Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 7: Joshua, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land:
1. Dixitque Jehova ad Josuam, Netimeas, nec formides, sume tecum omnem populum bellicosum, et surge, ascende in Hai. Vide, dedi in manu tua regem Hai, ac populum ejus, urbem ejus, et terram ejus.
2. And thou shall do to Ai and her king as thou did unto Jericho and her king: only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall you take for a prey unto yourselves: lay thee an ambush for the city behind it.
2. Faciesque Hai, et regi ejus, quemadmodum fecisti Jericho, et regi ejus; tamen spolia ejus, et animalia ejus praedabimini vobis. Colloca autem insidias urbi a tergo ejus.
3. So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai: and Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valor, and sent them away by night.
3. Surrexit itaque Josue, et omnis populus bellicosus, ut ascenderunt in Hai, et elegit Josue trigintamillia virorum fortium robore, misitque eos nocte.
4. And he commanded them, saying, Behold, you shall lie in wait against the city, even behind the city: go not very far from the city, but be you all ready:
4. Ac praecepit eis, dicendo, Attendite vos, Insidiabimini urbi a tergo ejus, nec removeatis vos ab ea procul, sed estote omnes vos parati.
5. And I, and all the people that are with me, will approach unto the city: and it shall come to pass, when they come out against us, as at the first, that we will flee before them,
5. Et ego et omnis populus, qui mecum est, accedemus ad urbem: quum autem egredientur in occursum nostrum, sicut prius, fugiemus ante eos:
6. (For they will come out after us) till we have drawn them from the city; for they will say, They flee before us, as at the first: therefore we will flee before them.
6. Tunc egredientur post nos donec avellamus eos ab urbe: dicent enim, Fugiunt ante nos, ut prius: et fugiemus ante eos.
7. Then you shall rise up from the ambush, and seize upon the city: for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand.
7. Vos autem surgetis ex insidiis, et expelletis habitotores urbis, tradetque eam Jehova Deus vester in manu vestra.
8. And it shall be, when you have taken the city, that you shall set the city on fire: according to the commandment of the LORD shall you do. See, I have commanded you.
8. Quum ceperitis urbem, succendetis eam igni, secundum sermonem Jehovae facietis. Videte, praecepi vobis.
9. Joshua therefore sent them forth: and they went to lie in ambush, and abode between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai: but Joshua lodged that night among the people.
9. Misitque itaque eos Josue, et perrexerunt ad insidias, manseruntque inter Bethel et Hai, ab occidente Hai. Mansit autem Josue nocte illa in medio populi.
10. And Joshua rose up early in the morning, and numbered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai.
10. Postea surrexit Josue summo mane, recensuitque populum, atque ascendit ipse et seniores Israel ante populum versus Hai.
11. And all the people, even the people of war that were with him, went up, and drew nigh, and came before the city, and pitched on the north side of Ai: now there was a valley between them and Ai.
11. Omnisque populus bellicosus, qui erat cum eo ascenderunt et appropinquarunt, veneruntque e regione urbis, et castrametati sunt ab aquilone Hai. Vallis autem erat inter ipsum et Hai.
12. And he took about five thousand men, and set them to lie in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city.
12. Tulitque praeterea circiter quinque millia virorum, quos locavit in insidiis inter Bethel et Hai ab occidente urbi.
13. And when they had set the people, even all the host that was on the north of the city, and their liers in wait on the west of the city, Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley.
13. Et propius accessit populus tota castra quae erant ab aquilone urbi, et insidiae ejus ab occidente ipsi urbi, perrexitque Josue nocte illa in medium vallis.
14. And it came to pass, when the king of Ai saw it, that they hasted and rose up early, and the men of the city went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people, at a time appointed, before the plain; but he wist not that there were liers in ambush against him behind the city.
14. Porro quum videret rex Hai, festinaverunt et mane surrexerunt, atque egressi sunt homines urbis in occursum Israel ad praelium, ipse et universus populus ejus ad tempus constitutum ante campestria: nesciebat autem quod insidiae sibi essent a tergo urbis.
15. And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness.
15. Et profligati sunt Josue, et universus Israel ante eos, et fugerunt per viam deserti.
16. And all the people that were in Ai were called together to pursue after them: and they pursued after Joshua, and were drawn away from the city.
