New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary


Jos 8:1 Yahweh said to Joshua, Don’t be afraid, neither be dismayed. Take all the people of war with you and arise, go up to Ai. Behold, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, with his people, his city, and his land-
Chapter 7 has presented Joshua as having been so "dismayed" that he lost faith in the promises and encouragement of Josh. 1:3,9. God now continues to encourage him. Although the victory was given into their hand, that was still potential. For obedience was still required. 

Jos 8:2 You shall do to Ai and her king as you did to Jericho and her king, except its spoil and its livestock, you shall take for a plunder for yourselves-
God told Israel to totally destroy the spoil from the cities they attacked. But when they failed to do this with Jericho, God told them that with Ai, the next city on the agenda, they were allowed to keep the spoil (Josh. 8:2); even though Dt. 20:14-16 said that this was how they should treat their distant enemies, but not cities like Ai which were part of their inheritance. This was an undoubted concession to human  weakness. The same concession to human weakness applied to other cities apart from Ai; it became a general policy that "all the spoil of these cities... the children of Israel took for a prey unto themselves"; and yet following straight on from this we are told that Joshua "left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses" (Josh. 11:14,15). God accepted those concessions to human weakness, this living on a lower level, as total obedience. The grace of all this is marvellous.

Set an ambush for the city behind it-
Some human strategy was now used to take Ai, whereas the strategy used to take Jericho had been foolishness in secular terms, and was completely Divine, requiring absolute faith. God is coming down a level, in order to meet His weak people and work with them. Although on another level, we can understand that in working with God, often the initiative is with us. All this means that how we plan to preach and care for others does need to be considered. Time and again, God works through humanly devised good strategies (Josh. 8:1,2; Neh. 4:9 etc.). But I love the way Derek Kidner puts it: "Scripture approves of strategy when it is a tool rather than a substitute for God".

Jos 8:3 So Joshua arose-
"Arose" is s.w. 'raise up'. The Messianic prophecy of Dt. 18:18 had a potential Messianic and primary fulfillment in Joshua: “I will raise them up [God ‘rose up’ Joshua- s.w. Josh. 1:2; 7:10,13; 8:1,3]  a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee [Joshua’s life was framed to be like that of Moses- e.g. he too was told to remove his shoe when on holy ground, also held his hands up whilst Israel fought their enemies]; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him [Joshua is constantly presented as telling Israel what God commanded him- Josh. 4:8,10,17; 6:10; 8:8: “according to the commandment of the Lord shall ye do. See, I have commanded you”; Josh. 8:27]. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him”. 

And all the people of war, to go up to Ai. Joshua chose thirty thousand men, the mighty men of valour, and sent them out by night-
This was ten times the number which the spies had originally suggested in their arrogance and lack of true faith. However we note that in :12, five thousand were set in ambush. 30,000 is a large number of men to hide in order to set an ambush, although the term "thousand" when describing military matters rarely means literally 1000, but rather refers to some military division. Perhaps there were two ambushes set (see on :14), or there were a total of 30,000 troops but 5000 used in the ambush. My personal preference is to believe that he set out with 30000 but like Gideon, the numbers were reduced to 5000. For "Joshua chose" 30000 men, to fight against 12000 (:12,25), as if to assure victory by reason of numbers rather than faith; so perhaps God therefore chose 5000.

Jos 8:4 He commanded them, saying, Behold, you shall lie in ambush against the city, behind the city. Don’t go very far from the city, but all of you be ready-
"Behind the city" meant on its west side (:9). The specific commands are from Joshua as the general; perhaps they were his interpretation of the command to set an ambush (:2). How that was to be fulfilled was left up to Joshua. The fact he built into the battle plans a retreat before enemies (:5) is therefore a commendable example of humility, recognizing that they deserved defeat for breaking the covenant, but believing that God's grace would turn that into victory, thereby making it an example of what Buechner called "the magnificent defeat".  

Jos 8:5 I, and all the people who are with me, will approach to the city. It shall happen, when they come out against us, as at the first, we will flee before them-
Joshua had lamented how Israel had fled before their enemies the first time they attacked Ai, alluding back to the curses for disobedience which Moses had recently pronounced to them. Therefore the second time they attacked Ai, Joshua and his people purposefully fled before their enemies; as if recognizing that the curses for disobedience were justified for them. But by doing this, they ended up chasing their enemies, just as Moses had said they would if they were faithful. No wonder that after the victory, the whole of Israel recited the blessings and cursings (Josh. 8:5,20,33-35 cp. 7:8)! Fleeing before their enemies was perhaps a recognition of the truth of Dt. 28:25.

