Joshua 8

Joshua 8,
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Now that Israel has repented and rooted out the booty stolen by Achar – (or scape-goated Achar, as one of you suggested in our Sunday evening conversation) – they are ready for Ai, using all the people to take what God is giving.  This time they can keep booty.

The strategy and tactics involve ambush, and Ai underestimating Israel based on the first skirmish.  It’s clever, but again involves total genocide of the army that pursued, and the families in the city, and this time, there is the profit motive: keep the chattels, burn the city.

Notice Joshua holding his scimitar aloft throughout the battle, like Moses holding his staff aloft through battle, supported by helpers.  He holds it up till the job is done – by God, with Israel’s support.  Shrewd tactics, and following the plan, not mighty men, win for God.

12,000 humans are said to have died, every inhabitant of Ai, and after the pillaging, the city was burnt to rubble, not rebuilt or occupied, just as Jericho had been laid waste.   How does the waste of the enemy relate to the sacrifices of Israel?

Our worldview is about ‘using’ stuff, people, time, for our purposes.  We ‘spend’, ‘save’, ‘waste’ and ‘sacrifice’ in that utilitarian calculus.  Jacques Ellul challenged techné itself and the technology that informs and expresses it.  We treat God's creation instrumentally, in our age, as tools, to serve our goods, not our God.

To try that again, 'using' stuff, people, time for our purposes, is not Joshua's worldview.   Joshua honours stuff, people, and time as sacred creations of the creator, so Israel is to oppose all desecrating enemies, and help sanctifying divinity. This is Torah talk, of 'holiness' and 'gift'.   ‘Abuse’ talk does not challenge ‘use’ talk enough for me.  Joshua, if we begin to get it, does.
The gory vision of the king of Ai hanged on a tree evokes lynching, and crucifixion for us.  Perhaps Joshua is not showing sadistic torture, but a sort of symbolic restraint.  The body is taken down at sunset, not left to rot.  The humanity of the body is finally respected.  It has been 'devoted to destruction, and no longer threatens the sanctity of Israel and God's gifts to them.

The readers and hearers of Joshua knew of the competing shrines of Gilgal, Bethel, and those given edited revisions of Joshua knew of Solomon’s Temple, and later, the Second Temple.  These ‘heaps of stones’ at Ebal and Gerazim also get etiological legends, revered by the levitical and Aaronic priesthoods and all tribes, not competing with the temples where the ark of the covenant would later rest.

Finally today, we’re told that Joshua wrote in stone a complete copy of the Torah of Moses from Sinai, and that it was read allow, every word, for the whole people, including slaves and aliens to listen.  Every word was heard, including the blessings and curses.  I’ve reached my 400 words for the day – better you read or hear 1000 words in chapter 8 of Joshua today:

