Bible Commentaries
Joshua 8

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 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:

The Lord said unto Joshua, Fear not. By the execution of justice on Achan, the divine wrath was averted, the Israelites were re-assured, defeat was succeeded by victory, and thus the case of Ai affords a striking example of God's disciplinary government, in which chastisements for sin are often made to pave the way for a bestowment of those temporal benefits which, on account of sin, have been withdrawn, or withheld for a time. Joshua, who had been greatly dispirited, was encouraged by a special communication promising him (see Joshua 1:6; Deuteronomy 31:6-8) success in the next attempt, which, however, was to be conducted on, different principles.

Take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai. The number of fighting men amounted to Take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai. The number of fighting men amounted to 600,000; and the whole force was ordered on this occasion, partly because the spies, in their self-confidence, had said that a few were sufficient to attack the place (Joshua 7:3), partly to dispel any misgivings which the memory of the late disaster might have created, and partly that the circumstance of the first spoil obtained in Canaan being shared among all might operate both as a reward for obedience in refraining from the booty of Jericho, and as an incentive to future exertions (Deuteronomy 6:10). The rest of the people, including the women and children, remained in the camp at Gilgal. Being in the plains of Jericho, it was an ascent to Ai, which was on a hill.

I have given into thy hand ...

Verse 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.

Lay thee an ambush for the city. God assured him of its capture, but allowed him to follow his own tactics in obtaining the possession.

Verse 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.

So Joshua ... chose out thirty thousand men of valour - Joshua despatched 30,000 men, under covert of night, to station themselves at the place appointed for the ambuscade. Out of this number a detachment of 5,000 were sent forward to conceal themselves in the immediate precincts of the town, in order to seize the first opportunity of throwing themselves, into it.

Verse 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:

Behind the city - is rendered, Joshua 8:9, "on the west of Ai."

Verses 5-8

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,

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 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.

Between Beth-el and Al. Beth-el, though lying quite near, in the direction of west by north, cannot be seen from Tell-el-bajar, two rocky heights rising between both places, in the Wady El-Murogede, just as the laying of an ambush to the west of Ai would require (Van de Velde, Robinson).

Verse 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.

Joshua ... numbered the people - i:e., the detachment of liers-in-wait; he did this, to be furnished with clear evidence afterward, that the work had been done without any loss of men, whereby the people's confidence in God would be strengthened, and encouragement given them to prosecute the war of invasion with vigour.

He and the elders of Israel - the chief magistrates and rulers, whose presence and official authority were necessary to ensure that the cattle and spoil of the city might be equally divided between the combatants and the rest of the people (Numbers 31:27) - a military rule in Israel that would have been very liable to be infringed if an excited soldiery, eager for booty, had been left to their own will.

Verse 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.

All the people. [The Septuagint translation gives a different and somewhat ambiguous idea of the mode of attack-Greek: kai pas ho laos ho polemistees met' autou anebeesan, kai poreuomenoi eelthon ezenantias tees poleoos apo anatoloon, kai ta henedra tees poleoos apo thalassees-And all the mentor war that were with him went up, and in their march came before the city on the east, and the ambush before the city from the sea (on the west).]

There was a valley (literally the valley) between them and Ai.

Verse 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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 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.

Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley. The deep and steep-sided glen to the north of Tell-el-hajar, into which one looks down from the Tell, fully agrees with this account (Van de Velde). Joshua himself took up his position on the north side of 'the ravine'-the deep chasm of the Wady El-Murogede: "that night" means, while it was dark, probably after midnight, or very early in the morning (John 20:1). The king of Ai, in the early dawn, rouses his slumbering subjects, and makes a hasty sally with all his people who were capable of bearing arms, once more to surprise and annihilate them.

Verse 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.

At a time appointed, [ lamow`eed (H4150)] - to the place of rendezvous (Gesenius); so that we may take the meaning to be, either to a spot agreed upon between the king and people of Ai and those of Beth-el, who were confederates in this enterprise, or perhaps they had fixed on the same time of day as they had fought successfully against Israel on the former occasion, deeming it a lucky hour (Judges 20:38).

But he wist not that there were liers in ambush. It is evident that this king and his subjects were little experienced in war, otherwise they would have sent out scouts to reconnoitre the neighbourhood. At all events, they would not have left their town wholly unprotected and open. Perhaps an ambuscade may have been a war-stratagem hitherto unknown in that country, and among that people.

Verse 15

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

Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them. The pretended flight in the direction of the wilderness - i:e., southeast, into the Ghor, the desert valley of the Jordan-decoyed all the inhabitants of Ai out of the city, while the people of Beth-el hastened to participate in the expected victory. It is supposed by some, from "the city," and not 'cities,' being spoken of, that the effective force of Beth-el had been concentrated in Ai, as the two places were closely contiguous, and Ai the larger of the two (see the note at Joshua 12:16). It may be remarked, however, that the words or "Beth-el" are not in the Septuagint, and are rejected by some eminent scholars, as an interpolation not found in the most ancient manuscripts.

Verses 16-17

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 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.

Joshua stretched out the spear. The uplifted spear had probably a flag or streamer on it, like the Assyrian spear (Abarbanel), to render it the more conspicuous from the height where he stood. At the sight of this understood signal, the ambush nearest the city, informed by their scouts, made a sudden rush, and took possession of the city, telegraphing to their brethren by raising a smoke from the walls. Upon seeing this, the main body, who had been feigning a flight, turned round at the head of the pass upon their pursuers, while the 25,000, issuing from their ambuscade, fell upon their rear. The Aiites, surprised, looked back, and found their situation now desperate.

Verses 19-22

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 23

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

The king of Ai they took alive - to be reserved for a more ignominious death, as a greater criminal in God's sight than his subjects. In the mingled attack from before and behind, the whole men of Ai were massacred.

Verse 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.

All the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword - the women, children, and old persons left behind, amounting, in all, to 12,000 people.

Verse 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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 26

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

Joshua drew not his hand back. Perhaps, from the long continuance of the posture, it might have been a means appointed by God to animate the people, and kept up in the same devout spirit as Moses had shown in lifting up his hands, until the work of slaughter had been completed-the ban executed (see the note at Exodus 17:11-12).

Verse 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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 28

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

Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, [ teel (H8510), heap of ruins]. "For ever" often signifies a long time (Genesis 6:3). One of the remarkable things with regard to the Tell we have identified with Ai is its name-the Tell, or the heap of stones-a name which to this day remains (Van de Velde).

A desolation unto this day - probably a gloss by Ezra, or some later editor.

Verse 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.

The king of Ai he hanged on a tree - i:e., gibbetted. In ancient, and particularly Oriental wars, the chiefs, when taken prisoners, were usually executed-first slain by the sword, and then exposed on a gibbet for a time. The Israelites were obliged by the divine law (Deuteronomy 21:22, etc.) to put them to death. The execution of the king of Ai would tend to facilitate the conquest of the land, by striking terror into the other chiefs, and making it appear a judicial process, in which they were inflicting the vengeance of God upon his enemies.

Take his carcass down ... and raise thereon a great heap of stones, [ gal (H1530), a cairn]. It was taken down at sunset, according to the divine command (Deuteronomy 21:23), and cast into a pit dug "at the entering of the gate," because that was the most public place. An immense cairn was raised over his grave-an ancient usage still existing in the East, whereby is marked the sepulchre of persons whose memory is infamous (see the note at Joshua 7:26).

Verse 30

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

Then Joshua built an altar ... in mount Ebal - (see the note at Deuteronomy 27:1-26.) This spot was little short of twenty miles from Ai. The march through a hostile country, and the unmolested performance of the religious ceremonial observed at this mountain, would be greatly facilitated, through the blessing of God, by the disastrous fall of Ai. The solemn duty was to be attended to at the first convenient opportunity after the entrance into Canaan (Deuteronomy 27:2); and with this view Joshua seems to have conducted the people through the mountainous region that intervened, though no details of the journey have been recorded.

Ebal was on the north, opposite to Gerizim, which was on the south side of the town of Shechem (Nablous). Eusebius [peri toon topikoon], and Jerome in his Latin translation ('De locis Hebraicis,' voce Gerizim), describe the Ebal and Gerizim in the neighbourhood of Shechem as different from the Ebal and Gerizim on which the blessings and curses were rehearsed. But there is no good reason for departing from the common view as to the topography of those hills (see Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' pp. 234, 235). Kennicott ('Dissertation,' 2:, ch. 1) labours to prove that Ebal has been substituted in this passage for the original Gerizim, which still stands in the Samaritan Pentateuch, by the Jews, who were desirous to make Gerizim the fertile mount-the mount of blessing, According to Buckingham, these hills are equal in height, and rise about 700 or 800 feet above the valley of Shechem; but Dr. Olin declares Gerizim to be the higher of the two.

Built an altar ...

Verse 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.

Of whole stones - according to the instructions given to Moses (Exodus 20:25; Deuteronomy 27:5).

Over which no man hath lift up any iron - i:e., iron tool. The reason of this was, that every altar of the true God ought properly to have been built of earth (Exodus 20:24); and if it was constructed of stone, rough unhewn stones were to be employed. that it might retain both the appearance and nature of earth, since every bloody sacrifice was connected with sin and death, by which man, the creature of earth, is brought to earth again (Keil). Another and perhaps more urgent reason was, that the artificially-built altars of the pagan were frequently inscribed with the name or symbol of the god to whom they were dedicated, and their skies ornamented with bas-reliefs of gods, or sculptured figures of idolatrous rites and festive scenes.

They offered thereon burnt offerings ... and sacrificed peace offerings. This had been done when the covenant was established (Exodus 24:5); and by the observance of these federal rites (Deuteronomy 27:6) the covenant was solemnly renewed-the people were reconciled to God by the burnt offering, whilst, by this feast accompanying the peace or thank offering, a happy communion with God was enjoyed by all the families in Israel.

Verse 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.

He wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law [ mishneeh (H4932), a copy, a duplicate (see the note at Deuteronomy 27:2-8) - i:e., the blessings and curses of the law]. It is impossible that it could be a transcript of the whole law, as Baumgarten thinks, and very improbable of all Deuteronomy. Kurtz ('History of the Old Covenant,' 1:, p. 57, English translation) and Keil suppose that it comprised only 'the legal portions of that book;' Michaelis, 'the essential parts of all the books in the Pentateuch;' Knobel, 'not the Mosaic, law in general, but only the commandments;' Rosenmuller, Maurer, and many others, consider the copy as confined to the blessings and warnings enumerated in Deuteronomy 27:1-26; while Kennicott, Gerlach, and others, limit it to the 'ten words' of the Decalogue. The hope has been expressed by eminent writers that those plastered stones may one day be discovered (Michaelis, 'Laws of Moses,' art. 69:); and the Palestine Exploration Society has included a search for them in the list of subjects for the inquiry of their scientific agents. Some (Maurer, etc., after Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 4:, ch. 8:, sec. 44; also b. 5:, ch. 1:, sec. 19) think that the stones which contained this inscription were the stones of the altar; but this verse seems rather to indicate that a number of stone pillars were erected alongside of the altar, and on which, after they were plastered, this duplicate of the law was inscribed.

Verse 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.

All Israel ... stood on this side the ark and on that side. One-half of Israel was ranged on Gerizim, and the other half on Ebal-along the sides and base of each.

Before the priests the Levites - in full view of them. The valley enclosed by these two mountains is about three miles long, and from 250 to 300 paces wide, (see the note at Deuteronomy 27:1-26.) The articulations of the human voice are, from the purity of the atmosphere, heard distinctly on the opposite heights, as has been testified by numerous travelers (see the note at Judges 9:7). The slopes of the two mountains recede gradually, and afford room for hundreds of thousands to stand or sit conveniently to hear the words of the law. The experiment was actually made in 1860 by Mr. Mills. 'We had pitched our tent in the valley, near the foot of Gerizim, on the line between the two mountains, where I have supposed the ark stood. I clambered up Gerizim, and Mr. Williams up Ebal-preferring that he should have all the cursings, and I all the blessings-Mr. Edwards remaining with the men at the tent. Having reached the lower spur, I found myself just as if I stood upon a lofty pulpit, and my friend found himself on a similar one on Ebal. Having rested ourselves a little, I opened my Bible and read the blessings in Hebrew; and every word was heard distinctly by those at the tent, as well as by Mr. Edwards on Ebal. My friend then read the cursings in Welsh; and we all heard every word and syllable' ('Journal of Sacred Literature,' October, 1863, p. 178; see also 'Land of Promise,' p. 371).

Verse 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.

Afterward he read ... the law - caused the priests or Levites to read it (Deuteronomy 27:14). Persons are often said in Scripture to do that which they only command to be done.

Verse 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.

There was not a word ... which Joshua read not. It appears that a much larger portion of the law was read on this occasion than the brief summary inscribed on the stones; and this most have been the essence of the law as contained in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 4:44; Deuteronomy 6:9; Deuteronomy 27:8). It was not written on the stones, but on the plaster. The immediate design of this rehearsal was attained by the performance of the act itself: it only related to posterity in so far as the record of the event would Be handed down in the Book of Joshua, or the documents which form the groundwork of it (Hengstenberg, 'Pentateuch,' 1:, p. 431, English translation; also Keil, in loco).

Thus, Joshua faithfully executed the instructions given by Moses. How awfully solemn must have been the assemblage of the dense multitude and the sublime ceremony of the occasion! The eye and the ear of the pencils being both addressed, it was calculated to leave an indelible impression; and with spirits elevated by their brilliant victories in the land of promise, memory would often revert to the striking scene on mounts Ebal and Gerizim, and in the vale of Shechem. The Septuagint inserts this paragraph between verses 2 and 3 of Joshua 9:1-27; whence several continental critics have maintained that it had no certain place in the sacred history, and, not conducing to the progress of the narrative, must be regarded as an interpolation. But the word [ 'aaz (H227)] then, by which it is introduced, is shown by Keil to be used in the relation of incidents that took place contemporaneously with the course of the narrative; and he adduces other arguments which convincingly establish the integrity of the text. Colenso alleges that this ceremony must have been 'a mere dumb show.' But this is an entirely mistaken conception of the scene. For, without insisting on the fact already adverted to, that in the clear elastic air of Palestine voices are heard at a great distance, even allowing that some in the mighty congregation might not have distinctly heard the words, the people were all well aware of the service in which they were engaged. They knew the blessings and cursings (Deuteronomy 27:1-26), and therefore could at the proper time say an intelligent 'Amen.' Besides, while Joshua in the valley read the declarations, the Levites might be distributed at convenient stations among the multitude, to repeat the words to the groups around them. And further still, supposing the tribes to have been assembled near the eastern end of the valley, where it is only about 60 rods wide ('The Land and the Book,' p. 470), the cavilling objection of Colenso falls to the ground.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Joshua 8". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.