Joshua: Chapter 8 - Ai Revisited

Bible Study @ Hurst Gospel Hall

Author: John Whitmarsh
Added: 2009-07-23

Chapter 6 has told of the victory at Jericho. Chapter 7 has recounted the defeat at Ai and the subsequent examination leading to the judgment of Achan and his family. Chapter 8 brings us back to victory again.

The simple truth of chapter 8 is this that defeat and failure does not mean that there always has to be defeat and failure. Obedience is the key to success.

The failure had been as a result of desire and greed. It had been the result of wanting what was not allowed and of denying God His portion. It had come as a result of the energy of the flesh and not the energy of the Spirit to bring the lesson home to our individual lives today. It may well be as well that there are others who have to pay for my failure as was the case with the 36 innocents who were buried and Achan's family who were executed. There are times in each Christian's life when that Christian is undone by failure and the reason for that crippling failure is our desire for things that 'under the ban'. There is a propensity in each person to desire the things that are not good for us and that God has banned. There is no need to list these things - the New Testament is full of instruction as to the sort of things that can trouble the Christian and cause defeat in his or her life. To extend the picture of Joshua 7 according to the revealed truth of NT teaching the things that trouble believers are not just worldly garments and a bit of silver and gold. We must recognise that we fail and let the Lord down in so many areas of life. There can be no progress in spiritual things until failure is recognised and dealt with. That is not a message that is to be preached in the gospel alone but in the ministry meeting.

It may well be that we as Christians come to this same point of failure. It may well be that we fail in the same area of life time and time again. Now the incident in chapter 8 is not repeated time and time again in the book of Joshua for it is the principle that is illustrated for our benefit in 2008. We dare not think that having achieved the victory that we are no longer prone to defeat. We will forever be prone to failure and defeat this side of glory and we must wake up to this sad fact. It is not that God does not want us to be victorious for He does. We have seen the desire on His part for His people to be triumphant throughout this book but there will be no triumph when sin gets in the way. We do sin and let not there be any believer think that sinless perfection is attainable this side of heaven but when defeat is experienced then there must be some way forward. There was a chapter 8 for Israel despite the gravity and enormity of the sin of chapter 6 and 7. God wanted them to be victorious again. It is like wise true that when a Christian fails that God does not want that Christian to wallow in the mire of self pity and self loathing but to address the problem and the causes of the problem, confess the sin and move on. Self examination is, however, required as pictured by the location and identification of the person within the camp who had sinned. Self judgment and even betimes judgment by our peers is necessary to make a move forward but to move on is the object. "If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness....' 'Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.' God does not sanction sin but He makes provision for sin and reparation for the damage that has been done by the sin.

But there is another thing here. The defeated can often say, 'I have been defeated in the past. I have failed in the past. I have let the Lord down in the past and I know that I am going to do it again.' And so fear sets in. Fear to do the thing that is right lest a mistake should be made. Fear to go forward lest there should be defeat again. The early chapters of this book were to do with the overcoming of fear by faith. Now the very first words spoken in this chapter, and by the way they are spoken to Joshua, are 'Fear not'. Presumably fear was present again for God to say, 'Fear not'. Half the battle with coping with failure and moving forward is overcoming fear of failure.

8:1 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land:

Joshua had been adversely affected by the sin in the camp. Judging by the Lord's words in this first verse his confidence in the people had been shaken. This word is a personal word to Joshua. He was not to fear. He may have every reason to fear because of what had happened the first time at Ai but he was not to. Achan was dead and his family too. Verse 2 shows that, regarding the removal of prey, there was not to be the same restrictions on the people.

Verse 1 of this chapter reminds us of the words spoken in verse 2 of chapter 6. As all of the men of war had been present at Jericho so they were to be when God was in command of the situation at Ai. The number was not to be limited to a few thousand (7.3) but all the men of war. This matter of the numbers is important within the chapter. Perhaps we should consider the book of Numbers as well when we consider passages of scripture where numbers are mentioned. For instance, Numbers 26.51 says, 'These were the numbered of the children of Israel, six hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty.'

The king of Ai and his people and his city and his land were to be given to Joshua. In chapter 6 it is the city that is foremost so that the words are 'Jericho and the king thereof and the mighty men of valour.'

8:2 And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king: only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves: lay thee an ambush for the city behind it.