16. Et congregati sunt totus populus qui in urbe erat, ut persequeretur eos. Et persequuti sunt Josuam, abstractique sunt ab urbe.
17. And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, that went not out after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel.
17. Neque remansit quisquam ex Hai et Bethel, qui non egressus sit post Israel, et reliquerunt urbem apertam, et persequuti sunt Israelem.
18. And the LORD said unto Joshua, Stretch out the spear that is in thy hand toward Ai; for I will give it into thine hand. And Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city.
18. Dixit autem Jehova ad Josuam, Eleva hastam quae est in manu tua contra Hai, quia in manu tua dabo eam. Et elevavit Josue hastem quae erat in manu sua contra urbem.
19. And the ambush arose quickly out of their place, and they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand: and they entered into the city, and took it, and hasted and set the city on fire.
19. Tum insidiae surrexerunt repente e loco suo, et cucurrerunt quum elevasset manum suam, veneruntque ad urbem, et ceperunt eam, et festinarunt urbem succendere igni.
20. And when the men of Ai looked behind them, they saw, and, behold, the smoke of the city ascended up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that way: and the people that fled to the wilderness turned back upon the pursuers.
20. Vertentes autem sese viri Hai viderunt, et ecce ascendebat fumus urbis in coelum, neque erant eis spatia ad fugiendum huc et illuc. Populus autem qui fugerat in desertum versus est contra persequentes.
21. And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city, and that the smoke of the city ascended, then they turned again, and slew the men of Ai.
21. Josue itaque et universus Israel ubi viderunt quod insidiae cepissent urbem, ascendissetque fumus urbis, reversi sunt, et percusserunt viros Hai.
22. And the other issued out of the city against them; so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side: and they smote them, so that they let none of them remain or escape.
22. Illi praeterea egressi sunt ex urbe in occursum eorum, fueruntque Israel in medio, isti hinc, et illi inde, et percusserunt eos, donec nemo remaneret eis superstes et evasor.
23. And the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua.
23. Regem quoque Hai ceperunt vivum, et stiterunt eum coram Josue.
24. And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword.
24. Quum autem finem fecisset Israel caedendi omnes habitatores Hai in deserto quo persequuti fuerant eos, et cecidissent omnes ipsi acie gladii donec consumerentur, reversus est universus Israel ad Hai, et percusserunt eam acie gladii.
25. And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai.
25. Fuitque numerus omnium qui ceciderunt die illa a viro usque ad mulierem circiter duodecim millia, omnes viri Hai.
26. For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.
26. Porro Josue non reduxit manum suam quam elevaverat ad laceam, donec interficeret omnes habitatores Hai.
27. Only the cattle and the spoil of that city Israel took for a prey unto themselves, according unto the word of the LORD which he commanded Joshua.
27. Tantum animalia et spolia urbis ejus sibi praedati sunt filii Israel secundum sermonem Jehovae, quem praeceperat ipsi Josue.
28. And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day.
28. Succendit igitur Josue Hai et posuit eam acervum sempiternum vastitatum usque ad hunc diem.
29. And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcass down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this day.
29. Regem vero Hai suspendit in ligno usque ad tempus vespertinum: cumque occubuisset sol, praecepit Josue, et deposuerunt cadaver ejus e ligno, et projecerunt illud ad introitum portae urbis, et statuerunt super illud acervum lapidum grandem usque ad hunc diem.
1. And the Lord said unto Joshua, etc It was of great consequence to Joshua, as well as the people, to inspire new courage, that they might prepare with confidence to assault the city of Ai, from which they had lately been repulsed with loss and greater disgrace. God, therefore, to inspire them with intrepidity on this expedition, promises that he will give them the city. With the same view he enjoins them to fight by stratagem more than open war, to entice the enemy out, and to select a secret place for an ambuscade which might take them by surprise. A few thousands might without any difficulty have been overthrown by an immense host attacking the city suddenly and unexpectedly. But as we formerly saw that the hearts of all had melted away, God consulted for their weakness by laying no greater burden upon them than they were able to bear, until they had recovered from their excessive panic, and could execute his commands with alacrity.
