JERICHO IS FOUND low down in the Jordan Valley, about 27km East of Jerusalem and 10km North West of the Dead Sea.  The town lies some 250m below sea level, which makes it the lowest on earth.  Although Jericho is surrounded by scorching hot desert, it is well watered by freshwater springs.  The Hebrew name for Jericho means ‘fragrant.’  Today it is called the ‘City of Palms’.  It was also noted for its groves of balm. 

To the north of the modern town can be seen the huge mound of the ancient city of Jericho called Tel es - Sultan.  This mound contains the remnants of what is claimed by archaeologists to be the oldest city in the world.  This was the Canaanite City that features in the Old Testament Scriptures.  By the time of Jesus this was probably a deserted ruin, with a spread out town nearby that Herod the Great had laid out.  It had aqueducts to irrigate the fields and to take water to the winter palace he had located there. 

The biblical history of Jericho starts with Moses looking westward across the Jordan from Mount Nebo in Moab and seeing, ‘... the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees.’  (Deuteronomy 34.3)   It was Joshua who then led the Israelites into the ‘promised land’ and it was the city of Jericho that Joshua made plans to conquer first.  The archaeologists tell us that the ancient city was surrounded by two walls; the inner wall being some four metres wide and the outer wall being two metres wide, estimated to have been about nine metres high.  These walls were built with rooms within them and the faithful woman Rahab, is brought to our notice by the fact that she lived in a house on the wall.  We read how she sheltered and helped the spies sent out by Joshua by hiding them and then lowering them from a window to escape.  (Joshua chapter 2) 

We then learn how the city was taken and destroyed in a most unusual way. The Israelites were told to march right round the city once each day for six days with the priests carrying the ark of the Lord.  On the seventh day they circled the city seven times and when the priests blew with the trumpets the people shouted with a ‘great shout’ and the wall collapsed, Joshua taking the city and saving only Rahab, ‘her father’s household, and all that she had.’ (Joshua 6.1-25)  Rahab appears in the genealogy of Christ and is noted in Hebrews chapter 11 as a woman of faith.  (Hebrews 11.31)  Some archaeologists agree that this is exactly what happened, others say it didn’t, but we need to have the faith of Rahab and believe the biblical record.  (See article entitled  ‘Women of Faith’ in the next issue). 

The hand of God can be clearly seen in the taking of Jericho.  Having destroyed it Joshua made a prophecy: ‘Cursed before the LORD is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates.’  (Joshua 6.26.NIV)  This prophecy was fulfilled some centuries later when King Ahab reigned and Hiel of Bethel set about rebuilding the city walls and lost his two sons exactly as Joshua had foretold.  (1 Kings 16.34 NIV) 

Before this happened in the time of the Judges, Jericho was taken by Eglon the king of Moab and with much of Israel, was subject to the Moabites for eighteen years, after which God raised up Ehud to release them from this oppression.  (Judges 3.12-24)     Later we find that Elijah and Elisha went to Jericho and an incident we can read about concerns Elisha, when he miraculously healed the waters.  (2 Kings 2.18-22)  One of the springs by the ancient mound is still called  ‘the spring of Elisha.’   

Jericho -‘ The city of palms’

We know that Jericho was inhabited after the Jewish captivity in Babylon, around 445 BC, because Ezra records that 345 children of Jericho returned home.  (Ezra 2.34)  Nehemiah tells us that their descendants helped to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 3.2.)   In New Testament times the Gospel records state, that Jesus visited Jericho on more than one occasion and we get some idea of the size of the population of the city by the fact that Jesus was followed by a great number of people.  Among them were blind beggars including Bartimaeus, who pleaded for Jesus to have mercy on them, which  when they declared their faith he miraculously gave them their sight.  (Matthew 20.29-34; Mark 10.46-52) 

The pleasant encounter that Jesus had with Zacchaeus at Jericho also gives us an insight into the prosperity of the city at that time. Zacchaeus was the chief publican, a tax collector, a man of wealth and hated by the people. As Jesus came through Jericho, he was determined to see him but because he was a short man, he climbed a tree to get a sight of Jesus. However it was Jesus who sought out Zacchaeus, seeing in this man a readiness to change his life and follow him. The record tells how Jesus, despite criticism, stayed in Jericho at this man’s house, and brought salvation to his household as well. (Luke 19.1-10) 

Christ’s familiarity with Jericho and the road leading down to it through the Wadi Kelt, is reflected in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ use of the example of a Priest and then a Levite who, ignoring the urgent needs of a badly wounded man on the Jerusalem to Jericho road, describes perfectly the attitude at that time. Jericho was like a holiday resort to those in Jerusalem. By travelling just a short distance, about four hours walking time, a person could be transferred from the sometimes quite cold climate of Jerusalem at 777m above sea level, to the balmy warmth of Jericho, 250m below sea level. This is why Herod built his summer palace there. The Priests and the Levites also used Jericho as their off-duty resting-place. The Jewish Talmud comments that there were as many priests in Jericho as there were in Jerusalem and Jesus used this fact to pointedly illustrate his parable. (Luke 10.25-37) 

The last mention of Jericho in the Bible is in the letter to the Hebrews, where the writer tells us how the faith of the Israelites in the power of God brought the walls of ancient Jericho tumbling down. (Hebrews 11.30) It was not long after this letter was written, that the city was destroyed by the Romans to put down the Jewish revolt in AD 70. The marvel is that we can stand today on the ruins of this city, a witness historically and archaeologically to the truth of God’s Word.