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Chiastic Structure at Jericho

Updated on October 22, 2009
Greek Letter Chi
Greek Letter Chi

The well-known Bible story of Joshua at Jericho appears in Joshua chapter 6. The followup events, chapter 7-8, show Achan taking what was to be destroyed. As a result, Israel failed their attack against Ai. When Achan was discovered, he and his family were destroyed. The next attack on Ai was a great success.

What is not often presented is the literary device called Chiastic Structure, which shapes this story in Joshua. The Greek letter Chi corresponds to the Latin letter eks. The shape of the letter is of interest to literary theorists, as it shows a 'switching of sides' if you will. Certain elements of the story are placed in a symmetric pattern to emphasize them.

We must also understand God's (Yahweh's) idea of a holy war. In ancient cultures an army was paid by the spoil it could take from a defeated enemy. If you win, you get paid. When God declared a holy war on a people, there was to be no spoil taken. In Joshua 6:18-25, we find the Israelites completely destroying everything that could be: men, women, children and animals of all kinds. Also, the city was burned to the ground. Anything that was not burnable was donated to the treasury of God. It was all God's because He fought the battle; Joshua and the Israelites just cleaned up the mess.

To completely understand the chiastic elements in this story, we must also look at Joshua chapter 2. Their we find the Israelite spies hiding with Rahab and making a covenant with her. When Jericho is destroyed, she and her house will not be destroyed. She is accepted into Israel.

Moving now to Joshua chapter 7, Achan takes some spoil for himself. By doing so, he has become part of Jericho, and God is now warring against Achan and Israel. Because of this, Israel cannot defeat Ai on their first attempt. Only when Achan and his entire family and all his possessions are destroyed does God cease to war against Israel; Israel has ceased to be part of Jericho when the part of Jericho is removed from Israel.

Although Israel lost Achan and his household, they gained Rahab and her household. Therein lie the chiastic elements. While Achan switches sides, so does Rahab.

Three lessons can be learned from this story.

One: Beware of what you bring into your household. Are you becoming part of something that God is warring against, and thereby making yourself an object of God's anger?

Two: When God removes something unholy from your life, He stands ready to fill that space with something new and holy.

Three: God is no respecter of birth or culture. Being in church won't necessarily save you, and being in the world won't necessarily damn you. [credit to my friend Joe B. for this one.]


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