8 And 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. 2 And 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.”
Verses 1-2: God once again speaks to Joshua, giving him the same reassurances that were passed along back in Chapter 1 as they came into the Promised Land. The Israelites are once again back in God’s good graces after the sacrifice of Achan, and now God will continue to uphold his original promise. The city of Ai is to go the same route as Jericho, with one major exception: they can keep the spoils and livestock. Yet the really important thing to note is how God tells them to conquer the city. You might expect Joshua to want to repeat the last conquest miracle and march around Ai until its walls crumble and its citizens are trembling in fear. Yet that isn’t how God works, He gives them a new way to accomplish the same thing. How many times do we wait and wait for a repeated miracle to come about in the same way as before? Or for a prayer to be answered in the same manner? When God’s hand touches our lives in some way, it can be easy to fall into the belief that it will happen again in the same way. Yet that isn’t necessarily how God operates. Don’t get so stuck in the same routine, waiting for God’s guidance to reappear in the same way, that you miss the other ways in which He may be reaching out to you. Sometimes God works in direct ways, other times it is a gentle prodding on our inner selves.
3 So 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.
Verse 3: Men of valor. Men who have great courage in the face of danger. Those men are hard to find these days in a world where manhood itself is constantly undermined and under attack. Joshua himself is a great example of a man who extols the traits of biblical manhood. One of the best verses that encapsulates that manhood, who those men of valor would be, is found in 1 Corinthians: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). In a society where so many are misguided in terms of what it means to be a man, it is more important than ever for men to meet, to study what God defines as manhood, to study men from the Bible and throughout history who exemplified those traits, and to instill those values in their children and grandchildren.
4 And 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. 5 And 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. 6 And 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. 7 Then you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city, for the Lord your God will give it into your hand. 8 And 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.”
Verses 4-8: There are some excellent tactical decisions here, taking advantage of the previous encounter with Ai. He is splitting off 30,000 men from his force to wait in ambush behind the city which, obviously, must be walled in some manner. Joshua and his main army plan to pull the force out of the threshold of Ai, allowing the 30,000 to sweep in afterwards and sack the city itself. But notice Joshua’s words here: “for the Lord your God will give it into your hand”. The victory over Ai will not be because of Joshua’s planning, nor the might of any of the men. Joshua is keeping himself, and his warriors, centered on the truth that God is in control and God is the one who both gives and takes away. They had just received a convincing illustration of that truth with the previous attack on Ai, and now the time is approaching where God will enable them to win. Without God, though, they would likely be sent fleeing for a second time.
9 So 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.
Verse 9: Joshua’s decision that night to spend his time among the people is something every leader should learn from. It is his chance to boost the morale of those who will be doing the difficult job of providing that military distraction against Ai. Many movies and shows give us the visual of a commander being in his own massive tent, surrounded by a few loyal leaders and a brood of hardly-clothed women. The more effective leader would be among the fighting men, talking to them and boosting their confidence on the eve of a battle. Much like William Wallace in Braveheart, he would be giving stirring speeches to groups of men, reminding them of what they are fighting for and why they are possibly laying down their lives. People want to follow the person who inspires them, not the person who is a distant force commanding them from the shadows. Relationships matter, especially when it comes time to ask for someone to give that extra 10% on your behalf. Even if you aren’t in a leadership position, forming those connections will make it far more likely that a person will go the extra mile to assist you when you need that help.