In this essay we conclude our study of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan.  As we have seen in recent weeks, it is a fascinating story fueled not only by faith in the Lord, but also by miraculous intervention by the Lord.  In our last essay, we studied the record of Israel’s second campaign, which was the conquest of southern Canaan.  Now in chapters 11-12, which recount the story of Israel’s conquest of northern Canaan, and provide a summary of the conquest as a whole. 

            Having heard about Israel’s success in the south, king Jabin of Hazor undertook the same role in the north that Adoni-Zedek of Jerusalem had taken in the south.  That is, he organized an alliance of northern kings against Israel, just as Adoni-Zedek had done with southern kings. 

            And a large army it was, the author tells us, as numerous as the sand on the seashore, with many horses and chariots (v. 4).  The location of most of these cities is unknown, though all were in the north.  Hazor was north of the Sea of Galilee, and “the waters of Merom,” where the northern army camped, was somewhere in upper Galilee, probably a little north and west of the Sea of Galilee. 

            The Lord encouraged Joshua in the face of this formidable force (v. 6).  Then Joshua once again used the element of surprise.  He attacked the next day, and won another great victory (vv. 7-9).  Notice how far north they went.  Sidon was the major city of ancient Phoenicia; and it was still a major city in Joshua’s day.  It is located on the Mediterranean coast due west of Damascus, more than forty miles north of the Sea of Galilee.  The location of Misrephoth-maim is unknown.  But it must have been east of Sidon and north of the Valley of Mizpah, which is directly north of the Sea of Galilee.  At any rate Israel clearly conquered the entire northern part of Canaan.

            Notice that Joshua followed the Lord’s instructions regarding the horses and chariots.  Instead of taking them for use by his army, Joshua hamstrung the horses and burned the chariots.  That is quite interesting!  Horses and chariots were the high technology of the day.  It was considered a distinct advantage to have them, though against the Lord and his army they did the Canaanites no good.  The Lord obviously did not want Israel to have them.  The only adequate explanation is that he wanted Israel to remain dependent on him. 

            On the way back from the victory in the North, Israel attacked Hazor, whose king had led the opposition, and completely destroyed the city by fire, in addition to killing all the people.  As they had done in the South, they killed all the inhabitants of the other cities, though they did not burn the towns in the north, other than Hazor.  When all this was finished, the author suggests that everything the Lord had told Moses to command Joshua to do was completed (vv. 10-15). 

            In the rest of the chapter, and on through chapter 12, we find a summary of Israel’s conquest of Canaan.  Verses 16-17 state the extent of the conquest, and verse 18 tells us that it took awhile to get the job done.  We get a clear picture of that in chapter 14, verses 7 and ten.  In those verses Caleb testifies that he was 40 years old when he went into Canaan as a spy, and that he was 85 at the division of the land.  Thus the conquest took at least forty-five years.

            Coming back to chapter 11, the only town in Canaan that was not taken in battle was Gibeon (v. 19).  Then in verse 20 we see the interesting statement that God hardened the hearts of the Canaanites so that they would challenge Israel in battle and be destroyed.  This has to be understood in exactly the same way as the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in the book of Exodus.  Pharaoh hardened his own heart a long time, before the Lord began to harden it after the sixth plague.  Likewise the Canaanites sealed their fate by their wickedness and the hardening of their hearts long before the Lord brought the judgment of Israel upon them.

            The reference in verses 21-22 to the Anakim is another item of historical interest.  It was the Anakim whom the spies more than 40 years earlier had said were giants.  “At that time” in verse 21 points to the “long time” that Israel fought against the kings of Canaan mentioned in verse 18.  In other words, it was during the long war that these sons of Anak were wiped out.  The author wanted to remind his readers of that fact, since the readers might have remembered how the spies had feared them. 

            And then verse 23 gives a final summary.  Chapter 12 simply lists all of the kings that were conquered, including the two conquered by Moses on the other side of the Jordan before the invasion of Canaan.  All of the slain kings are listed, not just those who formed alliances of war against Israel.  There are 33 kings listed, apparently listed in the order in which they were defeated. 

