Friday

06 September 2013

“So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so that people charged straight ahead into the city and capture it.” (5:20)


Background

In the New Testament we are told "By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days" (Hebrews 11:30), and the story here in Joshua strongly underlines the fact that this was entirely God's victory as the people placed their trust in God.

The passage begins with the somewhat mysterious story of Joshua's encounter with a heavenly "commander of the army of the Lord" (5:13). Unlike the heavenly encounters of Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3) or Gideon at the wine press (Judges 6:11-24) there is no strategic briefing by God involved. What is stressed is Joshua's deference to the angel, understood as worship of God, which is an acknowledgement that it will not be his own military prowess that wins the battle for Jericho.

The primary objective in campaigns against fortified cities was breaching the walls or gates. Sometimes this was achieved by ruse - there is an example in chapter 8, sometimes by attacking the weakest point and scaling the walls, and sometimes by siege until the hungry inhabitants surrendered. However none of these strategies is deployed here, but rather one where the people effectively act as though performing a victory parade while waiting for God to break the walls. Horns were used as a war-cry but also had a role in worship (eg 2 Chronicles 15:14).

Joshua instructs (verse 17) that once the walls have fallen everything in the city should be destroyed (except Rahab and her family as promised to her in chapter 2) making the ruins a perpetual monument to God's victory. Whilst complete destruction of a captured city and its people was not unusual in ancient warfare, the view of such action as a religious necessity, a sacrifice to God (verse 18), is not easy for a modern reader. The instruction however is in line with Deuteronomy 7:2; 20:17, where the contexts make clear that the reason for such extreme measures is to avoid all risk of idolatrous worship spreading from those conquered to the people of Israel.


To Ponder

  • Have you ever had an experience or encounter that has led you to consider a place as especially holy (5:15)? If so, what were the reasons for that conclusion?
  • How might you begin to answer the claim that we cannot legitimately seek inspiration for our own living in a book which treats genocide as a godly act?
  • The contemporary world is different from Joshua's, and many of us live in multi-faith communities. What principles enable us to live together peacefully without the risk of our faith being undermined by different religious doctrines?


Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

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