Now Joshua had taken about five thousand men and set up an ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city.
1. It appears, in the first place, that in going out to battle with anything that is doomed we must have a right character and a right cause. The Lord would not allow a blow to be struck at the city by a wicked hand; He will have judgment executed by righteousness; He will have the law proclaimed by lips that have been circumcised and anointed. The first great inquiry of man is a moral inquiry, not an inquest about numbers, places: and possible issues — but, "Is this thing right? and am I right who attempt to do the work?" That being the case, go forward.
I. THE PREPARATIONS FOR THE BATTLE.
1. The putting away of known sin may lead us to expect the favour of God. Whilst Achan's theft defiled the Israelites there was no hope of winning the fight. The soldiers of the cross must not entangle themselves with the affairs of this life (2 Timothy 2:4). Those must be clean who are to bear the vessels of the Lord. Sin purged, the light of God's countenance again shone upon His people, and His encouragement - "Fear not" - sounded in their ears. We need be afraid only when doing wrong. Without God we are "without hope," helpless and undone; but when He is our light and salvation whom shall we fear? Advance to the strife courageously!
2. All our strength must be brought to bear upon the contest. So confident had the Israelites been that they deemed 3,000 men sufficient to capture the place. This time no foolish security must be displayed; a second defeat would be disastrous. "All" the people must attack Ai; that is to say, a fully representative force, in contrast with the few who previously made the assault. The help of the Almighty does not release us from the necessity of "bestirring" ourselves (see 2 Samuel 5:24). And what we do we must do with our might. He who is always reserving his power for some future occasion will grow feeble, and when he at length essays a strenuous effort will discover his weakness. Nor must we underrate the strength of the enemy. "We wrestle against principalities, powers, rulers, spiritual wickedness in high places;" wherefore let us take to ourselves "the whole armour of God."
3. Prudence an ingredient in the Christian warfare. A detachment was appointed to lie in ambush. (Several reasons render it probable that vers. 9 and 12 refer to the same ambuscade, composed of 5,000 men; the larger number in ver. 3 being a copyist's error. The same position is assigned in each case; in the account of the battle only one party of men ambushed is mentioned; and 30,000 would be too large a force to remain concealed near the city, even in a valley.) The lawfulness of stratagem in war cannot be disputed, nor does the Bible know anything of that excessive refinement which will hide nothing but requires the blunt truth to be always stated. See 1 Samuel 16:2, where the adoption of a fair pretext to prevent bloodshed is sanctioned - yea, proposed - by the Lord. There must be no falsehood or deception practised; but it is allowable to be "wise as serpents," and to try to win men to the truth by innocent devices. Christian tactics are permissible without pleading the goodness of the end as sanctifying the means employed. Our Captain demands the use of our discretion as well as of our valour.
II. THE BATTLE ITSELF.
1. Temporary success blinds the workers of evil. Joshua well knew that the enemy would exultingly exclaim, "They flee before us as at the first," and rush to their doom. Misplaced assurance is the bane of God's enemies. For a season they may flourish and swell with hope and pride, but consider their end! "How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!" What terms can set forth the delusion of those who fight against God?
2. Fidelity to commandment ensures the Christian's triumph. The emphatic assertion, "See, I have commanded you," reminded the troops of their duty, and of obedience as essential to success. All orders were faithfully executed and victory crowned their arms. If we pretend to greater wisdom than our Captain, or think fragmentary adherence to precept will suffice, the battle may be the Lord's, but it will not be ours. Constant study of our war manual and a resolute determination to observe its instructions can alone secure us the victory. Our ears must be attentive to the notes of the clarion, and whither we are sent we must go. Romans 13:11-13 and Ephesians 6:10-18 must be pondered and put into practice.
3. Diversity of position not incompatible with union. In the occupation by the two forces of Israel of separate posts an illustration is afforded of a truth sometimes overlooked. There are different regiments in the Christian army, and to a soldier in the ranks it may appear as if there was a want of connection with any other division. But there is real working unanimity perceptible to the chief, and when the signal is given the enemy shall be attacked on many sides. The end desired is one and the same, the extermination of the empire of evil.
4. No reason for discouragement if at first the battle goes against us. It may be part of the plan that the enemy should be demented by success prior to his overthrow. However distressed, we may, like David, encourage ourselves in the Lord our God.
III. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ENEMY.
1. Prophetic of the final overthrow of Satan and his host. Jesus, "the Son of God, was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil." "Death, the last enemy, is being destroyed."
2. Indicative of the Divine hatred of sin. The men and women of Ai were slain and their city set on fire; their king hanged, and a heap of stones his sepulchre. Thus would the Divine wrath extirpate idolatrous abominations. All His judgments were not purifying, this sentence was penal. What a warning to the Israelites! Dull consciences must be aroused by flashes of fire. Granite hearts must have the inscription cut with toil and pains. Inattentive or forgetful scholars must have the teaching imprinted on their minds by irresistible examples, The preceding chapter proves how needful to Israel was the ocular demonstration of the hatefulness of sin. Conclusion, "Who is on the Lord's side?" If this is our position, secure and blissful, diligent and courageous we may be. May we "endure hardness as good soldiers." But if numbered amongst those hostile to God, what terms can describe the dread future that awaits us, unless we repent betimes and seek forgiveness, and receive change of heart and state through Jesus Christ? - A.
Fear not... I have given into thy hand the king Of Ai.
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
II. But God thus addressed Joshua in order TO REPROVE AN ERROR. The spies had said, "Let not all the people go up," &c. Here God says, "Take all the people with thee, and arise, go up to Ai." Here God points out the error of division in His work, the error of thinking that part can do the work designed for the whole. The policy of the spies was a policy of pride. They were elated with their marvellous success at Jericho, with that brilliant victory so easily won; and therefore when they came to look at Ai their hearts were filled with contempt. And the feelings which influenced them still possess the human heart. How dangerous is success to the individual, to the congregation, to the Church I The policy of the spies was also one of ignorance and disobedience. It was opposed to the Divine design and command. So is it now. God has never said to any of His children, "Son, go to church, enjoy the services, criticise the sermons, bury yourself in business and pleasure from Monday till Saturday." No, but He does say, "Son, go work." And He says that to every son whom He acknowledges. No Christian can shake off his responsibility for personal service. And no one can buy himself off, for the conscription is universal. We must each put our hand to this work as we have opportunity, and if we do not, we show ourselves ignorant or prove ourselves disobedient. Moreover, this policy of the spies was a policy of inconsistency. In adopting it Joshua fell from his own model. He had begun in the spirit and was continuing in the flesh. The taking of Jericho was the pattern for faith to follow. What is the model set by God before His Church in the prosecution of the campaign of salvation? Without dispute, the Day of Pentecost. And what were the characteristics of that day? Unity of spirit, unity of labour. Likewise, this policy sprang from presumption. Joshua in listening to the advice of the spies acted according to the dictates of carnal wisdom. If all the people go against Ai they will tread on each other and be a hindrance rather than a help. If all the people quit the camp there will be a useless expenditure of energy. It is absurd to use 50,000 men when 5,000 are quite capable of doing the work. So they argued; and so the modern descendants of these wise spies say, "Not all the people." If all are engaged in this work, many mistakes will be made, much energy will be wasted, much folly will be wrought, much injury to the good cause will be done. What! Has not God ordained that all are to take part in this campaign? Let us take heed, then, lest in our wisdom we perchance become guilty of presumptuously opposing God, who has ordained by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Certainly it is delightful to see zeal well directed, but any zeal for the good of souls is better than lethargy, indifference, death. Still further, this policy of the spies was a policy of infatuation. That Joshua entertained this proposal and acted on it was a sign that for the while he was left to himself on account of that sin which had defiled all Israel. Its unanimous adoption by the people (for both those who went to Ai and those who stayed in the camp signified their approval of it) was a clear token of the Divine displeasure, and brought its own punishment in the universal disgrace which followed. Thus does God often deal with men when they will not hearken to His voice. He makes them eat of the fruit of their own ways. May we ever be saved from such infatuation. Let us fall every one into the ranks of this great army of salvation. Let us buckle on the sword of the Spirit. Let us march to the attack on Satan's citadels with united front; and we also, like Israel, will divide the spoil and share the glory of the victory.
