After an absence of 6 weeks for our church to participate in Rick Warren's 40 Days of Community, I got to teach again today. I really missed it, and it was a great joy to be "back in the saddle". So, here are my notes to the study of Joshua 8.
8:1-2 (Back In The Saddle)
After a terrible diversion from the campaign to win Canaan, brought about by the disobedience of Achan, the Israelites have removed the sin from the camp and God has turned from his fierce anger against them. God is now ready to use them to destroy the city of Ai.
The first thing God tells them is a phrase we hear over and over again in the Bible when man is confronted by God’s presence. He said “do not be afraid”. Now, they had good reason to be afraid. They had just experienced the Lord’s displeasure. He allowed them to lose a battle, including the death of some of their people. In addition, they saw the punishment of Achan for his sin. So, they were in need of some reassurance.
Look at the differences from the first attack on Ai. First, God instructed them to attack. Second, God gave the city into their hands. This did not happen in the first attack, which you can read about in chapter 7. It did happen in the attack on Jericho, recorded in chapter 6. Another difference is that Joshua assigned only a small force of 3000 men to attack Ai. In the second attack, the Lord instructed him to take the whole army.
We cannot be presumptuous about God’s will. We need to seek his will both as to his purpose and his plan.
Finally, notice that God gave the Israelites the plunder from the city. He did not give the plunder of Jericho to Israel. All was either destroyed or given to the treasury of the Lord. It was a sort of first fruits offering. Sadly, had Achan trusted God and obeyed, he would have received plunder in the second battle without sinning.
8:3-29 (The Battle)
Joshua passed on the Lord’s instructions to Israel and they conducted the battle in obedience. God gave them victory. They completely destroyed the city and its inhabitants and the Lord commanded. They killed the king and hung his body on a tree as an additional humiliation. They will do this again in chapter 10 when they defeat the coalition of 5 Amorite kings. They observed the law and took his body down at sunset. See Deuteronomy 21:22.
Notice Joshua’s role in this battle. The Lord told him in verse 18 to Hold out a javelin, pointed toward the city. Verse 26 tells us he did not draw back his hand until all the people of Ai had been destroyed. This reminds us of the battle against the Amalekites in Exodus 17:8-16, where Moses stood on top of the hill and raised the staff of the Lord while Joshua led the troops in fighting. So, again, God fulfilled his promise to be with Joshua as he had with Moses.
8:30-35 (Building An Altar)
After these 2 successful conquests, Joshua built an altar to the Lord on Mount Ebal. Mount Ebal is above Shechem, where Abraham built an altar, and where God said he would give the land of Canaan to his offspring. This is in Genesis 12:6-7. Notice in verse 8 that Abraham then went to the area between Bethel and Ai and built another altar and called on the name of the Lord. So, the Israelites worshipped God in the same area where Abraham received the promise they would do so.
It is important to complete that cycle. We worship when we move out on God’s promises. We worship when God fulfills those promises for us.
Verse 30 says Joshua did it as Moses commanded. That command is recorded in Deuteronomy 11:26-29. Joshua also built the altar according to the specifications set forth in the “Book of the Law of Moses”. Exodus 20:24-25 gives those specifications. No tool of man could be used to build the altar to God. He did not want the focus to be on the beauty of the altar, but on Himself and the sacrifice.
So Joshua built the altar with natural stones. He wrote the law on the stones. The people stood around the ark of the covenant, half in front of Mount Ebal and half in front of Mount Gerizim, as they obeyed the command of Moses. Then Joshua read the law, including the blessings and the curses, to the whole assembly, including the men, the women, children and aliens. The Jews teach that Ebal is barren and desolate, composed largely of chalk, and so represented the curses. Gerizim, in contrast, is covered with trees, and represents the blessings of obedience.
What were the blessings and curses? I think they are those contained in Leviticus 26, where Moses tells the Israelites the consequences of obedience and disobedience, and in Deuteronomy 27 and 28, where Moses recounts them before his death.
God will win the victories for us if we will obey and worship.