Jos 8:6 They will come out after us, until we have drawn them away from the city; for they will say, ‘They flee before us, like the first time’. So we will flee before them-
Joshua explains to his people the mind of the people of Ai. They would assume that nothing had changed in Israel between the first attack and this second attack. But what had happened was that Israel had repented, and the things as it were stolen from God had been given to Him. This was the difference, and so Ai were to be defeated because they failed to recognize that.

Jos 8:7 and you shall rise up from the ambush, and take possession of the city; for Yahweh your God will deliver it into your hand-
The possession of the city was not because of the clever strategy, but because of God's deliverance of it into the hand of Israel. And yet He gave them the strategy, and encouraged Joshua to develop it. This is typical of the way He works, a kind of symphony between Divine sovereignty and human volition.

Jos 8:8 It shall be, when you have seized on the city, that you shall set the city on fire. You shall do this according to the word of Yahweh. Behold, I have commanded you-
see on :3; Jud. 1:8. The very receipt of a command should strengthen our brave obedience to it (Josh. 1:9; 2 Sam. 13:28). But our attitude to God's word determines our obedience to it. This is one dimension of believing that the Bible is indeed written by Divine inspiration.

Jos 8:9 Joshua sent them out; and they went to prepare the ambush, and stayed between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai; but Joshua stayed among the people that night-
Again "the people" are put for the soldiers; see on :11. The Divine command to set an ambush (:2) was obeyed very carefully by Joshua, as so emphasized (s.w. :4,7,9,12,14,19,21). I discuss on :27 how Joshua was very good at obeying clear commands, but tended to fail when he had to resolve questions on his own initiative.

Jos 8:10 Joshua rose up early in the morning, mustered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, at the head of the people to Ai-
Joshua was characterized by rising early (Josh. 3:1; 6:12; 7:16; 8:10). This is a much repeated characteristic of God's servants: that they 'rose up early in the morning' and did God's work. In each of the following passages, this phrase is clearly not an idiom; rather does it have an evidently literal meaning: Abraham (Gen. 19:27; 21:14; 22:3); Jacob (Gen. 28:18); Job (1:5); Moses (Ex. 8:20; 9:13; 24:4; 34:4); Gideon (Jud. 6:38; 7:1). This is quite an impressive list, numerically. This can be a figure for being zealous (Ps. 127:2; Pr. 27:14; Song 7:12; Is. 5:11; Zeph. 3:7). God Himself rises up early in His zeal to save and bring back His wayward people (Jer. 7:13,25; 11:7; 25:3,4; 26:5; 29:19; 32:33; 35:14,15; 44:4). Yet the above examples all show that men literally rose up early in their service to God; this was an expression of their zeal for God, in response to His zeal for us. I'm not suggesting that zeal for God is reflected by rising early rather than staying up late; but it wouldn't be too much to suggest that if we are men of mission, we won't waste our hours in bed. Get up when you wake up.

Jos 8:11 All the people, even the men of war who were with him, went up and drew near to the city, and encamped on the north side of Ai. Now there was a valley between him and Ai-
As often in Joshua, "the people" are paralleled with "the men of war". The idea may be that ordinary unarmed civilians also accompanied them; or that the "men of war" were representative of the people. For it was to be their conquest. The land was to be taken by "them", the people, and not simply due to military actions. 

Jos 8:12 He had set about five thousand men in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city-
Verses 12 and 13 appear to be a recapitulation of the situation. This position was that once occupied by Abraham (Gen. 12:8; 13:3), and was clearly chosen to remind the people of their being the children of Abraham and in his position as he first entered the land.

Jos 8:13 So they set the people, even all the army who was on the north of the city, and the ambush on the west of the city; and Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley-
The idea is that they had set the people in these positions; verses 12 and 13 appear to be a recapitulation.

