Joshua 8:20
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
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.No doubt Joshua had ascended the heights, most likely those to the north of the valley, so as to separate himself from the flying Israelites on the lower ground, and to be visible to the men in ambush behind the city. He now, at the command of God, gives the appointed signal to the ambush. 18-25. Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city—The uplifted spear had probably a flag, or streamer on it, to render it the more conspicuous from the height where he stood. At the sight of this understood signal the ambush nearest the city, informed by their scouts, made a sudden rush and took possession of the city, telegraphing to their brethren by raising a smoke from the walls. Upon seeing this, the main body, who had been reigning a flight, turned round at the head of the pass upon their pursuers, while the twenty-five thousand issuing from their ambuscade, fell back upon their rear. The Ai-ites surprised, looked back, and found their situation now desperate. No power, or, place; for so the Hebrew word is oft used, as Numbers 2:17 Nehemiah 7:4 Job 37:7 Psalm 104:25 Isaiah 22:18 56:5.

And when the men of Ai looked behind them,.... On some account or another, perhaps observing that the army of Israel made a full stop and was gazing at the city:

they saw, and, behold, the smoke of the city ascended up to heaven; from whence they concluded an enemy was there, and had set fire to it:

and they had no power to flee this way or that way; for if they turned back to their city there was an enemy, how powerful they knew not, possessed of it, and whom they might expect would meet them; and if they pushed forward, there was the whole army of Israel against them, which now turned and faced them, showing no fear of them:

and the people that fled to the wilderness turned back upon the pursuers; the people of Israel, that fled by the way of the wilderness, Joshua 8:15, turned about, and fell upon the men of Ai that pursued them.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.

Verse 20. - And they had no power. Literally, no hands. Our version here follows the Arabic, Syriac, and Chaldee versions. The LXX. and Vulgate render no direction in which to fly. But in this case לָהֶם would seem preferable to בָהֶם. The Vulgate translates the last clause of the verse, "Praesertim cum hi, qui simulaverint fugam... fortissime restitissent." They could not flee back to the city, for it was in flames. They could not advance northward, because the Israelites had faced about and were coming to meet them. To flee in any other direction would be to cut off the last hope of saving the city. For יָד in the sense of side or direction, however, see Exodus 2:5; Deuteronomy 2:37, and especially the dual, as here, in Genesis 34:21; Isaiah 33:21. Joshua 8:20The men of Ai then turned round behind them, being evidently led to do so by the Israelites, who may have continued looking round to the town of Ai when the signal had been given by Joshua, to see whether the men in ambush had taken it and set it on fire, and as soon as they saw that this had been done began to offer still further resistance to their pursuers, and to defend themselves vigorously against them. On looking back to their town the Aites saw the smoke of the town ascending towards heaven: "and there were not hands in them to flee hither and thither," i.e., they were utterly unable to flee. "Hand," as the organs of enterprise and labour, in the sense of "strength," not "room," for which we should expect to find להם instead of בּהם. There is an analogous passage in Psalm 76:6, "None of the men of might have found their hands." For the people that fled to the wilderness (the Israelitish army) turned against the pursuers (the warriors of Ai), or, as is added by way of explanation in Joshua 8:21, when Joshua and all Israel saw the town in the hands of the ambuscade, and the smoke ascending, they turned round and smote the people of Ai; and (Joshua 8:22) these (i.e., the Israelites who had formed the ambuscade) came out of the town to meet them. "These" (Eng. the other), as contrasted with "the people that fled" in Joshua 8:20, refers back to "the ambush" in Joshua 8:19. In this way the Aites were in the midst of the people of Israel, who came from this side and that side, and smote them to the last man. "So that they let none of them remain:" as in Numbers 21:35 and Deuteronomy 3:3, except that in this case it is strengthened still further by וּפליט, "or escape."
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