When Joshua and all Israel saw that the men in ambush had captured the city and that smoke was rising from it, they turned around and struck down the men of Ai.
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. Because NO FAILURE IS ALTOGETHER LOSS, AND ESPECIALLY NO FAILURE OF FIRST EFFORTS. If you ask why a first effort is so often a failure, you will find one great reason is, that in it we are trying to learn too many things at once. If it is a first effort to make a toy for a child, how many things are to be learned while making it; the qualities of the material with which we work, the use of our tools, an eye for form and size, the way to combine effectively the various parts. Now, if in the making of it we had only to learn one thing instead of four, we might manage; but to learn simultaneously all of them is beyond our power, and so we fail. But the failure does not mean total loss of time and material; for though we have not learned all we need in order to effect our object, we may have learned half, and learning the other half the second trial we then succeed. So here; there were some things Joshua and Israel had to learn: e.g., not to despise an enemy; to conquer brave foes as well as timorous ones; not to act on the suggestion even of the wisest captains without first inquiring of God; that victory without purity was impossible. Here, elate with their success at Jericho, Joshua does not ask the counsel of God, which would have forbidden movement till the stain of Achan was removed, and sends only a "few thousands" to perform a task for which a much stronger force was requisite. And God mercifully lets him make a failure on a scale easily retrieved, and so prevents a failure through similar mistakes, which, from its magnitude might have been irretrievable. In almost every case of failure, the great cause of it is that there were some things the learning of which was essential but had not been attained. We had not the measure of the obstacles to be overcome - a knowledge of our own weakness, an acquaintance with the methods by which the result desired could be alone effected. And the art of life consists very much simply in turning such failures to good account. It is all but impossible to avoid making them. A child cannot learn to walk without some fails; and we are but children of a larger growth, who learn through improving our failures. And the wisest man is not he who makes fewest failures, but he who turns the failures that he makes to best account, addresses himself to learn their lessons. A failure is a schoolmaster, who can teach the art of succeeding better than any one else can do it. Do not yield, then, because you fail once, or even many times. Failures are never entirely losses. Secondly, observe -
II. THOSE WHO USE WELL THEIR FAILURES FIND THEM FOLLOWED BY GRAND SUCCESS. Joshua, learning from the first failure to hallow the people, to consult God, to take His way, to send a larger force, when he tried again took Ai without the slightest difficulty. Moses failed on his first attempt to raise Israel against their oppressors. He was going to do it in the strength of his youthful enthusiasm, and expected to find they would hail him as a judge and a deliverer. He failed, was rejected of Israel, and had to become a fugitive from Pharaoh. But in his second effort, going at God's command, in His way and with His backing, he succeeded in the grand emancipation. Israel failed in its first attempt to enter the promised land through their fear and faithlessness; repairing these faults, their second was successful The disciples failed to cast out the devil from the child; learning the need of deeper sympathy (prayer and fasting), their next efforts were crowned with complete success. Mark broke down in his first missionary effort, leaving Paul and Silas to pursue it alone. But prayer and gracious shame so retrieved the failure that he was Paul's truest comrade in the pains and dangers of his last imprisonment. Peter failed in his first effort to confess his Master among his foes; but learning lowliness and prayer from failure, he lived to retrieve it grandly. It is so in all departments of life. Alfred the Great and Bruce, for instance, both learned the art of victory from the experience of defeat. Great inventors have rarely hit on their great secrets the first time they have attempted to achieve their purpose, The story of almost all great inventions has been failure well improved. The first efforts of poets do not always give the promise of their later powers. So is it in all directions of Christian life. If in your effort to confess Christ you fail, try again, and success will come with the greater earnestness and humility of your second effort. If you make a resolution and break it, try again with more of prayer, and the second effort will succeed. If you make some effort to do good, but your "'prentice hand" bungles, and shame covers you, the next effort you make on a smaller scale, perhaps more wisely, modestly, and earnestly, will be a blessed success. And if it is not one but many efforts have failed, and life itself seems one long mishap and unsuccessful effort still, do not despair.
"Deem not the irrevocable past
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, Ascended, Attack, Attacked, Captured, Joshua, Killed, Overcame, Round, Slew, Smite, Smoke, Smote, Surprise, Town, Turn, Turning
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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