Matthew Poole's Commentary
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:God puts new courage into Joshua; commands him to go and besiege Ai, promising he should take it, Joshua 8:1,2. The stratagem whereby it is taken; it is burnt, Joshua 8:3-22. The king is taken prisoner; the inhabitants are put to the sword; the cattle and goods spoiled; the king is hanged, Joshua 8:23-29. Joshua builds an altar, Joshua 8:30; offers thereon, Joshua 8:31; writes the law on stones, Joshua 8:32. It and its blessings and curses are read before the people, Joshua 8:33-35.
Take all the people of war with thee; partly to strengthen them against those fears which their late defeat had wrought in them; and partly that all of them might be partakers of this first spoil, and thereby be encouraged to proceed in their work. The weak multitude were not to go, because they might have hindered them in the following stratagem; and it was but fit that the military men who run the greatest hazards, should have the precedency and privilege in the spoils.
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.To Ai, i.e. the city and people of Ai.
As thou didst unto Jericho and her king, i.e. overcome and destroy them. This was enjoined, partly to chastise their last insolence, and the triumphs and blasphemies which doubtless their success produced; and partly to revive the dread and terror which had been impressed upon the Canaanites by Jericho’s ruin, and had been much abated by the late success of Ai, and their confidence and expectation of further and greater success much raised.
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.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.
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:He commanded them; the same party last spoken of, Joshua 8:3, even the five thousand mentioned Joshua 8:12. This historical-narration seems obscure and intricate, and at first view to make three parties, one of thirty thousand, Joshua 8:3; one of five thousand, Joshua 8:12, which may seem to be two several ambushes; and a third of all the people, Joshua 8:5,11. But if it be more narrowly and considerately observed, it will appear that there are only two parties engaged in the taking of Ai, and but one ambush, as plainly appears by comparing Joshua 8:9 (which manifestly speaks of that party which is mentioned Joshua 8:3) with Joshua 8:12, which speaks only of five thousand, which is justly supposed to be a part of those thirty thousand named Joshua 8:3, and that part which was to lie in ambush; unless we will suppose that there were two ambushes, one of thirty thousand, and the other of five thousand, both lying in wait in the same quarter, even between Beth-el and Ai, on the west side of Ai, the only place where the ambush lay, as is said both Joshua 8:9,12,13, which seems absurd and incredible. And besides, in the execution of this command, there is mention but of one ambush, Joshua 8:12-14,19, and they are said to consist only of five thousand, Joshua 8:12, and they only take and burn the city, Joshua 8:19; so that the other supposed ambush of thirty thousand is perfectly vanished and lost, and did nothing in this work; which also is very improbable. And therefore that thirty thousand, Joshua 8:3, are the same who are called the people, and the people of war that were with Joshua, Joshua 8:5,11, which is pitched on the north side of Ai, Joshua 8:11,13, as the ambush did on the west side; but for any other side of the city, or a third party placed elsewhere about Ai, we read not one word; and therefore it may well be presumed there were no more employed to take it.
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,That are, or, that shall be; for at present he sent them away, Joshua 8:9, but he next morning followed them, and joined himself with the prover. Joshua 8:10,11.
We will flee; I and the twenty-five thousand with me.
(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.No text from Poole on this verse.
Then ye shall rise up from the ambush, and seize upon the city: for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand.Ye shall rise up from the ambush, to wit, upon the signal given, of which Joshua 8:18.
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.Ye shall set the city on fire, to wit, part of it, as a sign to their brethren of their success; for the whole city was not burnt now, but afterwards, as is said Joshua 8:28.
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.Sent them forth; the same party designed by the pronoun them, Joshua 8:3, of which see the notes there.
Among the people, Heb. that people, to wit, the people of war, as they are called, Joshua 8:11, to wit, the main body of that host, consisting of thirty thousand.
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.The people, Heb. that people, not all the people of Israel, which was needless, and required more time than could now be spared; but the rest of that host of thirty thousand, whereof five thousand were sent away; and now the remainder are numbered, partly to see whether some of them had not withdrawn themselves, taking the advantage of the night, and of the design of laying an ambush; and partly that it might be evident that this work was done without any loss of men, and thereby they might be encouraged to trust in God, and to proceed vigorously and resolutely in their work.
