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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 8

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Commentary on The Book of Joshua - chapters 5-8.

In this section the circumcision of the men of Israel is accomplished, followed by the observance of the Passover. Then commences the initial parts of the invasion. First Jericho is taken, and then a contingent moves up the pass to capture Ai, only to be driven back because of their arrogance in taking only a limited number of soldiers for the purpose. As a result the sin of Achan is discovered in that he had kept for himself what had been dedicated to YHWH. Joshua having repented of his failure, and Achan having been dealt with for his blasphemy, Joshua takes the whole army back up the pass and Ai is captured, and the army of Bethel defeated. Joshua then arranges a covenant ceremony at Shechem.

Chapter 8. The Defeat of Ai and Bethel.

Joshua was now encouraged to go up and take Ai, and was directed as to what method he should use. Accordingly he set an ambush on the west side of it, and he and the rest of the army then advanced upwards towards its gates. When the king of Ai saw them, he sallied out against them, and the Israelites, pretending that they were beaten, withdrew, with the men of Ai pursuing them. On this occurring the ambush rose and entered the city and set fire to it. As soon as the smoke was observed by Joshua and Israel, they turned back on their pursuers, and with the ambush sallying out of the city in their rear, they destroyed them. Then they slew all the inhabitants, took the spoil, burnt the city, and hanged its king. After this Joshua built an altar at Ebal, where he wrote the law on stones, and read the blessings and the curses in it before all Israel.

Verse 1

Chapter 8. The Defeat of Ai and Bethel.

Joshua was now encouraged to go up and take Ai, and was directed as to what method he should use. Accordingly he set an ambush on the west side of it, and he and the rest of the army then advanced upwards towards its gates. When the king of Ai saw them, he sallied out against them, and the Israelites, pretending that they were beaten, withdrew, with the men of Ai pursuing them. On this occurring the ambush rose and entered the city and set fire to it. As soon as the smoke was observed by Joshua and Israel, they turned back on their pursuers, and with the ambush sallying out of the city in their rear, they destroyed them. Then they slew all the inhabitants, took the spoil, burnt the city, and hanged its king. After this Joshua built an altar at Ebal, where he wrote the law on stones, and read the blessings and the curses in it before all Israel.

Joshua 8:1

And YHWH said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed. Take all the people of war with you and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land.” ’

We have in this chapter the record of the capture of Ai and the defeat of the combined forces of Ai and Bethel (Joshua 8:17). At this stage the capture of Ai was seen as a most vital element in the campaign. It barred the way to the hill country. The importance given to it and the way it was seen suggests that the account was recorded not long after the event itself before things were viewed from a wider perspective. It was their second victory and opened up the hill country.

Being aware of YHWH speaking to him again must have been a great relief to Joshua. Things were now back to normal and they could go ahead aware that YHWH was with them. His anger was no longer directed at them. We may tend to assume that YHWH spoke to Joshua constantly but this was not the case. Such revelations were spared for special occasions.

“See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land.” God spoke in terms of Joshua’s understanding at this point. God knew that Bethel was the more important city. At this stage Joshua did not. Joshua did not need a history and geography lesson. He needed assurance in terms of what he knew.

Again we have echoes of Deuteronomy (just as we previously had echoes of Exodus). See Deuteronomy 1:21; Deuteronomy 31:8; Deuteronomy 2:14; Deuteronomy 2:16; Deuteronomy 2:24; Deuteronomy 3:2. Joshua was soaked in the language of the Scriptures.

Verse 2

Joshua 8:2 a

‘And you will do to Ai and her king what you did to Jericho and her king. Only its spoil and its cattle you shall take for a prey for yourselves.’

The assurance was that it would be total victory. And the added assurance was that they could now begin to accumulate wealth from the land. YHWH had received His portion at Jericho, a token of what they owed to Him as their overlord. Now they could retain spoils for themselves. Compare on this verse Deuteronomy 2:35; Deuteronomy 3:6 on.

