As we continue to work our way through the book of Joshua, here are ten things about Joshua 5–6.
1. The structure sets the action.
In every passage, the structure of the narrative sets the direction for the action. So far in Joshua, we have observed multiple chiastic structures (“narrative arcs”) that have organized the events of the Joshua 1–5. In Joshua 5:13–6:27, however, there doesn’t seem to be a chiasm, but we can make a handful of observations to help us see the story.
First, Joshua 5:13–15 should be read with Joshua 6, especially verses 1–5. Verses 2–5 present the words of Yahweh that come from the Angel of the Lord in Joshua 5:13–15. In this reading, Joshua 6:1 serves as a parenthesis highlighting the condition of Jericho.
Second, there are three literary patterns that add to the drama. Ken Mathews lists these in his commentary:
(1) First is the prediction/fulfillment pattern. The Lord predicts “the wall. . . will collapse” (6:5), and the prediction is fulfilled when “the wall collapsed” (6:20). (2) Second is the familiar command/obedience pattern. The Lord instructs Joshua (6:2-5), and Joshua relates the instructions to the people, who obey (6:6—14), resulting in the destruction of the city (6:15—27). (3) Last is the six-plus-one pattern. The number “seven” occurs eleven times. The pattern recalls creation’s seventh day—the day of consecration. (Mathews, Joshua, 48–49)
Third, the LORD’s words in verses 2–5 can be divided into directions for days 1–6 (vv. 2–4a) and day 7 (vv. 4b–5). This division is followed by a division in chapter, where verses 6–11 tell us the events of the first day and verses 12–14 tell us the events of days 2–6. All told, these verses should be read together. Next, verses 15–24 recount the climactic events of day 7, with verse 15 highlighting the seven circles, verses 16–19 giving explicit instructions about the city, and verses 20–24 following those directions, step by step.
Israel circles Jericho seven times (v. 15)
Joshua’s instructions after the seventh circle (16b–19)
- You have been given the city (v. 16b)
- You shall devote it to destruction (v. 17a)
- You shall save Rahab (v. 17b)
- You shall not take the spoil and trouble Israel (vv. 18–19)
All God’s words were fulfilled (20–24)
- The city is fallen (20)
- The city is devoted (21)
- Rahab is saved from destruction (22–23)
- The city is burned – except for one thing (24)
Finally, the section concludes with three words about Joshua. Just as Joshua 5:13–15 focuses on Joshua before the LORD, now the end returns to Joshua—how he saved Rahab (v. 25), judged Jericho (v. 26), and received glory from the LORD (v. 27). In sum, we might organize the flow of thought in this way:
- The LORD humbles Joshua (5:13–6:5)
- The LORD helps Joshua (6:6–24)
- The LORD honors Joshua (6:25–27)
2. Jericho is the first of 31 conquests in Joshua.
Joshua 6 introduces us to a new phase in the book of Joshua. While I believe Joshua 1–8 should be read together, as Joshua 8:30–35 closes off the section with covenant and chapters 1–8 are structured as a chiasm, there is something new in Joshua 6—namely, that Israel will begin to conquer the wicked cities of Canaan.
Joshua 12 lists the total number of cities that Joshua conquers as thirty-one (vv. 7–24). These cities can be organized under three different campaigns. “Chapters 6–11 describe three campaigns: (1) the central highlands (chaps. 6–9); (2) the five kings in the south (chap. 10); and (3) the coalition of kings led by Hazor in the north (11:1–11)” (Mathew, Joshua, 48).
And in Joshua 5:13–6:27, we find the first of these conquests.
3. “Devoted to destruction” needs an apology.
Apology here does not mean “I’m sorry,” it means apologia or defense (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15). The military conquest of Canaan has led many to accuse God of injustice, genocide, and the innocent taking of life. Such accusations are serious and they need to be answered. Yet, the starting place is to consider what the term “devoted to destruction” means.
In Joshua 6, this term (herem), sometimes called “the ban,” is found in two places—Joshua’s instructions to the people (vv. 16–19) and the people’s obedience to Joshua, God’s servant (v. 21).
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. 17 And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. 18 But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” . . . 21 Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. (Joshua 6:16–19, 21)
This is the first of many places in Joshua where we will see Israel devote to destruction the people and things in the cities of Canaan. For that reason, it is worth highlighting a few reasons for this action.
