Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Conquest and Burning of Ai. - Jos 8:1, Jos 8:2. After the ban which rested upon the people had been wiped away, the Lord encouraged Joshua to make war upon Ai, promising him that the city should be taken, and giving him instructions what to do to ensure the success of his undertaking. With evident allusion to Joshua's despair after the failure of the first attack, the Lord commences with these words, "Fear not, neither be thou dismayed" (as in Deu 1:21; Deu 31:8), and then commands him to go against Ai with all the people of war. By "all the people of war" we are hardly to understand all the men out of the whole nation who were capable of bearing arms; but as only a third of these were contributed by the two tribes and a half to cross over into Canaan and take part in the war, the other tribes also are not likely to have levied more than a third, say about 160,000, which would form altogether an army of about 200,000 men. But even such an army as this seems out of all proportion to the size of Ai, with its 12,000 inhabitants (Jos 8:25). On the other hand, however, we must bear in mind that the expression "all the people of war" simply denotes the whole army, in contrast with the advice of the spies that only a portion of the army should be sent (Jos 7:3), so that we are not warranted in pressing the word "all" to absolutely;
(Note: "As we have just before seen how their hearts melted, God consulted their weakness, by putting no heavier burden upon them than they were able to bear, until they had recovered from their alarm, and hearkened readily to His commands." - Calvin.)
and also that this command of God was not given with reference to the conquest of Ai alone, but applied at the same time to the conquest of the whole land, which Joshua was not to attempt by sending out detachments only, but was to carry out with the whole of the force at his command. עלה, to go up, is applied to the advance of an army against a hostile town, independently of the question whether the town was situated upon an eminence or not, as every town that had to be taken was looked upon as a height to be scaled, though as a fact in this instance the army had really to ascend from Jericho to Ai, which was situated up in the mountains (On Jos 8:1, see Jos 6:2.) "His land" is the country round, which belonged to the town and was under its king.
Joshua was to do the same to Ai and her king as he had already done to Jericho and her king, except that in this case the conquerors were to be allowed to appropriate the booty and the cattle to themselves. In order to conquer the town, he was to lay an ambush behind it.
(Note: The much agitated question, whether it could be worthy of God to employ stratagem in war, to which different replies have been given, has been answered quite correctly by Calvin. "Surely," he says, "wars are not carried on by striking alone; but they are considered the best generals who succeed through art and counsel more than by force ... . Therefore, if war is lawful at all, it is beyond all controversy that the way is perfectly clear for the use of the customary arts of warfare, provided there is no breach of faith in the violation of treaty or truce, or in any other way.")
ארב, a collective noun, signifying the persons concealed in ambush; מארב (Jos 8:9), the place of ambush. "Behind it," i.e., on the west of the town.
Accordingly Joshua set out with all the people of war against Ai, and selected 30,000 brave men, and sent them out in the night, with instructions to station themselves as an ambuscade behind the town, and at no great distance from it. As the distance from Gilgal to Ai was about fifteen miles, and the road runs pretty straight in a north-westerly direction from Jericho through the Wady Faran, the detachment sent forward might easily accomplish the distance in a night, so as to arrive on the western side of Ai before the break of day. They were then to hold themselves in readiness to fight. He (Joshua) himself would approach the town with the people of war that remained with him; and if the inhabitants of Ai should come out against him as they did before, they would flee before them till they had drawn them quite away from their town (Jos 8:5). This was to be expected; "for they will say, They flee before us, as at the first: and we will flee before them" (Jos 8:6). When this was done, the warriors were to come forth from their ambush, fall upon the town, and set it on fire (Jos 8:7, Jos 8:8). Having been sent away with these instructions, the 30,000 men went into ambush, and posted themselves "between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai" (Jos 8:9), i.e., according to Strauss, in the Wady es Suweinit, to the north-west of Ai, where it forms almost a perpendicular wall, near to which the ruins of Chai are to be found, though "not near enough to the rocky wady for it to be possible to look down its almost perpendicular wall" (Ritter, Erdk. xvi. p. 528). Joshua remained for the night in the midst of the people, i.e., in the camp of that portion of the army that had gone with him towards Ai; not in Gilgal, as Knobel supposes.
