'And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the LORD, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it'-Joshua 6:26
'In his days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho: he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun' -1 Kings 16:34
There they stood in the smoking ruins of what was left of Jericho. The Israelites had marched, shouted, blown, slaughtered, and burned. What does God want them to do now? Actually, it is what He does not want them to do that is important. He commands them to never rebuild the city that He had destroyed.1 Jericho was very pleasantly situated, and its nearness to Jordan was an advantage which would tempt succeeding generations to build on the same spot. Nonetheless, they are warned of what would happen to one who decided to rebuild the city. His oldest son would die when he began the work, and if he persisted, he would attend the funeral of his youngest son when he finished it.2
About five hundred and thirty years later (ca. 850 B.C.), during the reign of King Ahab, a man named Hiel3 of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. Just as God had said, when he laid the foundation, he lost his firstborn son (Abiram); and when he set up the gates, he lost his youngest son (Segub) (1 Kgs. 16:34). What a sacrifice to make for a city!
It is interesting, and instructive, to place ourselves mentally in the position of this man from Bethel. What possibly could have been behind Hiel's tragic mistake?
HIEL TEACHES US…THE DANGER OF IGNORANCE. Hiel could have been ignorant of this warning. He might have grown up in a family where the Bible was not read. He could have slept during Sabbath classes and misbehaved during temple worship services. He might have been sick the day that Joshua 6:26 was studied. Nobody may have cared enough to warn him when he started building on the old Jericho site. They might have reasoned, 'Well, I don't want to get involved. I'm sure he's read Joshua's curse. He's made up his mind. It's none of my business anyway. He can make his own mistakes.'
Spiritual ignorance is dangerous (Hosea 4:1; 2 Chronicles 15:3; Proverbs 19:2; Matthew 15:14). There are threats the Bible makes which apply to people living today, and if we do not learn of them, and avoid breaking God's laws, we, too, will be punished. We can see, therefore, the urgency of studying the Bible and learning what God has commanded (2 Timothy 2:15; Acts 17:11). How much Bible study do you and I do?
…THE UNFAILING TRUTHFULNESS OF GOD'S WORD. Not one jot or tittle of this curse passed away (Joshua 24:14-15). Abiram, the firstborn, and Segub, the youngest, both died, the one at the laying of the foundation, the other at the setting up of the gates of the city. 'The testimony of the LORD is sure…' (Psalm 19:7). The One who was called Truth said, 'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away' (Matthew 24:35; cf. John 14:6). His Father said, 'My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips' (Psalm 89:34). We can trust in this fact: 'God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?' (Numbers 23:19). History shows an unbroken fulfillment of the Scriptures.
…THE STRONG INFLUENCE OF UNHOLY GOVERNMENT. It was in the days of Ahab that Hiel built Jericho (1 Kings 16:29-34; cf. Jeremiah 2:8). Ahab was among the worst kings Israel ever had. The Bible says that he '...did more to provoke the God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel before him' (1 Kings 16:30). Hiel was also from Bethel. It was in Bethel that Jeroboam set up an idol calf, making the place a center of idolatry (1 Kings 12:28-33). This single sentence of history is one of God's many monuments, erected in solemn protest against our association with wicked men. Its inscription reads, 'Stand not in the way of sinners...' (Psalm 1:1-2) and 'be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners' (1 Corinthians 15:33; cf. Proverbs 14:34).
…THE POWER OF UNBELIEF, ONCE IT IS SERIOUSLY ENTERTAINED. When Hiel attended the funeral of Abiram, the firstborn son, we might have expected that he would have given up, yet he persisted. The curse was seen to be effective, yet he went back to work and lost his youngest child when he set up the gates (the last stage of building a city). Jeremiah knew of the power of disbelief. He said, '…be not proud: for the LORD hath spoken. Give glory to the LORD your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock is carried away captive' (Jeremiah 13:15-17). The other thief on the cross is also a good example. He knew he was within minutes of death and still railed on the only One who could save him (Luke 23:39). How foolish are we today if we doubt God's Word! Some will even admit that the 'Bible says that,' but they persist in doubting that it applies to them. Sadly, they 'oppose themselves' (2 Timothy 2:25).
Even death and taxes are not as sure as God's Word.
1Perhaps God wanted the ruins left as a 'sermon written in stone.' They would be permanent proof of God's displeasure with idolatry and His power over idol gods. A new city would erase the memory of God's judgment. The wrecked city would also serve as a reminder that God fights for His people (Deuteronomy 3:22; cf. Romans 8:31) and that it is foolish to trust in the arm of flesh (2 Chronicles 32:8).
2There was a city of Jericho that appeared during the next seven or at the latest, twenty-five years (cf. Joshua 23:21; Jude 1:16; 2 Samuel 10:4-5). This city was in the same vicinity but not built upon the same site. Josephus (a Jewish historian) distinguishes between 'the old city, which Joshua took first of all the cities of the land,' and an adjacent Jericho. Some say that there have been at least three Jerichos built at different places in this same general area. The new city in Joshua's time could probably have been more easily built on a new site than the old one because of the rubble that would have had to be cleared away. After it was rebuilt, Elijah and Elisha visited a school of the prophets there (2 Kings 2:4-5, 2 Kings 2:18).
3Interestingly, his name means, 'God lives' (pronounced khee-ale).