Joshua 7&8: The Battle of Ai

After conquering Jericho, the Israelites begin their conquest of Ai. However, it doesn't pan out as smoothly as the previous battle.

Introduction

After their victory at Jericho, the Israelites decide to conquer the city of Ai. There are three major distinctions between the build up to the battle of Jericho and the battle of Ai. First, God commanded Israel to attack Jericho; He did not command the Israelites to attack the city of Ai. Second, Joshua (nor any of the other Israelite leaders) does not consult God before outlining a strategy or deploying the troops. Finally, just before the siege on Jericho, the Israelites purified themselves, where as before the battle of Ai, one of the Israelites was in sin. Because of this, God does not go to battle with them and they initially suffer defeat.
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The First Battle

When Moses sent spies to the Promise Land, the spies feared the task ahead of them and doubted they could achieve victory, despite the fact that God had already promised them victory. Contrastingly, the spies Joshua sent to Ai were not only confident that they would win, but that they could win the battle with only two or three thousand men despite the fact that God had not been consulted about the matter at all.

Looking at these two points of failure in Israel's history, it is easy to point out the absurdity in logic, but many of us struggle with these dilemmas in our lives today. We aren't always aware of God's voice, but even when we are sometimes we become derailed by our own self-doubt or over-confidence.

When Israel made this mistake, they suffered the death of 36 men. The Israelites were unable to take the city and forced to flee. How embarrassing must that have been for God? He had attached His name to this nation and they were out doing stuff in His name that He didn't approve.
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Joshua Grieves Israel's Defeat

God may not have been embarrassed because He knew it was coming (and He could have stopped it if He'd wanted to) but Joshua was most certainly effected. Joshua had been in charge of the men, and it was his command that had gotten them killed. Joshua was deeply upset that the battle had ended in such a manner. So finally, he seeks God's consultation. Of course, if Joshua had done this first, they never would have been in the predicament to die because God would have told him not to proceed. We should remember this as we make decisions in life; every decision should be run by God before we act on it to avoid ending up in the same situation Joshua did.

Now that Joshua was communicating with God, he could get to the root of why they lost: sin. A man in Israel's army had taken the "accursed thing" God had forbidden during the siege of Jericho. Until this was made right, God wouldn't stand with Israel in battle. Joshua is given instructions of how to determine who the culprit is; it will allow him to narrow from Israel to a particular tribe, to a particular family, to a specific household, to the exact person. Beforehand, however, all of Israel was to sanctify themselves. This instruction makes me wonder if God came to help Joshua with this task; His presence would prompt the need for everyone to be sanctified. However, this could have simply been another pre-battle sanctification which would have saved time in advancing after they dealt with the culprit.
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Achan

The culprit who failed to uphold God's instructions is confirmed to be Achan, son of Carmi of the tribe of Judah. When Joshua confronts him, he admits to the crime. Achan confesses to looting a Babylonian garment, 200 shekels of silver, and 50 shekels worth of gold, then stashing the contraband in the ground beneath his tent. Achan even confesses that his sin was coveting.

The Value of Achan's Loot

Without adjusting for inflation, the price of the silver would be about $1,633.42,[1][2] and the price of the gold would be about $26,940.24.[1][3] When we try to account for inflation, we can assume the value of these items was much more during Joshua's time (imagine it in the context of what you can be for $20 today versus $20 in the early 1900s).[4] These items would have made Achan very rich, so it's not surprising that he coveted them. As for the garment, Babylonian garments were known to be of great value.[5] I imagine that today, this would be akin to a major designer such as Prada or Fendi.
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Achan's Punishment

Achan actually committed 3 sins in this ordeal. First, he disobeyed God (just as Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden). Second, he allowed himself to covet the spoils of Jericho. Finally, he actually took the items he coveted and stole from God. The punishment for violating most of the 10 commandments was death, so it's not surprising that Achan was sentenced to death.

What is surprising is that his entire family, all of his possessions, and all of his livestock, were also to be killed or destroyed. This is quite the turn around from the salvation of Rahab's family. The Bible doesn't tell us exactly why his family was killed with him. However, in Deuteronomy 24:16 God said that the son will not be killed for the father's mistake neither vice versa. Thus, the only reason Achan's family could have been sentenced to death with him is that they were complicit in the sin. It is likely that they knew of his theft and possibly helped him to hide the items. Also, those in knowledge of sin were required to report the sin, as commanded in Deuteronomy 13:6-10, so even if they did not help to hide the items, they hid his sin which was also a sin. As for the animals, I can only think of a few reasons for their death. Perhaps the livestock acted as an offering to the Lord, though it seems unlikely that God wouldn't have told us this. It is also possible that it would have been burdensome to care for the animals; this would be the case if everyone else's herd was maxed out. Further, it could have been a sign to Israel: all that Achan had worked for was gone, just like that, because he sinned.
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Permission to Conquer

Now that Isreal had been purifed and purged sin from her ranks, God would agree to stand with them in a battle against Ai. God informs them that the level of success they had in defeating Jericho would return for the battle of Ai. However, this time, they were permitted to keep the spoils of war!

If Achan had simply waited for the next battle, he may have gotten even more than what he had stolen. When we see opportunities today, we have to remember that no matter how tempting the offer may be, God's offer is better. Like Achan, our reward may be just around the corner; we don't want to miss that which God already has for us because we fell for the devil's temptation!

After reading this passage, I wondered if God's prohibition of items in Jericho was more about Israel's faith than Jericho's sinfulness. It is possible that the people of Jericho were simply more sinful that the people of Ai, but it's interesting that in the very first battle Israel fights for the Promised Land, they are denied the spoils. God had already told them the land and all that was in it was theirs, which meant even though they couldn't have the items at Jericho, they had a so much more waiting for them, this stuff should have been negligible. Those who believed God shouldn't have been tempted to keep anything in Jericho the way Achan was. Is it possible that God was simply testing the faith of Israel in issuing this command?

With God involved, the plan of attack becomes much more complex and strategic. Instead of a mere 3,000 men, this time everyone is involved. They seem to be divided into 3 companies: one of 30,000, one of 5,000, and everyone else. There is a bit of confusion concerning the description of what actually happens, which I will get into shortly, however the basic idea is that Joshua would lure the men out of the city with one group while another group, which had been sent ahead under the cover of darkness, was to ambush them. The terrain for the battle was perfect for this plan, as there is a ravine outside of the city in which the army could have hidden and concealed their appearance before the ambush.[6]
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The Second Battle

Photocredit: FreeImages.com/Ariel Camilo
When the plans are initially being discussed, we are only told of one ambush, which was to be carried out by the 30,000 men. However, in Joshua 8:12, Joshua designates another 5,000 men as part of an ambush. Some believe this is an error and that both verses refer to the same unit and were supposed to give the same number. Others argue that the Hebrew word translated to "thousand" can also be translated to "chief" and believe that there were 30 chiefs or captains among the 5,000 men.[7][10] Joshua had the numbers to deploy two separate companies of men and retain a company for himself, so there is no reason to doubt the text as written. As I mentioned in the section above, it does make the text a bit more confusing, but it does not cause problems. It is very possible that Joshua staged two ambushes: one from behind and one from in front.

When Joshua and his company attack the city, the king sends his men to fight causing the entire city of Ai to be emptied completely. Joshua feigns defeat and his men retreat, drawing the men of Ai further from the city. This is when the ambush or ambushes come into play. We know that one group, likely the group of 30,000 that was sent the night before, rushes into the city. They begin the task of setting the city on fire and prevent the men of Ai from retreating back to their city. Meanwhile, it is very possible that at this same time, the 5,000 ambush the men on the same front Joshua was fighting. The men of Ai, clearly thought they could defeat Joshua and his men, or they wouldn't have pursued Israel out of the city. When the extra 5,000 men jumped out, the men of Ai may have felt less confident and turned back to their city, only to find that it had been claimed by the 30,000.

Another possibility is that the 5,000 men were meant to fight the men of Bethel. Bethel was a neighboring city; Joshua 8:17 confirms that the men of Bethel also fought. The ambush location was between the two cities, so it is possible that one ambush was meant for Ai and the other for Bethel.

With the exception of the king, all the men of Ai were killed as God had instructed; we aren't told if Bethel or Israel suffered any casualties, though it seems that under God's protection Israel would not have suffered any deaths. In total, 12,000 men die in this battle. For comparison, about 620,000 people died during the Civil War in the United States and about 85 million people died during World War 2.[8][9] The king was taken straight to Joshua instead of being killed on the battlefield, however he was not spared from death. He was hung and left hanging until evening. His body was then placed by the gate of the city and covered with stones. No reason is specified as to why he was killed in this manner, though it is thought that he must have been a notorious enemy of God.[10]
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Relating the Battle to Today

One commentary makes a comparison of the battle to life today that is quite interesting. The king of Ai rushes into battle with Israel leaving his city completely undefended. This is a horrible military strategy, but happens a lot when we rush into decisions without God. Since we are confident in our own understanding, we throw everything we have into the fight, but this leaves us vulnerable to attack. With Jesus in our corner, He can man the fort at home no matter where we must go, but when we aren't in a relationship with God, our home fort is left open to attack the same way the city of Ai was.[10]
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The Altar on Mount Ebal

God commands the Israelites to build an altar of stone and inscribe the altar with the law during Moses' tenure as leader. While it may seem that the altar built at Gilgal fulfilled this command, it is the altar built on Mount Ebal after the battle of Ai that completes this instruction. Comparing Joshua 8:30-35 to Deuteronomy 27 will confirm this fact.

We are given more detail about how the recitation of the blessings and curses would occur. In Deuteronomy 27, we are told that 6 tribes were to stand on Mount Gerizim and the other 6 tribes would stand on Mount Ebal, but it was a bit confusing as to where on the mountain they would stand and the Levites' placement. In these verses, we see that the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the middle, with the Levites standing on one side (the side of the mountain they were assigned to stand upon) and the elders standing on the opposite side of the ark. The tribes would have been located just behind the Levites or elders depending upon which mountain they were assigned to. This implies that the Israelites stood at the lower portions of the mountain as opposed to hiking up the mountain a distance. The blessings and the curses mentioned in Deuteronomy 27 are spoken, as well as, the entire law that Moses had written down.
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References

  1. "Ounces to Shekels (Biblical Hebrew) Conversion Calculator". Unit Conversion.org. 2009
  2. "Silver Prices". APMEX. July 15, 2016
  3. "Gold Prices Today Per Ounce & Gold Chart Historical". APMEX. July 15, 2016
  4. Tim. "The Value of a Shekel". Truth Saves. 2016
  5. Gills, John. "Joshua 7:21". Bible Study Tools. 2016
  6. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 374. 2014
  7. MacDonald, William. Believers Bible Commentary. pg. 245-247. 1995
  8. "Civil War Facts". Civil War Trust. 2016
  9. "By The Numbers: World-Wide Deaths:". National WWII Museum. 2014
  10. Henry, Matthew. "Joshua 8". Bible Study Tools. 2014

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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