Joshua 8:1, “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”
The book of Joshua provides us with an overview of the military campaigns it took the Israelites to conquer the Promised Land. Following the exodus from Egypt and the subsequent forty years of wilderness wanderings, the newly formed nation is now in the Promised Land, and ready to conquer the inhabitants, and occupy the land. If you read Joshua, chapter 7, you would learn how Israel had sinned and violated the covenant concerning the spoils of Jericho, which God commanded of them? How often God must engineer defeat before He can engineer victory. Sometimes success comes through the back door of failure. As we begin this chapter of Joshua, I am reminded of some verses found in the book of Psalms. Psalm 119:67 tell us, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word”; and Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes”.
In Joshua 8 we will see once again the grace of God and the truth of restoration. Defeats never have to be the end. They in fact can be the beginning, if we will only respond to the grace of God, as a loving and caring heavenly Father, who works to produce spiritual growth and Christ-like changes within us. However, this does not minimize the consequences of sin. The momentum Israel gained defeating Jericho was temporarily lost and the Israelites were filled with gloom and despair after their defeat at Ai. Joshua 7:5 tells us they chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water.
The sin of Achan and story of Ai is a message of warning and a message of hope for us today. The incident at Ai, Achan’s sin, affected him, his family, and the nation of Israel, as the judgment of God came upon them. This incident must remind us, that sin cannot be tolerated in our life as it breaks the communion we have with God, hinders the blessings to us from Him, and strangles our obedience, prayer and life of service to Him, thus we become ineffective instruments to be used by Him. However, we will see from this portion of Scripture that blessings and victory can come, and they will come, when sin is dealt with and confessed as prescribed in God’s Eternal Word.
PLANS FOR VICTORY – GOD’S PROMISE CONCERNING AI
Joshua 8:1-2, “Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. 2 You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.”
Since Israel had eliminated sin from its midst, God was ready to bless the nation again. He promised Joshua there was no longer any reason for fear. The previous defeat at Ai may have given Joshua and the people great reason to be fearful and hesitant. However, God affirms to Joshua, He would give Ai and everything pertaining to it into Israel’s hands, since the reason for the first defeat had been eliminated. Moreover, this time, they were not to send three thousand men, but were instructed to take the whole army against the city. God then promised they would defeat Ai and its king as surely as they had defeated Jericho and its king. This time God clearly said the spoils of this city belonged to the people. At Jericho, the spoils had belonged to God, perhaps because it was the first fruits of the land captured by Israel. It was this command that Achan had violated that led to defeat at Ai the first time. God gave some further instruction regarding how the battle should be fought. He said they were to lay an ambush behind the city. We will see how this worked as the story proceeds. Unlike the first attack on Ai, this time we are expressly told Joshua was consulting God and God was instructing him regarding the plan of the battle. Had Joshua so consulted God before the first attack on Ai, the previous defeat could have been avoided.
In Hebrews 13:5, God has promised He will never leave you nor forsake you. What about the promises God has made to His children who have accepted Christ as Savior? 1 Kings 8:10 tell us “The LORD has kept the promise he made. I have succeeded David my father and now sit on the throne of Israel, just as the LORD promised, and I have built the temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel” and in Hebrews 10:23, we are to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
Promises are the hope of our heart. A child’s security depends on a parent’s promise to keep him or her safe. A spouse can live with confidence because of a mate’s promise of fidelity, loyalty, and love. Businesses depend on promises from employees, vendors, and clients. Countries remain safe when neighbors keep their promise to honor their borders. Anyone who has lived for a number of years would never lay claim to having kept every promise made. Unfortunately, hearts and relationships are broken in all of these situations by unkept promises. Why don’t we keep the promises we make? There are many reasons why this is true. Sometimes we forget, sometimes we are negligent, and sometimes it may be due to circumstances that are beyond our control.
However, there is one Promise Maker (God), who can be trusted completely. He has given us promises that we can rely on when we are in need of comfort, peace, and assurance. He has given us hundreds of promises in His Word, and as a loving Heavenly Father, it is very comforting to know He will always keep His promises. Abraham trusted God’s promise to make of him a great nation even though he and his wife were very old (Genesis 15:5-6; Hebrews 11:8-12). He set an example we would be very wise to follow. “He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God” (Romans 4:20). Surely, we can put our confidence and trust in the warnings, teachings and promises of the truly dependable One.
Just as God promised Ai to Joshua, we who have put our trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation can be sure that God will keep His word to us. Because “He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). We are to encourage one another to be faithful to Him because we know He will one day return for us. We have a hope that is based on the trustworthy promises of God because of His love for you and me. So, hold unto these promises and write them upon your heart so that you will have God’s truth readily available when troubling times come into your life. Above all, always remember God’s promises:
(1) Have no expiration date.
(2) Are greater than life’s problems.