Jos 8:14 It happened, when the king of Ai saw it, that they hurried and rose up early, and the men of the city went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people, at the time appointed, before the Arabah; but he didn’t know that there was an ambush against him behind the city-
"The time appointed" is in some manuscripts "the place appointed"; and "the Arabah" is in some "the ambush". In this case there would be the idea of two ambushes, one before and one behind the city. This would explain the two different numbers given for the troops involved in the ambushes; see on :3.

Jos 8:15 Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness-
"The way of the wilderness" is the very phrase used of the route taken by Israel after they had been barred from entering the land nearly 40 years previously (Dt. 1:40; 2:1). Joshua was acceptant of the fact that they did not now deserve to enter the land, and was fleeing before his enemies, knowing this was the curse for disobedience to the covenant. He was therefore appreciating that their entrance to the Kingdom was now by grace alone. And so victory was given, and thus in human terms this was all part of the strategy for taking Ai.

Jos 8:16 All the people who were in the city were called together to pursue after them. They pursued Joshua, and were drawn away from the city-
We note that Joshua personally was with the group who fled before their enemies, purposefully accepting that they had broken covenant and were worthy of the condemnation which that involved- of fleeing before enemies.

Jos 8:17 There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel who didn’t go out after Israel. They left the city open and pursued Israel-
This suggests that the people of Bethel had come to support Ai, perhaps in the gap between the two attacks upon Ai.

Jos 8:18 Yahweh said to Joshua, Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand. Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city-
The javelin would have reflected the rays of the sun and thereby given a message to the ambush to now rise. However there is no doubt that God meant Joshua to imitate the victories of Moses on account of his staff. We see here a mixture of working through human strategy, and yet being given the victory as a result of Divine operation. This was not the optimal way to operate; for before Achan's sin, the 'strategy' for taking Jericho had been complete nonsense in military terms, and had been designed to demonstrate absolute trust in Yahweh for victory. It seems this sign of the javelin was not explained to Joshua ahead of time. He may have wondered how to inform the ambushers of the optimal time to attack; and God now gave him the answer. Or perhaps the exact timing of the signal was from God. And this helps us understand the apparent gaps in God's revealed strategy with us; they are there so that we live by faith.

Jos 8:19 The ambush arose quickly out of their place, and they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand, entered into the city and took it. They hurried and set the city on fire-
The burning of the cities was because of their uncleanness. And yet Jerusalem was to be burned with fire in the end (Jer. 21:10; 32:29). She was going to be proven no better than the idolatrous cities of the Canaanites, whose gods Israel eagerly worshipped. See on :22. 

Jos 8:20 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. The people who fled to the wilderness turned back on the pursuers-
Having no way to flee is typical of the experience of condemnation which is to come upon both Israel and the Gentiles (Jer. 25:35 etc.). Again, as noted on :19,22 etc., we see the destruction of these Canaanite cities as being the prototype for the later destruction of Israel, seeing they proved no better than the Canaanites but in fact worse.

Jos 8:21 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 killed the men of Ai-
The smoke signal was clearly planned in advance, as in Jud. 20:38. We note the very secular strategy employed in contrast to the humanly foolish strategy in taking Jericho. God perceived Israel's low level of spirituality, and worked with them according to that level. The image of the smoke of a burning city ascending is used of latter day Babylon's destruction at the hands of the Lord Jesus (Rev. 18:18). The conquests of Joshua point forward to that of his namesake; but insofar as he could have given the people "rest", but he didn't. And so his work was reapplied and rescheduled to the Lord Jesus.

Jos 8:22 The others came out of the city against them, so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, some on that side. They struck them so that they let none of them remain or escape-
But in the end, the same judgment was to come upon an apostate people of God. They too would be left with none to remain nor escape (Jer. 42:17; 44:14). We noted on :19 that Jerusalem was to be burnt for her filthiness, just as the cities of Canaan were at this time. God's people were to be judged as Canaanites. See on :23.

Jos 8:23 They captured the king of Ai alive, and brought him to Joshua-
"Ai" means 'heaps', and the word is used of how Jerusalem was to become heaps (Jer. 26:18). Her king too was captured alive and brought to the leader of the attacking armies. See on :19,22.

Jos 8:24 It happened that when Israel had made an end of killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness in which they pursued them, and they had all fallen by the edge of the sword until they were consumed, that all Israel returned to Ai and struck it with the edge of the sword-
The soldiers are described as "all Israel", just as in Joshua the armed men are several times termed "the people". The idea is that the soldiers were seen as representative of the people. For the whole people were as it were to be involved in the conquest.

