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Jensen: Achan’s sin shattered the momentum which Israel had attained in its miraculous marches across a river and around a city.  Israel’s courage was gone, its hope all but faded.  But God, having now turned from the fierceness of His wrath, set about to accomplish another work of grace and thereby restore the people’s courage.

David Howard: Thus, the sequence of events would be as follows. Joshua commissioned a group of men to lie in ambush west of Ai, as the Lord had instructed (vv. 3b– 4, 12–13). He sent them out (v. 9a), then he went with the main fighting force to be stationed north of the city (vv. 3a, 11) and spent the night with this group (vv. 9b, 13b).  He and the people went up to Ai the next morning (v. 10), which was seen by the king of Ai (v. 14), who mustered his people to meet Israel in battle. The Israelites put their ruse into effect, pretending to flee, drawing out of the city its entire population (vv. 15–17).

At the same time, the ambush force was arising (v. 19), and when Joshua stretched out his javelin toward Ai, they entered the city and set it ablaze (vv. 18–19). When the Aiites saw this, they realized that they were surrounded before and behind, and they succumbed to a slaughter that left none alive except their king (vv. 20–26). The Israelites took the cattle and booty as spoil (v. 27)—which had been authorized this time by God (v. 2)—and burned the city, exposing the body of its king in an act of humiliation before burying it under a great pile of stones (vv. 28–29).

Robert Hubbard: Some readers may view this as unfair (the punishment does not fit the crime) and mystifying. The problem is that in Joshua 7 our modern, individualistic worldview bumps into the more corporate worldview of the Bible. The former says that individuals benefit from or suffer for what they themselves do (or do not do). Usually, they are exempt from the benefits or deficits of what others do (or do not do). For it to be otherwise, individualism says, would be unjust. (American culture particularly prizes a strong variety of this worldview called “rugged individualism.”) In the Bible’s world, however, whole groups benefit or suffer because of the actions of an individual, and no one reckons this unjust.

Kenneth Gangel:  Outline

  1. The Careful Plan (8:1-9)
  2. The Clever Diversion (8:10-19)
  3. The Complete Victory (8:20-29)
  4. The Covenantal Worship (8:30-35)


A.  (:1-2) Lord’s Instructions to Joshua

  1. Courage to step out in faith remains the starting point

Now the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed.’”

Courage and faith especially needed when you are attempting to recover from backslidden condition of defeat and discipline.

Doug Goins: In my own life, I’ve had two reactions when I experience sinful failure: I’m discouraged about the past, and I’m apprehensive about the future. I look back and remember the sinful mistakes I made. I look ahead and wonder whether there’s any future for someone like me who has failed so foolishly.  The answer to our discouragement and our fear is in hearing and believing the word God spoke to Joshua: “Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Richard Hess: The LORD’s exhortation to Joshua begins with the command, Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. The first part, Do not be afraid, occurs thirty-nine times in the MT. Sometimes, God reassures in the midst of a terrifying situation, for example by a divine visitation (Gen. 15:1; 26:24) or as part of a charge to venture forth into an unknown land (46:3). He also forbids fear when he commands battle (Num. 21:34; Deut. 3:2). Examples of this are found later in the book (Josh. 10:8; 11:6). Normally, these occasions include a reference to the enemy and a promise of divine presence and support.  But the addition of do not be discouraged in 8:1 has only three parallels in the Hebrew Bible: Deuteronomy 1:21; 1 Chronicles 22:13; 28:20. The texts in 1 Chronicles form part of David’s charge to Solomon to build the temple of the LORD. Deuteronomy 1:21 remembers God’s exhortation to take the Promised Land and is addressed to Israel. This resembles Joshua 8:1 which forms one step in the fulfilment of that charge. All these passages share the common concern of accomplishing a great task commanded by God, the task being the fulfilment of a divinely ordained covenant, either in the promise of the land to Abram (Gen. 17) or in the promise of a dynasty for David (2 Sam. 7). Although the promise of the land is prominent in Joshua 8, another covenantal concern prompts the use of this phrase. The guilt of Achan’s sin and of the devoted things has been removed. Once again Israel can progress in its occupation of the land.

  1. Corporate Participation still key – Victory required all to join arms

Take all the people of war with you and arise

  1. City to Conquer is the very place you experienced defeat previously

go up to Ai

Warren Wiersbe: Henry Ford defined a mistake as an opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.

