The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 45: The Fall of Jericho
As the army completed its seventh circuit around the city, the trumpets broke forth in a blast, and the massive walls of solid stone crashed down to the earth.
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The Hebrews had entered Canaan, but they had not subdued
it; and to human appearance the struggle to gain possession
of the land must be long and difficult. It was inhabited by a
powerful race, who stood ready to oppose the invasion of their
territory. The various tribes were bound together by the fear of a
common danger. Their horses and iron battle chariots, their
knowledge of the country, and their training in war, would give
them great advantage. Furthermore, the country was guarded
by fortresses—"cities great and fenced up to heaven." Deuteronomy
9:1. Only in the assurance of a strength not their own could
the Israelites hope for success in the impending conflict.
One of the strongest fortresses in the land—the large and
wealthy city of Jericho—lay just before them, but a little distance
from their camp at Gilgal. On the border of a fertile plain
abounding with the rich and varied productions of the tropics,
its palaces and temples the abode of luxury and vice, this proud
city, behind its massive battlements, offered defiance to the God
of Israel. Jericho was one of the principal seats of idol worship,
being especially devoted to Ashtaroth, the goddess of the moon.
Here centered all that was vilest and most degrading in the
religion of the Canaanites. The people of Israel, in whose minds
were fresh the fearful results of their sin at Beth-peor, could look
upon this heathen city only with disgust and horror.
To reduce Jericho was seen by Joshua to be the first step in
the conquest of Canaan. But first of all he sought an assurance
of divine guidance, and it was granted him. Withdrawing from
the encampment to meditate and to pray that the God of Israel
would go before His people, he beheld an armed warrior, of
lofty stature and commanding presence, "with his sword drawn
in his hand." To Joshua's challenge, "Art thou for us, or for [p. 488] our adversaries?" the answer was given, "As Captain of the host
of the Lord am I now come." The same command given to
Moses in Horeb, "Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the
place whereon thou standest is holy," revealed the true character
of the mysterious stranger. It was Christ, the Exalted One, who
stood before the leader of Israel. Awe-stricken, Joshua fell upon
his face and worshiped, and heard the assurance, "I have given
into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty
men of valor," and he received instruction for the capture of
In obedience to the divine command Joshua marshaled the
armies of Israel. No assault was to be made. They were simply
to make the circuit of the city, bearing the ark of God and blowing
upon trumpets. First came the warriors, a body of chosen
men, not now to conquer by their own skill and prowess, but by
obedience to the directions given them from God. Seven priests
with trumpets followed. Then the ark of God, surrounded by a
halo of divine glory, was borne by priests clad in the dress denoting
their sacred office. The army of Israel followed, each tribe
under its standard. Such was the procession that compassed the
doomed city. No sound was heard but the tread of that mighty
host and the solemn peal of the trumpets, echoing among the
hills and resounding through the streets of Jericho. The circuit
completed, the army returned in silence to their tents, and the
ark was restored to its place in the tabernacle.
With wonder and alarm the watchmen of the city marked
every move, and reported to those in authority. They knew not
the meaning of all this display; but when they beheld that mighty
host marching around their city once each day, with the sacred
ark and the attendant priests, the mystery of the scene struck
terror to the hearts of priest and people. Again they would
inspect their strong defenses, feeling certain they could successfully
resist the most powerful attack. Many ridiculed the thought that
any harm could come to them through these singular demonstrations.
Others were awed as they beheld the procession that each
day wound about the city. They remembered that the Red Sea
had once parted before this people, and that a passage had just
been opened for them through the river Jordan. They knew not
what further wonders God might work for them.
For six days the host of Israel made the circuit of the city.
The seventh day came, and with the first dawn of light, Joshua
marshaled the armies of the Lord. Now they were directed to [p. 491] march seven times around Jericho, and at a mighty peal from
the trumpets to shout with a loud voice, for God had given
them the city.
The vast army marched solemnly around the devoted walls.
All was silent, save the measured tread of many feet, and the
occasional sound of the trumpet, breaking the stillness of the early
morning. The massive walls of solid stone seemed to defy the
siege of men. The watchers on the walls looked on with rising
fear, as, the first circuit ended, there followed a second, then a
third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth. What could be the object of these
mysterious movements? What mighty event was impending?
They had not long to wait. As the seventh circuit was completed,
the long procession paused. The trumpets, which for an interval
had been silent, now broke forth in a blast that shook the very
earth. The walls of solid stone, with their massive towers and
battlements, tottered and heaved from their foundations, and
with a crash fell in ruin to the earth. The inhabitants of Jericho
were paralyzed with terror, and the hosts of Israel marched in
and took possession of the city.
The Israelites had not gained the victory by their own power;
the conquest had been wholly the Lord's; and as the first fruits
of the land, the city, with all that it contained, was to be
devoted as a sacrifice to God. It was to be impressed upon Israel
that in the conquest of Canaan they were not to fight for themselves,
but simply as instruments to execute the will of God; not
to seek for riches or self-exaltation, but the glory of Jehovah
their King. Before the capture the command had been given,
"The city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein."
"Keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves
accursed . . . and make the camp of Israel a curse, and
All the inhabitants of the city, with every living thing that
it contained, "both man and woman, young and old, and ox,
and sheep, and ass," were put to the sword. Only faithful
Rahab, with her household, was spared, in fulfillment of the
promise of the spies. The city itself was burned; its palaces and
temples, its magnificent dwellings with all their luxurious
appointments, the rich draperies and the costly garments, were
given to the flames. That which could not be destroyed by fire,
"the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron,"
was to be devoted to the service of the tabernacle. The very
site of the city was accursed; Jericho was never to be rebuilt [p. 492] as a stronghold; judgments were threatened upon anyone who
should presume to restore the walls that divine power had cast
down. The solemn declaration was made in the presence of all
Israel, "Cursed be the man before the Lord, that riseth up and
buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof
in his first-born, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates
The utter destruction of the people of Jericho was but a
fulfillment of the commands previously given through Moses
concerning the inhabitants of Canaan: "Thou shalt smite them, and
utterly destroy them." Deuteronomy 7:2. "Of the cities of these
people, . . . thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth."
Deuteronomy 20:16. To many these commands seem to be contrary
to the spirit of love and mercy enjoined in other portions of
the Bible, but they were in truth the dictates of infinite
wisdom and goodness. God was about to establish Israel in Canaan,
to develop among them a nation and government that should be
a manifestation of His kingdom upon the earth. They were not
only to be inheritors of the true religion, but to disseminate
its principles throughout the world. The Canaanites had
abandoned themselves to the foulest and most debasing heathenism,
and it was necessary that the land should be cleared of
what would so surely prevent the fulfillment of God's gracious
The inhabitants of Canaan had been granted ample opportunity
for repentance. Forty years before, the opening of the Red
Sea and the judgments upon Egypt had testified to the supreme
power of the God of Israel. And now the overthrow of the kings
of Midian, of Gilead and Bashan, had further shown that Jehovah
was above all gods. The holiness of His character and His
abhorrence of impurity had been evinced in the judgments
visited upon Israel for their participation in the abominable rites
of Baalpeor. All these events were known to the inhabitants of
Jericho, and there were many who shared Rahab's conviction,
though they refused to obey it, that Jehovah, the God of Israel,
"is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath." Like
the men before the Flood, the Canaanites lived only to
blaspheme Heaven and defile the earth. And both love and justice
demanded the prompt execution of these rebels against God and
foes to man.
How easily the armies of heaven brought down the walls of [p. 493] Jericho, that proud city whose bulwarks, forty years before, had
struck terror to the unbelieving spies! Thy Mighty One of Israel
had said, "I have given into thine hand Jericho." Against that
word human strength was powerless.
"By faith the walls of Jericho fell down." Hebrews 11:30. The
Captain of the Lord's host communicated only with Joshua; He
did not reveal Himself to all the congregation, and it rested
with them to believe or doubt the words of Joshua, to obey the
commands given by him in the name of the Lord, or to deny his
authority. They could not see the host of angels who attended
them under the leadership of the Son of God. They might have
reasoned: "What unmeaning movements are these, and how
ridiculous the performance of marching daily around the walls
of the city, blowing trumpets of rams' horns. This can have
no effect upon those towering fortifications." But the very plan
of continuing this ceremony through so long a time prior to
the final overthrow of the walls afforded opportunity for the
development of faith among the Israelites. It was to be impressed
upon their minds that their strength was not in the wisdom of
man, nor in his might, but only in the God of their salvation.
They were thus to become accustomed to relying wholly upon
their divine Leader.
God will do great things for those who trust in Him. The
reason why His professed people have no greater strength is
that they trust so much to their own wisdom, and do not give the
Lord an opportunity to reveal His power in their behalf. He
will help His believing children in every emergency if they will
place their entire confidence in Him and faithfully obey him.
Soon after the fall of Jericho, Joshua determined to attack Ai,
a small town among the ravines a few miles to the west of the
Jordan Valley. Spies sent to this place brought back the report
that the inhabitants were but few, and that only a small force
would be needed to overthrow it.
The great victory that God had gained for them had made
the Israelites self-confident. Because He had promised them the
land of Canaan they felt secure, and failed to realize that divine
help alone could give them success. Even Joshua laid his plans
for the conquest of Ai without seeking counsel from God.
The Israelites had begun to exalt their own strength and to
look with contempt upon their foes. An easy victory was expected,
and three thousand men were thought sufficient to take [p. 494] the place. These rushed to the attack without the assurance that
God would be with them. They advanced nearly to the gate of
the city, only to encounter the most determined resistance.
Panic-stricken at the numbers and thorough preparation of their
enemies, they fled in confusion down the steep descent. The
Canaanites were in hot pursuit; "they chased them from before
the gate, . . . and smote them in the going down." Though the
loss was small as to numbers—but thirty-six men being slain—the
defeat was disheartening to the whole congregation. "The
hearts of the people melted, and became as water." This was the
first time they had met the Canaanites in actual battle, and if put
to flight before the defenders of this little town, what would be
the result in the greater conflicts before them? Joshua looked
upon their ill success as an expression of God's displeasure, and
in distress and apprehension he "rent his clothes, and fell to the
earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide,
he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads."
"Alas, O Lord God," he cried, "wherefore hast Thou at all
brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of
the Amorites, to destroy us? . . . O Lord, what shall I say, when
Israel turneth their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites
and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall
environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and
what wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?"
The answer from Jehovah was, "Get thee up; wherefore liest
thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath . . . transgressed My
covenant which I commanded them." It was a time for prompt and
decided action, and not for despair and lamentation. There was
secret sin in the camp, and it must be searched out and put away
before the presence and blessing of the Lord could be with His
people. "Neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy
the accursed from among you."
God's command had been disregarded by one of those appointed
to execute His judgments. And the nation was held
accountable for the guilt of the transgressor: "They have even
taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled
also." Instruction was given to Joshua for the discovery and
punishment of the criminal. The lot was to be employed for the
detection of the guilty. The sinner was not directly pointed out,
the matter being left in doubt for a time, that the people might [p. 495] feel their responsibility for the sins existing among them, and
thus be led to searching of heart and humiliation before God.
Early in the morning, Joshua gathered the people together
by their tribes, and the solemn and impressive ceremony began.
Step by step the investigation went on. Closer and still closer
came the fearful test. First the tribe, then the family, then the
household, then the man was taken, and Achan the son of Carmi,
of the tribe of Judah, was pointed out by the finger of God as
the troubler of Israel.
To establish his guilt beyond all question, leaving no ground
for the charge that he had been unjustly condemned, Joshua
solemnly adjured Achan to acknowledge the truth. The wretched
man made full confession of his crime: "Indeed I have sinned
against the Lord God of Israel. . . . When I saw among the spoils
a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver,
and a wedge of gold of fifty shekel's weight, then I coveted them,
and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the
midst of my tent." Messengers were immediately dispatched to
the tent, where they removed the earth at the place specified, and
"behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it. And they
took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto
Joshua, . . . and laid them out before the Lord."
Sentence was pronounced and immediately executed. "Why
hast thou troubled us?" said Joshua, "the Lord shall trouble thee
this day." As the people had been held responsible for Achan's
sin, and had suffered from its consequences, they were, through
their representatives, to take part in its punishment. "All Israel
stoned him with stones."
Then there was raised over him a great pile of stones—a
witness to the sin and its punishment. "Wherefore the name of that
place was called, The valley of Achor," that is, "trouble." In the
book of Chronicles his memorial is written—"Achar, the troubler
of Israel." 1 Chronicles 2:7.
Achan's sin was committed in defiance of the most direct
and solemn warnings and the most mighty manifestations of
God's power. "Keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye
make yourselves accursed," had been the proclamation to all
Israel. The command was given immediately after the miraculous
passage of the Jordan, and the recognition of God's covenant
by the circumcision of the people—after the observance of the [p. 496] Passover, and the appearance of the Angel of the covenant, the
Captain of the Lord's host. It had been followed by the overthrow
of Jericho, giving evidence of the destruction which will
surely overtake all transgressors of God's law. The fact that
divine power alone had given the victory to Israel, that they had
not come into possession of Jericho by their own strength, gave
solemn weight to the command prohibiting them from partaking
of the spoils. God, by the might of His own word, had overthrown
this stronghold; the conquest was His, and to Him alone
the city with all that it contained was to be devoted.
Of the millions of Israel there was but one man who, in that
solemn hour of triumph and of judgment, had dared to transgress
the command of God. Achan's covetousness was excited by the
sight of that costly robe of Shinar; even when it had brought him
face to face with death he called it "a goodly Babylonish garment."
One sin had led to another, and he appropriated the gold and
silver devoted to the treasury of the Lord—he robbed God of the
first fruits of the land of Canaan.
The deadly sin that led to Achan's ruin had its root in covetousness,
of all sins one of the most common and the most lightly
regarded. While other offenses meet with detection and punishment,
how rarely does the violation of the tenth commandment
so much as call forth censure. The enormity of this sin, and its
terrible results, are the lessons of Achan's history.
Covetousness is an evil of gradual development. Achan had
cherished greed of gain until it became a habit, binding him in
fetters well-nigh impossible to break. While fostering this evil,
he would have been filled with horror at the thought of bringing
disaster upon Israel; but his perceptions were deadened by sin,
and when temptation came, he fell an easy prey.
Are not similar sins still committed, in the face of warnings
as solemn and explicit? We are as directly forbidden to indulge
covetousness as was Achan to appropriate the spoils of Jericho.
God has declared it to be idolatry. We are warned, "Ye cannot
serve God and mammon." Matthew 6:24. "Take heed, and beware
of covetousness." Luke 12:15. "Let it not be once named
among you." Ephesians 5:3. We have before us the fearful doom
of Achan, of Judas, of Ananias and Sapphira. Back of all these
we have that of Lucifer, the "son of the morning," who, coveting [p. 497] a higher state, forfeited forever the brightness and bliss of
heaven. And yet, notwithstanding all these warnings, covetousness
Everywhere its slimy track is seen. It creates discontent and
dissension in families; it excites envy and hatred in the poor
against the rich; it prompts the grinding oppression of the rich
toward the poor. And this evil exists not in the world alone, but
in the church. How common even here to find selfishness, avarice,
overreaching, neglect of charities, and robbery of God "in tithes
and offerings." Among church members "in good and regular
standing" there are, alas! many Achans. Many a man comes
statedly to church, and sits at the table of the Lord, while among
his possessions are hidden unlawful gains, the things that God
has cursed. For a goodly Babylonish garment, multitudes sacrifice
the approval of conscience and their hope of heaven. Multitudes
barter their integrity, and their capabilities for usefulness, for a
bag of silver shekels. The cries of the suffering poor are
unheeded; the gospel light is hindered in its course; the scorn of
worldlings is kindled by practices that give the lie to the Christian
profession; and yet the covetous professor continues to heap
up treasures. "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me"
(Malachi 3:8), saith the Lord.
Achan's sin brought disaster upon the whole nation. For one
man's sin the displeasure of God will rest upon His church till
the transgression is searched out and put away. The influence
most to be feared by the church is not that of open opposers,
infidels, and blasphemers, but of inconsistent professors of Christ.
These are the ones that keep back the blessing of the God of
Israel and bring weakness upon His people.
When the church is in difficulty, when coldness and spiritual
declension exist, giving occasion for the enemies of God to
triumph, then, instead of folding their hands and lamenting their
unhappy state, let its members inquire if there is not an Achan
in the camp. With humiliation and searching of heart, let each
seek to discover the hidden sins that shut out God's presence.
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Achan acknowledged his guilt, but when it was too late for
the confession to benefit himself. He had seen the armies of
Israel return from Ai defeated and disheartened; yet he did not
come forward and confess his sin. He had seen Joshua and the [p. 498] elders of Israel bowed to the earth in grief too great for words.
Had he then made confession, he would have given some proof
of true penitence; but he still kept silence. He had listened to the
proclamation that a great crime had been committed, and had
even heard its character definitely stated. But his lips were sealed.
Then came the solemn investigation. How his soul thrilled with
terror as he saw his tribe pointed out, then his family and his
household! But still he uttered no confession, until the finger of
God was placed upon him. Then, when his sin could no longer
be concealed, he admitted the truth. How often are similar
confessions made. There is a vast difference between admitting facts
after they have been proved and confessing sins known only to
ourselves and to God. Achan would not have confessed had he
not hoped by so doing to avert the consequences of his crime.
But his confession only served to show that his punishment was
just. There was no genuine repentance for sin, no contrition, no
change of purpose, no abhorrence of evil.
So confessions will be made by the guilty when they stand
before the bar of God, after every case has been decided for life
or death. The consequences to result to himself will draw from
each an acknowledgment of his sin. It will be forced from the
soul by an awful sense of condemnation and a fearful looking for
of judgment. But such confessions cannot save the sinner.
So long as they can conceal their transgressions from their
fellow men, many, like Achan, feel secure, and flatter themselves
that God will not be strict to mark iniquity. All too late their
sins will find them out in that day when they shall not be purged
with sacrifice or offering forever. When the records of heaven
shall be opened, the Judge will not in words declare to man his
guilt, but will cast one penetrating, convicting glance, and every
deed, every transaction of life, will be vividly impressed upon the
memory of the wrongdoer. The person will not, as in Joshua's
day, need to be hunted out from tribe to family, but his own lips
will confess his shame. The sins hidden from the knowledge of
men will then be proclaimed to the whole world.
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"The Blessings and the Curses"