It was on the tenth day of the first month (Nisan in the spring – not January in the winter) that Israel crossed the Jordan River and made camp in Canaan at a spot called Gilgal. The west border of the camp wasn’t much more than a mile from Jericho, a thick-walled city swarming with enemy soldiers (Joshua 4:19-24).
It had been just forty years before – minus five days – that Israel had fled from Egypt (Ex. 12:18, 29-34; Num. 14:26-35; Deut. 1:3 Joshua 5:6). The exodus had been started after their observing the Passover. Now again it was almost time to prepare for another Passover, but before it should be observed, God told Joshua that most of the males of Israel should undergo a physical time that had been required as a sign and seal of the covenant between the Creator and Israel.
After the Passover, the people observed the Days of Unleavened Bread by eating no bread with leavening in it. One of their main dishes was roasted corn that had been taken from the fields of their enemies. This was only one item of food that had been acquired since entering the region of Jordan. In fact, so many edible things had been taken in recent days that Israel’s food supply was sufficient to keep them without gathering manna. As a result, manna, which had been the main food for forty years, ceased to appear on the day after the Passover (Joshua 5:2-12).
Meanwhile, there was no sign of Canaanite soldiers except those who could be seen in the distance on the walls of Jericho. Nevertheless, enemy spies kept a close watch on Israel. Their reports on the parting of the river spread quickly to every ruler in that section of the world. These leaders were greatly concerned by this amazing event. They had felt temporarily secure from Israel because hey had considered the Jordan practically impossible to cross during its swollen condition.
The king of Jericho was especially worried. Even though his fighting force was composed of many fierce men skilled in battle, the very number of Israelites camped so close to his city was enough to make his nights sleepless (Joshua 5:1).
To make certain that no more Israelite spies could get into Jericho, he gave orders that the gates of the city should close and remain closed twenty-four hours a day. No one was to be allowed in or out – except, if necessary, a few special spies of his, and they were let down the walls on rope ladders and brought up the same way.
This was a costly precaution, because it meant turning away caravans arriving from other lands with valuables and food. The king reasoned that it was wiser to remain bottled up with what food was on hand rather than take the slightest risk of allowing any Israelites to enter Jericho in disguise (Joshua 6:1).
A few days after Israel had arrived in Gilgal, Joshua went alone, despite the protests of some of his officers, toward Jericho. He wished to see for himself what the place was like at closer range. He suddenly found himself face to face with a sturdy man holding a gleaming sword and gazing intently at him. Joshua strode boldly up to him.
“Are you a friend of Israel or an enemy?” Joshua bluntly inquired of the stranger (Joshua 5:13).
“I am not an enemy,” the man replied in a firm voice. “I am here as the commander of the army of God!”
It required several seconds for Joshua to realize that he was actually gazing at the Lord, the very One who later also came to this world in human form to be known as Jesus Christ, and who also appeared to Abraham as Melchizedek, king of Salem!
This was Joshua’s closest contact with God. He fearfully fell forward and placed his forehead on the ground.
“What would you ask of me my Lord?” Joshua humbly inquired. We know this man was the Lord – a member of the Godhead – because he allowed Joshua to worship Him. Angles never allow God’s servants to worship them (Rev. 22:8-9).
“Your feet are on holy ground”, was the answer. “Remove your shoes and I shall tell you how to take Jericho.”
Joshua lost no time in obeying. Then he carefully listened to the instructions from God (Joshua 5:14-15).
“Return to your camp and carry out the orders I have given you” he was told. “If you do just as I have told you to do, it won’t be necessary for you to storm the walls or gates of Jericho in order to conquer it, even though many fierce fighting men are garrisoned within that fortress.”
Inspired and encouraged in what he should do, Joshua returned to camp. Once he turned to gaze back to where he had been encountered, but there was no one there!
As soon as he arrived back in camp, to the relief of his officers, Joshua told them and the priests of his unusual experience and of God’s plan to take Jericho (Joshua 6:2-7).
Next day the king of that city was startled by the dreadful news he had been expecting.
“Sentries have just reported seeing many persons on foot approaching from the Israelite camp!” an officer announced.
