Joshua 6:1-27.
Obeying God

Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.
www.biblicaltheology.com   Scripture quotes from KJV


Thomas Jonathan Jackson.  Known as Stonewall Jackson, he was a respected General for the Confederacy during the War between the States.  General Lee sent him word that the next time he came near headquarters, to stop and see him concerning a matter of little importance.  Early the next morning Jackson left on horseback and traveled to the headquarters through a difficult storm of snow and wind.  He arrived as Lee was finishing breakfast.  Lee was surprised and had not intended that Jackson ride through this weather.  Jackson's response was, "But you said that you wished to see me.  General Lee's slightest wish is a supreme command to me."  Jackson was known for his obedience and devotion to duty.

We may often consider God's will for our lives only as it relates to the important decisions, such as where we will live, the selection of our career, major financial investments, etc.  Does obedience only in major issues demonstrate true obedience and devotion?  Do we tend to listen to the LORD’s requests when they seem to conflict with what is reasonable or with those things that we desire?  Do we follow God, or follow reason?  Do we follow God, or follow our own desires?  This lesson illustrates an example of the application of all of these principles as we follow Israel in their conquest of the city of Jericho.

From the previous chapters in the Old Testament book of Joshua we find that Israel, by carefully following God’s commands, crossed the flooded Jordan river through a miraculous stoppage of the flooding river's flow at the moment of their crossing in an event that was a very visible affirmation of Joshua’s leadership of Israel.  Though their army of 40,000 men led the march into the Promised Land, they encountered no resistance on their way from the river to the fortified city. 

God's Plan of Conquest

Joshua 6:1.  Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in.

As the Israelites approached Jericho, the people that surrounded the city fled to it and shut themselves up in it.  The people in Jericho had a very good reason to fear the horde of people that were approaching them.  The Canaanites were quite aware of the miraculous and overwhelming conquests of Israel over the Pharaoh and over any resistance they encountered on their way to Jericho.  They would also have known of the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River, another demonstration of the voracity of this God of Israel.[1]

To get some context of the place, one might note that the city was small by today's standards, about 10 acres, or if circular, about 1000 feet from one end to the other, or a square of about 900 feet on a side.  It did not have fortified walls as we might first think.  The walls were formed by placing the exterior buildings next to each other.  Therefore, the wall was in reality a series of buildings sharing a common exterior wall, resulting in a very strong fortification.  By standing on the roofs of these buildings, the inhabitants could defend the city with their weapons, at that time mostly rocks, arrows and spears.  The destruction of the walls of Jericho was much more than the razing of a wall, it would involve the destruction of entire buildings.

By retreating into the safety of their city, the people of Jericho placed themselves into a state of siege.  Jericho had an internal supply of water, and according to archeologists, was probably well-supplied with staple food.  The inhabitants were in a position to confidently withstand a prolonged siege.

Joshua 6:2.  And the LORD said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour.

The column of Israelites was led by Joshua, his fighting men, and the priests.  As they approached the city they were probably astonished by its serenity and quietness.  There were no people bustling around in the communities outside of its walls.  They might have been able to see some of its citizenry standing on top of the walls with their spears and arrows.  All was still and quiet.  However, the city stood strong, and well-defended.

At the time that God made this promise known to Joshua, we might not consider the city to be in Joshua’s “hands.”  The Israelites had no means to bring down the walls, and lacked the weapons or skills to defeat a defended, fortified city.  When observed through the eyes of reason, this declaration of the LORD to Joshua would seem quite unreasonable.  However, when observed through the eyes of faith, one can certainly understand the LORD’s promise.  Joshua, surrounded by the Israelite people, is looking upon a fortified city which God has promised to delivered to him.  At this point, Joshua would have no idea of just how the LORD intends to fulfill His promise.  All that is necessary is for Joshua to faithfully obey the LORD’s commands.

Joshua 6:3-5  And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days. 4And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. 5And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him.

Assuming the army would stay far enough back from the walls of Jericho to avoid attack by arrows, etc, the army of “fighting men” would be large enough to encircle the city thirty to forty times.  If the estimates of the size of Israel are anywhere near accurate, even the most conservative estimates would describe a crowd completely encircling the city at least 400 to 500 rows deep.  The scripture indicates that the entire nation marched with the army around the city.  An army is trained to fight, and yet their commander is requesting for them to simply march around the city.  Certainly this is a battle strategy that they would have never encountered before.  The Israelites had already proven themselves to be less than faithful when presented with challenges, but with the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River fresh on their minds it appears that the people kept up their faith and followed Joshua’s orders without question. 

Note how the number seven is repeated in the command to Joshua.  Seven priests were to lead the way as they were to circumambulate the city seven times, each bearing one of seven ram’s horns.  On the seventh day they are to march around the city seven times prior to the command to make a really loud noise.

