Joshua 8 – Victory over Ai
A. Plans for victory.
1. (1-2) God encourages Joshua and gives him instructions.
Now the LORD said to Joshua: “Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed; take all the people of war with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its cattle you shall take as booty for yourselves. Lay an ambush for the city behind it.”
a. Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed: This was the first key to regaining victory. They had to receive encouragement from God. Though Israel stumbled through Achan’s sin as shown in Joshua 7, they dealt with the failure and now had to move on.
i. It is often difficult to regain lost ground such as Ai. When we have failed at some point in our Christian lives, we need to know how to get back on track.
ii. What is past is past. We must deal with it before God by repentance and dying to self, and then look forward to what He has for us without delay.
iii. God wants us to use our failures in a good way, to use them as a foundation for a great victory in the LORD.
b. Take all the people of war with you, and arise, go up to Ai: God wasn’t despondent or depressed, and He didn’t want Joshua or the nation of Israel to be either. Now it was time to get busy and set about being victorious for the LORD, because He had not abandoned them.
c. Only its spoil and its cattle you shall take as booty for yourselves: God allows them to keep the spoil from the city of Ai. How foolish the sin of Achan seems now! He could have had all his heart desired if he had only waited on the LORD for it.
d. Lay an ambush for the city behind it: God gives Joshua a plan for conquering the city of Ai, and now he must follow it. When we need to regain the victory, we must follow God’s plan.
2. (3-8) Plans made for an ambush upon Ai.
So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai; and Joshua chose thirty thousand mighty men of valor and sent them away by night. And he commanded them, saying: “Behold, you shall lie in ambush against the city, behind the city. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you be ready. Then I and all the people who are with me will approach the city; and it will come about, when they come out against us as at the first, that we shall flee before them. For they will come out after us till we have drawn them from the city, for they will say, ‘They are fleeing before us as at the first.’ Therefore we will flee before them. Then you shall rise from the ambush and seize the city, for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand. And it will be, when you have taken the city, that you shall set the city on fire. According to the commandment of the LORD you shall do. See, I have commanded you.”
a. Joshua chose thirty thousand mighty men of valor: This time Joshua did not send 3,000 men as before (Joshua 7:4). Now he sent 30,000 mighty men of valor. When we need to regain victory, we must use every resource, and the best resources for victory.
b. And he commanded them, saying: “Behold, you shall lie in ambush against the city, behind the city”: Though God had given Joshua the general plan in Joshua 8:2, He left it up to Joshua’s experience and sanctified common sense to lay out the specific plan of battle.
3. (9-10) Joshua stays with the people.
Joshua therefore sent them out; and they went to lie in ambush, and stayed between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai; but Joshua lodged that night among the people. Then Joshua rose up early in the morning and mustered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai.
a. But Joshua lodged that night among the people: Joshua was especially near his people during this crucial time of trying to regain victory. The people needed to know he was near, and they needed to follow his leadership.
b. Among the people: If we will regain victory, we must live with and follow Jesus, who is our Joshua. He is always near to us at these crucial times in our Christian life, and always goes first to lead us into battle.
B. Victory at Ai.
1. (11-13) Preparations for battle: Joshua and the people do exactly what the LORD commanded them.
And all the people of war who were with him went up and drew near; and they came before the city and camped on the north side of Ai. Now a valley lay between them and Ai. So he took about five thousand men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city. And when they had set the people, all the army that was on the north of the city, and its rear guard on the west of the city, Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley.
a. All the people of war who were with him went up and drew near: If Israel would regain victory, they had to take the offensive. They didn’t wait for Ai to bring the battle to them; they brought the battle to Ai.
b. Joshua went that night into the midst: We often see the battle against sin in negative terms – about what not to do. But we must take the offensive against the powers of darkness and temptation and be busy doing what the LORD would have us to do.
2. (14-17) The ambush works; the fighting men of Ai leave the city.
Now it happened, when the king of Ai saw it, that the men of the city hurried and rose early and went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people, at an appointed place before the plain. But he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city. And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness. So all the people who were in Ai were called together to pursue them. And they pursued Joshua and were drawn away from the city. There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel. So they left the city open and pursued Israel.
a. When the king of Ai saw it, that the men of the city hurried and rose early and went out against Israel to battle: The men of Ai tried the exact same strategy against Israel as before. Generally, Satan will stick with a strategy against us until it doesn’t work anymore.
b. And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them: God directed Joshua to use a completely different strategy against Ai. When we see the diversity of God’s methods, we remember it is because He is a personal God.
