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Jericho was a stronghold Canaanite city located just west of The Jordan River. As such, it was the first city in the path of the Israelites' march to victory, the fall of which would also serve as a warning and psychological deflation (a little ancient "shock and awe") of the defenders of the rest of The Land Of Canaan. Jericho could not merely be taken; it had to be obliterated, to save lives, Israelite and Canaanite, in the long run (i.e. some of the other Canaanite people, when they saw what happened to Jericho, chose not to fight). When the people of Jericho decided to use their "impregnable" city walls as their defense, the walls would have to come down - and The Lord told the Israelites how to do it.
"Now Jericho was shut up from within and from without because of the people of Israel; none went out, and none came in. And The Lord said to Joshua, "See, I have given into your hand Jericho, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. And seven priests [see Levites and The Lines Of Eleazar and Ithamar] shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark [see The Ark Of The Covenant]; and on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. And when 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 the people shall go up every man straight before him." (Joshua 6:1-5 RSV)
The Israelites obeyed The Lord, and so victory was given to them. The entire city was annihilated, with the exception of Rahab (see the notes for Joshua 2).
"So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people raised 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 took the city. Then they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword." (Joshua 6:20-21 RSV)
Joshua then proclaimed a curse upon anyone who would rebuild the city, a warning that was not heeded (see the Fact Finder question below).
"Joshua laid an oath upon them at that time, saying, "Cursed before The Lord be the man that rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. At the cost of his first-born shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates." (Joshua 6:26 RSV)
Joshua Chapter 7
The Israelites became arrogant in their ability to achieve victory. For the next city on their campaign, Ai, they sent only a relatively small force because they assumed that they would win no matter what they did. But a shock - the Israelites were defeated in battle by the men of Ai.
"And they returned to Joshua, and said to him, "Let not all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai; do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are but few." So about three thousand went up there from the people; and they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six men of them, and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim, and slew them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted, and became as water." (Joshua 7:3-5 RSV)
The reason, the purpose, for the Israelite defeat was that some of them violated the pre-conditions by which The Lord was guaranteeing their victory - they became disobedient to Him.
"The Lord said to Joshua, "Arise, why have you thus fallen upon your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant which I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, and lied, and put them among their own stuff. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies; they turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become a thing for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you." (Joshua 7:10-12 RSV)
When Achan, the man responsible for taking what was to have been destroyed was found out, he was put to death for bringing a defeat upon Israel (see Stoning).
"And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the mantle and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters, and his oxen and asses and sheep, and his tent, and all that he had; and they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, "Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today." And all Israel stoned him with stones; they burned them with fire, and stoned them with stones. And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day; then The Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor." (Joshua 7:24-26 RSV)
Joshua Chapter 8
With the cause for their defeat removed, the Israelites again set their sights upon Ai. This time the city would fall, this time using the defenders' reckless cockiness that came from their easy defeat of the Israelites shortly before. The Lord Himself ordered an ambush of the now over confident, and therefore gullible, men of Ai.
"And The Lord said to Joshua, "Do not fear or be dismayed; take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai; see, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land; and you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king; only its spoil and its cattle you shall take as booty for yourselves; lay an ambush against the city, behind it." (Joshua 8:1-2 RSV)
The ambush worked perfectly (how could it fail, with The Lord as their tactical commander?). A small force of Israelites lured the eager men of Ai into a battle, from which the Israelites made a mock retreat to lure the men of Ai even farther from their city base. The main group of Israelites then took the undefended city, while the Israelites in "retreat" then turned and engaged the enemy in the open country. In a few hours, another total victory for obedient Israel.
"And Joshua and all Israel made a pretense of being beaten before them, and fled in the direction of the wilderness. So all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and as they pursued Joshua they were drawn away from the city. There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, who did not go out after Israel; they left the city open, and pursued Israel.
The Israelites were now in control of a large area of south-central Israel. In obedience to The Lord's command through Moses, Joshua built an altar on Mount Ebal.
"Then Joshua built an altar in Mount Ebal to The Lord, the God of Israel, as Moses the servant of The Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, "an altar of unhewn stones, upon which no man has lifted an iron tool"; and they offered on it burnt offerings to The Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. And all Israel, sojourner as well as homeborn, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of The Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of The Lord had commanded at the first, that they should bless the people of Israel.
Fact Finder: What happened to the man who rebuilt Jericho, despite Joshua's warning to not do so? What Christian power was actually responsible for the fall of Jericho?