Joshua 8 (NRSV)
Ai Captured and Destroyed
Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed; take all the fighting men with you, and go up now to Ai. See, I have handed over to you the king of Ai with his people, his city, and his land. 2You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king; only its spoil and its livestock you may take as booty for yourselves. Set an ambush against the city, behind it.”
3So Joshua and all the fighting men set out to go up against Ai.
Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed: This was the first key to regaining victory. They had to receive encouragement from God. Though Israel stumbled through Achan’s sin as shown in Joshua 7, they dealt with the failure and now had to move on. What is past is past. We must deal with it before God in repentance and dying to self, and then look forward to what He has for us right now. God wants us to use our failures in a good way, to use them as a foundation for great victory in the Lord. God wasn’t despondent or depressed, and He didn’t want Joshua or the nation of Israel (or us) to be either. Now it was time to get busy and set about being victorious for the Lord, because He has not abandoned them (or us).
As a church organist for more than 30 years, I am saddened when I think that so many young people in our churches are no longer familiar with some of the great hymns of the faith. Here is one of the classics that never fails to inspire me: “Onward, Christian Soldiers” is sung HERE by a group which many DWELLING readers love — Libera.
Joshua chose thirty thousand warriors and sent them out by night 4with the command, “You shall lie in ambush against the city, behind it; do not go very far from the city, but all of you stay alert. 5I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. When they come out against us, as before, we shall flee from them. 6They will come out after us until we have drawn them away from the city; for they will say, ‘They are fleeing from us, as before.’ While we flee from them, 7you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city; for the Lord your God will give it into your hand. 8And when you have taken the city, you shall set the city on fire, doing as the Lord has ordered; see, I have commanded you.”
9So Joshua sent them out; and they went to the place of ambush, and lay between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai; but Joshua spent that night in the camp.
10In the morning Joshua rose early and mustered the people, and went up, with the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai.
Joshua was especially near his people during this crucial time of trying to regain victory. The people needed to know he was near, and they needed to follow his leadership.
If we will regain victory, we must live with and follow Jesus, who is our Joshua. He is always near to us at these crucial times in our Christian life, and always goes first to lead us into battle.
11All the fighting men who were with him went up, and drew near before the city, and camped on the north side of Ai, with a ravine between them and Ai. 12Taking about five thousand men, he set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13So they stationed the forces, the main encampment that was north of the city and its rear guard west of the city. But Joshua spent that night in the valley.
14When the king of Ai saw this, he and all his people, the inhabitants of the city, hurried out early in the morning to the meeting place facing the Arabah to meet Israel in battle; but he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city. 15And Joshua and all Israel made a pretense of being beaten before them, and fled in the direction of the wilderness. 16So all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and as they pursued Joshua they were drawn away from the city. 17There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel; they left the city open, and pursued Israel.
18Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the sword that is in your hand toward Ai; for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the sword that was in his hand toward the city.
When the Mormons moved out West in the mid-1800’s, they came upon these unusually shaped trees and were reminded of the story of Joshua holding up his sword in this passage. So they named them “Joshua trees.” This photograph was taken by Andrew Chasteen at Joshua Tree National Park in southeastern California.
19As soon as he stretched out his hand, the troops in ambush rose quickly out of their place and rushed forward. They entered the city, took it, and at once set the city on fire.
20So when the men of Ai looked back, the smoke of the city was rising to the sky.
They had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers. 21When Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that the smoke of the city was rising, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. 22And the others came out from the city against them; so they were surrounded by Israelites, some on one side, and some on the other; and Israel struck them down until no one was left who survived or escaped. 23But the king of Ai was taken alive and brought to Joshua.
24When Israel had finished slaughtering all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and when all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai, and attacked it with the edge of the sword. 25The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand—all the people of Ai. 26For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the sword, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. 27Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their booty, according to the word of the Lord that he had issued to Joshua.
28So Joshua burned Ai, and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. 29And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening; and at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree, threw it down at the entrance of the gate of the city, and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day.
Joshua Renews the Covenant
30Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, 31just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, “an altar of unhewn stones, on which no iron tool has been used”; and they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed offerings of well-being. 32And there, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written.
33All Israel, alien as well as citizen, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark in front of the levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, that they should bless the people of Israel.
34And afterward he read all the words of the law, blessings and curses, according to all that is written in the book of the law. 35There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the aliens who resided among them.
So now we, as readers and hearers of the Word of the Lord in this book, know that Joshua is doing just what he was instructed to do in chapter 1 — to “act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you.” He has led the people to take possession of the land for God. They have erected an altar and given offerings. Then they wrote out the law in permanent, visible form, and stood while it was read aloud to them. Surely a day to remember!
This short but significant passage also reminds us that Joshua’s most important duty was not to engage in warfare and conquest, but to lead Israel in faithfulness and obedience to God. It is a common temptation for Christians to believe that WHAT WE DO for God is more important than WHO WE ARE for God. Let us not be so busy getting good things done that we forget to “make every effort to enter that rest,” as we read in Hebrews 4, and to be transformed by the refreshing, renewing presence of our Lord.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.