Friday, March 11, 2011

JOSHUA: Chapter 8

Chapter 8
Summary:God said to Joshua, "Fear not, don't be dismayed. Take all of your soldiers and head up to Ai. You will see that I have given into your hand the king of Ai, along with his people, his city, and his land. You shall do to Ai and its king just as you had done to the city of Jericho and its king; take only the spoils and the livestock for yourselves, and prepare an ambush behind the city."

Joshua and his army prepared to attack the city of Ai, and he chose thirty thousand of his best men, and sent them out into the night. Joshua commanded them, "Wait behind the city, but don't go too far from the city, and be ready. I, and those with me, will approach the city and when the inhabitants come out against us, as they did before, we will flee from them. Then you shall rise up from your positions and seize the city - for the Lord your God will deliver it to your hand. When you have taken the city, you are to set the city on fire. You are to do as the Lord commands you, as per my orders."

Joshua sent them on their way, and they settled into their ambush, abiding between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai, while Joshua was camped with the rest of the people of Israel.

Joshua rose early the next morning, gathered his men, and along with the elders of the tribes of Israel, approached the city of Ai. They set up camp to the north side of Ai on the other side of a valley separating them from the city. Joshua had sent about five thousand to the west of the city between Bethel and Ai laying in ambush. With his main forces in position to the north, and his ambush party to the west, Joshua entered the valley that night.

When the king of Ai saw Joshua's army approaching, he hastily assembled his own army to meet them in battle that morning out in the plains, completely unaware of the ambush lying just behind the city. Joshua and his army feigned defeat and fled toward the wilderness while the people of Ai pursued after them. With not a man remaining in either Ai or Bethel, as they all went after the Israelites, the city was left wide open.

God then tells Joshua to point his spear toward the city of Ai, and the ambush party arose from their place on cue, entered the city, seized it, and set the city on fire. The people of Ai looked behind them and saw the smoke from their burning city ascending into the sky, suddenly realizing that they were trapped once the Israelites they were pursuing into the wilderness changed course back upon them. They were trapped between the Israelites they had been pursuing on one side, and those that burned their city on the other. The Israelites slew their enemies, allowing none to remain or escape, except for the king of Ai, whom they kept alive and brought before Joshua.

After the Israelites slew all of the inhabitants of Ai out in the plains and in the wilderness to where they were chased, they returned to the city and slew everyone that remained. In all, twelve thousand men and women were massacred, all the people of Ai. Joshua did not lower his spear pointed at the city until all the inhabitants of Ai had been utterly destroyed. Only the livestock and the spoils that God had ordered the Israelites to loot had been spared. The city was burnt to a heap that remained permanently desolated.

The king of Ai was hanged on a tree until the evening, and as soon as the sun set, Joshua ordered that his carcass was to be taken down and thrown down at the entrance of the city gates. Upon it they heaved a large pile of stones that remains to this day.

Joshua then built an altar in Mount Ebal (using uncut stones untouched by iron tools, as commanded by Moses) and sacrificed some "burnt offerings" and "peace offerings" upon it.

Joshua then wrote upon the stones in the presence of the Israelites a copy of the law of Moses. All of the Israelites, along with the tribe elders, officers, and judges flanked the ark of the covenant on both sides facing the Levite priests who carried it. Both the native Israelites and the foreigners amongst them stood before the ark, half of the people standing in front of Mount Gerizim, and the other half standing before Mount Ebal, as Moses had commanded.

Joshua read every word of the law, the blessings and the curses, not missing a word of what Moses had written, before the entire congregation of Israel, including the women, children, and foreigners among them.
Thoughts:After lethally punishing not only Achan, but his entire family along with his livestock, and setting the corpses along with all of Achan's belongings on fire, God is again willing to aid the Israelites in battle. Curiously, unlike the strict prohibitions of taking any items from the city of Jericho, God permits the looting of spoils and livestock from the city of Ai.

God devises a strategy for Joshua to ambush the city of Ai, by setting up a legion of soldiers camped behind the city. Joshua explains to his men that the plan will be to have his main troops attack the city and feign defeat, coaxing the soldiers of Ai to give chase and thereby leaving the city wide open for the ambush party to seize the city and set it on fire.

The first major difference in strategy to note from the Israelites' first failed attempt at conquering Ai in the previous chapter, is the vast differences in the number of troops being sent forth. In the last chapter Joshua is urged not to send many troops, because of the small population - which as we're told in this chapter, 12,000 people from the city of Ai were killed - and 3,000 troops were sent in the first attempt. In this chapter Joshua selects thirty thousand of his best men to attack the city - ten times the amount he originally sent - with 5,000 of them alone selected to ambush the city from behind. I think it's fair to speculate that increasing the number of soldiers ten-fold, to almost three times the entire population of the city they're attacking, probably had more to do with the Israelites success in this battle than whether or not one them stole a Babylonian coat.

After sending off 5,000 of his soldiers in the night to set up an ambush on the west side of the city, Joshua camps his troops off to the north of the city. In the morning he leads his troops on a fake attack, feigns defeat, and has them flee toward the wilderness. God then tells Joshua to point his spear toward the city, and as if on command, the ambush party invades the city of Ai and sets it on fire. The "fleeing" Israelites in the north changed course into and attack position, and the people of Ai looking back saw their city billowing with smoke now realized that they were trapped. The Israelites slew the inhabitants of Ai, sparing only the life of their king, whom they kept alive and brought before Joshua. The Israelites after slaughtering everyone out in the field, then returned to the city of Ai and slew everyone left alive there. Joshua did not lower his spear, pointed at the city, until all of the inhabitants had been massacred. With only the livestock and the spoils remaining, the city was burnt to a desolate heap.

Reserving a special death for the king of Ai, instead of slaying him at sword point, the Israelites hanged him from a tree, threw his carcass at the city gates, and heaved a pile of stones upon it.

While it is rather appalling to read about the annihilation of the cities of Jericho and Ai, fortunately archaelogical evidence suggests these aren't historically accurate events and that the most likely explanation is that the story serves as a myth invented to explain the ruins of ancient cities that the Israelites encountered that were destroyed over a thousand years prior to the biblical timeline.

Another interesting thing to note is that the Hebrew translation of "Ai" is "the ruin", which while makes sense in the context of the story presented in the book of Joshua, presents a problem with the claim that Moses authored the Pentateuch - the first five books of the bible. The city of Ai is referenced in both Genesis: Chapter 12, and in Genesis: Chapter 13. In what context would it make sense for Moses to have referred to the city of Ai by a name meaning "the ruin", considering that Joshua's invasion occurred after Moses's death? It would seem that either the name had to have been, at the very least, inserted after Moses's death (putting into question what other parts of the Pentateuch might have been altered after Moses's death); that the Pentateuch, whether in full or part was authored by someone else other than Moses; or that the city of Ai had been "ruins" prior to Moses's death, and that the story as presented in Joshua is inaccurate.

The chapter closes out with Joshua constructing an altar using uncut stones, followed by a bit of animal sacrificing upon the altar. He then writes Moses's laws upon the stones in the presence of the entire population of Israelites, with the people sectioned off in halves standing before either Mount Gerizim or Mount Ebal, as Moses commanded in Deuteronomy: Chapter 27. Joshua then reads every word of the law, and it his accuracy is noted in that not a single word was omitted.

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