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Jos 8:1-28. GODENCOURAGES JOSHUA.
1, 2. The Lord said unto Joshua, Fear not--By the execution of justice
on Achan, the divine wrath was averted, the Israelites were reassured,
defeat was succeeded by victory; and thus the case of Ai affords a
striking example of God's disciplinary government, in which
chastisements for sin are often made to pave the way for the bestowment
of those temporal benefits, which, on account of sin, have been
withdrawn, or withheld for a time. Joshua, who had been greatly
dispirited, was encouraged by a special communication promising him (see
success in the next attempt, which, however, was to be conducted on
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].
9. between Beth-el and Ai--Beth-el, though lying quite near in the direction of west by north, cannot be seen from Tell-el-hajar; two rocky heights rise between both places, in the wady El-Murogede, just as the laying of an ambush to the west of Ai would require [VAN DE VELDE; ROBINSON].
10. Joshua . . . numbered the people--that is, the detachment of
liers-in-wait; he did this, to be furnished with clear evidence
afterwards, that the work had been done without any loss of men,
whereby the people's confidence in God would be strengthened and
encouragement given them to prosecute the war of invasion with vigor.
11-14. there was a valley between them and Ai--literally, "the valley."
13. Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley--The deep and steep-sided glen to the north of Tell-el-hajar, into which one looks down from the tell, fully agrees with this account [VAN DE VELDE]. Joshua himself took up his position on the north side of "the ravine"--the deep chasm of the wady El-Murogede; "that night"--means, while it was dark, probably after midnight, or very early in the morning (Joh 20:1). The king of Ai, in the early dawn, rouses his slumbering subjects and makes a hasty sally with all his people who were capable of bearing arms, once more to surprise and annihilate them.
14. at a time appointed--either an hour concocted between the king and
people of Ai and those of Beth-el, who were confederates in this
enterprise, or perhaps they had fixed on the same time of day, as they
had fought successfully against Israel on the former occasion, deeming
it a lucky hour
15-17. Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them--the pretended flight in the direction of the wilderness; that is, southeast, into the Ghor, the desert valley of the Jordan, decoyed all the inhabitants of Ai out of the city, while the people of Beth-el hastened to participate in the expected victory. It is supposed by some, from "the city," and not "cities," being spoken of, that the effective force of Beth-el had been concentrated in Ai, as the two places were closely contiguous, and Ai the larger of the two. (See Jos 12:9). It may be remarked, however, that the words, "or Beth-el," are not in the Septuagint, and are rejected by some eminent scholars, as an interpolation not found in the most ancient manuscripts.
18-25. Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city--The uplifted spear had probably a flag, or streamer on it, to render it the more conspicuous from the height where he stood. At the sight of this understood signal the ambush nearest the city, informed by their scouts, made a sudden rush and took possession of the city, telegraphing to their brethren by raising a smoke from the walls. Upon seeing this, the main body, who had been reigning a flight, turned round at the head of the pass upon their pursuers, while the twenty-five thousand issuing from their ambuscade, fell back upon their rear. The Ai-ites surprised, looked back, and found their situation now desperate.
23. the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua--to be reserved for a more ignominious death, as a greater criminal in God's sight than his subjects. In the mingled attack from before and behind, all the men were massacred.
26. Joshua drew not his hand back--Perhaps, from the long continuance of the posture, it might have been a means appointed by God, to animate the people, and kept up in the same devout spirit as Moses had shown, in lifting up his hands, until the work of slaughter had been completed--the ban executed. (See on Ex 17:10).
28. Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever--"For ever" often signifies "a long time" (Ge 6:3). One of the remarkable things with regard to the tell we have identified with Ai is its name--the tell of the heap of stones--a name which to this day remains [VAN DE VELDE].
Jos 8:29. THE KING HANGED.
29. The king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide--that is,
gibbeted. In ancient, and particularly Oriental wars, the chiefs, when
taken prisoners, were usually executed. The Israelites were obliged, by
the divine law, to put them to death. The execution of the king of Ai
would tend to facilitate the conquest of the land, by striking terror
into the other chiefs, and making it appear a judicial process, in
which they were inflicting the vengeance of God upon His enemies.
Jos 8:30, 31. JOSHUA BUILDS AN ALTAR.
30, 31. Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in mount Ebal--(See on De 27:11). This spot was little short of twenty miles from Ai. The march through a hostile country and the unmolested performance of the religious ceremonial observed at this mountain, would be greatly facilitated, through the blessing of God, by the disastrous fall of Ai. The solemn duty was to be attended to at the first convenient opportunity after the entrance into Canaan (De 27:2); and with this in view Joshua seems to have conducted the people through the mountainous region that intervened though no details of the journey have been recorded. Ebal was on the north, opposite to Gerizim, which was on the south side of the town Sichem (Nablous).
31. an altar of whole stones--according to the instructions given to
32. he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses--(See on De 27:2, 3, 5); that is, the blessings and curses of the law. Some think that the stones which contained this inscription were the stones of the altar: but this verse seems rather to indicate that a number of stone pillars were erected alongside of the altar, and on which, after they were plastered, this duplicate of the law was inscribed.
33. all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges,
stood on this side the ark and on that side--One half of Israel was
arranged on Gerizim, and the other half on Ebal--along the sides and
base of each.
35. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not--It appears that a much larger portion of the law was read on this occasion than the brief summary inscribed on the stones; and this must have been the essence of the law as contained in Deuteronomy (De 4:44; 6:9; 27:8). It was not written on the stones, but on the plaster. The immediate design of this rehearsal was attained by the performance of the act itself. It only related to posterity, in so far as the record of the event would be handed down in the Book of Joshua, or the documents which form the groundwork of it [HENGSTENBERG]. Thus faithfully did Joshua execute the instructions given by Moses. How awfully solemn must have been the assemblage and the occasion! The eye and the ear of the people being both addressed, it was calculated to leave an indelible impression; and with spirits elevated by their brilliant victories in the land of promise, memory would often revert to the striking scene on mounts Ebal and Gerizim, and in the vale of Sychar.