After the Lord God gave the city of Jericho into the hands of Joshua and the people of Israel, Joshua pronounced a curse on the city: “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” (Joshua 6:26).
Prior to the battle, the Lord had declared Jericho, the first city to fall to Israel’s conquest of Canaan, to be wholly dedicated to Him: “The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury” (Joshua 6:17–19). The facts that everything in Jericho belonged to the Lord and that the collapse of the city walls was wholly the Lord’s work probably factored into Joshua’s warning not to rebuild the city.
First Kings 16:34 reveals that Joshua’s curse did come true during the time of King Ahab: “Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. 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.”
Several important details must be noted. First, Joshua did not promise Jericho would never be rebuilt. Instead, he said the person who rebuilt it would be judged by the loss of his firstborn son and youngest son.
Second, God confirmed His word through Joshua, taking the lives of Hiel’s sons Abiram and Segub. At the beginning of the work (the laying of the foundation), the first son died; at the end of the work (the hanging of the gates), the youngest son died. This proved God’s faithfulness and revealed the consequences of sin that often affect one’s family members. Though the sin was Hiel’s, the consequence included the deaths of two sons.
Third, Hiel’s rebuilding of Jericho is included as part of a longer passage describing the evil that took place during King Ahab’s reign in Israel. Ahab took a pagan, non-Jewish wife named Jezebel and even worshiped her god, Baal. Further, Ahab had a temple of Baal built in the capital city of Samaria and erected an Asherah pole. The conclusion of this account is that “Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:33). During this wicked time, Hiel disregarded Joshua’s curse and rebuilt Jericho.
This moral low point in Israel’s history was also the point at which God raised up the prophet Elijah to fight against Baal, revive the hearts of the Israelites, and turn many people back to the Lord. After a three-year drought during Ahab’s reign, Elijah defeated the priests of Baal and helped begin a spiritual revival among the Israelites.