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Bible: What Does Joshua 8-10 Teach Us About "Holy War"?

Updated on August 19, 2016

Mount Ebal


Mount Gerazim


God's Word


Joshua 8

Now the LORD tells His troubled leader, in essence, "It's time to move on," revealing His plan to give Israel the victory over Ai (v. 1).

However, this time the capture involves a more advanced military strategy (i.e., the ambush), and allows the people to take spoil (v. 2).

Joshua sends five thousand warriors (cf. 7:3 for the spies' estimate of the number necessary to take the city) behind Ai to set up the maneuver, while leading an assembly of twenty-five thousand against the front (vv. 3-5a; cf. v. 12).

What is the LORD's plan?

While General Joshua feigns defeat and flees from Ai warriors, the ambush captains should spring into action, capture the city, and burn it down (vv. 5b-8).

With the five thousand safely hidden on the west of Ai, Joshua leads his contingent toward the north and camps short of a valley situated between him and the city (vv. 9-12).

Seeing Joshua and his army in the valley, the king of Ai thrusts his troops into battle on the plain, unaware of the threat from the west (vv. 13-14).

The divine strategy, of course, works!

Joshua succeeds in luring the entire adult male population out of Ai to pursue him, leaving the city indefensible (vv. 15-17).

At the LORD's command, Joshua signals the ambush leaders by lifting his javelin, and they descend upon the city and burn it (vv. 18-19).

With their city in flames, the army of Ai stands trapped between the now advancing army of Joshua and the ambush legion (vv. 20-22a).

Israel kills every enemy warrior with the sword, except the king (vv. 22b-23).

Him they hang and bury under a heap of stones.

God’s people destroy every inhabitant remaining in Ai and take all of their cattle as spoils from their holy war.

Burned and desolate, the city stands as a reminder of God's judgment upon the pagan world (vv. 24-29).

Joshua now renews the covenant according to Moses' instructions, constructing a stone altar of uncarved whole stones and writing a copy of the Law on other stones (vv. 30-32; cf. Deut. 27:5, 6).

Then he assembles all Israel—one half before Mount Gerizim and the other half in front of Mount Ebal—and reads all of Moses' blessings and curses to them (vv. 33-35; cf. Deut. 27:15-28:68).

[In Deuteronomy, Moses specified that certain tribes should stand on Mount Ebal where the Levites would read the curses, and other tribes should stand on Mount Gerizim to hear the blessings (see 27:12, 13).

Joshua does not state that this was, in fact, done].

[One must remember that Ai already stood under divine judgment; Israel, acting as Yahweh's instrument, merely obeyed God in putting everyone to death].

Joshua 9

When the pagan kings on "this side of the Jordan" hear about Jericho’s and Ai's defeat, every one, except the Gibeonites, conspires with his neighbor to fight against Israel (vv. 1-3).

To save its collective neck, this latter group of pagans (also termed Hivites, v. 7) deceives Israel into believing that it represents a people who live in a distant land (vv. 4-13).

[They had learned that it was Yahweh's directive for Israel to destroy only those nations within their God-ordained territory; see verse 24].

By covenanting with the men of Israel (who again do not seek the LORD's counsel), the Gibeonites thus preserve their lives (vv. 14-15).

Later, Joshua learns that these people were, in fact, near neighbors (v. 16), but Israel's oath prevents the general from harming the deceivers and their cities.

(This arrangement does not at all please the murmuring congregation, v. 18).

However, the rulers force the Gibeonites to become temple slaves [woodcutters and water carriers] (vv. 17-21).

By the slant of Joshua's angry response (vv. 22-23), one may conjecture that if the Gibeonites had told Israel the truth—that is, that they were near neighbors—, then Israel would have allowed them to live as slaves.

[If this is the case, what difference exists between being a slave by deception and being a slave by truth-telling?]

Given their understanding of Israel's intentions, the Gibeonites did what any wily human beings would do to save their lives, even if it meant becoming slaves (vv. 24-27).

[It seems that if one were to assign the greater degree of guilt in this matter, one would choose Israel.

Their leaders, after all, did not consult the LORD. If they had done so, none of this deception would have succeeded].



Yahweh: "Sun, stand still."


Holy War

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Joshua 10

Five Amorite kings, led by Adoni-Zedek of Jerusalem, conspire to attack Gibeon--a nation now at peace with Israel (vv. 1-5).

When Gibeon pleads for Israel's aid Joshua, assured of Yahweh's victory, marches all night from Gilgal and attacks the Amorites (vv. 6-9).

In the end the battle is the LORD's, for He destroys more enemies with hailstones than Israel does with the sword (vv. 10-11).

Not only this, but on the day of battle Joshua prays for the sun to stand still, "till the people had revenge on their enemies," and the LORD heeds his voice (vv. 12-15).

[The Book of Jasher as a whole is not inspired Scripture; the portion Joshua selected, however, God included in the Hebrew holy book].

Hearing that the five kings had hidden themselves in a cave in Makkedah, Joshua commands Israel first to secure the cave with large stones and guards (vv. 16-18), and then slaughter the retreating Amorites (vv. 19-21).

Meanwhile, the general, having arrived in Makkedah from Gilgal, directs his officers to bring the kings to him and then for five army captains to "put their feet on the necks of these kings" (vv. 22-24).

Encouraging them with the same words Yahweh used to admonish him at the beginning (v. 25; cf. 1: 6, 7, 9), Joshua kills (or has his captains kill) these kings, and hangs them on trees until evening.

Afterwards, he discards their corpses into the cave and barricades it with large stones (vv. 25-27).

The author records a series of conquests in the Southland: from Makkedah (v. 28) to Libnah (vv. 29-30), to Lachish (vv. 31-32), to Horam of Gezer (v. 32), to Eglon (vv. 33-35), to Hebron (vv. 36-37), to Debir (vv. 38-39).

Each victory involves complete annihilation of the enemy (v. 40; cf. vv. 28, 30, 32-33, 35, 37, 39).

Verse 41 gives the extent of Joshua's conquests, and verse 42 relates why he is successful. As always, the general and his army return to their home base in Gilgal (v. 43).

[When the LORD involves Himself in a campaign, He will move (or hold still) the sun and moon to accomplish His will, if necessary].

© 2013 glynch1


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    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 20 months ago

      You are calling the Old Testament wrong? By whose authority do you make that judgment? Jesus said the entire OT is the word of God. Are you sure you want to call the OT wrong?

    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 20 months ago

      You just cannot willy-nilly throw out all references to God destroying peoples in the Bible just because it does not fit in with your view of reality.

    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 4 years ago

      Yes. The Judge of the whole earth will always do what is right, and mankind cannot thwart His perfect will.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      "The divine strategy, of course, works! ." It always does, thank God.