Scripture: And the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.” Joshua 8:1-2 ESV
Observation: As discussed in yesterday’s Daily Focus, Israel suffered a humiliating defeat at the hand of the fighting men of Ai and discovered the Lord withdrew his favor due to Achan secreting booty in defiance of Yahweh’s command. Consequently, Joshua meted justice against Achan and his family, appeasing the Lord’s righteous anger. Thus, Yahweh speaks to Joshua with reassuring words and spells out the battle strategy to defeat Ai this second time (above verses):
- Do not be afraid nor dismayed.
- Take all the fighting men.
- Go up to Ai. (I have given you victory over the king of Ai and his people and their land.)
- Do what you did to Jericho and its king to Ai and its king.
- You may keep livestock and plunder.
- Lay an ambush against the city.
So Joshua chooses 30,000 mighty men of valor (ten times the number from the first battle) and details the ambush strategy (vv.3-9):
- Make your troop movement at night and hide in the ravines behind the city (its west wall).
- Joshua and the remaining fighting men will approach the lone city gate at its front wall.
- They will reenact a similar retreat of the last defeat.
- When the men of Ai pursue Joshua and his division, the ambush team will seize the city and set it ablaze according to the word of the Lord.
Thus, Joshua and his battalion stayed in camp and set out early to engage Ai in battle. Overconfident from their previous victory, the king of Ai takes the bait and chases Joshua and his soldiers, leaving the city defenseless. At this juncture, the Lord commands Joshua to stretch out his sword, similar to Moses extending his staff while Joshua fought against Amalek during the exodus (Exodus 17:8-13). Thus, the mighty men of valor charge the city and immediately set it afire to garner the attention and dismay of Ai’s army. Discouraged by the sight of their city ablaze with families and Israel’s ambush division charging toward them, the soldiers of Ai lose their will to fight and go down in utter defeat (vv.14-26).
The author then tells us that none of Ai survived except their king. So Israel claims the livestock and spoils essential for Israel’s survival and mounds the charred ruins. Meanwhile, Joshua hangs the king of Ai on a tree until sunset and then commands a unit to take the body and place it at the ruins of the city gate and heap stones over it as a memorial (vv.27-29).
Takeaway: This second time, Joshua ensured that all of Israel was on the same page and followed the Lord’s instructions to the word. And undoubtedly, he remembered the war against Amalek and understood that just as Moses extended his staff to invoke God’s divine power, his might also emanated from Joshua’s sword. So Joshua memorializes the ruins and entombs the king of Ai under a pile of stones, mirroring Achan and his family’s tomb (6:26) and signaling Israel’s recent corporate sin is now behind them. But why initially hang the king of Ai? To bolster Israel’s morale after suffering a humiliating defeat the first time around. And why remove the body at sunset? To leave it hanging from a tree overnight would desecrate the land (Deuteronomy 21:23).
So how does this story apply to us? There are a couple of takeaways. First, regarding the previously failed battle with Ai, we are reminded that our failures and successes impact the entire body of believers. The sin of one member left unchecked will cause collateral damage. For example, when I was a young man, I witnessed a married associate pastor run off with my friend’s wife, spurring a wake of divorces within that church over the next few years. Conversely, since serving in ordained ministry, I have seen churches flourish in risky outreach ministries due to a few brave and industrious members stepping out in faith.
The second application builds on the first. If we hope to succeed in pressing the boundaries of God’s kingdom into the spiritual battlegrounds of lost and wounded souls, we must carefully follow our Lord’s instructions. We need to discern where, when, and how through corporate worship, prayer, the counsel of wise believers, and insights from God’s Word. Only then will we see the Spirit of God go before us in power and bring us victory.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who redeemed our personal and corporate sins. And we thank you for the gifts of worship, prayer, community, and Scripture that guide and strengthen us in our missions and outreach. So would you please help us to appropriate these gifts to follow your instructions carefully? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling