Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 1st, 2023
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Take our poll

Bible Commentaries
Joshua 8

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

Verses 1-21

The Conquest of Ai

Joshua 8:1-21


1. Christian conquest depends upon a clean heart. When the Children of Israel went against Ai the first time, they fled in dismay. The reason for their defeat was that they did not sanctify themselves. Let Christians remember this lesson. It is. not so much gifted men, cultured women, and wealthy patrons that God needs, as it is clean hearts. No amount of education, of preparation, or of culture can take the place of purity. We may have everything else, but if we are not clean we are not prepared unto every good work.

2. Christian conquest depends upon courageous hearts. Time and again God said to Joshua, and to the people, through Joshua, "Be not dismayed." We must have a faith in God that creates undaunted courage. We must be men and women of valor.

The Book of Hebrews speaks of those who "quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens."

It was this kind of valor that was seen in David as he faced Goliath. There is another time, however, in David's older life, when his son Absalom raised a rebellion against him. With seeming defeat about to overwhelm him, he cried: "Thou, O Lord, art a Shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head." Then with exultant faith his courage broke forth in the cry: "I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about."

David brought conquest out of seeming defeat, and in the anticipation of victory he said: "Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone." Then, with exultant faith, he gave this climatic confession, "Salvation belongeth unto the Lord."

Samson proved himself valiant and of good courage when in faith he took the jawbone of an ass and slew therewith a thousand men of the Philistines. Truly, God's servants must be strong and of a good courage.

3. Christian conquest depends upon God. God said unto Joshua: "I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land." We must never forget that if God is not in the battle, we fight in vain; that if God is not in the house, those who build, labor in vain.

There is a verse which runs like this, "God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God." It is necessary to hear this, it is necessary to tell this, that power is of God.

The Lord Jesus said, "All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth." That, however, is not all that He said. Having said that He possessed power, He promised to back the saints with His power.

The diplomat of this country is backed by a power plenipotentiary. This means that all of the power of the government stands behind its ambassadors, God never asks us to go out in our own strength. He does say: "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might."

When the early Church faced their great task, they were commanded to tarry in Jerusalem until they received power from on high. Then, just before the Lord ascended to Heaven, He added: "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."

Let the missionaries who labor on the far-flung battle line never waver, let the workers at home never fear, God still lives and He still stands behind His sent ones.

I. ASSIGNED TO DEATH (Joshua 8:1 )

We base our theme upon the words: "I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land." God promised Joshua in Joshua 8:2 that he should do to Ai and her king, as he had done unto Jericho and her king.

1. Israel's first defeat revealed the enmity of Ai against God. The people of Ai, had it been possible, would have utterly annihilated the armies of Jehovah. Some one, perhaps, may say: "Was it any worse for the men of Ai to fight against Israel, than for Israel to fight against them?" It certainly was.

The Children of Israel were the children of God. God never would have destroyed Ai, if the people of Ai had repented and sought God's favor. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should repent.

2. God's judgments against Ai assert beyond question the utter corruption of Ai. The cup of her iniquity was running over. Wherever there is sin, there is condemnation. God's judgments against evil are made known throughout the whole Word of God. In the days of the early Church the Spirit of God wrote through Paul these words: "Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."

It is the loving Saviour, our Redeemer, who wrote against them who were contentious and obeyed not the truth, but obeyed unrighteousness. To them He sounded forth this annunciation: "Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil."

3. It is an awful thing to stand with "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin" over your head. These words of condemnation are still above every one who lives as lived Belshazzar the king; as lived the people of Ai.

II. FORTH TO THE BATTLE (Joshua 8:2-6 )

1. They all arose.

(1) They arose. The time had come for judgment to fall. God had long waited. Some one has said that the angel of God's wrath flies on one wing, while the angel of His mercy flies on two. We do know that the only time God seemed to be in a hurry was when He is described under the vision of a father, who, seeing his prodigal son afar off, ran to meet him.

The First Epistle of Peter says: "The longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah."

