Joshua 8
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land:
Ch. Joshua 8:1-29. The Capture of Ai

1. And the Lord said unto Joshua] The same encouraging address, and one much needed after all that had taken place, is now given as that recorded in Joshua 1:9. The sin of Israel having been removed, the Almighty once more assures Joshua of His presence to give success in the reduction of Ai.

all the people of war] Not three thousand men only as at the first attempt.

And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king: only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves: lay thee an ambush for the city behind it.
2. the spoil thereof] unlike the case of Jericho, is formally conceded to the Israelites.

an ambush] “Put busshementis to the citye bihynde it,” Wyclif. Literally a weaver, a lier in wait, from arab, to weave = “nectere insidias, struere dolos.”

for the city behind it] High up, probably in the main ravine between Ai and Bethel. “Ai must be somewhere between Michmash and Rimmon, a region greatly cut up with gorges and ravines; and as I passed from Beit-în toward Michmash, I could easily understand how Joshua’s ambush of 5000 men could lie hid between Ai and Bethel.” Thomson’s Land and the Book, p. 671.

So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai: and Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valour, and sent them away by night.
3. Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valour] There is an apparent discrepancy between this statement and that in Joshua 8:10-12. But possibly (a) while 30000 were selected for the ambush, 5000 were actually employed when the decisive moment came; or (b) Joshua may have sent two distinct bodies of men, one of 30000, the other of 5000; or (c) as Bp Wordsworth suggests, on the day after the 30000 had taken up their position the 5000 may have been sent from Joshua’s own force to encourage and assure them.

sent them away by night] The force detached might easily reach the neighbourhood of Ai before daybreak, since the distance from Gilgal thither is not more than five to six hours. See Robinson, Vol. 2:307–312.

And he commanded them, saying, Behold, ye shall lie in wait against the city, even behind the city: go not very far from the city, but be ye all ready:
4. go not very far from the city] They would station themselves high up in the Wâdy Harith, at no great distance from the city, and between it and Bethel.

And I, and all the people that are with me, will approach unto the city: and it shall come to pass, when they come out against us, as at the first, that we will flee before them,
5. will approach unto the city] Joshua himself took up his position on the north side of “the ravine,” apparently the deep chasm through which the Wâdy Harith descends to the Wâdy Kelt. Stanley’s Sinai and Palestine, pp. 202, 203.

(For they will come out after us) till we have drawn them from the city; for they will say, They flee before us, as at the first: therefore we will flee before them.
Then ye shall rise up from the ambush, and seize upon the city: for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand.
And it shall be, when ye have taken the city, that ye shall set the city on fire: according to the commandment of the LORD shall ye do. See, I have commanded you.
8. See, I have commanded you] Comp. the words of Jehovah to Joshua, Joshua 1:9, “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong, and of a good courage;” and of Absalom to his servants, 2 Samuel 13:28, “Have not I commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.”

Joshua therefore sent them forth: and they went to lie in ambush, and abode between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai: but Joshua lodged that night among the people.
And Joshua rose up early in the morning, and numbered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai.
10. numbered the people] Rather, mustered or arrayed them. The day after the despatch of the ambush would be naturally occupied with the marshalling of the army, and the march from Gilgal to Ai, where they would arrive in the evening.

And all the people, even the people of war that were with him, went up, and drew nigh, and came before the city, and pitched on the north side of Ai: now there was a valley between them and Ai.
And he took about five thousand men, and set them to lie in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city.
12. he took] Or rather, had taken.

between Beth-el and Ai] Comp. ch. Joshua 7:2 with Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3.

And when they had set the people, even all the host that was on the north of the city, and their liers in wait on the west of the city, Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley.
And it came to pass, when the king of Ai saw it, that they hasted and rose up early, and the men of the city went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people, at a time appointed, before the plain; but he wist not that there were liers in ambush against him behind the city.
14. when the king of Ai saw it] It was early on the following morning that the king of Ai discovered the advance of the army against him. The words apply to the forces of Joshua, the ambush was of course hidden from his view. Ai was a “royal” city. Comp. Joshua 8:23; Joshua 8:29; Joshua 10:1; Joshua 12:9.

at a time appointed] Rather, at the place appointed, at some spot before agreed upon suitable for marshalling his forces. It was “before the plain,” i.e. before the “ambush,” at the entrance of the depressed tract which runs down to the Jordan valley, probably = “the wilderness of Beth-aven,” Joshua 18:12.

he wist not] Comp. Jdg 20:34, “And there came against Gibeah ten thousand chosen men—but they knew not that evil was near them.” For “wist,” see above, ch. Joshua 2:4.

And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness.
And all the people that were in Ai were called together to pursue after them: and they pursued after Joshua, and were drawn away from the city.
And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, that went not out after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel.
17. or Beth-el] The inhabitants of Bethel would seem on this occasion to have sent help to the people of Ai in resisting the attack of Joshua.

