Napsal(a) New Christian Bible Study Staff and Rev. Julian Duckworth
Joshua 8: The fall of Ai and the renewal of the covenant.
The events of this chapter - and their spiritual meaning for us - follow on from the previous chapter. After their first setback at Ai, the Children of Israel take the city of Ai by using a clever ruse. Joshua chose thirty thousand men for the battle. The plan was for five thousand of them to hide near the city, while he led the main army to attack the city. Then, Joshua and his forces would pretend to run away, pursued by the men of Ai. Those who had hidden were then to come out, go into the city, and set it on fire. The men of Ai would see this and run back, get ambushed, and be caught between Joshua’s two armies.
It all happened as planned, and Israel took Ai. (See Arcana Caelestia 1557). As with Jericho, everything in Ai was commanded to be destroyed, except that in this case the livestock and the city’s spoils were to be kept. The whole city was burned and its king was hanged on a tree until sunset and then his body was thrown down at the city entrance with a great heap of stones put over it.
The basic spiritual meaning of any battle in the Bible such as this, is to show how a heavenly principle can and will overcome a hellish or evil attack, especially for us, during some temptation - when we seek to resist and fight back.
Evil is only strong in illusion and fear-mongering; when the light of what is true shines on evil it gets shown for what it is. (Heaven and Hell 49)
The city’s name “Ai” means “a heap”. The word gets used several times in the text of the chapter. A heap implies rubble and rubbish. Cities sometimes look noble and well-planned; in Ai’s case it was the very opposite - a heap, a ruin. (Heaven and Hell 586)
While Jericho generally represents our wrong thinking, which first stands in the way of our regeneration and spiritual will, Ai represents our evil emotions and our selfish passions. Both of them must fall before we can make further progress.
Joshua chooses a large number to go against a relatively few in Ai, who nevertheless all rush out to fight Israel. “There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel. Thus they left the city open.” (Joshua 8:17)
Joshua’s tactic of drawing out the men of Ai means our challenge to evil - by confronting it with the truths and commandments we know and obey. Joshua’s pretence of fleeing away draws Ai out in glee, interpreting the flight as a real retreat. Then everything turns, and Joshua’s men go forward representing the power of the truth, the Word and our persuasion of their effectiveness in winning. (Arcana Caelestia 6344)
Ai’s men see their city on fire, for other Israelites entered Ai and set it ablaze. This represents the self-condemnation of evil, of hell, when it is exposed to what is true, heavenly and of God. But Joshua’s men, lying in ambush and waiting for the moment, represent our keen observation of how our selfish desires work to cause havoc in us. They are 5,000. Symbolically, in the Bible, five or its multiples always stand for a small amount - but enough to use.
Hanging the king of Ai stands for our need to put down the controlling power of any evil which stirs us. And all Ai is destroyed, because all evil must be turned against and refused.
Then, and only then, Joshua remakes the covenant with the Lord God; he builds an altar, he writes a copy on stones of the Law of Moses in the presence of all Israel, the priests stand in two groups in front of two mountains, then Joshua reads the words of blessing and cursing and all the Law of Moses.
After we resist any evil and its temptation, we must re-hear and re-affirm the truth that this was the Lord’s victory, not ours, and re-dedicate ourselves to the life the Lord gives us. (True Christian Religion 13)