Here are notes on Joshua 5:13-6:27. I’ve tried to include some missional reflections where appropriate. In particular a missional hermeneutic will highlight the role of Rahab in the narrative.
5:13-15 A Chance Encounter
Israel is poised to take possession of the land of Canaan. God has brought God’s people miraculously across the Jordan, and they are camped at Gilgal. In the previous verses, Israel has prepared for the coming battles in unique ways. First, all of the males of the Wilderness generation, those who had been born after the deliverance from Egypt, are circumcised (15:1-9). Second, God’s people celebrated the Passover for the first time in the land of Canaan (15:10-12). Both of these actions are remarkable because they are not the standard practices of invading armies. Instead of rehearsing battle formations or sharpening weapons, God’s people engage in God centered practices. Circumcision is a public testimony of one’s belonging to and allegiance to the LORD. The Passover is a time of communal remembering and celebration of God’s mighty acts in the deliverance of God’s people from Egypt. The implications of these actions are profound. The strength and success of God’s people is dependent wholly on the LORD. These acts of obedience are the very types of preparation necessary for Israel’s success.
5:13-15 narrates another part of Israel’s preparation for taking possession of the land. Joshua receives a final reminder of his role in a remarkable encounter near the city of Jericho. Israel is poised to move against the Canaanite city of Jericho. In 5:13, Joshua finds himself in the vicinity of Jericho. Our text does not give details as to his intentions or plans, but Joshua is likely doing what any military commander would do on the eve of a military campaign–he is scouting the lay of the land. Yet Joshua finds himself suddenly in the presence of a “man.” This figure accosts Joshua with a drawn sword. The man remains unidentified and obviously perplexes Joshua. Despite the evidence given by a drawn sword, Joshua asks, “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?”
Verse 14 announces to Joshua and the reader that this is no mere man. It is the angel of the LORD through whom Joshua is physically confronted by the presence of God. The commander of the LORD’s armies answer is remarkable. Whose side is he on? Neither. This is the wrong question. For Joshua, his success is not dependent on whether God is on his side. Rather Joshua needs to make sure that he, Joshua, is aligned with God. This is the proper stance for the leader of God’s people. Joshua immediately recognizes his error and assumes a position of humility by bowing down in worship of the LORD. He asks, “What do you command your servant, my lord?”
Verse 15 records the answer of the “man.” Joshua is to remove his sandals in recognition of the sacredness of the moment and of the place (cf. the response of God to Moses in Exod 3:4-5). God’s people must acknowledge and respect God’s holiness as a first order of business. This lesson is vital for Christian leadership. God emphasizes to Joshua through this encounter that the keys to success for him are maintaining the proper allegiance to God and recognizing the importance of God’s holiness.
6:1-5 Marching Orders
Verse 1 informs us that Jericho has fled behind its wall. The peoples of Canaan are terrified by the approach of God’s people. This terror is divine induced. God’s actions are the cause of this (cf. Josh 2:9-11 and 5:1). But Jericho with its high walls presents a challenge.
Having been prepared spiritually for a move against the city of Jericho, Joshua receives specific tactical instructions from the LORD in verse 2-5. First, God assures Joshua of success. The victory is already won. Second, God gives Joshua some unusual instructions. This will not be the typical siege of a well-fortified city. Instead of attacking the city by building siege works or by attempting to knock through the gate with a battering ram, God’s people are simply to march around the city in silence behind a procession of seven priests with trumpets leading the ark of the covenant (cf. Josh 3:1-11). Instead of a battle plan, Joshua receives a liturgy. God’s people are to march silently around Jericho for six consecutive days. On the seventh day, they will march around Jericho seven times. At that time, the priests will sound a long blast with the ram’s horn and the all of God’s people are to shout. The great wall of Jericho will come crashing down so that the people may charge into the city. Again notice the stress of the instructions. There is no sophisticated battle plan. The victory will be God given and conducted in a means that will bring glory and honor to the LORD rather than to the military prowess of Joshua and Israel.
6:6-14 Six Days of Witness
In obedience to the LORD, Joshua instructs the priests to prepare to lead a processional before the ark of the LORD. He then orders God’s people to march around the city before the ark of the LORD. Our text moves from commandment of God to implementation by God’s people. God’s instructions are followed by faithful obedience. As we saw in Lesson Two, faithful obedience is the key virtue to be embodied by Israel. Verses 8-9 record that Israel faithfully obeyed Joshua’s words. In verse 10, Joshua imparts the instructions about maintaining absolute silence during the march each day.