Then the Lord said to Joshua,
 ‘Do not fear or be dismayed; 
take all the fighting men with you,
 and go up now to Ai. 
See, I have handed over to you the king of Ai
 with his people, his city, and his land.
 2You shall do to Ai and its king
as you did to Jericho and its king; 
only its spoil and its livestock
you may take as booty for yourselves. 
Set an ambush against the city, behind it.’
3 So Joshua and all the fighting men set out
to go up against Ai. 
Joshua chose thirty thousand warriors
and sent them out by night
 4with the command,
 ‘You shall lie in ambush against the city,
 behind it; 
do not go very far from the city, 
but all of you stay alert.
 5I and all the people who are with me
will approach the city.
When they come out against us, 
as before, we shall flee from them.
 6They will come out after us
until we have drawn them away from the city; 
for they will say, 
“They are fleeing from us, 
as before.” 
While we flee from them,
 7you shall rise up from the ambush
and seize the city;
 for the Lord your God will give it into your hand.
 8And when you have taken the city, 
you shall set the city on fire,
 doing as the Lord has ordered; 
see, I have commanded you.’
 9So Joshua sent them out; 
and they went to the place of ambush,
 and lay between Bethel and Ai,
 to the west of Ai; 
but Joshua spent that night in the camp.
10 In the morning
Joshua rose early and mustered the people,
 and went up, with the elders of Israel,
 before the people to Ai.
 11All the fighting men who were with him went up, 
and drew near before the city, 
and camped on the north side of Ai, 
with a ravine between them and Ai.
12Taking about five thousand men,
 he set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai,
 to the west of the city.
 13So they stationed the forces, 
the main encampment that was north of the city
and its rearguard west of the city.
 But Joshua spent that night in the valley.
 14When the king of Ai saw this,
 he and all his people,
 the inhabitants of the city,
 hurried out early in the morning
to the meeting-place facing the Arabah
 to meet Israel in battle; 
but he did not know
that there was an ambush against him
behind the city.
 15And Joshua and all Israel made a pretence
of being beaten before them, 
and fled in the direction of the wilderness.
 16So all the people who were in the city
 were called together to pursue them, 
and as they pursued Joshua
they were drawn away from the city.
 17There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel
who did not go out after Israel;
 they left the city open, 
and pursued Israel.
18 Then the Lord said to Joshua,
 ‘Stretch out the sword that is in your hand towards Ai; 
for I will give it into your hand.’ 
And Joshua stretched out the sword that was in his hand
 towards the city.
 19As soon as he stretched out his hand,
 the troops in ambush rose quickly out of their place
 and rushed forward. 
They entered the city, took it, 
and at once set the city on fire.
 20So when the men of Ai looked back, 
the smoke of the city was rising to the sky.
 They had no power to flee this way or that, 
for the people who fled to the wilderness
turned back against the pursuers.
21When Joshua and all Israel saw
that the ambush had taken the city
and that the smoke of the city was rising, 
then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai.
 22And the others came out from the city against them;
 so they were surrounded by Israelites, 
some on one side, and some on the other;
 and Israel struck them down
 until no one was left who survived or escaped.
 23But the king of Ai was taken alive
and brought to Joshua.
24 When Israel had finished
slaughtering all the inhabitants of Ai
in the open wilderness where they pursued them, 
and when all of them to the very last
had fallen by the edge of the sword,
 all Israel returned to Ai, 
and attacked it
with the edge of the sword.
 25The total of those who fell that day, 
both men and women, 
was twelve thousand
—all the people of Ai.
 26For Joshua did not draw back his hand, 
with which he stretched out the sword, 
until he had utterly destroyed
all the inhabitants of Ai.
 27Only the livestock and the spoil of that city
 Israel took as their booty,
 according to the word of the Lord
 that he had issued to Joshua.
 28So Joshua burned Ai, 
and made it for ever a heap of ruins,
 as it is to this day.
 29And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree
until evening;
 and at sunset
 Joshua commanded, 
and they took his body down from the tree,
 threw it down at the entrance of the gate of the city,
 and raised over it a great heap of stones, 
which stands there to this day.
30 Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal
an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, 
31just as Moses the servant of the Lord
 had commanded the Israelites,
 as it is written in the book of the law of Moses,
 ‘an altar of unhewn stones,
 on which no iron tool has been used’;
 and they offered on it burnt-offerings to the Lord, 
and sacrificed offerings of well-being.
 32And there, in the presence of the Israelites, 
Joshua wrote on the stones
a copy of the law of Moses, 
which he had written.
33All Israel, 
alien as well as citizen, 
with their elders and officers and their judges,
 stood on opposite sides of the ark
in front of the levitical priests
who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord,
 half of them in front of Mount Gerizim
and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, 
as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, 
that they should bless the people of Israel.
34And afterwards he read all the words of the law,
 blessings and curses,
 according to all that is written in the book of the law.
 35There was not a word of all that Moses commanded
 that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel,
 and the women, and the little ones, 
and the aliens who resided among them.