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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Joshua 6


Joshua, by the divine command, orders the city of Jericho to be surrounded seven days, the priests blowing with seven trumpets: on the seventh day, at Joshua's word, the people shout, while the trumpets blow, and the walls of Jericho fall down; the city is devoted, Rahab only, with her house, being saved alive.

Before Christ 1451.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. Now Jericho was straitly shut up While every necessary preparation was making in the camp of Joshua for the attack of Jericho, the king of that city, on his part, took all possible precautions for his security. Having refused the offers of peace, which were doubtless made him by the Hebrew general, (see Deuteronomy 20:10.) and resolved to defend himself to the last extremity, he had shut himself in Jericho, and set so good a guard there, that Joshua, who kept the place blocked up, could carry on no intelligence with, nor know what passed in it. The city, according to Onkelos, was shut up with gates of iron, and bars of brass; so that no one could issue out either to fight, or to talk of peace. The adventure of the spies, who had crept into Rahab's house, was a sufficient caution not to be satisfied with keeping the place shut by night only. We may further observe, that the division of the Bible into chapters and verses is not always very exact, and may frequently mislead readers. This chapter should not naturally have begun till the 6th verse; for the five first verses are a continuation of the discourse addressed by the Captain of the Lord's hosts to Joshua, on shewing himself to him: or the foregoing chapter should have ended at ver. 12 as the account of the appearance of the angel and of the conference begins at ver. 13. It is certain, that the words in ver. 1 in this chapter, are properly only a parenthesis of the sacred historian, prudently added to shew the necessity of the miracle.

Verse 2

Ver. 2. And the Lord said unto Joshua, See, &c.— The same person, who in the preceding chapter is called the Captain of the host of the Lord, is here named the LORD. There is no doubt, therefore, that this was a divine personage, the angel of the covenant, the Son of God.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams' horns Some have observed, that rams' horns cannot be bored, and made so as to give any thing of a strong sound; and therefore by rams' horns here, they would understand trumpets made in the shape of rams' horns. But this supposed difficulty, of making such an instrument of a ram's horn as may give a pretty strong sound, is not well founded; it being certain, that the inside of these horns is no way hard, and may easily be taken out, excepting a space at the point, of about four or five inches, part of which is sawed off, in order to proportion the aperture to the mouth; after which, the rest is easily pierced. We can assure our readers, say the authors of the Universal History, that we have seen some of these trumpets, thus made, used by shepherds in the southern parts of Germany.

And the seventh day you shall compass the city, &c.— Grotius very properly observes, that the number seven is suited or appropriated to things sacred: it is evidently so in this place. We shall not, however, insist upon it. The reader may consult a variety of authors respecting the facts; particularly Drusius on the passage, and on Leviticus 4:6.

Verse 5

Ver. 5. The wall of the city shall fall down flat The Hebrew literally is, shall fall under itself. The LXX render it, the walls shall fall down of themselves; and Onkelos has it, the wall shall fall, and be swallowed up under itself. If we are to believe the Jews, the walls of Jericho sunk entirely into the earth, without leaving the least outward trace of them; so that the Jews entered into the city on plain ground. But the text only says, that the walls fell down upon their foundations. The latter clause, and the people shall ascend up, &c. is explained two different ways. 1. Some are of opinion, that the walls of Jericho fell down only in particular places, where wide breaches were made, through which the Israelites might pass with ease; and this they suppose, because otherwise Rahab's house, which was annexed to the city-wall, must have been overturned. 2. But others think, that the whole wall was beaten down, and the house of Rahab only preserved; still more apparently to display the irresistibility of that Power, which, while it overthrows, can yet exempt from destruction: He killeth, and He saveth alive.

REFLECTIONS.—Jericho was now close besieged without, and close shut up and guarded within, by the strength of the fortifications and the number of the inhabitants; but the captain of the Lord's hosts assures Joshua that the place is his own: and, to try the obedience of the people, as well as to spread the terror of such a scene wide through the land, he issues a strange order. No military attack need be made, no engines drawn to the walls, but only the ark of God be carried in solemn procession six days round the city, by the priests, blowing with rams' horns, accompanied by all the people; on the seventh day the city must be compassed seven times, when, at the signal given of a long blast of the trumpets, the people must shout together, and the walls shall fall down flat; so that every man may go up instantly, and smite the inhabitants surprised and defenceless. Note; Though the sinner's heart be walled and barred as fast as Jericho, the word of God, spoken by his ministers, has mighty power to cast down the strong-holds of Satan; and though the instruments seem weak as these rams' horns, yet that Divine power is with them which nothing can resist.

Verses 7-9

Ver. 7-9. And he said unto the people, Pass on We apprehend, that it was not only the soldiers who formed this procession, but that all the people joined in it; that the armed men went before the ark; and that after it came the rest of the people, making as it were the rear-ward. It is certain, however, that Onkelos, and the Rabbis Solomon, Jarchi, and Kimchi, understand by the rear-ward, the single tribe of Dan, which was thus appointed, Numbers 10:25.; and they suppose, that before the ark went armed only the troops of the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and of the half tribe of Manasseh. But we keep to our version, which follows the LXX and Vulgate. The Hebrew word ףּמאס measeph, which we translate rear-ward, signifies, literally, gathered up; i.e. that company which closed the march, and collected together all that belonged to the procession. We might translate it, the gathered multitude. On the contrary, however, it must be owned, that it seems a little improbable to suppose, that three millions of souls should every day have gone in procession round Jericho for a week together, and on the last day seven times. On this supposition, the city must have been very small. Perhaps, therefore, this procession was composed only of the fighting men; and by the people we are to understand, throughout the whole narration, only those who were armed.

Verses 13-15

Ver. 13-15. And seven priests, &c.— Whether Jericho was taken on a sabbath-day, as the Jews pretend, or on another day of the week, it is very certain, that the procession was made on the sabbath round about the city; and, consequently, that the rest of that solemn day was then infringed. He, says Kimchi, who had ordained the observation of the sabbath, commanded the sabbath to be broken for the destruction of Jericho: so that, according to the principles of this learned Jew, we are perfectly established in ours, namely, that the Angel who shewed himself to Joshua was that Almighty Angel who issued the law of the sabbath from mount Sinai; and that, as our Saviour remarked afterwards to the Pharisees, He who enjoined the sabbath is always the Lord and disposer of it. Note; 1. We must patiently persevere in the use of the means of grace, though we see not their immediate good effect. 2. Wherever the ark goes, and the word of God leads, we must follow it. 3. They who do so will surely succeed at last, and see the great salvation of God.

Verse 16

Ver. 16. And—at the seventh time—Joshua said unto the people, Shout, &c.— This shouting might be made in a two-fold view. It might be designed to terrify the enemy, and to animate at the same time the Israelitish soldiery; and, doubtless, it was also to express the faith of the whole people, and the confidence wherewith they relied upon the divine promises. By faith, says St. Paul, the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been compassed about seven days. Hebrews 11:30.

Verse 17

Ver. 17. The city shall be accursed,—and all that are therein, to the Lord That is, Jericho, and whatever it contains, shall be devoted to utter destruction, save what is expressly excepted in this and the 19th verse. Respecting the Cherem, we refer to the Reflections at the end of Deut. ch. 20: It is necessary, however, to add here, that if God used the utmost severity towards Jericho, even to the forbidding to spare the wives and children, or to keep any spoil, which he had allowed on other occasions, it was for reasons well worthy his supreme wisdom. On the other hand, he ordered all the inhabitants of this city to be put to the sword, in order to intimidate the rest of the Canaanites, and to determine them, by this act of justice, to prevent, by accepting peace, or by flight, a punishment which their enormous and wilful crimes rendered unavoidable. But then he forbad the Israelites keeping any booty to themselves, that, on their entering into the land of Canaan, they might the better understand that they had no right to the riches of that country but what he gave them; and that he would ever continue to himself the power of restraining that right as he should think proper.

