Summary: The battle of Jericho was successful but sin kept the battle of Ai from being a victory.
When it comes to contests of any sort, we like to be on the winning side. If we’re on a ball team or if we have favorite ball team, we don’t like for them to be defeated. But defeats will come from time to time. And I think it’s a great coach who can gather his team around him after a defeat and say, "Listen guys, we didn’t win this one. But we learned something today. And we can take that knowledge and put it to use next time to make us a better team."
This morning we want to take a look at two contests -- not sports contests, but battles. One of them took place in Jericho, and the other one took place in Ai. The first battle ended in victory, while the second battle ended in defeat. But I think there are important lessons to be learned from both of them. And I think that if we’re wise, we can take that knowledge to heart and put it to use in our own lives to bring us a little closer to God.
I. The Battle That Ended in Victory
There’s not an awful lot about the battle of Jericho written in the scriptures. I realize that if CNN had been present, they probably could have given it "round the clock" coverage with Peter Arnette right on the scene. But the Bible describes the battle with just a few verses.
And it seems that there’s a more important issue at stake than how the battle was fought. It’s the question, "Who fought the battle of Jericho?" Joshua was the leader of the Israelites at this time. He was a great military leader. But the emphasis here is not on Joshua. It’s on God.
"And the Lord said to Joshua: ’See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor." (Joshua 6:2). Notice what God says here. Not, "I will give it into your hand", but "I have given it." It was as certain as if it was already in his possession.
Prior to this battle, Joshua sent two spies into the city of Jericho. But the job of those two spies was not to go in and figure out a strategy. They weren’t to come back and say, "You know, I think if we march around this thing a few times and blow our horns, that just might work." No, their job was to say, "We looked it over and we believe that God can do it."
Now the Lord gives the plan. "You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go around the city once. This you shall do six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. Then it shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the rams’ horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him.’" (Joshua 6:3-5).
So, in verse 6, Joshua starts that process. But the strategy is not one you’d learn at West Point. It’s not one you read about in "Famous Battle Plans". It’s not one you’d find suggested by Napoleon or Schwartzkoff or anyone in between.
God’s instructions did not involve any trenches to be dug, no batteries to be erected, no battering rams to be drawn up, nor any military preparations made at all. They were simply to march around the walls once a day for six days and seven times on the seventh day, all the while blowing trumpets. Then they were to shout and the walls would collapse which would not only expose the inhabitants but shock them so much that they wouldn’t be able to offer any resistance.
That seems rather unusual. But let me suggest a couple of reasons why I believe God chose to do things that way. First of all, it was to magnify his power, so there would be no doubt that it was God who gave them the victory. Compare this with some battles of our own time; for example, Desert Storm. Ask a military leader why we won Desert Storm and be prepared for an earful. "It was because our men were trained so well. We were able to establish supremacy in the sky by the superior planes we fly and the superior training of our men. We were able to launch smart bombs that could see their way down smokestacks. We had battleships off the coast that bombarded the coast with thousands of tons of explosives. That’s how we did it."