When the king of Ai saw this, he and all the men of the city hurried out early in the morning to meet Israel in battle at a certain place overlooking the Arabah. But he did not know that an ambush had been set against him behind the city. Joshua and all Israel let themselves be driven back before them, and they fled toward the wilderness. All the men of Ai were called to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua and were lured away from the city. Not a man remained in Ai or Bethel who did not go after Israel. They left the city open and went in pursuit of Israel. – Joshua 8:14-17
There is a small detail in verse 17 that might have meant a great deal to the early Jewish readers of this book. Seemingly out of nowhere, Bethel is mentioned. How does Bethel fit into Israel’s conquest of Ai?
Adolph Harstad writes:
Joshua 8:17 reveals that the army of Bethel unites with Ai to repulse Israel. Bethel is usually identified as the site of the modern Arab village of Beitin. It lies about two miles northwest of et-Tell, which many consider to be the site of ancient Ai.
Bethel and Ai are also named beside each other in Genesis 12:8. There we hear that Abraham pitched his tent “with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east.” That note comes soon after the LORD first promised Abraham the land and blessings for all nations through his special Offspring (Gen 12:1-7). Later, Abraham’s grandson Jacob camped at Bethel and had his famous dream of a stairway (or ladder) [from] heaven, in which the LORD renewed the covenant promises first given to Abraham.
Therefore the reference to Bethel in Joshua 8:17 is significant. Israelites reading the name Bethel would recall the LORD’s ancient promises to the patriarchs and see their fulfillment unfolding now at the very same site! “Bethel” and “Ai” tell the reader this: the LORD is faithful in keeping all His promises. He is now giving Israel the land. In the fullness of time the promised Seed of Abraham would come and all peoples on earth would be blessed through Him, just as the LORD promised.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 43
Q. 42. What is the sum of the ten commandments?
A. The sum of the ten commandments is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.