Summary: The factors that contributed to Israel’s defeat at Ai are the same which contribute to the defeat of God’s people today.
The people of Israel had just experienced a miraculous victory over the city of Jericho. The next city for them to conquer was the city of Ai. The forces of Ai were much smaller than were the forces of Jericho, but much to the surprise of the army of Israel, rather than defeating the army of Ai, they were defeated by them!
The defeat that the Israelites experienced at the hands of Ai is a good example of what Paul warned the believer against in I Corinthians 10:12 (NIV), “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” The people of Israel thought that they were standing firm, but instead, they fell into defeat. You or I can make the same mistake if we are not careful.
As we study this passage, we discover that there were certain things that contributed to the defeat of God’s people then, and if we are not careful, they will lead to the defeat of God’s people today. How does the Christian fall into defeat?
1. By Being Disobedient – vs. 1; 13
God had told the people to totally destroy everything within the city of Jericho. They were not to take any plunder from the city at all. But as we read here, one man by the name of Achan disobeyed God’s instructions. As a result, not only did his life fall into disaster, but because of him, the entire nation experienced defeat.
When we disobey the Lord, we cannot hope to experience victory, for we are ignoring the very instructions that are designed to give us victory!
Most of us have heard of Knute Rockne, the famous winning football coach of years ago for the University of Notre Dame. It is said that when Rockne gathered his team together each year for the first time, he would deliver the following speech: “You fellows must do what you’re told if you wish to play on my team. If you are not willing, you need not begin. I care not what your record has been, you must observe the rules or you are disqualified. Should I find you violating the rules in one single instance, I will put you on the bench. Remember this, I can see farther ahead than you, and there is good reason for my insistence.”
Just as Knute Rockne told his players that they should obey him because he could see farther ahead than they could, even so, God wants us to obey Him because He knows more than we do; and just as Rockne benched those players who refused to obey his instructions, God will “bench” us when we disobey Him!
Yes, a Christian falls into defeat by being disobedient!
But as we continue to study this passage we find that disobedience isn’t the only factor that can cause us to fall into defeat. A Christian will also fall into defeat...
2. By Being Self-sufficient - vs. 2-3
We cannot help but notice that there was a certain attitude of self-sufficiency on the part of Israel as they approached Ai. Against mighty Jericho they knew that they needed the help of God, but against little Ai they thought they could handle things themselves. They found out the hard way, however, the truth of what Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing!” - John 15:5 (NIV).
Sometimes, if we are not careful, we too can make the mistake of thinking a problem is small enough to handle on our own without God’s help; or of deceiving ourselves into thinking that the victories of the past were all won by our effort alone. Somehow or another, the people of Israel had forgotten that the victory they had won over Jericho was by the power of God, not the might of men.
The actor Kirk Douglas told a story of how he angered John Wayne when he chose to play the part of Vincent Van Gough in the movie, “Lust for Life.” Douglas recalled, “I remember we were at a party, and Wayne motioned for me to come out on the back porch. ‘Why are you playing a weak, sniffling guy?’ he said. He was really furious with me. It was like I was not being true to my people. I said, ‘Duke, we’re actors. We just create the illusion of these big macho guys. You know John, you really didn’t win all those wars.’ But we obviously didn’t see eye-to-eye. He actually thought he was JOHN WAYNE!”
Now friends, just as John Wayne could not have been the hero he has become in the eyes of so many people without the movie industry, you and I cannot hope to be victorious over the difficulties of our lives without God.
When we become self-sufficient, we are going to fall into defeat, because without the Lord, we can do nothing!