And Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the LORD.…
I. Let us listen to THE CURSE PRONOUNCED. Such an act of destruction was clearly directed in that law which Joshua was to ponder day and night. It was the first city that Joshua had taken, and he was bound to act according to the directions laid down by Moses (Deuteronomy 13:15-18). Joshua therefore had no choice as regards Jericho. Other conquerors, for their own pride and self-glorification, have ordained that fair cities should be levelled with the dust and their sites sown with salt. Thus was it with Troy, Carthage, Sidon. Joshua did this as he did all things, in obedience to the Divine command. Jericho was "cursed before the Lord," i.e., from God's presence and by His sentence. But did this dreadful destruction serve any good purpose? Yes, truly. Here we have sermons in stones, far more intelligible and emphatic even than those with which the book of nature is filled. To begin with, inasmuch as they are tokens of a just and long-deferred judgment on wickedness, they sound a loud note of warning to the impenitent. Especially do they display the terrible nature of the sin of idolatry and its consequent evils. Would they not be impressive witnesses against Israel in every evil day of apostasy? And would they not also give encouragement to every faithful heart that strove to follow the Lord fully? Pious souls could read these words writ in large characters on every one of them, "Not by might, nor by power, nor by wisdom, but by faith, is the victory won"; and the practical conclusion was plain: "Faithful to God, you can never know defeat." Thus these stones would also emphasise the truth, that in the greatest triumphs and the most brilliant successes there is no room for pride or boastfulness or self-sufficiency on the part of man. Always these stones would say, "His right hand and His holy arm hath gotten Him the victory." What a stimulus therefore to truthful and healthful effort would these stones become!
II. But the time came when THE CURSE WAS DESPISED. It may seem incredible that a curse so plain, so terrible, so memorable, should be thought so little of, but when we read the Divine record we can clearly trace the causes of this sinful audacity. To begin with, there was a popular cause for this despisal. It was done in a day when Israel's God was forgotten, when spiritual life was very low, when public sentiment was degraded, when open impiety reigned in high places, and only one solitary man stood out an open witness against the evils of the day. The very sins for which Jericho was destroyed were rampant and popular in Israel (1 Kings 16:30-33). How significant are the words, "In his days." There were many bad, but none worse than they. It is also instructive to notice that the builder was a Bethelite. Hiel had come under the full influence of all the evil principles that were rampant. He was born and bred, he lived and died, at Bethel, the metropolis of idolatry, the place in which Jeroboam had set up his calf. There was also a sceptical cause which led to the despising of the curse. Unbelief was at the bottom of Hiel's impious act, as it is the root of every evil work. Perhaps he had reasoned thus. The curse, if there ever was any force in it, must have spent itself by this time. Unbelief forgot whose curse this was. It could not get beyond the lip of Joshua to the will of the changeless and almighty Jehovah. Or perhaps Hiel had said: "It is nothing but an old wives' fable, unworthy of credence; an old-fashioned jingle, without a particle of meaning; an apocryphal curse, to explain an apocryphal miracle: or at the very utmost, granting that it has some historical basis, it can be nothing more than the expression of Joshua's ill-nature and ill-feeling, and therefore is a fossilised manifestation of the narrow, bitter, bigoted age in which he lived. The supposition that it is a Divine proclamation is utterly absurd, utterly inconsistent with the nature of things. It would be neither just nor wise nor loving in God to do so. Such a curse as that does not commend itself to my conscience, reason, or heart, and therefore it is unworthy of credence." Hiel, having stood in the way of sinners, would not be long in sitting in the seat of the scornful. And perhaps the governing and most potent of these concurrent causes was a purely materialistic one. Hiel may have said to himself and others, "You see I am a practical man of business. I am neither a prophet nor a prophet's son. Profit, not prophecy, is my forte. Now look, did you ever see such a splendid site?" (Had Hiel lived in our days he could have drawn up a splendid prospectus for a limited liability building company.) "And what a delicious climate this valley enjoys; even in mid-winter the air is bright and balmy. And see, the building material is lying around, ready to be used. The site can be got for an old song, on account of that ridiculous superstition about Joshua, which has seared so many chicken-hearted noodles. Do you shake your head and say there may be some truth in it? What care I? I see plainly how I can make money out of this. You to your books and me to my buildings, and every man to his own trade." It was not so very difficult then for Hiel to despise the curse of Joshua; even so it is not difficult for any one to despise the curse of the gospel. The spirit of the age, whether as expressed by common talk, or the newspaper press, or current literature, is in favour of such a despisal. There are also sceptical reasons which conduce to the same end. The record which contains this curse is old and not trustworthy, say some. The curse is decrepit and antiquated. The edge of the sword of judgment is blunt and its blade is rusty. The Lord is slack concerning His threatenings. We are too enlightened and liberal nowadays to believe in these things. But perhaps the great reason why men will not take heed to this curse is because they are so absorbed in the things of time and sense that they can think of nothing else.
III. NOW NOTICE THE FULFILMENT OF THE CURSE. Hiel was full of his great life-work. The plans have been drawn, the trenches have been dug, the stones arranged and prepared, multitudes of labourers engaged. There is to be a grand opening ceremony at the laying of the foundation stone; therefore the members of his family and his numerous relations and friends flock from all quarters. It is a most auspicious occasion. But in the midst of the ceremony his firstborn is seized with a sudden sickness; he falls in a swoon, and is carried away from the crowd. But by and by a messenger with a sorrowful countenance returns and whispers into Hiel's ear, "Abiram is dead." It was a terrible blow, in this hour of his father's triumph to be cut down. But perhaps, his friends would say, the excitement of the ceremony was too much for him. He had never been very strong, and was complaining for some time, and this must have been heat apoplexy, a Sunstroke. But though Abiram's death was a great interruption, the work must be carried on all the same. At last it is all but finished. There is nothing left but the putting up of the gates. Absorbed in his great undertaking, he has been able to drive away ominous thoughts and what he calls superstitious fears I But there is growing on him, as he nears the completion of the work, a nervous anxiety that he cannot drive away. On one thing he is resolved — there shall be no public ceremonial at the closing of the Work, as there was at the commencement. He will superintend the putting up of the gates himself, and not permit any of his children to be present. As he was thus busily occupied at the finishing touch of his great work, a messenger arrived in hot haste from Bethel, fourteen miles distant, with the doleful news, "Segub is dead." Thus was the curse of Joshua concerning Jericho fulfilled. Learn from this how faithful are God's words, the terrible as well as the gracious. No jot or tittle of His truth ever fails. His word may remain in abeyance for many years, but the lapse of time can never destroy its vitality, " The Word of the Lord endureth for ever." See also how infatuated is unbelief, Every blow hardens rather than softens. Behold also the bitter fruits of unbelief. Pleasant and profitable Hiel thought his work would be; perhaps this very speculation was more for his children's benefit than for his own; but the solemn narrative teaches that there can be no lasting profit for us or ours if we run contrary to God's Word, if we deny His will.
IV. But we can turn to a more grateful scene, and consider THE REMOVAL OF THE CURSE. Jericho was rebuilt in disobedience to a command, in defiance of a threatening, and at the awful cost of the builder's children; yet it was not demolished. God had better things in store for it. His prophets and His people were permitted to dwell there, and though there was much theft was pleasant and attractive in it, it was an uncomfortable residence. The curse seemed to hover over it and linger within its Walls (2 Kings 3:19-22). Thus the curse of Joshua is removed. Strange cure this; the old curse met by the new cruse; the old word of judgment removed by the new word of healing. "Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters." How strange that the salt of the new cruse should abolish the bitterness of the old spring — passing strange. Yet can we not here see the symbol of higher truth? Can we not see Jesus and His salvation in this strange action of that prophet so like Himself? Each human being is like Jericho. "The city of Mansoul," "the house we live in," is it not like Jericho, pleasant for situation, fair in its outlook? Our powers and faculties of mind and body, the possibilities of our nature, are all that could be desired; yet the water of spiritual health is naught and the ground barren. We are lying under a curse. But see, the Saviour comes. The wonder-working wood for the bitterness of Marah and the wonder-working salt for the spring of Jericho, both picture that cross and passion by which Jesus has removed the curse. Yes, and the world itself is also like Jericho. Is it not fair and beautiful; most pleasant for situation? Every prospect pleases. But there is a deadly drawback, "The water is naught and the land barren." Death reigns. "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain, waiting." Yes, waiting; waiting the coming of Him who brings healing and life and fruitfulness with Him; to welcome whose arrival all creatures will shout for joy, for there shall be no more curse. His presence will bless us with Eden again.
(A. B. Mackay.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the LORD.