3. (18-29) Ai is totally defeated and burnt to the ground.
Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Stretch out the spear that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the spear that was in his hand toward the city. So those in ambush arose quickly out of their place; they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand, and they entered the city and took it, and hurried to set the city on fire. And when the men of Ai looked behind them, they saw, and behold, the smoke of the city ascended to heaven. So they had no power to flee this way or that way, and the people who had fled to the wilderness turned back on the pursuers. Now when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that the smoke of the city ascended, they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. Then the others came out of the city against them; so they were caught in the midst of Israel, some on this side and some on that side. And they struck them down, so that they let none of them remain or escape. But the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua. And it came to pass when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness where they pursued them, and when they all had fallen by the edge of the sword until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned to Ai and struck it with the edge of the sword. So it was that all who fell that day, both men and women, were twelve thousand; all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as booty for themselves, according to the word of the LORD which He had commanded Joshua. So Joshua burned Ai and made it a heap forever, a desolation to this day. And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until evening. And as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his corpse down from the tree, cast it at the entrance of the gate of the city, and raise over it a great heap of stones that remains to this day.
a. And they struck them down, so that they let none of them remain or escape: The victory and God’s judgment is complete. Because of God’s faithfulness to Israel and Israel’s faithfulness to God, this is not a partial victory.
b. Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai: If Israel will regain victory, they must show no mercy to their enemy, but crush the enemy completely at every opportunity.
i. We can summarize the keys for victory from this chapter:
· Be encouraged.
· Follow the LORD’s plan.
· Use every resource, and the best resources.
· Live with and look to Jesus.
· Go on the offensive.
· Show no mercy to your enemy.
c. According to the word of the LORD which He had commanded Joshua: So far, Israel’s experience is an illustration of their whole history, and the spiritual history of many Christians.
· Obedience followed by victory.
· Victory followed by blessing.
· Blessing followed by pride and disobedience.
· Disobedience followed by defeat.
· Defeat followed by judgment.
· Judgment followed by repentance.
· Repentance followed by obedience.
· Obedience followed by victory, and the cycle continues.
C. Blessing and cursing on Ebal and Gerizim.
1. (30-31) An altar built at Mount Ebal.
Now Joshua built an altar to the LORD God of Israel in Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: “an altar of whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool.”And they offered on it burnt offerings to the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.
a. Now Joshua built an altar to the LORD God of Israel in Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: This is in fulfillment of Deuteronomy 27-28. There, the LORD told Israel when they came to the Promised Land, to come to these mountains, build an altar, sacrifice to the LORD, and read the law.
b. And they offered on it burnt offerings to the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings: We see an appropriate act of worship, and consecration to God, following a great victory. God always should get the glory. Even when men looked at the altar, they would not see elaborate carvings – though beautiful – drawing attention to man’s work (whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool).
2. (32-35) Blessings read from Mount Gerizim, curses from Mount Ebal.
And there, in the presence of the children of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. Then all Israel, with their elders and officers and judges, stood on either side of the ark before the priests, the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, the stranger as well as he who was born among them. Half of them were in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them.
a. He wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written: In this act of obedience we see Joshua as a man of the Book, obeying the command of Joshua 1:8. We also see Israel as a people of the Book ordering their lives after God’s word.
i. This was even at a cost or inconvenience. The distance from Ai to Ebal and Gerizim was a long way to move all the tribes of Israel, from 20 to 25 miles.
b. Half of them were in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal: This was a beautiful place to do this, and the whole nation could hear this reading of the Law. The area has a natural amphitheater effect because of the contour of the hills.
i. According to Deuteronomy 27-28, the altar was built on the mountain of cursing, Mount Ebal. We need the covering sacrifice exactly at the point where our sin and failures are revealed, and God’s curse is pronounced on our sin.
ii. This event, at this place, shows that Israel controls the middle of Canaan and the highlands. The rest is a matter of taking advantage of this strategic position.