The elders of Israel; either,
1. The military elders, the chief commanders of his army. But they seem to be included in the thirty thousand, Joshua 8:3, which are supposed to be furnished and led by their several commanders; and such persons are scarce ever called the
elders of Israel. Or rather,
2. The chief magistrates and rulers of Israel under Joshua, who are commonly so called; and these, I suppose, went with Joshua, and with the army, to take care that the cattle and the spoil of the city, which was given by God to all Israel for a prey, Joshua 8:2,27, might be justly and equally divided between those that went to battle, and the rest of the people, according to the example and prescript, Numbers 31:27; and that they who were present and assistant in the taking of that city, might not engross the whole to themselves, as is usual for soldiers in those cases to do.
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.The people of war that were with him, to wit, the thirty thousand mentioned Joshua 8:3, or the most of them.
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.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 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.To wit, accompanied with a small part of the host now mentioned, i.e. very early in the morning, when it was yet dark, as is said in a like case, John 20:1, whence it is here called night, though it was early in the morning, as is said Joshua 8:10; for it seems most probable that all was done in one night’s space, and in this manner: Joshua sends away the ambush by night, Joshua 8:3, and lodgeth that night with twenty-five thousand men, Joshua 8:9, not far from the city. But not able nor willing to sleep all night, he rises very early, Joshua 8:10, and numbers his men, which by the help of the several officers was quickly done, and so immediately leads them towards Ai; and while it was yet duskish or night, he goes into the midst of the valley, Joshua 8:13; and when the day dawns he is discovered by the king and people of Ai, who thereupon rose up early to fight with them, Joshua 8:14. Though others conceive this was the second night, and so the ambush had lain hid a night and a day together. But then there might be danger of their being discovered, although that danger may seem to be the less, because Ai might be shut up, that none might go out nor come in, but by order, and upon necessity, because of the nearness of their enemies, as Jericho formerly was for the same reason, Joshua 6:1. Into the midst of the valley; which was near the city, thereby to allure them forth.
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.All his people, to wit, all his men of war, for the rest were left in Ai, Joshua 8:16.
At a time appointed; at a certain hour agreed upon between the king and people of Ai, and of Beth-el too, who were their confederates in this enterprise, as it may seem from Joshua 8:17. Possibly they might appoint the same hour of the day on which they had fought against Israel with such good success, looking upon it as a lucky hour.
Before the plain, i.e. towards or in sight of that plain or valley in which the Israelites were, that so they might put themselves in battle-array.
He wist not that there were liers in ambush; the former success having made him more careless and secure, as is usual in such cases; God also blinding his mind, and infatuating him, as he useth to do with those which he intends to destroy.
And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness.Made as if they were beaten before them, i.e. fled from them, as it were for fear of a second blow; and peradventure some of them might be wounded, though none were killed, and might make that the pretence of their fleeing away.
The wilderness lay between Ai and Jericho, whither they now seemed to flee.
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.All the people, to wit, all that were able to bear arms, for old men and children were unfit for the pursuit or fight; and that they were yet left, may seem from Joshua 8:24,25.
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.Not a man, to wit, fit for war. Beth-el, being a neighbouring city, and encouraged by the former success, had sent some forces to assist them; and now, upon notice sent to them of the flight of their common enemies, or upon some other signal given, which might easily be done, having been appointed beforehand, as is usual in such cases, all their men of war join with those of Ai in the pursuit.
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.The spear, or, thy banner; or there might be some banner in the end of his spear. This was prescribed and practised, either,
1. For a sign to his host present with him, to stop their flight, and make head against the pursuers; or,
2. For a signal to the liers in wait, as may seem from Joshua 8:19, who, though they were at some distance, might know this from persons whom they had set in some high and convenient places to observe Joshua’s motion, and to give notice from one to another, and that speedily, as is common in such cases, until it came to the whole ambush; or,
3. As a mystical token of God’s presence and assistance with them, and of their victory; or as a mean by God’s appointment contributing to their good success, as the like posture of Moses lifting up his hand was, Exodus 17:11,12, which may be the reason why he continued this posture till the enemies were all destroyed, Joshua 8:26; whereas if it had been a signal only, it was sufficient to do it for a little while. I know no reason why all these ends might not be joined together.
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.i.e. Not all of it, as appears both from Joshua 8:28, and because then they had lost that prey which God had allowed them; but some part of it, enough to raise a smoke, and give notice to their brethren of their success.
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.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 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.All Israel, i.e. all the Israelites there present, or all those who seemed to flee away before.
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.The other; they who lay in ambush. So their late success was a real mischief to them, as being the occasion of their total ruin.
And the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua.Reserving him to a peculiar and more ignominious punishment, for the terror of the other kings, who were the chief causes of all that opposition and disturbance which Israel met with in gaining the possession of the Promised Land.
