In graduate school, my professor in the class “History of Warfare” mentioned that the best book to use when analyzing warfare is the Bible. As a Christian history professor myself, I tend to agree. My research interest is examining Christianity correlated to global conflicts, specifically wars. As Christians, we hold dear to our hearts the firm belief that the Scriptures are the infallible Word of God. Colossians 1:16 teaches the Lord’s hand is in history: “For by him, all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”
In this brief article, we will dive into the Battle of Jericho. We are specifically studying the ramifications of the conflict and the lessons learned. Acknowledging that God is immutable and consistent in His desires for His sheep is pertinent to understanding His will on earth as it relates to today’s military engagements.
Circumstances Before the Engagement
To best interpret the Battle of Jericho, it is essential to comprehend God’s promise to Abraham in Deuteronomy: “Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 6:3). Abraham was elected by God. Further, God’s chosen people were guaranteed the land of Canaan. As most readers know, their possession of this Promised Land did not happen overnight. Through trials and tribulations, God’s people suffered, at times prospered, and wandered the desert, awaiting permission to enter the Promised Land. It was the honorable Joshua whom God called to fulfill this prophecy.
The land of milk and honey was no longer a future promise but a current reality for Joshua and his people. Much as armies do in warfare today, Joshua developed battle plans, and with the guidance and calling of God, spies entered the city of Jericho, laying down a strategic scheme with the assistance of an unlikely hero, Rahab, the prostitute. Rahab, with a heart both receptive and faithful to God, placed her life and the lives of her family at risk to serve the Almighty. Here we see the importance of proper battle planning, as Joshua knew his scouts needed to accomplish precise surveillance to learn more about the logistics that would be needed to conquer the city as well as the enemy in general.
One of Joshua’s first obstacles was taking his army across the Jordan river; but the Lord reaffirmed His commitment to Joshua: “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you” ( Joshua 3:7). Joshua’s confidence in God was unwavering, and he declared to the Israelites, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” ( Joshua 3:6). Matthew Henry expounded on verse 7 in his commentary:
We may observe here how God honours Joshua, and
his wondrous work he is about to do designs to make
Israel know that his is their governor, and then how
Joshua honours God and endeavours by it to make Israel
know that he is their God. Thus those that honour God
he will honour, and those whom he has advanced should
do what they can in their places to exalt him.1
The lesson is ever so simple, yet difficult for sinful creation; we must follow God and rest assured His hand will lead us in the direction He desires in our lives. In Joshua chapters 4 and 5, the Lord dried up the river, just as He did with the Red Sea when the Jews left Egypt, and allowed the people to cross safely.
In Joshua 5:13–15, Joshua encounters the Lord Himself, who remarks, “No, but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come” ( Joshua 5:15). He adds, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy” ( Joshua 5:15). John Calvin remarks on this incident, “The name of Jehovah is often attributed to the presiding Angel, who was undoubtedly the only-begotten Son of God.”2 Calvin later adds, “It is therefore just as if he were offering his assistance in the combats which were about to be waged, and promising by his arrival that war would have a happy issue.”3 Unmistakably, the Lord’s presence assured Joshua that He was going to be with him in the upcoming battle to conquer Jericho.
Before delving into the battle specifics, it is necessary to comment briefly on the events about to develop. Unbelievers and skeptics often use the Battle of Jericho as an excuse to dishonor and slander the Scriptures because the people of Canaan were conquered, purged of their homes, and murdered. As Christians, we must understand several facts. First, the Lord is sovereign; as pointed out in Colossians 1:16, the Lord’s will endures exactly according to His plans and desires. Creation has no say in determining what the Lord will accomplish. Secondly, and most importantly, the Canaanites were notably wicked, as evidenced by the Lord’s interaction with Moses in Leviticus 18. Sin cannot go unpunished, and those who do not follow the Lord must be prepared to face judgment in this life and the next. The conquering of Jericho is the Lord serving His purpose for His people and fulfilling a prophecy.
To best understand the battle of Jericho, one must realize that the city was heavily fortified. Protected by a massive stone wall, Jericho provided a challenging barrier for the Israelites. Nevertheless, Joshua determined in steadfast faith that the city was not an obstacle that God could not deliver to His people. Such assurance is declared in Joshua 6:2: “And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.’” The instructions were uncomplicated; the Lord commanded Joshua’s army to march around the city once a day, along with the priests who were to “bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the covenant.” This took place for six days. Then we see what happened on the seventh day:
On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of the
day, and marched around the city in the same manner
seven times. It was only on that day that they marched
around the city seven times. And at the seventh time,
when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to
the people, “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city”…
As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet,
the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down
flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man
straight before him, and they captured the city.
( Joshua 6:15–16, 20)
Further instructions from Joshua declared that the only survivors of the people of Jericho were to be Rahab and her family. The Lord commanded his people explicitly to steer clear of all items “devoted to destruction.” Silver, gold, bronze, and iron were to go into the treasury of the Lord. Joshua 6:20–21 explains the fate of the people of Canaan as the walls of Jericho collapsed, and the army killed the remaining inhabitants. The chapter fittingly concludes with the following verse, “So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land” ( Joshua 6:27). Significantly, a further command is given from God in which he declares no one shall build a city to replace Jericho or it, too, will face annihilation.
It is important to note that the Battle of Jericho did not immediately give all the land of Canaan to the Israelites; this is a common misconception. What it did provide was an easier path for the Israelites to fulfill the destiny of the Lord. Subsequent battles and difficulties remained, as described in the rest of the book of Joshua. Eventually, the land was conquered and equally distributed to the twelve tribes of Israel. The Battle of Jericho was simply the first hurdle for conquering the Promised Land. The battle showcased God’s strength and dominion over His creation. Furthermore, it displayed the genuine faith of Joshua and a loyalty to the Almighty that today’s believer can seek to embody.
Studying the Battle of Jericho provides many lessons for the reader today. First, God is sovereign; if He declares an event will occur, surely it is determined. Obedience to God is necessary and comes with great responsibilities. Neglecting faithfulness and blatantly disobeying the Lord and His ways produce destruction and ultimate death, as in the case of Jericho.
Sin does not go unpunished. As humans alive in this current world, we can become complacent to think of our days as unending. Death is a reality, and the judgment of sin is most certain for all creation. The Lord’s people must remain in faith, walking with Him an never doubting His plans in everyday life. The story of Joshua and his people did not end in chapter 6. Sin and challenges remained, ultimately requiring the people to decide whom they would follow. Though Joshua’s faith was strong, struggles ensued. Most notably, Joshua declared, “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” ( Joshua 24:15). His people shared similarly:
Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we
should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is
the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up
from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and
who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us
in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples
through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out
before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the
land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our
God.” ( Joshua 24:16-18)
A verbal declaration of serving God is an important covenant and an agreement the believer should never break. Each generation and individual must maintain a relationship with the Lord. The Christian must live by faith in the Savior. It is also a duty to share the gospel of Christ with all ears. His people play a role in the Great Commission. Complacency is not an option, and the declaration of His Word is a biblical command.
Militarily, a great city fell at the hands of God. Some will argue that the Lord put forth an earthquake or another great shock to the earth. This is entirely possible as disasters continue to alter the lives of nations today. The Scriptures explain that such work is from God’s hands (Deuteronomy 11:17, Numbers 16:30–34). Christians must acknowledge God is unchanging, omnipresent, and faithful to His plans. Joshua knew this and remained loyal. Joshua’s people experienced defeat and other obstacles as their journey continued. The lesson merely implies staying with the Lord daily (Luke 9:23–24) and following His ways ( John 14:15). Most importantly, we must rely on faith, as this is what saves.
Lastly, showcasing God’s sovereignty is the fact that Jesus presented Himself to Joshua before entering Jericho. This incident decidedly confirms God was with Joshua and his army. Moreover, and most noteworthy, God’s carried out His will in the decisive battle. His presence before Joshua only affirms such an action was to occur.
The Battle of Jericho is proof of Joshua’s obedience and faithfulness in the Lord. A heavily fortified city, protected by an impressive wall, collapsed, making the citizens vulnerable to Joshua’s army. The army prevailed in their conquest, destroying the city and its people. The Lord’s hand is in history, including the battles on earth. Jesus mentioned warfare, explaining in Matthew 24 that many wars were yet to come.
Christians should abhor war, murder, and death. However, sinful humanity is often led to destruction when they place their faith in mankind and not God. Clearly, the destruction of lives occurs when God is left out of the daily affairs of men. Today, we see this in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. As believers, we must earnestly pray for peace and for the Lord’s ways to prevail in all lands of the earth. Yet, we know the world is not rid of sin and will not be until the coming of our Savior.
In the end, the Lord will use creation as He sees fit. Lands will be judged and used for His glory. Not one nation should boast, as they are led by mere humans, fallen creatures. We should never place our faith in the leaders of countries. World Wars have occurred, and future conflicts are inevitable in this world. Christians know this; humanists and modern-day philosophers deny such logic. May the Lord continue His will on earth as He pleases, and may we serve Him and fulfill His Great Commission to spread the Good News to all people of earth.
Dr. David Crum
David Crum holds a Ph.D. in Historical Theology. He serves as an Assistant Professor of History at Truett-McConnell University. His research interests include the history of warfare and Christianity. He was a member of St. John’s RCUS, and now lives in Maine and is a member of the ARP.