Capturing Jericho

Joshua 6:6-11.  And Joshua the son of Nun called the priests, and said unto them, Take up the ark of the covenant, and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the LORD. 7And he said unto the people, Pass on, and compass the city, and let him that is armed pass on before the ark of the LORD. 8And it came to pass, when Joshua had spoken unto the people, that the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns passed on before the LORD, and blew with the trumpets: and the ark of the covenant of the LORD followed them. 9And the armed men went before the priests that blew with the trumpets, and the rereward came after the ark, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets. 10And Joshua had commanded the people, saying, Ye shall not shout, nor make any noise with your voice, neither shall any word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then shall ye shout. 11So the ark of the LORD compassed the city, going about it once: and they came into the camp, and lodged in the camp.

Try to imagine what it would have been like to be a resident of Jericho at this time.  What do you think would you be experiencing?  It probably took the nation of Israel a reasonable amount of time to make the circuit around the city.  Though it was only about a one-mile walk, or about 15 minutes time if one were making a brisk pace, the entire nation made the trip, so the outer rim of the crowd could have been traveling two or three miles.  Therefore, it was probably more like an hour or two that the people of Jericho witnessed the event, seeing as many as a half million to a million people just outside of a bowshot of the city.  The sounds would have been amazing, and certainly served to strike fear in the hearts of the people as they were hearing a silent nation except for the continual and very loud sounding of the many trumpets, the shofar that were blown by the priests and the fighting men, and the sound of the movement of the people.  The ground likely vibrated with the footfalls of so many people walking outside of their gates.

Joshua 6:12-14.  And Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the LORD. 13And seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the LORD went on continually, and blew with the trumpets: and the armed men went before them; but the rereward came after the ark of the LORD, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets. 14And the second day they compassed the city once, and returned into the camp: so they did six days.

After the first circumnavigation of the city, Israel retreated to their camps.  One can only imagine what was going on inside the city of Jericho as its leadership was trying to make some sense out of what they were experiencing.  They may have felt that the walls were protecting them, but the sheer numbers of people had to have them question the ability of the walls to protect an attack from such a large body of people. 

For the next five days the pattern was the same.  The people arrived at the city, walked around it, led by Joshua, the priests, and the fighting men, accompanied by the loud blasting of the trumpets.

The LORD gave the city a week to consider their state.  The next day is the Sabbath.

Joshua 6:15-16  And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they rose early about the dawning of the day, and compassed the city after the same manner seven times: only on that day they compassed the city seven times. 16And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the LORD hath given you the city.

Something special took place on the seventh day.  The nature and purpose of the seventh day, the Sabbath, holds particular relevance for the Israelite community.  The sabbath is to be a day of rest following six days of work, a reminder of the holiness of God and the Genesis narrative of the creation of the universe and the world.  By the seventh day, the work is done.   There was a work taking place during those six days.  The people of Jericho had a sufficient amount of time to turn to Israel's God, repenting of their generational rebellion against God, and avoiding the judgment that the LORD has for them. 

To the people of Jericho, this day was starting differently.  First of all, the march started at daybreak, implying that the marches of the previous days started well after sunrise, and the Israelites did not leave after a single circuit of the city.  They continued marching around the city, walking silently with the only sounds being the shofar and the shuffling of the people.  Likely they could feel the ground shaking under the footfalls of so many people.  A final chance for repentance is being given to the people, a chance that none would be inclined to positively utilize.

Finally, at the end of the seventh circuit, the entire nation stopped, turned toward the city, and followed Joshua's command to shout.  Many have heard the deafening roar that is often heard in a football stadium, filled with thousands of people shouting in response to a critical touchdown..  The volume of the noise heard by the people in the city would have been much greater.  Nothing like this had ever been experienced, before or since.

Joshua 6:17.  And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.

Some translations use the word "devoted" instead of the “accursed” that is used in the KJV.  The Greek translation uses the word "anathema".  God had long before judged the people of Canaan to be accursed, such as was the citizenry of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the people of Amalek who Joshua defeated, recorded in Exodus 17:14.  In an accursed city, where there was not a single person who had faith in God, every breathing thing was to be destroyed, including all animals, men, women, and children.  As harsh as this sounds, this serves to acknowledge the sovereignty and holiness of God who created them, and the authority that He has to judge them, and as He did with the Noahic flood, destroy everything, wiping out all nuance of sin.  Observe:

Genesis 15:16.  But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

As God declared the city of Jericho anathema, as He did for all of Canaan. God’s command to Joshua was to destroy everything in the City (with the exception of Rahab and her family, who had served the LORD.)  This same command was given to Joshua concerning the entire Canaanite region that they were given to take.

Joshua 6:18-19  And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. 19But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the LORD.

"Accursed things" refers to things of value made by the hands of the people.  These are typically the "spoils of war."  Accustomed to taking of the spoils, this command to refrain from doing so would have been unusual.  All was to be destroyed except for objects of gold, silver, brass, and iron, as these were to be brought to the treasury of Israel.  The Israelites were warned that to take anything for themselves would bring a curse upon all of Israel.  As the scripture teaches stewardship, it teaches the total sacrifice of the first fruits.  We are to give back to God the first fruits of our labor, not the left overs.  If we keep any form of possession or control over any portion of a sacrifice, it is not a true sacrifice.  Jericho represents the first fruits of the conquest of Canaan.  The spoils of all of Canaan will be available to the people over the coming months and years of conquest.  To obey God's demand for stewardship, however, nothing of value is to be kept by the people of Israel.