It is true, indeed, that he now used their own exertion, partly that they might not always keep looking for miracles, and so give themselves up to laziness, and partly that in different and unequal modes of acting they might nevertheless recognize that his power is the same. But care must be taken not to omit the special reason, namely, that not having yet recovered from their terror, they could scarcely have been induced to engage in an open conflict, had they not seen stratagem employed as a subsidiary aid. The first place, however, is due to the promise, Fear not, for I have delivered it into thy hands: for although it is verbally directed to Joshua, it belongs in common to the whole people, as it was most necessary that all to a man should be freed from anxiety and furnished with new confidence. The order to burn the city like Jericho, appears to be a concession to the popular feeling, the vengeance thus taken serving to wipe out the remembrance of their disgrace. At the same time that they may engage in the expedition more willingly, the spoils are left to them as the reward of victory.
13. Joshua went that night, etc It is not probable that all were called out from the camp, but the army was composed of those who were more accustomed to war. That it was sufficiently numerous appears from the fact, that five thousand were withdrawn from it for ambuscade. At first thirty-five thousand appear to be enumerated, but it is clear from the context that the number was not so great. I am rather inclined to conjecture that thirty thousand were led out for open fight, and that five thousand were specially set apart for an ambuscade. Joshua hastens to execute the task assigned to him, commencing his march in the morning, and in this haste we see how effectual the promise had proved. Had not the mind of all been freed from fear he never could have found them so prompt to obey.
Apparently, indeed, little prudence is shown in sending so large a body to proceed by hidden paths to a place suitable for ambuscade. For with whatever silence and composure they might proceed, the mere movement of their feet must have caused a considerable noise. Should any one say that there was nobody to meet them, as all the inhabitants of the district had deserted the fields and taken refuge in the city, we will find it mentioned shortly after, that before the Israelites came near to the city their arrival was known by the king of Ai; and this could scarcely have been without scouts. But granting that they met no one in the fields, it was certainly a difficult matter to pass by, to select a suitable place during night for an ambuscade, and to take possession of it without giving some indication of their presence. With regard to the procedure of Joshua, though he might see that the business could be accomplished by a smaller force, he seems to have been compelled by the recent trepidation of the people to be very careful not to engage them in any enterprise of danger. For had only a few of the army been dispatched they would perhaps have declined a part by which they were to be particularly exposed.
The Lord meanwhile displays the greatest indulgence to his people in delivering up an enemy that was to be so easily conquered. His wonderful favor especially appears in blinding all of them, so that they have no suspicion of the ambuscade. I have no doubt that when it is said they knew not of it, the writer of the history means to draw attention to the rare and extraordinary kindness of God in so covering, as it were, with the shadow of his hand, first, the thirty thousand who accompanied Joshua, and then the five thousand, that they all escaped the notice of the enemy. When mention is now made of five thousand, I do not understand it to mean that Joshua furnished a new ambuscade, as if the number, already excessive, were not sufficient, but that the writer now merely shows how the thirty-five thousand whom Joshua had armed were distributed. For to what end would so small a reinforcement have been given to so great a multitude? Besides, the place where they are ordered to halt is the same as that which had been previously pointed out; this could not apply to two separate bodies of troops.
15. And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten, etc This is another stratagem. By pretending flight they draw off the enemy to a distance, leaving them no retreat afterwards into the city, which was in flames before they suspected that any disaster was to be apprehended in their rear. Hence, while the king of Ai pursues the Israelites as vanquished, the part of the army which lay hid towards Bethel had sufficient time to take the city, and make it too late for the inhabitants to perceive that they were utterly undone. For after they had been already repulsed, and were everywhere slaughtered, they were overwhelmed with despair on beholding the flames of the city, and so completely surrounded that not an individual could escape.
The question here asked by some, as to whether it is lawful to overcome an enemy by wiles and stratagem, originates in gross ignorance. First, it is certain that wars are carried on not merely by striking blows; for those are considered the best commanders who accomplish more by art and counsel than by mere violence; and secondly, the longer any one has served so as to acquire experience, the better soldier he makes. If war, then, is lawful, it is beyond all controversy that the usual methods of conquering may be lawfully employed, provided always that there be no violation of faith once pledged either by truce or in any other way.
