By Mark Mayberry
Jericho is an important city, both in the Old and the New Testaments. Consider the following introductory article that is found in Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
JERICHO [JEHR ih coe] — one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Situated in the wide plain of the Jordan Valley (Deut. 34:1, 3) at the foot of the ascent to the Judean mountains, Jericho lies about 13 kilometers (8 miles) northwest of the site where the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, some 8 kilometers (5 miles) west of the Jordan.
Since it is approximately 244 meters (800 feet) below sea level, Jericho has a climate that is tropical and at times is very hot. Only a few inches of rainfall are recorded at Jericho each year; but the city is a wonderful oasis, known as “the city of palm trees” (Deut. 34:3) or “the city of palms” (Judg. 3:13). Jericho flourishes with date palms, banana trees, balsams, sycamores, and henna (Song 1:14; Luke 19:4).
There have been three different Jerichos throughout its long history. Old Testament Jericho is identified with the mound of Tell esSultan, about 2 kilometers (a little more than a mile) from the village of er-Riha. This village is modern Jericho, located about 27 kilometers (17 miles) northeast of Jerusalem. New Testament Jericho is identified with the mounds of Tulul Abu el-’Alayiq, about 2 kilometers west of modern Jericho and south of Old Testament Jericho.
By far the most imposing site of the three is Old Testament Jericho, a pear-shaped mound about 366 meters (400 yards) long, north to south, 183 meters (200 yards) wide at the north end, and some 67 meters (70 yards) high. It has been the site of numerous archaeological diggings and is a favorite stop for Holy Land tourists.
Old Testament Jericho. Jericho first appears in the biblical record when the Israelites encamped at Shittim on the east side of the Jordan River (Num. 22:1; 26:3). Joshua sent spies to examine the city (Josh. 2:1-24) and later took the city by perhaps the most unorthodox method in the history of warfare (Joshua 6). Joshua placed a curse on anyone who would attempt to rebuild Jericho (Josh. 6:26).
As the Israelites settled into the land, Jericho was awarded to the tribe of Benjamin, although it was on the border between Ephraim and Benjamin (Josh. 16:1, 7). Jericho is only incidentally mentioned in the reign of David (2 Sam. 10:5) and does not figure prominently again in Old Testament history until the reign of King Ahab (about 850 B.C.; 1 Kings 16:34), when Hiel the Bethelite attempted to fortify the city and Joshua’s curse was realized. During the days of Elijah and Elisha, Jericho was a community of the prophets (2 Kings 2:5) and was mentioned on other occasions as well (Ezra 2:34; Neh. 3:2; Jer. 39:5).
New Testament Jericho. In the early years of Herod the Great, the Romans plundered Jericho. But Herod later beautified the city and ultimately died there. Jesus passed through Jericho on numerous occasions. Near there He was baptized in the Jordan River (Matt. 3:13-17), and on the adjacent mountain range He was tempted (Matt. 4:1-11). At Jericho Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). Here too Zacchaeus was converted (Luke 19:1-10). And Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan has the road from Jerusalem to Jericho as its setting (Luke 10:30-37).
Excavations at Jericho. From 1907 until 1911, the German scholars Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger excavated this site. But it was the British archaeologist John Garstang whose excavations from 1930 to 1936 yielded significant information. Garstang believed he found evidence of Joshua’s destruction of the city. He discovered an inner wall about 3.66 meters (12 feet) thick and an outer wall about 1.83 meters (6 feet) thick. Garstang was convinced that he had found the fabled walls of Jericho.
However, archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon began seven seasons of excavation at Jericho in 1952 and found evidence that conflicted with that of Garstang. Kenyon’s findings indicated that little of the city in Joshua’s day remained and thus the archaeologist must turn to Hazor and other cities captured during Joshua’s campaigns for information about this period. The most spectacular finds made by Kenyon were the Stone Age defenses, including a tower dating to about 7000 B.C.
Source: Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995), s.v. “Jericho.”
Jericho of the Old Testament
Avoiding the Corruption of Sin
Confirming His covenant with Abraham, God promised to judge the inhabitants of Canaan when their iniquity was full (Gen. 15:12-21). Later, Israel was warned against defiling themselves with the abominations of a sinful society (Lev. 18:24-30).
God judges corrupt cultures (Prov. 14:34; Psa. 107:33-34). God’s people must not become joint participants in sinful behavior (2 Cor. 6:14-18), but rather oppose such (2 Cor. 10:3-6). Let us shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:14-18).
Achieving the Promises of God
After Joshua led Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, Jericho was the first Canaanite city to fall. Obedience and joint participation were essential to Israel’s success (Josh. 6).
God gives the victory (Josh. 24:11-12; Psa. 44:1-3). Yet, He always requires His people to trust His word and obey His will (Heb. 5:8-10; 11:6; 11:30-31).
Jericho of the New Testament
Submitting to Baptism
Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River; in all likelihood, this occurred in the general vicinity of Jericho (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-13; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:28-34). While Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, penitent believers are baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:37-41; 22:16).
Resisting the Tempter
Afterwards, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). Tradition says this occurred in the vicinity of Jericho. In like manner, we must resist the evil one (James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8-9).
Healing the Blind
On a latter occasion, as Jesus was leaving Jericho, He healed the blind (Matt. 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43). In like manner, we must turn to Christ for restoration of our spiritual vision (Eph. 1:18-19; Rev. 3:18-19).
Practicing Brotherly Love
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught what it means to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:25-37). We must practice brotherly love (John 13:34-35; Rom. 12:10-13).
Preaching the Gospel
Near the end of his ministry, Jesus entered Jericho and encountered Zaccheus, a chief tax collector (Luke 19:1-10). We should also look for opportunities of sharing the gospel, with even the most unlikely of prospects (Matt. 13:1-9; Acts 16:25-34).
Learning the lesson from Old Testament Jericho, let us avoid the defilement of sin, and the resulting judgment that must inevitably follow. May we also achieve the promises of God through obedience to the Father’s will. Considering the example of Jesus, which occurred in or around New Testament Jericho, let us submit to the Lord’s will regarding baptism, resist the tempter, enjoy the restoration of spiritual sight that Christ provides, practice brotherly love, and faithfully proclaim the good news of salvation.