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Go to Bible: Joshua 8
“Yahweh said.” Joshua 8 gives the longest description of any conquest battle. Yet, the chapter is really about how Israel is restored to the right relation with Yahweh after the covenant was breached by Achan. Yahweh gives instructions on how to deal with Ai, and Joshua and Israel follow those instructions. The instructions also relate to faithfully following the Torah of Moses, especially Deuteronomy. The last verses of the chapter, Joshua 8:30-35, may seem like an interruption in the conquest account but they fit the theme of the reestablishment and confirmation of the covenant relationship between Israel and Yahweh. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses is the God of the people of Israel, and God will fulfill His promises. The wise believer listens to God and believes and obeys Him.
“Do not be afraid or be dismayed.” This must have been huge comfort to Joshua and it can be huge comfort to believers today. Joshua had just lost 36 men in his battle with Ai, and had reason to be concerned about another battle. But God is a God of forgiveness and restoration, and when Israel repented and took measures to restore their covenant relation with Yahweh, He assured them that He would be with them.
“the king of Ai and...and...and.” This is the figure of speech polysyndeton. The repetition of “and” emphasized each part. God made it clear that Joshua would conquer the king and his kingdom.(top)
“take as plunder.” Although the English phrase is translated as a verb and noun for clarity, the Hebrew is just a plural verb that means to take as plunder. Unlike at Jericho when the livestock and supplies were destroyed, in the case of Ai and most other cities the Israelites could take them for themselves.
“Set for yourself.” The verb and noun are singular. Thus, Yahweh is either speaking directly to Joshua (which is likely from the context) or Yahweh is speaking of Israel as a singular body (which is not as likely in the context but often was the way God considered Israel as a singular body of people).(top)
“Joshua and all the people of war rose up.” The verb “rose up” is singular. This is one of the examples of a singular noun being used with a plural subject (see commentary on Gen. 48:16).(top)
|Jos 8:4||- (top)|
|Jos 8:5||- (top)|
|Jos 8:6||- (top)|
“take possession of the city.” The Hebrew word has the idea of “inherit” in it. The city of Ai, like the rest of the Promised Land, was Israel’s inheritance from God.(top)
“set the city on fire.” Ai was one of the only three cities that God commanded that Israel burn after conquering it: Ai, Jericho, and Hazor (Josh. 6:24; 8:28; 11:11).
“You are to do according to the word of Yahweh.” Simple and straightforward. Humans are to obey God. This is one of the themes of Joshua: obeying God.(top)
“on the west side of Ai.” Archaeologists believe that Bethel is slightly more than 2 miles to the west (actually somewhat northwest) of Ai. Joshua’s army camped just west of Ai between Bethel and Ai, which is basically right where Abraham had pitched his tent and built an altar hundreds of years earlier (cp. Gen. 12:8). In the almost 500 years since Abraham had built his altar there, the local Canaanites had multiplied and solidified their control of the area. One wonders if there was anything left of Abraham’s altar. There well could have been, even if people could not recognize it for what it was.
The 30,000 men had come up from Jericho to the east, so they would have had to have gone around Ai from east to west at some distance from the city to keep from being seen or heard, and then drawn close to Ai from the west side. The way the valleys are around Ai, the ambush force would have probably gone around Ai to the south, but there is no way to know for sure their exact route.
“but Joshua stayed among the people that night.” Joshua did not go with the ambush force, but stayed with the main group of fighting men. The ambush force was sent out at night to get ready for the battle.(top)
“before the people to Ai.” Joshua and the elders were in the lead, and the rest of the people could see them and be encouraged by their example.(top)
“in front of the city.” The point of Joshua and his troops was to be seen, so they marched in front of the city. Then they camped to the north of the city, which may or may not have been in front of the city. There are a couple of geographical locations that are possible ruins of the city of Ai. The main one is Et-tell, but the other possibility is Kirbet Maqatir.
“there was a ravine between him and Ai.” That is, between Joshua and Ai. If the archaeologists and historians are correct that the biblical city of Ai is et-Tell today, then this ravine is today called the Wadi Jaya.(top)
“on the west side of the city.” So the attack is the main army on the north of Ai, with the ambush force on the west of it.(top)
“And Joshua went that night.” This is Joshua and his army. Many times only the leader is mentioned when it means the leader and those with him. The king of Ai is watching, and sees Joshua move his camp, supposedly getting ready to attack Ai in the morning.
