VICTORY, THEN DEFEAT Joshua 6–8
“When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city” (Josh. 6:20).Obedience to an obviously foolish command brought Israel victory and taught a vital lesson. The key to winning is doing everything God’s way.
Definition of Key Terms
The Hebrew word is used of items which are dedicated to God, and thus cannot have any common or secular use. When the Israelites “devoted” an enemy city to God, they killed all its inhabitants and herds, and either burned all its wealth or brought it to the tabernacle as a gift to God. In this passage Jericho, the first of the pagan cities of Canaan to be attacked by the Israelites, was so devoted. This meant that no soldier was to take any loot for himself, a proscription which one man, Achan, defied with terrible consequences.
Israel obeyed God’s command and successfully assaulted Jericho (6:1–27). But the sin of one soldier, Achan, caused defeat at Ai (7:1–21). Achan was executed (vv. 22–26). With the sin purged, Ai was taken (8:1–29). A solemn religious ceremony reminded Israel to keep God’s Law (vv. 30–35).
Understanding the Text
“March around the city” Josh. 6:1–27. Jericho was a walled city. Excavations there reveal that its fortifications featured a stone base wall 11 feet high. At its top was a smooth stone slope, angling upward at 35 degrees for 35 feet, where it joined massive stone walls that towered even higher. In ancient warfare such cities were surrounded and starved into submission, or were taken by assault. The attackers might try to weaken the stone walls with fire or by tunneling. Or they might simply heap up a mountain of earth to serve as a ramp. Each of these methods of assault took weeks or months, and the attacking force usually suffered heavy losses. God’s command to Joshua—to have the people march silently around Jericho for six days, and then after seven circuits on the seventh day to shout—was strange indeed. Yet Joshua followed His instructions to the letter. When the people did finally shout, the massive fortifications crumbled, and Israel won an easy victory. The victory at Jericho was orchestrated to teach several lessons. Most important was that obedience, even when God’s commands seem foolish, brings victory. The miraculous victory also confirmed Joshua’s leadership. And it showed that God would surely fight for Israel in the battles ahead. Each of us needs a Jericho at times. But Jericho victories are won only when obedience is complete. “Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute” Josh. 6:25. Rahab’s belief in Israel’s God, shown when she hid two Israelite spies (Josh. 2), was rewarded. She and her family were spared when Jericho fell. God still singles out believers when nations fall. See Ezekiel 18. “They were routed by the men of Ai” Josh. 7:1–9. Ai, a small city above Jericho, defeated the 3,000 men Joshua set against it, killing 36 of the Israelites. The defeat panicked Joshua. As a good general, Joshua knew that a terrified army had little chance on the battlefield. Victory at Jericho had led to Joshua’s “fame [being] spread through the land” (6:27). Joshua feared that news of the defeat at Ai would give heart to the Canaanites, and that they would unite and crush Israel. Fear is never very far from any of us. Even when we have experienced God’s blessing, as Joshua had, we’re prone to forget if some setback comes. Looking back and remembering what God has done for us brings comfort. Looking ahead and worrying about what might happen is both foolish and useless. “Israel has sinned” Josh. 7:10–21. When Israel was defeated at Ai, Joshua foolishly focused on the possible consequences. His prayer (vv. 7–9) clearly reveals his panic and worry about what might lie ahead. God’s next words to Joshua put a new perspective on the situation. “Israel has sinned.” Joshua was not to worry about possible consequences of defeat, but to look for the cause of defeat. Why Israel lost the battle was far more important than what the loss might mean in terms of enemy morale. When we experience a setback, it’s better for us too to look for the cause than to worry about consequences. If we examine ourselves and find no known sin, then we can advance with confidence. If we do find sin, even unintentional sin, we need to deal with it immediately. In this case, Joshua apparently used the Urim and Thummim worn by the high priest to locate the man who had sinned. That man, Achan, then confessed to taking loot from Jericho even though he knew the city was devoted to God. The cause of the defeat was known. The sin then had to be dealt with. “All Israel stoned him” Josh. 7:22–26. Some have expressed shock that Achan’s theft merited the death penalty. But it was not for theft that Achan was stoned. His sin had caused Israel’s defeat and the deaths of 36 men at the hands of the enemy. Achan was stoned because he “brought this disaster” on his people. This event reminds us of an important reality. Anytime we sin we affect others. Like a stone tossed in a quiet pond, the ripples of human sins go on and on, disturbing not only our own peace but also the peace of others. Before we sin knowingly we should pause and consider how our act might affect others who love or depend on us. But why was the family of Achan also stoned? Perhaps the best answer is seen in Achan’s confession that he hid his plunder “inside my tent.” The rest of the family shared his guilty secret, and thus became responsible as well. “I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land” Josh. 8:1–29. With the cause of Israel’s defeat dealt with, God granted His people total victory over Ai. The city with its people were wiped out, fulfilling God’s command to either drive out or destroy all the Canaanites, whose idolatry and other sins merited this punishment. “Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar” Josh. 8:30–35. After the victory at Ai Joshua fulfilled a command given by Moses (Deut. 27). He set the people on two opposing mountainsides, and after sacrificing to the Lord had them shout aloud the curses (disastrous consequences) of disobeying God’s Law. How powerfully that message was driven home to the men and women who had experienced defeat at Ai, had participated in stoning Achan, and had then seen defeat transformed into victory.
Perspective (Josh. 6) Imagine yourself standing on the wall at Jericho. Put your hands on one of the massive stones in that wall, lean out, and look down from the dizzying height. Then look out and watch those crazy Israelites. For six days they’ve marched, without a word, around your city. The first day, when you saw them coming, you and all your friends were terrified. You remembered all the stories about them and their God, and you trembled. When they didn’t mount an assault, but just walked silently around your six-acre fortress, everyone was worried. You all sat up most of the night, talking, wondering what their plan was. Then, the next day, they did the same thing. The third day they marched around Jericho you began to feel a little better. Maybe there wasn’t a plan, after all. The fourth day, everyone felt relieved. You patted the walls, felt the solid rock, and began to feel safe. The fifth day, and the sixth, everyone was feeling bold. You began to shout insults. You laughed and ridiculed. Of course you were safe! How could anyone break through Jericho’s walls? How could you all have been afraid of this band of barbarians, these desert wanderers who lived in tents, who had no idea at all how to attack a fortress like yours! And so the fear you once felt turned to relief, and the relief to contempt. Those crazy Israelites. Let them march all they want. What can they do to you? Nothing! Nothing at all. I suspect that Christians often look foolish to the people of the world. We march to a different drummer. We obey the commands of a hidden God. In a real sense we’re outsiders, not insiders. It’s not surprising if we seem a little ridiculous to the people of this world. If you ever feel foolish for a stand you take as a Christian, remember that today is only the first day, or the third, or the sixth, of your march around Jericho. It’s not until the seventh day comes, and this world crumbles like Jericho’s walls, that those who have truly been foolish will be revealed.
No matter what others think, it is never foolish to obey God.