– Effectively Dealing with Defeat & Despair –
Joshua 7:1-5 'Falling into failure' is part '2/5' of the Life Commentary series entitled 'Joshua 7:1-15 Properly Dealing with Defeat & Despair.' Here in these first five verses God gives us the proper perspective by revealing what happened behind the scenes. As a consequence of the people's neglect to inquire of the Lord, some people lost their lives. Failure is not because God's mistake but clearly because the people were not faithful. A full index is at the bottom.
– Fatal Mistakes: Falling into failure –
But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the LORD burned against the sons of Israel. Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, “Go up and spy out the land.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up; only about two or three thousand men need go up to Ai; do not make all the people toil up there, for they are few.” So about three thousand men from the people went up there, but they fled from the men of Ai. And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six of their men, and pursued them from the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent, so the hearts of the people melted and became as water. (Joshua 7:1-5, NASB).
1) The Reason for Failure (7:1)
Joshua 7:1 is that which helps us get perspective on this whole event. The Lord slides it early into the setting so that our knowledge can become wisdom. Most of us study history without these verse or God insights. We only look at the superficial facts. Who fought? Who won? That is secular history. It provides no essential insight into history. What we need are these insights from God to help us to see why things really happened the way they did. God’s Word plays such an important part in making us wise and discerning people.
From this verse we find that Israel acted unfaithful in the Battle of Jericho when it stole something from the ban. As pointed out in the last chapter, the ban was a statement from Joshua that made everything but Rahab’s family off limits. In other words, they could take no booty for themselves. God was the victor and would reap the reward. Joshua stated this special rule very clearly. When one of them, named Achan, took some things from the ban, He rebelled against God’s command. Perhaps he was one that was help getting things for the Lord. While gathering up a few things, his eye caught a glimpse of a few articles that he so much wanted. So he took them and hid them under his tent. His hiding of them clearly shows that he knew that he did wrong. Let’s make a few more specific observations from verse 1.
a) They acted unfaithful.
This word actually means transgressed. It means that there was some clear rule that one crossed over or broken. For example, a parent might say to their older children that when they are out, they are to study and not to watch anything. But once your parents are gone, you despise them and their rules. In fact you think your way is better. You go ahead and watch what you wanted. But you make sure that the television is off and cooled down well before they return home. There is a clear rule which was broken. We can think of the many rules that the Lord gives us. Have we broken them? Have we been unfaithful in any act? The Lord tells us not to say any bad words. Do we? If so, we transgress. The Lord wants us to give a percentage of our wealth to Him. Ten percent is a minimum. Do we? If not, it is like Achan taking to what belongs to the Lord. He is a transgressor. He is unfaithful.
b) The ban.
Everything belonged to the Lord. The word ‘ban’ literally means accursed. The verb form means ‘to destroy’ or ‘to put under a ban.’ This word is good for us to learn that there are things that we are not to do or things that do not belong to us. We should not covet them. We should instead focus on being content with what we have. As parents we need to make clear to our children what they should and should not do. If you do not reprove and chastise your child for taking things that are not theirs or for disobeying you, you are raising an Achan. Jesus answered the religious rulers, “Give what belongs to Caesar to Caesar and give what belongs to God to God.”
c) The anger of the Lord.
Don’t believe people when they say or insinuate that God in His perfect way is always loving and never angry or upset. We might think this kind of loving God is ideal but it is perverted. God takes a very strong stance against what is evil. Parents need to be firm on what is evil too. This anger comes from God’s holy nature. Because He is holy, anyone that comes close to Him must be holy. Otherwise God’s justice will come forth and strike the person. After God gave His Ten Commandments, “Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20). God gives them a privileged status to come close to Him, but they must remain holy.
Application: What do we learn from this? Simply that every disobedience to His clear rules brings trouble upon our lives. Trouble comes upon our lives because we have despised God. We have not valued His Words and instead thought more about our own plans than His. We will see this more as we read on. The words are here to let us undeniably know that the defeat did not come about because of incidental unwise battle plans or the such. Something greater was at stake.
2) The Failed Plan (7:2-5)
It is here in the Battle against Ai that we see their failure. There are two aspects. The second one is more obvious so let us start with that.
a) They were defeated (4-5).
Verses 4-5 describe what happened. The Israelites actually fled in defeat from the men of Ai. Thirty-six Israelites actually died in battle that day. And as a result of defeat, which is common, fear came upon the people. The words here used are interesting, “The hearts of the people melted and became as water.” This is the meltdown of faith. They no longer knew how they would handle the future. They were confident that they could win the battle as they marched to Ai, but after only a few hours, they had lost all their faith. The consequences were devastating. The lives lost are precious, but the lost of faith meant that they would lose much more if they were not extremely careful. The survival of the whole nation was suddenly threatened. All the enemies would gang up on them and wipe them out.
