Joshua 8



                           THE CAPTURE OF AI (vs. 1-29)


A Jewish proverb says there are three men who get no pity — an unsecured creditor,

a henpecked husband, and a man that does not try again. This faculty of trying

again is one of the qualities of noble natures.  Napoleon at once blamed and praised

the English for never knowing when they were beaten. Here Joshua exhibits the same

kind of quality. He gathers from his defeat humility, purity, prudence, but never thinks

of gathering from it despair. If they have been defeated before this once, they

must try again with purer hands and in stronger force. And, trying again thus, they

succeed grandly. Let me say a little on “trying again.” In the spiritual as in the carnal

warfare — indeed, in all parts of our manifold life — we need to learn this lesson.


1 “And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear not,” - Joshua was down cast at his

former failure, and well he might. “Treacherous Israelites are to be dreaded more

than malicious Canaanites” (Matthew Henry) - “neither be thou dismayed: take

all the people of war with thee,” -  Not, as has been before stated, because 3,000

men were too few to take the city, for the capture of Jericho was a far greater marvel

than that of Ai with this number of men. The true reason is indicated by Calvin, and is

indeed suggested by the words “Fear not, neither be thou dismayed.” It was to

reassure the people, whose hearts had “melted and become as water” (ch. 7:5).

Sometimes God calls upon His people for a display of faith, as when He led them

through the Jordan, or commanded them to compass Jericho seven days. But in

days of despondency He compassionates their weakness and permits them to rely

upon visible means of support (see also below, v. 3) - “and arise, go up to

Ai: see, I have given into thy hand” -  The work, let man do his best, is God’s

after all - “the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land:”

As in the case of the early Germanic peoples, there was a certain portion of their

land in the neigborhood attached to each city which was used for agricultural

purposes (see ch.13:28, 14:4).


2 “And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and

her king: only the spoil thereof,” -  Ai was not solemnly devoted, like

Jericho, though (see Deuteronomy 20:16-17) the Canaanitish people were –

and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves: lay

thee an ambush for the city behind it.”  Joshua was advancing from the

southeast. The ambush (אֹרֵב literally, “a lier in wait,” here a band of liers

in wait, the word itself originally signifying to plait, weave, hence to design)

was therefore (v.12) on the opposite, or west side of the city. The question

which has been raised whether God could rightly command a stratagem seems

scarcely to require discussion.


3 “So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai: and

Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valor,” - In v. 12 we read

5,000, and this must be the true reading. Thirty thousand men could hardly have

been posted, without detection, in the ravines around Ai, whereas we are informed

by travelers that there would have been no difficulty in concealing 5,000 men

there. See, however, the passage cited from Lieut. Conder’s Report in the

note on ch.7:2. The confused condition of the numbers in the present text of the

Old Testament is a well known fact, and it is proved by the great discrepancies

in this respect between the Books of Chronicles and those of Samuel and Kings.

Some have thought that two bands were laid in ambush, one on the northwest

and the other on the southwest. This is a possible, though not probable, solution

of the difficulty (see below). Then we must suppose that the city was nearly

surrounded, Joshua and the main body on the southeast, the larger detachment

on the north (v.13), and the smaller ambush on the west (see note on v. 13).

Keil, in his earlier editions, supposed that Joshua assaulted Ai with 30,000 men,

out of whomhe chose 5,000 as an ambush. But this only introduces a third

contradiction, for we are told both in vs. 1 and 3 that Joshua took with him

all the men of war.”  The Bishop of Lincoln suggests that 5,000 men may

have been detached to reinforce the former detachment of 30,000. But to

say nothing of the improbability of an ambush of 35,000 men remaining undetected

(and they were specially instructed — see next verse — not to station themselves

far from the city), we have the plain statement in v.12 וַיָּשֶׂם אותָם אורֵב -

he stationed (or had stationed) them as an ambush” - “and sent them

away by night. 4 And he commanded them, saying, Behold, ye shall lie in

wait against the city, even behind the city: go not very far from the city,

but be ye all ready:”


5 “And I, and all the people that are with me, will approach unto the

city: and it shall come to pass, when they come out against us, as at

the first, that we will flee before them,” A common expedient of a sagacious

general when contending with undisciplined troops is a strong position.

