The Rebuilding of Jericho
Tucked away at the end of our reading in 1 Kings 16 is the story of a man who rebuilt the city of Jericho. It’s a curious little footnote in the otherwise well-known record of the life of King Ahab.
We start reading in verse 29 that he began to reign, married Jezebel, and brought Baal worship into Israel. But before we get into the account of Elijah coming into his palace in chapter 17, we have the historical footnote that “In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho.” (v34).
As we’re learning about one of the most infamous kings of Israel, perhaps we feel like it’s a bit of a random interruption. So what if someone rebuilt Jericho? Yes, it’s the fulfillment of something that Joshua said years before, as the verse goes on to say, “He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.” OK, that’s reasonably interesting, and a sad way to lose your children. But other than it happened during his reign, what does it have to do with the life of Ahab? Well, that’s where things get interesting!
In all of our Bible reading, context is king. First, consider the original context of what Joshua said about rebuilding Jericho. It’s recorded in Joshua 6 when they marched around the city and later destroyed it and its inhabitants. The end of the chapter says, “Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, ‘Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates.’” (v26).
The man who rebuilt the city in the days of Ahab suffered from this curse. But why did Joshua utter it in the first place? What was it about Jericho that meant such a thing for whoever rebuilt it?
We find the answer to that question in verse 17 – “And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction.” Everything had to be utterly destroyed because Jericho was a symbol of all that was antagonistic to God. By rebuilding it, that antagonism, symbolically-speaking, returned.
Now, that principle about devoting Jericho to destruction didn’t just come out of thin air. It’s a fulfillment of the word given to the people in Deuteronomy 7. They were told when they entered Canaan and faced the Canaanites in their cites, “then you must devote them to complete destruction.” (v2). Joshua fulfilled this principle, and the man who rebuilt Jericho reversed it.
So, what has any of this got to do with Ahab? Well, if we carry on reading in Deuteronomy 7, the instructions related to Jericho and the other Canaanite cities don’t stop there. Next, they were told not to marry any of the foreign women, “for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.” (v4). Also, they were to “break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim” (v5).
When we go back to 1 Kings 16 and the introduction to the life of Ahab, we see him reversing each of the principles. First, he married Jezebel (v31). Then, instead of breaking down altars to Baal and Asherim poles, “He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah.” (v32-33).
What Hiel did in rebuilding Jericho was typical of the reign of Ahab. All of God’s principles from Deuteronomy 7 were reversed. What Ahab did, people like Hiel did also. The detail about Hiel rebuilding Jericho wasn’t just a random historical footnote but an explanation of the kind of attitude prevalent during the days of Ahab. In many ways, we are living in similar times. We have ungodly rulers, doing their best to go against God’s principles. So the lesson for us is clear, we have to make sure we don’t get sucked into that way of thinking and keep the principles of God intact.
Simi Hills, CA