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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Joshua 6

 

 

Introduction

Commentary on The Book of Joshua - chapters 5-8.

In this section the circumcision of the men of Israel is accomplished, followed by the observance of the Passover. Then commences the initial parts of the invasion. First Jericho is taken, and then a contingent moves up the pass to capture Ai, only to be driven back because of their arrogance in taking only a limited number of soldiers for the purpose. As a result the sin of Achan is discovered in that he had kept for himself what had been dedicated to YHWH. Joshua having repented of his failure, and Achan having been dealt with for his blasphemy, Joshua takes the whole army back up the pass and Ai is captured, and the army of Bethel defeated. Joshua then arranges a covenant ceremony at Shechem.

Chapter 6. The Taking of Jericho With the Help of YHWH.

In this chapter Joshua is assured that, although Jericho is closely shut up, and there was no obvious way in which Israel could enter it, it would be delivered into his hands, and he is therefore directed, along with the army, to march round the city on each of six days, accompanied by seven priests bearing the ark of YHWH, with seven rams’ horns sounding. And on the seventh day they were to go round it seven times in the same way, with the result that its wall would fall. Joshua communicated this order to the priests and the people, and they did as they were commanded, along with obeying other instructions he gave them, particularly that the city, and all in it, should be devoted to YHWH and nothing spared, except Rahab and her family and their possessions. Their mission was successful as YHWH had promised. All in the city were destroyed, and the city itself was burnt with fire, while the gold, silver, bronze, and iron were brought into the treasury of the house of YHWH. Rahab and her father's household were saved alive, and the chapter is closed with an adjuration of Joshua, cursing any man who should rebuild the city.


Verse 1

Chapter 6. The Taking of Jericho With the Help of YHWH.

In this chapter Joshua is assured that, although Jericho is closely shut up, and there was no obvious way in which Israel could enter it, it would be delivered into his hands, and he is therefore directed, along with the army, to march round the city on each of six days, accompanied by seven priests bearing the ark of YHWH, with seven rams’ horns sounding. And on the seventh day they were to go round it seven times in the same way, with the result that its wall would fall. Joshua communicated this order to the priests and the people, and they did as they were commanded, along with obeying other instructions he gave them, particularly that the city, and all in it, should be devoted to YHWH and nothing spared, except Rahab and her family and their possessions. Their mission was successful as YHWH had promised. All in the city were destroyed, and the city itself was burnt with fire, while the gold, silver, bronze, and iron were brought into the treasury of the house of YHWH. Rahab and her father's household were saved alive, and the chapter is closed with an adjuration of Joshua, cursing any man who should rebuild the city.

Joshua 6:1

Now Jericho had closed the gates and were shut in because of the children of Israel. None went out and none came in.’

The news of the advance of the Israelite army across the Jordan had resulted in the people of Jericho shutting the city gates permanently. Those who lived around would have moved into the city for safety and it would be crowded. But none would now leave it until the Israelite army had passed. Their hope lay in the walls of that city, which, while it was not a very large one, was very strong. They knew that with their small numbers they were no match for the Israelites. But they had plenty of food, for the wheat harvest had been gathered in. The whole pear-shaped mound is only four hundred metres long (four hundred and thirty eight yards) and two hundred metres wide at its widest point and the city would probably not occupy the whole mound.

What could happen to someone found outside the city is illustrated in Judges 1:24. It reads innocently enough but the man was probably given the choice of betraying the city or enduring a most horrific time. He would probably have ended up betraying the city anyway.

The archaeology of Jericho has produced a confusing picture. Garstang’s results were questioned by Kenyon, and Kenyon’s results, based on doubtful premises, have also been seriously questioned datewise (consider for example the criticisms of Bryant Wood). The matter is at present in abeyance. So little has been excavated that nothing can be accepted as demonstrated one way or the other. But the fact that it was unoccupied for over four hundred years from this time would have meant that few remains from this time could be expected to survive, due to weathering and predators. Thus it is doubtful if the archaeological questions related to this period will ever be solved. It was an ancient city going back to 8th millennium BC, having even at that early time a stone revetment wall and at least one round tower with a built in stairway. I was there in 1957 just after their discovery and vividly remember the great excitement at what was then a totally unexpected find. There are also remains of huts by the spring which go back even further.


