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Doctrinal Matters: Bible Interpretation

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The Principle of Authority at Jericho

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

The principle of authority is a well-established doctrine of the Bible. Stated briefly, the Bible teaches that no human being has the right to do anything without prior permission from God (see Miller, 2003). This principle applies to human conduct in every area of life—from the foods we eat to the clothes we wear (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:9; 4:3-5). We are to be governed by God’s will in every aspect of life. For example, no human has the right to engage in illegal drug trafficking—since God’s Word gives no such permission. No human being has the right to set himself up as the head of Christ’s church—since God’s Word gives no such permission. No human being has the right to worship God incorporating humanly devised means (e.g., mechanical musical instruments, choirs, “praise teams”)—since God’s Word gives no such permission.

Among the myriad of passages that expound this principle is Joshua chapter six, in which God instructed Joshua to have the people march around the city of Jericho once a day for six days, seven times on the seventh day, and then to shout when the priests blew their trumpets. When Joshua conveyed these instructions to the population, he added this clarification: “You shall not shout or make any noise with your voice, nor shall a word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I say to you, ‘Shout!’ Then you shall shout” (Joshua 6:10, NKJV). Though God did not specifically tell the people not to shout on days one through six, Joshua drew that very inference and correctly clarified the point for the people. In doing so, he was simply articulating the familiar biblical principle of authority: “that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written’” (1 Corinthians 4:6, NIV).

However, some critics have objected to the biblical principle of authority as illustrated in Joshua chapter six. They allege that because the priests blew on the rams’ horns on days other than the seventh day (vss. 8,13), the priests were not required to have divine authority to do so. Critics insist that God’s silence on blowing trumpets on days other than the seventh day meant that the priests were free to exercise their own discretion and blow their trumpets on those days. They then draw the conclusion that, in like manner, since God has not spoken one way or the other on such matters as instrumental music in worship, handclapping, baby dedications, and praise teams, then worshippers are free to include or omit such actions as they choose.

Consider the following refutation of this line of thinking. In the first place, the objection fails to come to grips with Joshua’s own logic on the matter. It was Joshua who understood God’s instructions to forbid shouting on days one through six, though God did not explicitly forbid it. So to discount the biblical principle of authority, one would have to demonstrate that Joshua was mistaken in the conclusion that he, himself, drew regarding the lack of authority to shout on days one through six.

In the second place, the text gives several contextual indicators to show that the authority principle applies consistently to both the matter of blowing the trumpets and the matter of shouting. Notice the English grammar of the text in verse four: “And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets” (NKJV). Observe the “And” (a waw in Hebrew) that begins the sentence and the period after “ark” followed by “But” (also a waw). The “And” links back up with verse three, indicating that the trumpets accompanied the priests for the first six days. The period places closure on that point, and the “But” shows that the thought regarding blowing the trumpets on the seventh day is in addition to the use of the trumpets prior to that time. These observations are borne out by the way various translators have handled the Hebrew text of Joshua 6:3-4:

  • “March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets” (NIV).
  • “And you shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days. Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets” (NASB).
  • “You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; and on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets” (RSV).

Though the translators vary in their handling of the punctuation, the language allows for the authorized use of the trumpets prior to the seventh day. The language certainly does not require the conclusion that God confined the trumpet blowing to the seventh day. The language leaves room for the priests to utilize their trumpets each of the seven days—not merely on the seventh.

Further, one must not assume that every detail that God communicated to Joshua is divulged in verses two through five. The Bible often reveals incomplete information in various parts of a context, or even elsewhere in the Bible, that must be gathered together to grasp the entirety of the circumstances surrounding an incident. Even though only the single long blast on the trumpets is explicitly mentioned in the initial instructions given to Joshua regarding day seven (vss. 4b-5), it is evident from the rest of the account that blowing was also to be done during the six days. Joshua confirmed this very point when he repeated the instructions he had received from God to the people. He mentioned the carrying of the trumpets as occurring with the initial taking up of the ark (vs. 6)—which would seem to suggest that they would be used, not merely carried. The reason the long blast on the seventh day was emphasized was not to imply that no blowing was required, specified, or authorized prior to the seventh day, but simply to signal at which point the shouting was to occur (vs. 20)—which was limited to day seven. Observe carefully the structural layout of the events as the Holy Spirit chose to give them to us:

  • Verses 2-5: God gives instructions to Joshua
  • Verses 6-7: Joshua relays the instructions to the people (though recorded by the Holy Spirit for us in abbreviated form)
  • Verses 8-9: The first day of the carrying out of the instructions by the people commences
  • Verse 10: Narrator parenthetically interrupts to clarify Joshua’s explanation to the people regarding shouting
  • Verse 11: Summary of the first day of marching
  • Verses 12-14: Summary of the first six days of marching
  • Verses 15-16: Account of the seventh day
  • Verses 17-19: Reminders regarding Rahab and refraining from taking booty
  • Verses 20ff.: Rest of the details regarding seventh day

It is evident from the Holy Spirit’s sequential reporting of the events that the blowing of the trumpets on days one to six was included in the instructions that God had given. This fact is especially apparent in verse 8, which follows immediately on the heels of Joshua’s relaying of God’s instructions to the people in verses 6-7. Though verses 6-7 do not explicitly mention the blowing of the trumpets, notice how verse 8 is worded in such a way that it is evident that the priests blowing the trumpets in verse 8 was the direct result of Joshua’s instructions in verses 6-7: “So it was, when Joshua had spoken to the people, that the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord advanced and blew the trumpets....”

Additionally, observe that in giving God’s instructions regarding shouting (vs. 10), Joshua flagged the fact that the only noise being limited/forbidden until day seven was shouting made “with your voice” and “out of your mouth.” That specification would need to be clarified if, in fact, it was understood that trumpet blowing would be occurring on days one to six.

Taking all of these factors into account, a simple reading of the chapter demonstrates that (1) God authorized the trumpets to be blown by the priests on days one to six; (2) the priests were to blow one long single blast at the specified time after the seventh trip around the city on the seventh day in order to signal the population that the time had come for them to shout with one accord; (3) the people were authorized to shout only on the seventh day and any shouting on days 1-6 would have been unauthorized by God—even as Joshua, himself, concluded.

God often gave more information to Bible characters that is recorded in Scripture. We have no right to assume an action is right unless God says so or an approved Bible character provides further explanation that verifies God’s approval. The biblical principle of authority is not brought into question by the matter of trumpet blowing in Joshua chapter six. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

REFERENCE

Miller, Dave (2003), “The Principle of Authority,” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=1215.




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