ARCHAEOLOGY HAS ESTABLISHED the biblical history of Jericho—one of the earliest settlements, dating back to 9000 B.C. Jericho (Arīhā in Arabic) is known today as a tel—an artificial mound formed from the accumulated refuse or deposits of people living on the same site for hundreds or thousands of years—layer upon layer, holding the secrets of settlements or cities which were built on top of one another. It is very similar to a layer cake. Bryant Wood, PhD said, “That’s a very good description, except archaeology is not a piece of cake; it’s a lot of hard work.”(1) For example, archaeology can only reveal what happened, but the why is much more difficult to establish. Very rarely do archaeologists unearth written documentation. This is where collateral written historical accounts become critical to unearthing the why for the what.
The Book of Joshua is a biblical account of what happened there thousands of years ago. When German archaeologists in 1907 excavated the tel that was the City of Jericho, they were able to trace the outside perimeter, and they found the lower retaining wall which was used to hold the earthen embankment in place. The taller city wall made from mud bricks was built on the retaining wall. Early teams that dug Jericho—Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger 1907-09; John Garstang 1930-36; Kathleen Kenyon 1952-58—were able to map what the City probably looked like during the time of Joshua. The site of Jericho was one of the first sites excavated during the birth of biblical archaeology and has been used to support the views of both conservative and critical scholars. Today, we see Jericho as important to the milieu and the overall story of redemption instead of merely calling it a physico/archaeological confirmation of a location.
The story of Joshua leading the Israelites to bring down the walls of Jericho is a powerful account that demonstrates the faithfulness and might of the Lord. It is part of the fulfillment of the greater promise that God made to the Israelites that they indeed would enter the Promised Land.
No other book of the Bible has as much historical data about Jericho than the Book of Joshua. Historian Josephus writes, “…the Hebrews went on farther fifty furlongs, and pitched their camp at the distance of ten furlongs from Jericho… Joshua resolved to besiege [the city].”(2) Priests went forward, blowing their seven trumpets as the army marched around the walls. They did this for six days, and on the seventh they conquered Jericho without a physical assault. The battle of Jericho is one of the bloodiest episodes of the Old Testament. It’s a fantastic example of faith over circumstances, and a critical point in the history of the Israelites following the exodus—but is there any truth behind the story? Archaeologist Bryant Wood, PhD., believes the physical evidence unearthed by archaeologists speaks of the biblical account as true. He calls Jericho an archaeological puzzle waiting to be solved—piece by piece, layer by layer. On re-examining the evidence excavated, Dr. Wood dates the destruction of Jericho at circa 1400 B.C., which matching the biblical account of the Israelite Conquest.
There is plenty of archaeological evidence to show that the mudbrick city wall collapsed and fell at the base of the stone retaining wall at the time the city met its end. Kathleen Kenyon identified “…fallen red bricks piling nearly to the top of the revetment. These probably came from the wall on the summit of the bank [and/or] … the brickwork above the revetment.”(3) Dr. Wood writes, “Within the upper wall was an area of approximately 6 acres, while the total area of the upper city and fortification system together was half again as large, or about 9 acres. Based on the archaeologist’s rule of thumb of 100 persons per acre, the population of the upper city would have been about 600. From excavations carried out by a German team in the first decade of this century, we know that people were also living on the embankment between the upper and lower city walls. In addition, those Canaanites living in surrounding villages would have fled to Jericho for safety. Thus, we can assume that there were several thousand people inside the walls when the Israelites came against the city.”(4)
God Showed Up
Jericho was walled “inside and outside because of the people of Israel” (Jos. 6:1). God said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hands, with its king and mighty men of valor” (6:2). Still, Joshua stood before its formidable walls not certain how he and his army would lay siege. But God—won’t He do it!—gave Joshua specific instructions:
“You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. This shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall mark around the city seven times, and the priests shall blast with 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”(Jos. 6:3-5).
The Book of Joshua reports action-filled conquests of the Israelites defeating the Canaan cities and their obtaining the Promised Land. It also tells of the obedience and faithfulness of the Israelites, and their enjoyment of the Promised Land. And Jericho was their gateway! The fallen walls of Jericho became a key affirmation that God was fulfilling His promise to them, and that He would be with them as they took possession of the Promised Land. For the first six days, the armed men marched around the city one time each morning while the priests had trumpets and carried the ark of the covenant. They did this for six days. On the seventh day, as God instructed, they marched around the city seven times, the priests blew their trumpets, and the army gave a loud shout. Would God have removed the walls if the Israelites marched six days? No. God requires of us our obedience and our faith.
The walls of Jericho should have been impenetrable. Archaeologists have unearthed a ten-foot-high retaining wall around the tel of Jericho that was used to hold back a large earthen embankment. On top of that was a mudbrick wall 6 feet thick and approximately 20 to 26 feet. At the top of the embankment was another mudbrick wall roughly 46 feet in height (see diagram). In total, the height of the city was “fortified up to heaven” (Deut. 9:1).
What is Your Jericho?
Obviously, God is still kicking down walls and removing mountains today. However, as with Joshua and his soldiers, God gives very specific instructions. In fact, He loves obedience more than sacrifice (see 1 Sam. 15:22). We must always come to the end of ourselves and admit that we cannot face our walls and mountains alone. Don’t continue staring at Jericho: you’ve looked long enough. Victory happens when you take your eyes off the enormity of the circumstances and look to God. Surrender and worship God in the middle of the storm. Without worship, we face Jericho all alone. Essentially powerless. Max Lucado writes, “Your Jericho is your fear. Your Jericho is your anger, bitterness, or prejudice. Your insecurity about the future. Your guilt about the past.”(5) We cannot expect to win victory in the midst of negativity, anxiety, criticism, over-analyzing—our Jericho is any attitude that keeps us from pushing through. We cannot live in the Promised Land until we face our Jericho.
Lucado says, “You are a co-heir with Christ. Every attribute of Jesus is at your disposal.”(6) Things are different in Canaan. Addiction does not have the last word. Hurts and hangups have no power. God has promised victory, and He has provided us with weapons for the fight. Lucado tells us to live out our inheritance, not our circumstance. We need to tell our problems how big God is! Scale those walls. Stand against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:11). Wiles in the original Greek is methodeia (μεθοδεία), from which we get the English word “method.” Also defined as “craft” or “deceit.” Organized evil-doing; well-crafted trickery. We are no match for Satan’s tricks without Christ. Our Jerichos are too impenetrable on our own. But Paul speaks of the solution to our dilemma. He writes, “…the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). We are in a spiritual battle.
We need to move away from praying about our strategies for victory, and instead make prayer the strategy. It is through prayer that we access the divine power necessary to knock down walls and remove mountains. We are joint-heirs with Christ; members of the family of God. We can confidently come into His presence and earnestly make our requests known to Him because of what Christ has done. Jesus shed His precious blood for us so we can pour out our hearts to the Father. Jesus said, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him” (Mark 11:22-23). No power or principality can keep us from defeating our Jericho and coming into God’s Promised Land for our lives. Call out to God for help and it shall be done.
Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A.Theological Studies
(1) “Jericho Unearthed: The Archaeology of Jericho Explained, accessed October 11, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C27CmsSGx5Y
(2) Flavius Josephus, The New Complete Works of Josephus, Book 5, chapter 1, section 5 (Grand Rapids, MIL: Kregel Publications, 1999), 167-68.
(3) Kathleen Kenyon and T. A. Holland, Excavations at Jericho, Vol. 3, “The Architecture and Stratigraphy of the Tell” (London: British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem), 1981.
(4) Bryant Wood, Ph.D., “The Walls of Jericho: the Shiloh Excavations,” Associates for Biblical Research (a blog), June 9, 2008, accessed Oct. 17, 2022, https://biblearchaeology.org/research/conquest-of-canaan/3625-the-walls-of-jericho
(5) Max Lucado, Glory Days: Living Your Promised Land Life Now (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2015), 84.
(6) Ibid., 85.