Josh 6:1 Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.

‘The essential elements for a theological understanding of the conquest are indicated in this account of Jericho, the first city to be destroyed. The destruction of the Canaanites, no less than the crossing of the Jordan, is the powerful work of God in faithfulness to the covenant… The fearful judgment of God is working to bring about the promised deliverance of His people is an important biblical theme (e.g., Ex. 14:13-14; Rev. 19:1-2). Furthermore, that the grace of God is not restricted to Israel (Gen. 12:3) is evidenced by the experience of Rahab and her household (v. 25). God is not simply anti-Canaanite (see Josh 5:14).’ (New Geneva)

Jericho – ‘Jericho (modern Tell es-Sultan), probably dedicated to the moon god (its name means ‘moon city’), was strategically located, having a large oasis in a region where water was precious and controlling the main roads into the interior.’ (NBC)

Tightly shut – cf. Josh 2:5,7. Several things are indicated: (a) Jericho was seemingly impregnable, and the resulting miracle will stand out even more clearly; (b) it was prepared in advance for seige and could have sought conditions for peace, just as Rahab had done.

Josh 6:2 Then the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.

‘The Lord’s instructions to Joshua display the character of the covenant. God graciously gave Israel the land, but they must make it theirs by obeying faithfully (Heb. 11:30; cf. 1:2-9). The first instruction that the army was to march around the city about 650 yds (600 m) once a day for six days served notice that the divine King was marking out the city as his. Jericho’s king and his forces resisted Israel (24:11), but they were as impotent as Satan and his host before Christ and his church (Mt. 12:22-29; Lk. 10:18; Eph. 6:10-18). The second instruction that seven priests were to bear seven trumpets of ram’s horn before the ark, signalled the start of the holy war. The ark is God’s holy throne (see 3:3). The third instruction that the seven priests were to march seven times on the seventh day – the number seven is repeated three times in v 14 – signified perfection. The fourth instruction that the people were to give an earth-shaking shout when they heard the last blast of the horns, gave voice to their faith. The fifth command that each warrior was to attack the city straight ahead after the walls fell, found its consummation when they ‘devoted’ the city to the Lord (17-20).’ (NBC)

“See, I have delivered” – ‘A striking paradox, since all that had been “seen” according to v. 1 was Jericho’s shut gates. The promise of God creates possibilities not inherent in the present situation. A similar contrast between present circumstances and what God promises is found often in the Bible, as in the present experience of believers (Gen. 15:2-5; Isa. 65:17; Rom. 8:18).’ (New Geneva)

There is a heavy emphasis in this chapter on the Lord giving Jericho to his people. This is asserted here, and also in the previous reference to the commander of the Lord’s army.

Wiersbe says, ‘Remember that you fight from victory, not just for victory,’ and proceeds: ‘The Christian soldier stands in a position of guaranteed victory because Jesus Christ has already defeated every spiritual enemy (John 12:31). Jesus defeated Satan not only in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11), but also during His earthly ministry (Mt 12:22-29), on the cross (Col. 2:13-15), and in His resurrection and ascension (Eph. 1:19-23). As He intercedes for His people in heaven, He helps us mature and accomplish His will (Heb. 13:20-21); and “if God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31)

“Along with its king and its fighting men” – suggesting that Jericho was ready and armed for self-defence.

Josh 6:3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days.

‘No trenches are to be opened, no batteries erected, nor battering rams drawn up, nor any military preparations made; but the ark of God must be carried by the priests round the city once a day for six days together, and seven times the seventh day, attended by the men of war in silence, the priests all the while blowing with trumpets of rams’ horns, Josh 6:3,4. This was all they were to do.’ (MHC)

