“The inhabitants of Samaria
Before the calf of Beth-aven.
Its people shall mourn
Its idolatrous priests
Shall wail over it.
Has departed from it.
The thing itself
Shall be carried
To the great king.
Shall be put to shame.
Shall be ashamed
Of his idol.”
Hosea said that the people of Samaria would tremble before the idol calf at Beth-aven, the house of wickedness, that was close to Ai and Bethel. Maybe it was Bethel itself. However, the people and its priests would mourn for the soon to be departed glorious calf. What happened to it? Assyrians would take it as a tribute to their great king. Thus, Ephraim and Israel would be ashamed of this lost idol.
The time is surely coming,
When I will sound
The battle alarm
Of the Ammonites.
It shall become
A desolate mound.
Shall be burned
Then Israel shall dispossess
Those who dispossessed him.’
Ai is laid waste!
O daughters of Rabbah!
Put on sackcloth!
Milcom shall go
With his priests,
With his attendants.’”
Yahweh spoke about the destruction of the major cities in Ammon. Rabbah was the capital city of Ammon that would become a desolate mound with its various villages around it. They would be burned to the ground. Thus the dispossessed Israelites would be able to re-possess it. However, it is not the Israelites who are invading, but the Babylonians. Heshbon was the ancient city of King Sihon that had been captured by the Israelites. It was part of the Reuben territory and then Gad territory, since it was almost on the border between Moab and Ammon. The city of Ai was near Bethel in the Benjamin territory on the west side of the Jordan River. However, here this is another otherwise unknown city named Ai near Heshbon. All of these cities were going to lament their situation with mourning and sack cloth. Their god Milcom with his priests and attendants would also go into exile.
“The men of Gibeon were ninety-five. The men of Bethlehem and Netophah were one hundred eighty-eight. The men of Anathoth were one hundred twenty-eight. The men of Beth-Azmaveth were forty-two. The men of Kiriath-jearim, Chephirah, and Beeroth were seven hundred forty-three. The men of Ramah and Geba were six hundred twenty-one. The men of Michmas were one hundred twenty-two. The men of Bethel and Ai were one hundred twenty-three. The men of the other Nebo were fifty-two. The descendents of the other Elam were one thousand two hundred fifty-four. The descendents of Harim were three hundred twenty. The men of Jericho were three hundred forty-five. The men of Lod, Hadid, and Ono were seven hundred twenty-one. The men of Senaah were three thousand nine hundred thirty.”
Once again, we have a very close similarity with Ezra, chapter 2, almost word for word. This list refers to the towns that they had come from in Judah, but also a lot from the Benjamin territory. These were the leaders there that had been taken into captivity. Gibbar or the town of Gibeon had a mere 95 people, the same as Ezra. Bethlehem had 188 not 123 people. Here it is combined with Netophah, a small town near Bethlehem that only had 56 people, so that the net change is only 9 more people here. Anathoth, another small town in Benjamin, had exactly the same amount of 128 people. Beth-Azmaveth or just Azmaveth, a town near Jerusalem, had 42 people, the smallest amount, but exactly the same as in Ezra. There was a group of 3 towns near Jerusalem in the Benjamin territory of Kiriath-jearim, Chephirah, and Beeroth with exactly the same amount of 743 people. Ramah and Geba were northern towns in Benjamin with exactly the same amount of 621 people. Michmas was another Benjamin town with exactly the same amount of 122 people. Bethel and Ai were 2 northern Benjaminite towns with 123 instead of 223 people as in Ezra. This Nebo was a small town near Bethel and Ai with exactly the same amount of 52 people. There was no mention here of Magbish, a small town in Benjamin with 156 people as there was in Ezra. This other Elam had 1,254 people, but that is the exact amount as mentioned in the previous paragraph and in Ezra. Harim with 320 people was exactly the same as in Ezra. Lod, Hadid, and Ono were 3 Benjaminite towns with 721 instead of 725 people. Jericho had exactly the same amount of 345 people. Senaah, a town in northern Benjamin had the largest group with 3,930 instead of 3,630 people as in Ezra. Thus there were only minor discrepancies between this account and the one in Ezra.