The next morning he mustered the people as early as possible, and then went, with the elders of Israel, "before the people of Ai." The elders of Israel are not "military tribunes, who were called elders because of their superiority in military affairs," as Masius supposes, but, as in every other case, the heads of the people, who accompanied Joshua as counsellors.
The whole of the people of war also advanced with him to the front of the town, and encamped on the north of Ai, so that the valley was between it (בינו, as in Jos 3:4) and Ai. This was probably a side valley branching off towards the south from the eastern continuation of the Wady es Suweinit. - In Jos 8:12, Jos 8:13, the account of the preparations for the attack is founded off by a repetition of the notice as to the forces engaged, and in some respects a more exact description of their disposition. Joshua, it is stated in Jos 8:12, took about 5000 men and placed them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west of the town. As the place where this ambuscade was posted is described in precisely the same terms as that which was occupied, according to Jos 8:9, by the 30,000 men who were sent out to form an ambuscade in the night before the advance of the main army against Ai (for the substitution of "the city" for Ai cannot possibly indicate a difference in the locality), the view held by the majority of commentators, that Jos 8:12 refers to a second ambuscade, which Joshua sent out in addition to the 30,000, and posted by the side of them, is even more than questionable, and is by no means raised into a probability by the expression את־עקבו (Eng. "their liers in wait") in Jos 8:13. The description of the place, "on the west of the city," leaves no doubt whatever that "their liers in wait" are simply the ambuscade (ארב) mentioned in Jos 8:12, which was sent out from the whole army, i.e., the ambuscade that was posted on the west of the town. עקב signifies literally the lier in wait (Psa 49:5), from עקב, insidiari, and is synonymous with ארב. The meaning which Gesenius and others attach to the word, viz., the rear or hinder part of the army, cannot be sustained from Gen 49:19. If we add to this the fact that Jos 8:13 is obviously nothing more than a repetition of the description already given in Jos 8:11 of the place where the main army was posted, and therefore bears the character of a closing remark introduced to wind up the previous account, we cannot regard Jos 8:12 as anything more than a repetition of the statements in Jos 8:3, Jos 8:9, and can only explain the discrepancy with regard to the number of men who were placed in ambush, by supposing that, through a copyist's error, the number which was expressed at first in simple letters has in one instance been given wrongly. The mistake, however, is not to be found in the 5000 (Jos 8:12), but in the 30,000 in Jos 8:3, where ה has been confounded with ל. For a detachment of 5000 men would be quite sufficient for an ambuscade that had only to enter the town after the soldiers had left it in pursuit of the Israelites, and to set it on fire, whereas it hardly seems possible that 30,000 men should have been posted in ambush so near to the town.
(Note: We need have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that there is a mistake in the number given in Jos 8:3, as the occurrence of such mistakes in the historical books is fully established by a comparison of the numbers given in the books of Samuel and Kings with those in the books of Chronicles, and is admitted by every commentator. In my earlier commentary on Joshua, I attempted to solve the difficulty by the twofold assumption: first, that Jos 8:12 contains a supplementary statement, in which the number of the men posted in ambush is given for the firs time; and secondly, that the historian forgot to notice that out of the 30,000 men whom Joshua chose to make war upon Ai, 5000 were set apart to lie in ambush. But, on further examination of the text, I have come to the conclusion that the second assumption is irreconcilable with the distinct words of Jos 8:3, and feel obliged to give it up. On the other hand, I still adhere to the conviction that there is not sufficient ground either for the assumption that Jos 8:12, Jos 8:13, contain an old marginal gloss that has crept into the text, or for the hypothesis of Ewald and Knobel, that these verses were introduced by the last editor of the book out of some other document. The last hypothesis amounts to a charge of thoughtlessness against the latest editor, which is hardly reconcilable with the endeavour, for which he is praised in other places, to reconcile the discrepancies in the different documents.)
- In Jos 8:13, העם (the people) is to be taken as the subject of the sentence: "The people had set all the host, that was on the north of the city, and its ambuscade on the west of the city." In the night, namely the night before the army arrived at the north of the town, Joshua went through the midst of the valley, which separated the Israelites from the town, so that in the morning he stood with all the army close before the town.