III. God gave this command to Joshua in order TO TEACH A LESSON. Jericho was taken in one way, Ai in another: therefore methods may vary; they are not stereotyped, cast-iron rules, which cannot be altered. There are essential and there are non-essential elements in the mode of conducting the Divine work. It is essential that all God's people should take part in the work. All were employed at Jericho; all were to be employed at Ai. It is essential that there be organisation and arrangement. It was an army, not a rabble, which did the work at Jericho; so was it at Ai. But there are non-essentials also. There are great diversities of operation in this army of the Cross. God does not always act exactly in the same way. He has different modes of reaching the human heart and conscience in different ages, in different countries, and among different classes. What is suitable in one set of circumstances may be very unsuitable in another.
(A. B. Mackay.)
2. The next great lesson of this incident is that we must all advance upon the doomed institution. When the idea of taking Ai was first broached, there were clever men in Israel who said, "Let two or three thousand of us go up and take the city." "I, and all the people that are with me, will approach unto the city" (ver. 5). That must be the rule of the Church in all its great moral wars. The battle is not to be handed over to a few persons, however skilful and zealous. The work of teaching the world and saving the world is a work committed to the whole Christian body. The living Church of the living God is one. When the Church realises its totality, when every man is part of an army and not an isolated warrior, then every Ai doomed of Heaven shall reel under the battering-ram which the Church will employ. There are to be no mere critics; there are to be thousands of active soldiers.
3. This being so, the incident brings before us in a very suggestive and picturesque manner the fact that we must excel the enemy in shrewdness. The Church is to be shrewder than the world, believers are to be keener of mind and more active in every energy than unbelievers. It is evident, moreover, that if we are to do any real work in the world in the name of God and in the cause of Christ we must be about our business night and day. In ver. 10 we read, "And Joshua rose up early in the morning"; in ver. 13 we read, "Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley." How useful some men might be if they had the spirit of consecration: what time they have on hand!
4. We should miss one great lesson of this story if we did not note that we are bound to set fire to every devoted abomination. Ai was burned. We are not called to compromise, to paltering, to arranging, to expediency where ignorance is concerned, or slavery, or vice, or wrong. Things must be so burned down that they can never grow again. And after destruction, what then? Positive religion comes next: "Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal" (ver. 30). It is no use building your altar until you have burned the abomination. A great destructive work is to be done first, and in the doing of it, there will be great outcry about change, and novelty, and reprisal, and revolution. If you have not been faithful in the work of destruction, you cannot be faithful in the work of construction. It is lying unto the Holy Ghost to build an altar upon the basis of a rotten life. So we are called to thoroughness of work. There is to be no superficial action here. And after the altar, what? The law — the law of righteousness, the law of God. Ver. 32 reads, "And Joshua wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel." This is complete work-destruction, the erected altar, the inscribed law. This is healthy work.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
PeopleIsraelites, Joshua, Levites
PlacesAi, Arabah, Bethel, Jericho, Mount Ebal, Mount Gerizim
TopicsAi, Ambush, Attack, Bethel, Beth-el, Lie, Position, Setteth, Surprise, Taketh, Taking, Thousand, West
Outline1. God encourages Joshua
3. The plan whereby Ai was taken
29. The king thereof is hanged
30. Joshua builds an altar
32. writes the law on stones
33. and pronounces the blessings and curses
Dictionary of Bible ThemesJoshua 8:1-22
LibraryThe National Oath at Shechem
'And Joshua said unto the people. Ye cannot serve the Lord: for He is an holy God; He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20. If ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then He will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that He hath done you good. 21. And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the Lord. 22. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves, that ye have chosen you the Lord, to serve Him. And they said, …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture
February the Seventeenth Blessings and Cursings
Whether it is Lawful to Lay Ambushes in War?
Formation and History of the Hebrew Canon.
Five Kings in a Cave
Jesus in the Tomb.
Moses and his Writings
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