Joshua 8:2-4

‘ “Set up an ambush for the city, behind it.” So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up to Ai, and Joshua chose out thirty eleph men, the mighty men of valour, and sent them out, and he commanded them, “Look, you shall lie in ambush against the city, behind the city. Do not go very far from the city, but be ready, all of you.” ’

YHWH directed tactics. YHWH told him that they were to hide soldiers behind the city, probably making their way there by night. These were to lie in hiding, not far from the ‘city’, until after the frontal assault of the ‘city’. Then we are told that Joshua commanded exactly what YHWH had commanded. The way of obedience had also been restored.

“Thirty eleph men.” Ten times more than three eleph sent before. Complacency had been replaced by common sense. This thirty military units was possibly about fifteen hundred men sent to lie in ambush.

These were to go up prior to the main advance (note that ‘arose --- to go up’ rather than ‘arose and went up’ signifies preparation preparatory to movement). This would take some time. It was an upward climb of over twenty four kilometres (fifteen miles).

Later he would set a further ambush of ‘about five eleph men’ to the west of the city (Joshua 8:12). This may have been in order to strengthen the previous force, or in order to give a further prong to the attack. It may have been in case something had prevented the first contingent from taking up its position (no signal may have been spotted). This time he was taking no chances. He was no longer overconfident in their own prowess. And possibly at that stage he had become aware of Bethel looming in the distance.

Some read the text as signifying that the thirty eleph were Israel’s total force of which five eleph were put in ambush, but this does readily appear from the text, nor does it tie in with the fact that they had forty eleph Transjordanian troops (Joshua 4:13). We may roughly measure this as indicating that Israel had about fifteen thousand troops, of which fifteen hundred were in the first ambush, and five hundred in the second. (It is to some extent guesswork as we do not really know what an eleph would represent at this time).

Verses 5-6

And I, and all the people who are with me, will approach the city, and it shall be that when they come out against us, as they did the first time, we will flee before them, and they will come out after us, until we have drawn them away from the city, for they will say, ‘They flee before us, as they did the first time.’ So will we flee before them.’

Joshua and the forces of Israel would then attack from the front, and when themselves attacked, pretend to flee. Again the repetition of ‘we will flee’ is distinctive of ancient literature. There is, however, the subtle point that the first fleeing is to draw them on, the second to draw them further on once they have begun the chase. The aim was to get them a good way from Ai.

Verse 7

And you will rise up from the ambush, and take possession of the city. For YHWH your God will deliver it into your hand.”

At a signal from Joshua, made by raising his spear (verse 19) on some high point, for which they would be on the lookout, they would then move in and take possession of Ai. And they need not fear for YHWH would be with them and make them successful. For ‘YHWH your God’ compare ‘YHWH the God of Israel’ (Joshua 7:13; Joshua 7:19) a favourite title of Joshua’s.

Verse 8

And it shall be, when you have seized the city, you will set the city on fire. You will do according to the word of YHWH. See I have commanded you.”

Once the city was taken it was to be set on fire. This would both act as a signal and would begin the fulfilment of YHWH’s instruction to ‘devote’ the city and its citizens, but not the cattle (Joshua 8:2).

Verse 9

Joshua therefore sent them out and they went to the ambush site and settled in between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai. But Joshua lodged that night among the people.’

So the battle plan was laid out and the first part carried out. The men in the ambush would hopefully arrive at the appointed place during the night and settle in. They would then wait a day and a night while everything else was getting in place. Some commentators, who have never fought a battle in their lives, grumble over Joshua taking too long about the attack, but this time he was taking no chances. They had plenty of time.

“Settled in between Bethel and Ai.” This may have been the first time that they were really aware of Bethel. It may have been a message sent back about it that prompted Joshua to send them five eleph more men.

“Joshua lodged that night among the people.” Joshua remained in the camp at Gilgal. He wanted to give the ambush plenty of time to get into place, and he wanted to settle his own somewhat discouraged troops for what lay ahead.

Verse 10

And Joshua rose up early in the morning, and mustered (numbered) the people, and he and the elders of Israel went up before the people to Ai.’

As usual he rose early. There was a hard climb and they wanted an early start. Then the troops were mustered and set in their units. Then Joshua and his captains led the way up to a point near Ai, followed by their troops. ‘People’ here clearly means men of war (Joshua 8:11).

Verse 11

And all the people, the people of war who were with him, went up, and drew near, and came before the city, and pitched on the north side of Ai. Now there was a valley between him and Ai.’

The army made the ascent and camped to the north of Ai with a valley between them and Ai. Notice the stress on the slow approach - ‘went up, drew near, came before, pitched on the north side’. They were feeling the effects of the climb. Some commentators would have him attack at once, but he wisely rested his men. But he did it within sight of the city so that they would realise what was happening and anticipate a frontal assault.

It was at this time that he was able to survey Bethel which made him set a further five eleph men in ambush. He wanted to protect all sides.

Verse 12

And he took about five thousand men, and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city.’

These were probably a further precaution rather than to increase the previous ambush. It may well have been in case of an attack from Bethel because he had recognised more clearly the threat posed by it. What he had probably not realised was that armed men from Bethel had already reinforced Ai (Joshua 8:17). (Troop deployments are often a mystery to readers when viewed without a recognition of all the factors).

Verse 13

And they set the people, all the host that was on the north of the city, and their liers in wait (literally ‘their heel’) who were on the west of the city. And Joshua moved that night into the midst of the valley.’

This probably refers to the officers putting the main army in order ready for battle, and the preparing of the group of five eleph. It is clear that we are to see the thirty eleph as remaining in secret and therefore not at this stage involved in operations. Then the main army moved down into the valley during the night. Their ‘heel’, the five eleph, were set by their officers for whatever was to be their part in the battle. ‘Heel’ may indicate a rearguard, or those who would provide reinforcements when needed.

Verse 14

And so it was that when the king of Ai saw it, they hastily stirred themselves and rose up early, and the men of the city went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people, at the time (or place’) appointed, before the Arabah. But he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city.’

The king of Ai responded as expected. Becoming aware of their movement into the valley during the night, he and his officers roused his troops and came out to battle. After his previous victory he was full of confidence. ‘At the place appointed’ may mean the place that Joshua had selected for battle, a place suitable for carrying out Joshua’s plans. Or it may mean the time that Joshua had expected and arranged for.

“Before the Arabah.” It is difficult to know what this means. The Arabah is the Jordan rift valley. Thus it may have been a point from which the rift valley could be seen, or from where the way down to it could easily be reached. In his confidence the king may have been seeking to ensure that he could prevent escape that way.

This was probably a preliminary sortie to test out the now much larger enemy forces. As we have suggested earlier, and as appears from what follows, he now also had troops from Bethel to call on, as yet hidden from the eyes of Joshua. But the king was not aware of Joshua’s trap and made no provision for it.

Verse 15

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

Joshua wanted them well away from their strongpoint and so he and the army pretended to be beaten, probably after a minor skirmish, and retreated into barren land, probably the rugged territory between Ai and the Jordan valley. The text reads ‘they were beaten before them.’ This was the appearance of what happened from the point of view of the men of Ai. This probably took the king of Ai by surprise. He had expected stronger resistance. But it made him recognise that the people he was attacking had no stomach for a fight. It was a repeat of what had happened before all over again.

Verses 16-17

And all the people who were in the city (or Ai) were summoned together to pursue after them, and they pursued after Joshua, and were drawn away from the city. And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel that did not go out after Israel, and they left the city open and pursued after Israel.’

