King James Bible
with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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Joshua 8

God encourages Joshua. (1,2) The taking of Ai. (3-22) The destruction of Ai and its king. (23-29) The law read on Ebal and Gerizim. (30-35)

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God encourages Joshua

1 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land:

2 And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king: only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves: lay thee an ambush for the city behind it.

The taking of Ai

3 So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai: and Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valour, and sent them away by night.

4 And he commanded them, saying, Behold, ye shall lie in wait against the city, even behind the city: go not very far from the city, but be ye all ready:

5 And I, and all the people that are with me, will approach unto the city: and it shall come to pass, when they come out against us, as at the first, that we will flee before them,

6 (For they will come out after us) till we have drawn them from the city; for they will say, They flee before us, as at the first: therefore we will flee before them.

7 Then ye shall rise up from the ambush, and seize upon the city: for the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand.

8 And it shall be, when ye have taken the city, that ye shall set the city on fire: according to the commandment of the LORD shall ye do. See, I have commanded you.

9 Joshua therefore sent them forth: and they went to lie in ambush, and abode between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai: but Joshua lodged that night among the people.

10 And Joshua rose up early in the morning, and numbered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai.

11 And all the people, even the people of war that were with him, went up, and drew nigh, and came before the city, and pitched on the north side of Ai: now there was a valley between them and Ai.

12 And he took about five thousand men, and set them to lie in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city.

13 And when they had set the people, even all the host that was on the north of the city, and their liers in wait on the west of the city, Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley.

14 And it came to pass, when the king of Ai saw it, that they hasted and rose up early, and the men of the city went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people, at a time appointed, before the plain; but he wist not that there were liers in ambush against him behind the city.

15 And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness.

16 And all the people that were in Ai were called together to pursue after them: and they pursued after Joshua, and were drawn away from the city.

17 And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, that went not out after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel.

18 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Stretch out the spear that is in thy hand toward Ai; for I will give it into thine hand. And Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city.

19 And the ambush arose quickly out of their place, and they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand: and they entered into the city, and took it, and hasted and set the city on fire.

20 And when the men of Ai looked behind them, they saw, and, behold, the smoke of the city ascended up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that way: and the people that fled to the wilderness turned back upon the pursuers.

21 And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city, and that the smoke of the city ascended, then they turned again, and slew the men of Ai.

22 And the other issued out of the city against them; so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side: and they smote them, so that they let none of them remain or escape.

The destruction of Ai and its king

23 And the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua.

24 And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword.

25 And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai.

26 For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.

27 Only the cattle and the spoil of that city Israel took for a prey unto themselves, according unto the word of the LORD which he commanded Joshua.

28 And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day.

29 And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcase down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this day.

The law read on Ebal and Gerizim

30 Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,

31 As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.

32 And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.

33 And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side before the priests the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, as well the stranger, as he that was born among them; half of them over against mount Gerizim, and half of them over against mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel.

34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law.

35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. Men. Masius and Salien (H.) suppose that Josue selected out of them 30,000; 5000 of whom were to be placed in ambush, and the rest were to pretend that they were terrified at the approach of the king of Hai, and to flee with Josue. But the text seems to assert that all accompanied their general, (C.) excepting such as were left to guard the camp.

Ver. 2. King. There was this difference, that the king of Hai was to be gibbeted, and his corpse stoned, while the city was to be plundered by the Israelites. — It. This mode of warfare is equally just, as if the enemy was attacked in the open field. Dolus an virtus quis in hoste requirat? Virg. — God was pleased to authorize it on this occasion, that his people might be less exposed, being under some apprehensions on account of the former defeat. Some nations have preferred to encounter the enemy openly. Grot. Jur. iii. 1. 20. But their example is no law for others. “When the war is just, it matters not whether a person gain the victory by open fighting or by stratagem.” S. Aug. q. 10. “It is often prudent to conceal the truth.” c. Mend. x. People engaged in warfare, allow each other to take such advantages. God could easily have routed these few men by means of the army of Israel, or by a miracle, as he did at Jericho. H. — But he is at liberty to act as he thinks proper. The ambush was laid on the south-west side of Hai, so that those of Bethel might not perceive it, as they came out to the assistance of their countrymen, v. 17. Five thousand were placed in one place, and 25,000 in another, while the main body of the army, under Josue, took a circuit by the east, and came to attack the city on the north side. C.

Ver. 4. Ready to enter the city, when its soldiers are all in pursuit of us. H.

Ver. 5. And turn, &c. Josue had not fled before. C. — Heb. “against us, as at the first, we will flee before them.”

Ver. 8. Fire. They were to set some houses on fire for a signal, but the whole city was not to be destroyed (C.) till the Israelites had collected the plunder. H.

Ver. 10. Ancients, who had a command in the army, and assisted Josue with their counsel. They gave him an account of the state and numbers of the army. C.

Ver. 12. Five thousand. These were part of the 30,000 mentioned above, v. 3. Ch. — Josue had given orders to have them placed in ambush apart; (C.) unless, perhaps, he places these himself in some secret place. H.

Ver. 13. Night. He spent the forepart of it at Galgal, to prevent any suspicion, v. 9. But setting out very early, (v. 10,) he arrived at Hai before sun-rise.

Ver. 14. Desert of Bethel, fit only for pasturage. C. xviii. 12.

Ver. 15. Afraid. Heb. “made as if they were beaten before them, and fled.” Thus they drew on the king of Hai, so as to leave the ambush in his rear. C.

Ver. 17. Not one fit to bear arms. W. — Bethel. As soon as the people of this city perceived the Israelites fleeing, they rushed out to assist the king of Hai in the pursuit. But when they saw the former rally, before they had joined their friends, (C.) they very prudently retired, and left the unhappy citizens of Hai to their fate. H. — Hence all who were slain belonged to the latter city, v. 25.

Ver. 18. Shield, as Moses lifted up his hands. Ex. xvii. 11. Some translate, “dart, spear,” or “sword.” Sept. and Eccli. xvi. 3. C. — The buckler might be suspended on a spear, (M.) that it might be seen afar off (W.) by some appointed to keep watch on purpose. H.

Ver. 23. Josue. This king was reserved for greater torments and ignominy. It was the ancient custom to present kings and chief commanders to the victorious general, who rewarded those who brought them. Grotius.

Ver. 28. For ever, or for a long time. It was rebuilt before the captivity. 2 Esd. vii. 31.

Ver. 29. Gibbet. Sept. “a cross.” Some say that the king was first killed; but that assertion is destitute of proof. The corpse was taken down before night. Deut. xxi. 22.

Ver. 30. Hebal. The Sam. Chronicle says on Mount Garizim. No doubt Josue complied with the injunctions of Moses: but we have seen that there are reasons to doubt which mountain he pitched upon. Deut. xxvii. 4. H. — It seems more probable that the altar would be upon Garizim, where the blessings were proclaimed, if the texts of Moses and of Josue did not formally assert the contrary. C. — But if they have been interpolated, nothing certain can be deduced from those passages. Josephus (iv. 8,) says that the altar was between the two mountains, not far from Sichem, which was built at the foot of Garizim; and it is not probable that this historian, the mortal enemy of the Samaritans, would have hesitated to assert that the altar was upon Hebal, if the texts had been so positive, in his time. It is undeniable that the tribes of Levi, and of Ephraim, were upon Garizim; and consequently Josue and the priests must have been there; and who would then officiate at the altar on Hebal? See Kennicott, who ably refutes the insinuations of the infidel, Collins, against the character of the Samaritans. When this altar was erected the learned are not agreed. H. — Some say, immediately after the passage of the Jordan, and that the 12 stones taken from the bed of the river, were used for that purpose. Josephus says five years elapsed, and R. Ismael supposes that the altar was not built during the 14 years after the passage of the Jordan. But it is most probable that Josue complied with the command of God as soon as he had procured a sort of peace, (H.) by the conquest of these two cities, and was thus enabled to penetrate into the heart of the country, where Garizim was situated, not in the plain of Jericho, as Eusebius imagined, but near Sichem, (C.) about 30 or 40 miles to the north-west of Jericho. H.

