Joshua 8:1 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. 2 And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.”
3 So Joshua and all the fighting men arose to go up to Ai. And Joshua chose 30,000 mighty men of valor and sent them out by night. 4 And he commanded them, “Behold, you shall lie in ambush against the city, behind it. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you remain ready. 5 And I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. And when they come out against us just as before, we shall flee before them. 6 And they will come out after us, until we have drawn them away from the city. For they will say, ‘They are fleeing from us, just as before.’ So we will flee before them. 7 Then you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city, for the Lord your God will give it into your hand.
God not only promised to help Joshua defeat the city of Ai, the Lord gave him a plan for how to do it. Notice in verse 2 that the Lord told Joshua to ‘lay ambush against the city, behind it.’ How did Joshua do this?
The Bible says that Joshua divided his army into two groups. With one group, Joshua marched straight at Ai, just as he had done before. But the other group Joshua hid them along the side. As the men of Ai watched what appeared to be a small group of soldiers coming against them again, their hearts were filled with pride. In their minds they had easily defeated these invaders before, and they would easily do it again. As the battle began, the decoy group of Israelites began to retreat as though they were afraid. This only fueled the egos of the men of Ai and so they pursued after them, hoping to destroy them once and for all. But once the men of Ai had been lured completely out into the open, Joshua’s second group came around behind them and blocked them from returning to their city. The men of Ai were suddenly trapped between the two groups.
Joshua 8:18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. 19 And the men in the ambush rose quickly out of their place, and as soon as he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it. And they hurried to set the city on fire.
20 So when the men of Ai looked back, behold, the smoke of the city went up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers. 21 And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had captured the city, and that the smoke of the city went up, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. 22 And the others came out from the city against them, so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side. And Israel struck them down, until there was left none that survived or escaped.
Failure doesn’t have to be final. God is the God of a second chance. He is able to make all things work together for good for those who love Him, and who will submit themselves and their circumstances to His will and purpose. (see Romans 8:28)