Joshua 6: Jericho Taken
Jericho has several times been mentioned. It stood at the foot of the bluffs at the western edge of the plain of Jordan, opposite where the people crossed the river. While finding it on the map we may learn that Jericho in Gospel days was where the brook Kelt and the road from Jerusalem came out upon the valley. In Old Testament days, at the time of our story, it was a mile farther north, at Elisha's fountain, below a very weather-beaten cliff. The modern Jericho is in still another place farther out in the plain. In our little picture we are looking out upon the plain from the ruins of old Jericho and we see the stream from the fountain running out to water the fields. Why is the spring called Elisha's fountain? (2 Kings 2:19-22) The hot climate of the Jordan valley and the water made Jericho a place of gardens. The name means "fragrant place." It was also called the "city of palm trees." (Deut. 34:3) It was the first city taken by the children of Israel after entering the land.
We have today another story about the children of Israel, soon after they crossed the Jordan into the Holy Land. Who remembers about the crossing of the river Jordan? Ask the children to tell as much of the story as they can. The ark, you say? What was the ark? Describe again in a simple way the little chest of wood and gold, and the golden cover with the cherubim and the staves. How could the ark have power to divide the river? It was the Lord's power in the Ten Commandments written on the stone tablets in the ark.
This power was shown again at Jericho, a city near the Jordan, where enemies of the children of Israel lived. (If possible show pictures of the weather-beaten cliff behind Jericho, of Elisha's fountain, and the plain.)
Jericho had strong walls and gates. Describe the walls and gates of an ancient Middle-Eastern town, the gates being heavy doors often closed at night, and in times of danger. But the walls of Jericho fell, and the city was taken. It was the ark that did it, by the same power which divided the Jordan.
Tell the story of the march around the city six days, and seven times on the seventh day. First the armed men, then seven priests with trumpets made of rams' horns, then the priests carrying the ark (How did they carry it?), and after the ark another guard of soldiers. As they marched, the priests blew with the trumpets. On the seventh day they went about the city seven times and the people shouted, and the walls of Jericho fell. Listen while we read the story. (Verses 1-20) Now we know two stories about the ark and its great power: at the Jordan; at Jericho.
Can you show me Jericho on the map? What was the meaning of the name? What sort of place was it, a village or a strong city? The people of Jericho were among the people of the land whom the children of Israel must destroy. This was because they were evil people with an evil worship, and because they represented evil things in everyone which must with the Lord's help be destroyed. The children of Israel were earnestly and repeatedly commanded to destroy them and to have nothing to do with their idols. When you read such commands, you must remember also that all these people of the land stand for evil things in ourselves, which must be thoroughly put out, and all that belongs to them; no compromise, no half-way work. Jericho was the first city of the land to be taken. In taking it they would learn what strength they had to depend on in the conquest they were beginning. Would it be their spear men, their archers, the great number of their soldiers?
We have learned how the Lord helped the people at the Jordan; read now Joshua 6:1-20 and learn how He helped them at Jericho. The same power helped them in both cases, the Lord's power in the ark. The words translated "trumpets of rams' horns" are said to mean "trumpets of jubilee," "trumpets of loud sound." We have here another proof of the Lord's power with the people, to give them success in conquering the land. The people of the land saw it also and were the more afraid.
Does this mean something to us in conquering wrong things in ourselves? Is our strength in learning, in arguing? No, but in remembering the Lord's commandments and saying promptly and courageously, "Thou shalt not." And the seven days of going about the city, and seven times on the seventh day, does it mean that we should try only for one week, or seven times? Remember the Lord's answer to Peter: "Not seven times, but seventy times seven"; that is, Try perfectly; try patiently until you succeed, till Sabbath peace is gained.
The people and the things of Jericho are called "accursed." They were to be absolutely devoted to the Lord, the silver and gold and vessels of brass and iron, to come into the Lord's treasury, and the rest to be destroyed. The children of Israel must take nothing of the spoil for themselves.