Mercy for Rahab and her household

Joshua 6:20-25.  So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. 21And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword. 22But Joshua had said unto the two men that had spied out the country, Go into the harlot’s house, and bring out thence the woman, and all that she hath, as ye sware unto her. 23And the young men that were spies went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had; and they brought out all her kindred, and left them without the camp of Israel. 24And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. 25And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

The command of the LORD was simple… upon the destruction of the wall, the fighting men who were on the inner circle of the nation of Israel were to run “straight” into the city and engage the people they would contact (verse 5).   With the city surrounded, this would totally overwhelm any defense.  

We can always stand confident on the promises of God, and one of these is that He will never condemn the faithful.  There have been several occasions when the LORD brought final judgment upon an entire wicked population, but spared those very few faithful.  One obvious example is that of Noah’s family when the LORD brought all other human life on earth to an end.  We find that Lot’s family was removed from Sodom when that city, with Gomorrah, was totally destroyed.  Later, during the period of the Kings of Israel, the city of Nineveh would be spared because some of its citizens, including the King, approached the LORD with a spirit of repentance following the prophecy of destruction brought to them by the prophet Jonah. 

The destruction of Jericho contains a similar scenario.  When Joshua had sent spies into the city, the innkeeper, Rahab, believed them, expressed faith in the God of Israel, and then sheltered and protected them.[2]  We are reminded by the writers of the New Testament book of Hebrews and the Epistle of James that her faith in the LORD was genuine, and by that faith she and her family were saved.[3]

All people of faith can be assured that their salvation is secure, and that the LORD will never condemn them for their sin.[4]  This can be very assuring for those who believe or feel as though they have failed the LORD.  He is true to His promises.

Joshua's Pronouncement of a Curse

Joshua 6:26-27.  And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the LORD, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it. 27So the LORD was with Joshua; and his fame was noised throughout all the country.

Like Sodom and Gomorrah, the city of Jericho had a reputation of violence, profanity, and godlessness.  The difference between these two cities involves the period of six days (and part of the seventh) when the citizens of Jericho, aware of the Israelites and the power of the LORD refused to repent, making their sin greater than that of the two cities that had been destroyed 14 generations earlier.  As a testimony to the judgment that came upon Jericho, the LORD led Joshua to establish a directive that the city would never be rebuilt.[5]  The curse placed upon its reconstruction was prophetic and specific:  the one who would rebuild the city would lose his first two sons, the first when the foundation is laid and the second when the gates are put in place.  Heil of Bethel rebuilt the city during the reign of the wicked and pagan King Ahab.  His first son, Abiram, died when the foundation was laid, and his remaining youngest son, Segub, died when the gates were put in place.[6]  Recall that the story of Zaccheus takes place in Jericho, and the parable of the Good Samaritan refers to the road to Jericho.  The city of Jericho was given to the tribe of Benjamin, and was afterward rebuilt, becoming an important city during the first century, and was witness to Jesus’ miracles.[7]   

The Imperative of Obedience

  • When God leads us to attempt something for Him, we should obey regardless of the task's difficulty or seeming impossibilities.

  • We should remember that God's directions may seem foolish to unbelievers, but are a source of victory to the obedient believer.

  • We cannot ignore God's warnings without paying a tremendous price for our disobedience.

  • Our stewardship responsibilities demand that we give our best to the Lord.

  • Through faithful obedience we can know the joy of victory when God tears down walls or barriers.

  • When all of our efforts fail to remove obstacles in our path we should trust God to act on our behalf.

The battle of Jericho was the first battle in the taking of the land of the Canaanites.  The people were obedient, and witnessed the acts of God in great power.  This obedience did not always continue.  Even at Jericho we find that Achan took some spoils for himself, costing him his life and the lives of several thousand soldiers.

Israel would forever realize the consequences of their idea of obedience following the conquest of Jericho.  The entire region of Canaan was declared anathema by the LORD, and Joshua was to treat it accordingly, killing all of its people, and keeping all its spoils.  Joshua fell short of this, retiring in comfort before the task was done, taking only a small fraction of Canaan in the manner that the LORD demanded.  Israel never took the land, leaving the enemies to dwell among them, being tempted by them, and having their faith diluted by them.  The people found the sensual worldliness of the Canaanites to be attractive, leading them to turn themselves away from faith in God, resulting in the destruction of the nation by Assyria and Babylon.  The nation of Israel is still a mosaic of Israelites and Canaanites, and the fighting between them has never abated.  The Battle for Israel will continue until the LORD finally brings it to an end by His intervention.[8] The consequences of disobedience can be quite long-lasting.

Likewise, the consequences of obedience are also long.


[1] Joshua 2:10-11.

[2] Joshua, Chapter 2.

[3] Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25.

[4] Romans 8:1.

[5] A similar curse would later be placed upon the city of Babylon following its King Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the southern Israelite nation of Judah.  Isaiah 13:17-20.

[6] 1 Kings 16:34.

[7] Matthew 20:29; Mark 10:46; Luke 10:30, 18:35, 19:1.

[8] Ezekiel, Chapter 34.