This article has been adapted from Nancy Guthrie’s new 10-week Bible study, The Son of David: Seeing Jesus in the Historical Books (Crossway, 2013).
To say the least, the battle plan given to Joshua as he led God’s people to take possession of the Promised Land was unconventional:
You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him. (Joshua 6:3-5)
Ancient battles were characterized by noise—not only the sounds of clashing swords and horses’ hooves but also the yells and chants of opposing armies seeking to intimidate one another with their bravado. But every day for six days the Israelites got up and marched around Jericho’s walls in absolute silence. The Canaanites inside the walls of Jericho must have felt a growing sense of dread over the days of silent marching, sensing something terrible might happen. They were right to be afraid because, finally, the seventh day came.
So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. (Joshua 6:20-21)
Judgement Delivered by Our Greater Joshua
Here in the Book of Joshua, we have a picture of the way our greater Joshua will lead us into God’s land at the end of human history—with a shout and the sound of trumpets. As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:16-17)
This Old Testament historical narrative points beyond itself to the way our greater Joshua will deliver judgment on that day when all who persist in wickedness and unbelief will be “devoted to destruction.” On that great and terrible day when Christ returns, all those who have rejected his shed blood and perfect righteousness as their only hope will suffer the same fate as those who lived in Jericho. Rich and poor, great and small, young and old will face God’s fury when the commander of the Lord’s armies, who led the armies of Israel to kill every inhabitant of Jericho, will bring complete and final destruction on the city of man.
Mercy Made Possible by Our Greater Joshua
But this book that paints a picture of divine judgment on the Canaanites is also quick to ensure we see what happens to those who deserve judgment but cry out for mercy.
But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day. (Joshua 6:25)
Wait a minute. A prostitute and her family are the only people in Jericho spared? Who is this woman, and why is she “saved alive”? Joshua 2 recounts the story of two spies sent to Jericho before the rest of the Israelites crossed into Canaan. They made their way to the kind of place where an outsider might be able to go unnoticed while gleaning information about the city—the home, or inn, of a prostitute named Rahab.
Apparently, however, their presence didn’t go unnoticed. The king sent emissaries to Rahab’s home who demanded the two spies be brought out. At that point Rahab had a difficult decision to make. If she turned the two men over, she’d likely be rewarded. If she hid them, she’d be committing treason against Jericho and its king and, if discovered, would be put to death. But that is what she did, the risk she took. Why would she do that?
Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. (Joshua 2:8-11)
Word had reached Canaan about what Yahweh had done to bring his people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, as well as the victories he’d granted them over everyone who stood in their way. This made the Canaanites afraid of the Israelites, because they were afraid of Israel’s God. But evidently it did a deeper work in Rahab than merely producing terror. While the hearts of the rest of the people melted in fear, Rahab’s was melted into faith. She came to believe Yahweh was going to give the land to his people—something even the people of Israel were having a hard time believing—and she wanted in on God’s grace and goodness.
The judgment on the Canaanite city of Jericho was horrific, but someone was spared. And it wasn’t the most upstanding, most impressive, most religious, or most important person. It was the one who believed what God said and sought to come under his promise of grace for sinners. For anyone and everyone who seeks God’s mercy while it may be found, a salvation identical to Rahab’s is not only a possibility—but a certainty.