Joshua 8:3
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.
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(3) And Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men.—Some difficulty arises from the fact that thirty thousand men are mentioned as having been sent away with general instructions to form an ambush in the first instance, while five thousand were ultimately posted between Bethel and Ai. Were there two distinct bodies in ambush, or only one? It does not seem possible to answer this question with absolute certainty; but we ought to notice in the first place what the aim of Joshua was. He meant to isolate the town of Ai, taking it in front and flank; but there was another town immediately in the rear, less than two miles off. It was necessary, therefore, to employ a sufficient body of men to close the communications between Bethel and Ai from the first.

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.Thirty thousand men - comparing Joshua 8:3 and Joshua 8:12 ("five thousand men"), there is probably a mistake in the numbers of this verse, where an early copyist may have written the sign for 30,000 instead of that for 5,000.

Sent them away by night - The selected 5,000 would accordingly post themselves in the main ravine between Ai and Bethel in the night and early morning. The neighhorhood in which Ai was situated is described as "a wild entanglement of hill and valley;" and amidst its recesses the detachment could easily shelter itself from observation until Joshua's other measures were taken.

3. So Joshua … chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valour—Joshua despatched thirty thousand men under cover of night, to station themselves at the place appointed for the ambuscade. Out of this number a detachment of five thousand was sent forward to conceal themselves in the immediate precincts of the town, in order to seize the first opportunity of throwing themselves into it [Jos 8:12]. To go up against Ai, i.e. to consider and conclude about this expedition of going against Ai; not as if all the people of war did actually go up, which was both unnecessary and burdensome, and might hinder their following design; but it seems to be resolved by Joshua and all the council of war, that the thirty thousand here following should be selected for the enterprise. Either,

1. The thirty thousand now mentioned; or,

2. Part of them, to wit, such as were to lie in wait, as seems most probable, both from the next verse, which limits it to those who were to lie in wait, and from Joshua 8:9, where what is here mentioned only by anticipation is actually put in execution; and it is said of them that were sent forth, that they went to lie in ambush, and did so; and these were only five thousand men, as is expressed, Joshua 8:12. And the only inconvenience of this exposition is, that the pronoun relative them is put without, or before its antecedent, which is left to be gathered out of the following words, which is not unusual in the Hebrew tongue, as plainly appears from Exodus 14:19 Numbers 18:9 24:17 Psalm 87:1 105:19 114:2 Proverbs 7:8 14:26.

So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai,.... As the Lord had commanded him:

and Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valour; out of all the men of war; these were a select company, picked men, not the whole army, as some have thought, for he was ordered to take all the people of war, as he did:

and sent them away by night; from the main army, that they might pass the city and get behind it undiscovered, for they were sent for an ambush; and of these some were to take the city, and be left in it to burn it, and some to smite the men of Ai, as Abarbinel notes.

So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai: and Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valor, 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.

Verse 3. - Thirty thousand. In ver. 12 we read 5,000, and this must be the true reading. Thirty thousand men could hardly have been posted, without detection, in the ravines around Ai, whereas we are informed by travellers that there would have been no difficulty in concealing 5,000 men there. See, however, the passage cited from Lieut. Conder's Report in the note on Joshua 7:2. The confused condition of the numbers in the present text of the Old Testament is a well known fact, and it is proved by the great discrepancies in this respect between the Books of Chronicles and those of Samuel and Kings. Some have thought (e.g., Haverniek, 'Introduction to the Old Testament,' II. 1:15) that two bands were laid in ambush, one on the northwest and the other on the southwest. This is a possible, though not probable, solution of the difficulty (see below). Then we must suppose that the city was nearly surrounded, Joshua and the main body on the southeast, the larger detachment on the north (ver. 13), and the smaller ambush on the west (see note on ver. 13). Keil, in his earlier editions, supposed that Joshua assaulted Ai with 30,000 men, out of whom he chose 5,000 as an ambush. So also Hengstenberg's 'Geschichte des Reiches Gottes,' p. 219. But this only introduces a third contradiction, for we are told both in vers. 1 and 3 that Joshua took with him "all the men of war." Keil has, however, abandoned that supposition, which is contrary to all the ancient versions, including the present text of the LXX. The Bishop of Lincoln suggests that 5,000 men may have been detached to reinforce the former detachment of 30,000. But to say nothing of the improbability of an ambush of 35,000 men remaining undetected (and they were specially instructed - see next verse - not to station themselves far from the city), we have the plain statement in ver. 12 וַיָּשֶׂם אותָם אורֵב "he stationed (or had stationed) them as an ambush." Joshua 8:3Accordingly Joshua set out with all the people of war against Ai, and selected 30,000 brave men, and sent them out in the night, with instructions to station themselves as an ambuscade behind the town, and at no great distance from it. As the distance from Gilgal to Ai was about fifteen miles, and the road runs pretty straight in a north-westerly direction from Jericho through the Wady Faran, the detachment sent forward might easily accomplish the distance in a night, so as to arrive on the western side of Ai before the break of day. They were then to hold themselves in readiness to fight. He (Joshua) himself would approach the town with the people of war that remained with him; and if the inhabitants of Ai should come out against him as they did before, they would flee before them till they had drawn them quite away from their town (Joshua 8:5). This was to be expected; "for they will say, They flee before us, as at the first: and we will flee before them" (Joshua 8:6). When this was done, the warriors were to come forth from their ambush, fall upon the town, and set it on fire (Joshua 8:7, Joshua 8:8). Having been sent away with these instructions, the 30,000 men went into ambush, and posted themselves "between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai" (Joshua 8:9), i.e., according to Strauss, in the Wady es Suweinit, to the north-west of Ai, where it forms almost a perpendicular wall, near to which the ruins of Chai are to be found, though "not near enough to the rocky wady for it to be possible to look down its almost perpendicular wall" (Ritter, Erdk. xvi. p. 528). Joshua remained for the night in the midst of the people, i.e., in the camp of that portion of the army that had gone with him towards Ai; not in Gilgal, as Knobel supposes.
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