Scripture Text – Joshua 8
Henry Ford defined a mistake as “an opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.” Joshua would also have agreed, because he is about to “begin again, more intelligently” and organize a victory out of his mistakes.
A New Strategy – Continued
The work of the Lord requires strategy, and Christian leaders must seek the mind of the Lord in their planning. Like Joshua, we must get the facts and weigh them carefully as we seek the will of God. Too often, the work of the Lord only drifts along on the tide of time, without any rudder or compass to give direction; and the results are disappointing. Our English word strategy comes from two Greek words that together mean “to lead an army.” Leadership demands planning, and planning is an important part of strategy.
A New Victory
Please read Joshua 8:14-29 for the background to this section.
Ai emptied (Joshua 8:14-17). When morning dawned, the king of Ai saw the army of Israel positioned before the city, ready to attack. Confident of victory, he led his men out of the city and against the Jews. “They are the most in danger,” said Matthew Henry, “who are least aware of it.” Joshua and his men began to flee, and this gave the men of Ai even more assurance of victory.
According to verse 17, the men of Bethel were also involved in the attack; but no details are given. Whether they were already in Ai or arrived on the scene just in time, we aren’t told; but their participation led to the defeat of their city (Joshua 12:16) as well as Ai.
It was careless of the people of Ai to leave their city undefended, but such are the follies of self-confidence. When a small army sees a large army flee without even fighting, it gives them a feeling of superiority that can lead to defeat.
Ai captured (Joshua 8:18–20). Conscious that the battle was the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:47; 2 Chronicles 20:15), Joshua waited for further instructions. God then told him to lift up his spear toward the city. This was the signal for the other troops to enter the city and burn it, but the signal had to be given at just the right time. The men of Ai and Bethel were trapped, and it was a simple matter for the army of Israel to destroy them. Joshua held up his spear until the victory was won, an action that reminds us of the battle Joshua fought against Amalek when Moses held up his hands to the Lord (Exodus 17:8–16).
Ai’s army and people destroyed (Joshua 8:21–29). Seeing the smoke of the city, Joshua’s men stopped fleeing, and they turned and attacked the army of Ai that was pursuing them. After the Jewish soldiers in Ai left the city, they joined in the battle. The enemy was then caught between two armies. “Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives.” – Joshua 8:22 (NIV).
Once the army was annihilated, the rest of the population of the city was destroyed, just as at Jericho (see Joshua 6:21, 24). Keep in mind that this was not the “slaughter of innocent people” but the judgment of God on an evil society that had long resisted His grace and truth.
Ai’s king slain (Joshua 8:23, 29). This was the final symbolic gesture of complete victory on the part of Israel. The king had no army, subjects, or city; for the Lord had destroyed them all. It was total victory on the part of Israel. Joshua killed the king with a sword and then ordered that the corpse be humiliated by hanging it on a tree until sundown (Deuteronomy 21:22–23). The body was then buried under a heap of stones at the entrance of the gate of the ruin that had once been Ai. The previous heap of stones that Israel had raised was a memorial to Achan who had caused their defeat at Ai (Joshua 7:25–26). But this heap of stones at Ai was a memorial of Israel’s victory over the enemy. By obeying the Word of the Lord, they had organized victory out of mistakes.
Ai’s spoils claimed (Joshua 8:27). Since the firstfruits of the spoils of war in Canaan had already been given to God at Jericho, He permitted the army to claim the spoils at Ai. Furthermore, at Jericho, the victory was theirs because of a miracle of God; while at Ai, because the men actually had to fight, they earned their reward. (For the laws governing the distribution of spoils, see Numbers 31:19–54.) We aren’t sure that these rules were strictly followed in every situation, but they give you an indication of how Israel handled the spoils of war.
When at the close of the day the men buried the king of Ai under a heap of stones, there must have been a new sense of faith and courage in Israel; for they had won another victory. The people saw that not one word of God’s promise had failed. The disgrace and defeat caused by Achan had now been erased, and Israel was well on her way to conquering the Promised Land.
To Be Continued