            As we think about applications to our lives from this passage, I believe we must focus on the last sentence in 11:23: “And the land had rest from war.”  Time and time again I have called your attention to the fact that the taking of Canaan is a type of entire sanctification.  We not only are delivered from Egypt’s bondage to sin, we are invited to enter the Canaan land of full salvation.  As we have seen, there is opposition and temptation as we seek to do God’s will in everything.  But if we persevere; and if we are obedient; there will eventually be “rest from war.” 

            When we ask what the character of that rest is we see, first, what it is not.  It is not the rest of exhaustion.  When we live a life of obedience, with our wills in harmony with the will of God, he fights on our behalf.  We may be battered and tired from the battles, but we will not be exhausted.  The undergirding of the Holy Spirit will enable us every day.

            Second, turning to a positive definition of what the “rest” of entire sanctification is, it is a rest of satisfaction.  There is a joyful satisfaction in serving Christ, of being in his will and doing it.  Indeed there is no satisfaction like it.  It brings poise, assurance of meaning in life, and thus, deep satisfaction.

            The “rest” of entire sanctification also brings, third, the rest of spiritual victory.  All Christians have the rest of assured forgiveness, but the entirely sanctified Christian also has the rest of spiritual victory. 

            Thus there is no “rest” that compares to the rest of doing the will of God in all things.  To have one’s will in harmony with God’s will, to desire only what he desires for one’s life, to have the power of the Spirit to enable one not to sin, to praise the Lord in all things, to pray at all times, to love him with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves, that is the rest of entire sanctification.  May we all experience that to his glory. 


            In this essay we study Joshua 10, in which Israel’s conquest of Canaan continues.  The overall conquest took place in a series of three campaigns.  We already have studied the first, a thrust into central Canaan in which two things were accomplished.  The major centers of Jericho and Ai were conquered; and whether consciously planned or not, Israel effectively split the opposition preventing a united counter-attack.

            Then came the southern campaign, which is the focus of this study.  And then finally, Israel made a northern sweep to subdue the rest of Canaan.  We will be studying that in the next essay.  Verses 1-5 of chapter 10 tell us the report that Israel had taken Ai and made a deal with the Gibeonites angered Adoni-Zedek, king of Jerusalem.  So he joined with several other Amorite kings to attack Gibeon in order to punish her for her alliance with Israel, and at the same time to check Israel’s advance.  The places mentioned here all are located to the west and south of the Jericho-Jerusalem area. 

            In verses 6-11 we see that the Gibonites immediately called on Israel, their new masters and allies, to come to their defense, which Israel did.  Note in verse eight that Joshua prayed this time (something he neglected to do before the first battle of Ai), and the Lord assured him that he would be victorious.  And it appears that Joshua surprised the Amorites.  He marched his army all night, a distance of about 15 miles, in order to get to Gibeon first thing the morning after he was informed, verse nine.  The Canaanites were not expecting that. 

            The surprise attack caused a panic among the enemy; and Israel gained a great victory at Gibeon.  However, Israel did not rest on her laurels.  Instead Israel pursued the Amorite armies “as far as Azekah and Makkedah,” verse 10.  Then we see in verse 11 that a huge thunderstorm occurred.  Large hailstones began to pelt the enemy, killing more of their soldiers than Israel had killed.  Israel understandably took this to be a divine intervention, because the stones hit and killed only Canaanites, and not the Israelites who were pursuing. 

            This was the first of two miraculous events that day in the opinion of Israel.  The second is seen in verses 12-15.  The author reports that Joshua had prayed earlier in the day and asked God to prolong the daylight hours until Israel could gain victory; and then in support, he presents a quotation from a book that is no longer extant, The Book of Jashar.  “Jashar” means “righteous.”  And the quotation is in poetic form.  Therefore scholars believe that the quotation may have been from a song about the battle that was preserved in a book about “righteous” or “godly” men in Israel’s history.  This seems to be confirmed by 2 Sam. 1:17-18, where we are told that David’s lamentation over Saul and Jonathan, which then is quoted, also was recorded in the Book of Jashar.