Verse 2

And YHWH said to Joshua, “See, I have given into your hand Jericho, and its king, and the mighty men of valour.” ’

The problem for Joshua was how the Israelites could breach the walls with the means that they had at their disposal. Spears and swords would have had little effect on them. But as he was pondering the situation YHWH promised him that it was given to him by YHWH, and that its king and its soldiery would shortly be in his hands. What was to happen would be decisive for the future. As the news of it spread around (Joshua 9:3) the Canaanites would realise that it was pointless to remain shut up in their cities as Yahweh could soon demolish their walls. It affected their whole military strategy. This may explain why they always left their cities to face Israel.


Verse 3

And you shall surround the city, all the men of war, going about the city once. Thus shall you do for six days.”

Each day for six days the men of war were to surround the city. It would not take long, for the mound was not large (see above). The purpose was to terrify the occupants, and also possibly to bring home to the Israelites the difficulty they would have in breaching the wall. The men of war were probably the younger men of war most suited to battle. Each time they came the inhabitants would prepare themselves for an attack. And each time they would leave without attacking. It must have been an eerie time for the inhabitants, especially in view of the silence of their enemy. They would have expected yells and threats.

“Surround.” The word often means precisely that although in Psalms 48:12 it specifically means ‘march round’, and it is used elsewhere of making progress in one way or another (e.g. Exodus 13:18; Numbers 21:4; Numbers 36:7; Numbers 36:9; Deuteronomy 32:10). The descriptions, with the armed men before, followed by the priests with the Ark, followed by the remainder of ‘the people’, demonstrate that here as well the surrounding was by marching round.


Verse 4

And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the Ark, and the seventh day you shall surround the city seven times, and the priests will blow with the trumpets.”

Seven was the number of divine completeness among many nations. It was seen by all as a sacred number. Something sevenfold was total. (In Sumerian religious literature seven, along with three, were the only numbers ever used even though they were a highly numerate nation, and it was from Sumer that Abram came). Included in the surrounding of the city was the presence of the Ark. This demonstrated to all that what was to happen would be the activity of YHWH, there invisibly with His troops. The blowing of the trumpets and the silence of the soldiers would draw all eyes to the Ark. We are left to imagine the growing fear and dread in the hearts of the inhabitants.


Verse 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 shall go up, every man straight before him.”

On the seventh day, once the city had been surrounded seven times, a long distinguishing blast was to be made on the trumpet of ram’s horn. Then all the people (probably indicating all the men of war) were to shout with a great shout and the walls would collapse so that all the armed men could go straight before them into the city. Horns always symbolise power (they are the effective armament of both domestic and wild beasts) so that here there may be in the ‘seven rams’ horns’ the idea of expressing the divine perfection of the power of YHWH.

The long blast on the ram’s horn was possibly to symbolise the trumpet sound of YHWH as in Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:19; Exodus 20:18, introducing His power revealed in what was about to happen. In Psalms 47 the sound of the ram’s horn indicates the going forth of YHWH as King (Psalms 47:5-7), a psalm which also links it with the people’s shout of triumph (Joshua 6:1; Joshua 6:5), when He goes forth to subdue the nations and to grant an inheritance to His people (Joshua 6:3-4), resulting in His reign over all things. Jericho was but the beginning of the revelation of His power.


Verse 6

And Joshua, the son of Nun, called the priests and said to them, “Take up the Ark of the covenant, and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the Ark of YHWH.”

YHWH had given his instructions to Joshua, possibly through a dream, or possibly within the Tabernacle where Joshua, like Moses, was prone to go (Exodus 33:11) as the chosen of YHWH. Joshua now passed them on to the priests. Note the switch from ‘the Ark of the Covenant’ to ‘the Ark of YHWH’. Now that it was going into battle the emphasis was on YHWH, the God of battle.


Verse 7

And they said to the people, “Pass on, and surround the city, and let the armed men pass on before the Ark of YHWH.”

Some manuscripts have ‘he’. So these words were either those of the priests or of Joshua himself. Either way they came from Joshua either directly or indirectly. Verse 8 would support ‘he’, but as the more difficult reading ‘they’ may well be correct.

The instruction was given to march round the city, surrounding it, the armed men leading the way followed by the Ark of YHWH. ‘The people’ taking up the rear. The latter may possibly also have included women and children so that all would see the demonstration of the power of YHWH on their behalf, (but not necessarily. It may be that only armed men were involved, both leading the way and following. The Hebrew definite article regularly simply means ‘those I am talking about’). The armed men to the front may have been the Transjordanian troops (Joshua 4:12-13), ‘the people’ the troops from the remainder, who would also have included older men who wanted to be involved.


