The thundering collapse of the walls of Jericho was no great surprise to the Israelites. They had been told by God, through Joshua, what to do and what would happen. Even so, it was a chilling experience to witness the death of thousands as they tumbled with the walls (Joshua 6:16).
The Israelite soldiers knew what to do at that point. They broke from their ranks and rushed into the spreading clouds of dust, scrambling over the rubble in a tightening circle to hem in all the Canaanites who hadn’t died in the collapse of the walls. The Israelites swiftly obeyed the strict order to slay every human being and animal in the city.
The only people spared were Rahab, the inn proprietress, and her close relatives. Because Rahab had determined to quit serving pagan gods and learn to obey the true God, and had acted on her new faith, God listed her in the faith chapter of the New Testament among those who trusted in God and are promised a better resurrection (Heb. 11:31, 35).
Rahab and her relatives were in the inn at the time of Jericho’s fall, and though the inn was built on the wall, that particular portion of the wall was miraculously spared. A group of soldiers, led by the two scouts who had promised protection to Rahab, went up the inside of the piece of wall and brought Rahab, those related to her and their possessions to a safe place outside Israel’s camp (vs. 20-23).
The account of the perishing of the idolatrous inhabitants of Jericho by God’s command is an episode, among many others, that various religious leaders in high officers declare should be removed from the Bible. They feel that God used poor judgment in allowing such accounts to be written into the scriptures. But in reality, when God had these wretched idolaters destroyed, He was actually showing them mercy. In the judgment they and other ignorant idolaters will be resurrected and given an opportunity to learn God’s way to peace and happiness (Matt. 12:41-42; Rev. 20:11-12; Isa. 65:19-25).
The Israelites had already been warned not to take any booty of any kind from Jericho except articles of gold, silver, brass and iron, which were to go into God’s treasury. Everything else and everyone in Jericho was accursed, but items made of these metals could later be purified by fire. These things were carefully sought out and set aside to later go into the treasure of God’s sanctuary. No one was to keep any of these things for himself; nor was anyone to take for himself things such as clothes, food, precious stones, animals and so forth. Any person who took any personal booty was to become accursed by God, and would bring such a curse on Israel that all would suffer (Joshua 6:17-19).
After the metals had been removed, the Israelites set fire to Jericho. Although most of the walls and many of the buildings had been built of stone and bricks, a great part of the city was made up of heavy beams, poles, planks and boards. There were other flammable materials, but the wood alone was enough to produce a tremendous fire in which dead Canaanites were at least partly cremated (vs. 24-25).
As for that standing portion of the wall on which Rahab’s inn was located, it came crashing down when the wooden beams supporting her house were burned.
By now darkness had come on. Carrying their booty, the Israelites turned from the blazing ruins and returned to camp. The next morning Joshua called a meeting of the elders and officers.
“Pass on the word to all the people,” Joshua informed them, “that no man should ever rebuild Jericho. It could present a strong temptation, what with the great wall stones and wells remaining there. Anyone who reconstructs the city will fall under a curse from the Creator, and he shall become childless. His oldest child shall die when he lays the foundation and his youngest shall die when he sets up in the city gates. Let the ashes and stones of Jericho be a monument to the destruction that will come to all idol worshippers.” This prophecy was fulfilled about 500 years later when a very foolish Israelite rebuilt Jericho (I Kings 16:34).
News of the fall of Jericho spread swiftly over the land, and Joshua became famous in that part of the world because of his leading Israel to take the city. Consequently, fear of Israel mounted in the surrounding nations (Joshua 6:27).
The next city Joshua intended to conquer was called Ai. It was about twelve miles from Jericho in the westerly direction, and though it was considerably smaller than the destroyed city, Joshua had no intention to by-pass any fortress that might later prove a source of trouble.
Again scouts were used to obtain information. When they returned from Ai, they reported that this Amorite fortress wasn’t very large or strong, and that it would be no great problem for Israel to attack and destroy it.
“It won’t be necessary for all or even a great part of our army to attack this place,” the scouts told Joshua. “The walls aren’t very high, and it is too small to contain very many fighting men. Two or three thousand of our soldiers should be able to conquer it” (Joshua 7:2-3).
At first it seemed to Joshua that it would be risky to send such a small number of soldiers, but then he began to wonder if he would be showing a lack of faith in what God could do for Israel by sending ten or twenty times as many men as the scouts suggested. After all, the scouts he sent were chosen from among his best officers and were men of good judgment. Joshua concluded that it wouldn’t be necessary to send more than three thousand men.
A few hours later the Israelite soldiers emerged from the caravan road leading up from the Jordan valley, and saw the city of Ai atop a ridge. It was evident that they could be plainly seen by the Amorites, and that a surprise attack would be impossible. Nevertheless, the Israelite soldiers were confident because of what God had done for them at Jericho, and they marched boldly up to Ai. Their leader was certain that the Amorites would surrender when they were told to give up without a fight or be set upon by the whole Israelite army.
Suddenly the gate of Ai swung open, and thousands of screaming Amorite soldiers rushed out at the would-be attackers!
The Israelites had supposed that the inhabitants of Ai would be quaking with fear, and this abrupt turn of events so surprised them that they momentarily froze in their tracks. By the time they got into action, spears and arrows from the onrushing Amorites were raining into the ranks of the Israelites, and some of these weapons were finding fatal marks. On top of that, rock catapults atop the south wall had gone into operation, and huge stones were thudding among the Israelites.
“Where is the help and defense God promised us?” was the question that crossed the minds of most of the Israelite soldiers. It was being made shamefully obvious to the Israelites that God’s protection, since the crossing of the Jordan, hinged upon their obedience.
