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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land:
God rouses Joshua from his dejection Joshua 7:6, and bids him lmarch against Ai with the main body. Though Ai was but a small city (compare Joshua 8:25 and Joshua 7:3), yet the discouragement of the people rendered it inexpedient to send a second time a mere detachment against it; and the people of Ai had, as appears from Joshua 8:17, help from Bethel, and possibly from other places also. It was fitting too that all the people should witness with their own eyes the happy consequences of having faithfully put away the sin which had separated them from God.
2And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king: only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves: lay thee an ambush for the city behind it.
3So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai: and Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valour, and sent them away by night.
Thirty thousand men - comparing Joshua 8:3 and Joshua 8:12 ("five thousand men"), there is probably a mistake in the numbers of this verse, where an early copyist may have written the sign for 30,000 instead of that for 5,000.
Sent them away by night - The selected 5,000 would accordingly post themselves in the main ravine between Ai and Bethel in the night and early morning. The neighhorhood in which Ai was situated is described as "a wild entanglement of hill and valley;" and amidst its recesses the detachment could easily shelter itself from observation until Joshua's other measures were taken.
4And he commanded them, saying, Behold, ye shall lie in wait against the city, even behind the city: go not very far from the city, but be ye all ready:
5And I, and all the people that are with me, will approach unto the city: and it shall come to pass, when they come out against us, as at the first, that we will flee before them,
6(For they will come out after us) till we have drawn them from the city; for they will say, They flee before us, as at the first: therefore we will flee before them.
7Then ye shall rise up from the ambush, and seize upon the city: for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand.
8And it shall be, when ye have taken the city, that ye shall set the city on fire: according to the commandment of the LORD shall ye do. See, I have commanded you.
9Joshua therefore sent them forth: and they went to lie in ambush, and abode between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai: but Joshua lodged that night among the people.
10And Joshua rose up early in the morning, and numbered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai.
Numbered the people - Rather, perhaps, "mustered" or "arrayed" them for their march. The distance from the camp at Gilgal to Ai is about fifteen miles. In the evening of the day after the despatch of the 5,000 liers in wait, Joshua and the host might make their appearance in the neighborhood of the city.
11And all the people, even the people of war that were with him, went up, and drew nigh, and came before the city, and pitched on the north side of Ai: now there was a valley between them and Ai.
12And he took about five thousand men, and set them to lie in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city.
He took - Rather "had taken;" the words refer to the ambuscade which Joshua had detached during the previous night.
13And when they had set the people, even all the host that was on the north of the city, and their liers in wait on the west of the city, Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley.
Joshua went down by night into the valley where He would be seen at daylight by the men of Ai, and was accompanied no doubt by a picked body of troops. The king of Ai, in the morning, would see neither the ambush in his rear, nor the whole of the great host of Israel among the hills away to the north on his left; but supposing, as it appears, that the Israelites before him were a body detached as on the former occasion to assail his city, he sallied out promptly to attack them.
14And it came to pass, when the king of Ai saw it, that they hasted and rose up early, and the men of the city went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people, at a time appointed, before the plain; but he wist not that there were liers in ambush against him behind the city.
At a time appointed - Rather, "at the place appointed," i. e. some spot suitable for the drawing up of his men, which had been assigned beforehand. This was "before the plain," i. e. it was at the entrance of the depressed tract of land which runs down to the Jordan valley, up which lay the route of the Israelites from Gilgal to Ai.
15And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness.
16And all the people that were in Ai were called together to pursue after them: and they pursued after Joshua, and were drawn away from the city.
17And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, that went not out after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel.
Or Bethel - See the Joshua 8:1 note.
18And 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.
No doubt Joshua had ascended the heights, most likely those to the north of the valley, so as to separate himself from the flying Israelites on the lower ground, and to be visible to the men in ambush behind the city. He now, at the command of God, gives the appointed signal to the ambush.
19And 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.
20And 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.
21And 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.
22And 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.
23And the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua.
24And 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.
25And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai.
26For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.
27Only 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.
28And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day.
29And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcase down from the tree, 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.
Compare Deuteronomy 21:22-23 notes.
30Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,
The account of this solemnity is very brief. An acquaintance with Deuteronomy 27 is evidently presupposed; and the three several acts of which the solemnity consisted are only so far distinctly named as is necessary to show that the commands of Moses there given were fully carried out by Joshua.
It is difficult to escape the conviction that these verses are here out of their proper and original place. The connection between Joshua 8:29, and Joshua 9:1, is natural and obvious; and in Joshua 9:3, the fraud of the Gibeonites is represented as growing out of the alarm caused by the fall of Jericho and Ai. It is, moreover, extremely unlikely that a solemnity of this nature in the very center of the country should be undertaken by Joshua while the whole surrounding district was in the hands of the enemy; or that, if undertaken, it would have been carried out unmolested. "And the strangers that were conversant among them" Joshua 8:35, were present at it. The distance fromm Gilgal in the Jordan valley to Mount Ebal is fully 30 miles, unless - as is unlikely - another Gilgal (Deuteronomy 11:29 note) be meant; and so vast a host, with its non-effective followers Joshua 8:35, could certainly not have accomplished a march like this through a difficult country and a hostile population in less than three days. Moreover in Joshua 9:6; Joshua 10:6, Joshua 10:15, Joshua 10:43, the Israelites are spoken of as still encamping at Gilgal.
It is on the whole likely that, for these and other reasons, this passage does not, in our present Bible, stand in its proper context; and it has been conjectured that the place from which these six verses have been transferred is the end of Joshua 11:The "then" with which Joshua 8:30 opens in our present text may well have served to introduce the account of the solemnity on Gerizim and Ebal at the end of the record of Joshua's victories, to which indeed it forms a suitable climax.
31As 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.
32And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.
See the note marginal reference.
33And 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.
34And 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.
All the words of the law - See Deuteronomy 31:11 ff It would seem that Joshua, on the present occasion, must have read at least all the legislative portion of the Pentateuch before the people (compare on Deuteronomy 27:3). The terms of this verse cannot be satisfactorily explained as importing only the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 27-28.
35There 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.