Jos 8:25 All that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai-
Initially the Israelites nonchalantly thought only two or three thousand men were needed to destroy them. But then after the defeat, Joshua took 30000 men to deal with them, and it seems God reduced that number to 5000; see on :3. This wavering in faith and confidence has the ring of psychological credibility to it.    

Jos 8:26 For Joshua didn’t draw back his hand with which he stretched out the javelin, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai-
Given the similarities with the battle against Amalek, were his arms held up in fervent prayer? This is a common association with upholden arms. Moses held his hand up, and Joshua led the army into battle, succeeding because Moses had his hands held up in prayer (Ex. 17:10). Now, Joshua is the one holding his hands up in prayer, whilst Israel are in battle. Lesson: We go through experiences which later repeat; and we are in the position of those who had before prayed for us, and are expected to replicate their examples.

When Joshua was leading the Israelite army, he was given victory because Moses kept his arms outstretched in prayer. Later, circumstances repeated, so that Joshua had the opportunity to make the same effort for others as had been made for him. For Joshua had to keep his hand stretched out, until his men had destroyed all the men of Ai (Josh. 8:26). And throughout life, this occurs for us- a situation wherein we were shown grace repeats, in essence, so that we have an opportunity to show the same grace to others which we received.

"Utterly destroyed" is the word used for destruction or devotion to Yahweh. It seems that all the Canaanites had the opportunity for repentance. The trumpet blasts were to be understood by the people of Jericho as a call to repentance, which they ignored (Am. 3:6; Is. 18:3). This would then explain why the cities were devoted to Yahweh in destruction, which was the punishment for a city which turned away from Yahweh (Dt. 13:12-14). 

Jos 8:27 Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took for prey to themselves, according to the word of Yahweh which He commanded Joshua-
Joshua was very good at obedience to clear commandments (:31,35; Josh. 4:10,17; 8:27; 10:40). But when he had to articulate his faith in God in unexpected situations, e.g. when the ambassadors from Gibeon arrived, or when the first attack on Ai failed, he seems to have performed poorly. Legalistic obedience is no use in those cases when principles need to be applied. Josh. 5:13,14 can be read as a rebuke of Joshua, wanting to boil everything down to black and white, wanting to see God as either personally for him or against him; when the essence is to seek to discern and do God’s will. He very strictly adhered to God’s commandments with legalistic obedience, e.g., about how to approach and deal with Jericho, or how to cross the flooded Jordan and build an altar; and time and again, we read in Joshua of how he strictly relayed and obeyed the Divine commandments given by Moses (Josh. 8:31,33,35; 11:12,15,20; 14:2,5; 17:4; 21:2,8).  Yet as with any literalistic or legally minded person, it was hard for Joshua to apply the principles behind the laws to situations which weren’t specifically addressed by Divine revelation, where legalistic obedience wasn't what was required.

Jos 8:28 So Joshua burnt Ai and made it a heap forever, even a desolation, to this day-
I would consider the book of Joshua to have largely been written by Joshua, under Divine inspiration, although edited [again under Divine inspiration] for the exiles. And the book of Judges likewise. For the exiles too were set to reestablish God's Kingdom in the land and to inherit it again as the Israelites first did. The phrase "to this day" occurs several times in Joshua / Judges, and appears to have different points of historical reference (Josh. 4:9; 5:9; 6:25; 7:26; 8:28,29; 9:27; 10:27; 13:13; 14:14; 15:63; 16:10; 22:3; 23:8,9; Jud. 1:26; 6:24; 10:4; 15:19; 18:12). I would explain this by saying that the book was edited a number of times and the remains of those edits remain in the text. For God's word is living and made relevant by Him to every generation.

Jos 8:29 He hanged the king of Ai on a tree until the evening, and at the sundown Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the gate of the city-
We see here that one dimension of crucifixion on a tree was public shame and public instruction. These were all aspects of the Lord's death. Dt. 21:23 had commanded this taking down bodies of criminals from the tree where they were exhibited, by evening; even condemned criminals were to be shown some respect. For after dark wild animals and birds would have eaten them. We see here reflected how God truly takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. We need not unduly fear condemnation, for God doesn't want to condemn people.

