Joshua 8 brings us the story of the destruction of Ai and the execution of its King. After the earlier failed attempt, this time the people of Israel under Joshua are successful. The sin of Achan has been dealt with and God is once more acting for His people.
The victory comes about in fairly simple fashion. God tells Joshua to set an ambush for the armies of Ai. Thinking the battle will go as well as previously (where Israel were routed under the stern hand of God), Ai’s forces leave the safety of their walls to chase after the apparently fleeing Israelites. But it’s all a ruse and a hidden portion of Joshua’s army takes the city and then entraps the enemy army.
And then this happens:
Josh. 8:28 So Joshua burned Ai and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. 29 And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening. And at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the gate of the city and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day.
The King of Ai, as leader and representative of his people, bears the full punishment of God due to all who oppose Him. The name “Ai” means “ruins” and their king’s body remains under a ruin of stones, a permanent testimony to the everlasting ruin that falls upon anyone who would stand against God and His people.
Centuries later there would be another King. He too would die on behalf of His people, die because He stood for them in their terrible guilt in not acknowledging the lordship of the one true God. He too would be hung on a tree (Gal 3:13). His dead body would be taken down at sunset (Matt. 27:57-59). His body would be hidden away behind rock (Matt. 27:60).
But this One would not stay there forever. On the third day He was raised from death.
The king of Ai lies in eternal ruins as a symbol for all who follow after him. The King of Life’s body was rebuilt, better than ever(John 2:19) and those who belong to Him reign with Him for eternity (Rev. 20:6).