Friday, June 24, 2011

Israel's Marching Orders

How many days did the Israelites march around Jericho? Seven (Joshua 6:15).

The Israelites’ first battle in their conquest of the Promised Land famously came at Jericho (Joshua 6:1-27). Jericho presented the unique problem of being defended by casement walls, a system by which an inner and outer wall running together protected the city.

Foregoing the traditional methods of capturing walled cities that would incorporate scaling ladders and battering rams, God provided the Israelites with a unique strategy. He gave them very explicit instructions to march around the city silently for six days and on the seventh day to circle the town seven times, shout loudly, and await for the walls to fall (Joshua 6:2-5).

This command seems to not only have no logical rationale but drawbacks as it eliminates the element of surprise and could fatigue the soldiers. This tactic has never been utilized before or since.

Have you ever felt God asking you to do something that would appear foolish? Did you do it? What does this say of your faith?

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. (Hebrews 11:30, NASB)

Did the marching serve any strategic function?

In Battles of the Bible, Chaim Herzog (1918-1997) & Mordechai Gichon (b. 1922) theorize that the marching would be seen as a religious progression and after lulling the enemy into a false sense of security for six days, the breaking of the pattern would be shocking on the seventh (p. 48). It would be like a baseball pitcher throwing many pitches in one location and disorienting the batter by changing that spot. There is a later example of this tactic in Julius Sextus Frontinus (40-103)’s Stratagems (I.IV.8) suggesting its use in antiquity.

Military historian Richard A. Gabriel developed his own theory on the marching by reading between the Biblical lines (The Military History of Ancient Israel, p. 131). Gabriel postulates that the army’s protest marches created a diversion allowing special ops forces to enter the city through Rahab’s scarlet cord (Joshua 2:18, 21). He notes that while the Bible says the function of the cord was to indicate which family to spare in the extermination, there would be no need for the cord on the outside of the city as the battle would be fought inside. Instead, Gabriel argues that it signaled the entrance point to the city. After six days of infiltration, a strong contingent would be inside the gates and at the sound of the trumpet could overtake the city from within and open the gates. Gabriel interprets the walls tumbling down as a metaphor for the city’s defenses depleting. While Gabriel plays fast and loose with the Biblical text, he does provide a military reason for the Israelites’ marching orders.

Did the marching serve any function or was it merely a way for God to test the faith of God’s people? Do God’s mandates have a practical function or are they arbitrary?

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