Jordan River and enter the Promised Land… to circumcise themselves? Who would begin a military conquest by inflicting themselves with a surgery that will require a few days of recovery? Then they stop to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
But, won’t that give their enemies more time to prepare for battle?
These and other details of Joshua 5 – 6 seem unusual and counterproductive if we look at them from a modern military perspective. But if we remember Numbers 31 and the lesson about war as a ritual, a holy act commanded by Yahweh
and fulfilled in obedience just like the offering of a sacrifice, then the details of this battle make more sense.
First, the battle is not directed by Joshua and the Israelites but by Yahweh, represented by the man with a drawn sword in his hand (Joshua 5:13-15). Joshua,
the leader of the entire army of Israel, responds in the appropriate way – not by suggesting a strategy, or by standing at the side of this man and drawing his sword, too – but by prostrating himself on the ground in worship and removing his sandals from his feet in complete submission.
Second, just like the battle against Midian in Numbers 31, they bring the tabernacle vessels, in this case the Ark of the Covenant, to demonstrate Yahweh’s Presence as a Warrior fighting against His enemies. This is not so much a battle of Israel against Jericho as it is Yahweh against Jericho. Instead of using the forces of nature to destroy them as He did against Sodom and Gomorrah or against Egypt, He uses the army of His holy nation.
Third, the Israelites treat Jericho like a whole burnt offering sacrificed to Yahweh: every living thing in the city was destroyed by the sword, both people and animals and then the entire city was consumed in flames. In obedience to the rules in Numbers 31, everything that passed through the fire was made clean and in this case, put into the treasury of the tabernacle.
If we recognize the ritual aspect of the battle, the salvation of Rahab and her family becomes even more breathtaking. According to the law, they should have been destroyed with the rest of the city. More than just a favor returned, their lives are saved from Yahweh’s just wrath, protected by His mercy. Even in the midst of His just judgment, Yahweh once again preserves a remnant whose faith rests in Him, just as He did for Noah and his family, for Lot and his family, for all the
Israelites when they passed through the Red Sea and for Joshua and Caleb when
they left the wilderness and entered the Promised Land. Through Rahab and her family we see again that faith in Yahweh’s word is the appropriate response of His genuine believers as the hour of burning judgment approaches.