When the king of Ai saw the Israelites, he hurried out in the morning against them to battle at the (previously) appointed place (למּועד, in locum condictum, as in Sa1 20:35) before the steppe (Arabah, not the valley of the Jordan, but the steppe or desert of Bethaven; see at Jos 7:2), as he knew nothing of the ambuscade behind the town.
But the Israelites let them beat them, and fled along the desert (of Bethaven).
And all the people in the town were called together to pursue the Israelites, and were drawn away from the town, so that not a man, i.e., not a single soldier who could take part in the pursuit, remained either in Ai or the neighbouring town of Bethel, and the town stood open behind them. It is evident from Jos 8:17 that the inhabitants of Bethel, which was about three hours' journey from Ai, took part in the battle, probably in consequence of a treaty which the king of Ai had made with them in the expectation of a renewed and still stronger attack on the part of the Israelites. Nothing further is known upon this point; nor can anything be inferred from the fact that the king of Bethel is included in the list of the kings slain by Joshua (Jos 12:16). Consequently, we cannot decide whether the Bethelites came to the help of the Aites for the first time on the day of the battle itself, or, what is more probable, had already sent men to Ai, to help to repulse the expected attack of the Israelites upon that town.
At the command of God Joshua now stretched out the javelin in his hand towards the town. At this sign the ambuscade rose hastily from its concealment, rushed into the town, and set it on fire. בּכּידון נטה signifies to stretch out the hand with the spear. The object יד, which is missing (cf. Jos 8:19, Jos 8:26), may easily be supplied from the apposition בּידך אשׁר. The raising of the javelin would probably be visible at a considerable distance, even if it was not provided with a small flag, as both earlier and later commentators assume, since Joshua would hardly be in the mist of the flying Israelites, but would take his station as commander upon some eminence on one side. And the men in ambush would have scouts posted to watch for the signal, which had certainly been arranged beforehand, and convey the information to the others.
The men of Ai then turned round behind them, being evidently led to do so by the Israelites, who may have continued looking round to the town of Ai when the signal had been given by Joshua, to see whether the men in ambush had taken it and set it on fire, and as soon as they saw that this had been done began to offer still further resistance to their pursuers, and to defend themselves vigorously against them. On looking back to their town the Aites saw the smoke of the town ascending towards heaven: "and there were not hands in them to flee hither and thither," i.e., they were utterly unable to flee. "Hand," as the organs of enterprise and labour, in the sense of "strength," not "room," for which we should expect to find להם instead of בּהם. There is an analogous passage in Psa 76:6, "None of the men of might have found their hands." For the people that fled to the wilderness (the Israelitish army) turned against the pursuers (the warriors of Ai), or, as is added by way of explanation in Jos 8:21, when Joshua and all Israel saw the town in the hands of the ambuscade, and the smoke ascending, they turned round and smote the people of Ai; and (Jos 8:22) these (i.e., the Israelites who had formed the ambuscade) came out of the town to meet them. "These" (Eng. the other), as contrasted with "the people that fled" in Jos 8:20, refers back to "the ambush" in Jos 8:19. In this way the Aites were in the midst of the people of Israel, who came from this side and that side, and smote them to the last man. "So that they let none of them remain:" as in Num 21:35 and Deu 3:3, except that in this case it is strengthened still further by וּפליט, "or escape."
The king of Ai was taken alive and brought to Joshua.
When all the men of Ai, who had come out to pursue the Israelites, had been slain upon the field (namely) in the desert, all Israel returned to Ai and smote it (the town, i.e., the inhabitants), so that on that day there fell of men and women, 12,000, all the people of Ai: for Joshua did not draw back his hand, which had been stretched out with the javelin, till all the inhabitants of Ai were smitten with the ban, i.e., put to death; according to the common custom of war, that the general did not lower the war-signal till the conflict was to cease (see Suidas in Σημεῖα, and Lipsius de militia, Rom. iv. dial. 12).