17. And there was not a man left in Ai, etc It will be clear from the context that some were taken in the city and slain, and therefore we must hold that the sally was not by all universally, and that the old men and women and many others unfit for war, did not rush forth into the fields; the meaning simply is, that no garrison was left to defend the city. The same thing is said of Bethel, and hence we may easily conjecture that Bethel, as it was a small unimportant town, belonged to another power. The inhabitants, however, from being unable to defend their own city, abandoned it, and offered their whole force to the king of Ai, to whom they were perhaps tributaries. It is uncertain whether they went to the king of Ai before the arrival of the Israelites, to unite their forces with his in the contest, but the probability is, that as they were unable to resist they had come by agreement into a fortified and more populous city. They thought that they could not, possibly be safe unless they were preserved under the shadow of a neighboring city superior to their own.
18. And the Lord said unto Joshua, etc This passage shows, that owing either to the strong fortifications of the city, or the valor of its inhabitants, or the trepidation of the Israelites, the victory was difficult, since God promises that he himself would take it by the lifting up of a spear. Had success been beyond doubt, the symbol would have been superfluous; their minds must therefore have been anxious and perplexed, since the Lord, to prevent them from fainting, raises up a banner of confidence in the hand of Joshua. It is true, indeed, that shortly after a different motive for raising the spear is mentioned, when it is said, that in this way a signal was given to the ambuscade, which accordingly rushed forth. But if it really was so used as a signal, it will scarcely do to regard the spear as a manifestation of the victorious power of God dispelling all doubt. Still, however, as it is not expressly said that the spear was the cause which brought forth the soldiers who had been placed in ambuscade, the truth may be that they came forth of their own accord, either because it was the suitable time, or because the shouting and noise made them aware that the battle had actually commenced. For it is scarcely possible to believe that the spear was seen by them, when we consider the long space which intervened, and more especially that Joshua was standing in a valley. Moreover, if we hold that the lifting up of the spear, though intended for a different purpose, had also the effect of inspiring them with additional courage, there will be no absurdity in it.
This much ought to be regarded as certain, first, that by this solemn badge they were rendered more certain of the happy issue of the battle; and secondly, that Joshua had no other intention than to incite his troops according to the command of God. For it is at last added, that Joshua did not draw back his hand until the city was taken, the enemy everywhere destroyed, and the war itself terminated. Hence it appears that he exhibited it in the middle of the conflict as an ensign of triumph, that the Israelites might have no doubt of success. For although he ordered them to engage and use their arms bravely, he at the same time distinctly declared that they had already conquered.
The course of the battle is rendered somewhat obscure by the same thing being told twice, but the substance is sufficiently plain. The children of Israel retreated feigning fear, and the battle had not actually commenced before the inhabitants of Ai were precluded from returning and defending their city. After the two armies had come to close quarters, the ambuscade arose and made such haste that the flames of the conflagration were rising from the city when the enemy turned their backs. From this we may infer that the city was in the possession of the Israelites, but that the chief slaughter took place when those who were in the city came forth to take part in the battle, because the inhabitants, hemmed in on all sides, found resistance and flight equally unavailing. They were thus seized with despair, and, huddled together in a narrow space, were everywhere cut down.
