March 12 Reading: Joshua 5-8 Commentary
“So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.” (Josh. 6:20)
Joshua 5 – Circumcision for Another Generation
So what was the local people’s reaction to the miracle at the Jordan River in Joshua 3-4? Abject fear! When all the kings of the Amorites and Canaanites heard what the Lord had done for Israel, “…their heart melted; and there was no spirit in them any longer…” (v. 1). It was just as Rahab described to the two spies who were sent to scout out Jericho (Josh. 2:9-11).
Joshua and the people were now in the new land. Before they moved forward though, one final act of consecration had to take place. God requested that Joshua circumcise all the males of the new generation.
All the men of war who left Egypt were circumcised before they left. However, they died in the wilderness for their sin. Only those males 20 and younger had survived God’s consequence for disobedience.
But additionally, new children were born as they wandered the wilderness for 40 years. We don’t know why but those children had not been circumcised along the way. So before any battles took place, Joshua circumcised all the male children born in the wilderness. In this way, God said He had “rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (v. 9). This all occurred at a place called Gilgal.
The people remained in place until the men had healed (v. 8). They observed the Passover on the 14th day of the month in the plains of Jericho (v. 10). And from that moment on, they ate the produce of the land. God no longer provided manna for them to eat (vv. 11-12).
It must have been very nerve-racking for Joshua on the nights leading up to his first battle. God had promised to be with him and they had just witnessed an amazing miracle when crossing the Jordan. However, that doesn’t mean he didn’t feel some anxiety or fear about facing down the mighty city of Jericho.
At the end of Joshua 5 though, Joshua gets an interesting visitor:
“And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?”
So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?”
Then the Commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.” (vv. 13-15)
There could be no doubt in his mind now that their victory would be secured. The Commander of the armies of the Lord had shown up in person to comfort and encourage him. Many believe this to be a pre-incarnate visit from Jesus.
Joshua 6 – Jericho Goes Down
The first real test for Joshua and the people came as they faced off against the mighty city of Jericho – one of the major strongholds in the new land. The problem at Jericho was its defense system – a double wall that surrounded the city. It was so high and thick there was no way the armies could get through it.
But of course God had a unique plan for Jericho’s destruction. It took a lot of faith for the people to follow his plan because it’s not usually how you would go about fighting a battle. It’s one of the most dramatic Old Testament stories, one that begins with a visit to Joshua from the Commander of the army of the Lord (Josh. 5:13-15).
The whole event highlights that it was God and his power alone that was in charge of the takeover of the land.
God’s Battle Plan
The mighty city of Jericho was on lockdown. No one was coming or going (v. 1). This makes sense considering the fear the people of the land had towards Israel (Josh. 5:1).
But one thing was clear for Joshua. God said he’d given them the city (v. 2). So no matter what the people of the city were doing to defend or protect themselves, it wasn’t going to work.
God had a unique battle plan for breaking through Jericho’s defenses and conquering the city. It’s not like anything Joshua had probably ever heard before:
“You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him.” (vv. 3-5).
Six days, one trip each day around the city. On the 7th day, 7 trips. And at the end of the 7th trip on the 7th day, trumpets blew and a dramatic shout would come from the people. Those were God’s instructions.
An Astonishing Result
Joshua did just as the Lord commanded. On the last lap of the 7th day, the following happened:
“So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.” (v. 20-21)
The phrase “took the city” is important to understand. God gave Joshua specific instructions about what to do once the walls fell:
1. Rahab and anyone found in her house would live (because she had protected the spies Joshua had sent out) (v. 17, 25).
2. They were to abstain from taking “the accursed things” (most likely idols or other pagan specific items) so that they didn’t bring a curse on the camp (v. 18).
3. Any gold, silver, bronze or iron was taken and dedicated to the Lord (v. 19).
Once the city was cleared of the valuable items and the inhabitants wiped out, Joshua “burned the city and all that was in it with fire” (v. 24). Additionally, Joshua leveled this curse on the future of Jericho: “Cursed be the man before the Lord who rises up and builds this city Jericho; he shall lay its foundation with his firstborn, and with his youngest he shall set up its gates” (v. 26).
