Joshua 6

Joshua 6,
Saturday, April 7, 2018

“Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, 
and the walls came a-tumblin’ down”

On the final day of the week, the Sabbath, we finally get to a battle.  It’s a parody of a battle, of course, as any child knows – they march around the walls once a day for 6 days, and on the 7th day it’s 7 times, trumpet blast and a great shout.  That’s ritual, not warfare.

Yes, this is an account of total genocide, succinctly stated in v.21.  Yet, compare this to other literature of war, relishing the blood and gore, the sounds and smells of battle.  Simply put, they killed every living thing, except Rahab’s clan who stayed in her whore house. 

I kept a cartoon in my office for years, ‘remedial Viking classes’, with the instructor repeating to the chastened warrior: ‘Pillage, and then burn!  Pillage, and then burn!’  This story is about taking only precious metals, and ‘devoting to destruction’ all potential booty.

The norms of Bronze Age warfare assumed pillage and booty as the rewards of victory for soldiers and armies.  To reserve precious metals as sacred for the treasury of God, and ‘devote-to-destruction’ everything or everybody else is a big demand for restraint by troops.

Can we imagine what that exceptional model of restraint has meant over millennia, to soldiers and civilians, attackers and defenders, winners and losers in warfare?  It’s worth trying – this may not be historically accurate, but aspirational in terms of morality and war.

Rahab is spared, along with her family who sheltered in the wall of the city.  The promise of restraint is honoured again, and she is counted among the ancestors or David, and of Jesus.  This is not a narrative of racial purity or supremacy, though it resists assimilation.

It matters where we situate ourselves as readers of the battle of Jericho.  If we are children of Israel, we know what tribe is ours, and where we fit in the ritual, and how our forebears showed restraint.  If we are marginal like Rahab, we read a different story.

Jericho was entirely ‘devoted-to-destruction’.  In our world, ‘scorched earth’ strategies and genocide mean something newly evil, with technology to effect total destruction inconceivable a millennium before Jesus, three millennia before our time.  In those times, this is sacrificial talk of sacred things not to be treated as economic assets.

What does ‘sacrifice’ mean to us?  I’ve preached it a few times in this century, barely grasping our ancestors’ sacrifices, shamed by my utilitarian ethics of maximizing gain and minimizing loss of property.  Our first world warfare runs on an immoral calculus weighing ‘our’ casualties far more heavily than ‘theirs’, and ‘our’ security over ‘their’ continued impoverishment.  We can hardly stand above Jericho.

The curse against anyone rebuilding Jericho belongs in this context of ‘sacrificial’ signifiers of meaning.  What had been vanquished, and what was triumphant?  If we are still stuck after tomorrow’s break, on the first day of the week, Sunday – there will be more hints!

Now Jericho was shut up inside and out
because of the Israelites; 
no one came out and no one went in.
 2The Lord said to Joshua,
 ‘See, I have handed Jericho over to you,
 along with its king and soldiers.
 3You shall march around the city, 
all the warriors circling the city once.
 Thus you shall do for six days,
 4with seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns
 before the ark. 
On the seventh day
you shall march around the city seven times,
 the priests blowing the trumpets. 
5When they make a long blast with the ram’s horn,
 as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, 
then all the people shall shout with a great shout;
 and the wall of the city will fall down flat, 
and all the people shall charge straight ahead.’ 
6So Joshua son of Nun summoned the priests
and said to them,
 ‘Take up the ark of the covenant, 
and have seven priests carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns
 in front of the ark of the Lord.’
 7To the people he said,
 ‘Go forward and march around the city;
 have the armed men pass on before the ark of the Lord.’
8 As Joshua had commanded the people, 
the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns
before the Lord went forward, 
blowing the trumpets,
 with the ark of the covenant of the Lord following them.
 9And the armed men went before the priests
who blew the trumpets;
 the rear-guard came after the ark, 
while the trumpets blew continually. 
10To the people Joshua gave this command:
 ‘You shall not shout
or let your voice be heard, 
nor shall you utter a word, 
until the day I tell you to shout. 
Then you shall shout.’
 11So the ark of the Lord went around the city,
 circling it once; 
and they came into the camp, 
and spent the night in the camp.
12 Then Joshua rose early in the morning, 
and the priests took up the ark of the Lord.
 13The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns
before the ark of the Lord passed on,
 blowing the trumpets continually. 
The armed men went before them, 
and the rear-guard came after the ark of the Lord, 
while the trumpets blew continually. 
14On the second day
 they marched around the city once
and then returned to the camp. 
They did this for six days.
15 On the seventh day
they rose early, at dawn, 
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.
 16And at the seventh time, 
when the priests had blown the trumpets, 
Joshua said to the people,
For the Lord has given you the city.
 17The city and all that is in 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
we sent. 
18As for you, 
keep away from the things
devoted to destruction,
 so as not to covet and take any
of the devoted things
and make the camp of Israel
 an object for destruction, 
bringing trouble upon it
. 19But all silver and gold,
 and vessels of bronze and iron, 
are sacred to the Lord;
 they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.’
 20So the people shouted, 
and the trumpets were blown.
 As soon as the people heard
 the sound of the trumpets, 
they raised a great shout,
 and the wall fell down flat;
 so the people charged straight ahead
 into the city and captured it. 
21Then they devoted to destruction
 by the edge of the sword
all in the city, 
both men and women, 
young and old, 
oxen, sheep, and donkeys.
22 Joshua said
to the two men who had spied out the land, 
‘Go into the prostitute’s house,
 and bring the woman out of it
and all who belong to her, 
as you swore to her.’ 
23So the young men who had been spies
went in and brought Rahab out, 
along with her father,
 her mother, 
her brothers, 
and all who belonged to her
—they brought all her kindred out—
and set them outside the camp of Israel. 
24They burned down the city, 
and everything in it; 
only the silver and gold,
 and the vessels of bronze and iron,
 they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord.
 25But Rahab the prostitute
 with her family
and all who belonged to her, 
Joshua spared. 
Her family has lived in Israel ever since. 
For she hid the messengers
whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
26 Joshua then pronounced this oath, 
‘Cursed before the Lord be anyone
who tries
   to build this city—this Jericho!

At the cost of his firstborn he shall lay its foundation,
and at the cost of his youngest he shall set up its gates!’
27 So the Lord was with Joshua; 
and his fame was in all the land.