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6. Fall of Jerico
Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in. 2And the Lord said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour. 3And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days. 4And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams' horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. 5And it shall come to pass, 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 ascend up every man straight before him.
6And 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 the Lord. 7And he said unto the people, Pass on, and compass the city, and let him that is armed pass on before the ark of the Lord.
8And it came to pass, when Joshua had spoken unto the people, that the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns passed on before the Lord, and blew with the trumpets: and the ark of the covenant of the Lord followed them.
9And the armed men went before the priests that blew with the trumpets, and the rereward came after the ark, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets. 10And Joshua had commanded the people, saying, Ye shall not shout, nor make any noise with your voice, neither shall any word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then shall ye shout. 11So the ark of the Lord compassed the city, going about it once: and they came into the camp, and lodged in the camp.
12And Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. 13And seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord went on continually, and blew with the trumpets: and the armed men went before them; but the rereward came after the ark of the Lord, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets. 14And the second day they compassed the city once, and returned into the camp: so they did six days. 15And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they rose early about the dawning of the day, and compassed the city after the same manner seven times: only on that day they compassed the city seven times. 16And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city.
17And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the Lord: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. 18And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. 19But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the Lord: they shall come into the treasury of the Lord. 20So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. 21And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword. 22But Joshua had said unto the two men that had spied out the country, Go into the harlot’s house, and bring out thence the woman, and all that she hath, as ye sware unto her. 23And the young men that were spies went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had; and they brought out all her kindred, and left them without the camp of Israel. 24And 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 the Lord. 25And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho. 26And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the Lord, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it. 27So the Lord was with Joshua; and his fame was noised throughout all the country.
1. Now Jericho was straitly shut up, etc Jericho is said to be shut up, because the gates were not opened: as in time of war cities are guarded with more than usual care. It is added, by way of emphasis, that they were sealed, or locked up, 6363 The Septuagint has συγκεκλεισμένη καὶ ὠχυρωμένη, “completely closed and made sure, by being barred or barricaded.” — Ed. as if it were said that the inhabitants were attentive in watching, so as not to be taken by surprise. Hence, as it could not be taken by stratagem, the only hope of taking it was by open force. This tends to display the goodness of God to the children of Israel, who would have been worn out by a long and difficult siege, had not a substitute been early provided from heaven. Meanwhile there was a danger, lest being forced into a corner, they might be consumed by want and famine, as there was no means of obtaining food and provender in a hostile region. The Lord, therefore, that they might not sit down despondently before one city, assisted them by an extraordinary miracle, and opened up an entrance to them by throwing down the walls, that they might thereafter have the greater confidence in attacking other cities.
We now see the connection between the two first verses, in the one of which it is said, that Jericho was shut up, and the children of Israel thus prevented from approaching it, while in the other God promises that he will take it for them. He makes this promise with the view of preventing them from tormenting themselves with anxious thoughts. In one word, God, by this easy victory at the outset, provides against their giving way to despondency in future. We, at the same time, perceive the stupidity of the inhabitants, who place their walls and gates as obstacles to the divine omnipotence; as if it were more difficult to break up or dissolve a few bars and beams than to dry up the Jordan.
3. And you shall compass the city, etc The promise was, indeed, fit and sufficient of itself to give hope of victory, but the method of acting was so strange, as almost to destroy its credibility. God orders them to make one circuit round the city daily until the seventh day, on which they are told to go round it seven times, sounding trumpets, and shouting. The whole looked like nothing else than child’s play, and yet was no improper test, for trying their faith, as it proved their acquiescence in the divine message, even when they saw in the act itself nothing but mere disappointment. With the same intention, the Lord often, for a time, conceals his own might under weakness, and seems to sport with mere trifles, that his weakness may at length appear stronger than all might, and his folly superior to all wisdom.