The statement, that the slaughter did not take place in the city before those who had feigned flight returned, I understand to mean, that the whole troops uniting their forces rushed in, seized the prey, and slew all who might have been left. If any one objects that the city was burnt while the battle was going on, I answer, that the fire was indeed applied so as to let both armies know that the city was in possession of the Israelites, but it was not actually destroyed by fire. It was not practicable in a moment of time to seize and carry off the booty, nay, to bring the vessels and a large part of the property without the walls; and it would have been absurd voluntarily to destroy spoils which God had granted. We see, then, that the first fire was not kindled for the purpose of destroying the whole city, but was merely a partial conflagration giving intimation of its capture, and that the Israelites entered at the open gates without bloodshed or a struggle. This is confirmed shortly after, when the burning is ascribed to Joshua himself, not only because it was burnt under his command, but because he was careful, after returning from the battle, to see that it was utterly destroyed; as it is immediately added that he made it a heap of stones in order that it might be a perpetual desolation. 76
25. And so it was that all that fell that day, etc The meaning is not that all the slain were inhabitants of Ai, but that all who dwelt in it were slain, that not one escaped. It has already been seen that the inhabitants of Bethel were mingled along with them; and as no mention of that city is afterwards made, it may be conjectured with some probability that they had abandoned their own town, which was little fortified, and betaken themselves for greater safety to one which they hoped could be easily defended. The words, therefore, simply mean, that all who had come out of the city and all who were found in it were slain to a man. If any are rather disposed to think that this number of those whose slaughter took place within the walls is confined to the aged, the sick, the women and the children, I will not dispute the matter. Still, if we consider that only a small town was conjoined with a city of no great extent or population, it is more probable that the number comprehends those also who fell in battle.
26. For Joshua drew not his hand back, etc As by raising the spear he gave sign and pledge of hope as it were from heaven, he did not cease to keep the minds of his followers fixed upon it until they were masters of the city. By thus persevering he sufficiently proved how far removed he was from ambition; how free from doing anything in the way of vain ostentation. For it was just as if he had resigned the office of leader, and transferred the whole praise of the victory to God. How intrepid a warrior he was is plain from other passages. He might now, too, have willingly discharged his military functions, and thus done what was far better fitted to promote his reputation and glory. But as if his hand had been fastened to the spear, he exhorts the soldiers to look to God alone, to whom he resigns the success of the battle. By thus standing aloof he profited more than if he had in all directions, and by his own hand, struck down heaps of the enemy: at the same time his remaining at ease was more praiseworthy than any degree of agility could have been.
29. And the king of Ai he hanged, etc Though he seems to have treated the king with great severity in order to satisfy the hatred of the people, I cannot doubt that he studied faithfully to execute the divine judgment. Conquerors, indeed, are wont to spare captive kings, because their rank seems to carry something venerable along with it, but the condition of kings was different among those nations in which God wished particularly to show how greatly he detested the wickedness which he had so long tolerated. For while all were doomed to destruction, the divine vengeance justly displayed itself with greater sternness and severity on the leaders, with whom the cause of destruction originated.
We may add, that the ignominious punishment inflicted on the king rendered it still less necessary to deal leniently with the common people, and thus prevented the Israelites from indulging an unseasonable mercy, which might have made them more sluggish or careless in executing the work of universal extermination.
God purposely delivered the king alive into the hand of Joshua, that his punishment might be more marked and thus better adapted for an example. Had he fallen in the conflict promiscuously with others, he would have been exempted from this special mark of infamy; but now even after his death, the divine vengeance pursues his corpse. Nay, after being hung, he is thrown forth at the gate of the city where he had sat on his throne in judgment, and a monument is erected for the purpose of perpetuating his ignominy to posterity. His burial, however, is mentioned to let us know that nothing was done through tumultuous impetuosity, as Joshua carefully observed what Moses had prescribed in the Law, (De 21:23) namely, that those hung on gibbets should be taken down before sunset, as a spectacle of the kind was held in abomination. And, certainly, while it is humane to bury the dead under ground, it is inhumanly cruel to cast them forth to be torn by wild beasts or birds. Therefore, that the people might not be accustomed to barbarity, God allowed criminals to be hung, provided they did not hang unburied for more than one day. And that the people might be more attentive to this duty, which otherwise might readily have been neglected, Moses declares that every one who hangs on a tree is accursed; as if he had said, that the earth is contaminated by that kind of death, if the offensive object be not immediately taken away.
30. Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,
30. Tunc aedificavit Josue altare Jehovae Deo Israel in monte Ebal,
31. As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man has lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.
31. Quemadmodum praeceperat Moses servus Jehovae filiis Israel: sicut scriptum est in libro legis Mosis, altare ex lapidibus integris, super quos non levaverant ferrum: et immolaverunt super illud holocausta Jehovae, et sacrificaverunt hostias prosperitatum.
32. And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.
32. Scripsit quoque ibi in lapidibus repetitam legem Mosis, quam scripsit coram filiis Israel.
33. And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side before the priests the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, as well the stranger, as he that was born among them; half of them over against mount Gerizim, and half of them over against mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel.
