war with sin because it is an affront to His holiness and because it destroys people whom He loves and desires to bless (cf. Romans 6:23)." [Note: Constable, pp. 104-5.]
The curse on the person tempted to rebuild Jericho (Joshua 6:26) would have discouraged anyone from fortifying again this city that was a symbol of military power. God wanted His people to trust in Him for their security and not to rely on physical defenses primarily (cf. Joshua 11:6). We could interpret building the city as building the fortifications of the city rather than as building houses on the site. The Israelites may have rebuilt and inhabited Jericho again during the period of the judges (Joshua 18:21; Judges 1:16; Judges 3:13; 2 Samuel 10:5), but they may not have fortified it until much later. God executed Joshua’s curse on Hiel when he rebuilt Jericho’s fortifications during the reign of King Ahab of Israel (1 Kings 16:34). Another explanation may be that Canaanites rebuilt Jericho but Hiel was the first Israelite to do so.
The miraculous victory over Jericho brought great honor to Joshua as Israel’s leader (Joshua 6:27).
"Nothing can more raise a man’s reputation, nor make him appear more truly great, than to have the evidences of God’s presence with him." [Note: Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, p. 34.]
Keil and Delitzsch explained the reason for the miraculous defeat of Jericho as follows.
". . . Jericho was not only the first, but the strongest town of Canaan, and as such was the key to the conquest of the whole land, the possession of which would open the way to the whole, and give the whole, as it were, into their hands. The Lord would give His people the first and strongest town of Canaan, as the first-fruits of the land, without any effort on their part, as a sign that He was about to give them the whole land for a possession, according to His promise; in order that they might not regard the conquest of it as their own work, or the fruit of their own exertions, and look upon the land as a well-merited possession which they could do as they pleased with, but that they might ever use it as a gracious gift from the Lord, which he had merely conferred upon them as a trust, and which He could take away again, whenever they might fall from Him, and render themselves unworthy of His grace. This design on the part of God would of necessity become very obvious in the case of so strongly fortified a town as Jericho, whose walls would appear impregnable to a people that had grown up in the desert and was so utterly without experience in the art of besieging or storming fortified places, and in fact would necessarily remain impregnable, at all events for a long time, without the interposition of God." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 68.]
All the aspects of the battle at Jericho strengthened Israel’s faith in Yahweh. God’s people learned His strength and ability to overcome all their obstacles by personal experience here. They acted in faith, obeying His Word and trusting in the outcome He had promised. This day Israel reached a high water mark in her spiritual history. We should learn the same things from this record, as well as from the supernatural victories God has given each of us. Israel also became a nation among nations in the ancient Near East with this victory. [Note: See Eugene H. Merrill, "The Late Bronze/Early Iron Age Transition and the Emergence of Israel," Bibliotheca Sacra 152:606 (April-June 1995):145-62.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Joshua 6". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany