How did the walls of Jericho come tumbling down?

After Moses’ death, God chose Joshua to lead his people into the Promised Land of Canaan, and Jericho was the first city conquered by Israel after crossing the Jordan River. It is just north of the Dead Sea and five miles west of the river. Being a natural desert oasis, it is sometimes called the City of Palm Trees (Deuteronomy 34:3) and, like all Canaanite cities, was ruled by a king.1 The town was built on a mound and protected by high stone walls and towers. This fortress barred Israel’s way into the Promised Land, so the capture of Jericho was the first objective of Joshua’s campaign.2

 

Jericho is now considered as the oldest continually-inhabited city in the world,3 but we need to be reminded that what is the Jericho of today is really a mile and a half distance from the original town described in the Old Testament pages.4 The story of Joshua’s invasion is in the Book of Joshua. If possible, read the essential parts, as related in this study, which are all of chapter 2; chapter 5, verses 13 – 15; and all of chapter 6.

While marching toward Jericho, two spies were chosen and sent on ahead in a carefully concealed mission into the town. They were to learn the situation there and were soon moving along its streets, mingling with the people. Cleverly, the spies stay with a prostitute, whose name is Rahab. She tells them she knows that the God of Israel is the true God, which has brought his people out of Egypt and is now giving them this land of Canaan.5

The harlot begs that she and her family may be spared and the spies agree to save them. Rahab helps them escape by way of a rope from her window, which is set in the city’s outside wall. They arrange that she will tie a scarlet cord in the window as a special sign to the invading army, so as to locate where she lives.6

As the Israelites approach Jericho, Joshua has a vision. Lifting his eyes, he sees a soldier brandishing a sword. Something occurred that convinced Joshua that this was no mortal soldier and he learns the man is the commander of the LORD’s army.7 He stood with a drawn sword, indicating that he would fight alongside Joshua.8 Israel is about to enter hostile territory, yet the nation’s strong and courageous leader can have confidence that the heavenly army will be on his side.9

 

The Battle of Jericho

The LORD told Joshua the city was being given to him and this is how he must proceed. God’s perfect plan is shaped around the number seven. “There are to be seven priests with seven trumpets; the people are to march around Jericho on seven days — including seven times on the seventh. The trumpets which the priests blow are rams’ horns.”10

Why the number seven? Well, the Bible’s extensive use of the number seven — especially in connection with such concepts as completion, exoneration, and the fulfillment of promises and oaths — suggests that God ascribes a sacred nature to the number. In other words, it has a divine implication attached.11

In a strange parade-like fashion, the warriors circled the city like a serpent. The town itself, consisting of less than ten acres (about 0.041 sq. km) of protected land, required less than 30 minutes to march around. When the circuit was completed — to the amazement of the Canaanites who probably expected an immediate attack — the Israelites returned quietly to camp. This bizarre activity was repeated for six days.12

On the seventh day the procession made seven laps around the walls. This parade — consisting of the armed guard, the seven trumpet-blowing priests, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant, and the rear guard — may have continued for about three hours. At the end of the seventh circuit the clear voice of Joshua rang out, “Shout, for the LORD has given you the city!” (Joshua 6:16b, NRSV).13

As the priests’ trumpets blared, the soldiers’ loud cry also reverberated through the hills, startling wild animals and terrorizing the dwellers of Jericho in their homes. At that moment the walls of Jericho collapsed; they literally fell in place. The Israelites clambered over the debris and they found the inhabitants paralyzed with terror and unable to resist. And Joshua remembered to instruct the men to spare and rescue Rahab and her family, because of the help she provided.14

The Bible states, “but Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, Joshua spared. Her family has lived in Israel ever since. For she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho,” (Joshua 6:25). Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute, is not only honored as being a biblical heroine, but included in the genealogy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus (see Matthew 1:5), thereby participating in Christ’s ultimate triumph of grace.15

So that is the story, and the question we need to answer is: What caused the walls of Jericho to fall down? Was it God’s miracle or something else? Regular readers of my articles already know that my belief is that a miracle is only the result of a physical law that we do not yet understand. God performs his supernatural feats using the scientific laws he established for our universe.

Most commentators believe the collapse of the walls was caused by an earthquake or tremor. That could be, but there are other theories, too. A few believe the first six days of marching were merely a distraction, while some soldiers secretly mined under parts of the walls to weaken them.

