"But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan ... took some of the things under the ban, therefore, the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel". The defeat of Jericho was accomplished, the people were rejoicing in the victory, nothing would ever be impossible for them, for surely the Lord their God was on their side. Before them was Ai, so called because it appeared to be a pile of ruins. Again, Joshua sent up spies to get a feel for the enemy's territory, and again the report was favorable. In fact, the spies were so confident that their advice to Joshua was; Do not make all the people toil up there, for they are few. We don't need a lot of support, Joshua, this will be 'a piece of cake'. Compared to Jericho, the enemy is only a few, we can easily handle things.
Often, after an especially momentous spiritual victory we tend to become over-confident, and, rather than seeking God's divine guidance, we begin to look at our success record, assuming that every battle is similar. All we have to do is follow certain patterns and procedures, and God will be forced to follow the doctrine of precedence. But, as the children of Israel were to discover, it doesn't always happen that way. And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six of their men and pursued them. But, one may think, that really isn't too bad for the record is it - thirty-six men out of three thousand - considering this is a battle, surely it is to be expected that there will to be a certain number of casualties. Joshua, however, did not see it that way. God, who had promised that no one would be able to stand before them, had somehow failed to keep His part of the bargain. In the embarrassment of defeat, his humanity begins to question the providence of Almighty God. "Why did You ever bring us over the Jordan, God, did You merely desire to witness our defeat at the hand of our enemies?” Trying to reach an explanation of our circumstances, we often begin to blame God. That response goes as far back as the Garden of Eden, when, under the scrutiny of God, Adam argues “The women that Thou gavest me, she tempted me, and I did eat.” It’s not my fault, Lord, You are the one that gave me the woman, You are the one that brought us over the Jordan. Rather than coming before God with an attitude of “Search my heart, O God! ... Try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me”, we develop a case of the "if onlys". "If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan!" If only we were back in the wilderness, these things wouldn't be happening to us..., implying that our circumstances are dependent upon our physical location. "For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it..." what are people going to think of us when they hear about this? So often our concern regarding our reputation overrules God's admonition to "Confess your sins one to another, and pray for one another that we may be healed".
"Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them." Into our spiritual turmoil, the Lord starts to get to the heart of the matter. Israel, not God, had failed to keep the covenant. God cannot honor His word to us, if we fail to honor Him by our obedience. "They have taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived". God starts to point out specific sins as we continue to seek Him, and indicates that these sins are the cause of the defeat. As we allow Him to search our hearts, He begins to zero in on our lives, until His spotlight displays the root cause of our dilemma.
After a process of elimination, it became evident that the cause of Israel's trouble rested squarely on the shoulders of Achan, the son of Carmi. In his confession, Achan reveals "When I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold, I coveted them and took them, and they are concealed in the earth inside my tent." Categorically speaking, the mantle should have been burned along with the other contents of the city, and the silver and the gold that God should have been placed in the Lord's treasury. Not only had Achan taken what was forbidden (i.e. theft), but he had hidden the spoils beneath his tent (i.e. deceit) thinking that no one would know the difference. As a result of his sin, Achan, his family, and all his possessions were stoned and burned, indicating that God desires for us to put to death not only the actual sin, but everything related to that sin in our lives. And they raised over him a great heap of stones that stands to this day. In addition to remembering our victories, sometimes God desires that we keep in mind our defeats so that, when faced with similar circumstances, it is easier to keep from repeating our mistakes.
Just a note of caution before we become too Pharisaical, engaging in unwarranted witch hunts, we should make clear that not all negative circumstances in life are the direct result of sin. Too often we take a spiritual principle and begin to apply it to situations which were never what God intended. Jesus' disciples had this teaching 'down pat' when they approached the man who was born blind, and asked the Master - "Lord, who has sinned, this man, or his parents - that he should be born blind?" In reply to their insensitivity, Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him." Nothing is so devastating to someone who is already wounded and broken by the blows of life than to have some well-meaning but misinformed saint come up with the suggested solution - "You know, brother, if you would just repent of that sin in your life, then God would hear your prayers..." Certainly, there will be instances when the Spirit of God will reveal that there is sin that needs to be dealt with, as He did to Joshua, but we need to be very sure that such leading is indeed from God, and that any resulting correction is offered in a spirit of love.
