Joshua 8:1. And the Lord said unto Joshua — Who, it is probable, now consulted God about the progress of the war, which he had omitted to do before, thinking himself, it seems, sufficiently authorised to proceed according to his own judgment, by what God had often said to him, and his success against Jericho. Take all the people of war with thee — This order may seem strange, since the people themselves thought that two or three thousand men would be sufficient, if God were with and not against them. But God would have them all to share in the spoil of Ai, the first spoil of the country, that they might be encouraged to go on with the work, and that they, who had obeyed him in abstaining from taking any thing in Jericho, might now be rewarded by the prey of the city.
Joshua 8:2. Thou shalt do to Ai — as thou didst unto Jericho — That is, overcome and destroy the city and people. This was enjoined to chastise their last insolence, and the triumphs and blasphemies which doubtless their success had produced: and to revive the dread and terror which had been impressed upon the Canaanites by Jericho’s ruin, and had been much abated by the late success of Ai. The spoil thereof — shall ye take for a prey — Neither the silver nor gold, nor any thing else, was separated to the use of the tabernacle, nor ordered to be destroyed, but the people were to enjoy it entirely themselves.
Lay thee an ambush for the city behind it — Ai was not to be taken by miracle, as Jericho had been; now they must exercise their own wisdom. Having seen God work for them, whereby they might learn to depend on him, and give him the glory of all their success, they must now exert themselves, and be inured to self-denial and diligence, and to labour, toil, and hardship. And they must learn to outwit as well as to overpower their enemies. God himself commands them to take the town by stratagem; and therefore we may be sure that to do the like is lawful in other wars. But it must be well observed that no treaty was here violated, no oath or promise broken, no untruth told: to do any thing of this kind cannot be allowable or excusable in any war or case whatsoever. Nay, nothing was here concealed by the Israelites but their own counsels, which surely their enemies had no right to be intrusted with; nothing was dissembled and nothing counterfeited but a retreat, which was no necessary indication at all of their inability to maintain their attack, or of a design not to renew it. Common prudence, had they been governed by it, would have directed the men of Ai to have been upon their guard, and either to have kept within their own walls, or at least not to have ventured forward rashly in pursuit of an army which they saw to be very superior to them in number.
Joshua 8:10. Joshua — numbered the people — Not all the people, which was needless, and would now have required more time than could have been spared, but that part of the army which he designed to take with him. And this, it seems, he did, that it might be evident the conquest of Ai was effected without any loss of men, and that they might be encouraged hereby to trust in God, and proceed resolutely and boldly in the work of subduing the Canaanites. The elders of Israel — Their chief magistrates and rulers under Joshua. These, it is probable, went with Joshua and the army to take care that the cattle and the spoil of the city, which were given by God to all Israel for a prey, might be justly and equally divided between those that went to battle, and the rest of the people.
Joshua 8:12. He took about five thousand men and set them to lie in ambush — Here commentators are divided. The learned Bishop Patrick, with many others, (see Le Clerc and Calmet,) has given it as his opinion, that, besides the thirty thousand whom Joshua had sent off before to lie in ambush, (Joshua 8:3-4,) he now detached five thousand more to guard the roads, and intercept such as might endeavour to save themselves by flight; or to strengthen those that were first sent and that he appeared in arms against the city; with his whole force, according to God’s express command, (Joshua 8:1,) to take all the people of war with him. And certainly the letter of the text favours this interpretation. Many, however, think, that all the people were taken only to encamp near the city, and that out of them Joshua chose thirty thousand to be employed in the action, out of which he detached five thousand to lie in ambush, which were as many, they think, as could be supposed to march without being discovered, and then, that with the remaining twenty-five thousand he made the open attack. Or else that the attack was made with the thirty thousand, and that the five thousand formed a separate detachment drawn from the rest of the people. The matter is not perfectly clear, or free from difficulty, either way; and the reader is left to form his own judgment of it from the statement now given.
Joshua 8:14. He and all his people — That is, the king of Ai and his men of war, for the rest were left in the city, Joshua 8:16. At a time appointed — At a certain hour agreed on between the king and people of Ai, and Bethel too, who were confederate with them in this enterprise. Possibly they might appoint the same hour of the day on which they had fought against Israel with success, looking upon it as a lucky hour. Before the plain — That is, toward, or in sight of that plain or valley in which the Israelites were, that so they might put themselves in battle array. He knew not there were liers in ambush — The former success having made him secure, as is usual in such cases, God also blinding his mind, and infatuating him, as he is wont to do with those who have filled up the measure of their iniquities, and whom, therefore, he purposes to destroy.
Joshua 8:15-17. All Israel made as if they were beaten — That is, they fled from them, as it were for fear of a second blow. The wilderness — Which lay between Ai and Jericho, whither they now seemed to flee. All the people that were in Ai — Namely, all that were able to bear arms, for old men and children were unfit for the pursuit or fight; and that they were yet left, appears from Joshua 8:24-25. Not a man — Namely, fit for war. Bethel — Which, being a neighbouring city, and encouraged by the former success, had sent some forces to assist them; and now, upon notice sent to them of the flight of their common enemies, or upon some other signal given, all their men of war joined with those of Ai in the pursuit.
Joshua 8:18. Stretch out thy spear — Probably a long spear, with a flag or streamer at the top of it, for a signal to the liers in wait, as well as for a sign to his host present to stop their flight, and make head against the pursuers, and as a token of God’s presence and assistance with them, and of their victory. The Hebrew word כידון, kidon, however, here rendered spear, also signifies a shield, and is so interpreted in the Vulgate. This, if made of polished brass or steel, might be seen from a great distance, by reason of its brightness.
Joshua 8:19-23. They entered and set the city on fire — That is, some part of it, sufficient to raise a smoke, and give notice to their brethren of their success. But certainly not all of it, because in that case they would have lost the prey which God had allowed them. Indeed, it is evident from verse
28, that the main part of the city was not burned till after the battle, and they had taken out all the cattle and other spoils that were therein. The people that fled turned back — That is, the Israelites, who had counterfeited a flight, turned upon the men of Ai, who pursued them. The other issued out of the city — Namely, those who lay in ambush, and were now in possession of the city. The king they took alive — Reserved him to a more ignominious death.
Joshua 8:24-25. The Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it — That is, the inhabitants of it, the men who, through age and infirmity, were unfit for war, and the women, Joshua 8:25. Twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai — Not strictly, but largely so called; all who were now in Ai, either as constant and settled inhabitants, or as sojourners, and such as came to them for their help.
Joshua 8:26. Joshua drew not his hand back — That is, he continued the battle, and ceased not to fight, spear in hand, till he had utterly routed them. Or, as some think, it means that he kept his hand and spear in the same posture, both stretched out, and lifted up, as a sign to encourage and direct his army to go on with their work till the enemy were destroyed.
Joshua 8:29. The king of Ai he hanged on a tree — He dealt more severely with the kings of Canaan than with the people, because the abominable wickedness of that people was not restrained and punished, (as it ought to have been,) but countenanced and encouraged by their evil examples; and because they were the principal authors of the destruction of their own people, by engaging them in an obstinate opposition against the Israelites. Down from the tree — According to God’s command in that case, Deuteronomy 21:22. The gate of the city — Which place he chose either as most commodious, now especially, when all the city within the gate was already turned into a heap of stones and rubbish; or because this was the usual place of judgment, and therefore proper to bear the monument of God’s just sentence against him, not without reflection upon that injustice which he had been guilty of in that place.
Joshua 8:30. Then Joshua built an altar — Namely, after the taking of Ai. For they were obliged to do this when they were brought over Jordan into the land of Canaan, Deuteronomy 11:29; Deuteronomy 27:2-3. But this is not to be understood strictly, as if it were to be done the same day; for it is manifest they were first to be circumcised, and to eat the passover, which they did, and which was the work of some days; but as soon as they had opportunity to do it, which was now when these two great frontier cities were taken and destroyed, and thereby the coast cleared, and the bordering people were under great consternation, so that all the Israelites might securely march thither. Built an altar — Namely, for the offering of sacrifices, as appears from the following verse. Mount Ebal — God’s altar was to be put in one place, (Deuteronomy 12:13-14,) and this place was appointed to be mount Ebal, Deuteronomy 27:4-5; which also seems to have been most proper, that in that place whence the curses of the law were denounced against sinners, there might also be the tokens and means of grace, and of peace and reconciliation with God, for the removing of the curses, and the procuring of God’s blessing to sinners.
Joshua 8:32. Upon the stones — Not upon the stones of the altar, which, were to be rough and unpolished, (Joshua 8:13,) but upon other stones, smooth and plastered, as is manifest from Deuteronomy 27:2. A copy of the law of Moses — Not certainly the whole five books of Moses, for what stones or time would have sufficed for this? but the most weighty parts of the law, and especially the law of the ten commandments.
Joshua 8:33. All Israel stood, &c. — That is, the whole congregation, old and young, male and female. On this side the ark and on that side — Some on one side of it, and some on the other. Mount Gerizim and mount Ebal — These two places were in the tribe of Ephraim, not far from Shechem, as appears from Scripture and from other authors. That they should bless — Or curse, which is easily understood out of the following verse.
Joshua 8:34-35. Afterward — After the altar was built, and the stones plastered and written upon; he read — That is, he commanded the priests or Levites to read, Deuteronomy 27:14. Blessings and cursings —
Which words come in, not by way of explication, as if the words of the law were nothing else besides the blessings and curses; but by way of addition, to denote that these were read, over and above the words of the law. There was not a word which Joshua read not — Therefore, he read not the blessings and curses only, as some think, but the whole law, as the manner was when all Israel, men and women, were assembled together. The strangers that were among them — Who were proselytes, for no others can be supposed to have been with them at this time. Thus, after Joshua had gained these victories, and had had such manifest proofs that God was with the Israelites, and was fighting for them, he laboured the more earnestly to set before them the whole of their duty, and to engage them to walk therein, that they might in that way testify their thankfulness to God at the same time when he was fulfilling his promises to them. Reader, learn from his example thy duty to those whom God hath committed to thy care and government, and endeavour that thy own faith and confidence in the divine goodness, as well as theirs, may thus work by love!
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 8". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent