Joshua 5:13-6:27 – Jericho
1. The appearance of the LORD (5:13‑15)
Joshua goes from Gilgal to Jericho. There the first combat would take place.
Question 1: What was Joshua able to determine? (See 6:1.)
When Joshua was near Jericho, he was confronted by a man with a drawn sword in his hand. He was clearly a man ready for battle.
Joshua does not know that this man is the LORD himself. That is why he asks, "Are you for us or for our adversaries?" However, since it is the LORD, the question is not correct. The LORD is neither part and parcel of the Israelites nor of the Canaanites. He does not unconditionally choose for one or another league. He rules over both parties and does not only compel his enemies but also his own nation to make a choice concerning himself. Listen to the answer Joshua receives:
"...as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come."
Question 2: The army of the LORD is not equivalent to the army of Israel, since Joshua was the commander of that army. Joshua makes a deep bow before this commander. What is the army of the LORD? (See Ps 103:20,21; 148:2; Rev 12:7.)
The commander of God's army is called the LORD (6:2). This reminds us of the angel of the LORD (Judg 2:1), the Lord Jesus in the Old Testament before he became man. If you read Exodus 3:2‑6 and 14 you will see that the angel of the LORD is the LORD himself.
The commander of God's army himself came to Joshua. Joshua did not go to God, but God came to Joshua. The timing of his appearance was determined by neither Joshua nor Israel. Joshua is caught off guard by the appearance. The timing is determined by God. He comes at a time that seems fit to him. For Israel it is a moment of great importance.
Joshua, together with all the other Israelites, was living in anticipation of the battle. Here, Joshua finds out what is at stake. In the imminent battle the LORD's affairs are at stake; what matters is how the LORD deals with his enemies in Canaan. The Canaanites were the LORD's enemies (Gen 15:16; Deut 29:23). In connection with this you may want to read the conclusion of the Belgic Confession, article 37.
Through this appearance of the LORD, Joshua receives a clear insight into reality, is strongly urged to remain obedient, and is at the same time encouraged in a similar manner as Elisha's servant many years later would be (2 Kings 6:16,17). Joshua's answer can be found in v.15a.
Joshua has to remove his shoes from his feet, because the place where he stands is holy.
Comment: Very likely you will think of Exodus 3:1‑10. In those verses the LORD appeared to Moses before the Exodus from Egypt. Now the LORD appears to Joshua shortly after Israel has entered the Promised Land.
2. The LORD's battle plan (6:1‑5)
The gates of Jericho were closed. The walls of this city were so thick that it was basically impossible for Israel to breach them. The twelve spies had previously reported this fact (Deut 1:28).
Joshua hears God's stunning message: "I have given into your hand Jericho, with its king and mighty men of valor." (v.2).
Carefully read v.3. In this verse the LORD tells Joshua how he will give the city into their hands.
Question 3: What did the soldiers have to do? Did they have to do this every day?
The inhabitants of Jericho must have raised their eyebrows when they noticed Israel's strange, mysterious method of attack.
Question 4: What would have drawn the most attention of both the Israelites and the Canaanites? Remember what the seven priests had to do (v.4 and 8), while the Israelites themselves were not supposed to utter even one battle cry. In what context were the trumpets of rams' horns used? (See esp. v.11.) Remember that the ark was the throne of the LORD!
The actions of the Israelites must have given rise to a lot of tension, not only among themselves, but also among the inhabitants of Jericho who watched them from the walls for days in a row. Especially when they went around Jericho for the seventh time on the seventh day, the suspense must have been very great. A strong faith was required from the Israelites. As they circled the city, all they could do was watch and wait.
Question 5: How many times is the number seven mentioned? What is the significance of this number?
Eventually, Jericho is destroyed on the seventh day (6:16‑21).
3. The execution of the plan by Israel
The commander Joshua faithfully, and thus obediently, carries out the orders of the supreme commander, the LORD.
Noiselessly, the armed men must lead the procession. They will be the first ones to be noticed by the people of Jericho. Behind them come the priests who continually blow on the trumpets of rams' horns. Then follows the ark. The rest of the people, who carry no weapons, follow at the end of the procession.
On the seventh day the Israelites need to rise early. They have to march around the city seven times. We should not envision them encompassing a city with the proportions of a modern city that we are familiar with. On the basis of ruin excavations, archeologists believe that Jericho's circumference was not much greater than 600 meters. The implication is that the armed men would start their second round while the majority of Israelites had not even started their first round yet. Some suspect that the lead of the procession started to walk in a smaller circle on the inside, so that, in the end, Israel would form seven circles around the city. This must have made an enormous impression upon the people of Jericho. And then the walls collapsed.
4. The victory of the LORD (6:16‑21)
After the seventh round, while the walls still stood erect, the Israelites finally have to open their mouths and shout. In faith they have to shout. That means that they have to trust in the LORD (cf. Heb 11:30).
The first city in Canaan, a very strong city at that, belonged to the LORD, which indicated his lordship over all of Canaan.
The city with all that is in it was sacred and devoted to the LORD. In verse 16 it says, "...the LORD has given you the city." From this it becomes clear what Israel's duty was with respect to the city.
Question 6: For whom did Israel actually conquer Canaan? For themselves? Through their own power and might? (1:2)
Everything in the city, including all the spoil, was devoted to the LORD for destruction (v.17‑19). Leviticus 27:28 and 29 speaks about things that are devoted to the LORD, or put under the ban (i.e. being subject to a formal prohibition); through the ban something can be devoted to the LORD.
Jericho is the first Canaanite city that Israel receives. By devoting the inhabitants of Jericho to destruction, God reveals his wrath over the godlessness of the Canaanites (Gen 15:16). At the same time, the city of Jericho itself is devoted to the LORD. He claims the spoil. Jericho is God's firstfruit of the land. The donation of the firstfruits of the harvest to the LORD showed that the whole harvest belonged to him. Similarly, the devotion of Jericho to the LORD makes it clear to Israel that all of Canaan, including all its cities that they will conquer, is ultimately the LORD's possession as well.
Rahab and her family are the only ones who are allowed to live. They even receive a place in the midst of Israel. This is clear from Matthew 1:1‑5, where we read that her 'son' is Jesus Christ, the one who also paid for her share in the inheritance of Israel.
Question 7: Why was Rahab allowed to live? (See vv.17 and 25; Heb 11:31.)
5. Life for God's people (6:22‑27)
Both spies receive the mandate from Joshua to fulfill their oath to Rahab. Apparently, the house of Rahab, which had been built on the wall, did not collapse with the rest of Jericho's walls.
Because of the holiness of the camp of Israel, Rahab and her kin had to remain outside the camp at first. Numbers 5:3 and Deuteronomy 23:14 show how the holiness within the camp had to be maintained.
Why does Joshua warn the people? (See v.18.)
Jericho is not allowed to be rebuilt. The ruins of the city must remain in order to remind Israel of God's abundant grace (cf. Ps 44:4) and to serve as a permanent warning sign of God's judgment over all unrighteousness. Above the entrance gate to Canaan it must be written, "Received from God, out of grace. This land is inhabitable only when godlessness is completely avoided."
Question 8: Why was Hiel's disobedience in the days of Ahab so serious (1 Kings 16:34)? How do we explain Judges 3:13 and 2 Samuel 10:5, which talk about Jericho (= the City of Palms) before it was rebuilt by Hiel?
The Canaanites become more afraid since the fall of Jericho. Clearly, the LORD is with the Israelites (v.27; outline 2 section1).