“Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho?”
Joshua 6 brings to mind the song “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” which celebrates Joshua’s faith. Though his faith is notable for sure, there’s a whole lot of emphasis on the work of the Lord in this chapter!
The battle was the Lord’s:
- He determined the time.
- “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:16).
- God had gathered his people out of Egypt and pruned them in the desert; they were now ready to follow him by faith into the Promised Land.
- He assured Joshua of victory beforehand. “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men” (Jos. 6:2).
- He provided the battle plan as would a commander of an army. “March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in” (Jos. 6:3-5).
- The ark, symbolizing God’s presence, was the central focus of the battle formation. “When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the LORD went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the LORD’s covenant followed them. The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding” (Jos. 6:8-9).
- Anything not aligned with him and his purposes is to be destroyed. “The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord” (6:17).
- God receives the spoils from the battle (6:18-19).
- The city seems to be set aside as a memorial to the work of the Lord, or perhaps as a warning to those not aligned with God (6:26).
Why would God condone this mass murder?
- His promise to Abraham (Gen. 15:18-19).
- The holy, sovereign God passes warranted judgment on the peoples of Canaan because their sin has progressed to the point that God will no longer tolerate it (Gen. 15:16).
- This was a command specific to the situation of giving the Israelites the Promised Land and clearing it of its current sinful inhabitants.
- The purpose is not to wipe out a city so it may be a place for the Israelites to settle, because no one moves in after the battle (Jos. 6:26).
- Point is spiritual cleansing of the land: “The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord” (Jos. 6:17). “Devoted” either by being set aside for the Lord or by destroying people and practices that are incompatible with the Lord.
- An exception to the “kill everything” order is made for Rahab, who is devoted to the Lord by way of recognizing God’s sovereignty.
- “But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho…” (Jos. 6:25).
- “…for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Jos. 2:11).
So if God had the situation completely under control, what was asked of the Israelites in this battle?
- Have faith and wait upon the Lord. Take up the ark and march in formation around the city, once on the first 6 days and seven times on the seventh day.
- Be silent. Instead of the usual war cries to intimidate the enemy, Joshua instructs them, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout! (Jos. 6:10)”
- Yell on command and take the city.
So what of all this?
What comes to mind as I read Joshua 6 and supporting materials is the sovereignty of God. It is not necessarily a comforting answer to why God would order this destruction, but as a just and righteous God with a plan to redeem creation through his own ways, which are not our ways (Is. 55:8-9), as a God who loves and desires all people to be with him (2 Samuel 14:14), he exacts judgment on the people of Canaan as a last resort when their sin has reached the tipping point.
What also comes to mind from this passage is the silent faith of the people as they march obediently around the city. Was this silence a challenge? The present-day tell (city mound) is about 400×200 yds, so the city was about the length of 4 football fields end-to-end and the width of two end-to-end. Not excessively large…a relatively short trip around. Did the Israelites start to doubt God’s purpose as they rose in the morning, decked themselves out in their battle gear, and made a small loop around the city six days in a row? Joshua 6 does not say that Joshua told the army that the battle would occur on the seventh day; he simply told them what to do until further notice.
How does silence relate to faith? Sometimes in silence, we notice God’s creation. Notice his people. Listen for his voice. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Ps. 46:10). Here are just a few examples of what we can find in silence:
- Time for humility and mourning: “The elders of Daughter Zion sit on the ground in silence; they have sprinkled dust on their heads and put on sackcloth. The young women of Jerusalem have bowed their heads to the ground” (Lam. 2:10).
- Time for waiting and hoping: “The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope” (Lam. 3:25-29).
- Time to acknowledge the righteousness of God (and man’s unrighteousness): “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (Rom. 3:19).
- Time to ponder the sufficiency, greatness, and steadfastness of God: “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore” (Ps. 131).
There are times to be quiet, times to speak, and times to shout like the Israelites shouted at Jericho.