33. Universus autem Israel, et seniores ejus, et praefecti, et Judices ejus stabant hinc et inde ad arcam coram sacerdotibus Levitis portantibus arcam foederis Jehovae, tam peregrinus quam indigena: dimidia pars ejus contra montem Garizin, et dimidia pars ejus contra montem Ebal: quemadmodum praeceperat Moses servus Jehovae, ut benediceret populo Israel primum.
34. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law.
34. Et post haec legit omnia verba legis, benedictionem et maledictionem, secundum id totum quod scriptum est in libro legis.
35. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.
35. Non fuit quidquam ex omnibus quae praeceperat Moses quod non legerit Josue coram universo coetu Israel, et mulieribus, et parvulis, et peregrinis versantibus in medio ipsorum.
30. Then Joshua built an altar, etc God had been pleased that this should be the first extraordinary sacrifice offered to him in the land of Canaan, that thus the people might attest their gratitude, and the land begin to be consecrated in regular form. It was not possible for the people to do it before freely and on their own soil, till they had obtained possession of some vacant region. 77 Now, God had at the same time given them two commands — first, that they should erect an altar on Mount Ebal; and secondly, that they should set up two stones plastered over with lime, on which they should write the Law, in order that every passer by might be able to see it and read it. We now read that both were faithfully performed. A third command related to the recitation of blessings and cursings: this, too, Joshua performed with no less care.
To begin with the altar, — it is said, that according to the divine command, it was formed of unhewn stones. For entire stones on which the masons’ iron has not been employed, are called rough and unworked. 78 This is specially said in De 27, of the altar, of which mention is now made. But the same thing had before been said in general of all others. Some expounders, in searching for the reason, needlessly have recourse to allegory, and allege that the hand and industry of men are forbidden, because the moment we introduce any devices of our own, the worship of God is vitiated. This is indeed truly and wisely said, but it is out of place, as the divine intention simply was to prohibit the perpetuity of altars. For we know, that in order to sacrifice duly, it was enjoined that all should have one common altar, in order both to cherish mutual agreement, and to obviate all sources of corruption from the introduction of an adventitious superstition; in short, in order that religion might remain one and simple, as a variety of altars would soon have led to discord, thereby distracting the people and putting sincere piety to flight.
Then it was not left to the choice of the people to select a place, but God uniformly in the books of Moses claims this for himself. He therefore confines the exercises of piety to that place where he may have put the remembrance of his name. Moreover, as the divine will was not immediately manifested, nor the place designated, that worship might not in the mean time cease, it was permitted to build an altar where the ark should happen to be stationed, but an altar formed only of a rude pile of stones, or of turf, that it might be only temporary.
Let the reader observe that an option was given to the people to make it of rough stones, that its form might not attract veneration, or of earth, which would crumble away of its own accord. In one word, this arrangement tended to give a pre-eminence to the perpetual altar, after God made choice of Mount Zion for its locality. Hence it is said in the Psalm, I was glad because our feet will stand in thy courts, O Jerusalem! (Ps. 122:1, 2) What other translators render peace offerings, I have, not without cause, rendered by sacrifices of prosperity, because they were offered up either to solicit successful results, or to render thanks; and the Hebrew term is not unsuitable, as the reader will find more fully explained in my commentaries on the books of Moses.
32. And he wrote there upon the stones, etc A different rule is applicable to the stones here mentioned, on which God wished that a memorial of his Law should always appear, in order that, a kind of barrier might be interposed to protect the pure religion against the superstitions of Egypt. They were therefore covered with lime, that they might be more conspicuous, and the writing upon them more distinct. I willingly subscribe to the opinion of those who understand by the repeated Law a written form, or what is commonly called a copy or duplicate. I cannot, however, believe that the whole volume was traced upon it; for no stones however large could suffice to contain all the details. I therefore think that by the term Law only its substance and sanctions 79 are denoted. This made it palpable even to strangers entering the land what God was worshipped in it, and all excuse for error was taken away, when the Law was not treasured up in a book, but made manifest to the eyes of all. In short, though the priests should have been dumb, the stones themselves spoke clearly.