Only the cattle and the rest of the booty the conquerors retained for themselves, according to the word of the Lord (Jos 8:2).
Joshua had the town burnt down and made into a heap of rubbish for ever.
He had the king of Ai hanged upon a tree, i.e., put to death, and then suspended upon a stake (see Num 25:4) until the evening; but at sunset he had him taken down (in accordance with Deu 21:22-23), and thrown at the entrance of the town-gate, and a heap of stones piled upon him (as in the case of Achan, Jos 7:26).
Blessings and Curses upon Gerizim and Ebal. - After the capture of Ai, Israel had gained so firm a footing in Canaan that Joshua was able to carry out the instructions of Moses in Deut 27, that, after crossing the Jordan, he was to build an altar upon Mount Ebal for the setting up the covenant. The fulfilment of these instructions, according to the meaning of this solemn act, as a symbolical setting up of the law of the Lord to be the invariable rule of life to the people of Israel in the land of Canaan (see at Deut 27), was not only a practical expression of thanksgiving on the part of the covenant nation for its entrance into this land through the almighty assistance of its God, but also a practical acknowledgement, that in the overthrow of the Canaanites thus far it had received a strong pledge of the conquest of the foes that still remained and the capture of the whole of the promised land, provided only it persevered in covenant faithfulness towards the Lord its God. The account of this transaction is attached, it is true, to the conquest of Ai by the introduction, "Then Joshua built," etc. (Jos 8:30); but simply as an occurrence which had no logical connection with the conquest of Canaan and the defeat of its kings. The particle אז (sequ. imperf.) is used, for example, in cases where the historian either wishes to introduce contemporaneous facts, that do not carry forward the main course of the history, or loses sight for the time of the strictly historical sequence and simply takes note of the occurrence of some particular event (vid., Ewald, 136, b.). The assertion of modern critics, which Knobel repeats, that this account is out of place in the series of events as contained in Josh 6-12, is so far correct, that the promulgation of the law and the renewal of the covenant upon Ebal form no integral part of the account of the conquest of Canaan; but it by no means proves that this section has been interpolated by the Jehovist from his first document, or by the last editor of this book from some other source, and that what is related here did not take place at the time referred to. The circumstance that, according to Josh 6-8:29, Joshua had only effected the conquest of Jericho in the south of the land from Gilgal as a base, and that even in Josh 9-10 he was still engaged in the south, by no means involves the impossibility or even the improbability of a march to Shechem, which was situated further north, where he had not yet beaten the Canaanites, and had not effected any conquests. The distance from Ai to Shechem between Gerizim and Ebal is about thirty miles in a straight line. Robinson made the journey from Bireh (Beeroth) to Sichem on mules in eleven and a half hours, and that not by the most direct route (Pal. iii. pp. 81-2), and Ai was not more than an hour to the south of Beeroth; so that Joshua could have gone with the people from Ai to Gerizim and Ebal in two days without any excessive exertion. Now, even if the conquests of the Israelites had not extended further north than Ai at that time, there was no reason why Joshua should be deterred from advancing further into the land by any fear of attack from the Canaanites, as the people of war who went with him would be able to repulse any hostile attack; and after the news had spread of the fate of Ai and Jericho, no Canaanitish king would be likely to venture upon a conflict with the Israelites alone. Moreover, Shechem had no king, as we may gather from the list of the thirty-one kings who were defeated by Joshua. To the further remark of Knobel, that "there was no reason for their hurrying with this ceremony, and it might have been carried out at a later period in undisturbed security," we simply reply, that obedience to the command of God was not a matter of such indifference to the servant of the Lord as Knobel imagines. There was no valid reason after the capture of Ai for postponing any longer the solemn ceremony of setting up the law of Jehovah which had been enjoined by Moses; and if we consider the reason for this solemnity, to which we have already referred, there can be no doubt that Joshua would proceed without the least delay to set up the law of the Lord in Canaan as early as possible, even before the subjugation of the whole land, that he might thereby secure the help of God for further conflicts and enterprises.
The account of this religious solemnity is given very briefly. It presupposes an acquaintance with the Mosaic instructions in Deut 27, and merely gives the leading points, to show that those instructions were carefully carried out by Joshua. Of the three distinct acts of which the ceremony consisted, in the book of Deuteronomy the setting up of the stones with the law written upon them is mentioned first (Deu 27:2-4), and then (Jos 8:5-7) the building of the altar and the offering of sacrifice. Here, on the contrary, the building of the altar and offering of sacrifice are mentioned first (Jos 8:30, Jos 8:31), and then (Jos 8:32) the writing of the law upon the stones; which was probably the order actually observed. - In Jos 8:30 Jehovah is called "the God of Israel," to show that henceforth no other god was to be worshipped in Canaan than the God of Israel. On Mount Ebal, see at Deu 11:29 and Deu 27:4.
"As Moses commanded:" namely, Deu 27:5. "As it is written in the book of the law of Moses:" viz., in Exo 20:22 (25). On the presentation of burnt-offerings and slain-offerings, see at Deu 27:6-7. - In Jos 8:32 nothing is mentioned but the writing of the law upon the stones; all the rest is presupposed from Deu 27:2., to which the expression "the stones" refers. "Copy of the law:" as in Deu 17:18; see the explanation at Deu 27:3. In connection with the third part of the ceremony the promulgation of the law with the blessing and cursing, the account of the Mosaic instructions given in Deu 27:11. is completed in Jos 8:33 by the statement that "all Israel, and their elders (i.e., with their elders), and shoterim, and judges," stood on both sides of the ark before the Levitical priests, the stranger as well as the native, i.e., without any exception, one half (i.e., six tribes) towards Mount Ebal, and the other half towards Mount Gerizim. For further remarks, see at Deu 27:11. "As Moses commanded to bless the people before:" i.e., as he had previously commanded. The fact that the thought itself does not suit the context is quite sufficient to show that the explanation given by many commentators, viz., that they were to commence with the blessings, is incorrect. But if, on the other hand, we connect the word "before" with the principal verb of the sentence, "commanded," the meaning will be that Moses did not give the command to proclaim the blessings and cursings to the people for the first time in connection with these instructions (Deut 27), but had done so before, at the very outset, namely, as early as Deu 11:29.
"And afterwards (after the people had taken the place assigned them) he read to them all the words of the law," i.e., he had the law proclaimed aloud by the persons entrusted with the proclamation of the law, viz., the Levitical priests. קרא, lit. to call out of proclaim, then in a derivative sense to read, inasmuch as reading aloud is proclaiming (as, for example, in Exo 24:7). The words "the blessing and the curse" are in apposition to "all the words of the law," which they serve to define, and are not to be understood as relating to the blessings in Deu 28:1-14, and the curses in Deu 27:15-26 and 28:15-68. The whole law is called "the blessing and the curse" with special reference to its contents, inasmuch as the fulfilment of it brings eo ipso a blessing, and the transgression of it eo ipso a curse. In the same manner, in Deu 11:26, Moses describes the exposition of the whole law in the steppes of Moab as setting before them blessing and cursing. In Jos 8:35 it is most distinctly stated that Joshua had the whole law read to the people; whilst the expression "all Israel," in v. 33, is more fully explained as signifying not merely the congregation in its representatives, or even the men of the nation, but "all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were in the midst of it."
