And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai. For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. Joshua viii. 25, 26.
No sooner had Joshua cleansed his camp from treason, which had led to the defeat at Ai, and the discouragement of the host, than he resumed operations against that city. The Lord said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land.–Joshua viii. 1.
There stood the stronghold of Southern Judah before them, the fastness which had defied them before, and was quite ready to send out its audacious thousands against them once more. The people of Ai were bold and brave to maintain their idolatries, their corruptions, and defilements. The Israelites were exhorted not to fear. An indispensable condition of success in all things is confidence. A faint heart will destroy any cause. Firmness and reliance on the Lord when we are following what we believe to be His will, will impart dignity and force to our efforts and furnish the first elements of success.
Fear not, neither be thou dismayed, was said to Joshua; it is equally said to us. When the ordeal of severe temptation comes, and come it will, again and again, to all who are striving to be good, then these words of our Lord should strengthen and encourage us, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed.
Why should we fear the powers of evil? They are strong only in delusion and wickedness. When the light of truth fully comes, their power is gone, their rocks are rent asunder. The laws of the universe are really on the side of the good: the powers of heaven are on the same side. The Lord Himself puts His right hand on the head of the humble and the earnest, and says, Fear not, I am the First and the Last.
We have often shewn that every event in the Divine History before us is an illustration of that saving process by which we become prepared for heaven, and which we call regeneration.
The marches, the battles, the cities taken, the names of the places, and all the particulars associated with them, were arranged under the direction of Divine Providence; and are all made part of the Inspired Word, that they may be an instruction for all ages, to enable every soul to say with the Psalmist, Blessed be the Lord my strength, who teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.Ps. cxliv. 1.
The name Ai is the Hebrew word for vulture: and that carrion bird, whose food is dead carcasses, is the appropriate symbol for the disgusting habits of evil which were literally practiced by the people of Ai boldly and shamelessly.
Abominations of the foulest kind had become common things among the residue of the corrupted ancient Church, an important part of whom dwelt in Canaan. Intimations of them are given in Leviticus xviii., and then it is said, Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: and the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled. For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the Lord your God. These pollutions, combined with diabolical spirit-intercourse, formed that especial form of wickedness which could no longer be tolerated in Canaan (Lev. xviii. 24-30).
The vulture was a name especially expressive of a city whose inhabitants reveled in impurity: who were shamelessly corrupt, and at the same time fierce and savage. The people of Ai were not, as some, timid in vice. They were ready for battle. They rushed immediately to the front.
Jericho and Ai represent two different classes of evils, and two different phases of character. Jericho represented such as do evil chiefly from false persuasions. Ai represents those who do evil recklessly. They love it, and they do it. They care very little to excuse themselves. Wherever the carcass is, there such vultures are gathered together. Wherever evil is going on, they scent it, and hasten to the impure feast. Travelers tell us that when a camel dies in the desert, although as far as the eye can see the sky is clear, in a very short time several of these powerful birds will appear hastening with potent wing to the disgusting prey on which they gloat.
So with the boldly bad. They love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. They love sin, and are ready to fight for it. With them it is no matter of apology and excuse, they mean to sin as long and as much as they can. Against them there can only be straightforward spiritual war.
It is, however, not only a question of different characters which the Church meets with in the course of her work of regenerating the world, but of different opposing principles in the same mind. We have each a Jericho, and each a more virulent Ai. We have difficulty in overthrowing in our own minds the persuasion that a soul entirely ruled by heaven is beyond our reach; and this, like an opposing Jericho, stands in the way of the inward advance of religion. We acknowledge that it would indeed be a blessed thing to realize characters of which it could truly be said, These are Christians: they are people whose minds and habits are expressed in those admirable rules which were the household words of Swedenborg. They read often, and meditate well on the WORD OF GOD. They are always resigned and content with the Dispensations of Providence. They always observe propriety of behavior, and keep the CONSCIENCE CLEAR AND VOID OF OFFENSE. They cheerfully obey that which is ordained, are faithful in the discharge of the duties of their calling, and they make themselves as universally useful as possible. THEY ARE SURE THE LORD WILL PROVIDE. These qualities filled with love to the Lord, and faith in Him and His Words, would make a truly Christian character. How lovely in life would persons of such dispositions be! Yet they are only what the Word requires us all to be, and what all MUST be to enter heaven. What hinders such a description of the truly religious man being realized? Simply that we have a Jericho which opposes the idea, of such a blessed consummation in us, and says it cannot be done. It allows, perhaps, that it ought to be, and some say it may be, but it CANNOT BE DONE NOW. This phantasy bars the way. The taking of Jericho describes how such a delusion sinks before true resolution, religion led on by the Lord.
This laughs at impossibilities,
And says it shall be done.
