And when you have taken the city, set it on fire. Do as the LORD has commanded! See, I have given you orders."
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.
I. THE ALTAR ON EBAL. Ebal was stern and barren in its aspect. There was a congruity, therefore, between its appearance and the part it played in the solemn proceedings of the day. For far up its slopes gathered the dense masses of the six tribes, who, with thunderous amens, twelve times repeated, answered the voices of the band of white-robed Levites, as standing with Joshua, and the elders, and officers, and judges, in the green valley, they solemnly repeated the curses of the law. But that was not the first proceeding in that holy ceremonial. Before the people took up their assigned places on the mountain sides an altar was reared on the lower slopes of Ebal. As we pass into the land of promise we must be watchful that we do not leave behind the devout and loving consideration of that precious blood by which we have been redeemed and which is our life. Our highest and most rapturous experiences can never take the place of this. Constantly we must remind ourselves and others that we are redeemed sinners, and that all our hopes of salvation, our fellowship with God, our motives for service, are derived from what our Saviour did when He bore our sins in His own body on the tree. But because He died there, we need never stand there. Because He counted not His life dear to Himself, those gaunt and forbidding slopes have become the scene of blessed communion with God. We sit and feast with Him, and from peak to peak the joy chases the terrors of the curse, and smiles look out on us from the old rocks, whilst the torrents tinged with the light of the sun flash and sing.
II. THE LAW IN CANAAN. Around the altar strong men reared great stones, and plastered them with a facing of cement, composed of lime and gypsum, on which it was easy to write all the words of the law very plainly (Deuteronomy 27:8). In that dry air, where there is no frost to split and disintegrate, such inscriptions, written on the soft cement with a stencil, or on its polished surface, when dry, with ink or paint, as in the case of the monumental stones of Egypt, would remain for centuries. As the time could not have admitted of the inscription of the whole law, it is probable that the more salient points were alone committed to the custody of those great cromlechs to perpetuate to after generations the conditions of the tenure on which Israel held the lease of Palestine. They were a standing protest against the sins which had blighted those fertile valleys, and an incentive to the obedience on which so much of the future hinged. The case is this: when we yield ourselves entirely to the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus, and which passes freely through us, as the blood through artery and vein, He makes us very sensitive to the least commandment or desire of Him whom He has taught us to love; we dread to see the shadow of suffering pass over His face more than to feel the pang of remorse rend our hearts; we find our heaven in His smile of approval, and the "Well done!" that glistens in His eyes when we have done aught to the least of His; we are conscious of the pulse of a love which He has instilled, and which supplies us with the highest code for life — and so insensibly, whilst we yield ourselves to Him, we find ourselves keeping the law after a fashion which was foreign to us when it was a mere outward observance, and we cry with David, "Oh, how I love Thy law, it is my meditation all the day."
III. THE CONVOCATION. It is well worth our while to ponder the list of blessings appended to obedience in that memorable twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, that we may discover their spiritual counterparts, and, having found them, to claim them. Let us, first, be quite sure that we are right with God; next, that we are on His plan and doing His will; also, thirdly, that we are set upon His glory, altogether irrespective of our own interests; and we shall find ourselves able to claim blessings of which we little dreamt. The Lord will open His good treasury in heaven and make us plenteous for good, and establish us for an holy people unto Himself.
(F. B. Meyer, M. A.)
II. WHAT WE SEE. First of all we behold the ark, as conspicuously prominent as on the day that Israel crossed the Jordan. The Holy Presence of which the ark speaks has never failed them, has never forsaken them. We also behold an altar here. The altar is for the ark. The blood of the one sprinkles the mercy-seat of the other, and thus sin is purged; God can dwell among the people, and say to the sinful, "There will I meet with thee." This altar was constructed of rough stones, untouched by any instrument of iron, and therefore spoke of the work of Christ as divinely finished, requiring not any addition or improvement that man's wisdom could suggest or man's skill accomplish. This altar was pitched on Ebal, the loftier height, from which the curses came. There it was set to remove the curse; for apart from the sacrifice of the altar which God has provided all flesh are under the curse of the law. On this altar were offered up burnt-offerings and peace-offerings. The burnt-offerings spoke of Christ offered to God, a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour; yielding a perfect and glorious obedience to all that law which He thus magnified and made honourable. The peace-offering spoke of Christ as the centre and substance of rest, delight, and refreshment to God and man; the glorious means whereby communion is restored and maintained. God and man delight in the same sacrifice, are sharers in the same feast. Thus the ark and the altar, the Holy Presence and the Perfect Sacrifice, guarantee to Israel all the glory of God's inheritance. Behold the imposing scene. The elders of the tribes stand with Joshua and Eleazar and the priests in the centre of the valley beside the ark. The tribes stretch outward, like two dark wings, on either side in compact masses. Then, when all were in their places and solemn silence reigned, the Levites read aloud the curses of the law, and the men on Ebal responded with a deep amen, like the sound of many waters. Again the clear notes of the Levites rise as they recite the blessings, and like the sound of harpers harping with their harps comes the joyous amen from the slopes of Gerizim. But there is still another object for our eyes to rest upon. As a lasting monument of that great event, Joshua put up great stones on Mount Ebal, plastered with plaster, and having written upon them "a copy of the law of Moses." The altar spoke of what the Holy Presence in Israel bestowed. These stones spoke of what this Holy Presence demanded. The stones on Jordan's bank spoke of Jehovah's gracious power. The stones of Jericho declare His judgment. The stones of Achor speak of His discipline. The stones of Ai tell His faithfulness. The stones of Ebal are witnesses of His holiness. They tell what is becoming in the people whose God is the Lord. They hold up the standard whereby His people are to walk. Has this standard changed? Are its precepts binding still, or have they become antiquated? Are these ten words the Christian's standard and rule of life? It is a vain morality, it is a false spirituality, which dreams that it can rise above obedience to the law.
