Commissioned to lead Israel into Canaan, Joshua sent spies into Jericho who were protected from harm through the efforts of Rahab, a Canaanite woman who feared the Lord (Josh. 2). After crossing the Jordan River, the Israelites came to Jericho where Joshua had an encounter with one whom many consider a pre-incarnate manifestation of the Son of God (chap. 3–5).
Jericho, lying on the outer edge of the Promised Land, was a key city for the Israelites to conquer if they were to possess Canaan, which explains the lengthy treatment of the assault on the city in Joshua 6. As is customary in the ancient world, Jericho was a walled city, the wall being the chief means of defense against hostile armies. With this barrier, Jericho was well-equipped to endure a siege by foreign invaders, for those seeking to take the city had to get past the mighty wall.
Of course, this wall was no match for our formidable Creator, and we are all familiar with how He took it down. The people marched around Jericho with the ark once a day for six days while the priests blew trumpets continually (Josh. 6:1–14). According to God’s instruction, they marched around the city seven times on the seventh day, blowing the trumpet and then giving a shout, after which the walls fell down by the Lord’s power and the people conquered the city, destroying everyone and everything in it except Rahab and her family (vv. 15–27).
This annihilation of even the animals and children has troubled many, but it was not an uncommon practice in ancient wars. More importantly, God as the giver of life has the authority to take it, and in the invasion of Canaan He charged His people to eliminate everything, not because Israel was intrinsically holy but because the pagans in Canaan earned it (Gen. 15:12–21). Yet Joshua and the Israelites did not determine their victims; rather, the Lord directed them to fight a holy war in Canaan limited both in scope and duration. God’s people have never been commanded to slaughter all their enemies on every occasion. Finally, the salvation of Rahab and her household shows that even the holy war against the Canaanites was not absolute. Those willing to turn from sin and serve Yahweh, the true creator God who revealed Himself to Israel, were to be spared.