Background Story: God promised to bless the world through Abraham’s descendants who multiplied in Egypt but became enslaved. God called Moses to lead Israel and delivered Israel out of Egypt through the ‘Red Sea’. The Lord led them by the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night to Mt. Sinai where Lord established His covenant with Israel. God made them to be a ‘kingdom of priests’ and a ‘holy nation’ and gave them the 10 commandments. The Lord brought that generation to the border of their ‘Promised Land’ but they refused to enter. They ended up wandering for forty years only to die in the desert but their children would enter the land. Later when that second generation grumbled for water the Lord told Moses to speak to the rock but Moses said, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock”. Moses struck the rock twice and water gushed out, but the Lord told Moses and Aaron that they couldn’t enter the land because they failed to honor the Lord as holy before Israel. Aaron died and his priesthood passed on to his son, Eleazar. Moses commission Joshua as Israel’s new leader, then Moses climbed Mount Nebo where he saw the ‘promised land’ before he died. Joshua sent two scouts to spy out Canaan and they stayed in Jericho at the house of a Canaanite prostitute named Rahab. When the king of Jericho found out, Rahab hid the spies from the king and sent the king’s messengers away in another direction. The Lord caused the waters of the Jordan to be cut off so and the whole community of Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground into Canaan. Joshua gave all the Israelite men the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and the whole community ate the ‘Passover’ meal together (Joshua 3-5). After an encounter with the ‘commander of the Lord’s army’, Joshua was told that Israel was to march around Jericho with seven priests blowing trumpets before the ‘Ark of the Lord’ for seven days. On the seventh day they went around the city seven times. On the seventh time around there was a loud blast and the people shouted and the walls of Jericho collapsed. They were warned not to take any of the ‘devoted things’ or they would bring trouble on Israel and bring about their own destruction. Israel burned Jericho, killed its inhabitants but they spared Rahab and her household. Joshua cursed the city so that anyone seeking to rebuild it would try at the cost of their sons. After this Joshua’s fame increased. Now watch the story being told and then read the comments below.
Joshua sent scouts to spy out Ai as he had at Jericho (2:1). They returned saying no more than 3,000 Israelites were needed because the people of Ai were few. But the men of Ai chased the Israelites from their town and killed 36 Israelites causing the Israelites to lose their courage. Israel had evaluated the battle in mere human terms and they overestimated their own abilities and underestimated that of their opponents. Based on the mere numbers alone Joshua had reduced the size of the troops he sent to Ai. What they needed was the Lord’s presence and His continued intervention but they had failed to seek the Lord’s will (Nu. 27:21). In hind sight, the limited troop deployment without consulting the Lord was disastrous.
Having tasted defeat they tore their clothes, threw dust on their heads and fell prostrate before the ‘Ark of the Lord’ until evening. When Joshua enquired of the Lord he was immediately told the reason for their defeat. Joshua was afraid that the inhabitants of the land would hear of Israel’s defeat, surround Israel and wipe them out. Joshua’s comments actually imply that God was to blame for their defeat. According to Joshua they shouldn’t have obeyed the Lord by seeking to take possession of the land (7:7). Joshua insinuates that the Lord had been unfaithful to His covenant promise. Then Joshua goes on to suggest that God was planning to ruin them by letting the inhabitants of the land wipe out Israel. But the fault was Israel’s for keeping some of the ‘devoted things’ and transgressing God’s covenant.
The Lord told Joshua to get off his face because Israel who had violated God’s covenant. The claim that the Lord had brought Israel across the Jordan to let them be wiped out was unfounded. Moreover Israel would continue to flee from their enemies until they removed the ‘devoted things’. If Israel wanted their Lord to fight for them then they would need to rid themselves of these items. In the morning the Lord told Joshua to bring the tribes of Israel before the Lord. From among all the tribes the tribe of Judah was selected. From the tribe of Judah the clan of Zerah was selected. From the clan of Zerah the family of Zimri was selected. Then from the family of Zimri, Achan, was singled out. Joshua told Achan to glorify God by telling Joshua the truth and Achan complied. He acknowledged taking a beautiful Babylonian robe, some silver coins, and a bar of gold that he had found in Jericho and had hidden beneath his tent.
God exposed the guilty party through a long process of elimination that singled out Achan. While he confessed it was only after a long drawn out process (7:16-19). That Achan referred to the ‘devoted things (hērem)’ as plunder may indicate that he thought of the items as a prize he deserved. But to steal what belonged to the Lord was to deny that the victory belonged to God. Ironically, if Achan had waited he would have received his share of the plunder from Ai (8:2, 27). Joshua sent men who brought Achan, his family and everything that belonged to him to the Valley of Achor (‘disaster or trouble’). Because of Achan all of Israel had been defeated at Ai so now all Israel was to participate in stoning Achan and his family. They burned everything Achan had and they piled stones over them. Achan’s family may have known about the hidden items but we do know that by taking the ‘devoted things’ Achan, an Israelite, identified with the Canaanites. Consequently, Achan suffered the same fate as the Canaanites. On the other hand, Rahab, a Canaanite, identified with Israel and was treated like an Israelite (Josh 7:25). Rahab was not only incorporated into the Israelite community but she even became part of the family line of Israel’s King David as well as Messiah Jesus through David (6:25, Matthew 1).
In the first battle Israel underestimated both their opponents and their dependence upon God. Now Israel would need the Lord and their full army. Now Joshua was told to attack Ai and he was promised victory and this time Israel could keep the plunder (8:1-2). Joshua and his army set out for Ai and a portion of Israel’s army was sent behind Ai to set up an ambush. Joshua stationed the main army in front of the town so the king of Ai and his men attacked the Israelites. The king of Ai and his men marched out for battle, and Joshua fled as they had previously so the men of Ai were drawn out of their city. At just the right time Lord commanded Joshua to raise his spear and those hiding in ambush rose up and entered Ai. The men of Ai tried to return to their city when they saw it going up in smoke. Then Joshua attacked the men of Ai who were caught between Joshua and the Israelite troops that came out of Ai. The Israelites killed the men of Ai and brought the king of Ai alive to Joshua. The Israelites killed everyone in Ai—12,000 in all but they kept the livestock and the treasures of the town, as the Lord had commanded. Joshua hung the king of Ai on a pole and the next day they threw the body down at the city gate. Then Israel piled a great heap of stones over the body and Ai became a permanent ruin.
After these battles Israel renewed the covenant as Moses had instructed (Dt. 11:29). Joshua built an altar on Mount Ebal, where they presented burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord. Then Joshua divided all the Israelites—foreigners and native-born alike—into two groups and had one stand in front of Mount Gerizim, with the other in front of Mount Ebal. The Levitical priests stood with between them carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant. Joshua read all the blessings and curses Moses had written in the Book of the Law to all the Israelites, including the women and children and the foreigners living among them. These offerings depicted Israel’s total consecration to God and they prefigured Christ’s blood of the new covenant (Lk. 22:20).