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Against presumption and being off our guard.
Jericho was taken by a miracle. Ai is to be compassed by the usual course of warfare. And no less than "thirty thousand mighty men of valour" are ordered to lie in wait against a city, of which it had been said by the men who went to view it," Let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few." Ch. 7. 3. Surely God would here instruct his people, that in order to succeed, they must never be inclined to spare toil or skill, they must never underrate the power of their enemies, never use less than all the strength they have at their disposal. This at least is a lesson which we may profitably learn, from the passage of Scripture before us. And it is a lesson much needed by very many, who seem to think the way to heaven so easy, and the gate so broad, that they may enter without difficulty wheresoever they have a mind. But no, the gate is narrow, and the way is hard to find. The enemies who oppose are vigilant and active. And it requires all the strength we have, and all the wisdom, it requires all to be exerted with the least possible delay, in order to make sure of succeeding, in order to have the victory over sin and death. Far then be from us the vain conceit, that we may repent, and believe, at any future time, just as easily as now; and that this will do quite as well for making peace with God, and ensuring happiness in the world to come! Far be from us the idle expectation, that slight exertions, half measures, and the reluctant service of a divided heart, can win for us the conqueror's crown, can make us partakers in the triumph of our Lord!
But what may we learn further from the ambush here commanded? And how can it be, that God gave order for the practice of such a stratagem in war? Certainly every ambush, all lying in wait, must partake of the nature of deceit; even as all war, in all its details, must partake of the guilt of bloodshedding. And yet God, who has so solemnly denounced murder, must have had full right to use the sword of his people, for the execution of his just judgments against nations that delighted in war. in like manner He might think fit to punish their gross deceitfulness and treachery, by commanding his own army to lie in wait; and He might purposely thus bring it to pass, that in the same net, which they had oftentimes laid privily, their own feet were taken. See Ps. 35. 8. And if in our own warfare with sin and Satan no method of ambush can be properly or profitably employed, we may at least do well to remember here, that our enemies use this stratagem continually. Whichsoever way we walk they lie in wait behind us, they rise up before us, they encompass us with wiles on every side; determined, if possible, to take us captive in their snares. If therefore we would be safe, let us take pains no less diligently, never to be off our guard.
Ai is taken and destroyed.
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 to ward 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.
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 23 And the king of Ai they took thereon a great heap of stones, alive, and brought him to Joshua. that remaineth unto this day. LECTURE 376.
The end of God's enemies.
Ai is taken; the city which discomfited Israel, which put three thousand men to flight, and slew six and thirty of their number, and made the hearts of the people to become as water, and tempted even Joshua to despond. Let us not then be discouraged by defeat at first. If we fall, God will raise us up. He will finally beat down Satan under our feet. Ai is taken; the city which all Israel would in vain have assaulted, as long as any portion of the spoils of Jericho lay hid in the tents of Achan. Let
us do all that in us lies, to put away from ourselves them that sin against the Lord. Let us run no risk that we can help, of being accounted partakers of other men's sins; lest the face of the Lord be set against us. Ai is taken. For Joshua has stretched out his spear, and the men in ambush have arisen and set fire to the city, and the people that seemed to fly have turned back upon the pursuers; all have acted in concert as Joshua commanded and he, as he was instructed by the Lord. Let us work together as men under authority, united by firm discipline, bent upon one object, and trusting to no other method for success, except that which God has appointed; and then how much more reasonably might we hope to attain to the utmost heights of holiness and joy, which God invites us to partake of.
Ai is taken. And the spoil thereof is given up by God to Israel," for a prey unto themselves." It was not then that He grudged Achan the wedge of gold, the shekels of silver, or the goodly Babylonish garment. It was not that He could not have spared all the spoils of Jericho, as readily as all the spoils of Ai. But He must needs be implicitly obeyed. The habit of obedi ence was better for the Israelites than all the spoils of all the cities in the land. It is not that God grudges us the free enjoyment of all the pleasures which earth can yield. But He knows it to be our gain, if we withhold our hands from partaking of those which He forbids. He knows it to be our gain. And we ought to be thankful to know, that if we obey his word, this is at once our gain, and his glory. Let us then refrain, when He requires, from the trifles of a moment. And behold, He is prepared to give us the riches of eternity. Ai is taken. "And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day. And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide." In the morning that king had gone forth as to victory, and all the inhabitants of that city had thought to spend a triumphant night. Warned in vain by the end of Jericho, elated by their first partial success, they were again in full pursuit of Israel, and were again, as they supposed, conquerors of the people of the Lord. But let those take warning, whom God sometimes uses for his instruments, to humble his true servants, and chastise them in their sins. It is one thing to be overtaken in a fault against God. It is another thing to live without God in the world. It is one thing for the godless to have some little ground of triumph, against such as serve God in sincerity. It is another thing, a thing that will never happen, for the godless to be best off in the end. day they prosper. To morrow they encounter desolation and disgrace. In the morning they go forth in their glory. Ere the night they are made "an heap for ever."