Joshua was not the only tricky general. The first attack was by the men of Ai, but when the retreat began and the king of Ai realised the strength of the force against him, he summoned the reinforcements, which he had hidden away, composed of the men of Bethel who had been secretly drawn from Bethel, who laid in wait ready for when needed. Thus he now emptied Ai of all its armed men in his eagerness to pursue Israel and dissuade them from trying again, leaving the city wide open.

At this point it is necessary to consider the position again with regard to Ai and Bethel. All the stress was laid on Ai. Yet Ai was only an advance post of Bethel. Why would the emphasis then be on Ai? The answer would seem to be that neither the king of Bethel, nor Bethel itself, were captured. It was the king of Ai who was strung up. It was Ai that was destroyed. Thus in the manner of victors it was Ai that was stressed. They captured their city and executed their king, and incidentally destroyed the army of Bethel at the same time.

The people of Bethel were then no longer a threat and for the time being could be left holed up in their city unable to pose any problems to Israel. It was probably considered that at this stage there were more important things to do than besiege Bethel whose power was broken and who from now on could only act in a defensive capacity for the near future. Thus the stress was on what was visibly achieved and not on what was not achieved.

Verse 18

And YHWH said to Joshua, “Stretch out the spear in your hand towards Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand towards the city.’

This was clearly the signal for the ambush to attack. This would not be a signal to the ‘heel’ or reinforcements (Joshua 8:13) but to the original ambush. The spear may have had something on it to indicate that it was Joshua’s spear and he may have waved it preparatory to pointing it towards Ai. He had clearly taken up a place from which his signal could be seen. It had all been well worked out in advance. But Joshua awaited some indication from YHWH that the right time had come. Note that he then continued to hold out the spear until the battle was over (compare Exodus 17:11-12). This was the signal that the victory was YHWH’s. It would give confidence to his men.

Verse 19

And the ambush arose quickly from their place, and they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand, and entered into the city, and took it. And they speedily set the city on fire.’

The ambush had been there waiting hidden for over a day. They were no doubt relieved to see the signal and acted immediately. They charged the ‘city’, overwhelmed it, and then quickly set part of it on fire to alert Joshua that they had succeeded.

Verse 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 (literally ‘hands’) to flee this way or that way, and the people who fled into the wilderness turned back on the pursuers.’

The word for ‘hands’ is the same as in verse 18. Joshua stretched out his hand, the city was given into his hand, while Ai had no hands like Joshua had. They had no special power to call on.

Suddenly the battle changed. The men of Ai soon became aware that their city had been sacked, for the smoke of the city ascended up to heaven (compare Judges 20:40), and they looked back and saw it. The city was as one great burnt offering to YHWH. They had no help to look to, nowhere to hide, no city to fall back to, and when the ‘terrified’ people they were chasing suddenly turned round and did not appear terrified at all, it had suddenly all become a nightmare.

Verse 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.’

Once again we have the typical repetition of this kind of literature, ensuring that the hearer gathered the important points and kept up with events. Once the smoke arose Joshua and all Israel turned round and began the slaughter of Ai.

Verse 22

And the other came 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.’

Now the men of Ai and Bethel were trapped, caught in between the two parties, and possibly the five eleph to the side. They had nowhere to go and were smitten down to the last man as God had commanded should be done to the Canaanites.

Verse 23

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

The general who had initially been so successful and who had finally led to defeat not only his own men, but the men of Bethel as well, was captured alive and brought to Joshua for him to decide how to deal with him.

Verse 24

And so it was that when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai out in the countryside, in the wilderness in which they pursued them, and they were all fallen by the edge of the sword until they were consumed, that all Israel returned to Ai and smote it with the edge of the sword.’

Once God’s judgment had been carried out on the army of Ai and Bethel, who were caught in the open country, Israel turned their attention to those who remained in Ai, the older people and the women. They too were smitten with the edge of the sword until not one was left. All were ‘devoted’ to YHWH.

Verse 25

And all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve eleph, even all the men of Ai.’

This figure probably included the men from Bethel. The habit of mentioning the allies only once and then assuming their presence occurs elsewhere. Compare Judges 3:13 in a passage which might give the impression that only Moabites were involved, while the Ammonites and Amalekites were involved too; and Judges 6-8 where it is the Midianites who are prominent in most of the passages even though they have allies in the Amalekites and the children of the East. Consider also Judges 12:0 where Ammon clearly included Moab (the king of Ammon uses Moabite claims as his basis for his demands) even though they were not mentioned.

But, as we have suggested earlier, it may well be in this case that the men of Ai and the men of Bethel were in fact one, with the original men of Ai being a vanguard for all Bethel. All had in Israel’s sight issued forth from Ai. Thus the men of Bethel were men of Ai.

Verse 26

‘For Joshua did not draw back his hand back with which he stretched out his spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.’

It would appear that having stretched out his spear as a signal he then continued to hold it out as a gesture of victory, until the victory was complete (compare the rod of Moses in Exodus 7:29; Exodus 8:16 and the hands of Moses in Exodus 17:12). In a sense it was the spear of YHWH. It was the sign that YHWH fought for them.

Verse 27

Only the cattle, and the spoil of the city, Israel took for a prey for themselves, in accordance with the word of YHWH which he commanded Joshua.’

In this case the spoils were to the victors. YHWH had received the firstfruits at Jericho. These belonged to His people. Note the emphasis on their doing what YHWH commanded. They had learned their lesson.

Verse 28

‘And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it a heap (a mound - ‘tel’) for ever, even a desolation to this day.’

This must have been written before the later restoration of Ai which, if the usual site is accepted, was in the time of the Judges. But it was not even then restored as a walled city. The much later city was probably built elsewhere (Isaiah 10:28; Ezra 2:28). So the great battle of Ai was over with victory going to YHWH. There is no further mention of Bethel. That city was probably not taken which is why it was not mentioned. But it would be militarily weak for a long time to come. Its king was slain by Israel later on (Joshua 12:16).

Verse 29

And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until the evening, and at the going down of the sun Joshua gave a command, and they took his carcase down from the tree and tossed it down at the entering of the gate of the city, and raised on it a great heap of stones to this day.’

The king of Ai was hanged on a tree. He may well have been killed first, compare Joshua 10:26; Deuteronomy 21:22; 2 Samuel 4:12. This was the token of a criminal and one who was accursed (Deuteronomy 21:22). It demonstrated why Ai had been ‘devoted’, because it was a sinful city full of all the abominations of the Canaanites. But the body could not remain there after nightfall lest it bring defilement on the land (Deuteronomy 21:23) and so at the going down of the sun it was taken down and given an ignominious burial. The pile of stones heaped on it were a permanent witness to YHWH’s victory and to the end of sinners. Everyone who passed by that heap of ruins would see the pile of stones and would remember what YHWH had done for Israel and what He had done to the king of Ai.

Verse 30

Then Joshua built an altar to YHWH, the God of Israel in Mount Ebal.’

The next act of Joshua was to fulfil the command of Moses as expressed in Deuteronomy 11:29; Deuteronomy 27:2-3 where God commanded the building of an altar of unhewn stones on Mount Ebal, and the setting up of stones on which the Law of YHWH should be plainly written.

Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim were two mountains overlooking the plain in which lay Shechem, Mount Ebal to the north and Mount Gerizim to the south. There were no major cities on the regular highway between Bethel and Shechem (see Judges 21:19), although Shiloh lay along the route. There was nothing therefore to prevent the Israelites from making for Shechem along the main highway, a journey of about forty eight kilometres (thirty miles). But the striking fact is that there is no record anywhere in Joshua about the invasion and capture of Shechem, nor of any activity against their king. Yet they were passing through Shechemite territory. Shechem was revealed in the Amarna letters as a powerful confederacy. They were not likely to stand by while Israel held a covenant ceremony on their two mountains.

A further striking fact is that in this passage in Joshua reference is made, in respect of the covenant ceremony to take place there, to ‘as well the stranger as the homeborn’ (Joshua 8:33) and to ‘the strangers who walked among them’ (Joshua 8:35). Yet in the narrative prior to this, from the moment of leaving Egypt, there has been no reference to such people. All the people who left Egypt had come to be seen as one people. They had all been united within the covenant at Sinai. None were seen as ‘strangers’. Their children were seen as ‘true born’ Israelites. Strangers were people who would be welcomed to sojourn among them when they were in the land, and who would be regulated by the Law.

Thus it would seem that there were present at this covenant ceremony those who had not been in Egypt and who had not been at Sinai.

This brings us to the question of Shechem. Who dwelt there, and what was their religion? Shechem was an ancient city situated in the hill country of Ephraim. It was mentioned in the 19th century BC Egyptian execration texts, and excavations show it to have been strongly fortified, covering fourteen acres.

Some time after this Jacob purchased land near Shechem, and, when his daughter was violated, ‘Simeon and Levi’, with armed men from their household, tricked the Shechemites and destroyed the Canaanite inhabitants of the city (Genesis 34:0). It is probable that some from their households would then be allowed, or even required, to settle there, partly as a reward for assisting in the attack, and partly in order to look after Jacob’s land rights (Genesis 33:19; Genesis 37:12 compare Joshua 24:32). By marrying the bereaved women they would obtain their land rights as well. We may assume that they introduced the worship of YHWH. They may well have been seen elsewhere as ‘Habiru’. This was probably when the idea of Baal-berith, ‘the lord of the covenant’, (Judges 9:4) originated as genuine worship of YHWH, or there may have been a gradual compromise and amalgamating of ideas. Thus Shechem was no longer directly Canaanite.

It was very prosperous in the Hyksos period (1700-1550 BC) during which a massive fortress-temple was built. This may well have been ‘the house of Baal-berith’ mentioned in Judges 9:0.

In the Amarna letters, which were correspondence between the Pharaohs and their vassals in Canaan in the 15th century BC, its king Labayu was said by an enemy (Abdi Heba) to have given Shechem to the Habiru. He refers to ‘-- the sons of Lab'ayu, who have given Shechem to the Habiru.’ Labayu and his sons were spasmodically vassals of and rebel leaders against Egypt with influence as far as Gezer and Taanach and who even threatened Megiddo, who wanted a hundred troops to assist in defending against them (‘Let the king give a hundred garrison men to protect the city. Truly Lab'ayu has no other intention. To take Megiddo is that which he seeks!’). Thus it would seem that Shechem contained a large non-Canaaanite section of population at this time. Later there is evidence of specific Israelite occupation, from 11th century BC.

So Habiru (‘Apiru), stateless non-Canaanite peoples, appear to have been settled there in the time of Labayu (see above), uniting with the descendants of the men of Jacob’s household. Thus it would appear that when Joshua arrived and was welcomed and found non-Canaanites willing to submit to the covenant, who worshipped ‘the Lord of the covenant’, and were willing to recognise Him as YHWH, and had Israelite antecedents, he was probably satisfied to incorporate them into the covenant rather than treating them as Canaanites (consider Joshua 24:23). But it is clear from Judges 9:0 that their worship was to some extent syncretistic and not the pure Yahwism of Moses (thus there it is equated with Baalism - Judges 8:33). But Joshua may not have realised that.

This would explain the ease of the journey to Shechem through country controlled by the Shechemites, and the fact that they could carry out the covenant ceremony unmolested. It would also explain why no mention is made of the conquest of Shechem and why there were ‘strangers’ at the covenant ceremony. We should further note that Shechem was recorded in the genealogies of Israel as a ‘son of Manasseh’ (Numbers 26:31), recognising their relationship with Israel.

So we may consider that Joshua and Israel arrived at Shechem, welcomed by the inhabitants, and built the altar of unhewn stones on Mount Ebal, as Moses had commanded.

The Samaritan Pentateuch states that this was on Mount Gerizim, but Ebal is the more difficult reading and the Samaritans worshipped on Mount Gerizim and would be prone to favour it (and we know from elsewhere that they were ready to change the text to suit).

Ebal is the mountain of the curses (Deuteronomy 27:9-13) and it is they which were prominent (Deuteronomy 27:15-26). The erecting of the altar and the plastered stones on this mountain would bring home to Israel with especial force that there were curses resulting from breaking the covenant. They were being reminded of the consequences of disobedience even while they worshipped and ate. But on the mount of cursing there was also blessing. It has been suggested that the remains of a small stone building on Mount Ebal dating from 1240-1140 BC, which contained pottery and the bones of cattle, sheep and goats, may indicate cultic connections.

Verse 31

Joshua 8:31 a

‘As Moses the servant of YHWH had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of hewn stones on which no man had lifted up any iron.’

Joshua was carefully carrying out the instructions that he had received from Moses. The altar of unhewn stones was as instructed in Exodus 20:25. The forbidding here of iron probably represents iron as a foreign and ‘new’ metal, not native to Israel. But in fact all tools were forbidden.

Joshua 8:31 b

‘And they offered on it burnt offerings to YHWH, and sacrificed peace offerings.’

Having built the altar, worship was now offered, both in the form of dedicatory, atoning whole burnt offerings (Leviticus 1:0), and in atoning sacrifices in a form in which the people could participate by eating of the peace offerings (Leviticus 3:0; Leviticus 7:11-18). This was both in thanksgiving for victory and in preparation for renewal of the covenant, and acceptance into it of the people of Shechem (Deuteronomy 27:6-7).

Verse 32

And he wrote there on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.’

These need not have been the same as the altar stones. The Hebrew definite article is not specific. It can simply mean ‘on the stones I am now talking about’. The stones would be plastered white (an Egyptian method) and then written on in a kind of primitive ink. The copy of the Law of Moses probably refers to the covenant containing the ten commandments of Exodus 20:1-17. It may, however have included parts of Deuteronomy.

Verse 33

Joshua 8:33 a.

‘And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side of the Ark, and on that side, before the priests and the Levites, who bore the Ark of the covenant of YHWH, as well the stranger as the homeborn, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal.’

Once the sacrifices had been offered and the sacrificial meal had been partaken of, and the law recorded as a permanent reminder, the solemn covenant renewal began. The Ark of the covenant of YHWH was situated in the valley between the mountains, surrounded by the priests and the Levites who bore the Ark, And the whole nation of Israel, together with those who were strangers but welcomed among them (indicating that there were certainly some present who had not been at Sinai), stood on both sides, some in front of one mountain and some in front of the other.

Joshua 8:33 b

‘As Moses the servant of YHWH had commanded, that they should bless the people of Israel first of all.’

All this was done in response to the commands of Moses. The old dead leader was being remembered and his instructions followed. Then would follow first the blessings. Note Moses’ command that the blessing should come first.

Verses 34-35

And afterwards he read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the assembly of the children of Israel, and the women and the little ones and the strangers who walked among them.’

Then was made the solemn reading of the Law. This was probably the basic book of Deuteronomy, but may have included more. Included were both blessing and cursings, for this was all in covenant form, a reciting of what YHWH had done for them, a declaration of His requirements and then the blessings for obedience and cursings for disobedience (Deuteronomy 27:15-26; Deuteronomy 28:0 all).

This full reading of the Law was something that was required of Israel every seven years (Deuteronomy 31:10-13), although parts would no doubt be read out at all covenant festivals. Compare Exodus 24:7.

Thus having become first established in the land they solemnly renewed the covenant and incorporated within it all who had been willing to align themselves with them in the worship of YHWH. Then they returned to their camp at Gilgal (Joshua 9:6). All this would have taken a number of days.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 8". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/joshua-8.html. 2013.
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