Joshua 8:1–29: The Israelites take Ai
In the passage, the Israelites go back into battle with Ai—except this time, the LORD is on their side. In the passage, there is a before and an after—that is, there is a “here is what we’re going to do” part, and then another part which describes them doing it. I’m not bothering to describe all of that here.
To start off with, the LORD tells Joshua not to be afraid or discouraged. (Probably because of the events in the last passage, regarding Achan’s sin.) Joshua should go ahead and conquer Ai, because He has given it into Joshua’s hands. However, in this case, the Israelites are allowed to keep the plunder for themselves.
So the Israelites carry out an ingenious plan. I don’t know if it’s Joshua’s plan, or if the LORD gives it to him. (Well, yes, in either case, whether Joshua thought it was his plan or not, the LORD gave it to him; but I mean if the LORD directly told him, “this is what I want you to do.”) The Israelites send five thousand men to attack Ai, as before. However, unbeknownst to the people in Ai, Joshua also sends twenty-five thousand men around to the other side of Ai. When the soldiers from Ai come out to attack Joshua and his five thousand men, Joshua falls back, and pretends to retreat, fooling the soldiers of Ai to believe they are defeating the Israelites, as they’d done before—but once Joshua has drawn Ai’s men away from the city, the other twenty-five thousand soldiers overrun it. Then, as soon as Joshua and his men see that the city is being taken over, they turn around, and begin fighting the men from Ai in earnest. So the men of Ai are surrounded, with Joshua’s men in front, and the other twenty-five thousand men behind them.
So the Israelites defeat the people of Ai. (I really don’t know what to call them; Ai-ites? Ai-ians? Ai-evites?) They destroy the city, and leave it “a permanent heap of ruins” (verse 28).
It’s interesting that Achan was stoned for keeping some of the plunder of Jericho, which wasn’t allowed, and yet at the very next place the Israelites conquered, they were allowed to keep the plunder. If only Achan had waited until Ai, instead of keeping the plunder at Jericho!
I wonder if God might have been sending a message to the Israelites, by letting them keep the plunder of Ai right after punishing Achan for keeping plunder he wasn’t allowed to keep? Perhaps a message along the lines of, “My timing is not your timing, and you should obey my commands, because I know what the future holds, and you don’t,” or something similar?