And then God says a remarkable thing. Joshua was to do to Ai what he had done to Jericho but with one difference - the people were allowed to take the spoil of the city and the cattle of the city. But it was God who had won the 'battle' at Jericho. And yet God speaks here as though it is Joshua alone ('thou') who won the battle - 'as thou didst unto Jericho.' It was not just the king that is singled out by God but the whole city - 'unto Jericho and her king.

Joshua was to make an ambush of the city of Ai. That was the clear instruction given by Jehovah. The location of the ambushing party was given by God in that it was to be behind the city.

8:3 So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai: and Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valour, and sent them away by night.

Joshua was prepared to do as he was told. All the men of war rose with him. 30,000 chosen men of valour were sent away by night. It should be pointed out that there are difficulties in reconciling the number spoken about in verse 3 and the number referred to in verse 12. Perhaps it was that the 5000 in verse 12 were separated from his group to support the 30,000 already in place at the rear of the city and to form an extra part of the ambush.

The 30,000 was the ambush party that was to be set behind the city as God (verse 4) had instructed in verse 2. They went away under cover of darkness and the logistics of moving 30,000 men at night is worth consideration. There were no night sights in those days. They would not have wanted to have been seen in their movements to their post.

8:4 And he commanded them, saying, Behold, ye shall lie in wait against the city, even behind the city: go not very far from the city, but be ye all ready:

These men were to do three things - to lay in wait (the word is the same as that used for ambush in the previous verse) against, even behind, the city and to make sure that they did not move far from the city and to be prepared. The victory at Jericho was because the people were correctly prepared and in the right condition. The important thing about chapter 8 is that the people were in the correct condition. Many may talk about military strategy (and there are reasons for that for the plan is given in detail) but the simple truth is that God was with His people in chapter 8 whereas He was not with them in chapter 7. There was obedience required as there was at Jericho. But God had to be with them for the people to win.

8:5 And I, and all the people that are with me, will approach unto the city: and it shall come to pass, when they come out against us, as at the first, that we will flee before them,

8:6 (For they will come out after us) till we have drawn them from the city; for they will say, They flee before us, as at the first: therefore we will flee before them.

Joshua was going to take another party with him and approach the city from the front. The 3000 people who had gone to take the city in chapter 7 had approached the city from the front for it says that they were chased from before the gate unto Shebarim. Joshua told the people that when they approached the city this time (and perhaps there were only 3000 people with Joshua to make it look exactly as it was the first time or even a smaller number of men) that they would be chased from the city in exactly the same way as that recorded for us in chapter 7.

They were not to stand and fight but to flee before them. They were going to come against the Israelites and they were going to be drawn from the city. The Israelites were to flee and in so doing the men of Ai were going to say that this was a repeat occasion. It was exactly the same scenario as they had already experienced in chapter 7 or so they thought.

8:7 Then ye shall rise up from the ambush, and seize upon the city: for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand.

Verses 4 to 8 are the instructions given by Joshua to the men in the ambush. They were not going to be with Joshua. They needed to know what to do and to do it. Once the men of the city were drawn outside the city then it was the turn of the 30,000 men to rise up from their position behind the city and seize upon it. They were not to be afraid because the Lord was to deliver the city into their hand.

8:8 And it shall be, when ye have taken the city, that ye shall set the city on fire: according to the commandment of the LORD shall ye do. See, I have commanded you.

Once the conquest was complete then the city was to be burnt. God had said so. This was to be done. Do as God says was the instruction from Joshua and, as if to make the point abundantly clear, he gave them commandment himself. Joshua was relying on these 30,000 men to do as he had commanded and yet the recent experience was of one who had not done as he was told and the awful trouble that this gave to Joshua. Joshua had to trust them because God had told him not to fear.

8:9 Joshua therefore sent them forth: and they went to lie in ambush, and abode between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai: but Joshua lodged that night among the people.

