Notes on Joshua 8:18-35

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

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 heard and obeyed the Lord’s command. This was a completely different strategy than what was used at the battle of Jericho. No sound at all: just a manual, visible signal, for the attack.
19 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.

These were the 35,000 Israelite soldiers who had stayed on the west side of the city before now. Just like Jericho, the city of Ai was burned completely. The difference here at Ai was that the Israelites had been permitted to keep what they captured in the battle.

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 to flee this way or that way: and the people that fled to the wilderness turned back upon the pursuers.

The men of Ai were hemmed in, with nowhere to go. The city was on fire, and there was no place to escape from the Israelite soldiers.

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.

These were the soldiers who had pretended to flee before the men of Ai. Now that they saw the city burning—the smoke was visible—the Israelites counter-attacked, or fought back, against the men of Ai.

22 And the other issued 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.

“The other” refers to the 35,000 who had stayed hidden until they ambushed the city. They apparently joined the main body of soldiers in completing the conquest of Ai. None of the people of Ai survived.

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

The king of Ai is not identified. He may have been well known to the people of Ai but now, nothing is known about him. The Israelites did not spare the king of Jericho; apparently, he died in the battle.

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.

The Israelites slew all the people of Ai, first in battle; then in the wilderness; finally, those who remained in the city itself.

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.

That there were 12,000 men of Ai should have given the spies a bit of uneasiness. Their estimate of 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers being all the men needed to conquer Ai seems overly optimistic, as the ratio of soldiers to citizens was 4 to 1 in Ai’s favor. Even if there were only 6000 soldiers, the men of Ai were still twice as many as those of Israel at the first battle.

For the second battle, recorded here, there were over 35,000 soldiers alone placed in hiding, for a 3 to 1 ratio in Israel’s favor; much more when the main body of troops are added in.

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

Compare this with the crossing of the Red Sea, where Moses held out his rod (staff) until the people crossed over on dry ground (Exodus 14:15-31).

The spear was a clear signal for the Israelites.

Clearly, Joshua himself didn’t destroy all the people of Ai but he was the commander and leader. He faithfully relayed God’s commands to the people of Israel.

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.

This was permitted as spoils of war.

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

Why Joshua built a heap (of what, we aren’t told) is not stated. Israel had built a heap of stones over Achan and his family after they had been executed for their sins.

Joshua, again, probably did not burn Ai by himself. He relayed God’s instructions to Israel.

29A And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide:

We do not know if the king of Ai was alive or dead at this time. He had been brought to Joshua but we have no record of the communication, if any, between Joshua and the king.

29B And as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcase down from the tree,

As commanded in the Law of Moses (Deut. 21:33). The king of Ai was clearly dead by this time.

29C 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 place of victory for Ai, at the first battle, where they had defeated the Israelites, would now be a monument to their defeat. The king may have had plans to be buried in a royal tomb but his body was buried under a large heap of stones.

The phrase “to this day” or “unto this day” refers to the time when the Book of Joshua was written. This second battle of Ai was fought probably 20-30 years before the Book of Joshua was completed.

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

This may have been the third altar constructed after the Israelites crossed over into Canaan or the Promised Land. The first two were the altar of land stones placed in Jordan and the altar of stones from the river bed built on land (see chapter 4). Note the irony: here, Mt. Ebal was the place where this new altar (memorial?) was built in order to show God’s blessings, especially here in the victory over Ai. At some time before this, Mt. Ebal was the mountain where half of the tribes had gathered to pronounce curses upon those who chose not to follow the Law! See Deut. 27:11-26.

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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

This is in observance of the commands in Deut. 27:1-8.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)

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