Greetings. Beloved in the name of Christ Jesus. We live from Sabbath to Sabbath, Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day. Each week we work six days anticipating coming into God’s house to worship God with God’s people. There is something triumphant about that. There is spiritual victory in Christ. Yes, we have hard times. Yes, we fall down and have temporary defeats. But we are kept by the power of the king of kings and Lord of Lords.
Tonight, we have a victory passage to consider. Here the Lord will promise victory over His enemies and over the enemies of His people. Open your Bible to Joshua chapter eight, we will read the entire chapter, hear the holy word of God, read.
The Lord promises the victory. Joshua 8:1. Now the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed. Take all the people of war with you and arise, go up to Ai; see, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land.
The Lord states the means for the victory. 2 “You shall do to Ai and its king just as you did to Jericho and its king; you shall take only its spoil and its cattle as plunder for yourselves. Set an ambush for the city behind it.”
The plan. 3 So Joshua rose with all the people of war to go up to Ai; and Joshua chose 30,000 men, valiant warriors, and sent them out at night. 4 He commanded them, saying, “See, you are going to ambush the city from behind it. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you be ready. 5 “Then I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. And when they come out to meet us as at the first, we will flee before them. 6 “They will come out after us until we have drawn them away from the city, for they will say, ‘They are fleeing before us as at the first.’ So we will flee before them. 7 “And you shall rise from your ambush and take possession of the city, for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand. 8 “Then it will be when you have seized the city, that you shall set the city on fire. You shall do it according to the word of the LORD. See, I have commanded you.” 9 So Joshua sent them away, and they went to the place of ambush and remained between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai; but Joshua spent that night among the people.
The accomplishment.10 Now Joshua rose early in the morning and mustered the people, and he went up with the elders of Israel before the people to Ai. 11 Then all the people of war who were with him went up and drew near and arrived in front of the city, and camped on the north side of Ai. Now there was a valley between him and Ai. 12 And he took about 5,000 men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city. 13 So they stationed the people, all the army that was on the north side of the city, and its rear guard on the west side of the city, and Joshua spent that night in the midst of the valley. 14 It came about when the king of Ai saw it, that the men of the city hurried and rose up early and went out to meet Israel in battle, he and all his people at the appointed place before the desert plain. But he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city. 15 Joshua and all Israel pretended to be beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness. 16 And all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua and were drawn away from the city. 17 So not a man was left in Ai or Bethel who had not gone out after Israel, and they left the city unguarded and pursued Israel. 18 Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” So Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. 19 The men in ambush rose quickly from their place, and when he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it, and they quickly set the city on fire. 20 When the men of Ai turned back and looked, behold, the smoke of the city ascended to the sky, and they had no place to flee this way or that, for the people who had been fleeing to the wilderness turned against the pursuers. 21 When Joshua and all Israel saw that the men in ambush had captured the city and that the smoke of the city ascended, they turned back and slew the men of Ai.
The execution. 22 The others came out from the city to encounter them, so that they were trapped in the midst of Israel, some on this side and some on that side; and they slew them until no one was left of those who survived or escaped. 23 But they took alive the king of Ai and brought him to Joshua. 24 Now when Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the field in the wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them were fallen by the edge of the sword until they were destroyed, then all Israel returned to Ai and struck it with the edge of the sword. 25 All who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000– all the people of Ai. 26 For Joshua did not withdraw his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.
The spoils. 27 Israel took only the cattle and the spoil of that city as plunder for themselves, according to the word of the LORD which He had commanded Joshua.
The destruction – the city. 28 So Joshua burned Ai and made it a heap forever, a desolation until this day.
The destruction – the king. 29 He hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening; and at sunset Joshua gave command and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the city gate, and raised over it a great heap of stones that stands to this day.
The worship. 30 Then Joshua built an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, in Mount Ebal, 31 just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of uncut stones on which no man had wielded an iron tool; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings. 32 He wrote there on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written, in the presence of the sons of Israel. 33 All Israel with their elders and officers and their judges were standing on both sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, the stranger as well as the native. Half of them stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had given command at first to bless the people of Israel. 34 Then afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel with the women and the little ones and the strangers who were living among them.
Please join with me as we ask God to help us with this difficult portion of His word, pray.
The promise of God comes true.
Let me just remind us again of a bit of an overview of this book to help us with this chapter. The book of Joshua is about God making good on His promise to give His people a land of their own. (Gen.13:14-18) A land to be free from their enemies, a land flowing with milk and honey, so a land of physical prosperity and peace. This land is a type of the future and true Promised Land of Heaven or what we would call the Eternal Estate. Eternal life with God. For some.
Chapter eight teaches us that God gives life and preserves life for some that they might worship Him. The promise of life for those reconciled to God in Christ is what the Mount of Blessing Mount Gerizim teaches.
The threat of God comes true.
Also, within this divine promise of a Promised Land is a promise to defeat the enemies of God and of His people. The Promised Land is inhabited by the enemies of the Lord. And so, He gives it to Israel by granting military success to Israel.
In Joshua chapters one through five the people of God are entering into Canaan, the Promised Land. Then in chapters six through twelve we have Israel fighting and defeating the Gentile inhabitants of the land, generally called the Canaanites. These are real battles. People are really physically dying, approximately 12,000 people recorded in our passage.
The promise of death for those unreconciled to God apart from Christ is what Mount Ebal teaches. (Dt.27-30, Lev.26, Dt.11:29, 27:4-13, Joshua 8:3-33)
The divine penalty.
God is using His people as His instruments to apply the divine penalty for sin against the Lord.
So, in every battle that we look at, we are looking at the repeated lesson of the wages of sin is death. (Rom.6:23, Gen.2:16-17, 2 Chron.25.4)
If you know John Bunyan’s famous book, Pilgrim’s Progress, then you know that before Pilgrim was converted, he carried his back pack of sin around and he would hear that saying from Romans 6:23 ringing over and over again in his head, the wages of sin is death, the wages of sin is death. The pack came off, and the curse fell away when he believed in Christ the Sin-Atoner.
Oh, beloved how sobering. And how very true. I believe that the church desperately needs to recapture this truth. Oh, how many professing Christians live like the Canaanites? And they do not bat an eye at sin. And they do not blush at breaking God’s law. (Jer.6:15, Jer.8:12)
There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Rom.3:18, Dt.25:18, Ps.36:1) Oh Beloved, God is holy. (Lev.11:44-47) He will be treated as holy by all those that approach Him. (Lev.10:1-10, Heb.12:29, Heb.10:31) Beloved, I am afraid that many Canaanite-like “Christians” will hear from Judge Christ on the Last Day, depart from Me you worker of iniquity, I never knew you. (Mt.7:23) Oh, what terrifying words. They will become Jericho, Ai, Sodom, Egypt.
The day of vengeance.
Each battle is a lesson on God’s Day of Judgment also called the Day of the Lord or the Day of His vengeance. (Isa.61:2, Zeph.1:1-7, Mt.24:9, I Thess.5:1-6)
Chapter six was “judgment day” for the inhabitants of Jericho. Chapter eight is “judgment day’ for Ai.
Beloved, there really is a day that God will call for us to lay our body down. (Heb.9:27)
Judgment day for the unbeliever, as it were, is like the rich foolish worldling in Luke 12:13-23, God said to him, this night your soul is demanded of you. What will you do if you are not rich in faith towards God?
But for the Believer our final day on earth will turn into our first day in our true home.
But that day is coming for all of us. May we all be ready. May we all be in Christ. (Mt.25:1-30)
As we go from city to city, and we find that all of the people in the cities receive divine judgment we learn that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Rom.3:9-23)
Both Jews and Gentiles are sinners.
The Believing Jews teach us that the divine penalty for their sin has been paid for by Christ.