            According to the Book of Jashar, Joshua asked that the sun stand still over Gibeon and the moon over Aijalon.  Aijalon is to the west of Gibeon.  So the moon would still have been in the western sky in the early morning, which was when Joshua attacked the Amorites.  So it was fairly early in the day when the prayer was uttered.  Then verse 13 goes on to say, “The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.” 

            So what are we to make of this miracle?  Well, many have offered reasons why such a miracle would not be possible, because of the consequences of such a miracle on the earth and the solar system.  In my opinion, arguments of that type fall to the ground against the doctrine of divine omnipotence.  God who created it all is all-powerful; therefore he is capable of handling the total picture and all of the consequences that spring from it.

            On the other hand, it also is within the realm of possibility that the day may have seemed prolonged to Joshua and the army of Israel, because of the enormous accomplishments made that day, accomplishments that normally would take two days.  To begin, Israel marched all night before the battle started.  Then after winning the major battle at Gibeon in the morning, they pursued the Amorites all day rather than taking any rest.  They saw a great storm produce hailstones large enough to kill enemy soldiers, and then they moved in to kill many more themselves.  All of that happened in that single day.

            We also must remember that Israel had no clocks.  In order to judge that the sun was not moving, or that it was moving more slowly than normal, one would have to stay in one spot and watch the shadow cast by a tree or some other object to observe that the shadow was not moving.  Israel was either engaged in battle, or on the move, the entire day.  So, although it is possible that God worked some sort of miracle on the battle field that day, it also is possible that the day merely seemed supernaturally long to Israel, since they moved so far and accomplished so much in that one day. 

            In verses 16-27, the tape is rewound a bit; and a story is told about the disposal of the five kings who, during the battle had taken refuge in a cave (v. 16).  The kings were discovered in the cave by the Israelites, but rather than stop the pursuit of enemy armies, Joshua ordered the cave sealed until the mop-up operation of the battle could be completed (vv. 17-19).  Then, perhaps the next day, Joshua ordered the kings brought out of the cave (v. 22). 

            The placing of the kings on the ground, with the feet of Israel’s leaders on their necks in front of the entire Israelite army (v. 24) was not mere brutality.  It was an important symbolic gesture that had at least two purposes.  On the one hand, it was a standard symbol of the complete subjugation of the conquered peoples.  Humiliation of a king way clearly symbolized the total defeat of the enemy.  And on the other hand, the gesture was intended to stimulate the Israelite army.  As Joshua put it in verse 25, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous; for thus the Lord will do to all the enemies against who you fight.”  Then Joshua killed the kings, further humiliated them by hanging them on trees until sundown, and buried them in the same cave in which they had hidden (vv. 26-27).

            The rest of the chapter lists the fortified cities that Joshua conquered in the rest of the southern campaign: Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir.  You will notice that some of them were the same cites they had fought on the long day.  But as verse 20 indicates, Israel did not take the fortified cities that day.  That task was left to other days.

            The passage ends with a summary of the southern campaign in verses 40-43.  As you see from the description, they conquered the entire southern part of Canaan: the hill country, the lowlands, and the Negeb, which was the southern desert area.  They defeated every city from Kadesh-barnea to Gaza, the country of Goshen (not the Goshen in Egypt where Israel once had lived as slaves), but a small country near Gibeon. 

            Some of these geographical expressions overlap.  It was a way of expressing the completeness of the conquest.  They not only took all of the land; they killed all of the people as God had commanded.  “Then Joshua returned and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal” (v. 43). 

            What are we to take from this study?  At the very least we learn that God’s power is available to us when we do his will.  When Joshua and Israel did not consult God before the first battle if Ai, disaster was the result.  When they did consult God, and did what he commanded, the result was victory and blessing.  This is just as true in our spiritual walk with God, as it was for Israel in their very literal conquest of Canaan. 


            In this essay we are ready to take up chapter nine.  This is an interesting story, but in a sense it is a sad one.  It is about how a particular group of Canaanites, the Gibeonites, acted separately from the other Canaanites in order to save their lives.  Notice I said a particular group of Canaanites.  Technically the term “Canaanites” refers to a particular nation of people who lived in the land of Canaan.  But the term often is used in a broader sense to represent all of the peoples who lived in Canaan.  At the moment I am using it in that broad sense, as a label for all of the peoples of the land.