The 30,000 were sent forth with the instructions ringing in their ears. They went to lie in ambush between Bethel and Ai. The word for ambush is different used elsewhere in the chapter. If a line is drawn between Jericho and Bethel, Ai would be very close to that line. The line would stretch to the north west of Jericho so the order would be Jericho, Ai and then Bethel very close to Ai. The ambush party was to lie behind the city. They chose to stay between Bethel and Ai. Bethel is to the north west of Ai. The scripture says that were to the west of Ai. Joshua's location is not given but he remained where the people were and presumably somewhere near to Jericho. 4.19 mentions the fact that Gilgal (a couple of miles to the north east of Jericho) was the base in the early days in Canaan. We read about Achor in chapter 7 and some feel that Achor is some ten miles to the south of Jericho. We know that Joshua was also at mount Ebal at the end of this chapter. We also know that in chapter 9 that Joshua had a camp at Gilgal.

8:10 And Joshua rose up early in the morning, and numbered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai.

As we have often pointed out in these notes Joshua was an early riser. He numbered the people. That was not always the mind of God (see II Samuel 24) but there is no condemnation here. Joshua had been left to decide how many men to put where. All he had to do according to God's command was to have an ambush party behind the city. The numbers that were to be in that party was a decision that Joshua had to make. The only other principle was that all the men of war had to be in the region of Ai.

8:11 And all the people, even the people of war that were with him, went up, and drew nigh, and came before the city, and pitched on the north side of Ai: now there was a valley between them and Ai.

The group that was with Joshua (and it included the elders according to verse 10) pitched on the north side of the city and from there Joshua set (not sent - see verse 12) the 5000 men (see verse13). We are told that there was a valley between the people of Israel and the city of Ai.

8:12 And he took about five thousand men, and set them to lie in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city *.

Up until now the people involved have been described using the Hebrew word am. Now there is mention of ish. These were males. The language is clear. Joshua took these men and placed them to the west of the city which is the same place as the 30,000. It is for this reason that this group of men is considered to be the same as the 30,000 in the third verse by some and that there is some contradiction in the numbering. It maybe that the numbering of the people meant that there was a change of plan and that more were added to the ambush party. It may be that the party to the north was too many in Joshua's mind to encourage the people to leave the city. It was God who said that an ambush was to be made. He did not say how many men should form the ambush party. It was Joshua who chose the numbers to be present in the ambush party.

8:13 And when they had set the people, even all the host that was on the north of the city, and their liers in wait on the west of the city, Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley.

Whatever the case with the numbers (and this is not to take away from their importance) there was a group of people set to the north of the city and a group to the west. The group to the west are described as the 'liers in wait.' The word is different from that used in verse 4. There is a sense of the heel in the word that is used. They were in wait at the heel of the city.

The people set in place, Joshua went into the valley that night. We are not told what he did in the valley and it is pure conjecture to suggest that he prayed to his God for success on the following day. Though conjecture it is a distinct possibility for we expect Joshua to behave this way but we must remember that we are not specifically told.

8:14 And it came to pass, when the king of Ai saw it, that they hasted and rose up early, and the men of the city went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people, at a time appointed, before the plain; but he wist not that there were liers in ambush against him behind the city.

Again we are not told what it was that the king of Ai saw but presumably it was the movement of men and dare we suggest that all he saw was the assembling of the mini group to the north of the city which took place the day before. Joshua went out at night after the movement of the men. Perhaps it was that he saw the number of people that were set against him. No doubt that the number of people that he saw was no more than he saw the first time when the men came against the city. Perhaps it was that Joshua made the number less than the group in chapter 7.

The king of Ai having seen (and this sighting could have taken place the previous day) he and his men (the word is enosh) got up early in the morning. There was to be an element of surprise in the attack. A plan had been made and a time given for the movement of the men (the verse speaks of men and people am) from Ai. Everything looked in order to the king of Ai who was prepared to go with the men such was his confidence in victory being achieved again. But he knew nothing of the liers in wait.

8:15 And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness.

Joshua had a plan. His was a plan that was given to him of the Lord. They pretended that they were beaten. In chapter 7 all that we read about is that they fled before the men of Ai. No mention is made of the way of the wilderness. There was no pretence in chapter 7 but there is pretence in verse 15. They fled (same word as in chapter 7 on the first occasion). To all intents and purposes this was exactly what had taken place on the first occasion. Presumably, though we cannot be sure, they fled in the same direction as they had done in chapter 7.

8:16 And all the people that were in Ai * were called together to pursue after them: and they pursued after Joshua, and were drawn away from the city.

The text says that all the people (am again) were called together to follow the men from Israel. As far as we read in chapter 7 it was the men (the word is enosh) of Ai who did the pursuing. The word for pursue is the same as that found in chapter 7 and translated 'chased'.

8:17 And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, that went not out after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel.

There was not one man (the word is ish) who remained in Ai. There was not one man who remained in Bethel. Two places are mentioned. This is the first time that we have heard of the two cities. And yet in the latter part of the verse mention is only made of the city. Perhaps this latter part just refers to Ai. We know for sure that the city of Ai was left open.

8:18 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Stretch out the spear that is in thy hand toward Ai; for I will give it into thine hand. And Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city.

This was a new command which Joshua was willing to obey. God said that Joshua was to stretch out the spear that was in his hand toward the city of Ai and Joshua did just as he was told. Obedience has already been seen in the movement of men from the camp to form the ambush party. Obedience was now seen as Joshua exactly as God commanded. Obedience was the key to success in this battle. Obedience is the key to success in any spiritual battle that we face.

8:19 And the ambush arose quickly out of their place, and they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand: and they entered into the city, and took it, and hasted and set the city on fire.

Those in the ambush party arose quickly on sight of the arm outstretched with spear pointing to the city. How they saw Joshua in the melee we are not told. How far they were from Joshua we are not told. What we are told is that were quick off the mark and quick to obey the commands that they had been given. Soon the city was on fire.

8:20 And when the men of Ai looked behind them, they saw, and, behold, the smoke of the city ascended up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that way: and the people that fled to the wilderness turned back upon the pursuers.

The enosh of the city looked behind them to see their city on fire and the smoke ascending to the sky. When they saw the state of their city the text says that they had no power (nothing in their hand) to flee this way or that. The people (am again) of Israel were the pursued. The pursued turned back upon the pursuers.

8:21 And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city, and that the smoke of the city ascended, then they turned again, and slew the men of Ai.

Verse 21 speaks of Joshua and all Israel looking at the city just as the previous verse has spoken of the men of Ai looking back. Their look did not leave them disempowered as the men of Ai were. On the contrary. They turned around and slew the men of Ai.

8:22 And the other issued out of the city against them; so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side: and they smote them, so that they let none of them remain or escape.

The other refers to those in the ambush party who had entered the city to set it on fire. It being ablaze, there was no need to remain in the city to get burnt. They were able to leave and join the others who had been pursued but who were now turned again. The men of Ai were trapped between some on this side and some on that. They were all slain (verses 21, 24 and 25). None remained (survived) or escaped.

8:23 And the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua.

The only one who survived was the king of Ai and he was taken captive to Joshua. In verse 29 we are told that his carcase was taken down from the tree but we are not told how he died.

8:24 And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword.

The people from the city were slain in the field and in the wilderness to which they had been pursued. All the inhabitants were slain and the text suggests that they were all slain outside the city. Verse 24 makes it abundantly clear that all the inhabitants died. They all fell on the edge of the sword until they were consumed (or finished). Verse 21 has also made that clear and verse 25 reiterates the truth. Verse 26 informs us that all the inhabitants of Ai were utterly destroyed. God wants us to know that all died who had lived in Ai.

Not only were all the inhabitants slain but the city itself was ripped up by the sword. There was a deliberate effort to return to the city and to make sure that the city itself was not only burnt but smitten.

8:25 And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve * thousand, even all the men of Ai.

This is an interesting piece of information especially when we go back to verse 3 of the previous chapter. The word for men here is enosh. The word used for men when referring to the men of Ai in 7.4 is enosh.

8:26 For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.

One is reminded of the narrative in Exodus 17 when reading this verse. Joshua was involved in the events of that day. Amalek were the ones who caused the distress to the people of God. They fought Israel in Rephidim. Joshua was in the battle but there were three men on the hill. Moses was there with his rod and Aaron and Hur were with him. Exodus 17.11 says, 'And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Israel prevailed.' We recall that Moses' hands were heavy and that it was necessary for him to sit down on a stone that was placed under him and for the two others to hold up his hands. Amalek was destroyed. Then we read a remarkable thing. 'And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.' Just to finish the story an altar was raised and Moses called it Jehovah-nissi because the Lord was to have war with Amalek from generation to generation.

Joshua was not to forget that day against the Amalekites and it appears from this verse that he did not forget. His hand was not drawn back. Joshua drew not his hand back. These six words serve as a remarkable testimony to the faithfulness of this man. God had said that he was to stretch forth the spear. To do so he had to stretch out his hand. He did not draw his hand back to his side until the task was done, until all the inhabitants of Ai were utterly destroyed. It was not that he was being vindictive. It was not that he was trying to bury the ghosts of chapter 7. He was simply being obedient. Luke 9.62 quotes the words of the Lord Jesus, 'No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'

8:27 Only the cattle and the spoil of that city Israel took for a prey unto themselves, according unto the word of the LORD which he commanded Joshua.

Again this is obedience. The only things that were spared were the cattle and the spoil of the city. That just what had said and that is just what they did.

8:28 And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day.

All the spoil had been taken. The ambush party had burnt the city. All the people (male and female) had died outside the city. Here we read that Joshua burnt the city. This may mean that Joshua's men burnt the city but it may mean exactly what it says!! Ai, heap of ruins, was made a heap that day. That heap was to remain for ever. The desolation was complete and thorough. Ai was never going to be raised again.

To this day there is archaeological dispute over where Ai was. It is clear that we know of the general area as so much geography is placed on record in the scriptural text but et-Tell, the site of the place that is thought to be Biblical Ai, was unoccupied at this time according to the established archaeological chronology. The later Iron Age village appeared with no evidence of initial conquest. This note is left here to make the reader aware of discussions that take place far and wide relating to Ai. Could it be, and this assumes that the archeologists have thwe right spot, that the removal of the spolis and the burning and the destruction was such that no evidence was left of people having lived there?

From the scriptural angle - there are only a few references to Ai after Joshua 12.9. They are to be found in Ezra 2.28; Nehemiah 7.32 and Jeremiah 49.3. It is significant that these passages refer to a time after the destruction of Jerusalem. It should be pointed out that Aiath in Isaiah 10.28 and Aija in Nehemiah 11.31 is believed to be Ai, though the town may have been different after the exile.

8:29 And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide *: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcase down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this day.

Whether or not the king of Ai was alive or dead when he was attached to the tree we are not told. In chapter ten we are told that the five kings were slain before they were hanged on the trees. There has been no mention of a killing process between the time that we read of the king being taken alive and the time that he was hanged on a tree until sunset. The pattern seems to be killing first and then public display on a tree. He was definitely dead at the end of the day for it was his carcase that was to be taken down. Presumably the king was a corpse as he was hanged. The king had his own specially crafted heap of stones but even that was outside the city and near the gate. Perhaps the archaeologists ought to be looking for one set of bones on its own!!

8:30 Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,

In verse 30 we are taken from one heap of stones for the king of Ai to another to the Lord. This set of stones, the altar, was not raised at Jericho and neither was it raised at Ai. It was raised at Ebal. Ebal means 'stone' or 'bare mountain' and comes from a word meaning 'bald'. Not only should we consider the meaning of the name of the place but its geographical location. The whole nation gathered at Ebal. Everything thus far has taken place in the Jericho, Jordan, Gilgal and Ai/Bethel area. Now the scene moves about 30 miles northward to Ebal. This is a long way to take a large group of people but this is where God said that the events of the following verses were to take place. Ebal is north of Shechem and opposite Mount Gerizim. 'Shechem is a place that was razed and reconstructed up to 22 times before its final demise in AD 200.' 'The mountain (Ebal) is one of the highest peaks in the West Bank, as well as being higher than most mountain peaks in Israel, and rises to 3084 feet (940 metres) above sea level, some 194 feet (59 metres) higher than Mount Gezirim. Mount Ebal is approximately 6.5 square miles (18 square kilometres) in area, and is composed primarily of limestone. The slopes of the mountain contain several large caverns which were probably originally quarries, and at the base towards the north are several tombs.' Both pieces of information taken from Wikipedia November 2008 and may need verification.

In chapter 7 a heap of stones was raised to signify that someone had sinned and defeat was the result. What a memorial. In chapter 8 verse 30 a heap of stones was raised to show that there had been a marvellous victory. This whole business of raising heaps of stones is important in the book of Joshua and is worthy of a separate study.

8:31 As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.

Is this another altar or the same as that mentioned in the previous verse? Whatever the case, this one was made from large (see Deuteronomy 27), uncut stones. It was there that sacrifice was made. This is significant. There is no thirst for blood as in making haste to the next battle. There is no movement onto the next town as part of the campaign. They removed themselves, indeed the whole of the nation, to Ebal for this great occasion. An altar was built and sacrifice was made. There was no celebration of victory but worship and then plastering and then writing and then reading the law and in particular the blessings and the cursings with particular emphasis on the blessings (verse 33 says, 'that they should bless the people'). It was as if the victory was complete and that the land was conquered. It was a scene that showed that the Lord was in control in the land of Canaan. It was tantamount to the reading of a constitution. These were to be the laws that were to govern the land. There had only been two cities that had been destroyed (maybe a third if Bethel is included) and yet the nation is gathered for this great event. There was no complacency. There was no mention of victories. All that they did was what they had been told to do in the book of Deuteronomy.

We need to go back to the law of Moses to discover the command. There are two passages to consider and they are both in Deuteronomy. The first is in 11.29-32. The second, recorded here, is in 27.1-15:

And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day. And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaister them with plaister: and thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over, that thou mayest go in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee. Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaister them with plaister. And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them. Thou shalt build the altar of the LORD thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD thy God: And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the LORD thy God. And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly. And Moses and the priests the Levites spake unto all Israel, saying, Take heed, and hearken, O Israel; this day thou art become the people of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt therefore obey the voice of the LORD thy God, and do his commandments and his statutes, which I command thee this day. And Moses charged the people the same day, saying, These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are come over Jordan; Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin: And these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice, Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen.

The remaining verses of the chapter contain the other eleven curses with the people's response which is identical to that found in verse 15.

The passage from Deuteronomy can be compared with the fulfilment in these last verses of chapter 8. The word for plaister is also translated 'lime' on two occasions.

8:32 And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.

There is no mention of the lime in Joshua 8 but we feel sure that as every other word was obeyed so this was the means by which the words could be seen on the stones. Not only would the words be seen on the lime. The presence of lime on an altar set on a mountain would have meant that a white beacon would have been seen for a great distance. We have spoken about memorials of one sort or other as we have progressed through this book but here was a unique altar plastered to enable words to be inscribed upon it. That it stood as a memorial for the nation is one thing but its prominence was such that the nations that occupied the land would have been in no doubt that there was a new constitution in force.

8:33 And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side before the priests the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, as well the stranger, as he that was born among them; half of them over against mount Gerizim, and half of them over against mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel.

8:34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law.

8:35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.

No one Israelite was exempted from attendance at this great event. Even the strangers were present. The women were there. The little ones were there, too. All witnessed this great day. Six tribes were on the one side and six on the other. The details of which tribe was where are given in Deuteronomy 27.

The emphasis is on blessing (verse 33) for God delights to bless His people. Here were a people who had been obedient at Jericho and now at Ai. God was pleased with His people and blessings were to ensue. Cursings were made known as well for if they were a disobedient people then they would be subject to cursing.


Time was taken to talk to some of those present some while after the reading to ask if there was a common difficulty with spiritualising the section on the ambush of Ai. It was felt that the detail, though evidently deemed necessary by God for inclusion in His word, seemed more like an explanation of military strategy rather than something from which spiritual lessons could be drawn. However, Ai was revisited to show us that where there had been failure there could be success. Defeat does not mean the end. Sometimes we have to be brought back to the very same point, the very same situation in life, in order to face the fear and, with God's help and obedience this time, triumph over it. Obedience is the key to success in the things of God. The note in the introduction said that the simple truth of chapter 8 is that defeat and failure does not mean that there always has to be defeat and failure. A different approach may be necessary on the second time that the situation is encountered. God did not take just three thousand men and put them in exactly the same position as in chapter 7 with the only difference being that sin had been judged and dealt with. It may be for this reason that we are given all the detail. The most important aspect of chapter 8 is that the matter of sin within had been resolved but it is not the only aspect. Surely God could have won the battle with the three thousand men but He chose not to. There must be something in that battle detail that is teaching us a spiritual lesson but what that is we are not sure. Perhaps there is someone reading this who will be able to help us. Perhaps we are learning that we are always learning. We can never be expected to know every answer. We can never take learner plates down as Christians and this may also apply not only down here but when we get to heaven as well.