(3) Are backed by His Power, Wisdom, Love, and
(4) He always provides what He promises.
Thus, wherever we are, whatever bold endeavor we are involved in, or whatever spiritual battle we may be facing, we have the confidence God is with us, and He will guide and protect us as His children.
Joshua 8:3-8, So Joshua and the whole army moved out to attack Ai. He chose thirty thousand of his best fighting men and sent them out at night 4 with these orders: “Listen carefully. You are to set an ambush behind the city. Do not go very far from it. All of you be on the alert. 5 I and all those with me will advance on the city, and when the men come out against us, as they did before, we will flee from them. 6 They will pursue us until we have lured them away from the city, for they will say, ‘They are running away from us as they did before.’ So, when we flee from them, 7 you are to rise up from ambush and take the city. The LORD your God will give it into your hand. 8 When you have taken the city, set it on fire. Do what the LORD has commanded. See to it; you have my orders.”
THE BATTLE PLAN
Further details are given in these verses for the plan of the ambush. Joshua sent soldiers away by night to an area behind the city. They were to stay hidden but close to the city, ready to attack at Joshua’s command. Joshua would take other men and would attack the city like it had been attacked at the previous defeat. When the men of Ai came out to fight, Joshua and his men would then flee again as they had done the first time. This would draw the men of Ai away from the protection of their city. However, this time as Israel fled; the men in ambush would enter the city, capture it, and set it on fire. This is what God commanded, so Joshua so commanded the people. He assured them this time they would be successful, because they had God’s blessings and assurance of success.
Just as God had a plan for conquering the city of Ai, he also has a plan for each of our lives. Life-changing events do not happen by accident, are not determined by the stars, nor are they by chance either. There is no such thing as chance in a believers’ life. The Lord uses every situation in our life to accomplish His purposes and His plan for us. British Pastor Frank W. Boreham (1871-1959), said this, “It was not by chance that Elijah and Ahab met on the grassy slopes of Carmel, nor was it by chance that Herod and John met on the highways in Galilee. It was not by chance that Pilate and Jesus met in the judgment hall at Jerusalem, nor was it by chance that Peter and Cornelius met on the Syrian seaboard. It was not by chance that Philip and the Ethiopian met on the sandy road to Gaza, nor was it by chance that Nero and Paul met amid the antique splendors of ancient Rome.
No, our meetings are no more by chance than the meeting of Stanley and Livingstone in Central Africa.” We should begin each day with a sincere desire to please the Lord, gladly anticipating His appointments for us, be they good or bad. They may be circumstances that are unplanned, or the people we meet unexpectedly. However, we should welcome them as opportunities to witness, to serve others, and to grow spiritually. Recognizing God’s sovereign leading; let us rejoice in His appointments. The stops of a good man are ordered and planned by the Lord as well as his steps.
Joshua 8:9-12, Then Joshua sent them off, and they went to the place of ambush and lay in wait between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai—but Joshua spent that night with the people. 10 Early the next morning Joshua mustered his army, and he and the leaders of Israel marched before them to Ai. 11 The entire force that was with him marched up and approached the city and arrived in front of it. They set up camp north of Ai, with the valley between them and the city. 12 Joshua had taken about five thousand men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city.
THE ARMY MOVED INTO POSITION
So Joshua sent them away, presumably referring to the 30,000 soldiers of verse 3. They placed an ambush on the west side of Ai, between Ai and Bethel. Presumably, they went by night so the people of Ai would not know they had moved into ambush. Joshua, however, stayed in the camp among the people. Then early the next morning, he and all the rest of the people went to the north of Ai and made camp there, with a valley between them and Ai. We are then told about a group of 5,000 men who were set in ambush between Bethel and Ai on the west side of Ai.
PREPARATIONS FOR BATTLE
Joshua and the people did exactly what the LORD commanded them. Joshua 8:13-17, so the soldiers took up their positions—with the main camp to the north of the city and the ambush to the west of it. That night Joshua went into the valley. 14 When the king of Ai saw this, he and all the men of the city hurried out early in the morning to meet Israel in battle at a certain place overlooking the Arabah. But he did not know that an ambush had been set against him behind the city. 15 Joshua and all Israel let themselves be driven back before them, and they fled toward the wilderness. 16 All the men of Ai were called to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua and were lured away from the city. 17 Not a man remained in Ai or Bethel who did not go after Israel. They left the city open and went in pursuit of Israel”
After all the soldiers were in position, those on the west and those on the north, Joshua moved with his men into the valley at night. When the king of Ai saw this, he aroused his soldiers early the following morning for a battle in the plain. However, he was still unaware of the ambush. As planned, Joshua’s men acted as though they were beaten, so they fled toward the wilderness. The people of Ai “took the bait” and followed them, clearly thinking they could defeat Israel like they had the first time. In fact, all the men of the city and of Bethel joined in the pursuit of Israel, so no one was left in the city at all. They left the city “open” either undefended or perhaps even with the gates open.
