Joshua 6 = Battle of Jericho
Bible Background: The Book of Joshua emphasizes: a) Taking possession of the Promised Land, b) Joshua as Moses’ legitimate successor, and c) The importance of complete obedience to Yahweh. Some of us learned as little kids: “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came a tumblin’ down!” As usual, there is more to the story-and some of it is complicated!
Digging Deeper: 1. Jericho is an oasis city in the southern part of Palestine, near the Dead Sea. It has been inhabited since about 9,000 BCE. It had a city wall for protection against invaders, and archaeologists do find evidence of a wall collapse, just not at the time the Israelites were on the move (around 1200 BCE).
2. A large portion of the Old Testament is believed to have been written by a source scholars call “The Deuteronomic Historian”. Starting with the book of Deuteronomy and continuing through 2 Kings, we’re reading a particular slant on the history of God’s people. This historian was writing and re-working material during the time of Exile (7th century BCE), when the Jewish people needed a new understanding of their history and of their faith in and obedience to God.
3. The “battle of Jericho” is hardly a battle at all! Rather, it’s a miraculous victory won by God-who fights for Israel. It’s not a story about a scrappy and fearless young nation, so much as it is about the power of God-who keeps promises!
4. The disturbing part of this story is the ‘conquest’ part, where God is portrayed as commanding the utter destruction of every person and every living thing in Jericho. There is mercy shown to Rahab the Harlot’s family (who had earlier provided safe refuge for Israeli spies), but to no one else! This idea of a ‘holy war’ where everything is ‘devoted’ to God (including people and things destined for destruction), is hard to reconcile with the idea that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
5. One thing we learn from other ancient accounts of conquest is that exaggerated language was often used, even when it was unlikely that an army without weapons of mass destruction, could completely wipe out a people.
6. The emphasis of the writer-including these stories of complete destruction-seem to be mainly about the importance of obeying Yahweh, and the assurance that obedience brings blessing. “Retribution can never be the final word of the God whose grace will triumph in the end.” -Larry Taylor