Verse 8

‘And so it was that when Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns passed on before YHWH, and blew with the trumpets, and the Ark of the covenant of YHWH followed them.’

Joshua having given his instructions to the people, whether directly or through the priests, the seven priests with the rams’ horns ‘passed on before YHWH’. Here ‘the Ark of YHWH’ is replaced by ‘YHWH’ Himself, for YHWH is seen as sitting on His moveable battle throne, borne by the priests, ready to reveal His power against the enemy (compare Ezekiel 1:16; Ezekiel 1:19 where the heavenly equivalent of the Ark is seen as having heavenly wheels). The seven trumpets of rams’ horns meanwhile sounded out the power of YHWH. In the description of the Ark both the covenant and YHWH Himself are now given prominence. It was because they were His covenant People that Jericho, and the whole land, ha been given to them.


Verse 9

And the armed men went before the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rearward went after the Ark, blowing with the trumpets as they went.’

YHWH’s instructions were followed obediently. The armed men led, followed by the Ark and the priests blowing the rams’ horns, followed by the people, until the city was surrounded. The watchers on the walls waited apprehensively for what would come next.

In the last phrase ‘the priests’ is, as shown, not there in the Hebrew. It is to be assumed. The point is that while it was the priests who blew the rams’ horns all were seen as participating. This emphasises the importance of the action. The sevenfold horns were depicting the power of YHWH about to be revealed.


Verse 10

And Joshua had commanded the people saying, “You shall not shout, nor let your voice be heard, neither shall any word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout, then shall you shout.” ’

The people were ordered not to make any sound while they marched. They were to march in total silence, without shouting, without talking, without a murmur. There was to be total silence, until Joshua gave the order and then they were to shout loudly. This would have an unnerving effect on the watchers who would have expected taunts and battlecries. The latter would have enabled them to shout back and build up their own resistance, but shouting at a silent enemy was a waste of energy. The silence stressed the presence of YHWH among them. In His presence none dared speak (Habakkuk 2:20). It also demonstrated that the result was the work of YHWH (Exodus 14:14). Their shout would declare His triumph (Psalms 47:1).


Verse 11

So he caused the Ark of YHWH to go round the city, going about it once, and they came into the camp, and lodged in the camp.’

Note that the stress here is on the Ark of YHWH It was the presence and power of YHWH, the God of battle, which would make the difference. Then they all returned to the camp and spent the night there.


Verse 12-13

And Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the Ark of YHWH, and the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns before the Ark of YHWH went on continually (‘going they went’) and blew with the trumpets, and the armed men went before them, and the rearward came after the Ark of YHWH, the priests blowing with the trumpets as they went.’

As was his regular practise Joshua rose early in the morning. The people would be roused too. There may have been the intention to miss the heat of the day. Notice again that the Ark was central. All was secondary to that. The procession was as before, repeated in full for emphasis. The Ark of YHWH is mentioned three times in order to emphasise it presence.


Verse 14

And the second day they surrounded the city once, and returned to the camp. So they did six days.’

This was the second day, and what was done on this day and on the first day was done also for the next four days. The Ark of YHWH, borne by the priests, went round the city. The seven priests blowing the rams’ horns went before it. And the armed men led the way and the people followed at the tail.


Verse 15

And so it was on the seventh day, that they rose early at the dawning of the day, and went round the city in the same way seven times, only on that day they went round the city seven times.’

This was not necessarily the Sabbath, but certainly one of the seven days must have been the Sabbath. Thus the Sabbath law was abrogated for this event. The sevenfold circling, the divinely perfect circling, was to demonstrate that the divine power of YHWH was now about to be revealed. This sevenfoldness would have had deep significance both for the Israelites and for the people shut up within the city. Once the men of the city realised that they were marching round seven times on the seventh day of marching the hearts of the men in the city would have grown cold within them. They would have realised that this fearsome God was about to act. And the men of Israel would have been aware of the same.


Verse 16

And so it was at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people, “Shout, for YHWH has given you the city.” ’

This was possibly the long blast of verse 5. The shout was to be a shout of expectation of triumph. YHWH had given them the city!


Verse 17

Joshua 6:17 a

“And the city shall be devoted, it and all that is in it to YHWH.”

