Joshua 8:12
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(12) And he took about five thousand men, and set them to lie in ambush . . .—Is this a fresh body, or only a portion of the thirty thousand mentioned in Joshua 8:3? It is, of course, possible that the body of thirty thousand, having closed the communications between Bethel and Ai on the first night, and finding that they were more numerous than was necessary, had rejoined Joshua when he came up, and that a small body of five thousand was told off for the service on the next day. But after carefully studying the natural features of the position by the Ordnance map (of which I have been able to enjoy the advantage at this point of my work), I am inclined to think that both forces were employed—the thirty thousand and the five thousand—and for distinct services. There are two ravines, which come to a head between Beitin (Bethel) and et-Tel (Ai). The body of men who were to fire the town of Ai were posted in the one nearer to Ai. The larger body, whose business was to prevent any interference from the side of Bethel, were posted in the ravine next to that city, where they had been from the first. If it be remembered, as was before observed, that Joshua was attacking a fortified town, which was protected in flank by another town, and that it was necessary to be prepared for all contingencies from the first, the meaning of his movements will be apparent.

Joshua 8:12. He took about five thousand men and set them to lie in ambush — Here commentators are divided. The learned Bishop Patrick, with many others, (see Le Clerc and Calmet,) has given it as his opinion, that, besides the thirty thousand whom Joshua had sent off before to lie in ambush, (Joshua 8:3-4,) he now detached five thousand more to guard the roads, and intercept such as might endeavour to save themselves by flight; or to strengthen those that were first sent and that he appeared in arms against the city; with his whole force, according to God’s express command, (Joshua 8:1,) to take all the people of war with him. And certainly the letter of the text favours this interpretation. Many, however, think, that all the people were taken only to encamp near the city, and that out of them Joshua chose thirty thousand to be employed in the action, out of which he detached five thousand to lie in ambush, which were as many, they think, as could be supposed to march without being discovered, and then, that with the remaining twenty-five thousand he made the open attack. Or else that the attack was made with the thirty thousand, and that the five thousand formed a separate detachment drawn from the rest of the people. The matter is not perfectly clear, or free from difficulty, either way; and the reader is left to form his own judgment of it from the statement now given.

8:3-22 Observe Joshua's conduct and prudence. Those that would maintain their spiritual conflicts must not love their ease. Probably he went into the valley alone, to pray to God for a blessing, and he did not seek in vain. He never drew back till the work was done. Those that have stretched out their hands against their spiritual enemies, must never draw them back.He took - Rather "had taken;" the words refer to the ambuscade which Joshua had detached during the previous night. 11-14. there was a valley between them and Ai—literally, "the valley." And he took, or, rather, but he had taken, to wit, out of the said number of thirty thousand, for this is added by way of recapitulation and further explication of what is said in general, Joshua 8:9.

And he took about five thousand men, and set them to lie in ambush,.... This was another ambush, as both Jarchi and Kimchi observe; and the latter adds, perhaps he set them nearer the city than the former; though some are of opinion that these are the same ambush spoken of, whose number is here given, being set on the same side of the city; and they suppose that Joshua had with him but thirty thousand men in all, five thousand of which he sent to lie in ambush, and the other twenty five thousand remained with him; but it seems clear that all the men of war were to be taken, and were taken by them, and that out of them thirty thousand were sent by him to lie in wait at first, and now five thousand more:

between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city; and though they were on the same side of the city with the first and larger ambush, yet, as Abarbinel observes, they might be set nearer the city and to the army; and he supposes the first ambush was to take the city, and the second little ambush, as he calls it, was placed, that when the men of the city came out, they might make a noise and a stir, and skirmish with them, that so they might not come upon the camp suddenly.

And he took about five thousand men, {e} and set them to lie in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city.

(e) He sent these few, that the others who lay in ambush might not be discovered.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
12. he took] Or rather, had taken.