One of the craziest theories I’ve heard is one presented in Time Magazine just a few years ago. That hypothesis explained that the walls of Jericho were not even used as a barrier to keep out enemies. The thought was that, over the centuries, each successive generation used the walls for varying social purposes and by the time the Israelites arrived, “the wall of Jericho began its slow metamorphosis from a thing of stone and earth into an object of pure myth . . . given that the Israelites probably never conquered Jericho at all.”16

Here is another idea, one of which I have given a lot of thought, which could have something to do with this story. There may have been much more going on during this dramatic event, but God must have worked-out a complex scientific method to bring about his miracle — one involving the stomping of marching feet, certain sound effects of a specific frequency, and the sudden and shocking noise from shouting troops. And maybe even the extra weight, from enticing hundreds of people to stand on the walls to watch, was part of the plan. After all, those crazy Israelites putting on an entertainment parade must have been fun to watch.

The Science behind Sound & Motion causing Disaster

What we perceive as sound is a vibration produced by motion. Be it a single tone, like plucking a guitar string, or a complex one, such as a musical piano chord or human speech, all sound produces vibrational waves in the air. To hear a sound, we need to be close enough for our ears to register the vibrations before they die off over distance. If the waves are too high pitched or too low pitched, humans won’t hear them at all, but some other animals can. For instance, canines can hear a dog whistle, but humans cannot.

Sounds can affect objects, too. Playing particular chords on one musical instrument can cause the strings on another to vibrate. Or, more dramatically, high notes on a violin, or even from a human voice, can cause a wine glass to vibrate until it breaks. This is not a myth; see References & Notes at the end of this article for video proof of this occurrence.17

Music isn’t the only way to prove cause and effect of sound waves producing structural damage. Back in 1831, British soldiers got a big surprise when a new suspension bridge collapsed as they crossed it.

When four columns of British troops marched ‘in step’ across the bridge, their synchronized footsteps began a rhythmic vibration, creating a pleasant bounce. Unfortunately, the frequency of bouncing increased until the structure broke apart and collapsed.18 Today, marching soldiers in many countries are ordered to break the stride when crossing bridges, to prevent this from happening.

Structures like bridges and buildings, although they appear to be solid and immovable, have a natural frequency of vibration within them. A force that’s applied to an object at the same frequency as the object’s natural frequency will amplify the vibration of the object, in an occurrence called mechanical resonance.19

This resonance — repeated vibrations at an object’s resonant frequency — “will weaken the structural integrity of a solid object and, in some rare cases, even break it.” The above bridge incident was, in essence, a much smaller-scale version of what happened on the huge Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940.20

The first bridge over Puget Sound, in Washington state (USA), collapsed within four months of its completion, when the deck tore apart and fell because of wind gusts causing vibrations. There were motion pictures taken of the disaster, which show the deck rolling up and down and twisting wildly.21 The bridge’s collapse had a lasting effect on science and engineering. In many physics textbooks, the event is presented as an example of elementary forced mechanical resonance.22 (See References & Notes for a video of this large bridge’s actual failure; it is quite impressive.)23

All buildings, as well as the ground or bedrock they sit upon, also have a normal resonance for it to naturally vibrate back and forth. During an earthquake, if the vibrating ground motion matches the natural resonance of a building, it will undergo the largest oscillations possible and suffer the greatest damage.24

 

Conclusion

So, my thought is this: God provided a sound way — pardon my pun — for the Israelites’ actions to directly destabilize the wall structure, causing it to fall. Collapsing down upon itself, the debris would provide a natural ramp for the invading men to easily enter the city. By following God’s instructions, Joshua and his troops, unknowingly, used the science of sound wave physics to accomplish their invasion of Jericho.

Am I going too far? Is that idea too much of a stretch of your imagination? Well, you tell me. If nothing else, I pray this study gives you more to think about concerning the knowledge God uses in helping his people. Have faith in our Lord, he knows what he is doing, even if we don’t.

For our related song, I’ve picked “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” by The Martins.25 If you like a touch of jazz, reminiscent of the style of the late American gospel queen Mahalia Jackson,26 you’ll like this rendition. Ironically, Wikipedia states that The Martins are “breaking down walls” by blending various music formats.27 Selected lyrics are below and the music video is listed in References & Notes.28

You may talk about your men of Gideon;
You may brag about your king of Saul;
There none so great like Joshua,
At the battle of Jericho.

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,
Jericho, Jericho.
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,
And the walls come tumbling down.