This would regularly happen to a first conquest. It was the firstfruits. The idea was that it became sacred to their God. Therefore all living things had to be put to death as ‘devoted’ (cherem) to Him, while all possessions were separated to the treasury of God. Not a single living thing was to be spared. Not a single possession was to be appropriated to private use. All was YHWH’s. Joshua interpreted all this so literally that he would even put a curse on anyone who in the future tried to rebuild the city itself (Joshua 6:26). One reason for this was as a symbolic act demonstrating the consequences of idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:10-17). Jericho here stood for the idolatry of the land.

The practise of ‘devoting’ to a God was a common one. We can compare the words of the King of Moab on the Moabite stone, ‘And Chemosh said to me: "Go! Take Nebo against Israel." And I went by night and fought against it from break of dawn till noon. And I took it and slew all, seven thousand men, boys, women, girls, and pregnant women, because I had devoted it to Ashtar-Chemosh. And I took thence the altar-hearths of YHWH and I dragged them before Chemosh.” Note the use of ‘seven’ with its implication of divine completeness, and the dual name of the god. Note also the reference to YHWH. ‘The altar-hearths of YHWH’ suggests that this was a religious sanctuary which may well have been the reason why it was ‘devoted’.

Joshua 6:17 b

“Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.”

One exception was to be made. Rahab and her family, with their possessions, would be spared because of her assistance to the Israelite spies. Although ‘devoted’ to YHWH she was redeemed by her actions in aiding YHWH’s servants.


Verse 18

And you, under any circumstances, keep yourselves from the devoted thing, lest having devoted it you take of the devoted thing. So would you make the camp of Israel devoted and bring trouble to it.”

The warning is severe. They were devoting the city to YHWH and all were to ensure they did not take for themselves anything they had devoted, for by bringing it into any part of the camp of Israel they would make that part of the camp also ‘devoted to YHWH’ and all in it would have to be slain.


Verse 19

But all the silver and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are holy to YHWH. They shall come into the treasury of YHWH.”

These things were mentioned as the most valuable and desirable, but, as the people were aware, everything in the city was devoted and belonged to YHWH exclusively. Nothing must be retained for personal use. Their idols should be destroyed in fire (Deuteronomy 7:25). Anything of value would go into the treasury in the Tabernacle for religious use (compare Numbers 31:54), probably after passing through fire or water (Numbers 31:22-23). This would contribute to the lack of archaeological artefacts as all would be gathered up that much more carefully because they were YHWH’s. At this time the vessels of iron would have been imported and valuable.


Verse 20

Joshua 6:20 a ‘So the people shouted when they blew with the trumpets, and so it was that when the people heard the trumpet-sound, the people shouted with a great shout.’

Note the concentration on the noise made. The trumpets sound and the people shout. ‘The trumpet-sound’ is literally ‘the sound of the trumpet’, the singular drawing attention to the sound rather than the trumpets. This was the long blast of Joshua 6:5. Now the city would recognise that the moment had come for them to put up stout defence. But they did not realise what was about to happen.

Joshua 6:20 b ‘And the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.’

What caused the wall to fall flat? The basic answer was, YHWH. Whether it was by an earthquake or tremor, or by resonance from the noise made which reacted on unstable walls possibly crowded with defenders, it was to be seen as at the instigation of YHWH. Thus it was not a matter of forcing their way through a breach in the walls but simply one of going straight forward and clambering over the fallen stones. The relatively few defenders, numbering in hundreds (even though crowded with people from the surrounding countryside), and numbed by what had happened, had no chance against the much larger Israelite force, numbering probably around six hundred military units (Exodus 12:37).


Verse 21

And they devoted (utterly destroyed as an offering to YHWH) all that was in the city, both men and women, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.’

Warfare is ever a dreadful business. Even practically speaking they dared not leave men alive in their rear who could attack them from behind when they went on. And to leave the women and children alone and undefended would have been unacceptable. death would be seen as preferable. But here Jericho was the firstfruits of their inheritance, and therefore dedicated to YHWH. And they were carrying out God’s judgment on the particular wickedness of the Canaanites, their debased idolatry and their sexual perversions, wickedness which if it was not destroyed would in the end prove harmful to them (as later it did). None could be allowed to live. They were under the judgment of God. The slaughtering of the animals, which they would have liked to keep, demonstrates that it was not just blood lust.