Nothing is said about the march of Joshua and all Israel to Gerizim and Ebal. All that we know is, that he not only took with him the people of war and the elders or heads of tribes, but all the people. It follows from this, however, that the whole of the people must have left and completely vacated the camp at Gilgal in the valley of the Jordan. For if all Israel went to the mountains of Gerizim and Ebal, which were situated in the midst of the land, taking even the women and children with them, it is not likely that they left their cattle and other possessions behind them in Gilgal, exposed to the danger of being plundered in the meantime by the Canaanites of the southern mountains. So again we are not informed in what follows (Jos 9:1) in which direction Joshua and the people went after these solemnities at Ebal and Gerizim were over. It is certainly not stated that he went back to Gilgal in the Jordan valley, and pitched his tent again on the old site. No doubt we find Gilgal still mentioned as the encampment of Israel, not only in Jos 9:6; Jos 10:6, Jos 10:9, Jos 10:15, Jos 10:43, but even after the defeat and subjugation of the Canaanites in the south and north, when a commencement was made to distribute the land (Jos 14:6). But when it is asked whether this Gilgal was the place of encampment on the east of Jericho, which received its name from the circumcision of the whole nation which took place there, or the town of Gilgal by the side of the terebinths of Moreh, which is mentioned in Deu 11:30, and by which Moses defines the situation of Gerizim and Ebal, this question cannot be answered unhesitatingly according to the traditional view, viz., in favour of the encampment in the Jordan valley. For when not only the army, but all the people with their wives and children, had once proceeded from the Jordan valley to the mountains of Gerizim and Ebal, we cannot imagine any reason why Joshua should go back again to the plain of Jericho, that is to say, to the extreme corner of Canaan on the east, for the purpose of making that the base of his operations for the conquest and extermination of the Canaanites. And there is just as much improbability in the assumption, that after Joshua had not only defeated the kings of southern Canaan, who had allied themselves with Adonizedek of Jerusalem in the battle fought at Gibeon (Josh 10), but had also overthrown the kings of northern Canaan, who were allied with Jabin of Hazor at the waters of Merom above the Sea of Galilee (Josh 11), he should return again to Gilgal in the Jordan valley, and there quietly encamp with all the people, and commence the distribution of the land. The only thing that could bring us to assent to such extremely improbable assumptions, would be the fact that there was no other Gilgal in all Canaan than the encampment to the east of Jericho, which received the name of Gilgal for the first time from the Israelites themselves. But as the other Gilgal by the side of the terebinths of Moreh-i.e., the present Jiljilia, which stands upon an eminence on the south-west of Shiloh at about the same distance from Jerusalem as from Sichem-was a well-known place even in Moses' days (Deu 11:30), and from its situation on a lofty ridge, from which you can see the great lowlands and the sea towards the west, the mountains of Gilead towards the east, and far away in the north-east even Hermon itself (Rob. Pal. iii. p. 81), was peculiarly well adapted for a place of encampment, from which Joshua could carry on the conquest of the land toward both the north and south, we can come to no other conclusion than that this Gilgal or Jiljilia was the Gilgal mentioned in Jos 9:6; Jos 10:6, Jos 10:9,Jos 10:15, Jos 10:43, and Jos 14:6, as the place where the Israelites were encamped. We therefore assume, that after the setting up of the law on Gerizim and Ebal, Joshua did not conduct the people with their wives and children back again to the camp which they had left in the Jordan valley on the other side of Jericho, but chose the Gilgal which was situated upon the mountains, and only seven hours' journey to the south of Sichem, as the future place of encampment, and made this the central point of all his further military operations; and that this was the place to which he returned after his last campaign in the north, to commence the division of the conquered land among the tribes of Israel (Jos 14:6), and where he remained till the tabernacle was permanently erected at Shiloh, when the further distribution was carried on there (Jos 18:1.). This view, which even Van de Velde (Memoir, p. 316) has adopted as probable, is favoured still further by the fact that this Gilgal of Jiljilia, which is still a large village, is frequently mentioned in the subsequent history of Israel, not only in Kg2 2:1 and Kg2 4:38, as the seat of a school of the prophets in the time of Elijah and Elisha, and in Hos 4:15; Hos 9:15; Hos 12:12; Amo 4:4; Amo 5:5, as a place which was much frequented for the purpose of idolatrous worship; but even at an earlier date still, namely, as one of the places where Samuel judged the people (Sa1 7:16), and as the place where he offered sacrifice (Sa1 10:8; cf. Jos 13:7-9), and where he gathered the people together to confirm the monarchy of Saul (Sa1 11:14-15), at a time when the tabernacle at Shiloh had ceased to be the only national sanctuary of Israel, on account of the ark having been taken away. Gilgal had no doubt acquired this significance along with Bethel, which had been regarded as a holy place ever since the time of Jacob, from the fact that it was there that Joshua had established the camp of Israel with the ark of the covenant, until the land was divided, and Shiloh was appointed as the site for the national sanctuary.