While the Israelites thus abandon their own reason, and depend implicitly on his words, they gain much more by trifling than they could have done by making a forcible assault, and shaking the walls by numbers of the most powerful engines. Only it behooved them to play the fool for short time, and not display too much acuteness in making anxious and subtle inquiries concerning the event: for that would have been, in a manner, to obstruct the course of the divine omnipotence. Meanwhile, though the circulatory movement round the walls might have excited derision, it was afterwards known, by its prosperous result, that God commands nothing in vain.
There was another subject of care and doubt, which might have crept into their minds. Should the inhabitants of the city suddenly sally forth, the army would, without difficulty, be put to the rout, while, in long straggling lines, it was proceeding round the city, without any regular arrangement that might have enabled it to repel a hostile assault. But here, also, whatever anxiety they might have felt, they behooved to cast it upon God; for sacred is the security which reclines on his providence. There was an additional trial of their faith, in the repetition of the circuit of the city during seven days. For what could seem less congruous than to fatigue themselves with six unavailing circuits? Then, of what use was their silence, 6464 French, “De ne dire mot, ne faire aucun bruit;” “Not to speak a word, not to make a noise.” — Ed. unless to betray their timidity, and tempt the enemy to come out and attack besiegers who seemed not to have spirit enough to meet them? But as profane men often, by rash intermeddling fervor, throw everything into confusion, the only part which God here assigns to his people, is to remain calm and silent, that thus they may the better accustom themselves simply to execute his commands.
Here, too, it is worthy of remark, that the instruments, given to the priests to blow with, are not the silver trumpets deposited in the sanctuary, but merely rams’ horns. The sound of the sacred trumpets would certainly have inspired more confidence, but a better proof of obedience was given, when they were contented with the vulgar symbol. Moreover, their movements were so arranged, that the greater number, by which is understood the armed, went before the ark, while those who usually accompanied the baggage followed. It was their part to take care that the rear did not fall into confusion. As the term congregating, applied to them, was obscure, I have rendered it by the corresponding term usually employed by the Latins. 6565 French, “Mais je l’ay traduit par un terme plus accoustume a la langue Francoise;” “But here I have translated it by a term more commonly used in the French language.” — Ed. Some think that the tribe of Dan was thus employed, but this is uncertain, as they were not then arranged in the manner usual on other expeditions.
15. And it came to pass on the seventh day, etc Here, also, God seemed, by leading the people so often round the city, not only to keep the matter in suspense, but purposely to sport with the miseries of the people, who were fatiguing themselves to no purpose. For why does he not order them suddenly to attack the city? Why does he keep them in their former silence, even to weariness, and not open their mouths to shout? But the happy fruit of this endurance teaches us, that there is nothing better than to leave the decisive moments and opportunities of acting at his disposal, and not, by our haste, anticipate his providence, in which, if we acquiesce not, we obstruct the course of his agency. Therefore, while the priests were sounding, God ordered a corresponding shout to be raised by the people, that in this way he might prove that he is not pleased with any impetuosity which men manifest at their own hands, but above all things requires a regulated zeal, of which the only rule is not to move either tongue, or feet, or hands, till he order. Here, the rams’ horns undoubtedly represented his authority.
17. And the city shall be accursed, etc Although God had determined not only to enrich his people with spoil and plunder, but also to settle them in cities which they had not built, yet there was a peculiarity in the case of the first city; for it was right that it should be consecrated as a kind of first fruits. Accordingly, he claims the buildings, as well as all the moveable property, as his own, and prohibits the application of any part of it to private uses. It may have been an irksome and grievous task for the people voluntarily to pull down houses in which they might have commodiously dwelt, and to destroy articles which might have been important for use. But as they had not been required to fight, it behooved them to refrain, without grudging, from touching the prey, and willingly yield up the rewards of the victory to God, as it was solely by his nod that the walls of the city had fallen, and the courage of the citizens had fallen along with them. God was contented with this pledge of gratitude, provided the people thereby quickly learned that everything they called their own was the gift of his free liberality. For with equal right all the other cities might have been doomed to destruction, had not God granted them to his people for habitations.
