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. 2 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.”
Notice the difference in what the Lord tells Joshua to do, as compared with what he had already tried to do against Ai (see Joshua 7). The first time they tried to take Ai Joshua sent out men to tell him what they saw and he listened to their advice, not waiting on God for instruction. The result is lives lost, as well as a fear and dread that spread throughout the Israelite people from their defeat. If Joshua had waited for God’s instruction he would have known about Achan’s sin prior to sending out the people for battle, and the whole loss might have been averted.
Application: What in your life have you tried to accomplish without first speaking to God? Will you lay out your plans before Him? Will you ask Him to go with you in the good times, and the bad? Will you accept that what you may be going through now is for some greater purpose if you truly are following Christ?
3 So Joshua and all the fighting men arose to go up to Ai. And Joshua chose 30,000 mighty men of valor and sent them out by night. 4 And he commanded them, “Behold, you shall lie in ambush against the city, behind it. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you remain ready. 5 And I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. And when they come out against us just as before, we shall 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 from us, just as before.’ So we will flee before them. 7 Then you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city, for the Lord your God will give it into your hand.8 And as soon as you have taken the city, you shall set the city on fire. You shall do according to the word of the Lord. See, I have commanded you.” 9 So Joshua sent them out. And they went to the place of ambush and lay between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai, but Joshua spent that night among the people.
God tells Joshua exactly how to go about destroying the city, and He even uses Joshua’s mistakes to help them. Take a close look at that. God uses our mistakes… do you know why? All of our steps are set out before us. God knows exactly what we will do before it happens, He ordains it, and then He knows exactly how to use those things to further His will. This is ultimate sovereignty. There is a time and a place for all things, good and bad, and all works to the good of those who love God:
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Acts 4
We know that in the above passage the group of believers are praying over all the things that culminated together to bring about the crucifixion of Jesus. Only hours before they spat at him, the people of the city were asking for miracles. Now this small band of new Christians were gathered together to thank God for His sovereign hand.
Principle: God’s plan, and sovereign will, is never thwarted.
10 Joshua arose early in the morning and mustered the people and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai. 11 And all the fighting men who were with him went up and drew near before the city and encamped on the north side of Ai, with a ravine between them and Ai. 12 He took about 5,000 men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13 So they stationed the forces, the main encampment that was north of the city and its rear guard west of the city. But Joshua spent that night in the valley. 14 And as soon as the king of Ai saw this, he and all his people, the men of the city, hurried and went out early to the appointed place toward the Arabah to meet Israel in battle. 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 in the direction of the wilderness. 16 So all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and as they pursued Joshua they were drawn away from the city. 17 Not a man was left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel. They left the city open and pursued Israel.
18 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.” And Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. 19 And the men in the ambush rose quickly out of their place, and as soon as he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it. And they hurried to set the city on fire. 20 So when the men of Ai looked back, behold, the smoke of the city went up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers.21 And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had captured the city, and that the smoke of the city went up, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. 22 And the others came out from the city against them, so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side. And Israel struck them down, until there was left none that survived or escaped. 23 But the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him near to Joshua.
24 When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and struck it down with the edge of the sword. 25 And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai. 26 But Joshua did not draw back his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had devoted all the inhabitants of Ai to destruction. 27 Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their plunder, according to the word of the Lord that he commanded Joshua. 28 So Joshua burned Ai and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day.29 And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening. And at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the gate of the city and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day.
The though of war and the gruesome realities of it are hard to imagine, but in all this God has shown justice. It seems common that people say God is full of wrath and mean, and that there is no way He could be a loving God if He did all of this. Though I cannot convince anyone of God’s true nature, I will give an example of how justice is played out: inside a court room there are 10 murderers. The judge condemns nine to death, serving them justice. The tenth he sets free, showing mercy. We may never know the reasons behind God’s mercy to some, all we can do is faithfully share the good news in hopes that many will turn to Him.
- Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
- Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 5:8 But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- Romans 10:9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
- Romans 10:13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Application: Where do you stand with Christ? Have you turned your life around to follow Him, and live for Him? Philippians 2:12-13 says we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling… meaning to search for it, grasp it, and move forward. We should never stop seeking the truths of God.
Principle: God is a holy and righteous judge. He makes no mistakes, and His will is perfect.
Joshua Renews the Covenant
30 At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, 31 just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. 32 And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. 33 And all Israel, sojourner as well as native-born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. 34 And 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 commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.
I love the close of this chapter. After Israel sees the mighty work that God performs they keep their promise made to Moses in Deuteronomy 27, and build an altar to the Lord. They do just as they said the would, and in the midst of them all is the Arc of the covenant.. the reminder of why all of this has happened.
In Genesis 12 Abraham is called on by the Lord for the first time in the same place where Joshua and the Israelites now stand. The Lord reveals His promise to Abraham that all the land of the Canaanites will belong to his an ancestors.. and now they are there, ready to continue on in the fulfillment of that promise. How exciting that must have been! Joshua faithfully reads aloud all the law so that all may hear, remember, and obey before setting off again. Praise and thanks is given to God, and prophecies and promises of old are now realized.
Application: What do you do to thank God when a promise is fulfilled in your life? God lays out examples for us in His word of people receiving His blessings, and in response they pass the knowledge of Him to the next generation, telling stories of awesome victories all in the name of the Lord.
Principle: God is worthy to be praised!
I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.