And the LORD said unto Joshua, Stretch out the spear that is in thy hand toward Ai; for I will give it into thine hand. And Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city.
18. the spear] Heb. Cidôn, a dart, or javelin which is hurled, lighter than the Chanith, or spear of the largest kind like that of Goliath, 1 Samuel 17:7; 1 Samuel 17:45, or king Saul, 1 Samuel 26:7-8. The Cidôn could easily be held outstretched for some considerable time and was probably furnished with a flag. When not in action, it was carried on the back of the warrior between the shoulders (1 Samuel 17:6). The LXX. renders the word by Gaison, a short javelin or lance, the Vulg. by sceptrum.

And the ambush arose quickly out of their place, and they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand: and they entered into the city, and took it, and hasted and set the city on fire.
And when the men of Ai looked behind them, they saw, and, behold, the smoke of the city ascended up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that way: and the people that fled to the wilderness turned back upon the pursuers.
20. they had no power] no hand. Comp. Jdg 18:10 (Heb.).

that fled to the wilderness] See above, Joshua 8:15, and below, Joshua 8:24.

And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city, and that the smoke of the city ascended, then they turned again, and slew the men of Ai.
And the other issued out of the city against them; so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side: and they smote them, so that they let none of them remain or escape.
22. so they were in the midst of Israel] “The host of Israel now turned again, while those who had set Ai on fire advanced in an opposite direction. Between these two forces the men of Ai were literally crushed.”

And 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 wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword.
And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai.
For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.
Only the cattle and the spoil of that city Israel took for a prey unto themselves, according unto the word of the LORD which he commanded Joshua.
27. which he commanded Joshua] See Joshua 8:2, and comp. Numbers 31:22-26.

And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day.
28. a heap] “an everlasting toumbe,” Wyclif. Heb. a “Tel,” always with the article, The Tel, or Heap. “For a long time modern explorers in vain sought for the site of Ai, where they knew it must have stood. “The inhabitants of the neighbouring villages,” writes Canon Williams, “declared repeatedly and emphatically that this was Tel and nothing else. I was satisfied that it should be so when, on subsequent reference to the original text of Joshua 8:28, I found it written that ‘Joshua burnt Ai, and made it a Tel for ever, even a desolation unto this day.’ There are many Tels in modern Palestine, that land of Tels, even Tel with some other name attached to it to mark the former site. But the site of Ai has no other name ‘unto this day.’ It is simply et-Tel = the Heap, ‘par excellence’.”

And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcase down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this day.
29. he hanged on a tree] “He hongid in a gybet,” Wyclif. Hanging is mentioned as a distinct punishment, Numbers 25:4. In Deuteronomy 21:22 we read that in certain cases the criminal was put to death, and after that, his dead body was hung on a tree till eventide; the king of Ai was probably slain and then hanged on a cross or gallows.

as soon as the sun was down] This was in accordance with the Mosaic Law, which directed, Deuteronomy 21:23, that a man’s body should “not remain all night upon the tree.” Comp. also Joshua 10:27.

and raise thereon a great heap of stones] Comp. Joshua 7:26. Two words are used for “heap” in Joshua 8:28-29. The first (Tel) indicates the ruins of the city itself, the second (Gal) the cairn over the king’s grave.

Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,
30–35. The Altar of Blessing and of Cursing

30. Then Joshua built] The passes being now secured, and the interior of the country rendered accessible, Joshua resolved to take advantage of the terror which the success of his arms had inspired in the hearts of the Canaanites, and to carry out the command of Moses respecting the ratification of the Law with solemn ceremonies (Deuteronomy 27:2-8). By a grand national act it was to be declared “in what character Israel meant to hold what it had received of God.” This act was to consist of three parts:—

(a)  The Law was to be inscribed on “great stones” (Deuteronomy 27:2) which had been “plaistered with plaister;” and these as Memorial Stones were to be set up on “mount Ebal” (Deuteronomy 27:4);

(b)  An altar of “whole stones” (Deuteronomy 27:5-6) was to be erected on the same spot and solemn sacrifices offered thereon;

(c)  The priests with the Ark were to occupy the valley between Ebal and Gerizim, surrounded by the elders, officers, and judges; the curses of the Law were then to be read aloud by the Levites, to which half the tribes on Ebal were to respond with a loud Amen, and to the blessings of the Law the other half on Gerizim were similarly to testify their acquiescence.

in mount Ebal] To carry out this solemn function, the first step taken by Joshua was to advance with the people from Ai and Beth-el northwards towards Shechem, to the valley bounded on the south by the range of Gerizim, and on the north by that of Ebal, “the most beautiful, perhaps it might be said the only very beautiful spot in central Palestine.” Two events consecrated the valley in the memory of every Israelite. (a) It was here that Abraham halted on his journey from Chaldæa and erected his first altar to the Lord (Genesis 12:6-7); (b) It was here that Jacob settled on his return from the same region of Mesopotamia, and bought the parcel of the field, where he had spread his tent, of the children of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for a hundred pieces of money (Genesis 33:19).