“of the valley.” The valley, not the “ravine” between Joshua and Ai. In Israel, the “valley” can be a bottom and can be quite flat, in fact, the Hebrew word can even mean “plain.” It seems that Joshua moved from behind the protection of the ravine to the north to the flat valley to the east of Ai, as if to make an attack on Ai. It is clear that when Joshua faked his retreat, he faced and fled east (Josh. 8:14-15).(top)
“the appointed place.” Some English versions read, “appointed time” instead of “appointed place,” but it was the place of the battle that was appointed, as Joshua had planned.
“the Arabah.” The rift valley through which the Jordan River flows. The main body of the battle flowed to the east, which makes sense because Joshua’s men would have pretended like they were running back to their camp at Gilgal in the Jordan Valley, and the ambush came in from the west.(top)
“by the road to the wilderness.” More literally, “the road of the wilderness.” There was a road leading down a little valley then down a ridge from close to Ai down into the Arabah, and that valley is today called the Nahal Zeboim, and there is a very good chance that Israel made as if they were fleeing down that road and heading back east to their camp at Gilgal.(top)
“All the people.” This is a good example of culturally how “all the people” does not refer to the women and children (cp. Josh. 8:17).(top)
“They left the city open.” This was overconfidence. The king should have made sure there was some protection in the city. The men did not close the city gate when they left. This certainly made it easier for Joshua’s ambush to take the city. It is possible that this advantage was unexpected.(top)
“Stretch out...so Joshua stretched out.” Here again in Joshua 8:18 we see the emphasis on Joshua’s quick and exact obedience to God, which has been a theme in Joshua (see commentary on Josh. 4:16).
“javelin.” The exact weapon the Hebrew word refers to is debated. It is traditionally a spear, but it could also be a short, curved sword. That seems to be the use in the Qumran material and short curved swords have been found by archaeologists from Joshua’s time, but there is also a long time between the time of Joshua and the Qumran writing, so the word is debated.(top)
“and they captured it.” “Captured” is the same Hebrew word used when Achan was “captured” by lot and discovered as the one whose sin caused the defeat of Israel and the death of 36 men (Josh. 7:16-18). Israel could not capture Ai because of the sin of Achan. Then Achan was “captured” by lot and dealt with, and then Ai could be captured. Although we all sin, to see the fullness of God’s blessing, especially those who are mature believers need to be serious about dealing with their sin.
“set the city on fire.” It is not clear as to why God commanded to burn Ai. God had said Israel would get to live in cities they had not built (Deut. 6:10), and Israel only burned Jericho, Ai, and Hazor. It is possible that because word might have spread among the local nations that Israel had been defeated at Ai that God knew that indigenous people could see the smoke from Ai burning many miles away and would again fear Israel. It certainly discouraged the men of Ai, as we see in the following verses.(top)
“they had no ability to flee.” The Hebrew text is idiomatic and very concrete: “they had no hands to flee,” because a person’s power was expressed through their hands. It means they had no power or ability to flee.
“the people who had been fleeing.” That is, the troops of Israel who had been pretending to run away.(top)
|Jos 8:21||- (top)|
|Jos 8:22||- (top)|
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“the mouth of the sword.” Used to show great destruction, as if the sword was eating its victims (see commentary on Josh. 6:21).
“and struck it with the mouth of the sword.” The Israelites returned to Ai and killed all those who had not joined the army of Ai in the battle.(top)
|Jos 8:25||- (top)|
“Joshua did not draw back his hand.” The text indicates that Joshua held his hand out so people could see the command he was giving them, and did not pull it down until the battle was over. The Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament notes that “the general did not lower the war-signal till the conflict was to cease.” The Bible does not explain how Joshua could hold up his hand so long; perhaps he had help, like Moses before him had (Exod. 17:10-12).(top)
“only the livestock and the spoil.” God said that Israel could plunder Ai and take the livestock and other plunder (Josh. 8:2), but they could not, and did not, take captives, they only took the other spoil.
“according to the word of Yahweh that he commanded Joshua.” The obedience of Joshua to the word of Yahweh is a theme of the Book of Joshua.(top)
“so Joshua burned Ai.” Joshua burned only three cities in the conquest of Canaan; Ai, Jericho, and Hazor (Josh. 6:24; 8:28; 11:11).