In verses 11-14, the narrator reports that God’s people continue the pattern commanded by the LORD for six straight days. They march in silence while the seven priests blow the ram’s horns in announcement of the coming of the ark of the LORD. They complete one rotation around the city and return to camp. This must have unnerved the inhabitants of Jericho. They must have wondered what the Israelites were up to. Our text does not report the activities of Jericho, but the warriors posted on its walls must have been hurling insults and launching arrows at the people of God. Yet each day for six straight days the Israelites marched around the city in silence except for the priests blowing of the ram horns before the ark of the LORD.
6:15-27 Victory and Deliverance
Our text takes its decisive turn on the seventh day. The seventh day is the Sabbath (Exod 20:8-11; Deut 5:12-15). On the sabbath, Israel was to cease from all work as a testimony to the LORD who rested on the seventh day of Creation (Exod 20:11 cf. Gen 2:1-3) and who delivered Israel from slavery (Deut 5:15). It is fitting that God delivered Jericho to Israel on the Sabbath because the victory belongs to the work of God rather than to the Israelites. All Israel had to do was show up and obey the LORD’s commands.
On the seventh day, God’s people followed God’s commands to perfection. According to God’s instructions, Israel rose early on the seventh day and marched around the city seven times (verse 15). Upon the completion of the seventh circuit, Joshua offers instructions to the Israelites (verses 16-19). They are exhorted to break their silence and shout loudly in unison. The rationale for the shouting is grounded in God’s promise that the city is Israel’s. Thus, we should read the call to shout here as a celebratory shout in anticipation of experiencing the victory of God over Jericho. Moreover, since the victory is God’s, Israel is not to act in the fashion of other marauding armies. Israel is different. Jericho belongs to God. God has won the victory. Instead of looting and pillaging Jericho, Israel is commanded to devote the entire city and its inhabitants to the LORD. It is to be leveled and completely destroyed (cf. Deut 20:10-18). This sounds harsh. For reflection on the violence in the book of Joshua, see Optional Activities (Lesson 1). In verse 17, note that some Canaanites were to spared–Rahab and her family. This is significant. Rahab and her family alone survive the destruction of Jericho because Rahab recognized the power and glory of God (Josh 2:9-11) and aligned herself with God’s purposes by aiding and abetting the spies whom Joshua had sent.
Verses 18-19 provide some rationale for the command to destroy utterly Jericho and its inhabitants. Joshua warns the Israelites keep away from the people and material possessions of Jericho. Both of these exist as a temptation to apostasy for God’s people. Only items of gold, silver, brass, and iron are to be kept and these belong exclusively to the treasury of the LORD. Other nations used victories as an occasion to rape and pillage a defeated people and city. Israel is not acting to enrich itself at the expense of other people, but to take possession of a gift from God. Israel will enjoy God’s blessing as a gift–they don’t have to take matters into their own hands.
Verse 20 reports the results of Israel’s faithful obedience. The walls of Jericho fall flat and Israel is able to storm the city from all sides.
Verses 21-25 record the aftermath of the victory. Israel obeys the commands of God and devotes the city and its inhabitants to destruction. Our text emphasizes two aspects. First, Israel acts in faithful obedience with word of the LORD through Joshua. All is destroyed. Only the items made of silver, gold, bronze and iron are kept. But even these valuables are not seized as personal booty by rampaging Israelites. Rather these are immediately secured for the treasury of the LORD. Second, Rahab and her family are saved. Notice that Rahab is repeatedly referred to as the prostitute (6:17, 22, and 25). The ultimate outsider to God’s people – a Canaanite, female prostitute—comes under the protective care of God. This emphasizes a crucial truth. God’s people are a permeable body. Yes, there are lines drawn between God’s people and the Canaanites, but the line is based on allegiance and not ethnicity. Rahab is able to celebrate the victory of God over Jericho because by her actions she has demonstrated that she is an Israelite. She enjoys the promise made to Abram that “in [him] all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3).
Verses 26-27 conclude the story of God’s victory over Jericho. After its destruction, Joshua pronounces a curse over the city. It is never to be rebuilt. If it is rebuilt the builder will lose his first born. In the days of the King Ahab, this grim possibility became a reality (1 Kings 16:33-34).
God was indeed with Joshua in achieving this great victory. Israel a ragtag collection of the children of escaped slaves from Egypt who had lived in the desert for forty years has just achieved an unprecedented victory over a heavily fortified city simply by marching and then shouting in obedience to the LORD. This achievement under the leadership of Joshua became the talk of the land.
Book of Joshua