As to the Hebrew word חרס, I will now only briefly repeat from other passages. When it refers to sacred oblations, it becomes, in respect of men, equivalent to abolitions, since things devoted in this manner are renounced by them as completely as if they were annihilated. The equivalent Greek term is ἀνάθημα, or ἀνάθεμα, meaning set apart, or as it is properly expressed in French, interdicted. Hence the exhortation to beware of what was under anathema, inasmuch as that which had been set apart for God alone had perished, in so far as men were concerned. It is used in a different sense in the following verse, where caution is given not to place the camp of Israel in anathema. Here its simple meaning is, excision, perdition, or death. Moreover, God destined vessels made of metals for the use of the sanctuary; all other things he ordered to be consumed by fire, or destroyed in other manners.
20. So the people shouted, etc Here the people are praised for obedience, and the faithfulness of God is, at the same time, celebrated. They testified their fidelity by shouting, because they were persuaded, that what God had commanded would not be in vain, and he, in not allowing them to lose their labor, vindicated the truth of what he had said. Another virtue of not inferior value was displayed by the people, in despising unlawful gain, and cheerfully suffering the loss of all the plunder. For there cannot be a doubt, that in the minds of many the thought must have risen, For what end does God please to destroy all the wealth? Why does he envy us that which he has given into our hand? Why does he not rather gladden us by furnishing us with the materials of thanksgiving? Dismissing these considerations, which might have interfered with their duty, it was a proof of rare and excellent self-denial, voluntarily to cast away the spoils which were in their hands, and the wealth of a whole city.
The indiscriminate and promiscuous slaughter, making no distinction of age or sex, but including alike women and children, the aged and decrepit, might seem an inhuman massacre, had it not been executed by the command of God. But as he, in whose hands are life and death, had justly doomed those nations to destruction, this puts an end to all discussion. We may add, that they had been borne with for four hundred years, until their iniquity was complete. Who will now presume to complain of excessive rigor, after God had so long delayed to execute judgment? If any one object that children, at least, were still free from fault, it is easy to answer, that they perished justly, as the race was accursed and reprobated. Here then it ought always to be remembered, that it would have been barbarous and atrocious cruelty had the Israelites gratified their own lust and rage, in slaughtering mothers and their children, but that they are justly praised for their active piety and holy zeal, in executing the command of God, who was pleased in this way to purge the land of Canaan of the foul and loathsome defilement’s by which it had long been polluted. 6666 In confirmation of the views thus admirably expressed, it is not out of place to add those of the profoundest and most philosophical English theologians on the same subject. Bishop Butler, in his Analogy, Part 2, chapter 3, after saying that “it is that province of reason to judge of the morality of Scripture; i.e., not whether it contains things different from what we should have expected from a wise, just, and good Being — but whether it contains things plainly contradictory to wisdom, justice, or goodness; to what the light of nature teaches us of God,” continues thus: “I know nothing of this sort objected against Scripture, excepting such objections as are formed upon suppositions which would equally conclude, that the constitution of nature is contradictory to wisdom, justice, or goodness: which most certainly it is not. Indeed there are some particular precepts in Scripture, given to particular persons, requiring actions, which would be immoral or vicious, were it not for such precepts. But it is easy to see, that all these are of such a kind, as that the precept changes the whole nature of the case and of the action: and both constitutes and shows that not to be unjust or immoral, which, prior to the precept, must have appeared, and really have been so: which well may be, since none of these precepts are contrary to immutable morality. If it were commanded to cultivate the principles, and act from the spirit of treachery, ingratitude, cruelty; the command would not alter the nature of the case, or of the action, in any of these instances. But it is quite otherwise in precepts, which require only the doing an external action: for instance, taking away the property or life of any. For men have no right to either life or property, but what arises solely from the grant of God. When this grant is revoked, they cease to have any right at all in either: and when this revocation is made known, as surely it is possible it may be, it must cease to be unjust to deprive them of either. And though a course of external acts, which, without command, would be immoral, must make an immoral habit, yet a few detached commands have no such natural tendency. I thought proper to say thus much of the few Scripture precepts which require, not vicious actions, but actions which would have been vicious had it not been for such precepts: because they are sometimes weakly urged as immoral, and great weight is laid upon objections drawn from them. But to me there seems no difficulty at all in these precepts, but what arises from their being offences; i.e., from their being liable to be perverted, as, indeed, they are, by wicked designing men, to serve the most horrid purposes, and, perhaps, to mislead the weak and enthusiastic.” — Ed.