The time had come for Ai now that action must be taken. Therefore, they arose.

(2) They all arose. In the first battle, Israel had underestimated the power and forcefulness of the enemy. They had thought that a small group could easily overcome them. Now, they all arose, all the men of war, and went forth to the conflict.

2. They went forth by strategy. The plan of their battle has been used many times by great generals. Some one may say: "Why should God's army use strategy?" It is because they are warring against a subtle and destructive enemy. Satan's forces lie in wait continually against the children of men. Satan himself is going about seeking whom he may devour. Those of us who fight against the enemy, should not allow them to be wiser in their generation than are we.

You have read of how Satan lays his snares. You most likely have experienced how the Word of God delivered you.

Thus, also, will God come upon the wicked. It is when they shall say, "Peace and safety" that sudden destruction shall come upon them. There is no man, and no set of men, who can escape the wrath of God and His fiery judgments.


"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."

1. God's judgments are severe. We must remember, however, that God's judgments are just. As a man soweth, so also shall he reap. God does not judge men viciously. He judges justly.

When the Great White Throne is set up, and the wicked dead stand before God, everyone shall be judged according to his work. The one whose name is not in the Book of Life shall be cast into hell, but the judgment meted to him shall be according to that he hath done.

When God speaks of the second death, He speaks of it as sin's wages "The wages of sin is death." Thus men are reaping what they sow.

2. God's judgments are unescapable. The wicked cannot say, "I refuse to attend the Great White Throne judgment," for God has said: "I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God." "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man."

There is a verse in Romans which reads thus: "And thinkest thou this, O man, * * that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?" Then God says: "After thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God."

The people of Ai, like the people of the nations at Christ's Second Coming, set themselves against God and against His Anointed. They doubtless thought that they would cast away the cords of Israel which sought to hem them in, and they would break the bands with which they sought to bind them. However, God held them in derision. He vexed them in His sore displeasure, and the city of Ai fell under the judgment of God.


Our verse tells us that the people of Ai hasted and rose up early and went out against Israel to battle.

1. The sinner sets himself against God. The people of Ai not only went out against Israel, but they hastened to go. They seemed to say, in effect, "Who is he who can stand against us?" We are reminded of how king Pharaoh said: "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go."

This spirit of Pharaoh ultimately caused his undoing. Does not the wicked of today just as surely set himself against the Lord, and against His Anointed? Jesus Christ said to the Jews: "Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life."

In the Book of Isaiah we read: "We have turned every one to his own way." When Christ hung upon the Cross, they who surrounded the Cross wagged their heads against the Son of God. Of this the Lord said, through the Psalmist, "Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion."

Thus it is today, people are gaping upon Him with their mouths, and crying out against Him.

2. The sinner knows not what he does. Our verse says concerning the king of Ai that: "He wist not that there were liers in ambush against him behind the city."

Where is he today who concedes that his sin will find him out? Some are always pleading the love of God as though God were not just and righteous.

In the days of the Flood they knew not until the Flood came, so shall it be in the Coming of the Lord. Men today, the same as the men of Ai, are saying, "Peace" when there is no peace.

V. THE FINALITY OF THE SINNER'S SINS (Joshua 8:17 ; Joshua 8:20 )

1. In Joshua 8:17 there is the statement : "There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel." Think of it! Every man went out against the Lord and against Israel. The result, of course, was that there was not a man who escaped the judgment of God.

2. The same verse says: "They left the city open." This shows that they had no thought of being overtaken or overcome. They did not even leave anyone in the city to protect it, because they were sure, within themselves, of victory.

Let us in the light of this statement think of the men who are altogether exposed to the wrath of God. They care not to hide themselves in the Rock of Ages, they know nothing of the Man who is a Covert from the storm.

These same men who are careless of their security, and neglectful of the Divine Refuge, when they see the judgment falling will be crying out unto the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them and hide them from the face of the Lord.

3. In Joshua 8:20 we read: "The men of Ai looked behind them, * * behold, the smoke of the city ascended up to Heaven." Surely we cannot but remember how Abraham looked and saw Sodom and Gomorrah in smoke; neither can we fail to remember the Scripture which says of the wicked, "The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever."

4. In Joshua 8:20 we also read: "They had no power to flee this way or that." There is now no power in the sinner to flee the wrath of God, nor to escape the judgment of God.

"Which way shall I fly?

Infinite wrath, and infinite despair;

Which way I fly is hell,

For I, myself, am hell."

VI. THE ALTAR OF SACRIFICE (Joshua 8:30-31 )

1. The commemoration of a great victory. Joshua 8:30 says that Joshua built an altar unto the Lord. Joshua did not seek to take any glory of victory unto himself. He did not announce the victory over Ai as his victory. He knew that it was God who had wrought in their midst.

Shall we for one moment imagine that the victories of faith are the victories of the flesh? Shall we think that we, of ourselves, can do anything? If power belongeth unto God, then praise should be given unto God. If we have accomplished anything in the will of God, we have accomplished it by the power of God; and, therefore, we should give the glory to God.

2. An altar built of unhewn stone. Moses in Joshua 8:31 commanded that the altar should be built of whole stone, over which no man had lifted up any iron. It is not in a man to deliver himself, or to save himself. Any altar which signifies redemption's achievements must be an altar of unhewn stone.

Redemption is wholly of God. It is planned of God, wrought out by God, and the faith by which man receives the atonement, is a faith given by God.

3. The burnt and peace offerings upon the altar. These offerings were made upon the altar, and their meaning is clearly defined in the Word of God.

The burnt offering was to be a sacrifice of the herd, a male without blemish. It was to be a voluntary offering. Upon the offering, the offerer was to place his hands, and it should be accepted for him to make an atonement for him. In the killing of the bullock, in the sprinkling of the blood around the altar, and in the flaying of the burnt offering, and also in its cutting to pieces, we see the Divine sacrifice of the Son of God, who took our punishment.

VII. THE BOOK OF THE LAW (Joshua 8:34-35 )

What a fitting close are these verses, to the celebration of the victory upon the people of Ai! How different is the conclusion of this battle from that of the battle where the children of Ai were victorious.

1. Upon the stones of the altar Joshua wrote a copy of the Law of Moses. This seems to say that the record of Christ's death, and of our victories in Him, are all according to the Word of God.

2. Joshua read all of the Law of Moses. There was not a word that he did not read. In our day there is an effort to produce abbreviated Bibles, Bibles which eliminate the message of Calvary, and other things which the sinful heart wishes to repudiate. The true believer accepts the whole Bible as the Word of God. There is not a word, as God gave it to us, which is not to be accepted.

The true believer's faith may be thus expressed: "Believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets." The true Christian believes that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable."

3. Joshua read all the Law before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them. Here is something that grips our hearts. God wants us who are men to serve Him, but He wants also our women, and our children. Household religion is the call of God.

Joshua said himself: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." The promise to the jailer was, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house."

4. Both the blessings and the cursings of the Law were read. God wants us to enjoy the blessings; He wants us also to profit by the cursings. Even in this lesson we have discovered the cursing upon those (Ai) who disbelieve; and the blessings upon those (Israel) who were under the blood, and did believe.



Jesus Christ is the mightiest moral personality in the universe. He is "Rex." And what men need more than anything else this very day is a sense of God in and ruling the world.

They tell us that human nature has changed, and that men are no longer susceptible to the immanence of God in life, that they are no longer moved by the old influences. And there always comes with that view a sense of discouragement and pessimism. We are wondering what new force, then, can be brought to bear on men, what new revelation of Christ will have to be made to stir the world profoundly. Then suddenly, weary with much misgivings and wonderings, we discover that just under the surface of human life there is still the power to respond to Christ that was evidenced by these men who strewed the way before Him with their garments and palms, and filled the air with hosannas. John F. Cowan, D.D.

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Joshua 8". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/joshua-8.html.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile