1-2The Lord told Joshua:
Don't be afraid, and don't be discouraged by what happened at the town of Ai. Take the army and attack again. But first, order part of the army to set up an ambush on the other side of the town. I will help you defeat the king of Ai and his army, and you will capture the town and the land around it. Destroy Ai and kill its king as you did at Jericho. But you may keep the livestock and everything else you want.
3-4Joshua quickly got the army ready to attack Ai. He chose 30,000 of his best soldiers and gave them these orders:
Tonight, while it is dark, march to Ai and take up a position behind the town. Get as close to the town as you can without being seen, and be ready to attack.
5-6The rest of the army will come with me and attack near the gate. When the people of Ai come out to fight, we'll run away and let them chase us. They will think we are running from them just like the first time. But when we've let them chase us far enough away, 7you come out of hiding. The Lord our God will help you capture the town. 8Then set it on fire, as the Lord has told us to do. Those are your orders, 9now go!
The 30,000 soldiers went to a place on the west side of Ai, between Ai and Bethel, where they could hide and wait to attack.
That night, Joshua stayed in camp with the rest of the army. 10Early the next morning he got his troops ready to move out, and he and the other leaders of Israel led them to Ai. 11They set up camp in full view of the town, across the valley to the north. 12Joshua had already sent 5,000 soldiers to the west side of the town to hide and wait to attack. 13Now all his troops were in place. Part of the army was in the camp to the north of Ai, and the others were hiding to the west, ready to make a surprise attack. That night, Joshua went into the valley.
14-15The king of Ai saw Joshua's army, so the king and his troops hurried out early the next morning to fight them. Joshua and his army pretended to be beaten, and they let the men of Ai chase them toward the desert. The king and his army were facing the Jordan valley as Joshua had planned.
The king did not realize that some Israelite soldiers were hiding behind the town. 16-17So he called out every man in Ai to go after Joshua's troops. They all rushed out to chase the Israelite army, and they left the town gates wide open. Not one man was left in Ai or in Bethel.
Joshua let the men of Ai chase him and his army farther and farther away from Ai.
Try to find a sermon or bible study on this passage. Google it! You will find it almost impossible. Nobody wants to preach it simply because the harsh brutality of those times is reflected once again. The consequences and defeat are final. A city is destroyed and a whole people annihilated by the Israelites. Once again for some of you, this offends your modern sensibilities. But you shouldn’t be surprised. We live in brutal times.
Years ago, I was drinking coffee with an older member of the congregation I was serving at the time. He was a veteran from World War II and actually served as a commando behind the enemy lines. I made reference to the fact that I was surprised that he did not discuss his experiences during the war. Tears filled his eyes as he quietly replied, “I can’t talk about it. I killed a number of people and it was cruel and painful for me. It haunts me even today.” “You have lived with that for a long time,” I said, “how have you made peace with that?” “Only with God, only with God.” We held hands for a long time as together we cried.
Two phrases should leap out to you in this portion of Joshua. They come at the beginning as a promise from God. In the midst of a story of great and harsh punishment the people of God are told, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will give it into your hand!” (Joshua 8:1&7). It is a promise in the darkest most fearful times – God is with us!
God of eternal judgment and consistent love, grant us your presence in the darkness of our times and in our memories of harsh times and painful pasts, your loving light. Help us to see you! Help us to know your consistent presence and promise in our fears. Through Jesus Christ who leads us to the place where that is possible. Amen.