Recently I was preaching on 1 Kings 16:29-17:6, a passage I really came to love. I think it’s the snarkiness of the passage that I found particularly attractive. I love snark as a legitimate prophetic voice.
But due to time constraints I had to skip over a part of the passage that intrudes into the narrative and sits there in an odd way. It’s this strange story of a guy who seeks to rebuild the city of Jericho. And it has nothing to do with anything. Well, it looks like it has nothing to do with anything. But there is a point.
Here’s what it says:
34 In Ahab’s time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the LORD spoken by Joshua son of Nun.
Here’s the point:
This isn’t just a useless piece of trivia about a building project. Kings doesn’t record trivia about building projects. The writer of Kings keeps saying that for all that stuff we need to check out the Annals of the Kings. Every now and then in Kings the writer will give us a little story to give us a snap-shot of the kind of flavour of what it was like under that King’s reign. And verse 34 is a picture of what was pretty typical under Ahab.
When it says “the word of the LORD spoken by Joshua son of Nun” it’s talking about Joshua 6:26. Joshua has just led the people of God to march around the city of Jericho, they blow their trumpets, and the walls collapse and God’s people take the city. Then in verse 26 it says:
26 At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: “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.”
And so this guy, Hiel, undertook to rebuild Jericho under Ahab’s orders. The curse in Joshua 6 didn’t prohibit people from living in Jericho, because it seems like there’s post-conquest settlements in Jericho (Joshua 18:21 – ” 21 The tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, had the following cities: Jericho, Beth Hoglah, Emek Keziz,”; Judges 3:13 – “13 Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms (that is, Jericho)”; 2 Samuel 10:5 – “5 When David was told about this, he sent messengers to meet the men, for they were greatly humiliated. The king said, “Stay at Jericho till your beards have grown, and then come back.””
The prohibition was about re-fortifying the city.
It seems Jericho was a strategic defensive site, but who would want to rebuild the fortress in opposition to Joshua’s curse? Well, Ahab would. The point of the story is that this is what it was like under Ahab’s reign, open opposition and dismissal of God’s word. And just like God had promised, at each point in the reconstruction the children of Hiel died. Just like God had warned they would.
But the place was rebuilt. So there it was, Jericho, a monument to Ahab’s defensive strategy and his open defiance of God’s word. And there were other monuments too. Just outside Bethel there were two graves, one for Abiram and one for Segub. Monuments that God keeps his word and that his judgment is certain.
But that was the flavour of the reign of Ahab: absolute disregard for God and his word.