- The people in these cities are not innocent, but guilty. Israel is not waging war for themselves; God is using them as a holy means of judging the idol-making, sexually-immoral, child-sacrificing Canaanites. Like Assyria will be a rod in the hands of God to discipline Israel (Isa. 10:1–10), so now Israel is the sword in God’s hand, meting out his justice.
- God’s judgment is not hasty, but four-hundred years in the making. In Genesis 15:16, when God promised the land to Abraham, he said the sins of the Amorites were not complete. It would take four-hundred years before God would bring the judgment that these nations deserved. In this way, Joshua proves God’s patient justice.
- The judgment of Canaan is specific and Scripture-based. God’s judgment also fulfills the words of Noah in Genesis 9:25–27, which cursed Canaan (Ham’s son) because of Ham’s actions towards Noah. While many have wrongly applied this curse to the nations and peoples from Africa, this curse is fulfilled (and brought to an end) in the judgement of Canaan in Joshua and Judges.
- Genocide is not what is happening here. There is nothing racial or ethnic about this judgment. Genocide implies that God is opposed to some nations and partial to others, but, as the LORD responds to Joshua, he is neither for Israel or his enemies. God is for God and for the people—Jew or Gentile—who abide in faith. In Joshua, Rahab serves as a model of God’s mercy to the Gentiles; moreover, the hundreds of thousands of Jews who died in the wilderness testify to his impartiality towards Israel. In short, this holy warfare is not genocide.
- The physical destruction of these cities pales in comparison to the eternal judgment that Jesus will render on the last day. While the thought of devoting to destruction the people and things of Jericho and other cities is severe, it is not as severe as God’s eternal judgment on the unbelieving and unrighteous. Therefore, this testimony of God’s judgment is a word to all who hear of it—both then and now, to turn from sin and trust in God’s salvation.
Summarizing all these points, Ken Mathews gives a short but helpful defense for the holy warfare in Joshua.
It is a mistaken idea that the Israelites eliminated all the Canaanites in a bloodthirsty, wanton onslaught. Although this ethical dilemma cannot be fully resolved, understanding the special situation helps explain Israel’s actions.’ (1) The practice of herem/haram—meaning “devoted thing” (herem, noun) and “put to destruction” (haram, verb)—in which captives and property are devoted to the gods is known in the ancient Near East (2 Kings 19:11; 2 Chron. 20:23). (2) Israel’s practice, however, is limited to certain cities, under specific conditions and for one generation (Deut. 20:10—15; cf. an exception in 1 Sam. 15 with Num. 21:1-3). (3) The Canaanites initiate the wars and plan to eradicate the Israelites (9:1—2; 10:1—5; 11:1—5). (4) Israel’s policy is only at a divine command based on a moral principle. The practice is often expressed in terms of maintaining holiness. God uses Israel to destroy the Canaanites because of their idolatry and most-evil conduct (Gen. 15:16; Lev. 18:24—30), which in turn has the effect of weakening their influence on Israel (Deut. 20:17—18). If captives and property are devoted to the service of the Lord, there is no economic incentive for waging war. Moreover, the motivation Is not racial superiority or nationalism (Deut. 9:4-8), for the Hebrews are also subject to annihilation if they are equally wicked (Deut. 13:11-16; Josh. 6:18; 7:15). (Joshua, )
4. Biblical Theology in Joshua 6 needs a map.
As with many narratives in Joshua, there are multiple layers of typology involved. In this case, Joshua 6 involves at least the following biblical-theological threads.
- The Angel of the Lord
- New Creation
- Joshua Typology, i.e., salvation and judgment that brings glory to Joshua
- Victory and Judgment, themes that show up as Jesus passes Jericho on the way to Jerusalem and in the book of Revelation.
I will consider each of these below and explain why observing typology in Joshua prevents and protects allegorical interpretations.
5. Joshua meets “Jesus,” the Angel of the LORD.
Joshua 5:13–15 serves as the beginning of the Jericho narrative, as Joshua confronts the “man” who is Yahweh, i.e., the Angel of the Lord. This encounter recalls the way Yahweh approached Abraham in Genesis 18, Jacob at Bethel in Genesis 32, and Moses at the burning bush (Exod. 3). The demand for Joshua to take off his shoes highlights this point (5:15; cf. Exod. 3:5). And the “drawn sword” recalls the moment when the Angel of the Lord approached Balaam (Num. 22:23, 31). All in all, this encounter with the Angel should be situated in a series of encounters with Yahweh, who comes in the form of an angel.
The question this passage raises is: Who is the Angel of the Lord? Noting the 48 times the title is used in the Old Testament, Ken Mathews notes,
It appears eleven times in the New Testament but importantly without the definite article (“an angel of the Lord,” angelos kyriou). The exception is Matthew 1:24, put there the article refers back to 1:20, where it is indefinite, “an angel of the Lord” (angelos kyriou). The relationship of the angel and the Lord himself is perplexing since the two can be differentiated but also equated (Zech. 1:12; 12:8). He is identified as God (Gen. 22:15-18; Exod. 3:2-6, 14). To see “the angel of the Lord” means death, as when one sees God (Judg. 6:22-23; 13:21-22). Christian tradition identifies the mysterious “angel of the Lorb” as the preincarnate Jesus Christ, due in part to the fact that an angel by this title ceases to appear after the incarnation of Jesus. This identity, however, cannot be established with certainty. What is certain is that in the Old Testament God at times reveals himself as an angel who instructs his people. (Joshua, 44)
In my estimation, the answer to this angel’s identity is best observed in Joshua’s response. Verse 14 reads, “And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?'” The fact that this angel receives worship tells us this is no ordinary angel, but rather the LORD who appears as an angel (cf. Acts 10:26; Rev. 19:10; 22:9). To say it differently, he is the pre-incarnate Christ (a Christophany). In this way, Joshua meets the One to whom his name points, or to say it more colloquially, in Joshua 5:13–15, Joshua meets (the greater) Joshua.
6. Entering the land is like experiencing a new creation and/or reentering Eden.
When the Angel of the Lord reveals his battle strategy to Joshua, he unveils a seven-day process for circling the city—seven days of circling and seven times on the seventh day. While this procedure takes faith to walk that close to the city seven days straight, it also indicates something of the holy calling of the venture.
In Genesis, the seventh day was set apart as holy (Gen. 2:3). Just the same, as Israel enters this new land, there is a creational theme associated with entry. And because the seventh day in creation signifies a holy day, we see how the holy warfare is reinforced as holy by the pattern of seven. Commenting on this point, Ken Mathews notes,
For six days the Hebrews circle the city once a day (6:11—14); on the seventh day they circle seven times; and on the seventh trip the trumpets blast and the people shout (6:15—21). The imitation of God’s creation shows the power and authority of the Lord. The Jericho moment is a new beginning for Israel. The land is the new Eden. The number “seven” and the prominence of the ark and the priests suggest a religious ritual. In its destruction, Jericho is “devoted” (herem) to God (6:17—18, 21). The vocabulary and the pattern of the procession indicate that the event is both cultic and military in character—for example, the trumpets of rams’ horns and the shouting. (Joshua, 49)
Interestingly, the creation theme is also highlighted by the fact that Eden was denied to mankind by the placement of angels (cherubim) with flaming swords (Gen. 3:25). Yet, now as the people cross the Jordan and enter the land of milk and honey—a land meant to reflect Eden—there is an “angel” with drawn sword who permits their entry—but only as they do what he says. Disobedience is what cast Adam from the Garden; obedience is what will bring Israel (a corporate Adam) back God’s land. All in all, there are creational themes in Joshua 5–6, as well as themes of land restoration.
7. The priests blowing trumpets recall Jubilee.
The instructions for the military “invasion” are very particular. The armed men go first, followed by the priests with trumpets, the ark, the rear guard, and then the people. Each day this group goes around the city in this order, and on each day the priests blow the trumpets and the people remain silent. Only on the last day do the people shout.
Thus, throughout there is a key emphasis on the role of trumpets in the procession. The angel speaks of them (vv. 2–5), their use is employed on Day 1 (vv. 8–9), Days 2–6 (vv. 12–14), and again on Day 7 (16, 20). All in all the trumpets play a key role in announcing the arrival of the people. Yet, there is something else we should see:
The allusion to the year of Jubilee (yobel) by the rams’ horns (yobel) blown by the priests indicates the divine origin of the judgment (6:4). A ram’s horn is blown to announce the year of Jubilee, a sacred year every fiftieth year, in which debts are forgiven and land restored (Lev. 25:10-13). The rams’ horns connect the ideas of holiness and the themes of justice and freedom. The restoration of the land to the Israelites by virtue of the promise to their ancestors is a new beginning, a season of Jubilee. (Mathews, Joshua, 51)
Importantly, going back to Abraham, Yahweh had promised the people of Israel the land. Yet, for four hundred years it was possessed by others. Now, however, that was going to change. And just like Leviticus 25 employed trumpets to announce the Jubilee, so now the trumpets announce the restoration of the land to the people.
8. Joshua announces and anticipates the Lord’s arrival.
We might also recognize the place of trumpets in the arrival of the Lord. Throughout Joshua 6, the ark of the covenant takes a central place. Similarly, the arrival of the Lord in the form of the Army’s Commander, indicates God is with the people and God is leading the people. The chapter even ends stating that Yahweh is with Joshua (v. 27). So the arrival of the Lord should not be missed in Joshua 6, nor the way trumpets were used to announce his arrival.
In the New Testament, we find multiple passages that speak about the trumpet announcing the Lord’s arrival. For instance, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:52 both speak of this coming reality.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17)
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51–52)
Moreover, the book of Revelation includes seven trumpets blown by seven angels (8:6–11:19). In Scripture priests serving in the temple, often play the role of angels, so if there is a connection between Joshua and Revelation, it’s not surprising priests blow the trumpets on earth (Joshua) and angels blow the trumpets in heaven (Revelation). Even more in Revelation, the arrangement of trumpets seems to follow the order of Joshua. And after the “last trumpet” is blown, Revelation 16–19 give us images of Babylon—a city connected to Jericho in many ways (see Joshua 7:11 and the mention of Shinar).
Going further in Revelation, we find six trumpets blown in succession (8:6–9:21). This is followed by a break, complete with two witnesses (10:1–11:14)—like the two spies (?). Only after the six trumpets are blown and the witnesses complete their work is the climactic seventh trumpet blown with loud voices accompanying it (11:15)—like the final trumpet and loud shout in Joshua 6:20.
All in all, the events of Revelation mirror the typology found in Joshua. Or to put it differently, the angel of the Lord gave to Joshua a revelation of trumpet-led conquest, in order to prepare the way for Jesus’s greater conquest. In both directions, we see again how Joshua is written so that it foreshadows the events of Jesus Christ and the victory he brings to his people.
9. Typology protects us from Allegory.
While some may call the previous observations (#’s 5–8) typological interpretation, they would be mislabeling what I am trying to do. I am not interpreting Joshua 6 typologically; I am attempting to discern how the original author is writing. And I am arguing that we find in Joshua typological inspiration, i.e., the Old Testament is written with types and shadows that reveal who God is by means of showing us how God works (cf. Gal. 4:24).
Thus, by recognizing the patterns (typos means pattern) in Joshua, we see how God has revealed certain patterns in the Bible for us to recognize. Then, when we read Joshua with the rest of the Bible we see how these patterns prepare the way for Christ and how they also play out in our lives. The value of this approach is that it protects us from unchecked allegory and spiritual interpretations of the passage that dismiss the human author’s intention and make direct application from Joshua 6 to ourselves. Inevitably, such principalizing of the text may, in the name of non-allegory, create an allegorical reading for the passage.
That is to say, when Jericho becomes a cipher for the walls in our lives, we are denying the way the Spirit intends this chapter to lead us to Christ. We are missing the ways the Apostles pick up and apply Jericho to the New Testament church. And we are fabricating connections in the text where this wall falling down in Joshua 6 is actually a symbol of the walls falling down before us.
To be certain, I do believe there is a way to make connections between Joshua 6 and ourselves, but it must be mediated by Christ and his finished work. Even more, if Revelation and things like the trumpets are types of God’s return in the future, then we need to let those textual clues direct our interpretations and applications.
To that end, let me quote the cautionary words of Ken Mathews,
A popular interpretation of the Jericho Narrative is transforming it into an allegory about the Christian’s victories over the spiritual “walls of Jericho,” such as “the Jericho of sin,” “the Jericho of materialism,” and “the Jericho within the Joshua’s narrative refers to the walls as literal walls, not as signs for spiritual lessons. Such interpretations diminish the historical reality of what occurs at Jericho. Allegorical interpretations are subject to speculative imaginations and attempt to legitimize interpretations that erroneously correlate Old Testament stories and spiritual realities. There is sufficient spiritual truth in the text as it stands for effective teaching without resorting to mystical interpretations. (Joshua, 52)
When we move directly from the text to ourselves, skipping over the rest of redemptive history and the full revelation of God in Christ, we will inevitably fall into allegory. We may not call it that or even recognize it, but the only way to avoid reading Joshua as allegory is either (1) to deny any application of the passage to persons today, or (2) to read this passage in the context of the finished work of Christ.
Taking the second road is what leads me to see patterns (types) in this passage and denying an allegorical reading of the passage. I believe, on the basis of the New Testament’s instructions, that God has worked in history in repeated patterns (typoi). Typology, therefore, is not the formation of connections in the mind of the reader between various passages in the Bible; typology is the recognition of connections in the Bible. And in this case, we find many ways in which Joshua 5–6 build on patterns revealed in the Law of Moses and amplify patterns fulfilled in the New Testament.
It is healthy for us to consider what and how these typological patterns work in Scripture. But we misread the Bible when we deny their presence.
10. Evangelism is one of the most practical applications of this passage.
Finally, one of the most practical aspect of Joshua 5–6 relates to evangelism. To see this application, we can imagine what was happening inside of Jericho as the nation of Israel circled the city, blowing trumpets, for seven days straight. Joshua 6:1 tells us the city was locked up; no one could leave, no one could enter. Contemplating what this meant for Jericho, Richard Hess makes the fascinating observation:
If the mission of these spies had been, at least in part, to seek out those who believed in Israel’s God, then the act of shutting the gates in Joshua 2 signified the official rejection of this opportunity. The shut gates in 6:1 serve the same purpose. Jericho has refused to hear the message of Israel, proclaimed in the great deeds of the exodus, in the crossing of the Red Sea and of the Jordan, and in the military victories that had already occurred. The act of shutting forms a physical barrier to Israel’s divinely ordained movement to sake possession of the land. As with the natural barrier of the Jordan, it must be overcome. If Israel is to realize the promises of God, Jericho’s gates must be opened. In this sense, the exception of Rahab is symbolically paralleled by her window, the one opening to Jericho which is not ‘shut’ against the Israelites. (Joshua, 140–41)
Truly, Rahab had been commissioned with the scarlet cord to save her family. Thus, for the seven days Israel walked the city, she too was called to invite people to salvation. We do not know what this looked like, but we know that when the walls fell down, she was not alone. As verses 22–25 read,
But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” 23 So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel. 24 And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. 25 But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive.
Here is the rest of the story. In the second chapter, Joshua sent two spies into the city and now their mission—Joshua’s mission—was accomplished! Within the burned out city, there was a remnant of Rahab’s family that were saved. We don’t know the number and we don’t know the means, but sometime between Rahab’s “covenant” with the two spies (ch. 2), she had persuaded others to join her. In this way, there was going on in the city devoted to destruction real and eternity-changing evangelism, for as this woman was grafted into God’s covenant people, so were others.
Here’s the typological reading of this observation: Just as salvation was granted to a city under God’s judgment, so the offer of salvation goes out to the world today. God has said that this world will perish and only those who repent and belief will be saved. Incredibly, the pattern of this salvation and judgment is what instructs us today. As we have received news of salvation, we are to share it with family and friends.
We do this knowing the trumpets are being blown and the days are coming quickly. The final trumpet has not sounded, but some of the others have. Read Revelation 8–11 again and ask, do we not now see wars and rumors of war? Is not God’s judgment already being revealed against ungodliness and unrighteousness? Is not the church called to be a witness to the world in the face of death and disaster? I believe it is. And just as Rahab shared Joshua’s gospel of salvation, so should we. Indeed, this is how Christ is glorified, which again is the antitype (i.e., the fulfillment of Joshua 6).
Notice how the chapter ends.
25 But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho. 26 Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. “At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates.” 27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.
In these last three verses (vv. 25–27), Joshua is credited with the salvation of Rahab (even though he appointed two spies). Joshua pronounces a judgment on Jericho (one that sounds similar to the judgment on Pharaoh and his firstborn). And Joshua is glorified by God for all he has done. Indeed, this is the pattern of salvation for Jesus Christ (read: Joshua typology)—salvation and judgment to Jesus’s everlasting glory.
With that in mind we should read Joshua 5–6 with our eyes looking to Christ. And with his gospel in view, we should call the lost to find shelter in the refuge of his cross. There is no other message of salvation and amazingly (but not surprisingly) this is also the message of Joshua 5–6.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds