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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 6

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-27

The Events of the Conquest (6:1-12:24)

The Capture of Jericho (6:1-27)

The narrative of the fall of Jericho, like the story of the crossing of the Jordan, shows unmistakable signs of formation by a combination of originally separate written sources or oral traditions. There are two references to the destruction of the city (vss. 21, 24), two accounts of the rescue of Rahab and her family (vss. 22-23, 25), and two different signals for the shout of the people (at the sound of the trumpet—vss. 5, 20; and at the command of Joshua—vss. 10, 16).

The story is so well known as to need no retelling here. A few points of interest may be commented on, however.

The use of the number seven is striking. There are seven priests, seven rams’ horn trumpets, seven days, and seven circuits of the walls. These sevens are mentioned again and again in the story (fourteen times). The number seven was a sacred number among many ancient peoples. We have many examples of its sacral use among the Egyptians and the peoples of Mesopotamia. In the Old Testament there are seven days in the week, various seven-day festivals (several occurring in the seventh month), seven-day periods for ordination of priests and for consecrations of altars, seven sprinklings of sacrificial blood, the seven-branched lampstand, seven-year famines, seven eyes of the Lord, seven baths in the Jordan by Naaman, seven-year periods of tribulation, and the like. The New Testament likewise abounds in sevens. It seems that the number seven signifies completeness, perfection, consummation. It is clearly conceived of as a number sacred to God. When things exist or are in sevens they are characterized by perfection.

The prominent position of the Ark of the Covenant in the strategy of capture, as in the crossing of the Jordan, is to be noted. Again it is indicated that it was God’s presence in the Conquest that brought victory.

We are told that the walls fell down flat after the sevenfold march and the mighty shout on the seventh day. Sir John Gar-stang, who excavated Jericho in 1929-36, thought he had ex-posed the fallen walls of Jericho (see the comment on 2:1-24) and recovered charred beams, carbonized food, and other objects from the city burned by Joshua. But Kathleen Kenyon in five years of digging at Jericho, beginning in 1952, concluded that practically nothing of the city of Joshua’s time was found by Garstang (most of the objects uncovered by him date from much earlier periods than he thought) and that very little remains from the city of his time. It is now believed that no great city stood on the mound when the Israelites came in; there was probably only a fort there. It looks now as if the memory of the great Canaanite city that stood there some three hundred years before Joshua has influenced the narrative of the capture of the fort by Joshua.

Alternatively, it has been suggested that the large city of the sixteenth century B.C. (three hundred years before Joshua), whose considerable remains have been found at Jericho, was captured by a group related to the Israelites from Egypt and that the story in later tradition was transferred to Joshua and his followers. It is evident that we shall have to wait for more light on the problem before anything like a defensible conclusion can be drawn.

It is said that Jericho was to be "devoted to the LORD for destruction" (vs. 17). "Devoted for destruction" translates a Hebrew word meaning something taboo or forbidden to common use. In Arabic, sacred precincts in Jerusalem and Mecca and areas forbidden to any but husbands and eunuchs are designated by this word (in variant forms).

In Hebrew usage the word was especially associated with war-fare. In the belief that it would ensure victory, a vow was made devoting all spoils, living and inanimate, to God (Numbers 21:2-3). The Deuteronomic law requires the complete devoting of the Canaanites and their possessions (Deuteronomy 7:1-5; Deuteronomy 20:16-18), so that Israel will not be led into idolatry. Since Canaanite artifacts were all to be regarded as belonging to God and could not be appropriated by the common Israelite (Deuteronomy 13:17), valuable Canaanite metal objects could be placed in the sanctuary treasury (Joshua 6:19; Joshua 6:24), in the custody of the priests of the Lord (Numbers 18:14; Ezekiel 44:29).

Exception to the practice of exterminating everything that breathes (Deuteronomy 20:16) was sometimes made as a result of explicit or implied instructions from God (Rahab and her family—Joshua 6:16; Joshua 6:22-25; and the spoils at Ai—Joshua 8:2). Israel does not seem to have been consistent in the application of this principle (Numbers 31:7-12; Numbers 31:17-18; Deuteronomy 21:10-14; 1 Samuel 15:8-33 ) .

The destruction of whole populations seems to us barbaric in the extreme. We know from the Moabite Stone that wholesale destruction was practiced outside Israel also. In the postexilic period the practice died out, but it lived on in the expectation of apocalyptic writers, who looked forward to the complete destruction of Israel’s enemies at the Judgment Day.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Joshua 6". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/joshua-6.html.
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