            That something needed to be done by the Canaanites in the face of the threat from Israel was clear.  The Israelites had killed every man, woman and child in both Jericho and Ai, and so the writing was on the wall so to speak for the rest of the Canaanites.  Obviously, Israel was not just seeking territory.  They were eliminating everyone in the territories they were conquering.  And the Canaanites were reading the situation correctly.  Israel was eliminating everyone.  God had commanded that they do that, so that they wouldn’t be corrupted by the Canaanites.

            Now this brings us face to face with a subject that disturbs some folk.  It seems out of character for the God of love who is revealed in Scripture, especially in the New Testament, to be commanding the annihilation of whole people groups.  The discussion we had earlier in our study of Joshua in relation to the “ban” placed on Jericho and Ai did not really get at this issue.  So let’s pause and look at it for a few moments.

            First, let’s turn to two Scriptures in Deuteronomy in order to get the biblical basis for the problem.  The first is Deut. 7:1-2, which reads: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Cannanites, Perizites, Hivites, Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.’’  A second, similar Scripture is Deut. 20:16-17, which reads, “However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.  Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Cannanites, Perizites, Hivites, Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.  Otherwise they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshipping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God” 

            We see from these Scriptures that God had his reasons for commanding the slaughter of all of the Canaanite peoples.  Now some might want to challenge God at that point, and claim that God was unjust to do such a thing.  Others might wish to accept it without raising any questions at all, because God is God and he knows what he is doing; and we ought simply to accept it and go on. 

            It seems to me that both of those approaches are inappropriate extremes.  To challenge the justness of God is a rather serious and formidable thing to do; and it could get us in spiritual trouble.  On the other hand, to raise no questions at all; and thus to refuse to try to understand what God was doing, is to stick our heads in the sand and leave ourselves vulnerable to intellectual attacks by nonbelievers. 

            God’s motive certainly wasn’t some sort of “lust for blood,” or a matter of capriciousness.  He acted as the God of love as well as the God of justice, as he always does.  So we must try to understand how what he commanded that was just at that time in salvation history.  It seems to me that the phrase “salvation history” is the key.  God’s plan was much larger than the land of Canaan.  God had the entire future of humanity and the salvation of the whole world in view, not just Canaan. 

            Israel was God’s elect.  They were the only people on the face of the earth who had any proper understanding of who he was.  It was from them that the Messiah, the Savior, was to come.  Thus in a sense they were the only “game in town” for the salvation of the world.  That made it absolutely essential that Israel stay religiously pure enough for God’s overall plan to unfold in the future of humanity.  And God knew humanity well enough to know that they would maintain the necessary level of purity only if the Canaanite religious influences, which were extremely evil, were eliminated.  Therefore in the greater scheme of things, the Canaanites, who were evil and deserved judgment, needed to be eliminated for the good, not only of Israel but also of humanity as a whole. 

            Coming back to Joshua chapter nine, the first two verses inform us that the Canaanite kings decided to band together in an alliance to fight Israel.  But then in verses 3-15 we are told about the Gibeonites, one of the Hivite peoples (v. 7), who chose to deal with Israel in a different way.  It is quite clear that the Gibeonite solution was one of deception, rather than war.  It also was a bit of a gamble.  Their deception was to convince Israel that they were “from a far country” rather than from Canaan.  And they did that successfully by dressing in worn out clothes, by carrying worn out sacks and wineskins, and by carrying moldy bread. 

            They wanted a treaty, an alliance (v. 7).  And that is where their gamble lay.  Obviously they were gambling that Israel would honor the treaty even after they discovered the deception.  The Gibianites got the treaty.  And verses 16-27 tell us what happened next. 

            Now it wasn’t likely that the Gibeonites went into the deception with the intention of becoming Israel’s slaves.  They probably were hoping for something better than that, an actual friendly alliance.  But as you see, as soon as Israel learned about the deception, they marched on Gibeon.  They didn’t kill the Gibeonites, which means the deception was a qualified success; but they did enslave them.