Ver. 31. Iron. Spencer complains that the Prot. have not translated barzel, “iron tool,” as Deut. xxvii. 5. This translation is found in their more ancient editions of 1537–49, &c. Ken. — But the difference is very unimportant. The reason of this prohibition is given, Ex. xx. 25. — He offered; so we read that he wrote, blessed and cursed, &c. because these things were done at least by his authority. It is not necessary to suppose that he engraved the words of the law with his own hands, or that he passed from Garizim, where he had been pronouncing the blessings, to Hebal, in order to denounce the curses. H. — He probably commissioned some of the princes on Hebal to perform the office of cursing, after he had repeated the blessings himself from Garizim; and the select company of Levites before the ark, having answered or repeated the words, the whole multitude stationed at the foot of Hebal, giving their consent that the transgressors should be cursed. Ken. — Hence Josue must have sacrificed by the hands of the priests. H. — Various instances are produced to show that princes and prophets have, on extraordinary occasions, performed this office themselves, 1 K. vi. 15. and vii. 9. 3 K. xviii. 32. C. — But these must have either received a dispensation from God, or they must have employed the ministry of the legal priests; or, in fine, their actions, like that of Saul, (1 K. xiii. 9,) of Absalom, (ib. i. 9,) Herod, &c. may have been deserving of blame. H. — The Jews assert that in the desert no one was permitted to sacrifice, except in the tabernacle; but that this prohibition ceased at Galgal, as the ark had no fixed abode, and thus Josue might offer sacrifice himself. Afterwards the law was enforced, while the ark was at Silo. But upon its being removed to Nobe, Maspha, and Gabaon, people resumed their former liberty; and hence there was nothing to hinder Samuel, Saul, and David from offering sacrifice, till the temple was erected. Outram de Sac. i. 2. Grot. in Deut. xii. 8. This sacred office was formerly exercised by kings, particularly at Athens, where, after the people became more numerous, Theseus appointed the king of sacrifices to keep up the memory of the ancient practice. Demost. c. Neream. C. The like was done at Rome under the republic. H.

Ver. 32. Stones, of which the altar was formed, (C.) or on a separate monument, (Masius) consisting of two stones of black marble, so as to leave the letters prominent, and to fill up the vacuities with white plaster, that they might be seen more plainly, and might, at the same time, be more durable than if they had been only written on the cement, whatever some may have said of the tenacity of the ancient plaster. — Deuteronomy, &c. or copy of the Decalogue which, by way of eminence, is called the law. Act. vii. 53. It is distinguished from the blessings and the curses; (v. 34,) and Moses referred to it, as already existing, (Deut. xxvii. 3. 8,) though the Book of Deuteronomy was not finished till afterwards. He might point to the very tables contained in the ark. “This law, consisting of only 16 verses, might easily be engraved on this solemn day; whereas to engrave the 80 verses of blessings and cursings, would be improbable; and engraving the Pentateuch, or indeed the Book of Deuteronomy, had been impossible.” That the Decalogue was to be thus solemnly proclaimed is evident, from the Sam. text. Ex. xx. 18. Kennicott. — This was the covenant which God had made with his people, (Deut. iv. 13,) and which Moses cautions the Israelites to observe; as upon their fidelity, their present and future happiness entirely depended. It was on this title alone that they could hold the land of Chanaan; and therefore Josue takes care thus publicly to admonish them of their duty. H. — The Rabbins say that the whole Pentateuch was written on this occasion in 70 languages, that no nation might plead ignorance. But we can hardly believe that even the Book of Deuteronomy could be written, and read, and explained to the people, as that would require many days. C.

Ver. 33. Hebal. “Gerizim and Ebal, says Maundrell, p. 59, are separated by a narrow valley, not above a furlong broad; and Naplosa, (the ancient Sychem) consisting chiefly of two streets lying parallel, is built at the foot of, and under Gerizim.” The princes, representing the different tribes, were stationed on these mountains, and the crowd at the foot of them, while a select company of Levites attended the ark in the midst, and repeated what the princes proclaimed, that the multitude might answer Amen, as they turned successively to them; (Kennicott) or the princes might answer Amen, from the top of the two hills. C. — And first. Prot. “as Moses…had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel.” But if Josue blessed them himself, (H.) all superiors might do so, as parents bless their children. W.

Ver. 34. Words. Heb. “words of the law, the blessings,” &c. H.

Ver. 35. Repeated. Coverdale’s Bible has “Josua caused it to be proclaimed.” “It is very common in Scripture to represent a person as doing that which is done by another, in his name and by his authority.” Kennicott. — Josue might be in the midst to preside, (C.) or rather he would be along with the princes of the six tribes on Mount Garizim, v. 30. H. — Thus the covenant entered into between God and the Israelites, was solemnly ratified when the latter first entered the promised land. The greatest part of those who had been present at Horeb had perished in the wilderness. C.