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Ai Captured by a Stratagem and Destroyed


Then the L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord, the God of Israel, 31just as Moses the servant of the L ord 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 L ord, 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 L ord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the L ord 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.

1. And the Lord said unto Joshua, etc It was of great consequence to Joshua, as well as the people, to inspire new courage, that they might prepare with confidence to assault the city of Ai, from which they had lately been repulsed with loss and greater disgrace. God, therefore, to inspire them with intrepidity on this expedition, promises that he will give them the city. With the same view he enjoins them to fight by stratagem more than open war, to entice the enemy out, and to select a secret place for an ambuscade which might take them by surprise. A few thousands might without any difficulty have been overthrown by an immense host attacking the city suddenly and unexpectedly. But as we formerly saw that the hearts of all had melted away, God consulted for their weakness by laying no greater burden upon them than they were able to bear, until they had recovered from their excessive panic, and could execute his commands with alacrity.

It is true, indeed, that he now used their own exertion, partly that they might not always keep looking for miracles, and so give themselves up to laziness, and partly that in different and unequal modes of acting they might nevertheless recognize that his power is the same. But care must be taken not to omit the special reason, namely, that not having yet recovered from their terror, they could scarcely have been induced to engage in an open conflict, had they not seen stratagem employed as a subsidiary aid. The first place, however, is due to the promise, Fear not, for I have delivered it into thy hands: for although it is verbally directed to Joshua, it belongs in common to the whole people, as it was most necessary that all to a man should be freed from anxiety and furnished with new confidence. The order to burn the city like Jericho, appears to be a concession to the popular feeling, the vengeance thus taken serving to wipe out the remembrance of their disgrace. At the same time that they may engage in the expedition more willingly, the spoils are left to them as the reward of victory.

13. Joshua went that night, etc It is not probable that all were called out from the camp, but the army was composed of those who were more accustomed to war. That it was sufficiently numerous appears from the fact, that five thousand were withdrawn from it for ambuscade. At first thirty-five thousand appear to be enumerated, but it is clear from the context that the number was not so great. I am rather inclined to conjecture that thirty thousand were led out for open fight, and that five thousand were specially set apart for an ambuscade. Joshua hastens to execute the task assigned to him, commencing his march in the morning, and in this haste we see how effectual the promise had proved. Had not the mind of all been freed from fear he never could have found them so prompt to obey.

Apparently, indeed, little prudence is shown in sending so large a body to proceed by hidden paths to a place suitable for ambuscade. For with whatever silence and composure they might proceed, the mere movement of their feet must have caused a considerable noise. Should any one say that there was nobody to meet them, as all the inhabitants of the district had deserted the fields and taken refuge in the city, we will find it mentioned shortly after, that before the Israelites came near to the city their arrival was known by the king of Ai; and this could scarcely have been without scouts. But granting that they met no one in the fields, it was certainly a difficult matter to pass by, to select a suitable place during night for an ambuscade, and to take possession of it without giving some indication of their presence. With regard to the procedure of Joshua, though he might see that the business could be accomplished by a smaller force, he seems to have been compelled by the recent trepidation of the people to be very careful not to engage them in any enterprise of danger. For had only a few of the army been dispatched they would perhaps have declined a part by which they were to be particularly exposed.

The Lord meanwhile displays the greatest indulgence to his people in delivering up an enemy that was to be so easily conquered. His wonderful favor especially appears in blinding all of them, so that they have no suspicion of the ambuscade. I have no doubt that when it is said they knew not of it, the writer of the history means to draw attention to the rare and extraordinary kindness of God in so covering, as it were, with the shadow of his hand, first, the thirty thousand who accompanied Joshua, and then the five thousand, that they all escaped the notice of the enemy. When mention is now made of five thousand, I do not understand it to mean that Joshua furnished a new ambuscade, as if the number, already excessive, were not sufficient, but that the writer now merely shows how the thirty-five thousand whom Joshua had armed were distributed. For to what end would so small a reinforcement have been given to so great a multitude? Besides, the place where they are ordered to halt is the same as that which had been previously pointed out; this could not apply to two separate bodies of troops.

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