In Joshua chapter 7 the children of Israel were defeated because of sin in the camp. As we go on into chapter 8 this week, we are reminded that making up for lost ground is always difficult. For the football team that falls behind or the student who procrastinates too long, catching up is hard to do. However, it is in those moments or situations that we are reminded that the Holy One of Israel is the God of second chances.
Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the King of Ai, his people, his city and his land. Joshua 8:1
The Israelites had sinned, and that sin lead to fear. The people were hesitant to continue their attempt to capture the Promised Land. Their failure led to their lack of confidence. God gave them His plan, which depended fully on their willingness to live by faith, not by fear. When previous failures provoke fear, anxiety and a loss of confidence to face future situations, it is faith that moves us on. Like the little child learning to walk who falls down repeatedly, our failures are meant to propel us to future victories. Faith knows that, faith gets up and faith goes on.
We can only imagine the disheartening effect of the failure at Ai. These people who had lived in the victory of Jericho were now tempted to wallow in the defeat at Ai. However, God told Joshua to take the entire army to Ai. Everyone was involved; no one was left out. They set the ambush and prepared to fake a retreat so that the people of Ai would be convinced that, once again, they were running scared. Isn’t it just like God to take us back to the place where we last failed in our obedience to Him in order to restore our confidence? As the men of Ai pursued the fleeing army of Israel, hidden Israeli soldiers entered the city from behind and destroyed it completely. Ai was defeated, just as God had promised.
No defeat is greater than God’s ability to strengthen and equip us for the next challenge. Therefore it behooves us to look to Him and journey on rather than waste time bewailing our failures. When failure occurs, God’s formula is: ‘Repent quickly, receive forgiveness, get up and press on.’
The Israelites then took the 30-mile walk to Shechem in the beautiful valley area of Israel between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. We read in verses 30-31 that Joshua led the people of God in worship. They built an altar according to Moses’ specifications and offered sacrifices as a sign of their thankfulness to God for His victory.
It’s too easy, even tempting, to start celebrating after a victory and to forget Who is ultimately responsible. Ai was defeated not because of the cleverness of the children of Israel but because of God’s promise. By obeying His command, they were assured of victory.
Developing an attitude of gratitude is one of the best habits we can acquire in our walk with God. Big victory or small – for everything, He is worthy of our thanks and our praise.
Besides offering a sacrifice, Joshua also pointed the people to God’s Word. Verse 32 says that Joshua “copied on stones the law of Moses” and then read it to all of the people. While it is desirable and commendable that we should read from God’s Word every day, it is particularly important to do so when we are smarting from the sting of a failure. Turning to the revealed Word of God renews our faith, strengthens our commitment and guards against self-pity, unwarranted depression and a debilitating self-loathing. Nursing anger at ourselves for failure guarantees future failures! Joshua rightly led the people to worship the LORD and to renew their minds by reviewing the Torah with them.
The real story of this chapter is not that Israel regained the city of Ai. No, the real story is that the children of Israel renewed their faith and their commitment to their God.
Just like water, our human tendency is flow downhill, mentally and spiritually. We are so prone to look at the negative, to feed on the negative. We need to be reminded constantly, in times of challenge and in times of victory, that our real strength and our true source of everything is God and God alone. That is why taking time to worship Him daily and to feed our spiritual life by reading and meditating on the Scriptures restores faith, empowers commitment and protects us from discouragement.