  1. Conquest is a gift from God and includes 4 key components

a.  The King

see, I have given into your hand the king of Ai

b.  “his people

c.  “his city

d.  “and his land

  1. (:2a) Change of Rules: Spoil is Allowed this time

And you shall do to Ai and its king just as you did to Jericho and its

king; you shall take only its spoil and its cattle as plunder for yourselves.”

Charles Ryrie: This time the Israelites could keep the spoil.  Achan should have been more patient!

Doug Goins: Why does God propose a whole new strategy for Joshua? There is an important implication here for us as well. Because he is a God of infinite variety, I think he changes his strategies on purpose so that we don’t relax into depending on habit patterns, on history, on our own personal experience.  He wants us to always be looking at him, depending on him, relying on his promises.

Richard Hess: The king of Ai (6:2) was to be delivered to God, as was the town itself, but nothing else is mentioned as devoted things. Plunder and livestock of the defeated town (fort?) will belong to the Israelites. Although this was the custom for most battles, its specification signifies a break with the practice regarding the plunder of Jericho. There everything became devoted. This divine instruction signifies a flexibility on the meaning of the ban, which could be interpreted by God according to the particular needs of the people.  Since everything captured belonged to God, he could also choose to give some of it back to Israel.

  1. (:2b)  Concealed Troops = Key Tactic

Set an ambush for the city behind it.”

B.  (:3-8) Joshua Relays Battle Instructions to the People – Setting the Ambush

So Joshua rose with all the people of war to go up to Ai; and Joshua chose 30,000 men, valiant warriors, and sent them out at night. 4 And he commanded them, saying, ‘See, you are going to ambush the city from behind it. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you be ready. 5 Then I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. And it will come about when they come out to meet us as at the first, that we will flee before them. 6 And they will come out after us until we have drawn them away from the city, for they will say, ‘They are fleeing before us as at the first.’ So we will flee before them. 7 And you shall rise from your ambush and take possession of the city, for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand. 8 Then it will be when you have seized the city, that you shall set the city on fire. You shall do it according to the word of the LORD. See, I have commanded you.’

This would be the commando squad that would enter the city and set it on fire

C.  (:9) Night of Preparation – Rallying the Troops

So Joshua sent them away, and they went to the place of ambush and remained

between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai; but Joshua spent that night  among the people.”


A.  (:10-11) Setting Up Camp in the face of the Enemy

  1. (:10)  Leadership of Joshua and the elders

Now Joshua rose early in the morning and mustered the people, and he

went up with the elders of Israel before the people to Ai.”

  1. (:11)  Valiant Warriors committed to engaging the enemy

Then all the people of war who were with him went up and drew near

and arrived in front of the city, and camped on the north side of Ai.  Now

 there was a valley between him and Ai.”

B.  (:12-13) Setting the Trap

And he took about 5,000 men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city. 13 So they stationed the people, all the army that was on the north side of the city, and its rear guard on the west side of the city, and Joshua spent that night in the midst of the valley.

5,000 warriors clearly involved here; this is a second group distinct from verses 8-9 that would offer protection against any help from Bethel and would aid in surrounding and cutting off any escape opportunities for the men from Ai

C.  (:14-17) Taking the Bait

And it came about when the king of Ai saw it, that the men of the city hurried and rose up early and went out to meet Israel in battle, he and all his people at the appointed place before the desert plain. But he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city. 15 And Joshua and all Israel pretended to be beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness. 16 And all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua, and were drawn away from the city. 17 So not a man was left in Ai or Bethel who had not gone out after Israel, and they left the city unguarded and pursued Israel.


A.  (:18) Sign that the Lord is Running the Show

Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand

toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.’  So Joshua stretched out the javelin

that was in his hand toward the city.”

Charles Ryrie: Joshua’s javelin signaled the ambushing party by reflecting the sun from its flat blade.”

B.  (:19) Executing the Ambush

And the men in ambush rose quickly from their place, and when he had

stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it; and they

quickly set the city on fire.”

C.  (:20-22) Complete Slaughter of the Trapped Enemy – No way of escape

When the men of Ai turned back and looked, behold, the smoke of the city ascended to the sky, and they had no place to flee this way or that, for the people who had been fleeing to the wilderness turned against the pursuers. 21 When Joshua and all Israel saw that the men in ambush had captured the city and that the smoke of the city ascended, they turned back and slew the men of Ai. 22 And the others came out from the city to encounter them, so that they were trapped in the midst of Israel, some on this side and some on that side; and they slew them until no one was left of those who survived or escaped.

D.  (:23) Capture of King of Ai

But they took alive the king of Ai and brought him to Joshua.”


A.  (:24) Complete Slaughter of rest of population of Ai

Now it came about when Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in

the field in the wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them were fallen

 by the edge of the sword until they were destroyed, then all Israel returned to Ai

and struck it with the edge of the sword.”

B.  (:25) Impressive Total Body Count – Nobody Escaped

And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000 –

all the people of Ai.”

C.  (:26) Significance of the Sign of the Javelin

For Joshua did not withdraw his hand with which he stretched out the javelin

until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.”

Richard Hess: There are three points:

(1)  the word of God, and thus the LORD himself, is responsible for the Israelite victory;

(2)  Joshua’s success is due to his faith in that word and his obedience to it; and

(3)  although the battle and its victory can be described in human terms and understood as the result of successful strategy, Israel’s victory is no less a miracle than its earlier success at Jericho or the previous generation’s defeat of Egypt at the Red Sea.

Robert Hubbard: As for Joshua, the narrator adds, he does not lower the symbolic scimitar until “he” has “utterly destroyed” (ḥaram hi.) all Ai’s inhabitants (v. 26). The comment implies that, as Israel’s leader, ultimate responsibility for the execution of ḥerem falls on his shoulders. The crescent-shaped sword represents “both human signal and medium of divinely assisted victory.”  It symbolizes a key theological theme in Joshua: divine promise and empowerment working in concert with human planning and execution.

D.  (:27-29) Taking Care of Business

  1. (:27)  Legitimate Spoil

Israel took only the cattle and the spoil of that city

as plunder for themselves, according to the word of the Lord

which He had commanded Joshua.”

Richard Hess: The Israelites acquired booty. Why here but not at Jericho? Perhaps the attack on Jericho, as the initial assault in Canaan, symbolized the dedication of all the land to God. Once this had taken place, booty was permitted. A second reason recalls Achan’s sin. The first destruction and its plunder formed a divine test to determine whether or not Israel would obey God. The attackers of Ai passed this test. Therefore, it was not necessary to forbid them the spoils of battle. Furthermore, the mention of livestock recalls the precarious situation in which Israel now found itself. God no longer provided manna as he had done in the wilderness. Instead, Israel had to find its own food. Even here God provided: he gave his people the livestock, and so provided for their needs.

  1. (:28)  End of Ai  (Amen!)

So Joshua burned Ai and made it a heap forever,

a desolation until this day.”

  1. (:29a)  Humiliation of the King  (Deut. 21: 22, 23)

And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening; and at sunset

 Joshua gave command and they took his body down from the tree, and

threw it at the entrance of the city gate

  1. (:29b)  Another Monument of Stones

and raised over it a great heap of stones that stands to this day.”


A.  (:30-31) Worship and Sacrifice on the Altar  (Deut. 27:1-26)

Then Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, in Mount Ebal, just

as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is

written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of uncut stones, on which no

man had wielded an iron tool and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord,

and sacrificed peace offerings.”

This required a pilgrimage into the heart of enemy territory . . . but the occasion warranted the risk.

Jensen: The instruction called for the building of two stone structures: one, a stele made of very large whitewashed stones, on which the words of the law were written (Deut. 27:2-4, 8); the other, a stone altar for burnt offerings and peace offerings (Deut. 27:6-7).

Woudstra: The story of the building of an altar on Mount Ebal and of the solemn reading of the blessings and curses of the covenant at that site is strategically important for understanding the message of the Book of Joshua. … In unmistakably clear symbolism the reader is told that the right of possessing the promised land is tied to the proclamation of, and subjection to, God’s covenant claims upon his people (and upon the world).

Kenneth Gangel: Israel had just conquered Jericho and Ai. It seemed like a good military strategy to press ahead and hit the enemy while they were still surprised and fearful. But instead, Joshua took the Israelites on a thirty-mile side trip. On a journey that would have taken the people several days to cover, the Israelites marched north on a road that ran over the top of the mountains, arriving in Shechem between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. They apparently encountered no resistance along the way.

This place was significant for the Jews. Here Abraham had built his first altar to God. Here Jacob had dug a well. Here Joseph had searched for his brothers. And many years later Jesus would speak to a Samaritan woman at this well near Shechem. The two mountains are really one and one-half miles apart at the top but only about five hundred yards apart at the bottom. The valley between them formed a natural amphitheater for this historical gathering of the Israelites.

