Summary: Joshua’s defeat at Ai
Joshua Chapter 7 – A Spanner in the Works
You are all familiar with the saying ‘someone has put a spanner in the works’. Whether it arose out of an actual incident when someone literally dropped a spanner into the machine at which they had been working causing the machine to grind to a halt or not I don’t honestly know but it has become a sort of proverbial saying that indicates that an up until now smoothly running project has suddenly come to a halt. Something unexpected has happened which brings the project to a sudden standstill.
Another equally familiar saying is that of their being ‘a fly in the ointment’. The presence of the fly, no matter how small a fly, ruins the effectiveness of the ointment.
Something that every bride dreads is getting a stain on her wedding dress on the day of her wedding. There must be nothing as bad for a bride as arriving at the Church and getting out of the bridal car only to discover that somehow her dress has been stained, and that on some part of the garment which is visible for all to see. The stain may be relatively small but its presence not only ruins the overall appearance of the dress but also is a source of grief to the bride.
We come this evening in our studies of Joshua to consider the events that are recorded for us in chapter 7 – namely the failure of Israel to conquer the city of Ai, the reasons for their failure and what steps were taken by Joshua to address the source of the problem they had discovered. The reason for their failure, as we are going to see, was because there was a proverbial spanner in the works. Up until now everything had been going according to plan. Everything had been running smoothly but the well oiled, efficient Israelite machine was about to grind to a halt, albeit a temporary halt, because of the sinful actions of a man called Achan. He was the fly in the ointment; the dark stain upon the otherwise spotless garment.
We are going to look in more detail next week at the actual sin that Achan committed, but this evening I want us to focus our thoughts upon the failure of Israel to capture Ai, the effect that defeat had upon Joshua, the cause of their defeat and what was done to deal with the problem.
Now with that in view I want you to notice with me first of all this evening that in this passage we find
1) A Defeated Army; or The Defeat Of Israel’s Army
The last chapter (chapter 6) recorded Israel’s tremendous victory at Jericho as a result of their faithful obedience to God’s plan and total reliance upon God’s power. As chapter six comes to a close everything is bright and encouraging. Jericho was conquered, Israel was victorious. However the opening word of chapter 7 (and don’t forget there were no chapter divisions in the original scriptures) the opening word of chapter 7 “but” immediately alerts us the reader to the fact that all is not as it seems. Something is wrong in the camp of Israel. If we read the last verse of chapter six and then go on and immediately read the first verse of chapter 7 the contrast stands out very clearly. “So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land. BUT the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things. Achan…took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.” We will come back to this later in our sermon, suffice for the moment to note that some form of crisis, some form of set-back is evidently looming and that this is the writers way of preparing us for it. Something is going to go wrong and the root of the problem and reason for the set-back is to be found in this summary statement of verse 1, a summary statement which is going to be developed and unfolded later in the narrative.
Having overthrown Jericho, the Israelites knew that the next target of attack was to be Ai. This was a much smaller town than Jericho, situated about 1,700 feet above sea level and located in a strategic position, in that once they conquered Ai they would have control of the entire hill country from which they could then expand their controlling influence over the rest of the land. In keeping with the policy he had adopted prior to attacking Jericho, Joshua, before planning his strategy and ordering an attack upon Ai, first of all surveyed the situation before him. He sent out a number of spies who having examined the town brought back a report which in essence amounted to this – “compared to Jericho, Ai is much smaller, they don’t have a huge army, the city isn’t as well fortified, this is going to be a doddle. In our opinion there is no point in sending everybody up to Ai. Send a small battalion of about 3,000 men and in no time the town will be ours.”