Then behind looms our Ai–our darling sin, be it of temper, of lust, or of passion. Jericho has fallen, this too must fall. Perhaps we have tried once and failed.
We have humiliated ourselves, and we have discovered the source of our weakness; we had an Achan in the camp. Our worship was often ceremonial only, not heartfelt. We went through the round of service as a right thing to do, but not as seeking with heart-agony power to overcome our evils, power to realize in life the simple but grand and only true ideal of the Christian character, Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.
We have, however, discovered our Achan, and condemned and destroyed him. Now we are in full view of Ai. We intend to take that city. We failed before; but with divine help we will not fail now.
The circumstances related in the Divine History are, as we have seen in all the other events we have considered in relation to Israels acquisition of the promised land, altogether significative of regeneration. These things, as the Apostle said of the history of Abraham, are an allegory (Gal. iv. 24).
Joshua chose out from the host thirty thousand men (ver 3). This fact indicates the desperate character of the people of Ai, probably, as well as the strong position of the place; for the men and women only numbered twelve thousand. Subsequently we learn that five thousand men were placed in ambush behind the city, on the west side between Bethel and Ai (ver. 12). The great body of the people led by Joshua approached on the north side: between them and the city there was a valley
The resolute character of the men of Ai is indicated by their bold rush forth from the place against a body very much greater than their own in number, leaving not a man behind them in the city (ver. 17).
The attack by Joshua and the host in front, on the north side which had the valley between them and the city, was no doubt intended to draw the inhabitants out, so as to make it difficult for them to rapidly return again; but it also correctly describes the mode in which religion assails distinct and open sin. The literal words of the divine commandments are brought to bear upon it. The life of religion and the wrong things are placed in direct opposition. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit murder. Thou shalt not swear. Thou shalt not covet. These and the multitude of varied forms in which wrong is denounced in the Sacred Volume, are brought face to face with the transgression. The valley between designates the deeds in actual life which flow from the evil that is the subject of the trial. At such times of spiritual warfare the truths of the Word come forth in abundance.
Truths of intelligence, involving great light, are represented in the Scriptures by the south, where the sun is at midday; truths adapted to the simplest, by the north, the quarter symbolical of least light.
Joshua, and the open army approached on the north side to represent the application of the plainest possible truths to the soul when an evil is to be overthrown. The Lord says, in fact, to every unpurified heart, I come not to send pence upon earth, but a sword.
The work of religion, indeed, applies to the whole man. It is intended first to forbid evil acts of every kind, and then root out evil sentiments and desires. It has to put off and remove the old man with his deeds, and put on in heart and life the new man, with all his fitness for happiness and for heaven.
This cannot be done, say many. Religion, say some, can make a certain change, and if a man has a right faith he will shun evil, do good, and keep the Lords commandments as the effect of faith. But, as to yielding entire obedience, it is not to be done, and it is not expected. Faith is the one thing needful, and we must manage with our sins as well as we can, and hope for the best.
Against this self-pleasing and self-accommodating persuasion we must altogether protest. What would have been said of the Israelites if they had left the strongholds of the polluted people of Canaan unassaulted, under the craven pretense that they could not he taken. The divine charge was to altogether root them out. Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.–Deut. xii. 2, 3.
If any Israelite had lifted up his voice, and said, This cannot be done, they are too strong for us, would it not have been real unbelief, and unworthy timidity, in the sight of God?
Yet this is what is done when we speak of our sinful propensities and failings as too strong to be overcome by us, and to be left to the general operation of faith.
The divine command was to go up, and subdue and demolish Ai. When it was not taken the first time, examination was to be made to find out the reason of the failure, a proper plan to achieve success was laid down, and the attack was to be made again and again, until full victory was accomplished. So must it he with us.
When we see Ai before us, whether it be in our temper, in our greedy desires, in our vanity, in our apathy for good, or in any other form of selfishness, we must strive, and pray, and labor, until we have done the sacred work required of us, and rooted out this enemy of God from our hearts. We muse first bring up the truths of the Word condemnatory of the evil we are striving to overcome. They are numerous, for the whole Word has for its object to subdue evil and to enforce good. The front attack consists of these soldiers of heaven, these opposers of sin, these words of weight, under the direction of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, our Divine Joshua. The insolence, impatience, and recklessness of evil are shewn in the rush forth of the men of iii to repel the approach of the warriors of Israel.
