Then the LORD said to Joshua “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. Joshua 8 v 1
This was virtually the same promise that God had made about victory at Jericho – He was going to give them victory at Ai. Same promise, but a very different process! They took Jericho by simply marching round it, but now there is a genuine military strategy. Marching round Ai won’t do; this is a different battle and a different plan is needed. It’s a strategy as old as warfare itself; lure your enemy into an ambush and then turn on the heat! The outcome seems gruesome, with every man, woman and child in the city slaughtered. That doubtless raises all kinds of questions, and many people have offered explanations for this and other occasions when God ordered the slaughter of all the inhabitants of a town, such as at Jericho. Many see it as God cleansing the towns of all idolatrous influences, lest the Israelites fell into the same religious practices as the local people. But whatever the reason at the time, we do well to consider the meaning for today.
Just as God wanted the land purified and free of idolatry, so He wants our lives to be purified from sin of all kinds. Joshua had to deal ruthlessly with all evil influences, so we too have to make determined efforts to deal with the sin that creeps into our lives. God’s primary purpose for us as individuals, and as Church, is not continuous activity but holiness and purity of life. We read in Hebrews 12 v 14 ‘Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.’ Jesus said much the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’ (Matthew 5 v 8) Make no mistake about it; we need to be serious in our wholehearted pursuit of holiness of life rather than just being religious activists!
For reflection: at the end of the chapter, vv 34-35, we find Joshua again emphasising the Commandments as Moses had recorded them. Just how significant are those 10 Commandments for us today?