Joshua 8:9-12: Executing the Lord’s Battle-Plan, Part 1

Verse 9:[1] 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.

Sent them forth; the same party designed by the pronoun them, verse 3, of which see the notes there.

[Between Beth-el and Ai] Beth-el was about one hour’s journey from Ai toward the West.[2] And, because both cities were in mountainous places, there were the winding curves of hills, opportune for setting an ambush (Masius).

[In the midst of the people] That is, the men of war; that is, in the midst of the army (Piscator, Bonfrerius).

Among the people, Hebrew, that people,[3] to wit, the people of war, as they are called, verse 11, to wit, the main body of that host, consisting of thirty thousand.


Verse 10:[4] 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.

[He mustered, וַיִּפְקֹד[5]] And he visited, that is, he attentively considered whether all were prepared (Vatablus). He mustered (Vatablus, Junius and Tremellius, Syriac, similarly Jonathan), namely, by the commanders of the tribes, the commanders of hundreds, and the commanders of tens. Thus it was accomplished in a brief time (Masius). Now, he mustered them, 1. so that of them he might order a battle line: 2. so that afterwards it might be apparent how many fell in the battle (Lapide, Bonfrerius). This also is able to be the sense: In the morning he mustered the people, that is, he arranged what things were necessary among the people; then לִפְנֵ֥י הָעָ֖ם, before the face of the people, he went up with the elders, etc. (Masius).

The people, Hebrew, that people,[6] not all the people of Israel, which was needless, and required more time than could now be spared; but the rest of that host of thirty thousand, whereof five thousand were sent away; and now the remainder are numbered, partly to see whether some of them had not withdrawn themselves, taking the advantage of the night, and of the design of laying an ambush; and partly that it might be evident that this work was done without any loss of men, and thereby they might be encouraged to trust in God, and to proceed vigorously and resolutely in their work.

[With the elders] These were, either, 1. Tribunes, so called on account of the superiority of their judgment in military affairs (Masius). Or, 2. who were actually elders, and were noteworthy for their military skill (Bonfrerius). Or, 3. the Elders of Israel, who themselves belonged to the councils of war (Vatablus).

The elders of Israel; either, 1. The military elders, the chief commanders of his army. But they seem to be included in the thirty thousand, verse 3, which are supposed to be furnished and led by their several commanders; and such persons are scarce ever called the elders of Israel. Or rather, 2. The chief magistrates and rulers of Israel under Joshua, who are commonly so called; and these, I suppose, went with Joshua, and with the army, to take care that the cattle and the spoil of the city, which was given by God to all Israel for a prey, verses 2 and 27, might be justly and equally divided between those that went to battle, and the rest of the people, according to the example and prescript, Numbers 31:27; and that they who were present and assistant in the taking of that city, might not engross the whole to themselves, as is usual for soldiers in those cases to do.


Verse 11:[7] (Josh. 8:5) 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.

The people of war that were with him, to wit, the thirty thousand mentioned verse 3, or the most of them.

[The middle valley, וְהַגַּי] That is, an eminent one; or that in which the Israelites had previously been slaughtered (Vatablus).


Verse 12:[8] 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 (or, of Ai[9]).

[Five thousand…in ambush] This ambush was different than the former ambushes in verses 4 and 9 (Munster, Bonfrerius, Hebrews in Masius, Piscator), and was positioned more closely to the city (Munster). He sent this second ambush, so that he might deceived the citizens of the city, that is, lest they should suspect that there was another ambush (Vatablus). But this is absurd. 1. Mention will be made of only one ambush in the capture of the city. 2. Who would do this in the light of day, when the prior ambush, which was more distant, was only able to take the position through darkness (Masius)? [See what things are on verse 3.]

And he took, or, rather, but he had taken, to wit, out of the said number of thirty thousand, for this is added by way of recapitulation and further explication of what is said in general, verse 9.

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּשְׁלָחֵ֣ם יְהוֹשֻׁ֗עַ וַיֵּֽלְכוּ֙ אֶל־הַמַּאְרָ֔ב וַיֵּשְׁב֗וּ בֵּ֧ין בֵּֽית־אֵ֛ל וּבֵ֥ין הָעַ֖י מִיָּ֣ם לָעָ֑י וַיָּ֧לֶן יְהוֹשֻׁ֛עַ בַּלַּ֥יְלָה הַה֖וּא בְּת֥וֹךְ הָעָֽם׃

[2] They are separated by about two miles, but in mountainous terrain.

[3] Hebrew: בְּת֥וֹךְ הָעָֽם׃.

[4] Hebrew: וַיַּשְׁכֵּ֤ם יְהוֹשֻׁ֙עַ֙ בַּבֹּ֔קֶר וַיִּפְקֹ֖ד אֶת־הָעָ֑ם וַיַּ֙עַל ה֜וּא וְזִקְנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל לִפְנֵ֥י הָעָ֖ם הָעָֽי׃

[5] פָּקַד signifies to muster, or to visit.

[6] Hebrew: הָעָם.

[7] Hebrew: וְכָל־הָעָ֙ם הַמִּלְחָמָ֜ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִתּ֗וֹ עָלוּ֙ וַֽיִּגְּשׁ֔וּ וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ נֶ֣גֶד הָעִ֑יר וַֽיַּחֲנוּ֙ מִצְּפ֣וֹן לָעַ֔י וְהַגַּ֖י בֵּינ֥וֹ וּבֵין־הָעָֽי׃

[8] Hebrew: וַיִּקַּ֕ח כַּחֲמֵ֥שֶׁת אֲלָפִ֖ים אִ֑ישׁ וַיָּ֙שֶׂם אוֹתָ֜ם אֹרֵ֗ב בֵּ֧ין בֵּֽית־אֵ֛ל וּבֵ֥ין הָעַ֖י מִיָּ֥ם לָעִֽיר׃

[9] לָעַי; thus some Hebrew manuscripts, Targum Jonathan, the Septuagint, and the Vulgate.

1 thought on “Joshua 8:9-12: Executing the Lord’s Battle-Plan, Part 1

  1. Matthew Henry: “What a brave commander Joshua was. See…His care and industry (Joshua 8:10): He rose up early in the morning, that he might lose no time, and to show how intent his mind was upon his business. Those that would maintain their spiritual conflicts must not love their ease…. His courage and resolution; though an army of Israelites had been repulsed before Ai, yet he resolves to lead them on in person the second time, Joshua 8:5. Being himself also an elder, he took the elders of Israel with him to make this attack upon the city (Joshua 8:10), as if he were going rather to sit in judgment upon them as criminals than to fight them as enemies.”

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