Verse 18

Ver. 18. In any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, &c.— "Be sure not to carry off for your private emolument any of the spoil of your enemy: ye are to consider it as a thing devoted to the Lord, and which you are not to touch, on pain of being yourselves devoted to death; of drawing down upon you the immediate curse of God, and of stopping the progress of your victories."

Verse 19

Ver. 19. But all the silver, and gold,—are consecrated unto the Lord God requires, that all the silver, gold, brass, iron, and all other metal found in Jericho, should be consecrated to the use of his sanctuary, and carried into his tabernacle, to supply the wants of that sacred house; but, doubtless, first to be purified by passing through the fire, according to the law, Num 31:22-23 and excepting the idols, which were to be absolutely destroyed.

Deuteronomy 7:25-26. The Jews say, that all these riches belonged to God, inasmuch as Jericho was taken on a sabbath-day; but, as we before remarked, God required them as a tribute and homage, by which the Israelites acknowledged that to his power and goodness they owed the victory which now opened to them the entrance and possession of the country.

Verse 20

Ver. 20. And—when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and—shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat When therefore the priests blew the trumpets, the people, hearing the sound thereof, shouted with a great shout, and the walls, &c. Houb. The miraculous nature of this event is so palpable, that one cannot conceive how it could come into the minds of any to contest it, or even to endeavour to assign natural reasons for it. The horrid art of war was in its infancy at the time of Joshua; and it does not appear that any of the means found out in subsequent ages for overthrowing the walls of cities, or making breaches in them, were then in use. The invention of the battering ram is much later. Pliny seems to attribute it to Epeus during the siege of Troy; but, in all probability, Ezekiel is the oldest author who has mentioned this formidable machine, and Nebuchadnezzar the first person who used it, in the siege of Jerusalem, many ages after the Trojan war. See Ezekiel 4:1-2; Ezekiel 21:27. As to gunpowder, every one knows that that fatal composition was not found out till the 14th century of the Christian aera; and even could we suppose the Israelites to have known any thing bordering on the art of undermining the walls and ramparts of a city, and blowing them up by means of any ingredient like gunpowder, would any one venture to say, upon mere conjecture, that such was the practice before Jericho? Could they, in the little time that had elapsed since they passed over the Jordan and invested Jericho, have undermined that city? Besides, what are the steps they take there? What can we find out in them that has the appearance of a siege? And who, on the contrary, sees not in the promises of the general, and the processions of the soldiery, that a miracle was expected? It is God who orders, God who directs every thing. The city is attacked afar off: at the sound of the trumpets, and at the cries of the people, the walls fall down. What machines, what warlike instruments, what a way of besieging and taking a strong place! But, say some, Is it not possible for the walls of Jericho to have fallen without any extraordinary operation of Divine power, and by the mere sound of the voices and trumpets of the Hebrews? The rabbi, Levi Ben-Gershom, hath started such a conjecture, though, notwithstanding, he acknowledges here the miracle in the way we see it.

