Lesson 4 - Joshua 5:13 - 6:27
The Walls Fall Down

The Battle of Jericho
Exposition by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

Part of a study of the Book of Joshua

Though the Israelites had defeated the Ammonite kings on the east side of Jordan, Jericho was the city they must take if they were to conquer Canaan. It was a fortified, walled city, and its king had spared no effort to prepare its defenses against the Israelites who had been encamped a few miles east of Jordan for many months. It would require a miracle of God to take this stronghold.

The Commander Has Now Come (5:13-15)

As Joshua is standing near Jericho, he looks up and sees a warrior with drawn sword in his hand.

"Who goes there?" I can hear Joshua shouting, as he draws his own sword. "Are you for us or for our enemies?"

"Neither," replies the warrior, but as Commander of the army (KJV "hosts") of the LORD I have now come."

Joshua sheaths his sword and kneels, then falls on his face before the Commander. "What message does my Lord have for his servant?" he asks, in humble obeisance.

The Commander replies, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy."

The Commander's words are nearly identical to those of Yahweh to Moses out of the burning bush a full forty years before (Exodus 3:5). The Commander is none other than the God himself. God the Warrior.

And why does he answer, "Neither"? Isn't he for the cause of Israel's army? No. Israel's army must be enlisted in his cause. He is the Commander, not they. When things are difficult we wonder, "Is God on my side?" Wrong question. "Am I on God's side?" is the appropriate question.

I have heard some argue that it could not have been God the Father, that it must have been the pre-incarnate Jesus. Scripture isn't specific in our passage, but clearly it was God's presence Joshua was in, and he knew it full well. Like his forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God had now appeared to him, and he lies prostrate on the ground before his Lord.

Yahweh the Warrior

Just what is the significance of the Commander's presence? He identifies himself as Commander of the host of the LORD. (The Hebrew word for "host" means "army".) Here is the supreme commander of the heavenly host, the angelic army that has appeared in God's behalf throughout history. Here are a few of the passages in Scripture:

" Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim" (Genesis 32:1-2, KJV).
"Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left" (1 Kings 22:19).
"Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying..." (Luke 2:13).
"Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory" (Psalm 24:7-10, KJV).
"The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together: the LORD of hosts mustereth the host of the battle. They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, even the LORD, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land" (Isaiah 13:4-5).
"Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied" (1 Samuel 17:45, KJV).

Phrase "the LORD of hosts" appears about 285 times in the Old Testament in the KJV. NIV translates it "the LORD Almighty," which captures some of the greatness and glory of this phrase, but unfortunately loses the military sense of the term. The LORD of hosts is not just an expression of greatness, but of armed might, willing to punish evil and uphold righteousness. (See John E. Hartley, "saba," Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2:749-751, for a good discussion of the concept of the LORD of hosts, Yahweh the great Warrior.)

We live in an era which has few military heroes. We idolize men of the screen and playing field, and those who have made fortunes begun in Silicon Valley garages. But military heroes? Hardly. We distrust the military, and deride it -- except in times of war when courage and bravery and the willingness to stand up against wrong is all that keeps civilization from tyranny. Then we admire those who succeed on the bloody battlefield and defeat the enemies of righteousness.

The message of this passage in Joshua, and the entire Bible, for that matter, is that God is a mighty Warrior who will judge righteously and punish wrong. If we believe that since God is love he can never punish the wicked, then our Bible reading is narrow indeed. He is mighty. And his mere presence is enough to win the battle, for the "battle is the LORD'S" (1 Samuel 17:47; Exodus 14). In the closing chapters of the Book of Revelation we see

"... a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.... He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen.... He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: 'King of kings, and Lord of lords'" (Revelation 19:11-16).

Here the Commander is clearly Jesus Christ the Victor, and so perhaps we should view the Commander that stood before Joshua as this same figure. The Commander comes in vengeance upon his enemies in Jericho, and in armed might.

When Joshua gets up from the ground the Commander is gone. But Joshua can now go into battle assured, because he knows that God will be with him who told him, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go" (1:9).