Many instances will occur to the student of history, and among others the

celebrated feigned flight of William the Conqueror at Hastings.


6  (For they will come” -  Literally, “and they will come” - “out after us)

till we have drawn” -  Literally, caused to pluck away (see note on ch. 4:18).

Luther translates well by reissen, and the Septuagint by ἀποσπάσωμεν.

apospasomenhave drawn -  “them from the city; for they will say,

They flee before us, as at the first: therefore we will flee before them.

7  Then ye shall rise up from the ambush, and seize upon the city: for

the LORD your God will deliver it into your hand.”


8 “And it shall be, when ye have taken the city, that ye shall set the city

on fire: according to the commandment of the LORD” -  The Septuagint

seems to have read ׃דרוו סךהת ות גנךדרושׂשׂא כִדְבַר הַזֶה - according to this

word - “shall ye do. See, I have commanded you.  9 Joshua therefore sent

them forth:  and they went to lie in ambush, and abode between Bethel

and Ai,” –  (see above and ch.7:2) – “on the west side of Ai: but Joshua

lodged that night among the people.


10 “And Joshua rose up early in the morning, and numbered the

people,” -  Or reviewed, or mustered. The word is frequently translated

visited in Scripture. It then came to mean a visit for the sake of inspection –

and went up, he and the elders of Israel,” -  Joshua’s council, alike of

war and of peace -“before the people” - Literally, in their sight (κατα πρόσωπον

 kata prosoponbefore - Septuagint), i.e., at their head -“to Ai.”


11 “And all the people, even the people of war that were with him,” -

Literally, all the people, the war that were with him. Probably the word vyai

has been omitted by an early copyist. Implying, no doubt, that the non-warlike

portion of the community had been left under a guard at Jericho (see also v. 1). -

went up, and drew nigh, and came before the city, and pitched on

the north side” - Joshua made a detour, and encamped on a hill on the other

side of the wady - “of Ai: now there was a valley” -  Literally, and the

valley was. This valley, the Wady Mutyah  is a remarkable feature of the

country round Ai. Our version misses this sign of personal acquaintance

with the locality on the part of the historian -“between them and Ai.”


12 “And he took about five thousand men,” -   (see above, v. 3).

We must translate had taken. The repetition is quite in the manner of the

Hebrew writers - “and set them to lie in ambush between Bethel and Ai,

on the west side of the city.”  The Masorites and Septuagint prefer the

reading Ai (i.e., עַי for עִיר), in the margin of our Bibles, to that in the text,

which is followed by the Vulgate and Luther.


13 “And when they had set the people,” - This may mean the leaders of the

detachment of 30,000. Joshua does not appear to have been with them, for

he is not mentioned till the latter part of the verse (see note on v. 3) - “even all

the host that was on the north of the city, and their liers in wait on the west

of the city, Joshua went that night” -  Having made all his dispositions, he

descended in the evening from his vantage ground on the hill into the plain, so as to

invite attack in the morning, a stratagem which (see next verse) was

completely successful. Some MSS., however, have וַיָּלֶן "and he rested," for וַיֵּלֶך

and he went” here - “into the midst of the valley.”  The word

here is עֶמֶק not גָי as in v. 11. Therefore the narrow waterless ravine in

which the troops in ambush were to lie hid is not meant here, but a wider valley.

A consideration of this fact might do something to settle the much disputed

question of the situation of Ai. The עֶמֶק, though deep, as the name implies,

was a valley large enough for cultivation or luxuriant vegetation (Job 39:10;

Psalm 65:13; Song of Solomon 2:1). Even a battle might be fought there

(Job 39:21).


14 “And it came to pass, when the king of Ai saw it,” -  The particle כְ here

Employed signifies immediate action “that they hasted and rose up early, and

the men of the city went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people,

at a time appointed,” - Or, at the signal. Keil, following Luther, would prefer at

the place appointed, which seems to agree best with what follows - “before the

plain;” - Literally, before, or in sight of; i.e., in the direction of the Arabah

(see above,  ch.3:16) -“but he wist not that there were liers in ambush against

him behind the city.”


