Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentJOSHUA 6
THE CAPTURE OF JERICHO
Crucial to the entire conquest of Canaan was the capture of the strategically-important bastion of Jericho which controlled the approaches to the highlands. Enemies of the Word of God have probably wasted more ink in trying to discredit or destroy the record of this wonderful chapter than they have wasted on any other project except a denial of the resurrection of Christ. That Israel's capture of Jericho was by Divine and miraculous assistance is the unqualified declaration of this chapter, but nothing stops the mouths of the unbelievers who simply will not have it so! Note the following:
"The Rahab clan in the city would open the gates or find some other way to let the invaders in.F1 A mine (of explosives) was planted under the walls while the men of Jericho were distracted by the Israelites marching around the city.F2 The marchers served to distract the attention of the watchers from Israelite sappers at work undermining the walls!F3 It has been thought that perhaps the resounding shout of the Israelites on the seventh day, operating upon a principle of vibration, such as that by which, "an opera singer can break a glass by hitting the right note,"F4 could have caused the walls to fall down."
To all such unbelieving "explanations" of the wonder that is recorded in this chapter, Keil has this appropriate reply:
"The different attempts that have been made to explain the MIRACULOUS overthrow of the walls of Jericho as a natural occurrence, whether by earthquake, or storming, or mining, for which the inhabitants had been thrown into a false security by the marvelous procession repeated day after day, were quite unprepared, really deserve no serious refutation, being, all of them arbitrarily forced upon the text."F5
Keil's words in the above quotation strike us as being entirely true, and yet we do not think it may fairly be denied that God's frequent use of the NATURAL world in the achievement of His purpose might also, in ways unknown to us, have been a feature of this wonder here. "It is possible to suppose, without minimizing the Divine guidance of events, that the physical cause was an earthquake, as in the case of the damming up of the Jordan."F6 Something of the geographical and archeological information bearing upon this part of the Divine record should be observed. The expedition of John Garstang (1930-1936) resulted in the conclusion that the site of ancient Jericho had been discovered, and, that, according to the archeological evidence it had been destroyed between 1400 B.C. and 1385 B.C., which is close enough to the probable date of the conquest that this writer is not willing, simply upon the basis of Kathleen Kenyon's expedition (1952-1958) with her conclusion that Garstang's Jericho fell 300 years earlier, to accept the assurance in which some deny Garstang's conclusion. There is too much uncertainty about that. As Morton put it, "This is inconclusive."F7 Indeed it it is! Furthermore, archeologists have simply NOT demonstrated their ability to arrive at trustworthy estimates of ancient dates. The comment of J. A. Thompson on this subject do not in any way destroy the general opinion about Jericho as outlined by Garstang.F8 About the fall of Jericho, he said, "The town was burned several times, and the features noted by Garstang could have been found also in other cities."F9 Archeology, at best, is an INEXACT SCIENCE, and the problems are too complicated to allow any attempt to unravel all of them here, but we may summarize Thompson's view, in his own words: "There can be no doubt that archeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition."F10
As regards the size of Jericho, it was by no means a large city by modern standards, nevertheless a very powerful and important city. Woudstra gave the dimensions of a number of ancient cities thus: (1) Jericho was 225 X 80 meters, about 600 meters in circumference. (2) Jerusalem at the time of David's capture of it was 400 X 100 meters. (3) Shechem was 230 X 150 meters.F11 "Most of the remains in that area from the times of Joshua have been eroded and washed away."F12
With these preliminary considerations, we now turn our attention to the text itself, assured that it has already successfully weathered the attacks of over 3,000 years by those who have sought in vain to discredit it.
Right here begins the second major division of Joshua. (See the outline.)
Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in.
"This verse is merely an explanatory clause inserted before the message which the Prince of the Hosts of Jehovah had come to communicate."F13 "If there is any place in the Bible where the division into chapters and verses is unsuitable, it is here."F14 Jericho was a strongly fortified and walled city, and this verse strongly suggests that heavenly intervention was necessary if Israel was to capture it.