“There were the descendents of Gibbar, ninety-five. There were the descendents of Bethlehem, one hundred twenty-three. There were the descendents of Netophah, fifty-six. There were the descendents of Anathoth, one hundred twenty-eight. There were the descendents of Azmaveth, forty-two. There were the descendents of Kiriatharim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, seven hundred forty-three. There were the descendents of Ramah and Geba, six hundred twenty-one. There were the descendents of Michmas, one hundred twenty-two. There were the descendents of Bethel and Ai, two hundred twenty-three. There were the descendents of Nebo, fifty-two. There were the descendents of Magbish, one hundred fifty-six. There were the descendents of the other Elam, one thousand two hundred fifty-four. There were the descendents of Harim, three hundred twenty. There were the descendents of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, seven hundred twenty-five. There were the descendents of Jericho, three hundred forty-five. There were the descendents of Senaah, three thousand six hundred thirty.”
The second part of this list refers to the towns that they came from in Judah, but also in Benjamin. Thus these were the leaders there that had been taken into captivity. Gibbar or the town of Gibeon had a mere 95 people. Bethlehem had 123 people. Netophah was another small town near Bethlehem that only had 56 people, while Anathoth, another small town in Benjamin, had 128 people. Azmaveth, a town near Jerusalem, had 42 people, the smallest amount. There was a group of 3 towns near Jerusalem in the Benjamin territory of Kiriatharim, Chephirah, and Beeroth with 743 people. Ramah and Geba were northern towns in Benjamin with 621 people. Michmas was another Benjamin town with 122 people. Bethel and Ai were 2 northern Benjaminite towns with about 223 people. Although there are many places with the name of Nebo, this Nebo was a small town near Bethel and Ai with 52 people. Magbish was a small town in Benjamin with 156 people. From the other Elam there were 1,254 people. Harim had 320 people. Lod, Hadid, and Ono were 3 Benjaminite towns with 725 people. Jericho had 345 people. Senaah, a town in northern Benjamin had the largest group of 3,630 people.
“Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the sword, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their booty, according to the word of Yahweh that he issued to Joshua. So Joshua burned Ai. He made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. He hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening. At sunset, Joshua commanded that they tale his body down from the tree. They threw it down at the entrance of the gate of the city. They raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day.”
Joshua held his arm stretched out until all the inhabitants of Ai were destroyed. They took the livestock and booty. The King of Ai was hung and his body thrown at the gate of the city. The hanging of defeated kings was common in the 8the century BCE in the Middle East. The destruction of Ai was now complete as it stands in ruin with stones heaped all around it. The idea of destruction of annihilation was based on the Hebrew word herem, which first appeared in Numbers, chapter 21 and explained in Deuteronomy, chapter 20. Both Jericho and Ai suffered this herem, of total destruction. Of course, this concept borders on genocide. The attempt to justify total destruction always comes up a little short. Obviously, it was a common theme among ancient people to totally destroy their enemy. All traces of the evil enemy had to be eliminated.
“Joshua and all the fighting men set out to go up against Ai. Joshua chose thirty thousand warriors. He sent them out by night, with the command. ‘You shall lie in ambush against the city, behind it. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you stay alert. I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. When they come out against us like before, we shall flee from them. They will come out after us until we have drawn them away from the city. They will say. ‘They are fleeing from us, as before.’ While we flee from them, you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city. Yahweh your God will give it into your hand. When you have taken the city, you shall set the city on fire, doing as Yahweh has ordered. See, I have commanded you.’”
This is a great plan. Get the people of Ai out of the city and then burn it from the backside. The Israelites with Joshua will pretend to be defeated like the first time and start to flee. In the meantime, 30,000 troops from the back of the town will enter the city, seize it, and burn it.
“So Joshua sent them out. They went to the place of the ambush. They were between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai. But Joshua spent that night in the camp. In the morning, Joshua arose early. He mustered the people. He went up, with the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai. All the fighting men who were with him went up. They drew near before the city. They camped on the north side of Ai with a ravine between them and Ai. Taking about five thousand men, he set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. So they stationed the forces, the main encampment that was north of the city and its rear guard west of the city. But Joshua spent that night in the valley.”
The plan seems to be working without any divine intervention, since there is no mention of the Ark of the Covenant or the Levite priests, just old fashioned warfare tactics. The Israelites seem to be on the west and north side of the city of Ai.
“Then Yahweh said to Joshua. ‘Do not fear or be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you. Go up now to Ai. See, I handed over to you the king of Ai with his people, his city, and his land. You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you may take as booty for yourselves. Set an ambush against the city, behind it.”
It is time to get going. Yahweh will be on your side and defeat the enemy. Yahweh tells Joshua to attack Ai with all his warriors. Do to Ai what you did to Jericho. This time, you can take some booty from this place. However, follow Yahweh’s instructions to set up an ambush behind Ai.