15 “And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten” – “Joshua

conquered by yielding. So our Lord Jesus Christ, when He bowed His head

and gave up the ghost, seemed as if death had triumphed over Him; but in His

resurrection He rallied again, and gave the powers of darkness a total defeat”

(Matthew Henry) -  “before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness.”

Northwestward, in the direction of the wilderness of Bethel (ch.16:1)


16 “And all the people that were in Ai were called together” - So the Masorites.

Perhaps it would be better to translate, raised a cry.  This gives us the scene in all

its picturesque detail. We hear the exultant shout of the men of Ai, as they thought the

victory won - “to pursue after them: and they pursued after Joshua, and were

drawn away from the city.” 


17 “And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, that went not out

after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel.”

Or Bethel. These words are not in the Septuagint, and they may

possibly have been a marginal gloss, for the intervention of the people of

Bethel in this battle is very unintelligible. See note on ch.7:2. On

the other hand, it is quite possible that the difficulty involved in their

retention may have caused their omission from the Septuagint, and it may

perhaps be thought possible that, on the capture of Ai, the Bethelites

returned with all speed to their city, and that Joshua postponed its capture

in consequence of the formidable confederacy (ch.9:1-2), which

his success had called into existence, or, perhaps, by a desire to signal at

once the victory at Ai by the ceremony (vs. 30-35) at Gerizim. We read

in ch.12:16 that Bethel was taken. In Judges 1:22 we read that it was not

(see note on ch.12:16).


18 “And the LORD said unto Joshua, Stretch out the spear” -  כִידון,

a kind of long and slender lance, probably, like those of our lancers, with a flag

attached. It is thus described by Kimchi. Jahn, in his ‘Archesologia Biblica,’

takes this view (sec. 276). But the Vulgate here, followed apparently by Grotius

and Masius, suppose it to be a shield, though the Septuagint renders by γαῖσος

gaisonjavelin.   In I Samuel 17:6 the Septuagint renders by ἄσπιςaspis

 buckler or shield - and our version by target. It is to be distinguished from the

lighter חנית or flexible javelin (see, for instance, I Samuel 13:22, 18:10, which

was thrown at the adversary, whereas the כִידלֺוֹן was used to transfix him in

close combat - “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 toward

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” -  Literally,

no hands. Our version here follows the Arabic, Syriac, and Chaldee versions. The

Septuagint and Vulgate render no direction in which to fly. But in this case לָהֶם

would seem preferable to בָהֶם. They could not flee back to the city, for it was in

flames. They could not advance northward, because the Israelites had faced about

and were coming to meet them. To flee in any other direction would be to cut

off the last hope of saving the city. For יָד in the sense of side or direction,

however, see Exodus 2:5; Deuteronomy 2:37, and especially the dual, as here,

in Genesis 34:21; Isaiah 33:21 - “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.

Literally, until there remained to them neither remainder nor fugitive.


23 “And the king of Ai they took alive, and brought him to Joshua.

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” – According to God’s command, the defenSeless inhabitants

must share the fate of the army (see Deuteronomy 20:17) -“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.”  Clearly all the population,

as the context shows.


26 “For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the

spear, until he had utterly destroyed” - Hebrew, הֶחֶרִים, (see note on

ch.6:17) - “all the inhabitants of Ai.”


8:27 Only the cattle (see v. 2) 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,” -  He continued the work of destruction which the

ambush had begun, until the city was entirely destroyed. The word in v. 19 (שׂרפ)

has rather the sense of kindling a fire; the word here (יצת), more the sense of

destruction by fire - “and made it an heap for ever,” - טֵל־עולָם - a

heap of eternity; i.e., a heap forever, at least up to the time of our writer.

But the Ai mentioned in Ezra 2:28 may have been a city built, not on

precisely the same spot, but near enough to it to take its name. And if Ai

signifies ruins, and Dean Stanley be right in regarding it as referring to

ruins in the days of the Philistines, the name would be particularly suitable

to this particular city. Travelers have identified the place with Tel-el.

