Why did God order the destruction of the city of Jericho in Joshua 6:21-25?


4 Answers 4


Why did God order the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 6)?

Answer: The "full measure of their sins" had been accomplished.

Some of this was foretold to Abraham hundreds of years earlier. Much of Jericho's crimes may have paralleled those of the Antediluvian world during the time of Noah. The result of that was the Flood. A bit later in Abraham's time, Sodom and Gomorrah were incinerated (Gen. 19). Should we disbelieve God by suggesting there was insufficient reason for their having filled up the measure of His wrath?

Here is a sample of what God spoke to Abraham over 400 years earlier:

Genesis 15:13b-16: "[Your] descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions... 16Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (emphasis added).

Mention here of "the Amorite" probably represents all Canaan. To understand God's judgment against any nation, we need to recognize the great amount of time He actually provided for all of them to repent of their heinous deeds. In the case of Canaan and all the surrounding nations, God allowed over 400 years to elapse before bringing destruction. Here is a description from the Book of Leviticus that enumerates a tiny fraction of the crimes these people committed:

Leviticus 18:21-25: "'You shall not give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the LORD. 22‘You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. 23‘Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion. 24‘Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. 25‘For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants."

At the very least, we have:

  1. Sacrificing young children to idols (18:21, burning them alive to Molech);
  2. Profane the name of your God (18:21);
  3. Lying with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination (18:22);
  4. Having intercourse with animals (18:23);
  5. Women having sex with animals (18:23);

Note that even the animals had become defiled by such depravity; this is why they too had to be destroyed. We further read:

Deuteronomy 9:4: "When the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say in your heart, 'Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land.' Rather, the LORD is driving out these nations before you because of their wickedness" (emphasis added).

There is more:

Deuteronomy 18:9-12: 9“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. 10There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you" (emphasis added).

This was, no doubt, the "tip of the iceberg"; there were surely many other abominations that all of the cities of Canaan practiced — including Jericho. God has likely only scratched the surface of the deviance and barbarity of these people.

Imagine those of ISIS today, brutally murdering innocent men, women, and children using a large cargo truck to inflict as much carnage as possible. Would these people not deserve to be thoroughly wiped out? What about burning children alive: might that suffice?

There is considerable evidence throughout the Bible to explain God's judgments. The words written throughout the Book of Deuteronomy (as noted above) describe the reasons for Canaan's utter destruction. It would not be confined to Jericho: that was merely the first stop along the way. God gave these people ample opportunity to repent of their sins.

There is also something else very significant, a fact we often overlook regarding children.

Many of these had been raised under the excesses of those who were responsible for the carnage. Had they grown to adults, they would, in all likelihood, follow precisely the same footsteps as their horribly depraved parents. What we often fail to appreciate is that all young children are unaccountable for their actions. This is true until a child reaches an age of accountability. God is, in fact, sparing these children from spiritual death: eternal torture in the flames of Hell. This is an act of profound mercy.

Lastly, it may be recalled that God gave the Ninevites an ultimatum in the Book of Jonah, and Nineveh repented. The people of Canaan — beginning with Jericho, continued their hedonistic, infanticidal, abominable lifestyles. It was only a matter of time before any such city or nation can expect the same outcome from Almighty God.

  • +1 - your certainly on the right track, but there’s more to it. However I won’t answer with it as I’m sure my view wouldn’t be overly comfortable for some :-)
    – Dave
    Jun 20, 2021 at 5:09
  • @Dave You may have noticed elsewhere that many of my views aren't overly comfortable for some either. :-)
    – Xeno
    Jun 20, 2021 at 13:03

To understand the ‘why’ God ordered this, you need some background understandings. Which requires far more detail than an answer field allows, so what follows is a broad outline to ‘get you started’.

And, this ‘understanding’ starts back in Genesis 6.

GENESIS 6:4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward,

Pre-flood there was an attempt to ‘corrupt’ the ‘human’ genetic ‘line’. The Bible gives us a ‘glimpse’, but there are some extra non-canonical writings that can be looked at and considered for some additional understanding - without which there maybe some unanswerable questions. Much of this approach is supported by recent findings, example from the caves around Qumran - the Dead Sea Scrolls. But because these are ‘recent’, acceptance of these is not ‘universal’, and some may ‘pushback’ on this outline. Nevertheless I present this for consideration...

These ‘nephilim’ were a genetic ‘mixture’. Essentially they were ‘non human’. They (bodies) were not created by God, and their ‘spirits’ weren’t either. Essentially any ‘mixture’ is biblically labeled ‘unclean’. The ‘unclean’ animals are actually a genetic ‘mixture’. And in the New Testament we see ‘unclean spirits’ - these being the ‘spirits’ of the dead Nephilim.

Now as we ‘see’ in our earlier verse that these ‘Nephilim’ were also around after the flood. Prior to Joshua arriving at the promised land, God had promised the land of Canaan to Abraham - 400 years earlier.

JOSHUA 3:10 And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites.

But the land had squatters - giants ...

NUMBERS 13:33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

These ‘squatters’ were people of genetic ‘mixture’. Not created by God, but more, were attempting to thwart Gods plan, to destroy Gods nation, to deny the land God allocated to his people. Genetically ‘mixed’ people can not be ‘saved’ - only what God created can be redeemed - by God.

Hence we see what at first sight seems to be a barbaric command, but essentially it was necessary to ‘clean up the earth’ (as the flood also did), and also to prevent the ‘seed line’ to the Messiah being ‘born’, by ‘corrupting’ it.

And later we see David continuing the ‘cleanup’ - Goliath and his brothers were ‘Nephilim’.

  • 1
    There is no indication in all of the Bible that "Nephilim" were non-human, or that spirits of humans are separate beings that continue to exist when one has died. Both of these fallacies are, in essence, spiritualism. -1
    – Polyhat
    Jun 20, 2021 at 23:45
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    @Polyhat ??? What about GEN 6:4! - Although no doubt you will have an ‘alternative’ explanation(s) for that verse. I don’t mind those who want to ‘hang on’ to their traditional humanistic doctrinal explanations, and also ignore the recent DSS findings, but readers both deserve, and should ‘see/consider’ all ‘views’. I look forward to reading your, or your ‘accepted’ explanation!
    – Dave
    Jun 21, 2021 at 0:15
  • Isn't the report in Numbers 13 considered to be a false report? E.g. "According to Rabbinic tradition (as seen in the Mishnah Taanit 4:6), the sin of the spies produced the annual fast day of Tisha B'Av. When the Israelites accepted the false report, they wept over the false belief that God was setting them up for defeat." — The Twelve Spies - Wikipedia. Jun 21, 2021 at 2:35
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    @Ray Butterworth I’m (personally) very wary of Mishnah. The oral traditions often lacked accuracy when ‘it suited’. Example, the way they distorted the calendar to ‘avoid it’ pointing to a Messiah coming at the time Jesus came. You might be interested in researching the [very recent] Essenes ‘view’ of the writings that came via the Pharisees.
    – Dave
    Jun 21, 2021 at 2:47
  • The idea that these tribes needed to be killed b/c of Nephilim is a bit fringe: lots of debate about Nephilim, and the tribes weren't all killed off. That was the big problem -- failing to take all the land, making peace, intermarrying, stopping short, etc. But it's a view that is interesting and doesn't deserve a downvote at all. You made a case with evidence. +1
    – Robert
    Jun 22, 2021 at 0:02

First, God does not order the murder of anyone. He never condones murder. Murder, in Hebrew, is the word "רָצַח" (ratsach). It is carefully defined in Numbers 35 to include the concepts of premeditation (lying in wait), hatred (enmity), and legality (with/without cause). Accidental manslaughter was not prescribed the same punishment as for murder, and acts of war and/or of self-defense, or of civil punishment (through the court/council), were not considered murder. For example, David, upholding God's honor, does not "murder" (ratsach) Goliath. He "נָכָה" (nakah) Goliath (1 Samuel 17:26-27,46), sometimes translated as "slew" or "smite" etc. No translation can properly say "murder" here. (Note: 1 Samuel 17:50 also uses the Hebrew word "מוּת" (muwth), often translated as "put to death," the same word used by God in telling Adam and Eve that they would die if they ate the forbidden fruit--Gen. 2:17.)

Secondly, the children of Israel are asked to go to war against these people because they had filled the land with iniquity. Remember that by rooting out iniquity many who are still pure can be preserved. Remember the Flood. Remember Sodom and Gomorrha. God does not like to destroy the people whom He loves, but for the good of others, He sometimes has to. The Bible calls this His "strange act" (Isaiah 28:21). God hates sin, and loves the sinner, but if the sinner will not part from the sin, eventually God is forced to remove both together.

Thus, in Joshua 6:21 we see the fulfillment of what God had commanded earlier through Moses:

"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)

From Exodus we read how God intended to drive out the Canaanites.

  • 23:23 For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off.
  • 23:24 Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images.
  • 23:25 And ye shall serve the LORD your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee.
  • 23:26 There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfil.
  • 23:27 I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.
  • 23:28 And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.
  • 23:29 I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee.
  • 23:30 By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.
  • 23:31 And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.
  • 23:32 Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods.
  • 23:33 They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee.

In verse 24 the reason for their destruction becomes clear: "Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works." They were idolatrous and rebellious against God. Remember, too, that by this time they had had forty years to potentially repent while the children of Israel waited in the wilderness. They had only hardened themselves in their sinful ways.

But that God was still merciful toward any who inclined toward Him is on evidence by the fact that Rahab, who had helped the spies, and her entire household, were spared.

"And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent." (Joshua 6:17)

  • A responsible answer but with a very OT focus. This leaves no hope for anyone who had died in ignorance - in which Jericho and all the others were killed to make way for Israel. While the Q does not ask for the hope in this seemingly hopeless situation, I think it was warranted to include in the reasoning behind this queried command. Gentiles were not offered salvation until the NT except for a few like Rahab who God called to serve a purpose.
    – Steve
    Jun 21, 2021 at 1:59
  • Thank you for your response. This (putting up an alternative view) is a far more appropriate reaction to disagreements than ‘downvoting’ - although I appreciate that you followed up via comment. Now to your response - using ‘war’ or practicing ‘evil’ as a legitimate excuse ... to slaughter children??? To utterly wipe out anything that’s breathing??? I’m glad my God doesn’t take these actions. I’m glad that modern scholarship has provided some far more palatable view (of God!!!), and ‘answers’ that make far more sense
    – Dave
    Jun 21, 2021 at 2:39
  • @Dave I imagine that you think no children were born to the antediluvians for at least two decades prior to the Flood, and that, on account of their sexual perversion, perhaps, there could not have been any children in Sodom when God destroyed it. Proper hermeneutics, my friend, does not rely on what we think should be true. God's ways are not man's ways, nor His thoughts man's thoughts.
    – Polyhat
    Jun 21, 2021 at 2:45
  • "He "נָכָה" (nakah) Goliath, sometimes translated as "slew" or "smite" etc." I think you may be referring to the Hebrew הכה rather than נכה. Can you please add the text that you are referencing here?
    – bach
    Jun 21, 2021 at 19:50
  • @Bach I updated the answer as per your request, and added a touch more besides. You may be seeing a conjugated form, e.g. " יַכֶּה֙ " (he kills) or "יַכֶּֽנּוּ" (who kills him), in the actual text versus the "dictionary" form that I have copied here. In this conjugation the first root letter, nun [נָ], is dropped and replaced by a yod [יַ]. It is not, however, a heh [ה] until we get to verse 46 "וְהִכִּיתִ֗ךָ" (and I will kill you).
    – Polyhat
    Jun 21, 2021 at 21:38

Because they were an 'ungodly' - evil nation within the area God had chosen for His people.

Whenever 'good' comes to a place, evil must be removed - or the evil will/may overtake that which is holy. God's people were 'holy' - not because they were without sin, but because they were God's people, His chosen nation. They had His laws and were under His covenant of promise with them. Anything other than them were of the world and not of God.

The destroyed people were mercifully removed from their evil lives and will be given opportunity to know and choose God at the second resurrection when the world will know God, and be under the rule of Jesus and his saints.

The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years were complete. Rev 20:5

(don't be confused when reading that verse - it speaks of 'this is the first resurrection' - this refers to the last part of v4)

having a hope in God, which they themselves also await, that there is about to be a resurrection, both of the just and of the unjust Acts 24:15

God's precious creation of humanity (for which Christ died for ALL) are part of a plan of salvation - a plan put in place before the first sin. God's design was that all would experience the horror of sin, and be able to choose His way of living over the other way of evil. Without knowing both - any choice is not adequate for the eternal life God offers to all humanity.

The killing of children etc is, sadly, a collateral damage - just as all other sin experienced since Eden. The promise of a better tomorrow will far outweigh all experience of sin. God's plan required to show all how we are supposed to live and to remove from our lives those things that are evil and focus on that which is holy. In these early days, God is doing the removing for them, or with them, so they too understand the bitter consequences of the way of sin in opposition to God.

  • There is no Biblical evidence for, nor support given here for, the idea that the wicked will have a second chance. This is, in fact, a most specious fallacy which will cause millions of people the loss of their souls. This fallacy exists in multiple religions: Buddhists, for example, believe they pass through multiple reincarnations until they can finally reach heaven. There are two resurrections: that of the righteous (to eternal life) and that of the wicked (to damnation and eternal death). No second chances will be given. -1
    – Polyhat
    Jun 21, 2021 at 0:22
  • NO ONE is talking about a second chance! Your words - - a second chance of what? Read Acts 24:15 a hope... for what another death!?
    – Steve
    Jun 21, 2021 at 0:27
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    not another opportunity! They haven't had the first one yet. I can explain it for you but not understand it for you. Read the texts without the filter of doctrine. If you think you have a more scriptural view - pls post an answer.
    – Steve
    Jun 21, 2021 at 0:34
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    Judgement - you choose damnation or condemnation b/c it fits your dogma. κρίσεως (kriseōs) every verse of 16 renders judgement in the Greek. Popes and preachers who teach lies have a lot to answer for.
    – Steve
    Jun 21, 2021 at 0:51
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    @Polyhat, don't rely on only one English translation. "resurrection of damnation" isn't necessarily the correct translation. In the KJV, that Greek word is translated as "damnation" only 3 times, while it is translated as "judgment" 41 times. The NLT, ESV, NASBl, RSV, ASV, et al. say "resurrection of judgment". It is a time when those that never had a chance at salvation will be given their first chance. This will include the vast majority of mankind. Jun 21, 2021 at 0:51

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