But Joshua had also placed five thousand men to lie in wait, and at the signal from him to assail the pestilent city from behind, and give it to destruction. These ambush-men, placed behind, on the west, represent those perceptions which observe the origin and tendency of the principles with which we have to do. Influx from heaven enters into good men from behind, where the cerebellum lies in secret power, the center of our whole nervous system. Influx from the lower world also enters from behind. The liers-in-wait behind represent those powers of observation which watch the operation of the hidden impulses and motives which are the mainsprings of wrong. Observation behind, then, represents watch to detect the inner character of our resistance to the Most High. When the soul is determined to inquire into the real nature of its weakness and failures to observe the issues of death as they come out of the impurities of self, and of the dark world which plays upon self in the human heart, we have liers-in-wait, five thousand men appointed by Joshua. The west side of the city represents the evil which is opposed to love to the Lord, of which the east is the symbol.
Joshua lodged the night before the battle among the people (ver. 10). The Lord is with the soul ill the state preceding combat, to give confidence and strength. He sleeps not, but He giveth His beloved sleep. The Lord provides for our coming trials in various ways, but ever certainly provides. It may be night with us, and the coming trial may cast its shadows before, but when we are disposed to do the Lords work, He will be with us and impart to us strength needful for the coming hour of danger and conflict. As thy day is, so shall thy strength be.
And Joshua rose up early in the morning, and numbered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people of Ai.
Early in the morning indicates the vigor of a new state.
When the soul has girded up itself, and is ardently resolved to accomplish with energy the work which the Lord has appointed it to do, a new day has opened; it is very early in the morning. We oppose our evil, we look our mental enemy full in the face, and soon the battle commences. The contest in the soul is precisely like that of earthly war. There is the Lord Jesus, the Commander of the host. Then there are the subordinate Captains–Faith, Hope, Charity, Self-denial, Love of Truth, Conscience, and many others. Under these are ranged in order by the Lord, hosts of truths to do battle against the opposing armies, and to overcome in the name of the Lord. At the early part of the battle we are informed that Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way
of the wilderness.
It is one of the laws of Divine Providence that before an evil can be conquered it must be manifested, so that its real nature can be seen. This is the reason, no doubt, for the permission of evil in the world. Where evil does not break out before the world, it breaks out before the mind, and presents itself distinctly in thought. Such manifest presentation in the mind, of the heinous pretensions of evil, was figured in the case before us by the king and the man of Ai hasting and going out in pursuit of Joshua, and being thus drawn away from their stronghold. When they were thus fully drawn forth, the Lord said unto Joshua, Stretch out the spear that is in thy hand towards Ai; for I will give it into thine hand.
Divine Truth, drawn to a point against sin, is a spear. The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, represents Divine Truth as generally opposed to all falsity and evil. It is a two-edged sword from the mouth of the Son of Man. But Divine Truth, as directed against malice and other evils of the heart, as pointed like the finger of conscience, the spear of heaven against manifest guilt, was represented by Joshuas uplifted spear directed against Ai. It was as if he said, There is the accursed fountain of a thousand crimes; there is the abode of robbers of your peace, destroyers of your purity, infesters of your path, defiers of your God. Strike down this gate of hell, this castle of contempt, this reveler in pollution, this vulture of corruption. There is the rebellious bulwark of sin, the den of ruffians. Your enemies are now fully out before you. Destroy their lurking place and destroy them. Such is the import of Joshuas out- stretched spear, held in his hand toward the city (ver. 18).
The ambush arose quickly out of their place, and hasted and set the city on fire (ver. 19).
This destruction of the city by the liers-in-wait represents the condemnation and destruction of evil by the interior powers of the mind. In the state here represented there is a perception of the infernal character of sin. It is seen behind, it is seen before. It is condemned by the letter of the Word and by its spirit. It is seen to be fiendish in its origin, and to lead to ever-increasing ruin. The ambush destroys the city, and then issues out against the ruthless robbers who had sallied out to destroy Israel. Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed Ai. And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until even-tide; and as soon as the sun was down Joshua commanded that they should take his carcass clown from the tree and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this day.
To hang the king on a tree means to exhibit the infernal character of the principle meant by hi in clear perception, and to condemn it. To take the carcass down and bury it under a heap of stones is to reject it as condemned by all the great truths of the Word in its letter.
What, then, is our Ai? What evil have we still rooted in our hearts? What is our leading sin? Israel can make no advance in us until that is overthrown. There is Ai. We have, I trust, thrown down Jericho. We do not believe now that the inner purification of the heart is impossible, nor that it ought to be delayed. There stands Ai threatening our path: but Joshua is with the host. He is arranging the attack before and behind. Let us be courageous and faithful, sincere and steady. Let us unflinchingly devote to destruction the foes of our peace, the impure and selfish passions of our hearts, and victory will certainly be ours.
We wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers, with spiritual wickedness in high places. But we wrestle also on the side of Him who is Conqueror of death and hell, and at His command. Let us go on in His strength, for He has said, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall by any means hurt you.
Author: Jonathan Bayley — From Egypt to Canaan (1869)