‘Never was such a method propounded to reasonable man, or one more open to the objections and exceptions of worldly wisdom. No arrangement of his forces could have been more open to objection than that which God required of him. He was to march round Jericho once a day for six successive days, and seven times on the seventh day, the priests carrying the ark and blowing with trumpets, the men of war going before, and others following the ark, making a long narrow line round the place. We know that the city was provided with gates, like other fortified cities: What was there to prevent the men of Jericho from sallying out at each of the gates, breaking up the line of Israel into sections, separating them from each other, and inflicting dreadful slaughter on each? Such a march round the city seems to be the very way to invite a murderous attack. But it is the Divine command. And this process of surrounding the city is to be carried on in absolute silence on the part of the people, with no noise save the sounding of trumpets until a signal is given; then a great shout is to be raised, and the walls of Jericho are to fall down flat on the ground. Who would have thought it strange if Joshua had been somewhat staggered by so singular directions, and if, like Moses at the bush, he had suggested all manner of objections, and shown the greatest unwillingness to Undertake the operation? The noble quality of his faith is shown in his raising no objection at all. After God has thus answered his question, “What saith my Lord unto His servant?” he is just as docile and submissive as he was before. True faith is blind to everything except the Divine command. When God has given him his orders, he simply communicates them to the priests and to the people. He leaves the further development of the plan in God’s hands, assured that He will not leave His purpose unfulfilled.’ (Expositor’s Bible)

Josh 6:4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets.

Josh 6:5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.”

The wall of the city – ‘The only find of city walls resembling those described in the text belong to Stratum IV, which is commonly dated to the end of MB (c. 1550). Following the destruction of city IV, the site shows no significant evidence of occupation until well into the Iron Age, with the possible exception of a sparsely populated, unwalled village during parts of the LB II.’ (Walton, Dictionary of Old Testament: Pentateuch, art. ‘Exodus, Date of’)

See Heb 11:30. ‘We sometimes speak of “ages of faith.” There have been times when the disposition to believe. in the unseen, in the presence and power of God, and in the certain success at last of all that is done in obedience to His will, has dominated whole communities, and led to a wonderful measure of holy obedience. Such a period wag this age of Joshua. We cannot say, thinking of ourselves, that the present is an age of faith. Rather, on the part of the masses, it is an age when the secular, the visible, the present lords it over men’s minds. Yet we are not left without splendid examples of faith. The missionary enterprise that contemplates the conquest of the whole world for Christ, because God has given to His Messiah the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost part of the earth for His possession, and that looks forward to the day when this promise shall be fulfilled to the letter, is a fruit of faith. And the ready surrender of so many young lives for the world’s evangelisation, as missionaries, and teachers, and medical men and women, is a crowning proof that faith is not dead among us. Would only it were a faith that pervaded the whole community, – princes, priests, and people alike; and that there were a harmony among us in the attack on the strongholds of sin and Satan as great as there was in the host of Israel when the people, one in heart and one in hope, marched out, day after day, round the walls of Jericho!’ (Expositor’s Bible)

‘God appointed this way,

(1.) To magnify his own power, that he might be exalted in his own strength (Ps 21:13), not in the strength of instruments. God would hereby yet further make bare his own almighty arm for the encouragement of Israel and the terror and confusion of the Canaanites.

(2.) To put an honour upon his ark, the instituted token of his presence, and to give a reason for the laws by which the people were obliged to look upon it with the most profound veneration and respect. When, long after this, the ark was brought into the camp without orders from God, it was looked upon as a profanation of it, and the people paid dearly for their presumption, 1 Sam 4:3, &c. But now that it was done by the divine appointment it was an honour to the ark of God, and a great encouragement to the faith of Israel.

(3.) It was likewise to put honour upon the priests, who were appointed upon this occasion to carry the ark and sound the trumpets. Ordinarily the priests were excused from war, but that this privilege, with other honours and powers that the law had given them, might not be grudged them, in this service they are principally employed, and so the people are made sensible what blessings they were to the public and how well worthy of all the advantages conferred upon them.

(4.) It was to try the faith, obedience, and patience, of the people, to try whether they would observe a precept which to human policy seemed foolish to obey and believe a promise which in human probability seemed impossible to be performed. They were also proved whether they could patiently bear the reproaches of their enemies and patiently wait for the salvation of the Lord. Thus by faith, not by force, the walls of Jericho fell down.

(5.) It was to encourage the hope of Israel with reference to the remaining difficulties that were before them. That suggestion of the evil spies that Canaan could never be conquered because the cities were walled up to heaven (Deut 1:28) would by this be for ever silenced. The strongest and highest walls cannot hold out against Omnipotence; they needed not to fight, and therefore needed not to fear, because God fought for them. ‘ (MHC)

Josh 6:6 So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the LORD and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.”

