God decides to ease the Israelites into this war business, so he gives them a fairly easy first assignment; they are to take Jericho, but they won’t have to fight for it! Rather, God will do the bulk of the work (barring some magical ritual).
So, if you ever find yourself trying to siege a city, here’s your recipe for success:
- Carry the ark, accompanied by seven priests each blowing ram’s horn trumpets, around the perimeter of the city accompanied by all your soldiers each day for six days straight.
- On the seventh day, have them all walk around the perimeter of the city seven times (hopefully your city is small enough for this to be feasible).
- At the conclusion of the seventh trip on the seventh day, have the priests blast their horn trumpets, which is a signal for all your people to let out a loud shout.
(Presumably, war is exempt from sabbath requirements.)
Joshua adds to these rules that the people are to be completely silent through all of this until the moment of the great shouting on the seventh day. There’s no word if this is to apply to the babies and small children who are following the army along until they have a place to settle.
When the time finally comes and the priests begin blasting their trumpets, Joshua yells to the people to “SHOUT!!!” And then immediately launches into a rather lengthy lecture that includes additional instructions. Perhaps he was a little pre-emptive in ordering the week-long silence and really needed this moment to give these additional instructions. Still, it seems rather poorly timed. I can imagine that the priests were quite out of sorts trying to maintain their trumpet blasts long enough for him to finish.
In any case, his instructions are a repeat of what we got in Deuteronomy 20 – namely, that everyone must die, the city be razed, and all the stuff burned. The only addition is to say that the really nice stuff should be spared and given to God, c/o the priests (Josh. 6:19, Josh. 6:24). I’m sure that got no eye rolls from the people….
The second miracle of this chapter is that they manage to find Rahab and her family alive, despite the fact that their home was built into Jericho’s wall (Josh. 2:15), which all too recently came a-tumbling down. Rahab and her Rahabites are given permission to live among the Israelites.
Closing off the chapter, Joshua curses whatever future person rebuilds Jericho, saying that it will cost him his first-born to lay the foundation and his youngest son to set up the gates. According to Brant Clements, this curse will be revisited when we get to 1 Kings, so we have that to look forward to! He also wonders if it refers to an act of child sacrifice.
The image of Jericho as a city large enough for city walls seems to be anachronistic. Take it away, Kenneth C. Davis:
Recent archaeology has tempered the biblical account of the Conquest. In the thirteenth century BCE, the likely date of the entry of the Israelites into Canaan, Jericho was an unfortified village. In other words, the familiar account was most likely embroidered upon in later telling. The Jordan River valley in which Jericho lies sites on a major rift, or geological fault zone. One explanation for the river stopping and the walls tumbling is that both events were earthquake-induced. However, there is no archaeological evidence of those tumbled walls at Jericho. (Don’t Know Much About the Bible, p.151)
As far as the fault-line stuff, here’s a map to illustrate:
It could be that a story of Jericho’s walls crumbling suddenly (due to an earthquake) was later woven into a conquest story.
As far as the “crush, kill, destroy” portion of the conquest, where Joshua commands his soldiers to slaughter everyone in town and burn all their possessions, Collins explains that this is not a command unique to Hebrew scripture/culture:
The custom was known outside Israel. King Mesha of Moab, in the ninth century B.C.E., boasted that he took Nebo from Israel, “slaying all, seven thousand men, boys, women, girls and maidservants, for I had devoted them to destruction for (the god) Ashtar-Chemosh” […] The story of the capture of Jericho is almost certainly fictitious, but this only makes the problem more acute. We are not dealing in Joshua with a factual report of the ways of ancient warfare. Rather, the slaughter of the Canaanites, here and elsewhere, is presented as a theologically correct ideal. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.101)