When we have faithfully put away sin – that accursed thing which separates us from our God – then, and not until then, we may look to hear comfort from the Lord. And His directing us how to go on in our Christian work and warfare is a good evidence of His being reconciled to us. The Israelites’ hands were clean of Achan’s crime; and now the cloud of Divine displeasure had rolled away, and a ray of hope again gleamed upon the camp. God now encouraged Joshua to proceed on another campaign against Ai. In this city, the spoil was not to be destroyed as it was at Jericho; therefore, there was no danger of the people’s committing such a trespass again. Achan clutched his fingers around forbidden spoil, yet he lost it and his life as well; but the rest of the people, who kept themselves from the accursed thing, were quickly rewarded for their obedience. The way to have the comfort of what God allows us is to keep from what He forbids us.
God once more assured Joshua of His presence, which would give him success in his undertaking against Ai. In pledge thereof, He was even pleased to indicate the exact means which were to be used in reducing this city. A corps of 30,000 men was accordingly detailed; and they were sent after nightfall to take up a position not far from the city, on its western side – between Ai and Bethel. On the following morning, Joshua marshalled the rest of the troops; and, accompanied by the elders, he led them toward Ai. That night, they occupied the hills on the north of the city – with a ravine lying between the army and the city – as if they were preparing for an assault or a regular siege. During this second night, Joshua then dispatched a second body of 5,000 men to form an ambuscade on the west side of the city – on the same side as the ambushment of 30,000 that were still hiding from the previous night, but apparently nearer to the city than that larger force. Under shelter of the woods, their presence was concealed from Ai; and by the intervening hill, they were concealed from the sight of Bethel. Then, under cover of darkness, Joshua and the rest of his men moved silently down the ravine into the open valley beyond, waiting for the battle to begin the next morning. The plan was for the main body of the Israelites, under Joshua’s command, to draw the defenders of Ai out of the city by pretending to flee away again in fright; and the Israelite soldiers who were lying in wait outside the city were commanded – upon receiving a pre-arranged signal – to set the city on fire, and then come out of the burning city and attack the men of Ai from behind.
Such was the plan of attack, and it was closely adhered to. When the men of Ai came out of their city to fight the next day, Joshua and the Israelites feigned a retreat and fled in an easterly direction toward the wilderness. In their eager haste to make the victory decisive, all the men of Ai (and also of the neighboring city, Bethel) allowed themselves to be called away to pursue after Israel, until they had been drawn a considerable distance from their city. But then the signal was given! Joshua – who was probably occupying a high place of ground, in order to supervise the fight – lifted his spear in the air toward the city; and the men who were waiting in ambush would have then made a dash from their place of concealment, up the steep sides of the hill toward Ai. And before long, above the rising slopes, and above the white walls – the smoke of the burning city curled slowly in the clear morning air! Eventually “the men of Ai looked behind them” – only to see that all was lost, and no means of escape was left them! The host of Israel suddenly reversed themselves and rushed upon their pursuers! And at the same time, those who had set Ai on fire advanced out of the city and began to attack them from behind! Between these two forces, the men of Ai were literally crushed! Not one of them escaped from that bloody plain and slope.
It was the mercy of the Lord that gave Israel this victory; but let us examine the manner in which He was pleased to appoint the victory that was to be obtained – and seemingly that was in being overcome at first! And is it not the same way with our Almighty Joshua and His army? Do not His people seem to flee before their enemies? When they fall, does not the foe cry, “Aha!” But our Jesus conquers – even by apparently being overcome! By dying and by death, He overcame death; and by His cross, He spoiled principalities and powers, and triumphed over them openly.
Joshua and his army continued to move through the land of Canaan. But as soon as they got to the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim, they stopped. Without delay, and without fearing attack from their enemies, Joshua confirmed the Covenant of the Lord with His people – as was appointed in Deuteronomy 11:26-32 and 27:1-26. They built an altar to the Lord, offered sacrifices, and publicly pronounced the blessings and curses of the law. No business in this world ought to put us off from minding and pursuing the one thing needful; the way to prosperity is to begin with God (Matt. 6:33). The altar and sacrifices that were offered thereon were a token of the people’s dedicating themselves to God as living sacrifices to His honor – in and by a Mediator. By Christ’s sacrifice of Himself for us, we have peace with God! And upon the stones of this altar, the law of Moses was written. It is a great mercy to any people to have the words of God in writing, and it is very important that this written Word should be in a tongue that even the common person can read and understand!
O glorious Captain of our salvation, to You belongs the whole victory! In becoming weak, You have conquered the strong; and in poverty, You have opened the true riches. Lead us in all our spiritual warfare, under Your guidance and protection; for You are our strength and song and salvation! Amen. (Isa. 12:2)
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