Joshua 8 – From Ai to Mount Ebal and Gerizim
As part of their service to the LORD, the Israelites fight the LORD's battle (8:1,2)
The LORD commands his people to arise and renew their fight against Ai. Israel has no reason to be afraid (v.1b).
Question 1: Why did Israel need the encouragement of the LORD?
Like Jericho, Ai needs to be put under the ban. Ai was devoted to the LORD also. This time, however, they are allowed to take of the spoil. Achor had acted prematurely, as if the LORD does not provide abundantly for his people. The sin of disobedience is an act of sheer stupidity.
The LORD is the King of Israel. This means that he leads the way and makes the plans. He tells Israel that they have to lay an ambush.
Ambushes are employed in every war. We may be inclined to think that the plan is not very original. Yet, this was a remarkable plan. They had to pretend defeat, as if the history of the first attack repeated itself. They had
Of course, the LORD could have given Ai into the hand of the Israelites in a different manner, without their involvement.
Question 2: Why did the LORD use the Israelites to fight against Ai? This battle is much different than the battle of Jericho (v.7b; outline 5 section 3). (Both Jericho and Ai were a gift of the LORD; he uses both his people's faithful devotion and their physical strength to grant these gifts to them.)
Joshua is nupposed to engage only part of Israel's armed men: all the fighting men are to be involved. It seems as if the LORD criticizes the previous battle plan, in which only a small number of men were to quickly deal a fatal blow to the resistance of Ai.
Question 3: Why was it necessary for all Israel's armed men to fight?
2. The preparations (8:3‑13)
Joshua, being in a position inferior to the LORD the God of Israel, carries out the orders of his Commander‑in‑Chief. He works out the details of the plan and explains it to the people.
Verse 3 does not give us a clear picture of what the exact situation is. Scholars differ as to the interpretation. It is better not to spend too much time examining this verse. Our attention should especially be directed to the main focus of this book (outline 1 section 5).
3. The battle (8:14‑21)
At night, Joshua assembles the people and advances with his troops to the city through the valley. The king of Ai is determined not to let them get away with that, and goes out with his men to meet Israel in battle. It seems the battle ends like the first attack. The people of Ai must have held the LORD, the God of Israel, in very low esteem; this was quite different from the fear that, according to Rahab, they had had at first.
In v.17 we read that the inhabitants of Bethel went out against Israel also. That city must have fallen under the jurisdiction of Ai. It is three kilometers from Ai.
At his time, the King of Israel, the LORD, gives the signal. After all, it is his battle. Joshua has to give the sign for his men to abandon their ambush and set the city on fire. This would cause the hearts of the men of Ai to melt with fear.
It then becomes obvious which of the two parties is stronger. Israel fights even more determinedly because they know that the LORD is on their side. He is faithful to his word.
The enemies start to panic when they find out they are caught in the middle. To make matters worse, their city is ablaze. Nothing can prevent their defeat. In this manner the LORD receives the glory due to him.
4. The destruction of Ai (8:22‑29)
The command of the LORD is carefully executed. Joshua does not give the signal to cease the attack until all inhabitants of Ai are annihilated.
The city againalls to ruin. (Ai probably means 'ruin'; it had seemingly been built on the ruins of another city.) Ai still was a ruin in the year when the book of Joshua was written. It formed another permanent symbol, as did the great heap of stones that was raised over the corpse of the king of Ai at the entrance of the former gate.
The king was put to death by hanging from a tree. He was cursed.
Question 4: Why did the body of the king of Ai remain on the tree until evening? (See Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13.)
The plunder was for Israel, even though it ultimately belonged to the LORD, as did the rest of Canaan.
5. The blessings in the Promised Land (8:30‑35)
After the fall of Jericho and the small city of Ai, Joshua builds an altar, not next to Ai, but on Mount Ebal.
They had to go to Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.
Question 5: Why did they have to go there? (See v.31a and Deut 27, esp. v.4.)
Mount Ebal and Gerizim were centrally located in Canaan; all around these mountains sacrifices were made on altars dedicated to idols. At that location, an altar had to be built to the LORD, the God of Israel.
Question 6: hy was the altar supposed to be made of unhewn stones? (See Ex 20:25.) Which three tasks had to be carried out? (See vv.31b‑34.)
Burnt offerings and peace offerings were an indication of the peoples' devotion to and communion with the LORD.
Try to envision the situation described in vv.33‑34: one half of Israel is in front of Mount Gerizim and the other half is in front of Mount Ebal. All the people of Israel are present, both great and small. The ark, the throne of the LORD God, is in the middle. Joshua reads the will (the law) of God, both the blessing and the curse. These two mountains were far removed from each other. As a consequence, God's law must have been read very loudly. The law of God could now be heard in the land of the Canaanites, the land that now belonged to God.
Question 7: Besides the blessing, Joshua had to read the curse as well. Why did he have to read the curse (Deut 28:1,2,15)? Why did these events have to take place so shortly after entering Canaan (outline 5 sections 3 and 6)? In the center of this hostile land, God was honoured with peace offerings and God's law was read in order to demonstrate that he lays claim on the land.