The Gentiles show us that without a Savior Sin-Bearer then we ourselves will receive the divine judgment, which is physical death but ultimately eternal death – separation from the friendly presence of God. Eternal death. For others. (Rom.6:23)
God announces the victory.
Now all of these things that we have just said are within our passage. But there is something else that God is teaching us here, and that is what I am calling “the victory of the Lord”. (Jn.1:29-36, Rev.17:14, 19:16, Dt.20:4, Eph.6:10, Ps.3:9)
God does and God will have complete victory over all those that hate Him. God will pay them what their unbelief and hatred are due. The technical word is “requite”, it means to make an appropriate return. God will pay sinners what their sins deserve. It is a form of lex talionis, strict justice. That is what we are looking at here in chapter eight. (Dt.7:10, 2 Cor.5:10, Isa.65:6, 59:18)
Let’s see some of the lessons that God has for us.
God commands the attack.
Right away we see something different with this attack on Ai in distinction with the one previously attempted in chapter seven.
In chapter seven we do not find Joshua or any of the elders or the priests seeking the Lord’s direction and or approval of attacking Ai. It appears from what we said last week that Israel and Joshua grew a bit presumptuous and overconfident in themselves. They defeated Jericho so they thought Ai, which was much small would be much easier.
But things with God’s approval are effectual. Things wrought by our own flesh are not. Walking by sight and not by faith in the Lord is never good for God’s people. Beloved, let’s be on guard against the sin of unbelief even for Believers. (Mk.9:23-25, Mt.11:3, Lk.7:19, Mt.26:69-74)
They sent a small army, and they were soundly defeated because of the sin of Achan. (Josh.7:3-4)
We see that they have learned from their chastisement. What does David say? Lord, it was good for me when I was afflicted. (Ps.119:71) Because by it he learned obedience. (Heb.5:8)
No discipline is ever pleasant but after we have been trained by it, it produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness, and I would say, it produces more faithful obedience. (Heb.12:1-11) This time they wait on the Lord and He does in fact direct them to take Ai.
I would say this as well. Sometimes there are very important spiritual lessons that we can learn from our failures, even from our sins. If we view them in faith via God’s word.
Joshua 8:1. Now the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed. Take all the people of war with you and arise, go up to Ai; see, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land.
Notice that God is assuring His man Joshua, and all of us by extension – fear not! I think this particular phrase, fear not, is used over 80 times in holy Scripture. (Isa.43:1, 54:4, Josh.1:9)
Previously Achan sinned, Israel sinned, and Joshua sinned. For true Believers we cannot sin away the forgiveness of God in Christ. Our failures do not nullify the promised of God to those in the Christ of God.
Life can be a scary business. Fighting the enemies of God can frighten even the strongest of saints. What a loving heavenly Father we have. What a mighty God we have. Our failures do not mean that God has abandoned us. God never leaves us. God will do what He has promised to do. Our weaknesses and sins do not nullify the goodness of the Lord for us.
We see a number of things here. With Jericho God wrought a miracle. God knocked the defensive walls down. God is free to not use ordinary means or to go against the ordinary properties of things. Ordinarily stone walls just do not fall down. Just like ordinarily men cannot walk on water or iron axe heads float on water. (2 Kg.6:1-7, Mt.14:22-33)
This time here God is going to use ordinary means, but He is going to bless or make those means successful.
He says, take the whole army. They will win by overwhelming force. (WCF 3.1, 5.1-3)
Also, God plans the way the attack is to be carried out. V.2 God tells Joshua to set an ambush against Ai. An ambush is a surprise attack by people hiding in a concealed position.
In other words, use skillful tactics to defeat the enemy. Divide up the army. Put some in front. Put others behind the city in hiding. Then those out in front lure the enemy away from the city. And flee like the previous battle so Ai thinks they have the victory. And then, spring the trap!