Oh that God may give us grace to be always on his side! And however often He may see fit to chasten us as his children, oh that He may never have to discomfit us as his enemies!
The Law is written and rehearsed at mount Ebal.
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. LECTURE 377.
The warrant of the Israelites for invading Canaan. The spot where this ceremony took place was about two days' journey from the plains of Jericho. And hence some have concluded that the ceremony, though related here, did not take place till afterwards; arguing, that it could not have been expedient or safe, for all the people to make so long an expedition into the country, whilst it was yet in possession of their enemies. But on looking back to the book of Deuteronomy, we shall see, that Moses commanded these stones to be set up, and this religious solemnity to be observed, immediately after the people should have passed over Jordan. See Deut. 27. 2, 3, 4. And if Joshua was guided by God's direction, as to the exact time when this was to be done, he would no doubt also have God's protection in doing it. And it was no more strange that God should protect the Israelites, in advancing to mount Ebal, after the signal destruction of Jericho and Ai, than that He should protect them, as He did, in abiding still at Gilgal, whilst they were recovering from the effects of circumcision, after the miraculous passage over Jordan. Indeed we have but to look upon this ceremony in its just importance, as a solemn taking possession of the land, in the name of the Lord, and of his Law, and we shall then be no longer surprised to find, that notwithstanding some seeming inconvenience, this solemnity was performed, as soon as ever God had given to his people a firm footing in the country.
A solemn ceremony indeed it was; well fitted to impress the Israelites with a sense of their responsibility, as debtors to the
whole Law. And at the same time it must have plainly testified to the inhabitants of the land, that the people who invaded them were no rash or covetous adventurers, seeking to possess themselves unwarrantably of territory belonging to their neighbours; but that they were a people that feared God, and were pledged to work righteousness as his servants, and were commissioned, as a part of their service due to Him, to take possession of Canaan in his name. This is the vital difference between the entrance of the Israelites into the promised land, and those unjustifiable settlements, too often made by Christian colonists, in territories to which they have had no right, except the right of lawless violence. Deep is the stain of shame with which proceedings of this kind have stained the name of Christian, amongst the heathen in all quarters of the globe. Deep is the concern which we ought to feel, for the honour of our Lord thus injured, in a point where of all others we were bound to maintain it to the uttermost, by the excellency of right Christian conduct. If the dark places of the earth are full of cruel habitations, see Ps. 74. 21, what must they who dwell therein be apt to think, of the refinements in cruelty, which they have learnt by sad experience, from natives of more enlightened lands? Which of all the chief settlements made by Christian nations in heathen countries, whether to the east or to the west, to the north or to the south, has not been formed at first, or afterwards conducted, in gross violation of the precepts of the Gospel?
Not so did the Israelites on this occasion. In the Law which they rehearsed it was plainly written, that they should have the land of Canaan for their own. It was to be theirs by the promise of God. It was to be theirs by the gift of God. And they had express commands from God to use the utmost force of war, if needful, to dispossess the previous inhabitants. Hence they must have been led to look upon themselves not as wrongful invaders, cruel oppressors, but as upright and highly honoured ministers of the will of God most high. And hence the more their Law was known, and the more it was compared with their behaviour in this matter, they would be the more justly regarded as the chosen people of God, settled in the land of Canaan by his appointment, there to be a standing monument of his mercy, his justice, and his truth, to all the children of men. Let us but as strictly obey the law of our commandments in the Gospel, and we as Christians shall fulfil the like honourable office, to be monuments of God's grace, to tell forth to all mankind the redemption He has wrought for all, by Jesus Christ our Lord. The weapons of our warfare are no longer carnal. Our sword is the word of God. Let us remember that our way to wield it most effectually, is to practise as well as preach it. Let us endeavour so to preach and so to practise it, that all the ends of the earth shall see, and thankfully accept, the salvation of our God.