Thus far we have studied through chapter five, verse 12, of the book of Joshua. In chapter 1, we saw God command Joshua to “cross the Jordan” in order to begin the conquest of the Promised Land. We saw the Lord encourage Joshua by promising to be with him every step of the way. And we saw Joshua do his part as the leader of the people. He had the people prepare the necessary food, and he made certain that all of the tribes would participate in the invasion. Then in chapter 2 Joshua sent spies into the land to explore it and to learn the attitude of the people there.
In chapter 3 we saw the actual crossing of the river. Crossing the river required a miracle; just as crossing the Red Sea 40 years earlier had required a miracle. As the people looked on, twelve priests stepped into the river, and the flooding waters began to roll back as if moved by a mighty hand, leaving essentially dry ground before the priests.
In chapters four and five we saw Israel memorialize the crossing of the Jordan and begin once again to keep the Mosaic Law. Joshua circumcised all of the males born since the Exodus and led the nation in a celebration of the Passover for the first time in 40 years.
In this essay we take up the conquest of Jericho in 5:13-6:27. With the nation back in covenant relationship with God under the law, Joshua could turn to the conquest. As he stood before Jericho, presumably thinking about how he was going to attack the city, we are told in 5:13-15 that “the commander of the army of the Lord” confronted him. The expression, “the army of the Lord,” is the equivalent of “the host of heaven” in 1 Kings 22:19. This is God’s heavenly army; and the “commander” is “the angel of the Lord” who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and who was identified as God himself back in Ex. 3:1-6. Those many years before God had told Moses the same thing he tells Joshua here; namely, to take off his shoes, because he was standing on holy ground.
Next, in 6:1-5, the commander explains to Joshua how the city would be given into Joshua’s hands. Notice that the author, before giving the Lord’s revelation to Joshua, reminds his readers of Jericho’s impenetrability (v. 1). Then in verses 2-5 Joshua gets the instructions that will give him a victory over Jericho without a fight.
Verses 6-27 show the instructions carried out and the victory won. You may notice as you read through these verses that we get additional details about the plans for the conquest from the account of the plans being carried out. Apparently the author didn’t want to repeat everything, so he didn’t include it all in verses 2-5. For example, we see the order of March in verses 8-10. The army marched both in front of and behind the priests with the trumpets and the ark. In addition we are told that the priests blew their trumpets continually as they circled the city (vv. 8, 9, 13). Moreover it also becomes clear that the people were to raise the shout only on the seventh day, on the seventh trip around the city (vv. 10, 16). And finally, there is the set of instructions, in verses 17 and following about devoting the captured city and its spoils to the Lord.
Turning back to verses 6-11, we see Joshua giving instructions to the priests and the people; and then they carry out the instructions and make the first trip around the city. Armed men set out followed by the priests blowing their trumpets. They were followed in turn by the Ark of the Covenant, which was followed by more soldiers. The entire procession circled around the city and came back into the camp. Then verses 12-14 tell us that the whole procedure was repeated on the five succeeding days.
As we continue with the narrative, on the seventh day the marching began very early in the morning, because they had to circle the town seven times. On the seventh circuit, not only were the trumpets blown, but the people shouted, because as Joshua had announced to the people, Jericho would be given into their hands. And it was! “They raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat. So the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it” (v. 20). And then in verses 22-27 Rahab was saved as promised; the destruction of the ban was carried out; and Joshua put a curse on Jericho.
Now then, we need to say a word about this matter of devoting the captured city to God. This was an old covenant matter. It was based on Lev. 27:28-29, which reads:
Nothing that a person owns that has been devoted to destruction for the Lord, be it human or animal, or inherited landholding, may be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord. No human beings who have been devoted to destruction can be ransomed; they shall be put to death.
The Hebrew word that is translated “devoted to destruction” has to do with things or people consecrated to God as holy things. Those things or people cannot be put to use by any human beings, because they belong to God. They are under a ban in the sense that they are banned from use.
In this case, because the Lord had given Jericho into the hands of Israel without a fight, they were to consecrate it to him as a ban. That meant, according to Leviticus, that every animal and human being had to be killed. The only exception was Rahab the harlot and her family, because of her role in hiding the spies.
The valuables of the city were not destroyed; but they were holy to the Lord. And they could only be placed in the treasury of the tabernacle. As verse 18 indicates, if anyone took any of the things devoted to God, they would bring the ban on themselves [NIV translation is better than NRSV]. Indeed they would cause the camp of Israel itself to come under the ban. That is why Joshua warned them to keep away from the city’s valuables.
As you may know, some scholars have attempted to find a natural explanation for the breakdown of the walls. They have proposed an earthquake, or some sort of huge storm, or something. But a miraculous breakdown of the walls is perfectly appropriate following the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River. The more difficult question is why would God miraculously deliver Jericho into their hands, and then make them take the rest of the land by force of arms?
The answer to that has to be theological, because it’s a theological problem. I believe the best answer is that God gave them the strongest city in Canaan without any effort on their part to symbolize that he had given them the whole land, as he had promised Abraham long before. Both the miracle of crossing the river and that of taking Jericho demonstrated to Israel that they were dependent on the Lord for the fulfillment of his promises. They never could regard the conquest as their own work, as a possession that they earned, rather than a gift from the God.
Turning to application, once again the narrative is an old covenant type of our new covenant salvation. When we enter into entire sanctification, God does it. It is not our work, even though we have to battle temptation throughout the experience; and we can fail to be obedient and sin.
Thus the fall of Jericho is a symbol and type of the overthrow of every worldly power by the Lord. When we enter into full salvation by faith, it is a great, miraculous gift from God, just as Jericho was a great, miraculous gift to Israel. And once we are in the “land” of holiness, we have to fight to possess it, just as Israel had to fight to possess Canaan.