Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1, 2. The Lord said unto Joshua, Fear not--By the execution of justice
on Achan, the divine wrath was averted, the Israelites were reassured,
defeat was succeeded by victory; and thus the case of Ai affords a
striking example of God's disciplinary government, in which
chastisements for sin are often made to pave the way for the bestowment
of those temporal benefits, which, on account of sin, have been
withdrawn, or withheld for a time. Joshua, who had been greatly
dispirited, was encouraged by a special communication promising him (see
success in the next attempt, which, however, was to be conducted on
take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai--The
number of fighting men amounted to six hundred thousand, and the whole
force was ordered on this occasion, partly because the spies, in their
self-confidence, had said that a few were sufficient to attack the
partly to dispel any misgivings which the memory of the late disaster
might have created, and partly that the circumstance of the first spoil
obtained in Canaan being shared among all, might operate both as a
reward for obedience in refraining from the booty of Jericho, and as an
incentive to future exertions
The rest of the people, including the women and children, remained in
the camp at Gilgal. Being in the plains of Jericho, it was an ascent to
Ai, which was on a hill.
I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his
city, and his land . . . lay thee an ambush for the city--God assured
Joshua of Ai's capture, but allowed him to follow his own tactics in
obtaining the possession.
3. So Joshua . . . chose out thirty thousand mighty men of
valour--Joshua despatched thirty thousand men under cover of night,
to station themselves at the place appointed for the ambuscade. Out of
this number a detachment of five thousand was sent forward to conceal
themselves in the immediate precincts of the town, in order to seize
the first opportunity of throwing themselves into it
4. behind the city--is rendered
"on the west side of Ai."
9. between Beth-el and Ai--Beth-el, though lying quite near in the
direction of west by north, cannot be seen from Tell-el-hajar; two
rocky heights rise between both places, in the wady El-Murogede, just
as the laying of an ambush to the west of Ai would require
10. Joshua . . . numbered the people--that is, the detachment of
liers-in-wait; he did this, to be furnished with clear evidence
afterwards, that the work had been done without any loss of men,
whereby the people's confidence in God would be strengthened and
encouragement given them to prosecute the war of invasion with vigor.
he and the elders of Israel--the chief magistrates and rulers, whose
presence and official authority were necessary to ensure that the
cattle and spoil of the city might be equally divided between the
combatants and the rest of the people
--a military rule in Israel, that would have been very liable to be
infringed, if an excited soldiery, eager for booty, had been left to
their own will.
11-14. there was a valley between them and Ai--literally, "the valley."
13. Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley--The deep and
steep-sided glen to the north of Tell-el-hajar, into which one looks
down from the tell, fully agrees with this account
Joshua himself took up his position on the north side of "the
ravine"--the deep chasm of the wady El-Murogede; "that night"--means,
while it was dark, probably after midnight, or very early in the
The king of Ai, in the early dawn, rouses his slumbering subjects and
makes a hasty sally with all his people who were capable of bearing
arms, once more to surprise and annihilate them.
14. at a time appointed--either an hour concocted between the king and
people of Ai and those of Beth-el, who were confederates in this
enterprise, or perhaps they had fixed on the same time of day, as they
had fought successfully against Israel on the former occasion, deeming
it a lucky hour
but he wist not that there were liers in ambush against him behind the
city--It is evident that this king and his subjects were little
experienced in war; otherwise they would have sent out scouts to
reconnoitre the neighborhood; at all events, they would not have left
their town wholly unprotected and open. Perhaps an ambuscade may have
been a war stratagem hitherto unknown in that country, and among that
15-17. Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before
them--the pretended flight in the direction of the wilderness; that
is, southeast, into the Ghor, the desert valley of the Jordan, decoyed
all the inhabitants of Ai out of the city, while the people of Beth-el
hastened to participate in the expected victory. It is supposed by some,
from "the city," and not "cities," being spoken of, that the effective
force of Beth-el had been concentrated in Ai, as the two places were
closely contiguous, and Ai the larger of the two. (See
It may be remarked, however, that the words, "or Beth-el," are not in
the Septuagint, and are rejected by some eminent scholars, as an
interpolation not found in the most ancient manuscripts.
18-25. Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward
the city--The uplifted spear had probably a flag, or streamer on it,
to render it the more conspicuous from the height where he stood. At
the sight of this understood signal the ambush nearest the city,
informed by their scouts, made a sudden rush and took possession of the
city, telegraphing to their brethren by raising a smoke from the walls.