33. And all Israel, and their elders, etc The third instance of obedience was the placing all the tribes on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal to stand in six rows each over against each other. For they were so arranged that six stood on Mount Ebal, and an equal number on the opposite Mount Gerizim. The intervening space was occupied by the Levites with the ark of the covenant, that the Lord might be surrounded on all sides by his own people. It is said that Joshua stood that he might first bless the people, as it was the purpose of God to allure the people to himself by sweetness and winning condescension. For although Moses, to rebuke the obstinacy of the people, makes mention of curses only, it is certain that these were in a manner accidental, because the genuine method was to employ blessings as a means of gaining over to obedience those who might otherwise have proved refractory. But when humane invitation proved unavailing, curses were added as a new resource and remedy.
God had promised ample rewards to his servants who should obey the Law. On the other hand, curses were denounced in order to deter transgressors. Each is now forced to subscribe his own condemnation, while an amen is responded to every single sentence. For in this way they not only hear themselves condemned by the mouth of God, but as if they had been heralds sent by him, they denounce the punishment which may await themselves. A similar promulgation was made in the plain of Moab beyond the Jordan, but now they are bound more solemnly, and acknowledge on what condition they are to dwell in the land of Canaan. It added no little weight to the whole, that the children also were admitted as witnesses.
Ai and its apparently tributary town Bethel, thus subjected to a fearful destruction, were situated about twelve miles north from Jerusalem, and seventeen miles west-north-west from Jericho, and had previously been brought under the notice of the Israelites in very different circumstances. For they had read in the interesting narrative of Moses how Abraham had pitched his tent on a mountain, “having Bethel on the west and Hai (Ai) on the east; and there he built an alter unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord,” (Ge 12:8; Ge 13:3;) and how Bethel, formerly called Luz, had changed its name, because Jacob, on awaking out of his wonderful dream, had declared it to be “none other but the house of God,” and “the gate of heaven.” (Ge 28:11-19.) Notwithstanding of the doom pronounced and executed upon Ai, it appears to have been rebuilt, was occupied by the Benjamites after their return from the captivity, (Ne 7:32; Ne 11:31; Ezr 2:28,) is mentioned by Josephus under the name of Aina, and still exhibits some indications of its site. — Ed.
The 29th verse concludes the account of the destruction of Ai, and the 30th opens abruptly with the building of an alter on Mount Ebal. The distance between the two places is not less than twenty miles, Ai being only twelve and Ebal thirty miles north from Jerusalem. The journey of so many miles by the whole body of the Israelites, and through a country which, at least up to the victory of Ai, was in undisputed possession of the enemy, must have occupied a considerable time, and have been accomplished with no small labor and difficulty. How comes it that not one word is said in regard to it, and that we are led at once from Ai to Ebal just as if the two places, instead of being widely separated, had been actually contiguous to each other? Were the incidents of the journey so unimportant as not to require the slightest notice? Or is the narrative contained in the Book of Joshua so very succinct that even transactions which might occupy a large place in a more copious work have been purposely excluded from it? If both these questions are answered in the negative, and it would seem that they must be so answered, the only other question is, Has the order of time been observed? In other words, have we not in the interesting account now about to be given of one of the most wonderful national conventions on record, another instance of anticipation of narrative similar to that which we have already seen in the first chapter? Assuming this to be the case, the continuation of the narrative is to be looked for in the ninth chapter, while the account of the transaction on Mounts Ebal and Gerizim is to be regarded in the light of an episode. It is very remarkable that the whole episode is omitted by the Septuagint at this place, and not introduced before giving the account of the league of the Amorites, contained in the beginning of the ninth chapter. — Ed.
French, “Car quand il est parle de pierres entrieres sur lesquelles le fur n’avoit point passe, cela signifie des pierres, telles qu’elles viennent de la carriere, qui ne sont point polies ni accoustrees par artifice;” “For when mention is made of entire stones on which no tool had passed, it means stones as they are when they come from the quarry, without having been polished or hewn artificially.” — Ed.
French, “Le sommaire, et les defenses et commandemens;” “The summary, and the prohibitions and commands.” — Ed.