“a mound of ruins.” The Hebrew is a “tel,” which is a mound of ruins, not just a “heap.” When cities were destroyed, the ruins were a pile that was higher than the surrounding landscape. Over time, the ruins sometimes piled up and became quite high. Any city of the Israelites that turned to idolatry was to be made a “mound of ruins” too (cp. Deut. 13:16), but that never happened even though cities in Israel did turn to idolatry, e.g. Dan.(top)
“And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree.” From Deuteronomy 21:22-23. In the Old Testament, the person was killed then the dead body was put on a tree (or a stake; the Hebrew can mean either) for display.
“raised over it a great heap of stones.” This would serve as a warning, and bring to mind what happened to people who defied Yahweh. Israel had done the same thing to Achan, who sinned against Yahweh and caused the death of 36 men (Josh. 7:26).(top)
“built an altar to Yahweh...on Mount Ebal.” Both the topic and location shift quickly. Moses had commanded building the altar on Mount Ebal (Deut. 27:1-8). It was about a 20 mile trip from Ai to Mount Ebal. A puzzle is why nothing is mentioned of Shechem and what happened to the Canaanites there. Shechem is not one of the city-kingdoms conquered by Joshua (Josh. 12). Some scholars have suggested that this account comes after the account of Gibeon (Josh. 9) and that the people of Shechem were among the people around Gibeon who made peace with Israel. The account may have been moved to where it is in the text to emphasize Joshua’s obedience to what Moses commanded to do.(top)
“the book of the law of Moses.” The revelation that God gave to Moses had already been collected and was being used for guidance as to how to obey God and live life (cp. Exod. 24:4; Deut. 31:9). Many people assert that the laws and records of ancient Israel were passed down from generation to generation as part of an oral tradition before they were written down, but that is just an assumption, there is no proof that occurred. The Bible records that things were written down pretty much as they occurred, and then, like here in Joshua, people checked the writings and obeyed them.
“an altar of uncut stones.” This was commanded in Deuteronomy 27:4-6. The phrase “uncut stones” is “complete stones,” whole stones, in the Hebrew text, that is stones that have not been cut down and formed. The altar was not to be a thing of beauty, but a place of atonement for sin, and sin and death are not pretty or to be admired. The word “altar” in Hebrew means “slaughter site” or “sacrificing place.” It was a place of death, but death that pointed to atonement.(top)
“he wrote upon the stones a copy.” Commanded in Deuteronomy 27:46. A very public and permanent copy of the Law. This is almost certainly not the entire Tanack from Genesis through Deuteronomy, but a representative of the most important laws. This could include the Ten Commandments and the blessings and curses from Deuteronomy 27-28.
“the law of Moses.” The Hebrew is “the torah of Moses,” where “torah” is much more than “law.” The torah involves instruction in many different ways (see commentary on Prov. 1:8).
“which he had written in the presence.” That is, which Moses had written in the presence of the children of Israel. The prepositional phrase, “in the presence of the children of Israel” can also be placed after the words “he wrote” at the beginning of the sentence which would change the meaning of the verse, but in the Hebrew text the prepositional phrase comes at the end of the verse and it makes sense there.(top)
“stood on opposite sides of the ark.” The Israelites were about to divide into two groups, one to stand in front of Mount Ebal and one to stand in front of Mount Gerizim, and here the ark divides the two groups.
“the foreigner and citizen alike.” It is interesting that this was a mixed group. The “citizens” were the Israelites, although the Hebrew word does not exactly mean “citizen.” That is why the English translations differ: “citizen,” “home-born,” “native,” “native-born.”
“in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal.” They were not way up the slopes of the mountains, but in front of them, fairly close together, which allowed the people to hear each other well.
“to bless.” The subject of the verb shifts from the people to whomever is doing the blessing, who is left out of the sentence. It might be Yahweh, the priests, or even Joshua (cp. Josh. 8:34).(top)
“he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse.” The blessing and curse read at Mount Ebal and Gerizim were Deuteronomy 27:9-28:68. The “blessing” and “curse” are singular because they were considered one blessing and curse, not many. If a person obeyed they would be blessed in many ways, and if they disobeyed they would be cursed in many ways. The “law” is the torah, which is more than just “law” (see commentary on Prov. 1:6).(top)
“before all the assembly of Israel, and the women.” This is a good example of the cultural exclusion of women in the culture. The women were often included but not spoken of as if they are included. In this case, “all the assembly of Israel” did not include the women.
“and the foreigners who walked in their midst.” The foreigners were included. The phrase “in their midst” has the word “near” in it, and the Bible makes a difference between foreigners who were “near” and those who were “far away.” [For more on “near” and “far” see commentary on Lev. 1:2 and Eph. 2:13].(top)