Joshua 8


The Lord encourages Joshua, and promises to deliver Ai into his

hands, and instructs him how he is to proceed against it, 1, 2.

Joshua takes thirty thousand of his best troops, and gives

them instructions concerning his intention of taking Ai by

stratagem, 3-8.

The men dispose themselves according to these directions, 9-13.

The king of Ai attacks the Israelites, who, feigning to be

beaten, fly before him, in consequence of which all the troops

of Ai issue out, and pursue the Israelites, 14-17.

Joshua, at the command of God, stretches out his spear towards

Ai, and then five thousand men that he had placed in ambush in

the valley rise up, enter the city, and set it on fire, 18, 19.

Then Joshua and his men turned against the men of Ai, and, at

the same time, those who had taken the city sallied forth and

attacked them in the rear; thus the men of Ai were defeated,

their king taken prisoner, the city sacked, and twelve thousand

persons slain, 20-26.

The Israelites take the spoils, and hang the king of Ai, 27-29.

Joshua builds an altar to God on Mount Ebal, and writes on it a

copy of the law of Moses, 30-32.

The elders, officers, and judges, stand on each side of the ark,

one half over against Mount Gerizim, and the other against

Mount Ebal, and read all the blessings and curses of the law,

according to the command of Moses, 33-35.


Verse 1. Fear not] The iniquity being now purged away, because

of which God had turned his hand against Israel, there was now no

cause to dread any other disaster, and therefore Joshua is ordered

to take courage.

Take all the people of war with thee] From the letter of this

verse it appears that all that were capable of carrying arms were

to march out of the camp on this occasion: thirty thousand chosen

men formed an ambuscade in one place; five thousand he placed in

another, who had all gained their positions in the night season:

with the rest of the army he appeared the next morning before Ai,

which the men of that city would naturally suppose were the whole

of the Israelitish forces; and consequently be the more emboldened

to come out and attack them. But some think that thirty thousand

men were the whole that were employed on this occasion; five

thousand of whom were placed as an ambuscade on the west side of

the city between Beth-el and Ai, Jos 8:12, and with the rest he

appeared before the city in the morning. The king of Ai seeing but

about twenty-five thousand coming against him, and being

determined to defend his city and crown to the last extremity,

though he had but twelve thousand persons in the whole city,

Jos 8:25, scarcely one half of whom we can suppose to be

effective men, he was determined to risk a battle; and accordingly

issued out, and was defeated by the stratagem mentioned in the

preceding part of this chapter.

Several eminent commentators are of opinion that the whole

Israelitish force was employed on this occasion, because of what

is said in the first verse; but this is not at all likely. 1. It

appears that but thirty thousand were chosen out of the whole camp

for this expedition, the rest being drawn up in readiness should

their co-operation be necessary. See Jos 8:3, 10. 2. That

all the people were mustered in order to make this selection,

Jos 8:1. 3. That these thirty thousand were sent off by night,

Jos 8:3, Joshua himself continuing in the camp a part of that

night, Jos 8:9, with the design of putting himself at the head of

the army next morning. 4. That of the thirty thousand men five

thousand were directed to lie in ambush between Beth-el and Ai,

on the west side of the city, Jos 8:12; the twenty-five thousand

having taken a position on the north side of the city, Jos 8:11.

5. That the whole of the troops employed against Ai on this

occasion were those on the north and west, Jos 8:13, which we

know from the preceding verses were composed of thirty thousand

chosen men. 6. That Joshua went in the course of the night,

probably before daybreak, into the valley between Beth-el and Ai,

where the ambuscade of five thousand men was placed, Jos 8:13,

and gave them the proper directions how they were to proceed, and

agreed on the sign he was to give them at the moment he wished

them to act, see Jos 8:18: and that, after having done so, he put

himself at the head of the twenty-five thousand men on the north

side of the city: for we find him among them when the men of Ai

issued out, Jos 8:15, though he was the night before in the

valley on the west side, where the ambuscade lay, Jos 8:13. 7.