Straitly shut up
A glance at the margin reveals that this is also rendered, did shut up, and was shut up. This, in Hebrew, is an emphatic form such as, dying thou shalt die (Genesis 2:17).F15
And Jehovah said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thy hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valor. And ye shall compass the city, all the men of war, going about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And it shall be, that, when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall go up every man straight before him. And Joshua the son of Nun called the priests, and said unto them, Take up the ark of the covenant, and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of Jehovah. And they said unto the people, Pass on, and compass the city, and let the armed men pass on before the ark of Jehovah.
"Jehovah" in Josh. 6:2 is identical with "The Prince of the Hosts of Jehovah" in Josh. 5:14; and these are the instructions for which Joshua made request. This description of the manner in which Joshua is to proceed against Jericho must have shocked Joshua. If there had ever been anything in the history of the world more calculated to invite the contempt and merriment of the citizens of Jericho, we have never heard of it. "The people of Jericho must have made themselves merry with the spectacle."F16 Notice too that all of this must have been very difficult for Israel also. Think of the frustrations, day after day, from all that ceremonial marching, and all the taunts and gleeful laughter that must have been hurled at them by the citizens of Jericho. It is a wonder then, as suggested by Pink, that some of the Israelites, at least did not cry out, "What is the use of prolonging this business?"F17 It was a crucial test of the faith of Joshua when he confronted a set of Divine orders such as those "the Prince" conveyed to him here. Longacre's comment shows how unwilling men are, even today, to BELIEVE that God said this. "The story does not read convincingly to men whose thoughts move NATURALLY in the world as it is known today."F18
The ASV and many other recent versions have mistranslated the words here given as "rams' horns." "There is no mention of rams' horns in the original Hebrew."F19 The horns used were the jubilee trumpets, long metal devices that were also used in the Feast of Trumpets. "The word from which trumpets comes here means loud trumpets or trumpets of jubilee, and is the same word found in Lev. 25:9."F20
Critics have been frustrated trying to find something wrong with this narrative. Holmes stated that, "It is so skillfully compiled that at first sight there is not much fault to find."F21 Of course, there are peculiarities in the construction of this narrative, but these are indications of the ancient style in which it is written. "These minor peculiarities mostly relate to the trumpets and to the ark, but these do not argue against the unity of the passage."F22 The kind of criticisms usually resorted to are merely exclamations of unbelief. Boling, for example, SUPPOSED the story to be INCREDIBLE because of all the outbuildings and dwellings that usually surrounded ancient cities, declaring that, "These instructions presuppose that Jericho is already mostly in ruins at the outset."F23 Such a criticism is illogical. All of the people had already moved inside the walls preparatory to the beginning of the assault upon the city which they expected.
The exact order of the march can be determined here by a careful study of the first eleven verses. Woudstra gave this as follows: (1) A military contingent goes around the city; (2) the heavily armed go first (Joshua 6:7,9); (3) then the priests with the horns (Joshua 6:8); (4) the ark also carried by priests; and (5) finally the rear guard.F24
Continuing exactly in the style of ancient Hebrew writing, these verses give additional instructions scattered throughout the narrative and not concentrated at the beginning of an episode, as we might have expected. We have noticed this so often in the Bible that the absence of it would be cause for question.
And it was so, that, when Joshua had spoken unto the people, the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns before Jehovah passed on, and blew the trumpets: and the ark of the covenant of Jehovah followed them. And the armed men went before the priests that blew the trumpets, and the rearward went after the ark, [the priests] blowing the trumpets as they went. And Joshua commanded the people, saying, Ye 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 ye shout. So he caused the ark of Jehovah to compass the city, going about it once: and they came into the camp, and lodged in the camp.
It is clear from these verses that the priests continually blew on the trumpets throughout the full time of the march around the city every day. Also, notice that in Joshua's summary of what was done, only the ark is mentioned as having been caused by Joshua (that, is by Joshua's command) to compass Jericho (Joshua 6:11), indicating the priority and importance of the ark in this narrative.
And Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of Jehovah. And the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of Jehovah went on continually, and blew the trumpets: and the armed men went before them; and the rearward came after the ark of Jehovah, [the priests] blowing the trumpets as they went. And the second day they compassed the city once, and returned into the camp: so they did six days.
Certainly it must be accepted that this procedure, day after day, without any VISIBLE results of what they were doing must have been a severe "test of the discipline and faith of the Hebrews."F25
And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they rose early at the dawning of the day, and compassed the city after the same manner seven times: only on the day they compassed the city seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for Jehovah hath given you the city. And the city shall be devoted, even it and all that is therein, to Jehovah: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. But as for you, only keep yourselves from the devoted thing, lest when ye have devoted it, ye take of the devoted thing; so would ye make the camp of Israel accursed, and trouble it. But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are holy unto Jehovah: they shall come into the treasury of Jehovah. So the people shouted, and [the priests] blew the trumpets; and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, that the people shouted with a great shout, 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. And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, both young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.
Note the "we" in Josh. 6:17. Thus, there is another indication that we have here the account of an eye-witness and participant in this event. And who could that be if not Joshua himself? It is a reflection on many writers that they PRETEND not even to see this pronoun.
Adam Clarke pointed out that the very fact of Israel's being able to compass Jericho seven times in a single day, "is proof that the city was not very extensive."F26 According to the size of the city given above, as 600 meters in circumference, we would have in a sevenfold encompassing of the city a total of 4,200 meters, a distance considerably less than three miles. Lilley pointed out that the statement about the walls falling down flat does not mean, necessarily, that, "the entire circuit of the wall collapsed."F27 This comment should be accepted as true because Rahab's house was on the wall of the city, and God's sparing her probably meant that her house was spared, at least until sufficient opportunity for the rescue of Rahab was provided.
Josh. 6:17 here mentions the "ban," or the [@anathema] or the [~cherem], or the "devoted" status of Jericho. This aspect of the Holy War in which Israel was engaged required the total destruction of all life and property, with some specific exemptions, such as silver and gold, which went into the treasury of the Lord. For fuller teaching on this and for explanation of the various DEGREES of its enforcement, see Lev. 17:21ff. In the case of Jericho, probably because it was the first of the Canaanite cities, there were not to be any exceptions, except the gold, silver, and bronze. Sizoo, speaking of this, said, "It is not merely a sacrifice to the deity, but rather a taboo ... In a wider sense, it refers to anything or any person irrevocably condemned to destruction (Lev. 17:28,29; Exo. 22:20)."F28
And they took the city
(Joshua 6:20). Mercifully, we are not given the description of all that this blunt word means. The terror and the tragedy of the doomed city were of no avail. The vast hordes of the Israelites, outnumbering Jericho in double digit multiples, showed no mercy or hesitancy whatever in putting to the sword every living thing in the city. Josh. 6:21 simply designated the slaughter as complete: every man, every woman, every child, every animal. Modern man, as a general thing, has declared himself ABOVE such a destruction as this, but humanity's arrogant conceit in doing so is a woeful misunderstanding of WHY God Himself commanded this destruction to be executed upon Jericho. The MORAL CANCER of Canaan was, at that point in time, out of control, and there was no other recourse available to terminate the wicked debaucheries and immoralities of a people running wild, unrestrained, in utter rebellion against the Creator! Modern men would do well to learn the lesson in this instead of preening themselves as being SUPERIOR to God Almighty Himself in their self-imputed morality, which they have the gall to offer as the NEW morality!
And Joshua said unto the two men that had spied out the land, Go into the harlot's house, and bring out thence the woman, and all that she hath, as ye sware unto her. And the young men the spies went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had; all her kindred also they brought out; and they set them without the camp of Israel. And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein; only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of Jehovah. But Rahab the harlot, and her father's household, and all that she had, did Joshua save alive; and she dwelt in the midst of Israel unto this day, because she hid the messengers, whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho. And Joshua charged them with an oath at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before Jehovah, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: with the loss of his first-born shall he lay the foundation thereof, and with the loss of his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it. So Jehovah was with Joshua; and his fame was in all the land.