Faith in their Creator swiftly fled, and do did the Israelites. Instead of fighting back, they turned and raced away through a hail of stones, arrows and spears. This cowardly move spurred the screaming Amorites to greater boldness, and they pursued their enemies all the way back to the road by which the Israelites had come.
When at last the routed and panic-stricken Israelites were clear of their pursuers and could group safely together, they found that the Amorites had slain thirty-six of their number and had wounded many more.
It was a dejected and disgraced piece of army that returned to camp. When the people heard what had happened, their confidence in God tumbled to a new low. They couldn’t understand why God would promise them swift victory over all their enemies, and then allow about three thousand of their solders to be disorganized, chased and crippled by the idol worshipping Amorites (Joshua 7:4-5).
In those days it was the custom to show regret, self-reproach or humiliation by tearing one’s clothes and tossing dust upon his head. That was what Joshua did when he heard what had happened. He was so upset and discouraged that he called the elders together before the tabernacle to join him until sundown in prostration and an attitude of repentance.
“Why have you brought us over Jordan to let us fall into the hands of the Amorites?” Joshua inquired of God as he lay with his face to the ground inside the tabernacle. “It would have been better for us to stay on the east side of the river than try to attack our enemies here and end up fleeing in terror from them. When all the Canaanites and other nations hear of this, they shall decide we are really weak, and shall come with their combined forces to surround us. We shall be destroyed, and the great name of our God shall be disgraced” (vs. 6-9)!
“These things haven’t happened because of any unfaithfulness on my part,” God replied. “My orders were that no booty should be taken from Jericho for personal gain. I warned Israel that anyone who did so would become as accursed as Jericho’s people, and that a curse would fall on all Israel as a result. Someone has gone against my will in this matter, and a curse has fallen on this nation. That is why the attempt to conquer Ai was a failure. My help and strength was not with the soldiers, nor will my help be with Israel again in any attempt to overcome your enemies until you remove and destroy the guilty one.”
Joshua was surprised and shocked when he heard this. It hadn’t occurred to him that the defeat of his soldiers could be due to someone obtaining booty from Jericho and hiding it.
“Get up and tell the people what has happened,” God continued. “Tell them that they cannot successfully face their enemies until the guilty one is removed, and that they should wash themselves and be ready to appear before you tomorrow while the guilty one is found” (vs. 10-15).
Joshua obeyed, and next morning the heads of the tribes gathered before the tabernacle and drew lots to learn what tribe had the guilty person. The tribe of Judah drew the telling lot. Then it was up to the heads of the families of Judah to draw lots. The head of the family of the Zarhites drew the unwanted lot, and next it was the turn of the household heads of the Zarhites to draw lots. According to the manner in which God caused the lots to be drawn, the household turned out to be that of Zabdi.
The men of the household of Zabdi solemnly gathered together to do their part. The vast crowd of silent onlookers knew that one of these men was responsible for the death of thirty-six men, the injury of many others and the swift and humiliating retreat of the Israelites from Ai (vs. 16-18).
The lot indicating guilt was drawn by a man by the name of Achan, referred to in other scriptures as Achar (I Chron. 2:7). Long before the lot was drawn, it was evident to many bystanders that this man was the one being sought. His face grew more drawn and his expression more frightened as matters proceeded.
The pale and shaking Achan was brought before Joshua. “Don’t try to hide your evil deed,” Joshua advised him. “Honor your God by confessing what you have done.”
“I –I didn’t realize at the time how much I was sinning against the God of Israel!” Achan tearfully burst out as he fell to his knees and bowed his head. “I was tramping through the rubble of Jericho with other soldiers when I stumbled by myself into the remains of what surely had been the dwelling quarters of a wealthy Canaanite family.
When I looked around and saw many valuable things that could increase my family’s living standard, I didn’t think it would greatly matter to take some of them, especially because most of them would be burned and wasted. One of the things that caught my eye was a beautiful Babylonian robe that shone as though it were woven of golden threads from a rainbow. I stuffed the robe under my jacket, scooped up a handful of silver coins from a chest, grabbed some small object that looked as though it were solid gold, jammed these things into my pouch and then climbed out of the place to join the other soldiers (Joshua 7:19-21).
“Where are these things now?” Joshua queried.
“I buried them in the ground inside my tent,” was the painful reply.
Joshua immediately rushed officers to Achan’s tent. They returned within a few minutes to show Joshua a costly Babylonish type garment, a number of silver coins and a small, wedge shape bar of gold.
Joshua was aware of the unpleasant event that had to follow. According to God’s orders, Achan and his family, his livestock and his possessions – including the things he had stolen – were taken to a spot well outside the camp of Israel. There Joshua again confronted Achan to ask him why he had been so thoughtless and disobedient as to bring so much trouble on his people.
“I didn’t mean to bring on what happened,” Achan murmured. “I just didn’t take God’s warning seriously concerning how much one person’s sin can affect others!”
Those were Achan’s last words. He was led away to be stoned to death in the sight of his family and thousands of others. Then he and all his possessions were burned and a great heap of stones was piled over his body. Since he had tried to enrich his family by rebellion, his family had to stand by and watch all their livestock and other property destroyed as a warning to all (Joshua 7:22-26).
Joshua returned to the tabernacle to humbly ask God to be merciful to the Israelites and strengthen them against their enemies.
“Don’t be discouraged,” God told him. “Now that the accursed man has been removed, I have removed my curse and my anger. Now take the army and go to the city of Ai. Use some of your men to bait the Amorites into coming out. Hide the greater part of the army so that they can surprise the enemy. Then you will see how I shall deliver Ai and all its people to you” (Joshua 8:1-2).
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.