But wait; there was one family in Jericho which was to be saved, the family of Rahab. To know the reason for this, we look back to Joshua 2. Two spies whom Joshua had sent across the Jordan to learn conditions in Jericho had been kindly received by Rahab and hidden from harm on the roof of her house, so that they got away safely. They promised Rahab that when Jericho was taken she and her family should be saved because of her kindness, and she was to mark her window, which was on the city wall, with a line of scarlet. She did this, and the promise was remembered and kept.
The chapter closes with a terrible prediction in regard to anyone who should rebuild Jericho. His oldest son would die when he began the work and his youngest son when the work was finished. Many years afterward the prophecy came true. (1 Kings 16:34)
We keep in our minds from this lesson the picture of the ark being carried around the city of Jericho, and of its power in throwing down the walls.
Today let each scholar cut out a picture of the country near Jericho and paste it at the top of a page. Write under it in a few lines the story of how Jericho was taken.
We must make a little study of Jericho and its spiritual meaning. The Holy Land as the home of Israel is a type of a spiritual life and heaven. Interior heavenly states are represented by the central highlands of the land, and the holiness centers at Jerusalem. The lowlands at the borders of Canaan east and west represent lower, more external states. We had this in mind when Lot chose for his home the plain of Jordan, and Abram kept to the hills. It is again in mind as the children of Israel enter the land at its lowest point, to climb up into the hills. Jericho in a good sense represents not an interior spiritual state, but one of simple instruction and good life. The name "city of palm trees" tells us that the state described has knowledge of the saving power of the Lord, for this is the meaning of palms. But before the children of Israel took the city, while it was the home of their enemies, Jericho represented an evil state of life, with a sense of security in these evil ways. The walls of the city about which so much is said are the arguments and excuses by which the evil ways are justified. They are walls to be thrown down not by our own strength, or by our learning, or by our powers of argument, but by the power of the Divine commandments as they are faced with their simple, "Thou shalt not." (E. 700; A. 1585) It is of some interest to note that the stern cliff behind Jericho is associated by tradition with our Lord's temptations in the wilderness, and His answers to the tempter.
The number seven is prominent in the story of the taking of Jericho. Does it say something about the thoroughness and patience with which the commandments must be used in overcoming an evil in ourselves? After the week of effort come victory and the Sabbath peace. (A. 716; E. 257)
The blowing of the trumpets and the shouting are expressions of the power in the Divine laws. Remember the trumpet voice at Sinai when the commandments were given. (Exod. 19:16, 19) Horns, the strength of the animals that have them, are also emblems of power. Sheep and lambs are types of innocence and gentle affection. Rams' horns represent the strength of the Divine innocence and love, speaking in the commandments and felt in our lives as we keep them. (A. 2830, 2832)
We must consider at the beginning of this story of conquest the apparent cruelty in the commands to destroy enemies and their possessions, sometimes in part and sometimes wholly. It is a help to know that such commands express our duty to overcome wholly evils in ourselves, without compromise. In the old days it was the evil in the world that the Lord hated, but people then could not separate the wrong from the wrong doer; they were not ready for the Christian law of hating the wrong but loving the wrong doers. To them hating the evil meant hating and destroying the one who did the wrong. In the case of Jericho the gold and silver, copper and brass were to be saved and brought into the treasury of the Lord. There are habits of natural kindness and treasures of knowledge which are made evil by association with evil motives but are good when separated from evil motives and devoted to the service of the Lord. Rahab also and the scarlet thread in her window represent a simple charity capable of being turned to good. There is a touching interest in finding the name of Rahab and the name of Ruth the Moabitess also, of whom we shall learn a little later, in the genealogy of our Lord. (Matt. 1:5) They represent simple, natural affections which could have a place in our Lord's human nature, to be corrected and glorified.
The prediction concerning one who should rebuild Jericho shows that our spiritual life will die if we willfully go back and practice and excuse an evil which the Lord has helped us to overcome. (Luke 9:62; Matt. 12:43-45)