That as Ai was but a small city, containing only twelve thousand

inhabitants, it would have been absurd to have employed an army of

several hundred thousand men against them. 8. This is confirmed by

the opinion of the spies, Jos 7:3, who, from the smallness of the

place, the fewness of its inhabitants, and the panic-struck state

in which they found them, judged that three thousand troops would

be quite sufficient to reduce the place. 9. That it appears this

judgment was correctly enough formed, as the whole population of

the place amounted only to twelve thousand persons, as we have

already seen, Jos 8:25. 10. That even a less force might have

been sufficient for the reduction of this place, had they been

supplied with battering-rams, and such like instruments, which it

does not appear the Israelites possessed. 11. That this is the

reason why Joshua employed the stratagems detailed in this

chapter: having no proper instruments or machines by means of

which he might hope to take the city by assault, (and to reduce it

by famine, which was quite possible, would have consumed too much

time,) he used the feigned flight, Jos 8:19, to draw the

inhabitants from the city, that the ambush, Jos 8:12, 15, might

then enter, and take possession of it. 12. That had he advanced

with a greater force against the city the inhabitants would have

had no confidence in risking a battle, and consequently would have

kept within their walls, which would have defeated the design of

the Israelites, which was to get them to issue from their city.

13. That, all these circumstances considered thirty thousand men,

disposed as above, were amply sufficient for the reduction of the

city, and were the whole of the Israelitish troops which were

employed on the occasion.

Verse 8. Ye shall set the city on fire] Probably this means no

more than that they should kindle a fire in the city, the smoke of

which should be an indication that they had taken it. For as the

spoils of the city were to be divided among the people, had they

at this time set fire to the city itself, all the property must

have been consumed, for the five thousand men did not wait to save

any thing, as they immediately issued out to attack the men of Ai

in the rear.

Verse 10. Numbered the people] vaiyiphkod eth haam,

he visited the people-inspected their ranks to see whether every

thing was in perfect readiness, that in case they should be needed

they might be led on to the attack. There is no doubt that Joshua

had left the rest of the army so disposed and ready, part of it

having probably advanced towards Ai, that he might easily receive

reinforcements in case of any disaster to the thirty thousand

which had advanced against the city; and this consideration will

serve to remove a part of the difficulty which arises from

Jos 8:1, 3, 10, collated with other parts of this chapter. Had

he brought all his troops in sight, the people of Ai would not

have attempted to risk a battle, and would consequently have kept

within their walls, from which it was the object of Joshua to

decoy them. See the preceding observations, particularly 10, 11,

and 12.

Verse 17. There was not a man left in Ai or Beth-el] It is very

likely that the principal strength of Beth-el had been previously

brought into Ai, as the strongest place to make a stand in;

Beth-el being but about three miles distant from Ai, and probably

not greatly fortified. Therefore Ai contained on this occasion all

the men of Beth-el-all the warriors of that city, as well as its

own troops and inhabitants. Others think that the Beth-elites,

seeing the Israelites fly, sallied out of their city as against a

common enemy; but that, finding the men of Ai discomfited, and the

city taken, they returned to Beth-el, which Joshua did not think

proper to attack at this time. From Jud 1:24 we find that Beth-el

was then a walled city, in the hands of the Canaanites, and was

taken by the house of Joseph.

Verse 18. Stretch out the spear] It is very probable that Joshua

had a flag or ensign at the end of his spear, which might be

easily seen at a considerable distance; and that the unfurling or

waving of this was the sign agreed on between him and the

ambush. (see Jos 8:13, and the preceding observations on

Jos 8:1, observation 6;) and on seeing this

flag or ensign unfurled, the men who lay in ambush arose and

entered the city, making the fire previously agreed on.

See Jos 8:8.

Verse 19. Set the city on fire.] See Clarke on Jos 8:8.

Verse 20. They had no power to flee this way or that way] They

were in utter consternation; they saw that the city was taken,

they found themselves in the midst of their foes; that their

wives, children, and property, had fallen a prey to their enemies,

in consequence of which they were so utterly panic-struck as to be

incapable of making any resistance.

Verse 24. Returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the

sword.] This must refer to the women, children, and old persons,

left behind; for it is likely that all the effective men had

sallied out when they imagined the Israelites had fled. See

Jos 8:16.

Verse 26. Joshua drew not his hand back] He was not only the

general, but the standard-bearer or ensign of his own army, and

continued in this employment during the whole of the battle. See

on Jos 8:18. Some commentators understand this and Jos 8:18

figuratively, as if they implied that Joshua continued in prayer

to God for the success of his troops; nor did he cease till the

armies of Ai were annihilated, and the city taken and destroyed.

The Hebrew word kidon, which we render spear, is rendered

by the Vulgate clypeum, buckler; and it must be owned that it

seems to have this signification in several passages of Scripture:

(see 1Sa 17:6, 45; Job 39:23:) but it is clear enough also that

it means a spear, or some kind of offensive armour, in other

places: see Job 41:29; Jer 6:23. I cannot therefore think that

it has any metaphorical meaning, such as that attributed to the

holding up of Moses's hands, Ex 17:10-12, which is generally

allowed to have a spiritual meaning, though it might be understood

as the act of Joshua is here; and to this meaning an indirect

glance is given in the note on the above place. But however the

place in Exodus may be understood, that before us does not appear

to have any metaphorical or equivocal meaning; Joshua continued to

hold up or stretch out his spear, and did not slack from the

pursuit till the forces of Ai were utterly discomfited.

Verse 27. Only the cattle and the spoil] In the case of Jericho

these were all consigned to destruction, and therefore it was

criminal to take any thing pertaining to the city, as we have

already seen; but in the case before us the cattle and spoils were

expressly given to the conquerors by the order of God. See

Jos 8:2.

Verse 28. Unto this day.] This last clause was probably added by

a later hand.

Verse 29. The king of Ai he hanged on a tree] He had gone out at

the head of his men, and had been taken prisoner, Jos 8:23; and

the battle being over, he was ordered to be hanged, probably after

having been strangled, or in some way deprived of life, as in the

case mentioned Jos 10:26, for in those times it was not customary

to hang people alive.

As soon as the sun was down] It was not lawful to let the bodies

remain all night upon the tree. See the note on De 21:23. The

Septuagint say the king of Ai was hanged επιξυλονδιδυμον, upon a

double tree, which probably means a forked tree, or something in

the form of a cross. The tree on which criminals were hanged among

the Romans was called arbor infelix, and lignum infelix, the

unfortunate, ill-fated, or accursed tree.

Raise thereon a great heap of stones] This was a common custom

through all antiquity in every country, as we have already seen in

the case of Achan, Jos 7:20.

Verse 30. Then Joshua built an altar] This was done in obedience

to the express command of God, De 27:4-8. See the notes there.

Verse 32. A copy of the law of Moses] mishneh torath,

the repetition of the law; that is, a copy of the blessings

and curses, as commanded by Moses; not a copy of the Decalogue, as

some imagine, nor of the book of Deuteronomy, as others think;

much less of the whole Pentateuch; but merely of that part which

contained the blessings and curses, and which was to be read on

this solemn occasion. See Clarke on De 27:3.

Verse 33. Half of them over against Mount Gerizim] See the

arrangement of the whole of this business in the note and

observations on De 27:26. And see also the notes on De 28:1-68.

Verse 35. With the women and the little ones] It was necessary

that all should know that they were under the same obligations to

obey; even the women are brought forward, not only because of

their personal responsibility, but because to them was principally

intrusted the education of the children. The children also witness

this solemn transaction, that a salutary fear of offending God

might be early, diligently, and deeply impressed upon their

hearts. Thus every precaution is taken to ensure obedience to the

Divine precepts, and consequently to promote the happiness of the

people; for this every ordinance of God is remarkable, as he ever

causes the interest and duty of his followers to go hand in hand.

1. IT may be asked, Seeing God promised to deliver Ai into the

hands of the Israelites, why needed they to employ so many men and

so many stratagems in order to its reduction? To this it may be

answered, that God will have man to put forth the wisdom and power

with which he has endued him, in every important purpose of life;

that he endued him with those powers for this very end; and that

it would be inconsistent with his gracious design so to help man

at any time as to render the powers he had given him useless.

2. It is only in the use of lawful means that we have any reason

to expect God's blessing and help. One of the ancients has

remarked, "Though God has made man without himself he will not

save him without himself;" and therefore man's own concurrence of

will, and co-operation of power with God, are essentially

necessary to his preservation and salvation. This co-operation is

the grand condition, sine qua non, on which God will help or save.

But is not this "endeavouring to merit salvation by our own

works?" No: for this is impossible, unless we could prove that all

the mental and corporeal powers which we possess came from and are

of ourselves, and that we held them independently of the power and

beneficence of our Creator, and that every act of these was of

infinite value, to make it an equivalent for the heaven we wished

to purchase. Putting forth the hand to receive the alms of a

benevolent man, can never be considered a purchase-price for the

bounty bestowed. For ever shall that word stand true in all its

parts, Christ is the AUTHOR of eternal salvation to all them that

OBEY him, Heb 5:9.

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