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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Ambuscade and Ambush

(Hebrew אָרִב, arab', to lie in wait), in military phraseology, are terms used promiscuously, though it is understood that the first more properly applies to the act, and the second to the locality of a stratagem which consists mainly in the concealment of an army, or of a detachment, where the enemy, if he ventures, in ignorance of the measure, within the sphere of its action, is suddenly taken at a disadvantage, and liable to be totally defeated. The principles which must guide the contrivers of an ambuscade have been nearly the same in all ages; embracing concealment from the observation of an enemy so as to create no suspicion; a position of advantage in case of being attacked by superior forces; and having the means of retreating, as well as of issuing forth to attack, without impediment, when the proper moment is arrived. The example of Joshua at the capture of Ai (Joshua 8) shows the art to have been practiced among the Jews on the best possible principles. The failure of a first attempt was sure to produce increased confidence in the assailed, who, being the armed, but not disciplined inhabitants of a strong place, were likely not to be under the control of much caution. Joshua, encamping within sight, but with a valley intervening, when he came up to make a false attack, necessarily appeared to disadvantage, the enemy being above him, and his retreat toward his own camp rendered difficult by its being likewise above him on the other side, and both sides no doubt very steep, as they are in general in the hills of this region. His men therefore fled, as directed, not toward the north, where the camp was, but eastward, toward the plain and desert; while in the hills, not behind, but on the west side, lay the ambuscade, in sufficient force alone to vanquish the enemy. This body of Israelites had not therefore the objectionable route to take from behind the city, a movement that must have been seen from the walls, and would have given time to close the gates, if not to warn the citizens back; but, rising from the woody hills, it had the shortest distance to pass over to come down directly to the gate; and, if an accident had caused failure in the army of Joshua, the detachment could not itself be intercepted before reaching the camp of the main body; while the citizens of Ai, pursuing down hill, had little chance of returning up to the gates in time, or of being in a condition to make an effectual onset (see Stanley, Sinai and Palest. p. 198). In the attempt to surprise Shechem (Judges 9:30 sq.) the operation, so far as it was a military maneuver, was unskillfully laid, although ultimately successful in con. sequence of the party spirit within, and the intelligence which Abimelech (q.v.) maintained in the for tress. (See WAR).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Ambuscade and Ambush'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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