Hajar, immediately to the south of the Wady Mutyah. But see note on ch.

7:2 for Robinson’s conclusion, which is confirmed by Canon Tristram,

from the belief that Tel-el-Hajar does not answer to the description of Ai in

the Scripture narrative - “even a desolation  unto this day. 29 And the king

of Ai he hanged on a tree” -  Literally, “on the tree.” Perhaps after his death,

But see Genesis 40:22; Deuteronomy 21:22 - “until eventide:” -  We find here

a remarkable coincidence with the precept in (Ibid. v.23). The fact that no

notice is here taken of that passage is conclusive against its having been inserted

with a view to that precept in later times - “and as soon as the sun was down,

Joshua commanded that they should take his carcass down from the tree,

and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great

heap” - Here גַּל, an expression usually applied to a heap of stones, a cairn, though

not always in precisely this sense (see Jeremiah 9:10) -“of stones, that remaineth

unto this day.”



Renewed Effort after Disaster (vs. 1-29)


The Christian warfare, whether from an individual or from a general point

of view, is no record of invariable success. The career of each Christian, as

of the Christian Church, is a checkered course. It has its periods of triumph

and its moments of disaster. We learn here many valuable lessons as to our

conduct under adverse circumstances.




Ø      In consequence of evil allowed to lurk within you, you have had a

grievous fall. Your duty is plain: to examine carefully into yourself, with

God’s help, to detect the hidden evil, and to cast it out. (We are to

“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith’ prove your

own selves” (II Corinthians 13:5).  This done, your next duty is to

renew the strife. He who is cast down by failure so much as

to give up all effort, is lost. The only way to inherit the land of promise is

to continue the strife ceaselessly until every one of God’s enemies be

destroyed. To Joshua, a catastrophe like that of Ai only occurs once.

In the case of most ordinary Christians it occurs many times. But the

same course is necessary, how many times soever it befalls us. Stone

Achan with stones till he die; then “Fear not, neither be dismayed:”

“Arise, go up to Ai; see, I have given it into thy hand.” (v.1)


Ø      The history of the Church is the same as that of the individual.  Its

conflict is more prolonged, more mysterious, and more complete.

Therefore it has many Achans, its failures like those of Ai are more

numerous, and its need of such encouragement as is here given far

greater.  Whatever the strife may be, its failures are due to the sins,

sometimes unsuspected and undetected, though open, of the Achans

of the flock.  Many a generation of Christians has failed in their strife

against evil, because they have not sought enlightenment from God,

and so have called good evil and evil good, have put darkness for light,

and light for darkness.  After a failure they have not cast lots for the

offender, and often they have given up the fight. But the fight must never

be given up. Whatever is recognised as not of God must be contended

against to the last. If success seems to have deserted us, let us look out

for our Achan; try and find out the reasons for our failure. Somewhere

or other, if we are sincere in the search, we shall find the hidden evil

that paralyses our efforts. Our first task must be to cast it out; our next

to renew the conflict with greater energy and mere precautions. No

amount of failure ought to daunt us. If still success does not crown our

efforts, let us seek for new Achans, and immolate them to the justice of

God. But our duty is still to persevere, still to arise up against Ai, and

never to cease our efforts until it, and the king thereof, and all the souls

that are therein, are involved in one common ruin.  “Ye are the

salt of the earth” – (Matthew 5:13)



successes are entirely God’s doing. Man may not claim credit or in any way

seek profit by them. Others are due to man’s individual energy and courage

— God, of course, working with him, and prospering his efforts. For these

he may lawfully enjoy the credit, and be “held in reputation,” provided he

is careful “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think,

but to think soberly, as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

(Romans 12:3)  So the spoil of Jericho, which God put into the hands of the

Israelites, was devoted to Him. Achan, in seizing it for himself, was robbing

God of His right. But the spoil of Ai, which God permitted the Israelites to

take by their own exertions, was given into their hands. “God is not

 unrighteous that He should forget your works and labors of love.”

(Hebrews 6:10) 



HAS DONE. Nothing can be done without God’s help. Our greatest

successes are the result of talents entrusted us by God. “What hast thou

that thou hast not received?” asks the apostle (I Corinthians 4:7) -Therefore

“Not unto us, but unto God’s name be the praise.”  (Psalm 115:1) –

The greatest saint must therefore preserve the grace of humility. While he

joyfully employs the influence and authority his faith and patience have won

for him in God’s cause, he must never forget who it was that enabled him to

do what he has done; that if he has been “working out,” either his “own

salvation(Philippians 2:121), or any blessed works for the salvation of

others, it was through God who was working in him.  Joshua could not take

Ai, had not God given it into his hand.  Therefore whatever we have done,

we are still unprofitable servants. We have done no more than our duty.

( 17:10) “Let us not be high minded, but fear.” (Romans 11:20)



THE COPY OF THE LAW (vs. 30-35)


We come on this scene unexpectedly. War, with its stratagems, its carnage,

its inversion of ancient order, was filling our mind. But suddenly, instead of

the camp, there is the religious assembly; sacrifice instead of slaughter;

instead of the destruction of heathen cities, the erection of monumental

inscriptions of the law. The mustering of the whole people to learn and

accept afresh God’s great law. It was not a casual gathering, but one

prescribed by Moses in 27th chapter of Deuteronomy; what tribes have to

stand on the slopes of Gerizim, to respond to all the benedictions of the

law, and what tribes are to stand on Ebal to respond to its curses, are all

detailed. The ark in the valley between; an altar reared on one of the

heights; the law, solemnly read, and greeted with the responses not of a

congregation, but of a gathered nation; covenant sacrifices offered; the

inscription on memorial stones of the leading precepts of the law — these

all constitute a scene of utmost impressiveness. A nation accepting a

solemn league and covenant, hallowing their conquest, taking formal

possession of the country for their God, in the heart of the land hallowing a

mountain for His throne — this is not an everyday occurrence, but one full

of moral meaning.  All the people, the aged, the children, warriors, and

women, the true Israelite and the hangers on, have the entire law read to

them; and to increase the intelligent knowledge of God’s will, the law is

painted like frescoes on tablets raised on the mountain. God wants intelligent

service. Ignorance is the mother of superstition, not of devotion. “God is a

spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him not only in spirit”

that is — in sincerity; but in truth (John 4:24) — that is, with intelligence,

understanding Him — giving Him the sort of homage which is His due. To

my judgment, there is a savor of sound Protestanism in this gathering at Shechem.


sort of prelude of the reign of the open Bible — a religion addressed to the minds

and hearts and consciences of men, All true religion has its Shechem as well as its

Gilgal (circumcision – ch. 5), its teachings of truth and duty as well as its observance

of the sacraments.  We should all seek light; reverent, but still self respectful; too

serious to “make believe,” too truthful to shut our eyes. THE HIGHER OUR


the people the law, and when printing was impossible, published it on the frescoes

of Gerizim. We only do well when we do our best to make all the congregation

of Israel, with the women and the little ones, and the strangers that are

conversant among them,” FAMILIAR WITH THE LAW AND THE



30 “Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount

Ebal,” – A number of extraordinary interpretations of this passage have been given.

A favorite Rabbinical interpretation (see note on next verse) was that this

altar was erected on the very day on which the Israelites crossed the

Jordan. This was of course a physical impossibility. Josephus, on the

contrary, supposes that five years elapsed before its erection, while Rabbi

Israel, in the Jerusalem Talmud, thinks that it was deferred until after the

expiration of fourteen years, and after the land had been divided.. In Mount Ebal.

Between it and Gerizim stood the city of Shechem, or Sychar, as it is called in

John 4. Gerizim was close to this city, as Judges 9:6-7 and John 4:20 testify,

as well as Deuteronomy 11:30, compared with Genesis 12:6. It has been

suggested that the Israelites took this opportunity of interring the bones of Joseph

(Genesis 50:25-26) in the piece of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of

Hamor (Ibid. ch.33:19). (See Exodus 13:19; ch. 24:32).