Now some people have come here and questioned whether it is lawful to defeat an enemy by strategy? Calvin says yes. He says if war is lawful. Then strategy is lawful. Next point. 😊
All joking aside, I think the Bible answer is something like this, in a lawful war we are under no obligation to tell our enemy what we are doing. In one way, he already knows what we are doing. We are trying to defeat him as he is trying to defeat us. The enemy then has no right to expect anything from us but opposition. So, the wise enemy would suspect everything.
But I admit when we look at the war passages in the Bible they really are quite awful. One military man said that next to the awfulness of suffering a defeat was the awfulness in gaining a victory. (Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, 1769-1852) Death and carnage.
V.2 Notice in this city God allows His people to take the spoils whereas in Jericho He did not. One man noted that God took the spoils of Jericho for Himself as a type of first fruits belonging to the Lord, like a tithe portion. And He graciously allowed Israel the remaining.
As an aside, think of wicked covetous Achan. If he just waited a little bit longer, in God’s time God would have added to his outward estate lawfully. Sin is an impatient creature. Sin resists waiting on the Lord. By faith we wait on God. In His due time He will exult us.
In this way God is taking away the land, His land, and giving it to His people. Like that, God is taking away the possessions of the wicked, which ultimately belong to the Lord, and He gives them to His people as well. (Dt.2:34-35)
We saw this in principle when Israel came out of Egyptian captivity.
Exodus 12:35. Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; 36 and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. (Exod.3:22)
God is making good on a divine promise. The wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous. (Pro 13:22)
Some day Beloved, all that the unbeliever has bowed and scraped for will be taken away from him and given to those that love Christ. John on the Isle of Patmos says the wealth of the nations will belong to God’s people in the eternal estate when we are in the True Promised Land. (Rev.21:24-27)
Matthew 13:12. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.
Matthew 25:24. And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ 26 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. 27 ‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. 28 ‘Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’ 29 “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.
Some of the early reformers saw Joshua’s use of his javelin to be Moses-like. The interesting thing is that for Moses the staff is the instrument of a shepherd, but for Joshua the instrument of the javelin of that of a solider. Both are just signs that the victory is by the Lord.
Joshua 8:18. Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” So Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. 19 The men in ambush rose quickly from their place, and when he had stretched out his hand
Exodus 14:14. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.” 15 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. 16 “As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.
We see that Israel did not kill the king of Ai in battle. Instead, they captured him in the battle. And then they held a more solemn public execution of him.
Joshua hung the king of Ai on a tree until evening. This stood as a divine warning against all those that rebel against the Lord God. This is a solemn sign of the judgment of the Lord. (Josh.10:26-27, Dt.21:22-23, Lev.18:24-25, Dt.9:4-5) The wages of sin is death. The soul that sins must die.
What we have is one Sovereign, the heavenly King, the Lord God, capturing another “sovereign” the earthly king of Ai. God is showing who the real sovereign is.
Many people lust for positions of power, for positions of rulership. This king of Ai stands as a warning that to whom much is given much will be required. (Lk.12:48, sins of superiors – WLC 129-130)
You see, many times, the evil kings led their subjects to even greater depths of depravity and sin against the Lord. And God will hold them accountable. All will receive justice. But God makes a special example of the wicked leader.
Joshua leads the people in victory.
We see this earthly Joshua having the victory for His people, carrying out divine justice in the name of the Lord. This man points forward to the true Joshua, in Whom we have eternal victory. Joshua-Jesus will judge the world in righteousness.
In fact, it is Jesus that hangs on a tree in our place. The sinless One receives justice that we might receive mercy.
Joshua leads the people in worship.
V.30-35. And then we have this fitting conclusion. Joshua leads the people of God in worship.
We are saved from our enemies to worship God.
And we see part of that worshiping God is obeying God.
You see this is what it means that one day men will beat their swords into plowshares. (Isa.2:4, Joel 3:12, Micah 4:1-4) On that day men will study war no more. Because on that day we will enjoy an eternity of holy worship.