The lessons are rather straightforward. Don’t be deceived by self-confidence. Self-confidence is no substitute for faith. It is phony and does not accomplish God’s will. Their faith was immature. The faith that comes and goes like the sun is only as good as long as one has it. When it is absent, everything falls apart. When you need it the most, it is absent. The Israelites’ whole future was unknown because their faith dwindled. The greatest difference between a strong Christian and a weak Christian is that his faith persists even in very dark and desperate times. The mature Christian’s faith continues to aid him through the darkest of times. It does not vacillate even though it is tested. He utilizes his faith during the dark times to guide Him closer to God and His truth. The immature in faith are quite the opposite. When something does not go as expected, they suddenly doubt God and His will. It is as if all that God did in the past is washed away with a wave. What kind of faith do you have?
b) They were deceived (2-3).
Let’s now look at another point in verses 2-3. Some people have a hard time seeing why they failed in battle. Clearly they failed but why? Was it that God was not with them in battle? Probably. Look at verse 12. “I will not be with you any more unless ...” Was it because of poor battle plans? Probably. Look at verse 13. “You cannot stand in battle...” We see the seeds of self-confidence rather than confidence in God (faith) in verses 2-5. Joshua and the spies made strategic plans for this battle according to man’s viewpoint. They looked at the number of people. They look at the appearance. They figured only about 2-3 thousand soldiers could easily bring victory. Joshua as a leader merely went along with their plans. We do not see him praying. We do not see him asking the Lord about His solutions. He thought that they could handle it. We are many times defeated because we think simple battles can be done on our own. The scriptures, however, are relentless in telling us that the flesh will always fail us. This is what is being taught here and it is a truth that every Christian must master. The moment we evaluate things with our eyes and our resources, we fail. Let me give you an example.
Say that God puts it on our heart to send a mission team to Africa. Perhaps we are short on financial commitment or gifted workers. If we merely reject the project because we do not see the resources at hand, then we are failing the Lord. The right response would be that we take the issue to the Lord in prayer and see what He says. “Did you not tell us to go to this one place. But we do not have this. and that... Would you provide? What can we do to take the next step in obedience. We need you Lord. Expand the kingdom of God by your power.”
But the opposite problem can also happen. Perhaps this time because we have resources to go to place that is more convenient, say the Caribbean, we can on our own just send a team. But we do not pray much. We think we can handle this mission. Or perhaps because we did it before, we think we know we can do it again. Ephesians 6 reminds us that we are not fighting an earthly battle.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:12, 13).
This precisely describes why many fighting pornography or similar evil habits fall. Isn’t it true that you seemed to be doing so good? That is like the Israelites with Jericho. Then they unwittingly lowered their guard. They unconsciously thought that they would always be victorious. They believed that they have finally learned how to overcome the problem. The problem is that they forget how the battle was won. They won by trusting the Lord. It was not because they were in the right place or suddenly lost fortitude. If we do not consistently cry out to God for deliverance each time, then we will fail. It is the trust in God that brings us to victory. The reason success leads to failure is that we again do not similarly lean upon the Lord as we did in the first place. There is a subtle transfer of shifting of trust from upon the Lord and His promises to our own capabilities. When one sees a person evaluating things without prayer, they have already succumbed to relying on their human wisdom. They believe they are capable of discerning things by their own judgment.
If Joshua had sought the Lord in prayer, I believe God would have given him the insight he needed to win the victory. What do you think the Lord would have said? But we do not see him or the others praying. Instead we just see another meeting of men. God was left out. If Joshua and the people sought God, He no doubt would have told them to first fix their problem before attacking. Blindness often accompanies self-confidence. That blindness leads to mistakes and in the end failure. Remember 36 men are now dead. Their families are decimated.
The solution to fighting sin is to fight for ones life. Do not think that you can put a certain self-discipline away. When you put it away, then you will fall again. Instead, we need to constantly cry out to God to deliver us.
Summary and application.
Did they have to fall? Clearly the answer is no. God gave us verse 1 so that we could gain insight into this failure. God does not want us to fail. But the question comes back to us, “What is our confidence in?” “Have we perchance transferred our trust to our own resources such as wealth, intellect, etc.”” If so, you might be successful in the world’s sight but not the Lord’s. We need men and women who trust God in their educational, career and family pursuits knowing that they are spiritual battles. God desires to bless us more, but in order to get it we need to carefully follow His leading. In this case, the consequences of failing to trust the Lord were immediate. In some cases, it takes many years to see the fallout.
- Hopefully you will not be one of those people who said when looking back on their lives, “God was speaking to me, but I didn’t see how to do it. So I just kept pursuing my course of life.” Changes are not easy to make. I have had to make many. They often require us to become insecure in what we are most confident in. These adjustments are not easy because we start off again as a little child learning. But this is exactly what the Lord often arranges for us to keep us humble but also to use us in greater ways. This is the reason that a church cannot go safely forward without a prayer meeting where they call upon the Lord in desperation.