Cook's comment on this chapter, making it typical of God's judgment of all people at the end of the age, is of interest. He said:
"The circumstances that lead up to the fall of Jericho are an acted prophecy, as was that fall itself, which sets forth the overthrow of all that resists the kingdom of which Christ is the head; and particularly the day of judgment, in which the overthrow will be finally accomplished."F29
She dwelt. unto this day ..
(Joshua 6:25). The fact that Rahab was still living in Israel at the time this narrative was written is amazing proof regarding the date of Joshua. We like the way Adam Clarke noted it:
"This is one proof that the book was written in the time to which it is commonly referred; and it certainly might have been done by the hand of Joshua himself ... Marginal notes, which may have crept into the text later, to superficial observers, give it the appearance of having been written after the days of Joshua."F30
Well, how do the critics handle this? Morton declared that it was not Rahab at all who was living at this time, but "her descendants.F31 Boling went to that old reliable assistant of all critical enemies of the Bible, THE REDACTOR!F32 The weight of one thousand similar comments on this sacred text is nil. There never was a "redactor," and there is just as much authority for making Rahab in this passage mean her ancestors, as there is for making it mean her descendants. And what is that "authority"? It is exactly the same as that of Satan who said to Eve, "Ye shall NOT surely die!"
"It is remarkable that the ban against Jericho (as indicated in Joshua's curse against the city) was observed for four centuries afterward, until Hiel of Bethel broke it, and the curse was fulfilled in him (1 Kings 16:34)."F33 "The laying of the foundation was marked by the death of his oldest son, and the death of his youngest followed the completion of the city."F34 This is a warning, as Matthew Henry stated it, that, "It is always dangerous to build up what God wishes to be destroyed."F35
Footnotes for Joshua 6
1: Samuel Holmes, Peake's Commentary on the Bible, Joshua (London: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 251.
2: A critic named Paulus, as quoted by Plummer, advanced this idea. Alfred Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 3, Joshua (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 99.
3: This solution was advanced by C. G. Howie in 1967, quoted by Hugh J. Blair, The New Bible Commentary, Revised, Joshua (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 239.
4: Schaeffer mentioned this explanation, at the same time disallowing it as having any validity. Francis Schaeffer, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 105.
5: C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 2, Joshua (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p.68.
6: Joseph R. Sizoo, op. cit., p. 582.
7: William H. Morton, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, Joshua (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1970), p. 322.
8: J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archeology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 59.
9: Ibid., pp. 60, 61.
10: Ibid., p. 5.
11: Marten H. Woudstra, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Joshua (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981), p. 109.
12: Ben F. Philbeck, The Teachers' Bible Commentary, Joshua (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), p. 140.
13: C. F. Keil, op. cit., p. 63.
15: Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings From Joshua (Chicago: Moody Press, 1964), p. 146.
16: Robert Jamieson, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, Joshua (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 146.
17: Arthur W. Pink, op. cit., p. 164.
18: Lindsay B. Longacre, Abingdon Bible Commentary, Joshua (New York: Abingdon Press, 1929), p. 349.
19: Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 98.
20: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 145.
21: Samuel Holmes, op. cit., p. 251.
22: John Lilley, The New Layman's Bible Commentary, Joshua (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 317.
23: Robert G. Boling and G. Ernest Wright, Joshua, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1982), p. 206.
24: Marten H. Woudstra, op. cit., p. 110.
25: John Lilley, op. cit., p. 317.
26: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 2, Joshua (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), p. 26.
27: John Lilley, op. cit., p. 317.
28: Joseph R. Sizoo, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2, Joshua (New York: Abingdon Press, 1956), p. 580.
29: F. C. Cook, op. cit., p. 365.
30: Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 26.
31: William H. Morton, op. cit., p. 326.
32: Robert G. Boling, op. cit., p. 209.
33: John Lilley, op. cit., p. 317.
34: Alfred Plummer, op. cit., p. 109.
35: Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 2, Joshua (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company), p. 34.