Summary: The curse on Jericho, and the consequence of rebuilding
In the recitation of the ten commandments we read that the LORD our God “visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation.”
It is important that we keep a balanced view of Scripture because the passage goes on, “but showing mercy to thousands (of generations?) of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Deuteronomy 5:8-10).
It is a difficult pill to swallow, but it certainly demonstrates to us that idolatry, whatever form it takes, is no trivial matter.
In this account, it all began with Solomon and his backsliding. This great and wise king seems to have forgotten in his later life that there is a King in heaven, to whom all the rulers upon the earth are subject. It is a mistake which is often repeated.
The LORD will spare for the sake of a godly father, but the consequences of the sin roll over into another generation (1 Kings 11:1-13).
This is, after all, what we are talking about: sin has consequences. How else did “bad areas” come about in our cities?
A generation which has forsaken the true and living God blames Him when things are going wrong for them, but ultimately it is our own fault. God does not bring evil directly upon us, but He does “give us up” to the inclinations of our own hearts (Romans 1:18-32). So much for our much overrated “free will”!
Solomon multiplied wives to himself from the nations around him, and when he was old they turned his heart aside to worship their idols. As a consequence, the LORD tore the kingdom from his son's hands. Ten tribes deserted with a man called Jeroboam, the son of Nebat and formed the kingdom of Israel/Ephraim in the North, leaving the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the South.
No sooner had they left than Jeroboam built two golden calves for his people to worship (1 Kings 12:26-33). This became a sin to Israel, and aroused the anger of the LORD against the new king (1 Kings 14:7-16).
After this the history of the Northern kingdom was punctuated with instability, one short-lived dynasty following another in quick succession. Meanwhile the LORD preserved the family of David in Judah.
Scripture concludes that Omri, the founder of one of these dynasties, was evil (1 Kings 16:25-26). Secular sources tell us that Omri was a great king in Israel. Certainly Omri built the city of Samaria, and made trading agreements with Tyre and Sidon. However, the latter came at a price: his son Ahab, seeking to emulate those who went before him, married the Phoenician princess, Jezebel (1 Kings 16:30-33).
It was during the reign of Ahab that Jericho was rebuilt (1 Kings 16:34). It is as if the last few centuries were of no account: Israel was going back in time to the days of golden calves and idolatrous cities. Before we are too harsh and critical, we must take care to once more chase the idols out of our own hearts.
Child sacrifices may well have taken place in ancient Canaan. They certainly did in Phoenicia, and in Carthage. Is it possible that Israel had also sunk this low? Certainly what happened to the builder's children was in accordance with the curse set upon Jericho at the time of the conquest (Joshua 6:26).
Ahab wished to make a vegetable garden out of his neighbour's vineyard. Jezebel could not understand why a king was not allowed just to seize what he wanted, even if it was at the expense of another man's God-given inheritance. She saw to it that the man was set up and murdered, just as surely as if the royal couple had done the filthy deed with their own hands (1 Kings 21:1-16).
Confronted by the word of the LORD, Ahab found it in his heart to display something which resembled repentance. Elijah was commissioned to inform the king that the kingdom would not be torn out of his hands in his own days, but in the days of his son. The rot had already set in (cf. 1 Kings 21:21-29).
We must be careful not to return to whatever Jericho represents in our own lives. Our so-called freewill only leaves us free to follow the inclinations of our hearts, and outside of Christ that inclination is always towards evil, no matter how good we think we are (Genesis 8:21).
Until we are set free by Jesus we remain under the curse, and so do our children. When we are redeemed we enter into the blessing, and so do our children (Galatians 3:13-14).
The LORD shows mercy to thousands (of generations) of those who love Him and keep His commandments.