Unveiling Curse Prayers: a Curse Upon the City of Jericho

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Cursed before the LORD be anyone who tries
to build this city—this Jericho!
At the cost of his firstborn he shall lay its foundation,
and at the cost of his youngest he shall set up its gates!1

Joshua 6.26

Background

If the last passage we examined (Joshua 1.17) was not a prayer, then the first prayer in the book of Joshua does not appear until here in 6.26. Many important events have come and gone, with no mention of prayer. Joshua sent spies into the promised land, who find refuge with a prostitute who knows they are from God and will conquer the city. They return to Joshua with a report. No prayers are offered before, during, or after the mission.

The Israelites then strike camp and cross a river, able to do so because God stops it from flowing. No prayers are offered before the crossing, and there are no prayers of praise or thanksgiving after. It is the priests, however, who lead the way across the river and into the promised land, carrying the ark of the covenant. Many commentators have viewed this as a sign of the Israelites’ dependence on God. In the context of the whole book, however, the Israelites may have seen the ark more as a powerful weapon than a sign of their dependence on God.

When the kings of the land see that miracle and the army of the Israelites, they are afraid. The Israelites celebrate a Passover as a symbolic end of the time between the first Passover in Egypt and this entry into the promised land. Still, there are no prayers.

The large army approaches Jericho, and an angel appears to Joshua, giving him instructions from God. Still, there are no prayers offered. Seven times a day for seven days, the army marches around the city walls, with the priests in front carrying the ark. Again, no prayers. The walls fall, the Israelites kill all the men and women and animals, and rescue the prostitute and her family, just as the spies had promised her (in return for her help).

We then arrive at the first prayer in Joshua. Having explored the prayers in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, we would expect a prayer of praise, thanksgiving, or blessing for the victory. Instead, we find a curse-prayer. Joshua asks that God curse anyone whoever tries to refortify the city.

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