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.i.e. The inhabitants of it, the men, who through age or infirmity were unfit for war, and the women, Joshua 8:25.
And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai.Not strictly, but largely so called, who were now in Ai, either as constant and settled inhabitants, or as sojourners, and such as came to them for their help, such as being confederate with them are esteemed as one with them; for it is evident that the men of Beth-el are included in this number, Joshua 8:17, the Israelites who took this number being unable to distinguish who belonged to the one city, and who to the other.
For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.Either,
1. He ceased not to fight with that hand. Or,
2. He kept his hand and spear in the same posture, both stretched out and lifted up, as a sign both to encourage them, and to direct them to go on in the work. See Poole "Joshua 8:18".
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day.For ever, or, for a long time, as that word oft signifies, as Genesis 6:3 Isaiah 42:14; for that it was after some ages rebuilt, may seem from Nehemiah 11:31, unless that were another city built near the former, there being some little difference in the name also.
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.He dealt more severely with the kings of Canaan than with the people, partly because the abominable wickedness of that people was not restrained and punished, (as it should have been,) but countenanced and encouraged by their evil examples and administrations; and partly because they were the principal authors of the destruction of their own people, by engaging them in an obstinate opposition against the Israelites.
That they should take his carcass down from the tree, according to God’s command in that case, Deu 21:22,23. He chose
the entering of the gate of the city, either as most commodious, now especially when all the city within the gate was already turned into a heap of stones and rubbish; or because this was the usual place of judgment, and therefore proper to bear the monument of God’s just sentence against him, not without reflection upon that injustice which he had been guilty of in that place.
Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,Then, to wit, after the taking of Ai. For they were obliged to do this when they were brought over Jordan into the land of Canaan, Deu 11:29 27:2,3, which is not to be understood strictly, as if it were to be done the same moment or day; for it is manifest they were first to be circumcised, and to eat the passover, which they did, and which was the work of some days; but as soon as they had opportunity to do it, which was now when these two great frontier cities were taken and destroyed, and thereby the coast cleared, and the bordering people under great consternation and confusion, that all the Israelites might securely march thither. And indeed this work was fit to be done as soon as might be, that thereby they might renew their covenant with, and profess their subjection to, that God by whose help alone they could expect success in their great and difficult enterprise.
Built an altar, to wit, for the offering of sacrifices, as appears from the following verse, and from Deu 27:5-7.
In Mount Ebal. Why not on Mount Gerizim also?
Answ. Because God’s altar was to be but in one place, Deu 12:13,14, and this place was appointed to be Mount Ebal, Deu 27:4,5, which also seems most proper for it, that in that place whence the curses of the law were denounced against sinners, there might also be the tokens and means of grace, and peace and reconciliation with God, for the removing of the curses, and the procuring of God’s blessing unto sinners.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Not upon the stones of the altar, which were to be rough and unpolished, Joshua 8:31, but upon other stones, smooth and plastered, as is manifest from Deu 27:2.
A copy of the law of Moses; not certainly the whole five books of Moses, for what stones and time would have sufficed for this! nor the blessings and the curses here following, which never are nor can without great impropriety be called the law of Moses, seeing they presuppose the law, and the observation or transgression thereof, to which they belong, only as rewards of the one, and punishments of the other: but the most weighty and substantial parts of the law, as may be gathered from the laws which are mentioned, and to the violators whereof the curses are applied, Deu 27:15, and especially the law of the ten commandments.
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.All Israel, i.e. the whole congregation, old and young, male and female, as it follows, Joshua 8:35.
On this side the ark, and on that side, i.e. some on one side of it, and some on the other. Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal were in the tribe of Ephraim, not far from Shechem, as appears both from Scripture, Deu 11:29,30 27:12 Judges 9:7, and from other authors who lived in those parts, as Josephus and the Jewish doctors. That they should bless, or curse, which is easily understood out of the following verse, and from Deu 27:13, &c.
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.Afterward; after the altar was built, and the stones plastered and writ upon.
He read, i.e. he commanded the priests or Levites to read, Deu 27:14.
The blessings and cursings; which words come in not by way of explication, as if the words of the law were nothing else besides the blessings and curses; but by way of addition, to note that these were read over and above the words of the law.
He saith not, according to all that was written upon those stones, but in the book of the law, which shows the mistake of them that think the same things were both read and written upon these stones.
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.There was not a word which Joshua read not; therefore he read not the blessings and curses only, as some think, but the whole law, as the manner was when all Israel, men and women, were assembled together, as we read, Deu 31:10-12. That were conversant among them, i.e. who were proselytes, for no others can be supposed to be with them at this time.