The initial loss and then subsequent victory at Ai had been a wake-up call for Joshua and the Israelites. They now realized that taking the promised land would be a spiritual journey, not just a military campaign. So they took time once again to be reminded of something we must never forget—heeding God’s word is more important than fighting God’s battles. They made this side trip because the covenant was more important than the conquest.

Van Parunak: The particular offerings rendered: burnt and peace.

Recall the meaning of the four main classes of sacrifice:

  1. Sin: need for forgiveness to become God’s people. Not in focus here; the nation is seen as victorious and in fellowship with the Lord.
  2. Burnt: the entire commitment of the worshipper to the Lord. This is in focus. As he requires them to devote the conquered peoples to him, so they are to dedicate themselves to him.
  3. Peace: voluntary worship and praise. Also in focus here. They are grateful for the victory he has given them.
  4. Trespass: dealing with particular acts of sin in the believer’s life. Not in focus here.

B.  (:32-35) Recommitment to the Law of God – Blessing vs. Cursing

And he wrote there on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written, in the presence of the sons of Israel. 33 And all Israel with their elders and officers and their judges were standing on both sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, the stranger as well as the native. Half of them stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had given command at first to bless the people of Israel. 34 Then afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel with the women and the little ones and the strangers who were living among them.

Alan Redpath: The Christian has not finished with the law of God.  He has finished with its sentence, but he cannot avoid its standards.  And, in plain language, that means that holiness is not optional.  “Without holiness no man can see the Lord.” . . .

The Christian is no longer facing the law as an obligation; he is facing it as a sheer delight to do the will of God, and from within him the love of God is shed abroad by the Holy Spirit.

Gordon Matties: The larger history regards the book as that which constitutes Israel as a people. Its narrative and instruction shapes the identity and life of this mixed community, including the alien (ger). This book itself does not enforce; it is read, heard, and taught (Balentine: 186). Especially when it has been recognized that a grave wrong has been done, or when the people have gone astray by worshiping other gods and failing to heed the instructions of the Lord, the book is understood as that instrumental means of setting things right. It offers a reorientation by identifying a new direction or by setting the parameters of faithfulness. It teaches both how to live with undivided loyalty to God and how to live in the world and in the community according to God’s intentions. In other words, the book is a narration in how “to love God, and to live as people who love God” (Balentine: 186). With its paradigmatic characters and events, the book of Joshua begins Israel’s journey toward that goal, which we find embodied in the early communities of Jesus followers [Torah, p. 462].

Helene Dallaire: At Mount Ebal, Joshua reads the entire law of Moses before the whole community—young and old, men and women, Israelite and foreigner, official and commoner, child and adult. Special emphasis is placed on the blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. The law of Moses covered all aspects of life—cultic, civil, social, and personal. Israel was now ready to occupy the land, to transition from the nomadic to the sedentary life, and to serve Yahweh in the Promised Land.

David Howard: The overarching theme in this section is obedience to God through observance of the Mosaic law. Four different times, the text states that an action was taken in accordance with Moses’ commands (vv. 31[2x], 33, 35). Also, the actions themselves were rooted in the instructions in the law. Almost every statement in this passage has roots in the Pentateuch. The most important passages are Deut 27:2–13 and 31:9–12, but many others also figure here.  The passage shows the importance to Israel of the Pentateuchal legislation, and it shows Israel’s concern to obey.

Furthermore, Joshua’s role as a leader also emerges in this account, in that he built the altar (v. 30–31), he copied the law onto stones from a copy he had written (v. 32), and he read the law in the people’s hearing (vv. 34–35). He is once again portrayed as a worthy successor to Moses and one who prefigured the kings to come, who were to write in a book a (personal) copy of the law (Deut 17:18–19).

At least five separate activities were involved here:

(1)  Joshua built an altar (v. 30);

(2)  the people offered burnt offerings (v. 31);

(3)  the people sacrificed fellowship offerings (v. 31);

(4)  Joshua wrote the words of the law on stones (v. 32); and

(5)  Joshua read the words of the law in public, before all the people (vv. 34–35).

Francis Schaeffer: We see in the reading of the blessings and curses not only a continuity of the authority of the written, propositional Scriptures but also an emphasis on the fact that bare knowledge is not enough.  It was not that the Pentateuch gave these people knowledge, and that was the end of it.  This knowledge demanded action.