Notes on Joshua 8:1-17

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Jos 8:1, KJV 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:


Joshua might well have been dismayed, after the events of chapter 7: the loss of 36 soldiers, who had no reason to die except for the sins of Achan; plus, the death of Achan and his entire estate. Seldom had anyone been executed during the wilderness journey except for outright rebellion or other serious crimes. The episode of Achan and his family is the only recorded sentence of death in all of the Book of Joshua.

Yet, notice how God speaks peace to Joshua, even during this time. He told Joshua to “fear not” and “be not dismayed”—feelings or emotions which Joshua must have felt deeply. Then God gives a strategy to conquer Ai followed by a promise. In the original language, some events in the future were, in God’s eyes, already seen as an accomplished fact. Prophecy became history. Obedience to God’s commands was the only requirement.

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.

Note the similarities and differences between this second battle of Ai and the battle of Jericho. In both cases, the entire army was to be in the battle. The city of Jericho was to be totally destroyed except for the articles of gold, silver, etc., which were supposed to go into the treasury of the Lord. All the people of Jericho were to be put to death except Rahab and those who believed her word and stayed in her house. The Israelites were to keep nothing for themselves. Here at Ai, they were again commanded to destroy the city and put the inhabitants to death but they could keep the spoil for themselves.

The strategy for conquest was different, as well, At Jericho, the Israelites did nothing but march around the city and shout when the trumpets sounded. Here at Ai, the plan was to use an ambush. Additional details would follow.

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.

The 30,000 alone, chosen by Joshua, were ten times more than the 3,000 sent to the first battle of Ai!

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:

No signals, trumpets, nor marching around the city. Joshua is devising a new strategy to defeat Ai.

5 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,

The people of Ai were probably confident that because they had defeated the Israelites (and others?) before, they could do it again. Joshua plans to use this confidence of theirs against them.

6 (For they will come out after us) till we have drawn them from the city; for they will say, They flee before us, as at the first: therefore we will flee before them.

Joshua provides another detail, namely that he was sure the soldiers of Ai would attack and pursue the Israelites, just like the events of the first battle of Ai (chapter 7).

7 Then ye shall rise up from the ambush, and seize upon the city: for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand.

These words were for the 30,000 soldiers sent ahead to Ai during the night. They would “seize upon the city” after the soldiers of Ai had departed. Joshua was absolutely confident of victory.

8 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.

The 30,000 were to take the city first, then set it on fire. Thus the fate of Ai would be the same as Jericho, namely to be completely destroyed.

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. 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.

Notice that Joshua and the elders led the way before the rest of the army in this second battle of Ai. Compare this action with the priests leading the way, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, into the midst of the Jordan River, waiting for the people to cross over; and the battle of Jericho where the Ark was carried basically in the middle of the army while they marched around the city. Nothing is mentioned here about carrying the Ark or even involving the priests in this account.

[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.

Ai was now facing the Israelite army on two sides. The first group of soldiers, marching by night, had achieved their position on the west side (see verse 9). The main group of the army was heading towards the north side of Ai. There were no details provided about the valley at this point.

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.

These 5,000 soldiers were in addition to the 30,000 already in place on Ai’s west side.

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.

Several hours were apparently required for the army to arrive at Ai from their camp or headquarters (Gilgal, perhaps) so that the soldiers could take their locations. They were now ready for the battle.

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.

Although there are no details about the valley in the text, either the king of Ai or the watchmen must have been able to see Joshua and at least some of the Israelite soldiers. The bulk of the Israelite army had camped on the north side and was probably more visible than the 35,000 on the west side of Ai. The king had no idea that there were other soldiers, ready to ambush his city.

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

Just as this had happened at the first battle of Ai (see chapter 7), where the Israelites were defeated.

16 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. 17 And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, that went not out after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel.

This was not wise on their part, but they probably thought complete victory was theirs. Note how the men of Bethel are linked with the men of Ai in verse 17.

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