Surrounded by anxious aides and officers, the king hurried to the east wall. When he saw the growing columns of people marching toward his city, he nervously barked out orders for all soldiers to take their battle stations, and for all civilians to get off the walls and streets and out of the shops and into their homes or shelters.
As the Canaanites continued watching, they became discouraged and confused. The foremost of their approaching enemies marched just close enough for discerning that they were soldiers. Then they veered to the left and moved along to the south of the city.
“Why should they give us such a wide berth if they intend to attack?” one officer asked.
“Perhaps they don’t intend to attack,” another observed. “Possibly they’re just moving on to the west.”
“That hardly seems possible,” the king muttered. “They’ve taken every city from the Arnon River to Mt. Hermon!”
Rising hope that Israel was moving out and by-passing Jericho was abruptly downed when the foremost Israelite soldiers turned north to parallel the west wall of the city. A little later they turned back eastward to distantly flank Jericho’s north wall.
The city was being surrounded by thousands upon thousands of Israelites! Why they remained at such a distance baffled the Canaanites. Another mystery was the presence of seven long-robed horn blowers marching behind the first large segment of the moving column. As they marched, they held up curved trumpets called shophar, which were made of ram’s horns, and emitted shrill blasts that echoed from the hills to the west. Behind the horn blowers marched four more robed men carrying what appeared to be a large box. The Canaanites had no way of knowing that this object was the Ark of the Covenant, and that the other seven robed men were priests who had been instructed to blow special horns. This was the only sound that came from the Israelites. It was frightfully puzzling to their watchers, because it was the unusual habit of soldiers on the march to shout or sing. In this case, the Israelites had been told not to utter a word during the marching around Jericho.
For well over an hour the Canaanites uneasily watched the enemy parade. It required somewhat more than that for any part of the marchers to pass around Jericho and return to the Israelite camp. Jericho’s ruler remained on the wall, gravely puzzled as to the meaning of such a weird demonstration (Joshua 6:8-11).
“Didn’t anyone here think to try counting them?” he impatiently asked.
“We have estimated that about one hundred thousand passed around the city, sir,” an officer spoke out. “As you know, our spies have reported that Israel has at least five or six times that many soldiers.”
“Spies are not always right,” the king murmured. “This performance today seems to be only an effort to display manpower that isn’t necessarily there. How do we know that all of them were men? Most of them could have been women and children dressed as soldiers. Why did they parade at such a distance unless they fear our spears, arrows and catapults? If they don’t come closer, they can’t harm us. Even as besiegers, they would have to hold out many days before our supplies are exhausted, and that isn’t the pattern of their operation.”
These weakly optimistic remarks from the king did little to generate hope or enthusiasm in those about him. The next day, however, brought a little relief to the Canaanites from their fears when dawn showed no evidence of further siege preparations.
Before long, however, it was observed that Israelites were again approaching Jericho. Renewed excitement and fear reigned in the city for awhile. Then, as they had done the day before, the Israelites swerved southward, later continuing westward to march at a distance from the south wall, swinging north around the west wall, going eastward past the north wall and back to their camp. Meanwhile, there was no chant, shout or song from the Israelites. The only sound was from the seven horns, whose continuous piercing tones carried loudly to the Canaanites in an irritating, suspenseful and nerve-wracking manner.
“This is obviously some kind of enchantment by which Israel is trying to overcome us without attacking us,” the king of Jericho proclaimed to his people after the Israelites had finished their second day of marching around the city. “Why should we allow enchantments from these foreigners to bother us? I have heard that they have only one God. We have many gods to protect us.”
Next day the Israelites appeared for the third time to march around Jericho in the same manner and at the same distance. As usual there was the strange box-like object and the seven men going before it while blowing their horns.
On the fourth day the same thing happened. By now many of the Canaanites were becoming increasingly fearful because they didn’t know just what to expect. Some believed that a great, consuming fire might fall from the sky. Others were afraid of all kinds of calamities. Some, in an effort to hide their growing fears, began to joke about the Israelites.
Next day the Israelites came around again. This time, although the ruler of Jericho wasn’t completely in favor of it, the soldiers lining the tops of the walls lifted their voices in loud taunts to the Israelites to come closer. The ruler didn’t wish to do anything to rouse the ire of the enemy, but at the same time he felt that his soldiers’ morale could be sparked up if they were allowed to deride Israel. The marchers could plainly hear the challenges, but they remained silent except for the blaring of their seven horns.
For six days the Israelites marched once round the city in the early morning of each day (Joshua 6:12-14). On the sixth day the Canaanites shouted even louder at the Israelites as they passed around the city, though they actually believed that if the whole Israelite fighting force should accept their dares and attack, losses by the Canaanites would be much greater than any harm they could inflict upon Israel.
“This is silly, time-consuming, a childish game these people are playing,” Jericho’s ruler announced to the people and soldiers in an effort to boost morale. “Their intended enchantment failed to work the first time, and now they are merely repeating it again and again in the hope that it will finally take effect. It should be plain by now that these people cannot harm us by such means.” The city’s king just couldn’t understand God’s plan of battle.
Inasmuch as the Israelites had been encircling Jericho a little after sunrise each day, Canaanite sentries were surprised when they saw the marching column approaching at early dawn on the seventh day. High officers feared that this might indicate some drastic change in Israel’s plan, and the king was immediately notified of what was happening outside the wall.
The Israelites went around the city in the same manner as usual, but the more interesting fact was that instead of returning to camp, they began to encircle the city again. In fact, they spent almost the whole day marching around Jericho. By mid-afternoon they had made six rounds and were starting on the seventh (Joshua 6:15).
At this point another unusual thing happened. Hundreds of thousands more soldiers had strode out from Israel’s camp and now joined the marchers. The bright, palm-studded plains around Jericho gradually grew dark with the growing immensity of armed forces.
The challenging hoots and shouts that had been coming from the Canaanites gradually died away when Israel’s military strength was displayed. Many people within the city fell into a state of panic when they realized how many fighting men were confronting them. This fear and panic spread like a contagious disease, only much more rapidly. Even the ruler and his officers were grim-faced and nervously silent. No jeering taunts or attempts to belittle Israel’s might could boost the Canaanites’ morale now that they were faced by the stark cold fact of Israel’s true strength. The people in Jericho felt doomed.
It was late afternoon when the Israelites finally finished marching around the city for the seventh time. At this juncture the ark and the trumpet blowers were just east of Jericho. There they stopped, and all the other marchers came to a halt.
Greater tension gripped the Canaanites. Jericho’s ruler, who had been squirming in anxiety in a chair inside one of the wall towers, came slowly to his feet He stared unblinkingly out at Israel’s silently threatening throng.
At that moment the seven horn blowers, who had not sounded for several minutes, blew an unusually long, high blast. This was followed by a chilling surge of shouts from the people surrounding Jericho, those in Israel’s camp and the many who were spread out between, as Joshua had commanded them to do (Joshua 6:16-19). The noise that resulted from the millions of throats was like the thunder and hiss of a tidal wave crashing against a rocky cliff.
Within seconds, however, the vast din of voices was drowned in another noise, an ominous, deep rumble approaching like the growing reverberation of the hoofs of millions of swiftly approaching horses!
Those on the walls felt a sickening sway. Those inside the city were aghast to see widening cracks appear in the cobbled and bricked streets. Screaming people began to pour out of the buildings. Those on the walls began to race down steps and ladders to a firmer footing.
But it was too late to find safety. The walls, as well as the streets, were already cleaving.
In the midst of the ear-splitting clatter, the king and his officers were among the first to realize, in their last moments of life, that the mighty God of Israel didn’t even recognize the puny, powerless gods and idols of this world (Deut. 4:39; Isaiah 45:5; I Cor. 8:5-6; Isaiah 2:20-21).
Then the walls of Jericho reeled violently outward and crashed down with a deafening roar (Joshua 6:20).
Skeptics used to ridicule this miracle. But the skeptics were wrong. Jericho’s wall did fall down flat.
Archaeologists have found the ruins of Jericho just where God said the city was. And after carefully excavating the site for several years, world-famous archaeologists found that the earth had preserved an amazing record of God’s miraculous destruction of Jericho.
The walls of the city that fell in Joshua’s day could clearly be seen to have fallen outward and flat, as the Bible stated in Joshua 6:20.This record had been described in many books dealing with Jericho. In only one place was the wall left standing. That must have been were Rehab’s house was built, because God had promised to protect her and her family because of her faith.
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.