Read Joshua 8
1 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. 2 You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.”
3 So Joshua and the whole army moved out to attack Ai. He chose thirty thousand of his best fighting men and sent them out at night 4 with these orders: “Listen carefully. You are to set an ambush behind the city. Don’t go very far from it. All of you be on the alert. 5 I and all those with me will advance on the city, and when the men come out against us, as they did before, we will flee from them. 6 They will pursue us until we have lured them away from the city, for they will say, ‘They are running away from us as they did before.’ So when we flee from them, 7 you are to rise up from ambush and take the city. The Lord your God will give it into your hand. 8 When you have taken the city, set it on fire. Do what the Lord has commanded. See to it; you have my orders.”
9 Then Joshua sent them off, and they went to the place of ambush and lay in wait between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai—but Joshua spent that night with the people.
10 Early the next morning Joshua mustered his army, and he and the leaders of Israel marched before them to Ai. 11 The entire force that was with him marched up and approached the city and arrived in front of it. They set up camp north of Ai, with the valley between them and the city. 12 Joshua had taken about five thousand men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13 So the soldiers took up their positions—with the main camp to the north of the city and the ambush to the west of it. That night Joshua went into the valley.
14 When the king of Ai saw this, he and all the men of the city hurried out early in the morning to meet Israel in battle at a certain place overlooking the Arabah. But he did not know that an ambush had been set against him behind the city.15 Joshua and all Israel let themselves be driven back before them, and they fled toward the wilderness. 16 All the men of Ai were called to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua and were lured away from the city. 17 Not a man remained in Ai or Bethel who did not go after Israel. They left the city open and went in pursuit of Israel.
18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Hold out toward Ai the javelin that is in your hand, for into your hand I will deliver the city.” So Joshua held out toward the city the javelin that was in his hand. 19 As soon as he did this, the men in the ambush rose quickly from their position and rushed forward. They entered the city and captured it and quickly set it on fire.
20 The men of Ai looked back and saw the smoke of the city rising up into the sky, but they had no chance to escape in any direction; the Israelites who had been fleeing toward the wilderness had turned back against their pursuers. 21 For when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that smoke was going up from it, they turned around and attacked the men of Ai. 22 Those in the ambush also came out of the city against them, so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives. 23 But they took the king of Ai alive and brought him to Joshua.
24 When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. 25 Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai. 26 For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed all who lived in Ai. 27 But Israel did carry off for themselves the livestock and plunder of this city, as the Lord had instructed Joshua.
28 So Joshua burned Ai and made it a permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day. 29 He impaled the body of the king of Ai on a pole and left it there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take the body from the pole and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate. And they raised a large pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day.
The Covenant Renewed at Mount Ebal
30 Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, 31 as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses—an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the Lord burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. 32 There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses. 33 All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the Lord, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel.
34 Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses—just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners who lived among them.
The first two verses of Joshua 8 are in stark contrast to the first verse of Joshua 7.
“Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged…for I have delivered into your hands the (victory)…carry off the plunder for yourselves.” (Joshua 8:1-2 summarized). Read that in contrast with Joshua 7:1, “The Israelites were unfaithful…so the Lord’s anger burned against them.”
Where sin abounds with Achan at Jericho (and subsequently all of Israel), grace abounds all the more with the defeat of Ai. What is this kind of grace? What is this kind of mercy? This kind of generosity and forgiveness is beyond our capacity to understand, yet it is still available to us today. His mercies are new every morning.
In our economy, we think our record of sin and selfishness compared to our record of obedience and faithfulness determines God’s willingness to bless or curse us. We think that our sin makes God reserved in what He gives us next time. As if God is a formula we could figure out or something we could manipulate. He reserves the sovereign right to will and act for His good pleasure. Like all the different strategies He implements for military victory throughout Joshua, we can’t presume to know God’s plan for every situation, including His generosity and grace toward sinners (us).
God’s response to Israel’s abuse of grace and their repentance is more grace. After Israel’s repentance, God increases His generosity to them, not decreases. In fact, He not only delivers them to victory, He gives them the spoils. If only Achan had waited on the Lord. If only Achan had believed God. His greed seems so foolish now.
We often need to know how to get back up and get back in the fight after failure. God isn’t depressed or despondent because of the Israelites failure nor is He despondent or depressed because of our failures. We aren’t powerful enough to mess up beyond God’s ability to forgive and redeem. He uses failure as a foundation for great victory. We can be encouraged, then. Where we have tried to find satisfaction and fulfillment outside of the will of God, let’s repent. And, when victory comes, let’s learn from the Israelites and allow the victory to remind us of God’s covenant promise of eternal life to us through Jesus.
- What do you learn about the character of God in this passage?
- What is your attitude toward your failures and God’s forgiveness? What does this passage teach you about God’s forgiveness and our failures?
- What do you learn from the Israelites’ response to their victory?
Did You Know?
Joshua is obeying the instruction Moses gave him Deuteronomy 27:
“When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster.”
Deuteronomy 27:2-4 NIV