Vol. 4, No. 6
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"And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the LORD, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it" (Joshua 6:26).
There they stood in the smoking ruins of what's left of Jericho. The Israelites had marched, shouted, blew, slaughtered and burned. What does God want them to do now? It is what he does not want them to do. He commands them to never rebuild the city that he had destroyed.1 The situation of Jericho was very pleasant; its nearness to Jordan was an advantage, which would tempt someone to build on the same spot. Nonetheless, they are warned of what would happen to the man who decided to rebuild the city. His oldest son would die when he began the work, and if he persisted in building, he would attend the funeral of his youngest son when he finished it.2
About five hundred and thirty years later (ca. 850 B.C.), during the reign of King Ahab, a man named Hiel3 of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. Just as God had said, when he laid the foundation, he lost his firstborn son (Abiram); and when he set up the gates, he lost his youngest son (Segub) (1 Kings 16:34). What a sacrifice to make for a city!
It is interesting and instructive to place ourselves mentally in the position of this man from Bethel. What possibly could have been behind Hiel's tragic mistake?
Hiel could have been ignorant of this warning. He might have grown up in a family where the Bible was not read. He could have slept during the Sabbath classes and cut up during the temple worship services. He might have been sick the day that Joshua 6:26 was studied. Nobody may have cared enough to warn him when he started building on the old Jericho site. They might have reasoned, "Well, I don't want to get involved. I'm sure he's read about Joshua's curse. He's made up his mind. It's none of my business anyway. He can make his own mistakes."
Ignorance is dangerous (Hosea 4:1, 6; 6:6; 2 Chronicles 15:3; Job 36:12; Proverbs 19:2; Isaiah 27:11; Matthew 15:14; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6). There are threats the Bible makes which apply to people today, and if we do not learn of them, and avoid breaking God's laws, we, too, will be punished. We can see, therefore, the urgency of studying the Bible and learning what God has commanded (2 Timothy 2:15; Acts 17:11). How much Bible study do you and I do?
Not one jot or tittle of this curse passed away (Joshua 24:14-15). Abiram, the firstborn, and Segub, the youngest, both died, the one at the laying of the foundation, the other at the setting up of the gates of the city. "The testimony of the LORD is sure ..." (Psalm 19:7b). The Truth said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:35). His Father said, "My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips" (Psalm 89:34). We can trust in this fact: "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" (Numbers 23:19). History shows an unbroken fulfillment of the Scriptures.
It was in the days of Ahab that Hiel built Jericho (1 Kings 16:29-34; cf. Jeremiah 2:8; Malachi 2:7-8; Matthew 23:16-26). Ahab was among the worst kings Israel ever had. The Bible says that he " did more to provoke the God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel before him" (1 Kings 16:30). Hiel was also from Bethel. It was in Bethel that Jeroboam set up an idol calf, make the place a center of idolatry (1 Kings 12:28-33). This single sentence of history is one of God's many monuments, erected in solemn protest against our association with wicked men. Its inscription reads, "Stand not in the way of sinners ..." (Psalm 1:1-2) and "be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33).
When Hiel attended the funeral of Abiram, the firstborn son, we might have expected that he would have given up, yet he persisted. The curse was seen to be effective, yet he went back to work and lost his youngest child when he set up the gates (the last stage of building a city). Jeremiah knew of the power of unbelief. He said, "... be not proud: for the LORD hath spoken. Give glory to the LORD your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock is carried away captive" (13:15-17). The other thief on the cross is also a good example. He knew he was within minutes of death and still railed on the only One who could save him (Luke 23:39). How foolish people are today who doubt God's curses! Some will even admit that the "Bible says that," but they persist in doubting that it applies to them. Sadly, they "oppose themselves" (2 Timothy 2:25).
"In those days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho: he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun" (1 Kings 16:34)
Suppose that Hiel had known about the curse. This is more likely because, being a male Jew, he would have been drilled as a youngster in Old Testament history. He grew up near the ruins of Jericho and thus probably heard many times the story of its destruction. What process of reasoning could have led him to conclude that the curse would not affect him?
Nearly five and a half centuries had passed since Jericho's fall. Surely a law written five hundred years ago could not still be in effect! Many today think of the Bible merely as an old book (nearly two thousand years old now). They persuade themselves that the Bible's threats are so old that they no longer apply. They read that God is angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11), but persuade themselves that time has rusted away the edge from the sword of Divine threats. The Bible says, though, "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:9).4
Think of this man sitting down to study the character of God. He opened the Book of Moses and found mercy in Egypt and mercy in the wilderness. He read from Israel's history books and found mercy after mercy being extended in Canaan. He thus concluded, "It is altogether unlike God to punish my innocent children, even though this might be wrong." If this went through his mind, Hiel was wrong. His children did die. A man cannot sin without doing wrong to others, especially to his children. He learned that though God is a God of love, he is also a God of his Word. He is both good and severe (Romans 11:22). The term "severe"5 literally means "to cut off or excise as a gardener prunes a tree." Young folks are often tempted to ignore God's Word when it comes to disobeying parents (Ephesians 6:1-4), drinking alcohol (Proverbs 20:11), smoking (1 Peter 2:11), dancing (Galatians 5:19-21) and immodest clothing (1 Timothy 2:9), and brush off these verses by saying, "God loves me, he does not really care about these things." But God does care!
He might have thought, "What difference does it make if I build a hundred yards to the right, or a hundred yards to the left?" God's laws are not always written as we would write them (Isaiah 55:8-9). They may not make sense to us. Paul said that preaching is "foolishness" to them that believe not (1 Corinthians 1:18). Calvary's cross is strange, and salvation through baptism causes people to wonder, but if God is gracious enough to save us, who are we to complain? God's wisdom is not accepted by the world, but God will confound them with it (1 Corinthians 1:21-31). First Corinthians 1:21-31 says he makes the wisdom of this world look foolish.6 Some of the things God expects us to do may not make sense right now. Take baptism for instance. Many say, "That does not make sense to me. How could being submerged in water have anything to do with washing away sins?" (cf. Acts 22:16). The important thing is that we trust God enough to obey him even when it does not make sense. He will not steer us wrong.
If he really wanted to build the city (eventually he did), he could have rationalized that the reported history was merely a tradition, or to consider the curse as only Joshua's excitement in the hour of victory. Some today are saying that our "worship style" is "just a tradition we have in the church of Christ." Some are saying this regarding the use of a piano in worship. Is that just a tradition? No, it is based on the understanding that we are not to add to God's Word, and he has not commanded us to play instruments in the New Testament worship (cf. Revelation 22:18-19.) Others say the same thing with the Lord's marriage law as revealed by Paul (1 Corinthians 7:1-15) and with his teaching on the role of women in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:9-11). God's Word is timeless. It applies as much today as it did the day it was written.
It is most likely that Hiel built Jericho without giving the curse much consideration whatsoever. While he probably knew the history, and had heard of the curse, he proceeded in a sort of careless hope that nothing bad would happen (Proverbs 7:22-23; 9:16-18; 22:3; 27:12 Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 3:5, 8). We do not doubt that he loved his children, and did not want them to be harmed, but he just put that thought out of his mind because he wanted to build the city. He simply chose to ignore God's Word. More are lost by careless unbelief than by deliberate disbelief. Where intelligent skepticism slays ten, carelessness destroys a million. God wants us to give "earnest heed to that which we have heard, lest we let it slip" (cf. Hebrews 2:1;7 see also Deuteronomy 4:9, 23; 32:46-47; Joshua. 23:11; Psalm 119:9; Proverbs 3:21; Luke 8:15; 9:44). This is the reason we must so cautiously follow the Bible (1 Peter 4:11; Colossians 3:17). People are foolish to defy and rebel against God's Word (1 Samuel 2:12; Proverbs 1:30-32; 29:1; Jer. 8:8-9). It is always dangerous to build again that which God has destroyed (cf. Malachi 1:4). What God curses, man must not bless, and what God blesses, man must not curse.
As you can see, the excuses he could have used for disobeying God are used by many people today -- to no greater success.
1 Perhaps God wanted the ruins left as a "sermon written in stone." They would be permanent proof of God's displeasure with idolatry and his power over idol gods. A new city on the old site would erase the memory of God's judgment. The wrecked city would also serve as a permanent reminder that God fights for his people (Deuteronomy 3:22; cf. Romans 8:31). The Israelites would have future conflicts. Their soldiers could come and see these walls as God had left them, and learn that no enemy was strong enough and no fortifications solid enough to resist the people whose Helper was the Lord. The ruins also reminded Israel not to trust in the arm of flesh. Jericho had been a stronghold, and its people had trusted in their fortifications. But the arm of flesh was no match for the arm of the Lord (2 Chronicles 32:8).
2 There was a city of Jericho that appeared during the next seven on at the latest, twenty-five years (cf. Joshua 23:21; Judges 1:16; 3:13; 2 Samuel 10: 4-5). This city was in the same vicinity but not built upon the same site. Josephus (a Jewish historian) distinguishes between "the old city, which Joshua took first of all the cities of the land," and an adjacent Jericho. Some say that there have been at least three Jerichos built at different places in this same general area. The new city in Joshua's time could probably have been more easily built on a new site than the old one because of the rubble that would have to be cleared away. After it was rebuilt, Elijah and Elisha visited a school of prophets there (2 Kings 2:4-5, 18).
3 His name means, "God lives" (pronounced khee-ale).
4 For some examples, read of sin's penalty on Eli (1 Samuel 12), Gehazi (2 Kings 5:25-27), and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).
5 Apotomia, "roughness, rigor"
6 moraino, "to make flat and tasteless, as salt that has lost its flavor"
7 earnest, perissoteros, "more abundantly," heed, prosecho, translated, "beware" seven times, and means "to bring to mind, to be attentive, bring near as one would carefully bring a ship to land"