Joshua 7:3: The Reconnaissance of Ai, Part 2

Verse 3:[1] And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men (Heb. about two thousand men, or about three thousand men[2]) go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few.

[Two or three thousand] Observe here the singular care and paternal benignity of God toward His Church, who by the danger of a small force achieved what was necessary for expiating the sacrilege and confirming military discipline in preparing for the most intense fighting: For a great force could not have been led into peril of that sort without the extreme desperation of all. But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted about that ye are able; 1 Corinthians 10:13 (Masius).

Let about two or three thousand men go up, etc.: This was done by the wise contrivance of Divine Providence, that their sin might be punished, and they awakened and reformed, with as little hazard, and mischief, and reproach as might be; for if the defeat of these caused so great a consternation in Joshua, it is easy to guess what dread, and confusion, and despair it would have caused in the people, if a great host had been defeated.

[Why shall it be troubled? אַל־תְּיַגַּע־שָׁמָּה[3]] Do not make to labor thither (Montanus); do not lead thither (Septuagint); do not force there (Syriac, Arabic); do not weary unto that place (Malvenda); do not weary (supply, by leading, or sending) thither (Junius and Tremellius, Pagnine, Tigurinus). It has regard, as it appears, to the slope of the mountain. For Ai was on a mountain, Jericho in a plain. Whence they are said to go up here and in verse 4. The Latin translation refers to the trouble in fighting; the Chaldean to the tumult and din that large armies raise (Masius).

[1] Hebrew: וַיָּשֻׁ֣בוּ אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֗עַ וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֵלָיו֮ אַל־יַ֣עַל כָּל־הָעָם֒ כְּאַלְפַּ֣יִם אִ֗ישׁ א֚וֹ כִּשְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת אֲלָפִ֣ים אִ֔ישׁ יַעֲל֖וּ וְיַכּ֣וּ אֶת־הָעָ֑י אַל־תְּיַגַּע־שָׁ֙מָּה֙ אֶת־כָּל־הָעָ֔ם כִּ֥י מְעַ֖ט הֵֽמָּה׃

[2] Hebrew: כְּאַלְפַּ֣יִם אִ֗ישׁ א֚וֹ כִּשְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת אֲלָפִ֣ים אִ֔ישׁ .

[3] יָגַע, to toil, in the Piel conjugation carries a causative sense.

2 thoughts on “Joshua 7:3: The Reconnaissance of Ai, Part 2

  1. J.C. Ryle, “Expository Thoughts on Matthew”: “…we see in these verses that Satan’s kingdom is not to be pulled down without diligence and pains. This seems to be the lesson of the verse which concludes the passage we are now considering: ‘This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.’ A gentle rebuke to the disciples appears to be implied in the words. Perhaps they had been too much lifted up by past successes. Perhaps they had been less careful in the use of means in their Master’s absence, than they were under their Master’s eye. At any rate they receive a plain hint from our Lord, that the warfare against Satan must never be lightly carried on. They are warned that no victories are to be won easily over the prince of this world. Without fervent prayer, and diligent self-mortification, they would often meet with failure and defeat.

    The lesson here laid down is one of deep importance. ‘I would,’ says Bullinger, ‘that this part of the Gospel pleased us as much as those parts which concede liberty.’ We are all apt to contract a habit of doing religious acts in a thoughtless, perfunctory way. Like Israel, puffed up with the fall of Jericho, we are ready to say to ourselves, ‘The men of Ai are but few;’ (Joshua 7:3;) ‘there is no need to put forth all our strength.’ Like Israel, we often learn by bitter experience, that spiritual battles are not to be won without hard fighting. The ark of the Lord must never be handled irreverently. God’s work must never be carelessly done.

    May we all bear in mind our Lord’s words to His disciples, and make a practical use of them. In the pulpit, and on the platform,—in the Sunday school, and in the district,—in our use of family prayers, and in reading our own Bibles,—let us diligently watch our own spirit. Whatever we do, let us ‘do it with our might’ (Ecclesiastes 9:10). It is a fatal mistake to underrate our foes. Greater is He that is for us than he that is against us—but, for all that, he that is against us is not to be despised. He is the prince of this world. He is a strong man armed, keeping his house, who will not ‘go out,’ and part with his goods without a struggle. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. We have need to take the whole armor of God, and not only to take it, but to use it too. We may be very sure that those who win most victories over the world, the flesh, and the devil, are those who pray most in private, and ‘keep under their bodies, and bring them into subjection’ (1 Corinthians 9:27).”

  2. Matthew Henry: “Joshua sends a detachment to seize upon the next city that was in their way, and that was Ai. Only 3000 men were sent, advice being brought him by his spies that the place was inconsiderable, and needed no greater force for the reduction of it, Joshua 7:2, 3. Now perhaps it was a culpable assurance, or security rather that led them to send so small a party on this expedition; it might also be an indulgence of the people in the love of ease, for they will not have all the people to labour thither. Perhaps the people were the less forward to go upon this expedition because they were denied the plunder of Jericho; and these spies were willing they should be gratified. Whereas when the town was to be taken, though God by his own power would throw down the walls, yet they must all labour thither and labour there too, in walking round it. It did not bode well at all that God’s Israel began to think much of their labour, and contrived how to spare their pains. It is required that we work out our salvation, though it is God that works in us. It has likewise often proved of bad consequence to make too light of an enemy. They are but few (say the spies), but, as few as they were, they were too many for them. It will awaken our care and diligence in our Christian warfare to consider that we wrestle with principalities and powers.”

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