Understanding the Old Testament

Jericho and Ai

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

The story of Jericho is a proud moment in the faith journey of the Israelites. Imagine being told to walk once around a city without making a sound—and to do the same thing for six straight days. As if this were not odd enough, on the seventh day you do the same thing seven more times. And then on cue, everyone yells. Those were the instructions Joshua received from the Lord, and which he passed on to the people. (Joshua 6:1-16)

When the people shouted on that seventh day, the walls of Jericho fell and the city was easily taken. (Joshua 6:20) All of its people and animals were slain, with the sole exception of Rahab and her family. (Joshua 6:21-25)

Joshua had informed the Israelites that they were to take no booty from Jericho. (Joshua 6:17-18) All precious metals like gold, silver, bronze, and iron were to go into the Lord’s treasury. (Joshua 6:19) This was presumably because the first fruits belonged to God, and by extension to the priests. (Exodus 23:19, 34:26; Leviticus 23:10, 23:17; Numbers 18:12-13; Deuteronomy 18:4, 26:1-4) And Jericho was the first fruits from the invasion of Canaan.

The Israelites obeyed this injunction against taking booty from Jericho—all except one person, that is. Achan, from the tribe of Judah, took a gold bar, two-hundred shekels of silver, and “a beautiful mantle from Shinar,” which he hid in his tent. (Joshua 7:21)

After their victory, the Israelites sent a small force of about 3,000 men against the nearby city of Ai. Since Ai had only 12,000 inhabitants, per Joshua 8:25, the Israelites anticipated a swift and easy campaign—but were soundly defeated. Thirty-six Israelites lost their lives. (Joshua 7:2-5) The Lord explained to Joshua that this defeat was the result of Achan’s sin. (Joshua 7:10-15) As a result, Achan, his children, and his animals were stoned to death. (Joshua 7:24-25)

The second battle of Ai went much better for the Israelites. With the Lord’s assurance of victory this time, Joshua set a trap. He sent part of his army to lie in ambush behind the city while the rest of the Israelite army pretended to flee from battle as before. When Ai emptied the city of soldiers to pursue the retreating Israelites, those lying in ambush attacked the city and set it on fire. The soldiers of Ai were then doomed. With their retreat cut off, they found themselves caught between the two Israelite armies, and were cut to pieces.

After confiscating cattle and other booty, Joshua hanged the Ai’s king and burned the city.

Questions to ponder or discuss
: Does it seem fair that Achan’s children were stoned along with their father? The Bible provides few details, but how would it affect your answer if the children were all adults? What if they were complicit in either stealing or hiding the booty? How likely do you think it was that Achan could have done this without his children’s knowledge? Would their allegiance to God require that they turn their father in?

.Copyright 2018 by Don Davidson

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Understanding the Old Testament

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