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Ai Captured by a Stratagem and Destroyed
Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed; take all the fighting men with you, and go up now to Ai. See, I have handed over to you the king of Ai with his people, his city, and his land. 2You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king; only its spoil and its livestock you may take as booty for yourselves. Set an ambush against the city, behind it.”
3 So Joshua and all the fighting men set out to go up against Ai. Joshua chose thirty thousand warriors and sent them out by night 4with the command, “You shall lie in ambush against the city, behind it; do not go very far from the city, but all of you stay alert. 5I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. When they come out against us, as before, we shall flee from them. 6They will come out after us until we have drawn them away from the city; for they will say, ‘They are fleeing from us, as before.’ While we flee from them, 7you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city; for the Lord your God will give it into your hand. 8And when you have taken the city, you shall set the city on fire, doing as the Lord has ordered; see, I have commanded you.” 9So Joshua sent them out; and they went to the place of ambush, and lay between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai; but Joshua spent that night in the camp.
10 In the morning Joshua rose early and mustered the people, and went up, with the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai. 11All the fighting men who were with him went up, and drew near before the city, and camped on the north side of Ai, with a ravine between them and Ai. 12Taking about five thousand men, he set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13So they stationed the forces, the main encampment that was north of the city and its rear guard west of the city. But Joshua spent that night in the valley. 14When the king of Ai saw this, he and all his people, the inhabitants of the city, hurried out early in the morning to the meeting place facing the Arabah to meet Israel in battle; but he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city. 15And Joshua and all Israel made a pretense of being beaten before them, and fled in the direction of the wilderness. 16So all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and as they pursued Joshua they were drawn away from the city. 17There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel; they left the city open, and pursued Israel.
18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the sword that is in your hand toward Ai; for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the sword that was in his hand toward the city. 19As soon as he stretched out his hand, the troops in ambush rose quickly out of their place and rushed forward. They entered the city, took it, and at once set the city on fire. 20So when the men of Ai looked back, the smoke of the city was rising to the sky. They had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers. 21When Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that the smoke of the city was rising, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. 22And the others came out from the city against them; so they were surrounded by Israelites, some on one side, and some on the other; and Israel struck them down until no one was left who survived or escaped. 23But the king of Ai was taken alive and brought to Joshua.
24 When Israel had finished slaughtering all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and when all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai, and attacked it with the edge of the sword. 25The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand—all the people of Ai. 26For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the sword, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. 27Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their booty, according to the word of the Lord that he had issued to Joshua. 28So Joshua burned Ai, and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. 29And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening; and at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree, threw it down at the entrance of the gate of the city, and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day.
Joshua Renews the Covenant
30 Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, 31just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, “an altar of unhewn stones, on which no iron tool has been used”; and they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed offerings of well-being. 32And there, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. 33All Israel, alien as well as citizen, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark in front of the levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, that they should bless the people of Israel. 34And afterward he read all the words of the law, blessings and curses, according to all that is written in the book of the law. 35There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the aliens who resided among them.
Jos 8:1-28. God Encourages Joshua.
1, 2. The Lord said unto Joshua, Fear not—By the execution of justice on Achan, the divine wrath was averted, the Israelites were reassured, defeat was succeeded by victory; and thus the case of Ai affords a striking example of God's disciplinary government, in which chastisements for sin are often made to pave the way for the bestowment of those temporal benefits, which, on account of sin, have been withdrawn, or withheld for a time. Joshua, who had been greatly dispirited, was encouraged by a special communication promising him (see Jos 1:6; De 31:6-8) success in the next attempt, which, however, was to be conducted on different principles.
take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai—The number of fighting men amounted to six hundred thousand, and the whole force was ordered on this occasion, partly because the spies, in their self-confidence, had said that a few were sufficient to attack the place (Jos 7:3), partly to dispel any misgivings which the memory of the late disaster might have created, and partly that the circumstance of the first spoil obtained in Canaan being shared among all, might operate both as a reward for obedience in refraining from the booty of Jericho, and as an incentive to future exertions (De 6:10). The rest of the people, including the women and children, remained in the camp at Gilgal. Being in the plains of Jericho, it was an ascent to Ai, which was on a hill.
I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land … lay thee an ambush for the city—God assured Joshua of Ai's capture, but allowed him to follow his own tactics in obtaining the possession.
3. So Joshua … chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valour—Joshua despatched thirty thousand men under cover of night, to station themselves at the place appointed for the ambuscade. Out of this number a detachment of five thousand was sent forward to conceal themselves in the immediate precincts of the town, in order to seize the first opportunity of throwing themselves into it [Jos 8:12].
4. behind the city—is rendered (Jos 8:9), "on the west side of Ai."
9. between Beth-el and Ai—Beth-el, though lying quite near in the direction of west by north, cannot be seen from Tell-el-hajar; two rocky heights rise between both places, in the wady El-Murogede, just as the laying of an ambush to the west of Ai would require [Van De Velde; Robinson].
10. Joshua … numbered the people—that is, the detachment of liers-in-wait; he did this, to be furnished with clear evidence afterwards, that the work had been done without any loss of men, whereby the people's confidence in God would be strengthened and encouragement given them to prosecute the war of invasion with vigor.
he and the elders of Israel—the chief magistrates and rulers, whose presence and official authority were necessary to ensure that the cattle and spoil of the city might be equally divided between the combatants and the rest of the people (Nu 31:27)—a military rule in Israel, that would have been very liable to be infringed, if an excited soldiery, eager for booty, had been left to their own will.
11-14. there was a valley between them and Ai—literally, "the valley."
13. Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley—The deep and steep-sided glen to the north of Tell-el-hajar, into which one looks down from the tell, fully agrees with this account [Van De Velde]. Joshua himself took up his position on the north side of "the ravine"—the deep chasm of the wady El-Murogede; "that night"—means, while it was dark, probably after midnight, or very early in the morning (Joh 20:1). The king of Ai, in the early dawn, rouses his slumbering subjects and makes a hasty sally with all his people who were capable of bearing arms, once more to surprise and annihilate them.
14. at a time appointed—either an hour concocted between the king and people of Ai and those of Beth-el, who were confederates in this enterprise, or perhaps they had fixed on the same time of day, as they had fought successfully against Israel on the former occasion, deeming it a lucky hour (Jud 20:38).
but he wist not that there were liers in ambush against him behind the city—It is evident that this king and his subjects were little experienced in war; otherwise they would have sent out scouts to reconnoitre the neighborhood; at all events, they would not have left their town wholly unprotected and open. Perhaps an ambuscade may have been a war stratagem hitherto unknown in that country, and among that people.
15-17. Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them—the pretended flight in the direction of the wilderness; that is, southeast, into the Ghor, the desert valley of the Jordan, decoyed all the inhabitants of Ai out of the city, while the people of Beth-el hastened to participate in the expected victory. It is supposed by some, from "the city," and not "cities," being spoken of, that the effective force of Beth-el had been concentrated in Ai, as the two places were closely contiguous, and Ai the larger of the two. (See Jos 12:9). It may be remarked, however, that the words, "or Beth-el," are not in the Septuagint, and are rejected by some eminent scholars, as an interpolation not found in the most ancient manuscripts.
18-25. Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city—The uplifted spear had probably a flag, or streamer on it, to render it the more conspicuous from the height where he stood. At the sight of this understood signal the ambush nearest the city, informed by their scouts, made a sudden rush and took possession of the city, telegraphing to their brethren by raising a smoke from the walls. Upon seeing this, the main body, who had been reigning a flight, turned round at the head of the pass upon their pursuers, while the twenty-five thousand issuing from their ambuscade, fell back upon their rear. The Ai-ites surprised, looked back, and found their situation now desperate.
23. the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua—to be reserved for a more ignominious death, as a greater criminal in God's sight than his subjects. In the mingled attack from before and behind, all the men were massacred.
24. all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword—the women, children, and old persons left behind, amounting, in all, to twelve thousand people [Jos 8:25].
26. Joshua drew not his hand back—Perhaps, from the long continuance of the posture, it might have been a means appointed by God, to animate the people, and kept up in the same devout spirit as Moses had shown, in lifting up his hands, until the work of slaughter had been completed—the ban executed. (See on Ex 17:10).
28. Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever—"For ever" often signifies "a long time" (Ge 6:3). One of the remarkable things with regard to the tell we have identified with Ai is its name—the tell of the heap of stones—a name which to this day remains [Van De Velde].
Jos 8:29. The King Hanged.
29. The king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide—that is, gibbeted. In ancient, and particularly Oriental wars, the chiefs, when taken prisoners, were usually executed. The Israelites were obliged, by the divine law, to put them to death. The execution of the king of Ai would tend to facilitate the conquest of the land, by striking terror into the other chiefs, and making it appear a judicial process, in which they were inflicting the vengeance of God upon His enemies.
take his carcass down … and raise thereon a great heap of stones—It was taken down at sunset, according to the divine command (De 21:23), and cast into a pit dug "at the entering of the gate," because that was the most public place. An immense cairn was raised over his grave—an ancient usage, still existing in the East, whereby is marked the sepulchre of persons whose memory is infamous.
30, 31. Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in mount Ebal—(See on De 27:11). This spot was little short of twenty miles from Ai. The march through a hostile country and the unmolested performance of the religious ceremonial observed at this mountain, would be greatly facilitated, through the blessing of God, by the disastrous fall of Ai. The solemn duty was to be attended to at the first convenient opportunity after the entrance into Canaan (De 27:2); and with this in view Joshua seems to have conducted the people through the mountainous region that intervened though no details of the journey have been recorded. Ebal was on the north, opposite to Gerizim, which was on the south side of the town Sichem (Nablous).
over which no man hath lifted up any iron—that is, iron tool. The reason for this was that every altar of the true God ought properly to have been built of earth (Ex 20:24); and if it was constructed of stone, rough, unhewn stones were to be employed that it might retain both the appearance and nature of earth, since every bloody sacrifice was connected with sin and death, by which man, the creature of earth, is brought to earth again [Keil].
they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings—This had been done when the covenant was established (Ex 24:5); and by the observance of these rites (De 27:6), the covenant was solemnly renewed—the people were reconciled to God by the burnt offering, and this feast accompanying the peace or thank offering, a happy communion with God was enjoyed by all the families in Israel.
32. he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses—(See on De 27:2, 3, 5); that is, the blessings and curses of the law. Some think that the stones which contained this inscription were the stones of the altar: but this verse seems rather to indicate that a number of stone pillars were erected alongside of the altar, and on which, after they were plastered, this duplicate of the law was inscribed.
33. all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side—One half of Israel was arranged on Gerizim, and the other half on Ebal—along the sides and base of each.
before the priests the Levites—in full view of them.
34. afterward he read all the words of the law—caused the priests or Levites to read it (De 27:14). Persons are often said in Scripture to do that which they only command to be done.
35. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not—It appears that a much larger portion of the law was read on this occasion than the brief summary inscribed on the stones; and this must have been the essence of the law as contained in Deuteronomy (De 4:44; 6:9; 27:8). It was not written on the stones, but on the plaster. The immediate design of this rehearsal was attained by the performance of the act itself. It only related to posterity, in so far as the record of the event would be handed down in the Book of Joshua, or the documents which form the groundwork of it [Hengstenberg]. Thus faithfully did Joshua execute the instructions given by Moses. How awfully solemn must have been the assemblage and the occasion! The eye and the ear of the people being both addressed, it was calculated to leave an indelible impression; and with spirits elevated by their brilliant victories in the land of promise, memory would often revert to the striking scene on mounts Ebal and Gerizim, and in the vale of Sychar.