Josh 6:7 And he ordered the people, “Advance! March around the city, with the armed guard going ahead of the ark of the LORD.”

Josh 6:8 When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the LORD went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them.

Seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord – Another indication that this battle is the Lord’s.

Josh 6:9 The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding.

Josh 6:10 But Joshua had commanded the people, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!”

Josh 6:11 So he had the ark of the LORD carried around the city, circling it once. Then the people returned to camp and spent the night there.

Josh 6:12 Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the LORD.

Josh 6:13 The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the LORD and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the LORD, while the trumpets kept sounding.

Josh 6:14 So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

Josh 6:15 On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times.

Josh 6:16 The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city!

Verses 16-25 have an alternating A-B-A-B-A-B structure, where A represents the destruction of Jericho and B the salvation of Rahab and her family. In the Hebrew, the former occupies 102 words, and the latter 86. Clearly, in this account, the salvation of the few is as important as the destruction of the many.

Josh 6:17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent.

‘Joshua’s command to devote (Heb. herem) the city involved killing all the people in it to prevent Israel’s spiritual contagion (Dt. 20:16-18). Sometimes the herem involved burning the city (Josh 24; 11:13), and on other occasions it did not include the plundering of the conquered cities (cf. Josh 8:26-27; 11:14). The principle is worked out in the church through excommunication (1 Cor. 5:13), a principle and procedure that may need sometimes to be re-applied today.’ (NBC)

‘The temporal destruction by the curse must be seen as a prelude and a foreshadowing of a more final judgement that God will mete out to those whose unrighteousness will be full. (cf. Gen 15:16) in the end of days (see Jer 51:63f; Rev 18:20f).

‘There is no difficulty in perceiving the great lesson for all time to be derived from this extraordinary transaction, or the great law of the kingdom of God that was made so conspicuous by it. When we have clear indications of the Divine mind as to any course of action, we are to advance to it promptly and without fear, even though the means at our disposal appear utterly inadequate to the object sought to be gained. No man goeth a warfare at his own charges in the service of God. The resources of infinite power avail for that service, and they are sure to be brought into play if it be undertaken for God’s glory, and in accordance with His will. Who could have supposed that the fishermen of Galilee would in the end triumph over all the might of kings and rulers; over all the influence of priesthoods and systems of worship enshrined in the traditions of centuries; over all the learning and intellect of the philosopher, and over all the prejudices and passions of the multitude? The secret lay manifestly in the promise of Jesus – “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.”’ (Expositor’s Bible)

Josh 6:18 But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it.

The culture established by the law was not different in every respect from the cultures which surrounded Israel; indeed, because of Israel’s geography, she had more exposure to influences from neighbouring peoples than almost any other nation. (When contact with such neighbours is forbidden, Josh 6:18, this was due to their wickedness, not their foreignness.) Foreign influences can be seen in the ornamentation of the temple and even in the covenant idea. ‘So in the process of revelation God is not concerned to give his people a special culture, but to intervene and reveal his will so that institutions and practices that already existed could be reformed and become suitable vehicles of his glory.’ (Dyrness)

‘Israel is to keep itself clean from the accursed things, which had been devoted to the Lord (Lev 27:28). As executors of the curse, Israel itself would become subject to the curse and thus bring trouble on the camp, if it partook of the devoted things. This strict prohibition explains the story to follow in ch 7.’ (Woudstra)

Josh 6:19 All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury.”

Josh 6:20 When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.