Every day as Christ’s followers we are also in a battle; however, we are not battling armies, but we are at war with Satan and his followers. Joshua had won the victory at Jericho through the power of the Lord, and is now ready to win another victory at Ai with the Lord’s power. However, in Joshua 9 the Gibeonites knew they would be next, so in fear they resorted to trickery to save their lives. They put on old clothes, took moldy bread with them, and made their way to the camp of Israel. Joshua and the elders were completely taken in by their trickery. Without consulting the Lord (Joshua 9:14-15), they entered into a covenant with the enemies of Israel who God had told them to destroy. My friend, there are some spiritual lessons in this account we should pay close attention to. If we put human reasoning before divine guidance, walking by sight rather than by faith, we are sure to err! We should dread the “moldy bread” of Satan’s deceptive strategies much more than his frontal attacks. Even though we have met the more obvious assaults of the enemy with victories like those of Jericho and Ai, overconfidence can lead us into a trap. If we are governed by the authority of the Word and put our total dependence in the power of the Spirit, we will not be easily caught in the web of Satan’s deceptions. To protect ourselves, we need to focus on the truths of God’s Word, choose to do what is right, remember our purpose as God’s redeemed children, trust God, and pray always (Ephesians 6:13-18), and we must put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6), so that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, and above all watch out for moldy bread of life!
Joshua 8:18-23, Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Hold out toward Ai the javelin that is in your hand, for into your hand I will deliver the city.” Therefore, Joshua held out toward the city the javelin that was in his hand. 19 As soon as he did this, the men in the ambush rose quickly from their position and rushed forward. They entered the city, captured it, and quickly set it on fire. 20 The men of Ai looked back and saw the smoke of the city rising against the sky, but they had no chance to escape in any direction; the Israelites who had been fleeing toward the wilderness had turned back against their pursuers. 21 For when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that smoke was going up from the city, they turned around and attacked the men of Ai. 22 Those in the ambush also came out of the city against them, so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives. 23 But they took the king of Ai alive and brought him to Joshua.
THE FALL OF AI
God then commanded Joshua to stretch out his spear toward Ai. He promised He would then give the city to Joshua and Israel. Therefore, Joshua stretched out his spear as God had commanded. Please note the similarity between this and other events. Moses stretched forth his rod to begin various plagues on Egypt (Exodus 8:6, 16). Later Moses held out the staff so the Red Sea would open to Israel (Exodus 14:16). In Joshua’s first battle against the Amalekites, he was victorious so long as Moses held up his hands with his staff (Exodus 17:8-16). This was simply a sign God used to show the results were occurring by His power and presence, through Joshua their appointed leader. In this case, when the men in ambush saw Joshua stretch forth his spear, they left their hiding places and ran into the city to set it on fire. Having done that, they left the city to attack the people of Ai from the rear. When the army that had been fleeing with Joshua saw the smoke of the city, they turned back to also attack the enemy. The men of Ai also saw the smoke of the city and realized what had happened. They were encircled by the enemy with nowhere to flee. The result was that the soldiers of Ai were all slain except the king, who was brought to Joshua.
How does this apply today to us as believers in Christ? Here’s a story concerning a farmer and his son who were working together out in the field. The father told the boy to throw all the large stones he could find into a nearby ditch so they would not interfere with plowing. After working a long time, the son called out, “Dad, there’s one rock here I can’t move even though I’ve tried my hardest.” “No, son,” replied the father, “you haven’t tried your hardest until you’ve called out to me for help. I can give you the strength you need.” The father then came alongside the boy and added his strength. Together, they moved the stubborn rock with ease. Too often we try our hardest to carry some heavy burden or work out a difficult problem, but with no success. After having done our best, we wonder why we have met with nothing but failure. Lovingly and patiently our heavenly Father reminds us that we must learn to depend on Him, and that we haven’t tried our hardest until we’ve called on Him for help. We must stop struggling to remove the stones of trouble and difficulty from our lives that far exceed our own strength. Like the Israelites, let’s call on the Lord to save us out of all our distresses.
Joshua 8:24-29, When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. 25 Twelve thousand men and women fell that day, all the people of Ai. 26 For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed all who lived in Ai. 27 But Israel did carry off for themselves the livestock and plunder of this city, as the LORD had instructed Joshua. 28 So Joshua burned Ai and made it a permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day. 29 He impaled the body of the king of Ai on a pole and left it there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take the body from the pole and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate. And they raised a large pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day.
OUTCOME OF THE BATTLE
Israel’s victory was complete. They slew all the soldiers who came to fight against them. They entered the city and destroyed everyone there, men, and women, as God had commanded. 12,000 people were slain in all. We are told that Joshua did not draw back the hand with which he held the spear until all the people were consumed. This seems to have been a sign to the men of Israel to continue the attack. It was similar to Moses’ holding up his hands in the battle against Amalek, but in that case, Moses’ hands also determined who prevailed in the battle. The people then took the spoils of the city for themselves, just as God had said they could. The city itself was burned and made a desolate heap. The king of Ai was captured in the battle and hung on a tree. At evening, Joshua commanded the king’s body to be taken down. It was then cast into the entrance gate of the city and covered with a great heap of stones. Nothing more is said about further battles in the central part of Canaan, though presumably there were others. Jericho and Ai must have been the major battles. After those battles whatever opposition Israel faced must have been relatively little. Israel’s experience is a good illustration of their history as a whole, and is also the spiritual history of many believers in Christ today and could be summed up as follows:
(1) Obedience followed by victory,
(2) Victory followed by blessing,
(3) Blessing followed by pride and disobedience,
(4) Disobedience followed by defeat,
(5) Defeat followed by judgment,
(6) Judgment followed by repentance,
(7) Repentance followed by obedience, and
(8) Obedience followed by victory, and thus the cycle continues.
Joshua 8:30-32, Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, 31 as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses—an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it, they offered to the LORD burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. 32 There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua copied on stones the Law of Moses, which he had written.
The story then describes a period of worship and study of the law that Israel conducted at two mountains in central Canaan, Mt. Ebal, and Mt. Gerizim. These are twin peaks found near Schechem. This was the place where God promised Abraham that He would give him the land of Canaan. Abraham built an altar there (Genesis 12:6, 7). Since the Israelites had now entered the land in fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham, it was appropriate for God to choose this as the place for the people to spend a special time of worship. While Israel had still been east of Jordan, God had commanded Moses what to do to remind the people of God’s law (Deut. 27:1-13). First, they were to build an altar on Mt. Ebal made of whole stones that had not been engraved by man with any tool. They were to offer sacrifices to God on the altar, and they were to plaster the stones with plaster and write God’s law on them. This is exactly what Joshua had the people do as recorded here, exactly as Moses had commanded them. No doubt this was to remind the people of God’s law, and to impress deeply on their minds that God had given them this land. Since it was given to them by God’s blessing, they should serve Him faithfully in the land.
BLESSINGS & CURSES
Joshua 8:33-35, All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the LORD, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel. 34 Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses—just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners who lived among them.
READING OF THE BLESSINGS & CURSES
Moses had commanded them to read the blessings and the curses after they entered the land. Six tribes were named who should stand on Mt. Gerizim to receive the record of the blessing and six were to stand on Mt. Ebal to receive the record of the curses. (1) The blessing was the record of God’s goodness that He would bring on the people if they would serve Him faithfully are found in – Deuteronomy 28:1-14; and, (2) The curse was the record of God’s punishments that He would bring on the land if they did not serve Him are found in – Deuteronomy 27:15-26; 28:15-68.
The worship at Mount Ebal focused the people on the Law of God that was so crucial to their future well being as the people of God. The Law pointed the nation to those righteous statutes that would enable Israel to be a holy nation, a special redeemed people, a people of God’s own possession, and a light to the nations (Exodus 19:4-6; Deuteronomy 4:1-8). The Law pointed Israel and all men to those moral statutes that are so vital to justice and law and order within nations. However, it did more. It demonstrated the holiness of God and by virtue of man’s inability to keep the Law; it showed man his sin which separates him from God. But how quickly their commitment to this special revelation of God faded from their minds, for in the very next book of the Bible, Judges, we read about that which characterized the nation during the time of the judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). We are no different today in our country.
Though our nation was founded on the precepts of Scripture as the moral Law of God, we have turned away from the Bible to do that which is right in our own eyes. Because we have rejected God’s Word and deny its relevance, we have turned to our useless imaginations (Ephesians 4:17f). As a result, we have become like those Isaiah cried out against who are not only experiencing the perversions of our own depraved thinking, but also the judgment of God on our society. Isaiah 5:20-24, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And clever in their own sight! 22 Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine, And valiant men in mixing strong drink; 23 Who justify the wicked for a bribe, And take away the rights of the ones who are in the right! 24 Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes stubble, And dry grass collapses into the flame, So their root will become like rot and their blossom blow away as dust; For they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel”.
If you were to take just a casual glance at our society and world today, it would provide us with concise and very clear evidence we are in desperate need of spiritual and moral revival, a need to return to our godly roots as given to us by our forefathers. The moral breakdown in society and in our leadership, especially for a nation with our beginnings, is beyond imagination. We are so much like Israel in this regard. I agree with Campbell who says: The survival of our society may well depend on the willingness of all the people, the leaders in Washington and the citizens across the land, to allow the absolutes of God’s Word to become the law of the land.
The God who holds the universe is the God who’s holding you.