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

Verse 12. - And he took about five thousand men (see above, ver. 3). We must translate had taken. The repetition is quite in the manner of the Hebrew writers. This passage is of course, according to the Jehovist and Elohist theory, "quite irreconeilable" with the rest of the narrative. So we are told that this is a Jehovistic interpolation (Knobel). Of the city. The Masorites and LXX. prefer the reading Ai (i.e., עַי for עִיר.), in the margin of our Bibles, to that in the text, which is followed by the Vulgate and Luther. Joshua 8:12The whole of the people of war also advanced with him to the front of the town, and encamped on the north of Ai, so that the valley was between it (בינו, as in Joshua 3:4) and Ai. This was probably a side valley branching off towards the south from the eastern continuation of the Wady es Suweinit. - In Joshua 8:12, Joshua 8:13, the account of the preparations for the attack is founded off by a repetition of the notice as to the forces engaged, and in some respects a more exact description of their disposition. Joshua, it is stated in Joshua 8:12, took about 5000 men and placed them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west of the town. As the place where this ambuscade was posted is described in precisely the same terms as that which was occupied, according to Joshua 8:9, by the 30,000 men who were sent out to form an ambuscade in the night before the advance of the main army against Ai (for the substitution of "the city" for Ai cannot possibly indicate a difference in the locality), the view held by the majority of commentators, that Joshua 8:12 refers to a second ambuscade, which Joshua sent out in addition to the 30,000, and posted by the side of them, is even more than questionable, and is by no means raised into a probability by the expression את־עקבו (Eng. "their liers in wait") in Joshua 8:13. The description of the place, "on the west of the city," leaves no doubt whatever that "their liers in wait" are simply the ambuscade (ארב) mentioned in Joshua 8:12, which was sent out from the whole army, i.e., the ambuscade that was posted on the west of the town. עקב signifies literally the lier in wait (Psalm 49:5), from עקב, insidiari, and is synonymous with ארב. The meaning which Gesenius and others attach to the word, viz., the rear or hinder part of the army, cannot be sustained from Genesis 49:19. If we add to this the fact that Joshua 8:13 is obviously nothing more than a repetition of the description already given in Joshua 8:11 of the place where the main army was posted, and therefore bears the character of a closing remark introduced to wind up the previous account, we cannot regard Joshua 8:12 as anything more than a repetition of the statements in Joshua 8:3, Joshua 8:9, and can only explain the discrepancy with regard to the number of men who were placed in ambush, by supposing that, through a copyist's error, the number which was expressed at first in simple letters has in one instance been given wrongly. The mistake, however, is not to be found in the 5000 (Joshua 8:12), but in the 30,000 in Joshua 8:3, where ה has been confounded with ל. For a detachment of 5000 men would be quite sufficient for an ambuscade that had only to enter the town after the soldiers had left it in pursuit of the Israelites, and to set it on fire, whereas it hardly seems possible that 30,000 men should have been posted in ambush so near to the town.

(Note: We need have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that there is a mistake in the number given in Joshua 8:3, as the occurrence of such mistakes in the historical books is fully established by a comparison of the numbers given in the books of Samuel and Kings with those in the books of Chronicles, and is admitted by every commentator. In my earlier commentary on Joshua, I attempted to solve the difficulty by the twofold assumption: first, that Joshua 8:12 contains a supplementary statement, in which the number of the men posted in ambush is given for the firs time; and secondly, that the historian forgot to notice that out of the 30,000 men whom Joshua chose to make war upon Ai, 5000 were set apart to lie in ambush. But, on further examination of the text, I have come to the conclusion that the second assumption is irreconcilable with the distinct words of Joshua 8:3, and feel obliged to give it up. On the other hand, I still adhere to the conviction that there is not sufficient ground either for the assumption that Joshua 8:12, Joshua 8:13, contain an old marginal gloss that has crept into the text, or for the hypothesis of Ewald and Knobel, that these verses were introduced by the last editor of the book out of some other document. The last hypothesis amounts to a charge of thoughtlessness against the latest editor, which is hardly reconcilable with the endeavour, for which he is praised in other places, to reconcile the discrepancies in the different documents.)

- In Joshua 8:13, העם (the people) is to be taken as the subject of the sentence: "The people had set all the host, that was on the north of the city, and its ambuscade on the west of the city." In the night, namely the night before the army arrived at the north of the town, Joshua went through the midst of the valley, which separated the Israelites from the town, so that in the morning he stood with all the army close before the town.

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