            Now this raises a new problem.  Some ask why the leaders of Israel felt obligated to keep the treaty, when it was based on a deception by the Gibeonites.  I believe verse 19 is the key to an answer to that question.  Israel swore the treaty “by the Lord.”  That is, they invoked the name of the Lord in swearing the treaty.  Now in that culture it was a very serious matter to break an oath, even if it had been made imprudently.  Moreover, breaking the oath might have brought dishonor to God in the eyes of the Canaanites, since it had been made in his name. 

            Therefore the leaders of Israel decided to keep the treaty, and let the Gibeonites live.  But they placed them into slavery to Israel, and to Israel’s sanctuary, so that there would be little likelihood that the Gibeonites’ religion would influence the Israelites.  Apparently the decision was a good one, because later biblical writers never placed any blame on Israel for it; and there is no indication anywhere that the Gibeonites ever induced Israel to join in idolatrous worship. 

            Turning now to application, the big lesson we can learn from this is seen in verse 14:  “The leaders [literally the men] partook of their [that is, the Gibeonites’] provisions, and did not ask direction from the Lord.”  Isn’t that classic!  They “did not ask direction from the Lord.”  Israel failed to pray before the first attack on Ai with disastrous results; and here again, they failed to pray before making their decision about the Gibeonites.  And again they found themselves “in the soup.” 

            That is so like us!  We are faced with a decision, and we think we know how to handle the situation.  It doesn’t even occur to us to pray about it.  And then too late, we discover that we weren’t as smart as we thought we were.  Neglect of prayer always suggests pride in our own judgments.  So we should be careful to pray about all of our major decisions.  We really aren’t as smart as we sometimes think we are.

            That is a negative example on the part of Israel.  But there also is a positive principle to be seen here.  After Israel realized their mistake, they used good sense.  They didn’t compound their sin by committing a fresh sin.  Rather they assessed the situation, and looked for a way to honor God and the treaty without compromising their religious life.  And, in part I trust because of prayer, they were able to do that. 

            I believe we can follow a principle like that.  When we sin, or fail in some other way, we don’t have to say, “It’s too late for me.”  We can get right with God, choose to make the best of the bad situation, and move on with our lives. 


            In the last essay we took up the first 29 verses of chapter eight, which tell the story of Israel’s second attack on Ai.  In this essay we move to the balance of chapter eight, which is a brief, but very important passage.  In it we see Israel renewing the covenant with the Lord in the valley of Shechem that lies between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. 

            After the capture of Ai, Israel’s foothold in Canaan was secure enough that Joshua felt he could now carry out some instructions that Moses had given before his death.  Those instructions are recorded in Deuteronomy 27:2 and following.  The passage reads in part:

On the day that you cross over the Jordan into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and cover them with plaster.  You shall write on them all the words of this law . . . So when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones . . . on Mount Ebal . . . And you shall build an altar there to the Lord your God, an altar of stones on which you have not used an iron tool . . . Then offer up burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God.  [to verse 11.]  The same day Moses charged the people as follows: When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mt. Gerizim for the blessing of the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin.  And these shall stand on Mt. Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.  Then the Levites shall declare in a loud voice to all the Israelites (Deut. 27:2-14):

            Then comes a long list of sins for which the people will be cursed, if they commit them (vv. 15-26).  Then chapter 28, verses 1-2 read: “If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God.”  Then comes a long list of blessings for those who are obedient (vv. 3-14). 

            Coming back to Joshua eight, we see that Joshua simply was following through with what he had committed himself to do; namely, to continue the leadership of Moses.  And that included putting into practice what Moses had ordered prior to his death. 

            As we have just read, Moses had given detailed instructions for this renewal of the covenant.  And he had ordered it to be done as soon as they were secure in the land.  Now this meant that the people had to march about 30 miles from Ai to Shechem in order to get to the place Moses stipulated.  They could have done that comfortably in two days. 

            Although I have been to Israel, I have not seen that particular valley.  It is my understanding from reading that Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim stand facing each other with the two-mile wide valley of Shechem lying between.  Ebal is rugged, barren and rocky.  Gerizim by contrast is wooded and beautiful.  I also read that the valley forms a natural amphitheater with terrific acoustics, which makes what we read here possible.  Indeed Alan Redpath claims that one can stand on top of Ebal and speak to someone on top of Gerizim without raising one’s voice very much, and be heard clearly.  That seems astounding; but the natural acoustics had to be outstanding for this ceremony to be accomplished.

            After building an altar and making sacrifices on it (vv. 30-31), Joshua made the pillar that was plastered over; and he wrote the law on it, as Moses had commanded (v. 32).  Then Joshua divided the people into two groups, half to stand on the Ebal side, and half to stand on the Gerizim side, with the Ark of the Covenant and the Levites in the valley between.  The fact that the aliens, the non-Israelites among the people, took part makes it clear that everyone was involved (v. 33).

            After all the people were in place, Joshua read the entire law to the assembly (v. 34).  Although it is not recorded here in Joshua chapter eight, I assume that Joshua, as part of the ceremony, also had the Levites pronounce the curses and blessings of Deut. 27-28, since Moses commanded that it be done. 

            Imagine the scene!  Six tribes assembled on Ebal, and six on Gerizim, with the Levites and the ark in the middle.  Think of the drama of reading the law, but even more so of pronouncing the curses and blessings!  The curses on the disobedient, and then the blessings for the obedient rang throughout that wonderful amphitheater. 

            Of course there would have been some sort of response by the people, perhaps an “amen,” or its equivalent.  And by that response the people would have been saying, in effect, if we disobey, we shall die; if we obey we shall live.  If we turn from the law, we shall perish; if we follow after the One who gave us the law, we shall be blessed. 

            Now then, there are a couple of significant points of application to be seen in this passage.  First, did you notice that the altar on which the sacrifices were made was built on Mt. Ebal, rather than on Mt. Gerizim, or in the middle?  That is significant.  Ebal was the mount of the curses.  It symbolized the sins of the people, and the dangers of disobedience.  It was the mount of judgment.  In our Christian context, that is precisely where the sacrifice of Christ is applied—to our sins, to our disobedience and judgment.

            Second, not only was the altar at the point of judgment, so was the law.  It was written on the pillar that was plastered over, which according to Deut. 27:4, also so was built on Mt. Ebal. As we all know, the law brings condemnation on people, because no one can fulfill it completely. 

            Even we Christians (though under no condemnation because of forgiveness in Christ) nevertheless are required to keep the moral law; and we occasionally transgress the law.  But glory to God, in our scene at the valley of Shechem the law was near the altar.  And at the altar the blood was shed.  It was the place of communion, restoration, and worship.  Therefore as John in the New Testament declares, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn. 1:9).

            Third, and this is most important of all, the ark, which represented the presence of God among the people, was right in the middle.  On the one side was the mountain of judgment, and on the other side the mountain of blessing.  But God himself was right in the middle

            And we Christians have the wonderful privilege of answering the challenge of God even as we walk with him.  May we all do that successfully by the power of the Holy Spirit. 


            In this essay we take up chapter eight, verses 1-29, which tells the story of Israel’s second attack on Ai.  With the discovery and death of Achan and his children, God lifted the ban from Israel; and he returned his blessing to her.  The Lord told Joshua not to “fear or be dismayed.”  Ai would fall to Israel.  And the Lord even gave Joshua the tactics he was to use against the town.  For this attack Joshua was to use the entire army instead of only 3,000 men; and he was to use an ambush.  The Lord directed that the people in the town were to be killed, but the livestock and the valuables were to be given to the people as booty. 

            The next part of the story contains a textual problem.  The textual problem is the difference in the number of the soldiers laid in ambush in verses three and 12 respectively.  In verse three Joshua chose 30,000 men to lay in ambush; and in verse 12, he set 5,000 to the task. 

            There are two ways of dealing with this matter.  The first is to assume that two groups of soldiers were placed in ambush.  That is possible.  The main difficulty with this solution is the ambush group’s role.  It was to attack the unprotected town, set it on fire, and then cut off the retreat of Ai’s army.  They did not need two groups to do that.

            Thus the second solution rejects the idea that two ambush groups were involved.  It also rejects the idea that 30,000 troops made up the ambush group, as indicated in verses three.  A group of 30,000 was not needed to take the unprotected town and set it on fire.  This solution suggests instead that the number, 30,000. given in verse three is incorrect, perhaps because of a copyist’s error. 

            You will recall that Israel’s first assessment of the town was that two or three thousand troops could take it without any deception at all.  Now they were going to trick the town’s people into leaving it unprotected.  And a group of 5,000 was more than enough men for that duty.  Plus the group is called a “rear guard” in verse 13.  Rear guards always were a relatively small number of men.

            Obviously the difficulty with this second solution is that it seems to question something recorded in God’s Word.  But actually, the matter is not one of questioning something of substance.  Numbers are a rather consistent problem in the Old Testament, especially in the historical books.  For example, a comparison of the numbers given in the books of Samuel and Kings with those given in Chronicles shows differences that cannot easily be harmonized.  And they usually are explained as copyist’s errors.  Many scholars believe that is the best solution here.  You will have to decide between the solutions yourself. 

            However large the ambush force was, or how many ambush forces there were, it (or they) hid on the west side of Ai, verses 9 and 12.  Then Joshua took the main force and camped on the north side of town, verse 11.  In the morning Joshua began an attack with his main force (v. 10); and the army of Ai did the same thing as before.  They went out to meet the attacking force (v. 14).  Why not?  It had worked the last time. 

            Then Joshua had his army fall back, giving the impression to Ai’s army that Israel was running away, as her army had done during the first attack (v. 15).  The Ai army took the bait and pursued Israel’s army (v. 16).

            Next, Joshua gave the signal for the group in ambush to attack the open, unprotected town; and they easily took it and set it on fire (vv. 18-20).  When the smoke of the burning city began to rise, both armies saw it.  That was Israel’s sign to turn again and attack Ai’s army (v. 21).  And it brought a realization to the army of Ai that they had been tricked. 

            The ambush force finished its work in Ai, and then they came out against the rear of the Ai army.  Israel’s soldiers thus forced the Ai army to fight on two fronts; and they quickly defeated them, killing every last man (v. 22).  Only Ai’s king was left alive (vv. 22-23). 

            Thus we see what might be called ‘the mop-up” operation.  Israel proceeded to kill not only every soldier, but also every inhabitant of the town.  The total population, we are told, was 12,000 (vv. 24-26).  Then they took the livestock and the other valuables as booty, as the Lord had said.  Finally they completed the burning of the city and killed the king (vv. 27-29). 

            There is an interesting piece of information in verse 17 that easily can be missed, because it is given so fast, without comment.  Verse 17 says, “There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel.”  The city of Bethel was located fairly near to Ai; and evidently they took part in the battle.  This suggests that Israel may have taken Bethel that day as well as Ai.

            Turning now to application, I would point to the fact, seen in verses 1-2, that the Lord directed Joshua to use the whole army in the second attack.  In other words the Lord did not make the mistake of underestimating the power of an enemy as Joshua had done (v. 1).  We can learn form that.  In the sanctified life we are at war with the powers of evil; and we must never underestimate their power. 

            In the next section of the narrative, say from verse three through verse 13, we see the Lord’s strategy.  That implies that we need a strategy for living the Christian life.  The thing I noticed in these verses was the timing.  The Lord’s strategy required precise timing.  Once the diversion began, Joshua had to recognize the proper time to signal the ambush group to move into the city; and then the main force had to turn back on Ai’s army at the right time to produce maximum confusion and a crossfire.  Not only do we need to have a strategy for Christian living, we need to appreciate the importance of timing. 

            For example, some husbands respond to a call from God to attend seminary before God has called their wives.  They move their families without adequate prayer and preparation for the wives, and I have seen it break their marriages.  That cannot be God’s will.  Therefore it is not God’s timing.  I’m sure you can think of other examples of the importance of timing in the Christian life?

            One might find a point of application in the poor decisions by the leaders of Ai.  First they made their decision on how to defend their city without proper reconnaissance, which meant that hey were easily set up for the ambush.  And then they failed to post a rear guard, which made them vulnerable to attack from the rear.  In the Christian life, we must be alert to what is going on around us; and we must be prepared to meet the enemy on any front.  The foe we fight is as crafty as he is evil; and constant vigilance is required.