Summary: After the defeat at Ai and Achan’s sin, God and the Israelites recommit to their covenant relationship.
Winning the Battle
War movies are a staple of our culture. There is always at least one playing at the theatre, often more than one. This past week I rented ¡§Black Hawk Down,¡¨ a true story of American soldiers in the Battle of Mogadishu trying to capture two Somalian warlords in 1993. Our culture is fascinated by stories of conflict and battle, a fascination that is not particularly new or unique to our culture. The Scripture passage we are going to look at today in Joshua 8 is a war story, complete with some brilliant military tactics and a lot of violence.
Last week we read in Joshua 7 that the Israelites suffered a humiliating loss at a small town called Ai, and that the reason for the loss was the sin of one man, Achan, who paid for that sin with his life. The Israelites went from a glorious victory over the city of Jericho to terrible defeat at tiny Ai, and then had to deal with the unpleasantness of sin in their midst. Chapter 7 ends with Achan being stoned.
But the city of Ai was still there, and the Israelites under Joshua still needed to carry on with the conquest of the promised land. That is where chapter 8 begins: (read 8:1-9)
The Instructions (8:1-9):
God¡¦s opening words to Joshua are incredibly important. In the last chapter we saw how God had removed His presence and promise from His people because of Achan¡¦s sin, and we heard Joshua¡¦s prayer that acknowledged that without God the Israelites were doomed. They did as God instructed, and dealt with the sin of Achan. Now what is God going to do?? Is He going to punish them some more? Are they going to be taken back into the desert again, is God just going to leave them to fend for themselves in a land of hostile enemies for a little bit? They offended God and felt His wrath, is God going to pout for a while and leave His people alone?
Notice how immediate God¡¦s turn-around is. The people repent and obey, God forgives, and boom ¡V back on track. ¡§I have given them into your hand¡K¡¨ Forgiven. Time to move on. This reminds me that it isn¡¦t God that stays distant after our sin, it is us. God is there, wanting to forgive and restore and bless ¡V it is us that pout for a little while, refusing to accept God¡¦s gracious forgiveness. I think we feel like we don¡¦t deserve it ¡V and we don¡¦t! ¡V but that doesn¡¦t matter. I think we feel like we have to punish ourselves for awhile, we have to wallow around feeling like we are bad bad bad¡K tuck the tail between the legs and hide in the corner for a bit. But that is never a picture I see in the Bible of God. The picture I see over and over is of a God who longs to forgive, who¡¦s entire mission for us is to restore our relationship. Adam and Eve hid; God sought them out and provided for them. Achan sinned; God told them how to deal with it and then forgave and got them back on track. The prodigal son rounded the corner at the end of the driveway and the Father ran to meet him, and threw a party to celebrate his return. That is God¡¦s response ¡V to forgive and restore and celebrate.
My friends, if you have sinned, and repented, then accept what God offers. What does He offer?? Forgiveness. Not in part, but complete. What else?? Restoration of a broken relationship. He wants us back; He doesn¡¦t want to forgive us and then watch us stay distant because we still feel the need to punish ourselves. If God is finished with it, we need to be finished with it also. There is one other thing God offers, and that is power to not sin the next time. It occurs to me that when we insist on punishing ourselves after God has forgiven us, we stay in a dangerous place of being vulnerable to sin again: we feel not worthy, bad about ourselves, unable to walk with God, and so the next time we are tempted it is easy to fall into it again. On the other hand, being restored in our relationship with God and walking with Him once again empowers us to face temptation and sin from a position of strength, from a position of affirming again that ¡§I am a child of God, I have died to sin and have the presence of the Holy Spirit of God to counter temptation.¡¨
So God forgives, and restores the Israelites into covenant relationship with Him. We see this restoration and the Israelites¡¦ recommitment to the covenant at the end of the chapter, which we will look at in a few moment. And then God lays out the battle plan for the capture of Ai. They are going to use a classic ambush strategy, the details of which Joshua describes to his men. He sends of the ambush party and then settles down for the night.