Amongst the moderns too this opinion hath been strongly defended, particularly by the learned father Mersenne and Morhoff. They observe, that a violent noise is sufficient to break to pieces the most solid bodies, or to agitate them at a considerable distance; and they have collected together some curious particulars to prove it: insisting, among others, on that related by Borelli, a celebrated mathematician, as an eye-witness, that being at Taormina, a city in Sicily, about thirty miles from mount AEtna, that volcano made an eruption, the noise of which shook every house in the city, with circumstances which would not allow him to doubt that this agitation proceeded from the mere trembling of the air, which communicated itself to the houses. To facts these writers have added suppositions; they have represented all the priests sounding the horns, and all the people blowing the trumpets before the walls of Jericho; they have remarked upon the situation of the city, placed in the midst of mountains, where the sound must consequently have a greater effect than in plains: in a word, they have collected whatever might give any colour to the paradox which they chose to maintain; and then they have themselves concluded, that nothing of all this could satisfy them, and that they were, at all events, obliged to acknowledge the Divine hand in the falling of the walls of Jericho. How, indeed, the case being properly stated, can the fact be denied? The question is not, whether walls may fall down by reason of sound, whatever it be; but whether those of Jericho were overturned by the sound of the horns, by the priests, and by the shouts of the people, as from a natural cause. We do not ask, whether God could beat down these walls by the concurrent sounds of the horns and voices of the Israelites, but whether the event so happened: and the Scripture says nothing like it. Besides, divers reasons destroy the conjectures of Mersenne and Morhoff: 1. However powerful we may suppose the noise made by the Israelites before Jericho; yet, that city being so far distant as to be out of the reach of arrows and stones (as interpreters reasonably presume they were), that noise could not but have lost much of its force, and have considerably decreased on reaching the walls. 2. It must have lost so much more of its strength, as it bursts into the open air; for Jericho was situated, not in a narrow valley, but in a plain, overlooked by a mountain. See Joseph. Bell. Jud. l. v. c. 4. 3. For the noise of the horns and voices of the Israelites to overturn the walls of this city, it was necessary that it should be exactly proportioned to the situation of those walls, and the matter of which they were composed. Now, the precise knowledge of this exact proportion, and the issuing of a noise well adapted thereto, though effected by the concurrence of never so many instruments, and never so many voices, would alone be a great miracle. Nay, 4 could this noise alone have been able to overturn the walls of Jericho; yet it is much more difficult to conceive why the trees in the neighbourhood, the tents of the Israelites, and even all the people, should not have been thrown down in like manner. 5. Can it only appear probable to ingenious men, that things so wonderful should be effected by a violent sound, and without a miracle, though we see at this day, when the art of war is brought to so high a pitch of perfection, how much money, labour, and blood it costs, to attack and master well-defended places? Is it in the least probable, that so much pains would be taken, so many skirmishes held, so many risks run, if, by the noise of trumpets in a numerous army, the walls of the cities they attacked could be thrown down. 6. And to conclude, How comes it to pass, that we never see the frightful clamour of so many cannons, mortars, guns, which swallow up the sound of the loudest instruments, and whose horrible din shakes the air as with thunder round the besieged city,—how happens it, I ask, that we never see this noise alone open breaches to the besiegers, and spare them the trouble of trenches, mines, and assaults? But it is too much to stop to confute a supposition, which has engaged the notice of the learned, merely because they are learned who have ventured to advance it. We add but one word more: if any of the ancient fathers seem to have attributed the falling of the walls of Jericho to the sound of the instruments and voices of the people of Israel, it was from a supposition, that God had given to that sound a supernatural and miraculous power. See Scheuchzer, vol. 4: p. 102.

Verse 23

Ver. 23. And left them without the camp They were brought out of the house, because that was to be burned with the rest of the city; but being unclean they could not be received into the camp, as being a holy place, till they had abjured paganism, embraced the religion of the true God, and been admitted into the body of the republic of Israel by circumcision, and perhaps by baptism; though we cannot say whether the use of this latter ceremony be so ancient.

Verse 25

Ver. 25. And she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day Rahab, incorporated with the people of God, was still living there when this was written. See ch. Joshua 4:9. Her family, doubtless, were initiated in like manner; and all who belonged to her embraced the religion of Israel, or at least, renouncing idolatry, without ever receiving circumcision, became proselytes of the gate. As to Rahab herself, she married Salmon, the son of Naasson, a prince of the tribe of Judah, and one of the ancestors of CHRIST. Genebrand, in his Chronol. p. 13 following the authority of some rabbis, says, that Joshua married Rahab; whence Mr. Berryer concludes, that it was a grand-daughter of that name who was afterwards married to Salmon. See his Hist. du Peuple de Dieu, tom. 3: p. 41. But as all this is without proof, we hold, with Usher, that it was Rahab the harlot whom Salmon espoused. However, as it was prohibited to marry Canaanitish women, (Deuteronomy 7:1.) Rahab might, very probably, be a stranger settled at Jericho, as divers rabbis inform us was the case.