‘Major earthquakes happen in the Jordan Valley on an average of four times a century, and the excavations at Jericho have revealed clear evidence of a collapse of at least one mud brick wall. This data gives credibility to the epic without detracting from the wonder that God predicted it and executed it with perfect timing.’ (NBC)

The fall of Jericho

The biblical account of Jericho as a walled city in the time of Joshua is discussed as a ‘test case’ in the book ‘Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy’.  Peter Enns says that the ‘overwhelmingly dominant’ scholarly position is that Jericho was a small, unwalled settlement at that time (about 1400 BC, if a later date for the exodus is accepted).  He says that although in the 1930s, John Garstang claimed to have found remains of a well-populated walled city on the site, Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations in the 1950s led her to argue that these walls dated to about 1550 BC.  According to Enns, only biblical inerrantists such as Bryant Wood contest the generally-held view that Jericho was without walls in the time of Joshua.  Evangelical scholars such as Kenneth Kitchen and Richard Hess take the view that the ‘essential historicity’ of the biblical account can be maintained, suggesting that the notion of a walled city in the Late Bronze Age is ‘not impossible’, given the possibility that erosion may have obliterated the remains of the walls.  But for Enns, this is merely a ‘rhetorical strategy’:-

‘If the archaeological evidence does not make the biblical view absolutely impossible, the biblical account remains historically possible and therefore should be given the benefit of the doubt, and external evidence should be interpreted generously to support that conclusion.’

The rejection of a position as a mere ‘rhetorical strategy’ could be more fairly levelled against J. McDowell (The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, p95, repeated verbatim on p382) who mentions the earlier work of Garstang but fails to mention that of Kenyon.

Enns’ own view is that ‘the biblical story of the fall of Jericho is perhaps a significant elaboration on a historical kernel, not a reliable record of a historical event.’  (Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (2013). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)

According to The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land:-

‘It is possible…that the Late Bronze Age II city of Jericho was conquered by Joshua, and that during the long period that elapsed before its resettlement in the time of Hiel the Bethelite all remains were washed away by the [winter] rains.’

Presumably, the author of this article is not offering this as merely a ‘rhetorical strategy’ to shore up doctrinal conservatism.  The same article adds that no remains have been found of the later city (early 9th century BC) built by Hiel the Bethelite (1 King 16:34).

The relevant article in Harper’s Bible Dictionary (again, not exactly a bastion of conservative evangelicalism) also notes that Kenyon found little evidence of occupation of the site, and no evidence of walls, from the Late Bronze Age, adding that ‘the forces of erosion had removed all the vital evidence’.

Again, Enns’ confident scepticism seems challenged by the agnosticism found in Harper’s Bible Commentary (again, not a conservative evangelical publication):-

‘Whether the conquest of this city is to be taken largely as a later liturgical creation or whether this town actually fell to Israel will remain a debated problem for a long time to come. Here is a case where archaeology cannot seem to resolve the problem. The excavator of Jericho, Kathleen Kenyon, held that the archaeological evidence is unclear about whether a city existed on the site at the time of Joshua’s conquest.’

Nigro says

‘The ruins of Tell es-Sultan include massive collapsed and burnt mud-brick structures. These ruins were once a flourishing Canaanite city, built in the Early and Middle Bronze Ages (third to mid-second millennium B.C.E.) upon the remains of a major fortified Neolithic settlement. The ruins are far older than the date of Joshua’s conquest (that is, the end of the Late Bronze Age, around the thirteenth century B.C.E.). In fact, there is no evidence connecting the remains of this impressive city with the Jericho described in Joshua.’

…and surmises:-

‘We have to imagine that, when the biblical author included Jericho in the conquest story, the site was already a heap of burnt and ruinously collapsed bricks. These ruins must have seemed to prove the story and were thus exploited by the biblical author: everybody could see that the city of Jericho had been violently destroyed by fire. The author thus ascribed this event to the arrival of the Israelites in the promised land.’

According to Kitchen (NBD), the possibility that the remains of Jericho from Joshua’s day have been entirely washed away ‘is not just a “harmonistic” or heuristic view, but one suggested by the evidence of considerable erosion of the older settlements at Jericho.’  Kitchen adds:-

‘It seems highly likely that the washed-out remains of the last Late Bronze Age city are now lost under the modern road and cultivated land along the E side of the town mound, as the main slope of the mound is from W down to E. It remains highly doubtful whether excavation here (even if allowed) would yield much now.’

Given Jericho’s long and varied history, it is not surprising that J.G. McConville (Dictionary of Old Testament: Historical Books) says that its archaeological record is ‘not easy to read’.  He cites Kenyon and Mazar in support of the possibility that ‘the Early and Middle Bronze walls were simply used again by occupants in the Late Bronze.