God has made that same promise to us (Hebrews 13:5), but sometimes we doubt. Where are you God? Where are you when I need you? Have you left me? Will you save me from this thing I am going through?

Elisha the prophet heard from God the military plans of the king of Aram and passed them on to the king of Israel, so that the Israelite army could elude its enemies. The king of Aram heard that Elisha was the secret of Israel's success, and he sought to kill him. Elisha and his servant were in the city of Dothan when the king of Aram arrived with his army. In the morning Elisha's servant looks out and sees the city surrounded with an army, and horses, and chariots. He comes terrified to Elisha.

"Do not be afraid," Elisha tells him. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them."

I can imagine the servant looking around, unable to see any opposing army. He looks at Elisha with terror still in his eyes, so Elisha prays, "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." Then the servant looked "and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (2 Kings 6:15-17).

The Commander and his armies are with us, whether we see them or not. Jesus is captured by a small contingent of troops in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter draws his sword to defend his Master. Jesus tells him to put it away. "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" says Jesus. (Matthew 26:53).

But that day the hosts of heaven were not called to his defense. They looked on aghast as they saw their Commander whipped and beaten and mocked, and finally crucified. Jesus would not call them for this battle. This one he must fight alone, the Righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1 Peter 3:18; John 1:29).

He died alone on the cross. The disciples mourned him. Mary helped wash his body as it was laid in the stone cold tomb, and darkness fell. But the third day, early in the morning, as the sun was just beginning to rise, he stepped forth a Victor. And in this battle, the Scripture records, "he disarmed the powers and authorities ... made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians 2:15).

The Commander was at the Battle of Jericho was with Joshua. And though unseen, he crumpled the walls, destroyed the city, and crushed the army, leaving only a little for Joshua's army to finish. Our Commander is with us, too.

The Jericho March

The defending soldiers high atop the walls of Jericho observed a strange procession that the first morning of the siege. No armies rushed the ramparts. In the distance they could hear the sound of the shofar, the ram's horn trumpet of battle.

And then they came, marching in order. First, an armed guard in ranks. Then priests, blowing the shofar. Then four priests carrying on gilded poles over their shoulders a box draped in blue (Numbers 4:5-6). And after the priests a rear guard marched. And after the rear guard, the entire Israelite army (6:3) marched in stillness. The dust billowed from under a million feet, but their voices were still. The procession seemed endless, like it would go on forever. They circled the city once, and then returned to their camp, the sound of shofars finally dying in the distance, and the muffled sound of marching armies finally stilled.

The next morning the same strange procession occurred again. And the same thing occurred each morning for six mornings in a row. For those who knew what the ark represented -- the throne of God -- it all made sense. Here is the procession of the King, guarded front and rear by soldiers, preceded by his ministers, and followed by his people, as they tour the city that would soon be theirs. (See my article on the ark as a throne, http://www.joyfulheart.com/kingdom/thrones.htm)

How long was the Jericho march? According to archeologists, Jericho measured about 225 by 80 meters (740 by 260 feet), with a circumference of 600 meters (1,970 feet) or a little more than a third of a mile (Woudstra, Joshua, p. 109).

I don't know exactly the reason for the seven circuits of Jericho. Of course, seven is the number in the Bible used for fullness and completeness. That much is clear. But why the trumpets only? Perhaps they are announcing the King in procession represented by his throne, the ark. Whatever the reason for these particular instructions, the Israelites obeyed God and followed them. It's important to be obedient to God, even if we don't understand our "orders." I'm sure the effect on those in the besieged city was terrifying. To watch 600,000 troops (Numbers 1:45-46) march around the city each day must have increased their sense of impending doom. When will they attack? must have been their constant question.

The final day they got up at daybreak and marched not once but seven times around the city, and at the final trumpet blast held long, the people shouted, and "when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed" (6:20).

What Shook Jericho's Walls? (6:20)

Did the sound waves of the shouts of 600,000 fighting men so weaken the walls that they suddenly collapsed? I doubt it. Could God have destroyed the walls without using any natural means? Certainly. But the most likely explanation is that God timed an earthquake to occur at precisely at the time the Israelites shouted.