31 “As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded” -  (see Exodus 20:25;

Deuteronomy 27:4-5). Here, and in v. 33, we find the writer making an extract

from the Book of Deuteronomy. As has been before said, the natural explanation

is that the Book of Joshua was written after the Book of Deuteronomy, and that the

Book of Deuteronomy was written by Moses, or how could Joshua have carried

out instructions which had never been given? -“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:” - As though to intimate (see Exodus 20:25) that all

should be natural and spontaneous in the worship of God, and that as

LITTLE OF HUMAN DEVISING should be introduced as possible. The

altar must be raised by man, but the PRINCIPLE OF WORSHIP MUST

NOT BE DEVISED BY HIM!  - and they offered thereon” - Delitzsch

remarks on the inversion of the order here, as compared with Deuteronomy 27.

But this is obviously the true order. The worship would naturally precede the

ceremony rather than follow it -“burnt offerings unto the LORD, and

sacrificed peace offerings.”


32 “And he wrote there upon the stones” - i.e., upon the plaster,

as we read in Deuteronomy 27:2, 4. “The wall destined to receive the

picture,” and it was just the same with inscriptions — was covered with a

coating of lime and gypsum plaster. The outline was then sketched with red

chalk, and afterwards corrected and filled in with black (Keurick’sEgypt,’

1., p. 271). Thomson (‘Land and the Book,’ Io. 471) says that he has seen

writings in plaster which could not have been less than two thousand years

old. This passage shows that our author had Deuteronomy 28:2-3 in

his mind. The stones of the altar, which alone have been mentioned, are

clearly not meant here, but the erection of plastered stone on which the law

was to be written - “a copy of the law of Moses,” -  Not the whole law,

nor yet the Book of Deuteronomy, for time would not permit, but the decalogue,

as the word hn,v]mi duplicate, from whence the word Mishna comes, signifies.

It is to be observed that the word is definite, the copy, not a copy, of the law.

This (Deuteronomy 5:22) was what was written on the two tables of stone,

which (Exodus 24:12, 31:18) God gave to Moses. Yet it is possible

that, as some commentators suggest, and as v. 34 may be held to imply,

what is meant is the curses and blessings mentioned in Deuteronomy 27,

and 28. The formal setting up of this memorial was intended to remind the

Israelites, by a perpetual standing witness, of the conditions on which

they held the land of Canaan. And it is to be observed that the moral, rather

than the positive, precepts of the law were thus solemnly enjoined on them,



DECAY! -“which he wrote (namely Joshua) in the presence of the children

of Israel.”


33 “And all Israel,” -  (see ch. 23:2; 24:1-2). The word lk is used very loosely

in Hebrew (see Genesis 4:14). We need not, therefore, assume as a matter of

course that the whole people, men, women, and children, were taken up to

Shechem to behold this ceremony.  It is quite possible that during all Joshua’s

marches and campaigns a large number of the people remained under guard

at Gilgal (see ch. 9:6), which remained the headquarters of the Israelites until

the country was subdued. All that is here meant is that a very great number of

the people were gathered together, and that every tribe, every age, and each

sex were largely represented at this important ceremony – “and officers” –

Shoterim (see ch.1:10) - “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” - Origen’s explanation of