"Now the Lord said to Joshua, 'Do not fear or be dismayed. Take all the people of war with you and arise, go up to Ai; see I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land.'" How many of us would have questioned the wisdom of God in that regard? Lord, we've already suffered humiliating defeat there, we've even lost some of our warriors in that effort - and you want us to try it again? There were, however, distinct differences this time around. First of all, Joshua had a direct word from the Lord that it was time to move against Ai, they weren't engaging in the battle simply because it was the next thing to do. When we wait for His word, we will find that victory is more of a surety. This is purely a matter of conjecture, but one could wonder what would have happened had Joshua sought God's will before the first battle rather than after. Would God have revealed the sin in the camp, so that it could be confessed and repented of before they lost thirty-six men?
Next, God commands "Take all the people of war with you..." No more cock-suredness that indicates - "we don't need everyone, we can handle this one with just a few." This time, God says, I want everybody involved. But, Lord, one might argue, doesn't the Word say that "One of us shall put a thousand to flight, and two of us shall send the legions fleeing..."? If that is His strategy for a particular situation, then, most assuredly, that will result in victory, but, again, it becomes a matter of determining His strategy, rather than depending on our own thoughts and perceptions. Further, God says, "Set an ambush for the city behind it". So we see that, for every battle, God has a strategy, because He knows how the enemy will think and act. Sometimes we need to draw the enemy out, make him vulnerable, and have someone else available to attack him from behind. Again, this strategy is not for every occasion, but when it is ordained of God, it will bring success.
"Why don't we just march around the city once a day for six days, then seven times on the seventh day...?" Because this is Ai, not Jericho, and what worked at Jericho is not necessarily applicable to Ai. At Jericho the people shut themselves in behind their walls, so the walls had to come down. But at Ai, God knew that the people would venture out of their city to pursue the people of God, so the best strategy was to ambush them from behind. Before the battle begins, God knows the outcome – He knows how the enemy will respond, and He knows what must be done to assure us the victory.
The anger of God over the defilement of sin in the camp was appeased, His directions were obeyed to the letter, so the battle resulted in a definite victory, and every trace of the 'pile of ruins' was eradicated from the land. It was again time to raise a monument to the success with which God had blessed His people so that future generations would be reminded of the goodness of God. The people had been abased by military defeat, but they had learned an invaluable lesson in spiritual warfare – never engage the enemy without specific instructions from an all-knowing God.
Have you ever been to Ai? Have you suffered the humiliating defeat over something that should have been so simple? How did you react - did you start blaming God, and questioning His wisdom, or did you think to pray "Search me O God, and know my heart...". Has the Lord ever called you back to face a situation which had previously resulted in defeat? Perhaps we need to seek the face of God before we engage in the battle, no matter how simple it may appear, and be prepared for Him to reveal things in our lives that need to be addressed.
Regardless of the extent of any previous humiliation, we need to retain our objectivity when we are called back to the conquest of Ai. In our humanity, it is easy at times to give place to the voice of the enemy as he confronts us with the idea "You failed at this before, what makes you think that you will be any more successful this time?" If we allow our fears to overcome us at that point, we will never return to Ai, and we will never know the victory that God has already accomplished on our behalf. Consequently, the greater portion of the Land of Promise will remain in enemy hands as we settle for living the balance of our experience at the threshold of our inheritance, never knowing the fullness of His promises. But if we return to face Ai, submitting ourselves to God, and resisting the enemy in the strength of the Lord, we will find that the enemy will flee from us. As we draw near to God, cleansing our hands and purifying our hearts, we find that God will draw near to us, and we will have the experience of driving the enemy from our lives.
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