Verse 22

And Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the country, “Go to the prostitute's house and bring out from there the woman, and all that she has, as you swore to her.” ’

In the excitement of victory Joshua did not forget the oath sworn to Rahab. His sensitivity was revealed in sending to her the two men whom she knew, and his wisdom was revealed in giving her some protection at a time when she might have been very vulnerable. She was relatively safe in the house with its token on the window, but once outside it she would be a target for any overexcited soldier.

This suggests that, although it was on the wall, her house had been preserved, or at least not badly damaged, a further evidence of the hand of YHWH.


Verse 23

And the young men, the spies, went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father and her mother, and her brothers, and all that she had. All her kindred also they brought out, and they set them outside the camp of Israel.’

As they had sworn to do the two spies ensured the safety of Rahab and all her wider family who had gathered in her house. We note, however, that ‘they set them outside the camp of Israel’ in a camp of their own. They could not enter the camp for they were ‘devoted’ and were idolaters, and thus defiling (compare Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:3; Numbers 31:13; Numbers 31:19). Thus they must be kept separate until they had undergone some cleansing ritual, including the renunciation of idolatry, and, if necessary, circumcision (although they may have already been circumcised) and incorporation into the congregation of Israel. This was presumably required of them (see Joshua 6:25).


Verse 24

And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was in it, only the silver and the gold, and the vessels of brass and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of YHWH.’

This was a purifying ritual, devoting all to YHWH. Even the latter were probably burned for purification before being put into the treasury (Numbers 31:22-23).

“The house of YHWH.” Compare Judges 19:18; Judges 20:18; Genesis 28:17; 1 Samuel 1:7; Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26. The ‘house of YHWH’ was the place where He was to be approached, in this case the Tabernacle. As Genesis 28:17 makes absolutely clear ‘house’ here does not necessarily signify a building.


Verse 25

And Joshua saved alive Rahab the prostitute, and her father's household, and all she had, and she dwelt in the midst of Israel even to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.’

Note the emphasis on ‘saved alive’. Thus was fulfilled the oath that they would live (see Joshua 2:13-14). They did not remain long outside the camp for they became members of the congregation of Israel. ‘Dwelt in the midst of Israel’ can signify Canaanites dwelling among the Israelites in disobedience to God’s command (Joshua 9:7; Joshua 13:13; Joshua 16:10), but that hardly applies here. It must signify acceptance. (Perhaps however her family were given the option to move on and out of the country - compare the man in Judges 1:26 - for they are not mentioned).

“Even to this day.” A clear indication that this was written while Rahab was alive. Alternatively we may read ‘she’ as signifying the whole family, but in context that is an unnatural reading (‘she’ means Rahab in both the other cases).


Verse 26

And Joshua charged them with an oath at that time, saying, “Cursed be the man before YHWH who rises up, and builds this city Jericho. He will lay the foundation of it with the loss of his firstborn, and with his youngest son he will set up the gates of it.” ’

Having devoted everything to YHWH Joshua now devoted the mound itself to YHWH. He put on it a curse, that a city should not be rebuilt on it (Deuteronomy 13:16), in the strongest terms he could think of. The loss of a firstborn and of a youngest son were both seen as appalling tragedies, the former especially to a man, the latter to a woman. This later remarkably came to fruition over four hundred years later when someone did rebuild it (1 Kings 16:34). (This was unlikely to refer to a recognised sacrificial ritual otherwise it would not have been seen as unusual). Indeed Joshua may have intended it to be seen as signifying that the man’s whole progeny would be destroyed one by one as the building progressed, from eldest to youngest.

Such a curse on a ‘devoted’ city was seen as having great effect well beyond the bounds of Israel. The same happened to Troy and Carthage which were deliberately left desolate. It is ‘the wicked man’ who ‘dwells in cities that have been cut off, in houses which no man will inhabit’ (Job 15:28).

This does not mean that no one ever lived there, for settlement did possibly take place there (Judges 1:16; Judges 3:13 - although these may have been in tents at the oasis - Joshua 18:21; 2 Samuel 10:5; 1 Chronicles 19:5), but the idea was that it was not to be rebuilt as a city. (For the record New Testament Jericho was not situated on the old site).


Verse 27

So YHWH was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.’

At what had happened fear spread throughout Canaan. The name of Joshua was on every tongue. Or was it the name of YHWH? In the final analysis it was both. But far more important was the fact that YHWH was with him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 6:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/joshua-6.html. 2013.

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Friday, November 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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