(A. B. Mackay.)
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Sermons by the Monday Club.I. THE FITNESS OF MARKING LIFE'S CHANGES BY A SPECIAL RECOGNITION OF DEPENDENCE UPON GOD AND OBLIGATION TO HIM. With Israel it was a time of transition, involving triumph, gain, a new and long-desired possession. At such times, men of the world are apt to think only of themselves and their good fortune. It was not so with Israel. This is their first pause on entering the promised land. And they trust God to protect them, while they use it to own Him as having brought them thither. With solemn ceremony they put themselves afresh into covenant relations with Him. Supposing ourselves to be changing our residence or occupation, to be entering a new place or state of responsibility, to be keeping a birthday or other anniversary — how becoming it would be to make it a time of re-dedication to God! So of a youth passing from school to business, entering the marriage state, going out from the old home, and taking up for himself a life's work. Our religious faith should make it natural to do this.
II. THE VALUE OF SPECIAL MEANS TO DEEPEN THE SENSE OF OBLIGATION TO GOD. There are such ordinary means as the daily reading of the Bible, attendance on the public ordinances of God's house, Christian conversation, giving heed to the voices of conscience and the Divine Spirit. Many things remind us of duty and dependence. And yet it is easy to forget. Ordinary means lose a measure of their power, save as they are reinforced now and then by those that are special and extraordinary. It was once more common than we fear it now is for persons entering the Christian life to do it with a solemnly-written covenant, to be recalled and renewed in after months and years. Other occasions were signalised in a similar way. On the day of the birth of the late Dr. Bethune, his father solemnly dedicated him to God in writing — an act more than once repeated. Churches have had their times of renewing covenant vows by rising in a mutual pledge to each other, and a common re-dedication to God. I have seen the record of "an holy covenant entered into, and renewed with God, by ye Church of Christ in concord, upon a day of fasting and prayer, set apart for that purpose, July 11, 1776," bearing the signature of Rev. William Emerson (then pastor) and sixty-one others. Religious revivals have been begun and prolonged by such means. Piety that is from the heart readily approves them. It makes glad use, not only of common, but of special, helps to fidelity and growth in godly living.
III. THE WISDOM OF HEEDING ALL GOD HAS TOLD US OF OUR OBLIGATION TO HIM, AND OF THE PERIL OF CASTING IT OFF. Joshua "read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings." Just what things were included in the inscription on the stones and in the reading we are not told. Doubtless, at least, the substance and sanctions of the law. It is clear that there was no self-pleasing discrimination in favour of the easy and agreeable commands, nor yet in the singling-out of the blessings and the rejection of the cursings.
IV. THE MISTAKE OF WITHHOLDING ANY PART OF GOD'S LAW FROM ANY AGE OR CLASS. "All Israel, and their elders and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark, and on that side." None were so great and wise that they had no need to be present. And "there was not a word of all that Moses commanded which Joshua read not," &c. It is sometimes thought that the great and sober things of God's law are not to be taught to children. "Set before them only the bright things," it is said. How strange that it is so much easier to be wise in earthly things than in the heavenly! In this world's affairs, we teach the child to foresee that which is evil, that he may hide himself. We remember, too, that great souls are never nurtured on the ostrich plan. The ostrich thrusts his head into the sand, shuts his eyes, and, seeing no peril, says, "Now I am safe!" This is not God's way. The "little ones" were to hear "all that Moses commanded." They might comprehend little. They would feel much. Through the imagination, their souls would be filled with abiding, restraining, and uplifting awe.
V. THE POSSIBILITY OF A SERENE CONTEMPLATION OF GOD'S LAW AND REMEMBRANCE OF OUR PAST UNFAITHFULNESS TO IT. First of all, before he ventured to read the law, "Joshua built an altar," &c. On this altar, burnt-offerings and peace-offerings were to be presented. The burnt-offering signified self-surrender, entire devotement to God; the peace-offering, joyful communion with Him. Thus the people came face to face with law and penalty, not as aliens, but as friends; their sins expiated and pardoned; their persons, powers, and possessions made over to Him to be wholly His; their hearts at rest in the gladdening sense of His favour. To such the law could be nothing other than a blessed, Divine rule. So it may be with us.
(Sermons by the Monday Club.).
PeopleIsraelites, Joshua, Levites
PlacesAi, Arabah, Bethel, Jericho, Mount Ebal, Mount Gerizim
TopicsBehold, Bidden, Burn, Capture, Commanded, Commandment, Fire, Orders, Seized, Town
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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