As we mentioned in lesson 2, the Jordan Valley is a rift valley. Jericho is considered both the world's oldest city, and its lowest city, at 850 feet below sea level. It lies below sea level because it lies on the Afro-Arabian fault line that runs from modern-day Turkey in the north to Mozambique in the south, one of the world's major fault systems. The hill country of Judah had tilted up into mountains, while the Jordan Valley had sunk well below sea level. Since ancient times this has been a geologically active area. (Barry J. Beitzel, The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands [Moody Press, 1985], pp. 37-39)

Most likely the cause was a well-timed earthquake. Is an earthquake a miracle? skeptics ask. It is one of the "natural" movements of the earth, they could argue. But the miracle, I am sure, is in the timing. Precisely at the moment the Israelite army shouted, the walls began to crumble and then collapse, and the Israelites rushed forward into the city, destroying the dazed survivors and rescuing Rahab and her family.

Is there any archeological evidence of this catastrophic event? Apparently not. Even-handed archeologists can neither confirm nor deny this on the basis of what they've uncovered so far. This city, the oldest in the world, has apparently been settled since about 8,000 BC, and contains many layers of building and debris, as war and nature have destroyed the city again and again. J. Garstang excavated Jericho from 1930 to 1936 and believed he had found evidence of the collapse of the town walls about 1400 BC. But apparently the walls he identified were from the Early Bronze Age, not the Late Bronze Age of Joshua's time as he had supposed. The Late Bronze Age city was built on top of the eroded ruins of the Middle Bronze town after a century and a half of abandonment, though what is left is so severely eroded that little can be discerned from it. (R.A. Coughenour, "Jericho," ISBE 2:992-996. Bryant Wood, "Is the Bible accurate concerning the destruction of the walls of Jericho?" ChristianAnswers.net, 1995. http://www.christiananswers.net/q-abr/abr-a011.html. See also Don Jaques, "The Old Testament and the Ancient Near East: Jericho," a student's summary of studies regarding Jericho. He details Bryant Woods' critique of Kathryn Kenyon's conclusions about when Jericho was destroyed based on ceramic data, stratigraphy, scarab typology, and radiocarbon dating. http://www.georgefox.edu/academics/grad/wes/bst550/djaques/Jericho.html)

Devoted to the Lord

The moral issues that late 20th Century Christians struggle with concerning the destruction of all the people of Jericho and other Canaanite cities are difficult. We have spent considerable effort to explore these in other essays for this lesson, and encourage you to read those.

  1. The Peoples of the Promised Land
  2. The Detestable Religion of Canaan
  3. Whose Land Is the Promised Land?
  4. Weapons in Joshua's Time
  5. Why the Slaughter of Jericho? Devoted to Destruction - Herem

The Battle Is the Lord's

Jericho will always live in Sunday school classes as the city where "the walls came a-tumblin' down." But to the maturing Christian, it represents something more. It represents a strong man unashamed to prostrate himself at the feet of God -- the great Fighter of Battles -- and let him set the battle plan. So often we choose battlefields not of God's choosing, and fail miserably. But as we can learn to listen carefully and prayerfully to what God is saying to us, we'll be able to follow his leadership. "The battle is the Lord's" (a phrase taken from David's encounter with Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:47) is only true when God leads us into battle. The struggles and buffetings we experience in life are ours alone -- until we surrender our lives to the Lord. At that point, and as we follow him, they become his battles, too. And he will fight for us -- for his own glory -- as we trust him.

The keys to the Battle of Jericho, then, are faith and obedience. We saw Rahab's bold faith in chapter 2. Here we see Joshua's bold faith-willingness to follow the Lord into battle.

"Tumblin' walls" live in the minds of children, but bold obedient faith are born in the hearts of earnestly seeking believers who study this Battle of Jericho.

Father, give us that same kind of faith that will prostrate itself before you, and then follow you wherever you lead. Make us afresh warriors in your great army, not in our own private platoon. And grant that we may join the hosts of heaven on that great Day when Jesus returns. For His sake, we pray. Amen.

Copyright © 1985-2016, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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