Strategies and a Tithe
1And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. 2And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.” 3So Joshua and all the fighting men arose to go up to Ai. And Joshua chose 30,000 mighty men of valor and sent them out by night. 4And he commanded them, “Behold, you shall lie in ambush against the city, behind it. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you remain ready. 5And I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. And when they come out against us just as before, we shall flee before them. 6And they will come out after us, until we have drawn them away from the city. For they will say, ‘They are fleeing from us, just as before.’ So, we will flee before them. 7Then you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city, for the Lord your God will give it into your hand. 8And as soon as you have taken the city, you shall set the city on fire. You shall do according to the word of the Lord. 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 among the people. 10Joshua arose early in the morning and mustered the people and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai. 11And all the fighting men who were with him went up and drew near before the city and encamped on the north side of Ai, with a ravine between them and Ai. 12He took about 5,000 men and 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 rear-guard west of the city. But Joshua spent that night in the valley. 14And as soon as the king of Ai saw this, he and all his people, the men of the city, hurried and went out early to the appointed place toward 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 pretended to be 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. 17Not a man was left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel. They left the city open and pursued Israel.
The sin of Achan has been dealt with and Israel now stands in firm alliance with God and His ways. It’s time to march forward with the business of claiming the land God is giving them. Because of Achan, God had withdrawn from Israel and their first attempt at taking the city of Ai failed miserably. Now the relationship between God and the people has been restored and God sets forth the plan for victory over Ai. A part of that plan also includes allowing the people to take the valuables from the city for themselves. This is a departure from the destruction of Jericho where all of the valuables from the city were to be set aside for God. That leads to questions as to why the difference.
Jericho, as the first city taken, seems to have held special significance. Therefore, God gave the strictest orders concerning its destruction as cherem [devoted things]. Jericho was evidently like the “firstborn” and belonged completely to the Lord. Ai, the second city, is treated more leniently. The Israelites can take its “booty.” That would include the goods like those wrongly taken by Achan. From Jericho, metal articles were to go into the Lord’s treasury, the animals were slain, and everything else was burnt. But now from Ai, God allows the Israelites to take and keep all the valuable goods.
Harstad, A. L. (2004). Joshua (p. 335). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.
It is an interesting take to see Jericho as “the firstborn” in a string of conquests and as such, something to be devoted to God. Since that offering has been made, now the people may have the spoils of war for themselves. It might be interesting for us to live this way as well. We all know about the “tithe” – where we give 10% of our resources to the Lord. But what if we were to see all of our life in that light? What would my day look like if I consistently gave God the first 10% of my time? That means the first 90 minutes of my day would be spent entirely with the Lord. That is a sobering number for me and deeply convicting.
God gives Joshua a brilliant strategy for defeating Ai and Joshua obediently goes to work making the plan a reality. On a side note, as we read these stories of conquest, we get a real feel for the size of the Hebrew community. If you add all of the military men together (as reported in the text), you get roughly 600,000 men! That places the size of the community at nearly 2,000,000. That’s just amazing to me. Israel is a nation. All they need is a place to live.