Summary: Make sure that your victory by faith holds up and you don’t let it defeat you.
Defeat after Victory, Joshua 7:2-15
Moses described the Promised Land as “a land of hills and valleys” (Deut. 11:11). That statement, I believe, is much more than a description of the contrast between the hilly landscape of Canaan and the flat monotonous topography of Egypt.
It’s also a description of the geography of the life of faith that is pictured by Israel’s experiences in Canaan. As by faith we claim our inheritance in Christ, we experience peaks of victory and valleys of discouragement. Discouragement isn’t inevitable in the Christian life, but we must remember that we can’t have mountains without valleys.
The ominous word but that introduces Joshua 7 is a signal that things are going to change; for Joshua is about to descend from the mountaintop of victory at Jericho to the valley of defeat at Ai. Joshua was a gifted and experienced leader, but he was still human. In this experience, he teaches us what causes defeat and how we must handle the discouragements of life.
1. DEFEAT COMES WHEN WE DEPEND ON HUMAN WISDOM (JOSH. 7:2-5)
Explanation: As a good commander, Joshua surveyed the situation before he planned his strategy. His mistake wasn’t in sending out the spies but in assuming that the Lord was pleased with His people and would give them victory over Ai. He and his officers were walking by sight and not by faith. Spiritual leaders must constantly seek the Lord’s face and determine what His will is for each new challenge. Had Joshua called a prayer meeting, the Lord would have informed him that there was sin in the camp; and Joshua could have dealt with it. This would have saved the lives of thirty-six and spared Israel a humiliating defeat.
It’s impossible for us to enter into Joshua’s mind and fully understand his thinking. No doubt the impressive victory at Jericho had given Joshua and his army a great deal of self-confidenceand which led to presumption. Ai was a smaller city than Jericho, so hmuanly, victory seemed inevitable. But instead of seeking the mind of the Lord, Joshua accepted the counsel of his spies; and this led to defeat.
The spies said nothing about the Lord; their whole report focused on the army and their confidence that Israel would have victory. You don’t hear these men saying, “If the Lord will” (James 4:13-17). They were sure that the whole army wasn’t needed for the assault, but that wasn’t God’s strategy when He gave the orders for the second attack on Ai (Josh. 8:1). Since God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9), we’d better take time to seek His direction. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18, NKJV). What Israel needed was God to take over, not human wisdom.
Ai was in the hill country, about fifteen miles from Jericho; and one went up to Ai because it was situated 1,700 feet above sea level. The Jewish army marched confidently up the hill but soon came down again, fleeing for their lives and leaving thirty-six dead comrades behind them.
Moses had warned Israel that they couldn’t defeat their enemies unless the nation was obedient to the Lord. If they were following the Lord by faith, 1 Jewish soldier would chase 1,000, and 2 would put 10,000 to flight! (Deut. 32:30) Three Jewish soldiers could have defeated the whole city, if the nation had been pleasing to the Lord (Josh. 8:25). “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (Isa. 59:2).
The leader who had been magnified (6:27) was now mortified. If some of your best plans have ever been dashed to pieces, then you can identify with Joshua and his officers.
2. DEFEAT COMES BY FORGETTING TO SEEK GOD (JOSH. 7:6)
Background: The hearts of the Canaanites had melted when they had heard about the conquests of Israel (2:11). But now the tables were turned, and it was the Jews whose hearts were melted as water!
• Seek God’s Will: The general who had not known defeat spent the rest of the day prostrate before the ark at Gilgal and his leaders with him. They tore their garments, put dust on their heads, lay on the ground, and cried out to God. This was the prescribed course of action whenever the Jews turned to God in times of great danger or national sin (Neh. 9:1; Es. 4:1). Had Joshua humbled himself before the battle, the situation would have been different after the battle.
"My worth to God publicly is measured by what I really am in my private life. Is my primary goal in life to please Him and to be acceptable to Him, or is it something less, no matter how lofty it may sound?" Oswald Chambers