The Battle of Ai

Learn from Failure

“Get thee up; wherefore art thou thus fallen upon they face?” (Joshua 7:10 ASV).

by Brad Sweeney

The Battle of Ai

The lessons that happened to Israel during the Battle of Ai (Joshua chapters 7 and 8) were written also for the instruction of the Gospel Age Church. These lessons will also apply to all mankind as they walk up “the highway of holiness” during Christ’s thousand-year Mediatorial Kingdom.

The capture and destruction of the fortress city of Jericho gave the Israelites their first foothold west of the Jordan River, in order to conquer the Promised Land of Canaan. Having secured the rear of his military operation, Joshua’s next goal was penetration into the Judean mountains. This would preclude the deployment of the Canaanite chariots and their heavily armed soldiers. Here, the lightly armored Israelite army could use stealth, cunning, and mobility.

Joshua then began to gather the necessary intelligence for his next objective. A second fortress city, named Ai, guarded the pass to Bethel. By gaining this central pass to Bethel, Joshua and his army would gain access to the heartland of Canaan, where Israel would first settle.

Joshua sent scouts to observe Ai, and they reported that only two or three thousand should be needed to conquer the city (Joshua 7:3). There is danger in success while employed in God’s service. Being victorious, like at Jericho, can cause us to think that God’s using us successfully has something to do with us. Trusting in God therefore can turn into unwarranted self-reliance.

Consequently, without first consulting God in prayer, Joshua believed the spies’ overconfident report and sent only three thousand soldiers to Ai.

Their optimism proved fatal, as the first attack on Ai failed. The Israelites fled from the army of Ai, and 36 were struck down. Therefore, “the hearts of the people melted and became like water.” The people of Israel had good reason to be afraid. If God did not fight for them, they could expect nothing but defeat.

When Joshua heard of Israel’s defeat, he “tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening.” Joshua then prayed to God, asking why such a thing would be allowed to happen to his chosen people Israel (verse 7 NAS).

God responded that the defeat at Ai was due to the “accursed thing” that had been taken from Jericho and hidden in the tent of an Israelite.

Previously, the nation had been told that they should not take any of the accursed things associated with the demonic and debasing worship and practices (Joshua 6:18). God said that all Israel had sinned, not just the one who took a spoil. This implies that acceptance and toleration of the sin can be as bad as the sin itself, so it must be dealt with strictly. Israel could not be defeated by the Canaanites, but they could defeat themselves by alienating themselves from God by disobedience.

It would be necessary to determine who had taken the accursed spoils under the ban of Jericho. He was to be burned with fire along with all his belongings. Only then, God said, would Israel be able once again to stand before their enemies (verses. 13, 15).

Achan’s Greed

Achan, of the tribe of Judah, was the guilty person. Hidden in his tent were a beautiful Babylonish garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold, all of which he had taken as spoil from Jericho (verses 17-21).

Measured against the lives of thirty-six men and the welfare of the entire nation, what Achan gained was utterly insignificant. Truly, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10 NKJV).

How might Achan have rationalized his sin? Perhaps he thought: “Think of how I will be admired with my wealth and this beautiful Babylonian garment.” “I am not hurting anyone.” “I deserve this.” Such excuses all fall short.

None of us can hide from the Lord, for in Numbers 32:23 (NIV) we read, “be sure your sin will find you out.” Hiding our sins is foolishness and leads only to disaster.

The enemies Israel fought to gain the Promised Land, symbolize the Christian’s struggle today with the enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil. God’s word counsels that we must not minister to the boastful pride of life, and let its many and hurtful lusts occupy our hearts (1 John 2:16). “But you, man of God, flee these things and follow after righteousness and godliness and faith” (1 Timothy 6:11 NKJV). Christians need to die every day to such besetting sins. “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24 NKJV).

Mankind also will need to fight to remove these same enemies from their hearts, when they are raised from the grave in the Millennial Age, in order to gain the Promised Land. All will have new bodies, but they will still have their same characters, hearts, and minds from their past lives. People will be nurtured, instructed, and disciplined to obey the Laws of the New Covenant in Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom of Righteousness. Mankind will have every advantage supplied in order to gain victory. At this blessed time, all stumbling stones will be removed, and Satan will be bound. All must develop perfection of heart and character, in likeness to the “image of God,” while walking on the highway of holiness (Isaiah 35).

Mankind’s final “battle,” or test of pure-heart obedience to God and His Righteous Law, will occur at the conclusion of the Millennial Age, during Satan’s “little season” (Revelation 20:7-8). The victorious earthly Sons of God will then receive everlasting life in Paradise, which had been lost in Adam.

Achan’s name means “troubler.” It well describes his affect on Israel. It was sin, disobedience to God’s command, that caused the Israelites to lose God’s favour and thus to be defeated at this first battle of Ai.

Jesus taught us that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, and the sin of Achan had troubled the entire nation. Achan, and all that he owned, were taken to the valley of Achor and destroyed. A memorial of stones was erected to remind Israel of the consequences of wilful disobedience to God’s commands.

Fortunately, even sin, when rightly dealt with, can be a springboard to victory. Israel was now in position to walk in obedience with the guidance and power of God.

We, as Christians, must learn the lesson that though we may fall into sin, our failure need not impede us from again being the objects of the Lord’s favor and walking in obedience once again. The same will be true for mankind in Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom.

Having now obeyed his word and destroyed “the accursed thing,” true to his word, God then provided a great victory to Israel, at the second battle at Ai (Joshua 8:1).

God gave Joshua a plan for the conquest of Ai by using a ruse that would be repeated later against Benjamin (Judges 20:32-35). Now Joshua must follow it. Here Joshua is a type of our Lord Jesus Christ. When one needs to gain victory, we must follow God’s plan.

On the night before the battle, Joshua chose 30,000 of his valiant warriors, and hid 5,000 of them in the valley to the west of Ai, to “ambush the city from behind it.” This placed his forces between Ai and Bethel; so the army of Ai could not flee to Bethel nor receive reinforcements from Bethel (Joshua 8:4, 12).

In the morning, Joshua’s main force was north of Ai’s gate. Due to their prior easy victory over the Israelites, the army and all the people of Ai rushed forward to the east to pursue Joshua’s “retreating” army.

In this final battle Joshua, typifying “the captain of our salvation,” took personal command over the main force, which had the most difficult task. At the precise moment, Joshua held aloft his curved spear in a manner that reflected the morning sunlight. This signaled to the ambush troops, lying west of Ai, to enter the now unguarded city and set it on fire.

At that same moment, Joshua’s main force ceased its feigned retreat and turned back westward to face the charging army of Ai in a unified, concentrated attack. Stopped suddenly by this unexpected opposition, the army of Ai turned around to retreat back into their fort. But they found their city burning and troops now ambushing them from the west. Their courage melted. Caught between the pincers of Israel’s army, Ai’s forces were completely destroyed, as God commanded. The hand of God destroyed them and their city.

The body of Ai’s King was hung on a tree. It was removed at sunset and buried under a pile of stones at Ai’s gate, as a memorial to Israel’s victory.

Snatching Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

Joshua, feigning to flee from the enemy only to turn around and summon the troops and conquer the King of Ai, symbolizes our Lord Jesus, who upon the cross of Calvary seemed to be conquered by Satan. However, in the end, that very act will result in Satan’s defeat.

Because of God’s faithfulness to Israel and Israel’s obedience to God, the victory at Ai was complete. Having made their way into the central hill country, the Israelites held a covenant renewal ceremony and built an altar on the mountain of cursing, Mt. Ebal, in fulfillment of God’s command to Moses (Deuteronomy 11:29, 27:4,13, Joshua 8:30-35). It was a beautiful place to do this, as the whole nation could hear this reading of the Law. The contour of the hills made it a natural amphitheater.

Half of the children of Israel stood upon Mount Ebal (cursing) and the other half upon Mount Gerizim (blessing). When a blessing of the Law was read, the people on Mount Gerizim would shout their, “Amen!” When a curse was read, the people on Mount Ebal would shout their “Amen!”

The children of Israel were recommitting themselves to the Lord’s Covenant. They were formally declaring that they would thence be obedient to all the commandments of the Lord, in order to defeat their enemies in the Promised Land. Due to disobedience and sin, the first Battle of Ai was the only defeat that Joshua and the children of Israel encountered in their battles to conquer the land of Canaan.

In the second Battle of Ai the children of Israel achieved victory over their enemies by remaining steadfastly obedient to God, even after an initial defeat by sin. Their victory was through the Lord.

Truly, all the “sons of God” who will gain the victory over their “enemies,” will be rewarded with life on the spiritual or earthly plane in the Promised Land of God’s Kingdom. These faithful sons will all have heeded God’s word that says, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22).

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