As Moses the servant of the LORD 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 hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.
31. an altar of whole (or, “unhewn”) stones] Thus the Law required in general (Exodus 20:25), and in this case it had been specially ordained.

And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.
32. a copy of the law] “Short declaracioun of the lawe of Moyses,” Wyclif. This has been variously interpreted as meaning (a) the whole Law; (b) the Decalogue; (c) the Book of Deuteronomy; (d) the “commandments” proper, the “statutes” and “rights” contained in the Pentateuch, “six hundred and thirteen in number, according to the Jewish reckoning, not including all the narratives also, and warnings, admonitions, discourses, reasons, and the like.”

he wrote in the presence] The Law was probably “written upon or in the plaster with which these pillars were coated. This could easily be done; and such writing was common in ancient times. I have seen numerous specimens of it certainly more than two thousand years old, and still as distinct as when they were first inscribed on the plaster.” Thomson’s Land and the Book, p. 471. “The investigation of the Egyptian monuments has shewn that it was an ancient Egyptian custom first to plaster the stone walls of buildings, and also monumental stones that were to be painted with figures and hieroglyphics, with a plaster of lime and gypsum, into which the figures were worked; thus it was possible in Egypt to engrave on the walls the most extensive pieces of writing. And in this manner Deuteronomy 27:4-8 must be understood, and in this manner it was accomplished by Joshua.” Oehler’s Theology of the Old Testament, p. 121 n.

And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side before the priests the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, as well the stranger, as he that was born among them; half of them over against mount Gerizim, and half of them over against mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel.
33. as well the stranger] See Deuteronomy 31:12.

half of them over against mount Gerizim] viz., those which had sprung from the lawful wives of Jacob, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, Benjamin (Deuteronomy 27:12).

and half of them over against mount Ebal] viz., Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali (Deuteronomy 27:13). Five of these had sprung from the handmaids of Leah and Rachel, to whom Reuben is added probably on account of his great sin.

And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law.
34. the blessings and cursings] “The twelve curses are directed against idolatry (Deuteronomy 27:15), contempt of parents (Deuteronomy 27:16), removing a neighbour’s land-mark (Deuteronomy 27:17), inhumanity towards the blind, strangers, orphans, widows (Deuteronomy 27:18-19), incest and unnatural crimes (Deuteronomy 27:20-23), murder (Deuteronomy 27:24-25), and finally, in general against the transgression of the Law in any manner (Deuteronomy 27:26). Blessings are promised in the city and on the field (Deuteronomy 28:3), on all births (Deuteronomy 28:4), on the basket and on the kneading-trough (Deuteronomy 28:5), on going out and coming in (Deuteronomy 28:6), a blessing in particular on the arms of Israel in contest with their enemies (Deuteronomy 28:7), a blessing on their position among the nations (Deuteronomy 28:9-14). A people standing as the Israelites then did on the scale of morality needed stern discipline, and not only might be allured by promises but must be alarmed by threats.” Keil.

There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.
35. There was not a word] The acoustic properties of the valley between Ebal and Gerizim are interesting, the more so that several times they are incidentally brought before us. Comp. with this passage Jdg 9:7, “And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.” “It is impossible to conceive a spot more admirably adapted for the purpose than this one, in the very centre of the newly acquired land, nor one which could more exactly fulfil all the required conditions. Let us imagine the chiefs and the priests gathered in the centre of the valley, the tribes stretching out as they stood in compact masses, the men of war and the heads of families, half on the north and half on the south, crowding the slopes on either side, the mixed multitude, the women and the children extending along in front till they spread into the plain beyond but still in sight: and there is no difficulty, much less impossibility in the problem. A single voice might be heard by many thousands, shut in and conveyed up and down by the enclosing hills. In the early morning we could not only see from Gerizim a man driving his ass down a path on Mount Ebal, but could hear every word he uttered, as he urged it; and in order to test the matter more certainly, on a subsequent occasion two of our party stationed themselves on opposite sides of the valley and with perfect ease recited the commandments antiphonally.” Tristram’s Land of Israel, pp. 149, 150. “The people in these mountainous countries are able, from long practice, so to pitch their voices as to be heard distinctly at distances almost incredible. They talk with persons across enormous wâdies, and give the most minute directions, which are perfectly understood; and in doing this they seem to speak very little louder than their usual tone of conversation.” Thomson’s Land and the Book, pp. 473, 474.

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