THEME: The Wages of Sin
This week’s lessons recount Israel’s victory in their second attempt to conquer Ai.
We come now to Joshua 8, which recounts the victory of the Jewish armies over a little fortress high in the mountains that was known as Ai. If you know the book and have read ahead, you know that Joshua has 24 chapters. So the eighth chapter is a third of the way through the book, and yet, the people have only at this point reached the second city. Now there was a long time of preparation, both before and after they crossed the Jordan. There was also a delay in the last chapter, but it was because of a great failure on Israel’s part.
They had experienced a great victory at Jericho, because it was won in the power of the Lord. The people had only marched around the city in obedience to God’s commands, once on each day for six days. And then on the seventh day, they marched around seven times, after which the signal was given, the priests blew the trumpets, and the people shouted. Only after they had done all these things that the Lord commanded did the walls of the city fall, except that portion of the wall that contained the house of Rahab and her family. When the walls fell down, the army moved into the city and took it. Of course it was a tremendous and exhilarating victory. I suppose at that point, they must have said to themselves, “Well look, Jericho was a great fortress, and all we did was shout. The rest of this conquest is going to be a snap.”
That’s the message that the spies to Ai seemed to bring back. They came back and said, “Well, this little town isn’t much. Compared to Jericho, it’s a small place. I suppose we don’t need the whole army.” They told Joshua, “Just send two or three thousand troops up. It’ll be enough to take it.” That, of course, was self-confidence and perhaps arrogance. We’re told in the story that there were 12,000 armed men in Ai. So, there was a bit of arrogance to think that with 3,000 men you could take a walled city defended by 12,000 men. But that’s what they did. They said, “This should be easy.” And when they went up to take it, they were routed. The armies of Israel fled back down the ravine, a number of men were killed, and the spirit of the people melted away like water. And we then find Joshua face down before the Lord, asking what in the world has gone wrong.
Now, we might suppose there were a number of things that went wrong. Self-confidence is an obvious fault. A lack of prayer seems also to have been a fault. At any rate, at least we are not told that Joshua consulted the Lord for battle plans in this city. Instead, the praying was done afterwards, when it should have been done before. But when God told Joshua the reason for the failure, God did not say, “Well, you were just too self-confident. You thought that you could bring about a victory. You were not depending on me. You did not pray and seek my will. You thought that you could make your own plans.” God didn’t say any of those things, although He could have. Rather He said, “There is sin in the camp.” And we saw how this sin of Achan in taking the things that had been dedicated to the Lord, which he had been instructed not to take, had brought about the defeat. And we saw as we studied that chapter how it was dealt with: God brought the sin to light. It was exposed. It’s somewhat ambiguous in the text whether we are to understand his family as having been killed as well. But they were all judged. And with that behind them, the Jewish armies were now ready for this conquest once again.
While the sin of Achan was the direct reason for Israel’s defeat in Joshua 7, what other sins did Israel commit?
What does Israel’s defeat reveal about God and our relationship to him?
Can you think of a time when you committed what seemed to be a rather small sin, but which had large consequences? What steps did you take as a result? How did that experience help you to resist later temptation to do the same thing?