Verse 26

Ver. 26. And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, &c.— As soon as the city of Jericho was razed and destroyed, Joshua convened the chiefs and elders of the tribes, to signify to them the divine intention that this idolatrous city should never be rebuilt. Accordingly, he engaged them by oath never to raise it again; and these, certainly, bound the people in like manner, on pain of the divine malediction. This prudent general thought himself unable to erect a monument better adapted to the greatness of God, than to leave Jericho for ever buried in its ruins, thereby to announce to posterity his justice against wicked and incorrigible idolaters, and his beneficent power in favour of his people, whom he had caused to triumph over the inhabitants of Jericho in the most miraculous manner.

Cursed be the man before the Lord, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho! It is not of himself, but in the name and by the order of Jehovah, that Joshua here pronounces an anathema upon whoever shall dare to raise again the walls of Jericho. The view in which we have placed this command was pointed out by Maimonides. Joshua, says he, pronounced a curse against those who should build up Jericho, that the remembrance of the miracle which God had wrought by destroying it might never be effaced; for all who looked on these ruins thus sunk into the earth, clearly saw them to be the ruins of a city destroyed by a miracle, and not by the hand of men. More Nev. p. ii. c. 5. We may see from this passage, that Maimonides thought the walls of Jericho were swallowed up by the earth, rather than overthrown. In ancient history we meet with repeated instances of like imprecations and prohibitions to rebuild cities, whose perfidy or violence it was intended to punish, and whose power it was feared should be again revived. Thus Agamemnon cursed every one who should dare to build again the walls of Troy, Strabo, lib. xiii. p. 898; Croesus those who should rebuild Sidena. Ibid. and Scipio Africanus those who should attempt to repair Carthage. Zonar. Annal. lib. ix. p. 149. Cicero de Leg. Agr. Orat. 2.

He shall lay the foundation, &c.— i.e. "All the children of such a man, from the greatest even to the least, shall be smitten with a premature death before the enterprise be finished; his first-born shall die when he begins to rear up the walls of this city, and his younger when he setteth up the gates thereof!" This prophetic malediction was literally accomplished about five hundred and fifty years after, in the person of Hiel, the Beth-elite, who, under the reign of Ahaz, laid the foundation of Jericho, in Abiram his first-born; and set up the gate, thereof, in his youngest son Segub. When, tempted by the situation of the territory in which Jericho lay, Hiel had ventured, through a criminal ignorance of Joshua's prediction, or rather through unbelief, to rebuild this city at a small distance from the spot where it was originally placed, no one made any scruple of settling there; and the design of God seemed not to have been for prohibiting it. We see there a college of prophets; Elijah and Elisha frequented it (2 Kings 2:15-18.); and after that our Saviour honoured it with his presence and miracles. Luke 19:1; Luke 19:48. Long before Hiel's time, some one had already raised some of the ruins of Jericho. We should at least apprehend so, if Jericho was the same as the city of palm-trees; for this last subsisted in the time of Eglon, Judges 3:13.; and it was at Jericho that David ordered his ambassadors to remain till their beards, which had been cut off by the command of king Hanun, were grown again; 2 Samuel 10:4-5. Jericho, at present, is almost entirely deserted; having but thirty or forty little houses in it, which serve as a retreat for some poor Moors and Arabs who live there like the beasts. The plain of Jericho produces hardly any thing more than some few wild trees, and bad fruit, which grow spontaneously without cultivation. We must not, however, pass over the roses of Jericho, or its oil, so excellent for wounds, which they extract from a fruit called by the Arabs za-cho-ne.

REFLECTIONS.—Now is the hour of Jericho's destruction come. At Joshua's command, the hosts of Israel shout aloud; at the signal given by the trumpet's long blast, and according to their faith, this proud city's walls fall down before them. Such will be the triumphant shout of the Israel of God, when, under the conduct of the divine Joshua, they shall, in the last hour of their warfare, see all their foes laid low before them, and with their expiring breath triumph over death, their last enemy, and march through the breaches of the grave to the possession of the city of the living God.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Joshua 6". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.