22. But Joshua had said unto the two men, etc The good faith of Joshua in keeping promises, and his general integrity, are apparent in the anxious care here taken. But as the whole city had been placed under anathema, a question might be raised as to this exception of one family. No mortal man was at liberty to make any change on the decision of God. Still as it was only by the suggestion of the Spirit that Rahab had bargained for her impunity, I conclude that Joshua, in preserving her, did only what was considerate and prudent.
We may add, that the messengers were not yet under any contrary obligation, as the complete destruction of the city had not been declared. It is true, they had heard in general, that all those nations were to be destroyed, but they were still at liberty to make a compact with a single woman, who had voluntarily abandoned her countrymen. But we shall afterwards meet with a far easier solution, namely, that while the Israelites, by the divine command, exhorted all whom they attacked, to surrender, by holding out the hope of pardon, the blinded nations obstinately refused the peace thus offered, because God had decreed to destroy all of them. But while all, in general, were hardened to their destruction, it follows that Rahab was exempted by special privilege, and might escape in safety, while the others perished. Joshua, therefore, judged wisely, that a woman who had voluntarily gone over to the Church, was rescued thus early, not without the special grace of God. The case of the father and the whole family is, indeed, different, but seeing they all spontaneously abjure their former state, they confirm the stipulation which Rahab had made for their safety, by the promptitude of their obedience.
Moreover, let us learn from the example of Joshua, that we do not sufficiently attest our probity, by refraining from violating our promise intentionally and of set purpose, unless we also diligently exert ourselves to secure its performance. He not only allows Rahab to be delivered by her guests, but is careful to guard against her sustaining any injury in the first tumult; and to make the messengers more diligent in performing their office, he reminds them that they had promised with the intervention of an oath.
23. And the young men that were spies went in, etc God, doubtless, wished those to be safe, whose minds he thus inclined to embrace deliverance. Had it been otherwise, they would have rejected it not less proudly, and with no less scorn than the two sons-in-law of Lot. But a still better provision is made for them, when, by being placed without the camp, they receive a strict injunction to abandon their former course of life. 6767 French, “Car combien qu’il y ait en cela de la severite, toutes fois c’est un bon moyen par lequel ils sont appelez a renoncer a leur vie precedente;” “For though there is severity in this, it is, however a good method of calling upon them to renounce their previous life.” — Ed. For had they been immediately admitted and allowed to mix indiscriminately with the people, the thought of their impurity might never, perhaps, have occurred to them, and they might thus have continued to indulge in it. Now when they are placed apart, that they may not, by their infection, taint the flock, they are impressed with a feeling of shame, which may urge them to serious conversion.
It cannot be meant that they were thus set apart for safety, lest any one in the crowd might have risen up violently against them: for they would have been received by all with the greatest favor and gladness, whereas they might have been attacked in a solitary place more easily, and even with impunity. Their impurity, therefore, was brought visibly before them, that they might not while polluted come rashly forward into the holy meeting, but rather might be accustomed by this rudimentary training to change their mode of life. For it is added shortly after, that they dwelt in the midst of the people; in other words, having been purged from their defilement’s, they began to be regarded in the very same light as if they had originally belonged to the race of Abraham. In short, the meaning is, that after they had made a confession of their previous impurity, they were admitted indiscriminately along with others. By this admission, Rahab gained one of the noblest fruits of her faith.