the spiritual meaning of this passage is noteworthy, even though somewhat

farfetched. He regards those of the tribes who stood on Mount Gerizim to bless,

as the type of those who are led, not by fear of God’s threatenings, but by a

longing for God’s promises and blessings; those who stood on Mount Ebal

to curse, as the type of those who are driven by the fear of punishment to

obey the will of God, and these finally attain salvation. The former, he

adds, are the more noble of the two; but Jesus, who reads the hearts, gives

each their proper station, and places some on Mount Ebal to curse, not that

they themselves may receive the curse, but, by regarding the curse

pronounced on sinners, may learn thereby how to escape it  - “over

against” - אֶל־מוּל - rather, “in the direction off” The command in

Deuteronomy 27:12 is that they shall stand upon the two mountains. No doubt

certain representatives of the tribes stood on the mountain, and the rest of the

people at the foot of the mountain, on either side of the valley, “crowding

the slopes,” as Canon Tristram says. The valley is narrow here, and the

voice in mountainous regions, where the air is rarer, carries far. Under

special circumstances, such as frosty weather, the voices of men crying

their wares have been distinctly heard across the Humber in our own

country. And in mountain passes, as any one who has traveled in them

may easily ascertain, conversations may be carried on from opposite sides

of a valley or ravine without the slightest difficulty. In this particular place

Canon Tristram tell us (‘Land of Israel,’ pp. 149, 150) that when on Mount

Gerizim he heard every word uttered by a man who was then driving his

ass down Mount Ebal, and that afterwards two of his party recited the

commandments antiphonally from the two sides of the valley without the

least difficulty -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,” -  The form of this expression, combined with the words of the next

verse, seems to include not only the special curses in Deuteronomy 27,  but ch. 28,

at least, and possibly chps. 29. and 30. as well -“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.”

Literally, who were going in the midst of them; i.e., the strangers who

had attached themselves to them, either at their departure from Egypt,

or since their conquest of Eastern Palestine.


  • NOTICE:  THE LAW WAS READ.  This public reading of the law was a

feature of Jewish public solemnities when their faith had waxed cold, and it

needed revival (see II Kings 23:2, 8; II Chronicles 34:30-31; Nehemiah 8:1-8).

It does not appear to have formed part of the ceremonies either of David or

Solomon, or even of Hezekiah. Perhaps it would have been better

            if it had, although these ceremonies were pious and edifying. So we cannot

agree with those who would remove from the Church of England Service

that continual recitation of the Ten Commandments which was added to

the Communion Service at the Reformation. We cannot tell how much this

reading of the law has tended to keep alive in the nation an abhorrence

 of certain sins, has preserved among us a regard for God’s holy day, for

domestic purity and order, for honesty and truthfulness, which some

other nations have lost. (Is it a coincidence that America had declined


OF CHURCH AND STATE?CY – 2012)   So the daily and weekly

reading of the Scriptures, as a whole, is a feature of the Church system which

we would not willingly see surrendered. (England)  And he who neglects

the private reading of the law must expect the life of his soul to be

deadened thereby.


The sterner features of God’s law are kept out of sight by many in

these days. They talk of a God of love, but they forget that a God of love

must, as such, punish sin, and therefore sinners, as long as they cling to their

sin. It would be no love to leave sin unpunished, for THAT WERE TO


NATURE IS PARENT OF MISERY, the God who does not punish sin

is rather a God of hate than a God of love. No preaching of the blessings

of the gospel is of any avail which SYSTEMATICALLY CONCEALS

TERRORS OF THE GOSPEL;  which tries to exalt the love of God in

Christ while studiously ignoring the vengeance which is pronounced

against them who “obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”

(II Thessalonians 1:8).  No reading of the law is of any avail, except Ebal

be read from as well as Gerizim. Joshua read “all the words of the law,

the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the

 book of the law.” So must the Christian minister rehearse faithfully

 to his flock all that is written in the book of the law of Christ.


The weal or woe of every man depends on his relation to the law of God.

Here lies the alternative of blessing or cursing, life or death (Deuteronomy 30:19).

What was read may have been only that summary of the law contained in

Deuteronomy 27, and 28. But of the whole law, in its essential principles, this is

true: moral and practical harmony with it is the condition of blessedness.


Men are brought into their true relation to the law only by the gospel of

Christ. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone

that believeth,”  (Romans 10:4). Faith in Him disdains the law of its terrors.

“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law,” (Galatians 3:13).

In Him the blessing overcomes the curse, the voice of Gerizim prevails over that

of Ebal, “mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (James 2:13).  Christ engraves

the law not on tables of stone, but on the living hearts of men (Jeremiah 31:31, 34;

Hebrews 8:10,12). In Him the law is not, as in Moses, literal, local, adapted to

special circumstances and the moral needs of a particular people, but spiritual and

universal. Not that Christianity has less to do in shaping the relative duties of human

life, or enters less minutely into its details, but rather has so much to do with everything

that, like the all-pervading atmosphere and the gladdened sunshine, it is the very vital

air of every social problem, and the guiding light in the determination of every

question between man and man.


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