Interestingly enough, this curse was fulfilled in I Kings 16:34 during the reign of King Ahab. A man by the name of Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He lost his firstborn and youngest son in the process.
Joshua 7 – A Surprising Defeat
Israel had to be feeling confident after the demise and destruction of Jericho. It was a massive obstacle in their path to conquering the land. God had done the unthinkable there. They had to realize nothing could stop them now.
So when they came to the next city that needed attention – Ai – they were not afraid. When the scouts returned to Joshua with word about the city, they counseled him to only send “two or three thousand men…[because]…the people of Ai are few” (v. 3). So it was a tiny city that only needed a fraction of the available forces to conquer (they thought).
The only problem was that God wasn’t with them. What’s worse, Joshua didn’t know that. Joshua 7:1 tells us that “the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the Lord burned against the children of Israel.”
So when the 3,000 men went to capture Ai, they were routed. The men of Ai struck down 36 of Joshua’s men and chased them out of the area (vv. 4-5).
It doesn’t make sense to Joshua. He is distraught, tears his clothes and cries out to God in front of the ark of the covenant (v. 6). His words sound eerily similar to the complaints of the Israelites in the wilderness: “Alas, Lord God, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all—to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Oh, that we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan!” (v. 7).
Dealing with Sin in the Camp
Even though Joshua was upset, he realized the bigger picture. He used the same strategy that Moses had done multiple times by asking God: “For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear it…and cut off our name from the earth. Then what will You do for Your great name?” (v. 9).
It was during this communication with God that Joshua found out what happened. God said that someone had sinned by taking the accursed things from Jericho. That was a violation of God’s command and the reason that God had abandon them at Ai.
In fact, if they didn’t rid the camp of the items, God would not be with them anymore (vv. 10-12). So the next morning Joshua followed the instructions of God for tracking down the offender (vv. 13-15). After being directed by God to work down through the various tribes, clans, families and households, the family of a man named Achan is identified.
Joshua confronted Achan and asked him to “give glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession to Him, and tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me” (v. 19).
Achan did confess to taking some gold, silver and a garment from Jericho and hiding them in the ground of his tent. When an inspection is made, the items are found in that location. Achan’s greed led him to sin.
In this instance the punishment was severe:
“Then Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan…the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the Valley of Achor…all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire…” (vv. 24-25).
Joshua 8 – A Second Attempt at Ai
Joshua 8 begins with God repeating the same statement about Ai that he had said about Jericho in Joshua 6. He tells Joshua: “See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king” (v. 1-2). The only difference here was that they could keep all the booty for themselves.
The battle plan is a little more elaborate than sending a few thousand men straight in on a frontal assault. Joshua took 30,000 men this time and created an ambush situation with men behind the city (vv. 3-4). The strategy was to fake a retreat and draw the men out of the city. Then, the men hiding would circle in behind the Ai soldiers and destroy the city with fire (v. 5-8).
The plan worked to perfection. The city was burned, the inhabitants killed and the armies of Ai destroyed (about 12,000 men) (vv. 14-25). They looted the city and its livestock (v. 27) and hung the king of Ai on a tree until evening (v. 28-29). After sunset, they took his body down and buried it under a heap of stones at the city gate (v. 29).
Reading the Law
After the battle, Joshua built an altar on Mt. Ebal. Mt. Ebal had been the site of the ceremony in Deut. 27 where the people uttered the curses that would happen if they disobeyed. Here though, it’s a site of worship through sacrifices (vv. 31-32).
Joshua also wrote a copy of the law on stones in front of the people here (v. 32).
And, in conjunction with nearby Mt. Gerizim, it becomes the first place in the new land where the book of the law is read publicly before all the people (vv. 34-35).
Questions to Consider:
Jericho was a big obstacle that may have seemed overwhelming, even impossible to conquer. Do you ever feel like there are things too big for God to handle?
The consequences of disobedience are not always isolated to the one person committing the sin. Sin can have lasting consequences on a family, an organization or even an entire nation.
In Joshua 7, Achan disobeyed God regarding items that could be taken from Jericho. His sin resulted in the deaths of 36 men in the next battle, and it cost him his life, along with his family’s as punishment from God. How are your actions affecting those around you?
What other points would you want to know about in our Joshua 5-8 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.