And raised a great heap of stones on it that remains to this day-
This was perhaps intentionally to reflect the fate of Achan. He loved the things of the Canaanites, and apparently stole the royal robe of the king of Jericho. So he met the same end as the kings of Canaan, buried beneath a heap of stones. The raising of the stones over the corpse may have been through all Israel as it were stoning him.

Jos 8:30 Then Joshua built an altar to Yahweh, the God of Israel, in Mount Ebal-
Dt. 27:2-8 had commanded that "in the day" Israel passed over Jordan, they were to set up plastered stones with the law written upon them [perhaps just the ten commandments, or the lists of blessings and cursings], and put them "in mount Ebal". They were to do this immediately they passed over Jordan so that they might enter further into the land (Dt. 27:3); and the location was defined as near Gilgal (Dt. 11:30), where they camped after entering the land. Clearly enough, the ceremony of blessing and cursing ought to have been done immediately they entered the land. But they let secular concerns dominate their spiritual obligation to be thankful as God had asked. For when Joshua fulfilled it in Josh. 8:30, this was not "in the day" that Israel passed over Jordan. They had indeed taken stones with them from the Jordan, but had not used them as intended. They didn't plaster them nor write the law upon them. And so perhaps God ammended His intention- which was initially that they would set those stones up in mount Ebal immediately. Instead, He sent the people against Jericho, and then against Ai. Perhaps an instant conquest of Jericho had been originally intended, so that they could proceed to mount Ebal immediately. For later in Joshua we will read of God giving His people unnaturally speedy progress against their enemies, all in the same day. Or maybe His intention was that firstly they ought to have gone to mount Ebal with the plastered stones, and only then attacked Jericho. But they didn't plaster the stones nor wish to proceed immediately to Ebal. And so He arranged the campaign against Jericho and then Ai. We see how God is so eager to accommodate His programs to the weakness of men.   

Jos 8:31 as Moses the servant of Yahweh commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of uncut stones, on which no man had lifted up any iron. They offered burnt offerings on it to Yahweh, and sacrificed peace offerings-
Joshua comes over as exactly obedient to specific laws, but see on :27. Ex. 20:25 says that the use of any tool upon an altar would defile it (also see Dt. 27:5). This is how strongly God despises chic externality, and wants us to offer to Him as we are, uncut stones. He wants us, as we are, and not covered by cosmetics. In this we see the deep unspirituality of the altars in the temple, as designed by David and Solomon. I have suggested that although Solomon claims all this was commanded by God, in fact that was merely His assumption. Solomon attempted to get around this law by ensuring that the stones were cut away from the temple construction site (1 Kings 6:7). But this surely was breaking the spirit of the law.

Jos 8:32 He wrote there on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel-
Which law commanded to Moses isn't stipulated; perhaps it was the list of the blessings and cursings, or the book of Deuteronomy (Dt. 31:9,24,26) or the ten commandments. We assume from the record that Joshua was literate, a skill perhaps learned from Moses whilst being his personal servant in the wilderness years.

Jos 8:33 All Israel, their elders and officers and their judges, stood on both sides of the ark before the priests the Levites who carried the ark of Yahweh’s covenant, the foreigner as well as the native. Half of them stood in front of Mount Gerizim, and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of Yahweh had commanded at the first-
Shechem was between Ebal and Gerizim, and perhaps whilst there, they buried the bones of Joseph in the grave of the Abraham family which was there in the area (Gen. 33:19; Ex. 13:19). There is perhaps no mention of Shechem here, because the record wishes to focus upon the solemnity of what was being done in accordance with Dt. 27:2-8, rather than the geography. We note that "the foreigner" was also blessed, and encompassed by God within the term "the people of Israel".

For the blessing of the people of Israel-
Both blessing and cursing was read (:34), but clearly we are to understand that the focus of the Divine record is upon God's desire to bless the people. The whole ceremony is called "the blessing". And the simple takeaway from this is that God wishes our salvation and blessing, far more than His cursing of the disobedient.

Jos 8:34 Afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law-
This suggests that the law which was written on the stones was just the blessings and curses, which were read out at the time. See on :33.

Jos 8:35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded which Joshua didn’t read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the foreigners who were among them-
Joshua comes over as exactly obedient to specific laws, but see on :27. "The foreigners" appear to refer to a distinct category of people who were "among them" but not fully integrated.