26. And Joshua adjured them, etc This adjuration, then, was not merely to have effect for one day, but to warn posterity through all ages that that city had been taken only by divine power. He wished, therefore, that the ruins and devastation should exist for ever as a kind of trophy; because the rebuilding of it would have been equivalent to an erasure effacing the miracle. In order, therefore, that the desolate appearance of the place might keep the remembrance of the divine power and favor alive among posterity, Joshua pronounces a heavy curse upon any one who should again build the ruined city. From this passage we gather that the natural torpidity of men requires the aid of stimulants to prevent them from burying the divine favors in oblivion; and hence this spectacle, wherein the divine agency was made conspicuous to the people, was a kind of indirect censure of their ingratitude.
The substance of the imprecation is, that if any one ever attempt to rebuild Jericho he may be made sensible by the unpropitious and mournful result that he had done a cursed and abominable work. For to lay the foundations in his first-born, were just as if he were to cast forth his son to perish, crushed and buried beneath the mass of stones; and to set up the gates in his younger son, is the same thing as to plan an edifice which could not be erected without causing the death of a son. Thus he who should dare to make the insane attempt is condemned in his own offspring. Nor did Joshua utter this curse at his own suggestion; he was only the herald of celestial vengeance.
This makes it the more monstrous that among the people of God a man should have been found, whom that fearful curse, couched in formal terms, could not restrain from sacrilegious temerity. In the time of Ahab (1 Kings 16:34) arose Hiel, a citizen of Bethel, who dared, as it were avowedly, to challenge God in this matter; but the Sacred History at the same time testifies, that the denunciation which God had pronounced by the mouth of Joshua did not fail of its effect; for Hiel founded the new Jericho in Abiram his first-born, and set up its gates in his younger son Segub, and thus learned in the destruction of his offspring what it is to attempt anything against the will and in opposition to the command of God. 6868 This rebuilding by Hiel on the very site of the ancient city, took place, according to the ordinary chronology, 520 years after Joshua pronounced the curse. It would seem, however, that another Jericho had been built at a much earlier period, not actually on the former site which, while the memory of the curse remained, was probably avoided, but at no great distance from it. Of this fact, the mention made of Jericho in Joshua 18:21, as one of the cities of Benjamin, is not decisive, because it may have been intended to indicate merely a locality, and not an actually existing city, nor is it absolutely certain that the “city of palm trees” which Eglor captured, (Judges 3:13) was a rebuilt Jericho, though by that name Jericho was generally known. Its existence, however, at least a century before Hiel, is clearly established by the directions given to David’s ambassadors, after their insulting treatment by the king of Ammon, “to tarry at Jericho.” (2 Samuel 10:5) It may be worth while briefly to glance at the subsequent history of Hiel’s sacrilegious city. As if the penalty of rebuilding had been fully paid by the exemplary punishment inflicted on the founder, the curse appears to have been withdrawn, and in the course of about twenty years we learn that it had not only been selected as a school of the prophets, (2 Kings 2:5,) but received a very important addition to its other attractions as a residence by the miraculous cure of its waters by Elisha. (2 Kings 2:18-22.) Its inhabitants, on the return from the Babylonish captivity, are mentioned as having assisted in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 3:2) At a later period Jericho was fortified by the Syrian general Bacchides, or rather received from him additions to its previously existing fortifications, (1 Maccabees 9:50) but does not seem to have acquired very much importance till the time of Herod the Great, who, after capturing and sacking it, rebuilt it in a much more magnificent form, and erected in it a splendid palace, where he often resided and ultimately died. It also became a favorite residence of his son but by the display of his miraculous agency. It appears in the latter period of the Roman empire to have ranked as one of the chief cities of Palestine. The general devastation of the country on the dissolution of that empire effected its final ruin, and its site is now only doubtfully represented by a miserable village called Riha, containing from 200 to 300 souls. — Ed.