Joshua 6

The Word Made Fresh

1Because the Israelites were near, Jericho was tightly closed and guarded. No one was allowed to enter or depart. 2Then the LORD said to Joshua, “I have given Jericho and its king and all its soldiers into your hand. 3March around the city once with your army. Do this for six consecutive days, 4accompanied by seven priests with rams’ horn trumpets, followed by the wooden chest with the commandments. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5When they blow a long trumpet blast, all the people will shout with all their might and the wall of the city will fall flat. Then the people can charge straight ahead.”

6Joshua gathered the priests and said, “Carry the wooden chest with the commandments and have seven priests with rams’ horn trumpets march in front of it.” 7Then he ordered the people to march around the city, with the armed men ahead of the LORD’s wooden chest.

8The seven priests with rams’ horn trumpets started out blowing the trumpets, followed by the wooden chest with the commandments, 9and the armed men went ahead of them. A rear guard followed the wooden chest while the trumpets blew constantly. 10Joshua told the people, “Keep quiet. Don’t utter a word until I tell you to shout, and then shout!” 11So, the LORD’s wooden chest was carried around the city once, and then they returned to the camp and spent the night.

12Joshua rose early next morning. The priests picked up the wooden chest of the LORD. 13The seven priests with the trumpets marched ahead of the wooden chest, blowing constantly. The soldiers went ahead of them, with a rear guard behind them. 14On the second day they marched once around the city and then returned to their camp. They did this for six days.

15On the seventh day they arose at dawn and marched around the city seven times. They only did this on the seventh day. 16On the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua told the people, “Shout! The LORD has given you the city! 17The city and everything in it is to be destroyed and dedicated to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and the others in her house are to live because she hid and protected the men we sent. 18Stay away from the things that are to be destroyed. Don’t covet any of those things. Don’t take any of them back to your camp and put the whole camp in danger of destruction. 19All the silver and gold, and all the bronze and iron containers are sacred to the LORD and shall go into the LORD’s treasury.”

20Then the people shouted, and the trumpets sounded, and the wall fell flat, and the people charged into the city and captured it. 21Everyone in the city, men and women, young and old, cattle and sheep and donkeys, were put to the sword.

22Joshua told the two men who had been sent as spies, “Go to the prostitute’s house and rescue the woman and her family as you promised. 23So they rescued Rahab and her father, mother, siblings, and all the other relatives and brought them safely out to a place near Israel’s camp.

24The Israelites burned down the city and everything in it except the silver and gold and containers made of bronze or iron, which were given to the LORD’s treasury. 25Rahab the prostitute and her family were spared. They have lived in Israel ever since, her reward for having protected the spies sent by Joshua.

26Joshua announced, “Anyone who tries to rebuild this city is cursed before the LORD. He will lay the foundation at the cost of his firstborn child, and he will hang its gates at the cost of his youngest child!”

27The LORD was with Joshua and his fame spread throughout the land.

Commentary

1-7: God instructs Joshua in the manner of besieging Jericho, and Joshua organizes the attack. The city is first blockaded so no one can escape to seek allies or reinforcements. Creation imagery is abundant in the use of the numbers six and seven (six days of marching once around the city with seven priests blowing seven rams’ horns; on the seventh day they are to march around it seven times with seven priests blowing seven rams’ horns). Joshua clarifies God’s instructions by sending soldiers before and after the wooden chest of the commandments (the “Ark of the Covenant”).

8-11: The first day of the siege: they march around the city once – soldiers, seven priests blowing rams’ horns, then priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant, then a rear guard of soldiers. It is not clear whether the rest of the people stand by, watching silently, or follow in the train of marchers.

12-14: The same ritual is repeated on the second day and 3rd-6th days. We are not told which day of the week they begin on, but it is apparent that on this occasion they do not keep the Sabbath!

15-16: On the seventh day they march around seven times, then Joshua commands all the people to shout.

17-19: Joshua (not God!) tells them that everyone in the city except Rahab and her family are to be put to the sword. Everything is to be destroyed except silver and gold and certain dishware which will become part of the treasury of the sanctuary. At this stage in Israel’s history, the treasury really represents the national treasury.

20-25: The people shout, the walls fall down, and Jericho is conquered. All living things are put to the sword according to Joshua’s (not God’s) command, and the city is burned. The two spies who were protected by Rahab are sent to get her and her family and grant them asylum, and they become resident aliens in Israel.

26-27: Joshua utters a curse on Jericho, that if it is rebuilt it will be at the cost of the firstborn of the one who rebuilds it. This echoes again the story of the exodus, when the firstborn of the families of Egypt perished. Later, in the days of King Ahab, a warlord named Hiel rebuilds the walls of Jericho, and his firstborn son dies (recorded in I Kings 16:34). However, others live in Jericho before then, perhaps only camping amidst the ruins (see Joshua 18:21, Judges 3:13, and 2 Samuel 10:5).

Takeaway

While Moses was a diplomat/administrator, Joshua is clearly a general. God provides exactly the kind of leadership needed at the moment. This trend will continue through the books of Judges and Kings. Joshua 6-12 records the conquest of the land. The destruction of people and cities is barbaric, but there are hints that the record is somewhat “optimistic” in its assessment of Israel’s successes. We will see in subsequent readings that many of the people displaced by Israel still lived in the land throughout the years to come. Perhaps Israel’s tradition of the utter destruction of entire populations is a result of the telling and retelling of victory stories, enhanced with the passage of time.