The story of the Battle of Jericho is fairly well known. Joshua 6 presents us with the Israelites following the orders of the “commander of the army of YHWH” that Joshua met in Joshua 5:13-15. The orders are in the first few verses of Joshua 6, and then the Israelites follow those orders. (Practically speaking Joshua 5:13 marks the beginning of the narrative unit more than 6:1 does, and is a good evidence of why a strict chapter-by-chapter approach breaks down.)
Joshua leads the people to march around the city, once. Then, they return to their camp. This is done on six consecutive days. On the seventh day, the men of Israel march around the city seven times. At a musical cue, the people shout, the walls fall down, and Jericho falls to the invading Israelites. The Israelites are commanded to destroy everything in the city, which leaves us with no moral questions. They are also commanded to kill everyone in the city, which does leave us with some serious moral questions. I’ve never met an answer to those questions that I fully like, and the ones that come closest will easily convert a blog post into a book. We will leave it as an open question for now.
Jericho ends the chapter destroyed, Rahab ends the chapter saved, and Joshua’s fame is growing. (Joshua 6:27)
For a focal verse, look back first at Joshua 2:18 and then come forward to Joshua 6:23. The men who had promised Rahab deliverance placed a condition on their promise. She was to hang a scarlet rope from the window of her home, to mark the family to be spared. It is, first of all, reminiscent of the marking of the Israelite’s homes in Egypt during the Passover.
Second, though, it marked a place of salvation among the devastation. In all of the chaos, there remained one safe space. It was the home of Rahab. The place that many, likely, avoided by habit became the one place to be.
Finally, it is worth noting that Rahab and family are initially placed “outside the camp” of Israel (Joshua 6:23). They were saved, but the people of God were not entirely sure what to do next. In time, we see Rahab come to live in the midst of Israel (v. 25) by the time of the final editing of Joshua’s narrative.
What is there to be done about this? After all, none of us are invading walled cities these days. Especially not as part of God’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery. So, first a few things that are on the “not to-do list.” First, do not march around someone’s house in hopes the walls fall down. That misses the point of loving even your enemies. (Matthew 5:44) Additionally, one should not assume that God will work the same way again—He knocked down precisely zero other walls in this matter. Second, it is worth remembering that we have the complete Word of God in our hands. There are practical instructions enough that we do not need to go looking for angels with messages these days.
Now, on the to-do list:
1. Remember that no matter how devastated an area looks, there are still people there who the grace of God can reach. Rahab was possibly the least savable of all these people, and yet God had a plan for her. Keep your eyes looking for the threads of grace to find those who will heed His message. The amazing thing about the grace of God is that He has no limit on how many people the thread can stretch to.
2. There is, however, a necessity for the one true thread to be there. Rahab had a specific fabric to use, and there was no imitation possible. The same is true of the Gospel: it is the fact of Jesus’ death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection that makes salvation possible. Not anything else—and if any idea suggests that salvation is possible without these, it’s a false thread that leads to destruction. Not a viable substitute.
3. The other side of the coin: in the devastation, leave the mess. There are ideas, attitudes, and behaviors that belong only on the rubble heap to be burned. Along with the beliefs that underlie this trash. There is no sense in trying to save them. Pile them up and let them go. And let the person who brings such ideas back into the vogue be accursed—whether they are false gods of materialism or false gods of racism or abuse or any of the thousands of wicked ends mankind has hatched in the centuries. Burn it. Let it never return, at all costs.
First nerd part: the Zondervan NIV Study Bible presents a take on Jericho and Ai that I have not seen—they suggest that Jericho, Ai, and some of the other locales are possibly military forts rather than complete cities at the time of the Conquest. This would account for the lack of archaeological evidence of massive cities in those locations. It would also soften the ethical problems of the conquest: you are then not dealing with a massive civilian slaughter. Instead, you are destroying the entire military and, by extension, scaring the civilian population out. I have not seen this in my other resources, so I won’t push it hard, but it is worth contemplation. If the language/history holds up, that would be a good thing.
Second nerd part: remember that there is debate between defining Rahab as an “innkeeper” or a “harlot.” Suffice it to say that her life becomes very different on learning about the One True God. Focus on her Savior, not her past.
Third nerd part: Joshua 6:26 and 1 Kings 16:34. A good thought for a long-term study is all the distance covered in the life of Israel between Jericho and Jericho.
Fourth nerd part: there are significant archaeological issues with dating the events of this passage and the evidence in the dirt on the city of Jericho. I will not untie that knot here. But do some reading—Archaeology and Bible History by Joseph Free is a good starting point. McRay and Hoerth’s Bible Archaeology is another good beginning resource.