McConville concludes that ‘it would be mistaken either to prejudge the nature of the biblical account on the basis of the archaeology or to force the ambiguous archaeology to fit the biblical picture.’

Josh 6:21 They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, p247) complains that ‘the Bible story of Joshua’s destruction of Jericho, and the invasion of the Promised Land in general, is morally indistinguishable from Hitler’s invasion of Poland, or Saddam Hussein’s massacres of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs.’

‘The indiscriminate and promiscuous slaughter, making no distinction of age or sex, but including alike women and children, the aged and decrepit, might seem an inhuman massacre, had it not been executed by the command of God. But as he, in whose hands are life and death, had justly doomed those nations to destruction, this puts an end to all discussion. We may add, that they had been borne with for four hundred years, until their iniquity was complete. Who will now presume to complain of excessive rigor, after God had so long delayed to execute judgment? If any one object that children, at least, were still free from fault, it is easy to answer, that they perished justly, as the race was accursed and reprobated. Here then it ought always to be remembered, that it would have been barbarous and atrocious cruelty had the Israelites gratified their own lust and rage, in slaughtering mothers and their children, but that they are justly praised for their active piety and holy zeal, in executing the command of God, who was pleased in this way to purge the land of Canaan of the foul and loathsome defilement’s by which it had long been polluted.’ (Calvin)

‘Although the “ban” meant total destruction for Jericho, this does not mean that there could not have been mercy. The “ban” is only one aspect of God’s plans for nations. Elsewhere it is clear that nations do have a choice. Even a people whose wickedness is reaching the point of no return (Gen 15:16) can repent and find forgiveness and mercy from God (2 Chron 7:14; Jer 18:5-10; Jon 4:11).’ (Hess)

Josh 6:22 Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.”

Josh 6:23 So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.

Rahab…and all who belonged to her – As indicated in Josh 2:12f, Rahab is rescued along with her family. Another instance of family solidarity, working this time in the opposite direction occurs in the next chapter.

Outside the camp of Israel – because of their ceremonial uncleanness, Lev 13:46; Deut 23:3.

Some commentators think that this sparing of Rahab was due to Israel’s faithlessness and disobedience (so Polzin).  But the opinion of Hess is more probable: that she was spared because she embraced the worship of Yahweh.

Josh 6:24 Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house.

Josh 6:25 But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.

She lives among the Israelites to this day – This underscores the veracity of the account, together with the antiquity of its composition. Moreover, it helps to explain how Rahab comes to be featured in the genealogy of Boaz, David, and, ultimately, Jesus himself.

‘Perhaps the writer also means to remind later readers that at some significant points in Israel’s history, other non-Israelite stock was added to the nation’s life. Purely racial components have never defined the people of God under the “old dispensation.” What Israel had it had because of God’s grace (Deut 7:6-8).’ (Woudstra)

‘Both by repetition and by extended details God’s covenant-keeping, even with a Canaanite prostitute (17b, 22-23, 25), is underscored. Rahab and her household were at first placed outside the camp (23) because they were ceremonially unclean (Lv. 13:46; Dt. 23:3), but at the time of writing her descendants were settled permanently in Israel. There is a sense in which she continues to live in the new Israel through her descendant, Jesus Christ (Mt. 1:5).’ (NBC)

Josh 6:26 At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: “Cursed before the LORD is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: “At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates.”

This ‘emphasises the totality of divine judgement against Jericho. Devoted to God by complete destruction, the city was to remain that way for ever, a symbol of the power of Israel’s God to all who would see it.’ (Hess) Cf. 1 Kings 16:34.

It is noteworthy that Jericho lay uninhabited until the early 9th century BC, when it was rebuilt by Hiel the Bethelite in the reign of Ahab.  In doing so, he fulfilled the ancient curse in the loss of his eldest and youngest sons (1 Kings 16:34).

Josh 6:27 So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.

‘For the Christian, the fall of Jericho represents an example of the power of faith in God. Without this faith, nothing can happen. With this faith, however, and the faithful obedience that it brings about, the Christian can overcome any obstacle in life, no matter how great (cf. Heb 11:30).’ (Hess)