Theme: Victory and DefeatThis week’s lessons show the consequences of Achan’s sin upon the nation of Israel, and how in the midst of God’s judgment, grace and blessing are offered.
Have you ever noticed in your life what a short step there often is between a great victory and a great defeat? One moment you’re riding high on the cloud of some great spiritual success, and the next moment you’re plunged into the valley of some grim spiritual failure. One moment you’re like Elijah on Mt. Carmel, calling down the fire of God on the altar. And the next moment you’re like Elijah at Horeb, complaining to God and asking for death.
It’s like that in the book of Joshua. When most people think of Joshua, they think naturally of the great victory of the Jewish armies at Jericho, which we have in chapter 6. We think of the armies encircling the walls in silence day by day, repeating that action seven times on the last of the seven days and then sounding the trumpets and shouting, with the walls falling down and then marching in to take the city. We think of it as a great victory, which it certainly was. But it’s only a very short step between that great victory of Joshua 6 and the defeat we find in the very next chapter.
Chapter 7 of Joshua begins with the ominous word, “but.” Great victory, yes, but now, a great failure. What is it that can account for a change like that, and a change so rapid? Commentators have suggested a number of things. Some have said, “Well, the people failed because of self-confidence.” Certainly there is a lot of self-confidence evident in the story. The army sent spies up to this next city, the city of Ai, which lay up the mountainous ascent to the hill country. The spies came back with the report that in comparison to Jericho, it was a very small city. Jericho was a large, military fortress. It was surrounded by strong walls. Ai was a military fortress, too, but not nearly so large and not nearly so formidable. The report came back, “You don’t need the whole army. Two or three thousand men ought to be sufficient.” What they had forgotten is that it was not the size of their armies, whether great or small, that had given them Jericho. God had given them Jericho; but they were self-confident. They thought, “We can take it with a few.” But they lost.
People have also suggested that it was a lack of prayer, particularly on Joshua’s part. The earlier battle had been planned undoubtedly by the Lord Himself, the commander of the host. He had told them what to do. From a human point of view, it was senseless to march around the walls all those times. But that was God’s battle plan, and so Joshua carried it out. We sense, though it doesn’t say this explicitly in Joshua, that this consulting of God was overlooked when they came to Ai. The spies were sent, the report came back, and the plans were made on the basis of that report.
It’s possible that the commentators are right when they point to those two things as the causes of Israel’s failure—a great amount of self-confidence and a lack of prayer. But it is interesting that when the failure takes place, and Joshua along with the elders of the people prostrate themselves before the Ark of the Covenant to ask what has gone wrong, it is not self-confidence or a lack of prayer that God mentions. Instead God says that there is sin in the camp of Israel. Sin is the cause of the failure. It’s interesting how this exchange takes place. Joshua says, “Oh, sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us?” After he explains what’s wrong, God replies, “Stand up. What are you doing on your face? Israel has sinned. They have violated my commandment, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things. They have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies.” If we learn nothing else from this great chapter of Joshua, we must learn that sin is what destroys victory in the life of God’s people, and for that reason sin cannot be tolerated.
What are some reasons offered for why Israel lost the battle against Ai? What was the real reason?
Did you ever have a similar experience as Joshua, where you quickly went from a spiritual high to a spiritual low? What brought that change about? What lessons did you learn?
Key Point: If we learn nothing else from this great chapter of Joshua, we must learn that sin is what destroys victory in the life of God’s people, and for that reason sin cannot be tolerated.