Copyright © 2022, Dr. Ray Hermann
OutlawBibleStudent.org

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References & Notes

  1. Bliss, Frederick J., in A Dictionary of the Bible: Dealing with Its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology, (Ed.) James Hastings, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911–1912), vol. 2, p. 579.
  2. Knowles, Andrew, (Ed.), The Bible Guide, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001), pp. 107-108.
  3. Black, John [aka John Syrigos], “The Ancient City of Jericho: The Oldest City in the World”, (Ancient Origins, retrieved 24 October 2022), https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-asia/jericho-001
  4. Wright, George Frederick, “Jericho”, (Bible Hub Atlas & Encyclopedia, retrieved 24 October 2022), https://bibleatlas.org/jericho.htm
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Luter, A. Boyd, CSB Study Bible: Notes, (Nashville TN: Holman Bible Publisher, 2017), p. 328.
  8. Campbell, Donald K., in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Eds.) Walvoord and Zuck, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, p. 339.
  9. Mays, James Luther, (Ed.), Harper’s Bible Commentary, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 238.
  10. Knowles, Andrew, (Ed.), The Bible Guide, (see above), pp. 109-110.
  11. Smyth, Dolores, “What Is the Biblical Significance of the Number 7?” (Christianity, 31 January 2020), https://www.christianity.com/wiki/bible/what-is-the-biblical-significance-of-the-number-7.html
  12. Campbell, Donald K., in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (see above), vol. 1, p. 341.
  13. Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989). Used with permission.
  14. Campbell, Donald K., in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (see above).
  15. Fentress, Ken, in The Apologetics Study Bible, (Ed.) Ted Cabal, (Nashville TN: Holman Bible Publisher, 2017), p. 266.
  16. Volner, Ian, “Why Do People Build Walls? The Real Story of Jericho Offers a Surprising Answer”, (Time Magazine, 30 May 2019), https://time.com/5597069/jericho-history/
  17. “How I broke a wine glass with my VOICE (using science!)”, Creator: Dianna Cowern, The Physics Girl, (uploaded to YouTube 17 January 2018), about 10 minutes long, however the important part of breaking the wine glass starts at time mark 6:50. Used under ‘fair use copyright’ for teaching under Section 107 of the United States Copyright Act of 1976 — TEACHING VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oc27GxSD_bI
  18. Milzarski, Eric, “What science says about the ‘marching on bridges’ myth”, (We are the Mighty, Military Life, 29 March 2021), https://www.wearethemighty.com/military-life/soldiers-marching-over-bridges-myth/
  19. Howell, Elizabeth, “Why Do Soldiers Break Stride On A Bridge?” (Live Science, 22 May 2013), https://www.livescience.com/34608-break-stride-frequency-of-vibration.html
  20. Milzarski, Eric, “What science says about the ‘marching on bridges’ myth” (see above).
  21. Billington, Philip N., “Tacoma Narrows”, (Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 July 1999), https://www.britannica.com/technology/bridge-engineering/Tacoma-Narrows#ref592538
  22. “Tacoma Narrows Bridge (1940)”, (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 September 2022), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacoma_Narrows_Bridge_(1940)
  23. “Tacoma Narrows Bridge Failure”, actual national news footage of 7 November 1940 event, (YouTube, less than 3 minutes long). Used under ‘fair use copyright’ for teaching under Section 107 of the United States Copyright Act of 1976 — NEWS VIDEO: https://youtu.be/jPGXKun_7G4
  24. “Building Resonance: Structural stability during earthquakes”, (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, IRIS, retrieved 24 October 2022), https://www.iris.edu/hq/inclass/animation/building_resonance_the_resonant_frequency_of_different_seismic_waves
  25. The Martins: modern American Christian music vocal trio, composed of three siblings: Joyce Martin Sanders, Jonathan Martin, and Judy Martin Hess.
  26. Mahalia Jackson: famous American gospel singer of the mid-20th century.
  27. “The Martins”, (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 January 2022), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Martins
  28. “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”, Artist: ‘The Martins’; DVD/CD: The Old Rugged Cross; (song uploaded to YouTube on 9 August 2012 by Gaither Music, Spring House Music Group; licensed by BMI, ARESA, others). Used under ‘fair use copyright’ for teaching under Section 107 of the United States Copyright Act of 1976 — MUSIC VIDEO: https://youtu.be/FoeSdDcS1LA
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