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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Joshua 8

Verses 1-8

Joshua - Chapter 8

A New Battle Plan, vs. 1-8

After the execution of Achan the Lord came back to Joshua with a reiteration of His charge relative to fear and dismay. Joshua had been warned, when first charged that he should obey the Lord and follow His leadership, that he might not succumb to fear and indecision.

His failure to do so at Ai had resulted in the very thing about which he was charged. Instead of taking only a part of the men of war with him Joshua is now told to carry all the people.

Everyone should be involved in the Lord’s work. If Joshua complies with this renewed charge the Lord promises him success, upon which the vanquished are to be dealt with as were those of Jericho.

The Lord also makes a different provision for the disposition of the spoils this time. The spoil and the cattle are to be a prey for the army; after the Lord’s part, the people receive a share. Joshua is to set an ambush against the city of Ai and take it through trickery. So Joshua chose a special force of 30,000 men to form the ambush close by, behind it, or on the west side. These were brave and dependable men, who were sent away by night to take up their place secretly.

The plan of Joshua is to take the larger force and make a feint before the city as though they would attack it. When the men of Ai come out to attack them the Israelites will turn and flee as though terrified as in the first battle.

When Joshua and the main army has drawn the defenders away, the ambush will rise, enter the city, and set it on fire according to the Lord’s command, and Joshua’s command.

Verses 9-19

Plan Carried Out, vs. 9-19

It is interesting to note how very careful Joshua is this time to carry out the battle plans according to the Lord’s commands. He did not send out the men alone this time, but he himself accompanied them. It is also emphasized that all the armed men joined the expedition, and all the elders of the tribes.

The city of Ai was approached by the valley leading up from the north, the logical way by which they might be expected to attack. Verse 12 refers to another five thousand men whom Joshua appoints to lie in wait in addition to the former 30,000. It is unclear why five thousand are added, for the place to which they are assigned is the same area to which the first were sent. Since it is mentioned here that this is between Bethel and Ai, and it is found later that Bethel joined the battle against Israel on behalf of Ai, it has been conjectured that they may have had some assignment to perform against Bethel.

Joshua and his men appeared before the city gates very early the next morning. The king of Ai, discovering them, hastened to gather all the men he could muster and to go against these Israelites. After a short skirmish Israel fell back toward the wilderness as planned. All available men from both Ai and Bethel joined the fray to put an end to the Israelite invasion for good, leaving their city gates open. At a signal from Joshua, probably pre-arranged according to the Lord’s instruction, the Lord now has Joshua to extend his spear toward Ai, for the Lord is about to give it into his hands.

Those lying in wait were watching for this signal and immediately arose, rushed through the open and undefended gates, and put the city to the torch.

Verses 20-29

Ai Exterminated, vs. 20-29

At some given point a soldier of Ai sensed tragedy behind him, the shadow of a smoke pall, or the crackling of flames, or the screams of the doomed people left in the city. He looked behind him, and they all looked.

There was no escape, for the vast army of Israelites surrounded them on all sides, as they turned back from their flight. The destroying ambush, having accomplished its assignment now poured through Ai’s gates to cut them off from retreat. When the doomed men in Israel’s trap were all slain, the Israelites turned back into the city and put it to the sword.

Twelve thousand men, women, and children were destroyed in another display of the judgment on the sin of the world. The strong arm of Joshua kept the spear of victory extended until all was accomplished. As the Lord had commanded, the spoil was apportioned to the men of Israel, and the city was burned. The king of Ai was taken alive and brought to Joshua, who hanged him on a tree. The body was taken down at sundown in keeping with the provision of Israel’s law (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

The body was buried under a heap of stones, Israel’s third, in the burned gate of the city, and was still there at the time the Book of Joshua was written.

This witness heap bore testimony of how victory may be accomplished when men repent, put away their transgressions and return to the Lord, (Psalms 32:1; Hebrews 9:15).

Verses 30-35

Blessings and Curses, vs. 30-35

At this stage in the conquest of Canaan Joshua and the Israelites pause to carry out one of the Lord’s commands made through Moses. this is recorded in Deuteronomy, chapter 27. The mountains, Ebal and Gerizim, are located in the central area of the land in what was the later tribal portion of the tribe of Ephraim.

The city of Shechem lay in the narrow valley between the moun­tains. Joshua, in keeping with the command of the Lord through Moses, built the altar on mount Ebal, plastered it and wrote on it a copy of the law. The altar was constructed of unhewn stones in keeping with God’s instructions for building an altar (see Exodus 20:25).

The Israelites were divided by tribes of six each, half on mount Ebal and half on mount Gerizim, while the priests stood with the ark beside the altar.

While sacrifices of peace offerings burned on the altar the people carried out all the instructions for this event which Moses had given them, not failing in one word of all that he had said. Those on mount Gerizim stood to bless Israel and those on mount Ebal to say "amen" to the curses as Joshua read them.

It is significant that the altar was erected on Ebal, the mount of cursing; the law is the ministration of death (see 2 Corinthians 3:7 and context).

It is also interesting to note that there were those in the gathering who were non-Israelites, as seen from verses 33 and 35. Who these were is not clear, though we know there were Egyptians and mixed ­bloods who came out of Egypt with the Israelites, (Exodus 12:38).

But may there not have been other Canaanites, like Rahab, who embraced Israel’s God and escaped death?

This chapter has its lessons also: 1) when one’s plans fail he may take the Lord’s plan and succeed marvelously; 2) the enemy may seem to have defeated one, but the ultimate victory is his through the Lord Jesus Christ; 3) as Joshua’s spear led the way to victory over Ai, so the cross of Christ points the way to victory over Satan and the world; 4) the law emphasizes the curse under which men are condemned, but the blessings of grace are apart from the law.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Joshua 8". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/joshua-8.html. 1985.