The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD said to Joshua, “Don’t be afraid, and don’t worry. Lead all your armed men up to Ai. I have already handed their king over to you with his people, his city, and their territory. 2You will conquer them just as you conquered Jericho, but this time you can claim their wealth and their animals for yourselves. Set up an ambush behind the city.”
3Joshua and his men headed up to Ai. He selected thirty thousand of them to go up at night. 4He said, “Go around behind the city and wait in ambush there. Stay close and keep alert. 5My men and I will approach them, and when they come out of the city as they did before, we’ll run from them. 6They’ll chase us. They’ll think we’re running like we did before. While they chase us, 7go in and take the city. The LORD will give it to you. 8When you’ve taken it, set it on fire – that’s what the LORD has said. You have your orders.” 9So, Joshua sent them out and they set up their ambush west of Ai toward Bethel. Joshua spent the night in the camp.
10The next morning Joshua rose early and gathered his men, and he and the elders led them up to Ai. 11When they got close they camped on the north side of Ai with a valley between them and the city. 12He then took about five thousand men and sent them to the west of the city toward Bethel. 13So, the main force was north of the city, with a rear guard to the west. Joshua spent that night in the valley.
14When the king of Ai saw them he brought all his men out early the next morning, planning to battle Israel facing the Arabah, not aware of the ambush that was waiting behind the city. 15Joshua and his men pretended to retreat before them, and they ran toward the wilderness. 16The men of Ai chased them, and Joshua lured them away from the city. 17Every man in Ai and Bethel pursued Israel and left the city gates open.
18Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Take your sword in hand and stretch it toward Ai, and it will be yours.” Joshua pointed his sword toward the city, 19and when he did the men who were hiding in ambush charged forward into the city and captured it and set it on fire immediately. 20The men of Ai looked back to see the smoke rising skyward. They were trapped, for the Israelites who had run toward the wilderness turned back and attacked them. 21As soon as Joshua and his men saw that the city was on fire, they turned on the men pursuing them and struck them down. 22Then the Israelites who had taken the city came out and joined the battle so that the enemy was surrounded. Israel struck them down until there were no survivors. 23But they took the king of Ai alive and brought him to Joshua.
24When all the men of Ai had been killed on the battlefield, the Israelites turned back and stormed Ai again. 25Twelve thousand men and women fell that day, the whole population of Ai. 26Joshua did not call a halt until Ai and its inhabitants had been totally destroyed. 27They took the animals and all the riches of the city as their loot, as Joshua had told them the LORD had said. 28Joshua burned Ai and turned it into a pile of ruins as it is to this day. 29He hung the king of Ai from a tree until evening and then ordered his men to remove the body and throw it at the city gate. He heaped a huge pile of stones over it, which you can still see to this day.
30Then Joshua built an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, on Mt. Ebal, 31just as Moses had commanded them in the book of the Law of Moses: “an altar of undressed stones on which no iron tools were used.” They brought burnt offerings to the LORD and thanksgiving sacrifices.32Then in full view of the Israelites Joshua inscribed the stones with the words of the Law of Moses. 33All the Israelites and foreigners who had lived among them – their elders, their leaders and their judges – gathered on either side of the wooden chest, along with the priests who carried the wooden chest containing the covenant. Half of them stood on the side toward Mt. Gerizim and the other half toward Mt. Ebal as Moses, the LORD’s servant had instructed them, to bless the people of Israel.
34Afterwards, Joshua read the words of the law, including the blessings and curses written in the book of the law. 35Joshua read every word Moses had commanded to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children and foreigners who lived among them.
1-2: Now God takes charge of the battle plan and instead of sending only a small force tells Joshua to take the whole of Israel’s warriors to engage Ai and to set up an ambush behind the city.
3-9: The battle plan is clever: 30,000 soldiers are sent out at night to hide in a flanking position outside the city. The rest of them are to make a frontal attack when daylight comes, then turn and run when the soldiers of Ai come out to fight.
10-17: The plan is executed to perfection. Thinking the Israelites are fleeing as they had before, the Ai army comes out of the city to give chase, exposing the city to the troops Joshua has hidden during the night.
18-23: The city is set afire, and the 30,000 troops press the attack on the Ai army from their rear, thus surrounding them. The city is easily captured, and the king of Ai is brought to Joshua.
24-29: The enemy army is utterly defeated, and the inhabitants of the city are put to the sword. We are told that all the inhabitants are killed, but this time the Israelites are allowed to take spoils from the city. The king of Ai is hanged, and Joshua builds yet another pile of stones.
30-25: After the victory, Joshua has an altar built, on which he engraves all the Law of Moses. Sacrifices of thanksgiving are offered to God. Then the people line up on either side of the ark, half in front of Mt. Ebal and half in front of Mt. Gerizim, and Joshua reads the blessings and curses as they had been instructed by Moses (see Deuteronomy 27 and 28).
God will prevail. The people of Ai worshiped other gods and would have corrupted Israel had not Israel conquered them. I still recoil at the stories of so many people being killed in the name of the LORD, but I will trust that the action will ultimately result in God’s plan being revealed to the world many centuries later.