]30]By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she received the spies with peace.
In these verses, the writer looks at Israel’s entrance into the land with two vivid and very different examples of faith.
Jericho has been the subject of much speculation and doubt down through the years. Skeptics have said that the story in Joshua was just a folk tale designed to explain the ruins at Jericho. Others have scoffed that Israel could not have defeated a well-fortified and supplied city like Jericho.
Others have dated the evidence in those ruins and claimed that the destruction was by Egypt and not by Israel, at a time much earlier than the Bible says. They have been shown to be wrong, though. The evidence of the ruins shows that Jericho was destroyed at the time the Bible says that it was, by whom it was, and not earlier.
I remember seeing pictures of this event, with Israel marching around a level city with one wall. Archaeology tells us it wasn’t like that at all.
Jericho was well-fortified, make no doubt about it. The area of the city wasn’t “flat” but surrounded by and built on an earthen mound or embankment almost 50 feet high, with a stone retaining wall at its base. Aerial photos of this mound are impressive, to say the least. This retaining wall, which followed the slope of the mound, was 12-15′ high. On top of this was a mudbrick wall 6′ thick and 20-26′ high. At the crest of the embankment was a similar wall, whose base was about 46′ above the ground where the Israelites marched. The top of this second wall would have been 60-70 feet above that ground, or about the height of a 7-story building. In Deuteronomy 9:1, Moses told the people that they would encounter cities great and fortified up to heaven. We’re used to skyscrapers hundreds of feet high, but to the Israelites, Jericho must truly have seemed to reach “up to heaven.”
Furthermore, there was an abundant spring, which still exists, so the people would have had plenty of water to drink. And, it was harvest time, Joshua 3:15. Archaeologists found many storage jars full of grain, so the people would have had plenty to eat, as well. Grain was a treasure, so the fact that there was so much left shows both the swiftness of the destruction and the fact that, except in one instance, Israel obeyed the injunction that the plunder of the city belonged to the Lord and they weren’t to take it for themselves.
The city could have survived for years.
Yet, Joshua 6:24 says that Israel burned the city and all that was in it with fire in seven days. Archaeologists found layers of burned ash and debris about 3′ thick.
In the words of the old song, “The walls came a-tumbling down.”
What about those walls?
Joshua 6:20 tells us that the wall fell down flat. A more accurate reading would be, “the wall fell beneath itself.” What happened? Some believe that the tramping of the Israelites around the city for seven days and the blowing of the trumpets on the seventh day loosened things so that the walls collapsed. Maybe. Others believe that God sent an earthquake to destroy the walls. There is some evidence in the ruins to support that view. Some have objected that there are no fissures, but there aren’t always fissures when the ground rumbles. The idea of an earthquake doesn’t automatically rule out the idea that God was behind it all – that it wasn’t a “miracle,” after all. It just means that God used what we might call a “usual” occurrence in an unusual way. And at exactly the right moment.
Besides, God simply tells us that the walls collapsed without giving us any details about how.
There are a couple of other things here, as well.
Remember that there was a 12-15′ high retaining wall around the embankment. There are remains which indicate that the lower wall collapsed over this retaining wall, forming a sort of ramp over which the Israelites could scramble. And Joshua 6:20 says that the people went up into the city – up over the retaining wall and the ruins of the lower wall, up the slope of the embankment, and up over the ruins of the upper wall and into the city.
One final thing about this event. Archaeology has confirmed that there is one area of the lower wall which didn’t collapse. And there are houses built with this wall as part of their structure. This brings us to the second example of faith.
2. Rahab, 11:31.
In one of these houses lived a woman, described as a harlot. Joshua 2 records her story. Apparently, she had neither husband or children, because they’re never mentioned, either here or in 6:23. We’re really told very little in this story, only that she was willing to protect these foreign interlopers. In Joshua 2:8-11, she tells us why. As she was hiding the men from the soldiers who were looking for them (vs. 2-7,) she told them, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and in earth beneath.”
Rahab provides an interesting contrast to the Israelites themselves. While it’s true that this generation of Israelites was being obedient to God, much of Israel’s history proves that this is an exception to a generally dismal picture of their relationship with God. Indeed, they hadn’t been in the land very long when they began to revert to their old ways and brought the same judgments on themselves that they had given out to the Canaanites.
The illustrations Rahab gives of God’s power are at either end of Israel’s wilderness experience, but the Israelites seem not to have profited very much from their experiences. Cf. Hebrews 4:2. Exodus and Numbers, the two books which deal with Israel’s travels more than the other writings of Moses, show repeated rebellion and failure on Israel’s part. Because of this failure, it had taken Israel 38 years to complete what ordinarily was an 11-day journey, Deuteronomy 1:2.
On the other hand, here was a woman who, in the words of Ephesians 2:12, was an alien from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. She was a member of a race condemned to destruction because of their sin. Yet she and her family were spared. Not only that, she became an ancestor to Israel’s Messiah, that One who would ultimately deliver all His people from their sin, Matthew 1:21.
You see, she had been willing to take a chance. Perhaps, if she helped and protected God’s people, she – and her family – could escape judgment. True, we’re not told her reasoning on this, just what she did.
Perhaps we could learn from her.
John 3:18 says, He who believes in [the Lord Jesus] is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
We live in an age where this verse is not believed. We’re taught that everyone is a child of God, that we’re all headed to “a better place.”
That’s not what the Scripture teaches. It teaches that, because of our sin, we’re under a much greater judgment than what the Canaanites were under. It teaches us that we, too, in the words of Ephesians 2:12, have no hope and [are] without God in the world.
In ten days, as I write this, it will be Easter. Here, too, the world has substituted its own meaning into the day, a meaning that has nothing to do with redemption or salvation. As far as the world is concerned, it’s all about eggs or clothes. It’s about the arrival of Spring. Only a few people seem to understand that it’s about an empty Cross and an empty tomb.
In Rahab’s time, the Cross was still a distant promise. We’ve seen that promise fulfilled. We’ve seen that there was One who came to take the place of sinners, to take their place of condemnation and to suffer what they should suffer. To die on a Cross. And those who believe in Him are no longer condemned, but have everlasting life.
It’s not just about “religion.” There was plenty of “religion” in Canaan. There had been plenty of “religion” in Egypt. And there’s plenty of “religions” in our own day and time. Only one has an empty Cross and an empty tomb.
Only one has a Savior.