Upon seeing this, the main body, who had been reigning a flight, turned
round at the head of the pass upon their pursuers, while the
twenty-five thousand issuing from their ambuscade, fell back upon their
rear. The Ai-ites surprised, looked back, and found their situation now
23. the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua--to be
reserved for a more ignominious death, as a greater criminal in God's
sight than his subjects. In the mingled attack from before and behind,
all the men were massacred.
24. all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of
the sword--the women, children, and old persons left behind, amounting,
in all, to twelve thousand people
26. Joshua drew not his hand back--Perhaps, from the long continuance
of the posture, it might have been a means appointed by God, to animate
the people, and kept up in the same devout spirit as Moses had shown,
in lifting up his hands, until the work of slaughter had been
completed--the ban executed.
28. Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever--"For ever" often
signifies "a long time"
One of the remarkable things with regard to the tell we have identified
with Ai is its name--the tell of the heap of stones--a name which to
this day remains [VAN DE
29. The king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide--that is,
gibbeted. In ancient, and particularly Oriental wars, the chiefs, when
taken prisoners, were usually executed. The Israelites were obliged, by
the divine law, to put them to death. The execution of the king of Ai
would tend to facilitate the conquest of the land, by striking terror
into the other chiefs, and making it appear a judicial process, in
which they were inflicting the vengeance of God upon His enemies.
take his carcass down . . . and raise thereon a great heap of
stones--It was taken down at sunset, according to the divine command
and cast into a pit dug "at the entering of the gate," because that was
the most public place. An immense cairn was raised over his grave--an
ancient usage, still existing in the East, whereby is marked the
sepulchre of persons whose memory is infamous.
Jos 8:30, 31.
30, 31. Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in
mount Ebal--(See on
This spot was little short of twenty miles from Ai. The march through a
hostile country and the unmolested performance of the religious
ceremonial observed at this mountain, would be greatly facilitated,
through the blessing of God, by the disastrous fall of Ai. The solemn
duty was to be attended to at the first convenient opportunity after
the entrance into Canaan
and with this in view Joshua seems to have conducted the people through
the mountainous region that intervened though no details of the journey
have been recorded. Ebal was on the north, opposite to Gerizim, which
was on the south side of the town Sichem (Nablous).
31. an altar of whole stones--according to the instructions given to
over which no man hath lifted up any iron--that is, iron tool. The
reason for this was that every altar of the true God ought properly to
have been built of earth
and if it was constructed of stone, rough, unhewn stones were to be
employed that it might retain both the appearance and nature of earth,
since every bloody sacrifice was connected with sin and death, by which
man, the creature of earth, is brought to earth again [KEIL].
they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the Lord, and sacrificed
peace offerings--This had been done when the covenant was established
and by the observance of these rites
the covenant was solemnly renewed--the people were reconciled to God by
the burnt offering, and this feast accompanying the peace or thank
offering, a happy communion with God was enjoyed by all the families in
32. he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of
De 27:2, 3, 5);
that is, the blessings and curses of the law. Some think that the
stones which contained this inscription were the stones of the altar:
but this verse seems rather to indicate that a number of stone pillars
were erected alongside of the altar, and on which, after they were
plastered, this duplicate of the law was inscribed.
33. all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges,
stood on this side the ark and on that side--One half of Israel was
arranged on Gerizim, and the other half on Ebal--along the sides and
base of each.
before the priests the Levites--in full view of them.
34. afterward he read all the words of the law--caused the priests or
Levites to read it
Persons are often said in Scripture to do that which they only command
to be done.
35. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read
not--It appears that a much larger portion of the law was read on this
occasion than the brief summary inscribed on the stones; and this must
have been the essence of the law as contained in Deuteronomy
(De 4:44; 6:9; 27:8).
It was not written on the stones, but on the plaster. The immediate
design of this rehearsal was attained by the performance of the act
itself. It only related to posterity, in so far as the record of the
event would be handed down in the Book of Joshua, or the documents
which form the groundwork of it [HENGSTENBERG].
Thus faithfully did Joshua execute the instructions given by Moses. How
awfully solemn must have been the assemblage and the occasion! The eye
and the ear of the people being both addressed, it was calculated to
leave an indelible impression; and with spirits elevated by their
brilliant victories in the land of promise, memory would often revert
to the striking scene on mounts Ebal and Gerizim, and in the vale of