The Battle of Jericho

Joshua 2-6

The Biblical account of the battle of Jericho begins in Joshua chapter 2, when Joshua sends out spies into ancient Jericho.

The Bible says that Joshua and the Israelites were encamped at Shittim, and the spies were sent out from this town.

Shittim lies approximately 10 miles (16km) east of the River Jordan, and approximately 15 miles (24km) east of Jericho. The Bible lists the fighting men of Israel at 40,000 (Josh. 4:13). However, the number of troops involved in the battle of Jericho is another controversy.

This controversy centers around the Hebrew word Eleph, which is usually translated as "thousand". However, the word has had a number of different meanings and uses throughout its Semantic history.

It was originally connected to "head of cattle", signifying its application of a village unit, or population unit within an agricultural based society.

Next, the word was used to describe the quota of men a village, or clan, was required to produce for the military (originally a very small number).

Finally, the word became a technical term to describe a military unit of significant size.

Battle of Jericho Contents

A map of Jericho and its neighboring cities.

Click on a link to view that section of this page.

The Setting

Map of Joshua's Spies

Map of the Battle

Joshua's Warpath

Concerning the battle of Jericho, the word is translated as "thousand", producing the number 40,000 fighting men. Critics of this interpretation claim it should be translated as a military unit, though significant in size, not literally 40,000 fighting men.

If the number 40,000 fighting men is taken as the original intent of the author, then the number of Israelites coming out of Egypt would have numbered between 2 million, to 2.5 million; men, women, and children.

This would have not counted the amount of livestock, and other members not included among the number of Israelites that made the journey. Some of these men would have participated on the Israelite side in the battle of Jericho.

However, if one allows for an error in copying, and a misinterpretation of the word eleph, then the number of fighting men in Israel, and the population of ancient Israel itself, is more manageable. Regardless, the battle of Jericho involved thousands of people.

Without going into great detail, proponents of this theory have ranged the number of fighting men in Israel, at the time of the Exodus and conquest, from 5,000 to 8,000 men.

The total population at the battle of Jericho, then, is numbered from 20,000 to 40,000 men, women, and children, Israelites only. More would have actually fought.

Evidence suggests that the Exodus was a heterogeneous mix of peoples. People not of Israelite blood would not have been counted among the Israelites, though they were part of the group.

Rahab and her household became part of this group. The actual number of people traveling, thus, would have been much larger.

The ancient remains of King Herod's palace attest to its extravagance and beauty at the time.

This number seems to fit ancient records of other countries. For example, at the height of the Egyptian empire, the standing ancient Egyptian army numbered 20,000 fighting men.

In any case, the King of Jericho would have noticed the mass of people encamped opposite the Jordan.

Jericho, though a small city in size, exerted a mighty influence in the region. This influence would have easily spread the approximately 15 or so miles eastward to the Israelite camp, and into the plains of Moab.

Upon the sight of so many people, and the news of their previous victories, peoples from miles around would have fled to the city of Jericho for protection. The imminent battle of Jericho loomed over the region like a storm cloud.

Though small in stature, Jericho possessed extremely heavy fortifications, and could have easily survived a siege of perhaps up to a year or so.

Local village residents fared a much better chance of survival by fleeing to the protection of the walls of Jericho. The battle of Jericho would have influenced the entire region's political and social structure.

As the spies stealthily crept into ancient Jericho, they entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab (2:1). Jericho apparently possessed keen intelligence spies.

The Route Joshua's Spies Took to Enter Jericho

Scripture tells the King of Jericho became aware of the spies presence at Rahab's house. He takes some of his men, and confronts Rahab as to the spies whereabouts.

Joshua 2:4-5

"But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them, and she said, 'Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And it came about, when it was time to shut the gate, at dark, that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them."

Rahab reported that the men had left before the city gates had closed, and then sent the King and his men on a wild goose chase. In truth, she had hid them on the roof of her house (2:2-7).

Rahab seemed to sense the outcome of the pending battle of Jericho in advance. She chose to side with the Israelite spies, despite the appearance Jericho would prevail.

After she deceived the King, Rahab retrieved the spies and pleaded with them to spare her and her family in the upcoming battle of Jericho. The two spies agree to her request.

They tell her to hang a scarlet chord outside of her window, identifying her house, thus, enabling the Israelite army to spare those inside.

After they bargain for her safety, she then lowered the spies out of her window to the ground below. Rahab surely began immediate preparations for the upcoming battle of Jericho.

Joshua 2:15 will prove to be a truly remarkable verse. It reads:

"So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall."

The spies then returned to Joshua, and reported all that had happened. Joshua, apparently satisfied with their report, moved the Israelite camp from Shittim, to the edge of the Jordan, where they encamped before crossing (3:1).

The Bible tells us they spent 3 days at this campsite before the battle of Jericho. Joshua received more instruction from the Lord in regards to the impending invasion and how it would occur. He sent the officers throughout the camp, instructing the people as to what was about to happen.

Joshua 3:3-4 depicts the orders given to the people:

"When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites , carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it."
A Satellite Image of the likely Spot Joshua Crossed the Jordan

The power of the ark is seen here, as Joshua warned the people to stay "1,000 yards", or over 1/2 mile (900m), behind it!

After the 3rd day, the Israelites set out to cross the Jordan. The Levites carried the ark ahead of the people, per instruction from the Lord.

Joshua 3:15 states that the Jordan was at flood stage, as it remained so throughout the time of the harvest.

This verse, along with 2:15, seemingly provide information which is irrelevant to the invasion, yet, becomes monumentally important when examining the archaeology.

As the Ark of the Covenant, and the priests carrying it, touched the flood high waters of the Jordan, God provided a miracle for the Israelites.

Joshua 3:16

"that the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho."

God had demonstrated to the entire nation that He was with Joshua, just as He had been with Moses, when some 40 years earlier the waters of the Reed Sea had been parted on the way out of Egypt.

After they crossed the Jordan, Joshua chose twelve men to erect twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan to memorialize the event. The twelve stones apparently stood for quite some time afterward, as a sign of God's provision.

Once Joshua had finished the monument, God gave him further orders. The Israelites pitched camp, and were circumcised. God had tested them, and their obedience led God to "roll away the reproach of Egypt" (5:9), a consequence of the previous generation's disobedience in the desert.

The Israelites were circumcised at "Gibeath-haaraloth", or, "the hill of foreskins". God's people were now in full compliance with His decrees. The place became known as Gilgal; "on the eastern border of Jericho. (4:19)". After their circumcision, the Israelites celebrated the Passover (5:10-12).

A Map of the Battle of Jericho

The Bible tells us on the fourteenth day of the month they celebrated the Passover. Their celebration must have seemed eerily strange from on top the towering walls of Jericho. On the fifteenth day, they ate from the land of Canaan. On the sixteenth day, for the first time in forty years, the manna did not appear.

God had cut off the provision of manna, for now they ate "of the produce of the land of Canaan". As God had delivered them out of the land of Egypt, He was now going to deliver them into the land of Canaan.

Joshua 5:13-15 records an interesting encounter.

"Now, when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand.Joshua went up to him and asked, 'Are you for us, or for our enemies?' 'Neither,' he replied, 'but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.' Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence and asked him, 'What message does my Lord have for his servant?' The commander of the Lord's army replied, 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.' And Joshua did so."

The Bible doesn't say what Joshua was doing. We are told he was "near Jericho", and nothing more. Perhaps he had finished walking through camp, checking on the people and supplies. He was aware the battle of Jericho was days away, at the most, and wanted to make last minute

Maybe he had been scouting the land around Jericho, looking for any potential ambush sites. More than likely, Joshua had been in prayer with the Lord. His strategy was the key to victory in the battle of Jericho.

The appearance of this visitor was sudden. Apparently Joshua did not recognize the man's uniform, only that he had a drawn sword in his hand.

It is interesting that Joshua's reaction was not one of alarm, but rather curiosity. He asked the sudden visitor which side was he for. The soldier answered, "Neither..". He was the commander of the army of the Lord, perhaps suggestive of the archangel Michael.

Computerized Image of the Walls of Jericho

Jude 9 mentions that the archangel Michael had disputed with the devil himself over the body of Moses. Michael is also associated with Christ's second coming in 1 Thess. 4:16. It is also Michael who battles the fallen Watchers in the book of Enoch , again per God's divine instructions.

Leading the Israelites in the battle of Jericho would certainly fit a mission Michael would be assigned. Michael's sole concern are his orders from God. The battle of Jericho is not man's fight, but God's.

The Lord then commanded Joshua as to how to structure the invasion. The "armed guard" (6:9) was to march first in line.

They were followed by seven priests, carrying "trumpets of rams' horns" (6:4).

These trumpets were blown continuously throughout the march around the walls of Jericho. The priests responsible for the ark of the covenant followed behind, with the "rear guard" (6:9) behind them. The battle of Jericho was to be a very structured invasion, and Joshua must adhere strictly to God's orders.

Scripture is not exactly clear as to the rest of the procession, but it is common belief the rest of the Israelites fell in behind the rear guard.

Joshua was very precise in his instructions to the Israelites. Their role in the battle of Jericho was to march, in procession, once around the city, once a day. They were to do this for six days, with the trumpets blowing continuously as they marched.

The people were to march in this fashion once a day, for six days, with the trumpets blowing.

Yet, Joshua instructed the people; "Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!"

Scripture records that on the seventh day, the Israelites:

"got up at daybreak, and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times." (6:15)

Once again, Joshua had been very clear in his instructions. After the seventh time they marched around the walls of Jericho, after the trumpet blasted, Joshua would give the order, and the people were to give a war cry.

God would then tumble the walls of Jericho, and give the city to His people. The battle of Jericho was to be God's battle all the way. All He required was faithful obedience.

Joshua issued orders that nothing was to be touched, or taken, except the things that had been devoted to the Lord. All people, men, women and children, young, and old, were to be killed.

A Map of Joshua's Warpath in the Battle of Jericho

The silver, gold, bronze, and iron were to go into the Lord's treasury. The devastation was to be complete.

Only Rahab, and all who were under her roof, were to be spared.

On the seventh day, after the seventh time around the walls of Jericho, Joshua gave the command, and the Israelites gave a shout.

The Bible says, "the wall fell down flat" . The Hebrew suggests that the city walls of Jericho fell beneath themselves. The walls of Jericho fall upon themselves. In fact, excavations have shown that the bricks from the collapsed walls of Jericho formed a ramp against the retaining wall.

The Israelites simply; "went up into the city, every man before himself" (6:20).

The destruction following the battle of Jericho was complete. The Israelite army destroyed every living thing. They killed every man, woman, and child. They burnt the entire city, save for the Lord's treasure.

They displayed their extraordinary discipline as a complete army. For an army to completely destroy Jericho as Israel did, requires remarkable coherence and synchronization. Israel possessed a well trained, highly disciplined, and fast attacking army.

Joshua 6:21

"And they utterly destroyed everything in the city, both mand and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword."

In Joshua 6:24, they complete the destruction by burning Jericho.

"And they burned the city with fire, and all that was in it. Only the silver and gold and articles of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord."

To conclude the decisive battle of Jericho, Joshua cast a curse on the ancient city in the waning verses of chapter 6. This curse concluded the Biblical account of Jericho's role in the conquest of the Promised Land.

"Cursed before the Lord is the man who rises up and builds this city Jericho; with the loss of his first-born he shall lay its foundation, and with the loss of his youngest son he shall set up its gates."

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE BATTLE OF JERICHO Do you study ancient military battles? What are your thoughts about Joshua? Click to give your insight, thoughts, comments, and questions on this most remarkable Israelite victory!

Study Resource

From the Cities of the Biblical World series, John Bartlett presents the most recent archaeological finds in Jericho for the general reader, the student, and the tourist. This thorough and easy to read book explores Jericho throughout the whole of the Bible, and seeks the archaeology behind those events! Click on the link below to re-direct to and view Jericho!

Jericho, Cities of the Biblical World

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