Summary: Do you ever feel like you are damaged goods and God can’t use you because of your sin and weakness? That may actually be a sly plot of the devil, but God is great about turning your mistakes in His victory as He did for Joshua.
If you are Joshua, what do you do? Here you’ve come out of the starting gate, primed by God’s miracle in the river crossing, pumped by God’s miraculous defeat at Jericho-then your bubble is popped big time by the fact that you showed some arrogance in thinking you were invincible. Sin entered into the camp and you got trounced when you went up against your second city! Not much of a track record: 1 win, 1 loss.
So what now? Do you give up? Was Jericho an anomaly? Were you a fool to trust God enough to go on a one way ticket to Canaan with only a promise of victory? Perhaps it’s just you. Maybe Joshua is thinking that he is just too weak of a ruler to make this work; that he is actually messing up God’s plan so he should just give up and get out of the way.
I think that’s the tendency we all face when we step out to live a victorious life in Christ. We see initial successes and miracles even. We feel the rush of what it’s like to work side by side with the Lord-seeing the world go tumbling down. Then we face the awful defeat of sin and temptation-weakening us not from without, but from within. The enemy then strikes-shouting or whispering in our ear: "what were you thinking? You are simply too weak to serve God; you are damaged goods-give up!"
So do we? Did Joshua? No way. In fact, not only did Joshua keep stepping forward, but God actually used Joshua’s mistakes to set the stage for victory. And God can do the same thing for us. Let’s see how He does it in Ai-The Sequel.
Now it’s the Canaanites turn to show arrogance. The king of Ai rushes headlong into defeat, now that Israel has 1) dealt with their sin and 2) sought the Lord.
God uses us despite our mistakes. The enemy wants us to doubt that God can use us when we fail. He wants us to quake with fear. God wants us to acknowledge our mistakes, ask for forgiveness, seek His healing and transformation and THEN GET ON WITH SERVING HIM!
We don’t even need to fear failure when God is on our side. Who is bigger, our ability to fail, or God’s ability to prevail?
Now comes the promise of God-something Joshua should have sought God for after Jericho. Before Joshua took it for himself that Ai was theirs. Now God says it is so.
God changes things up. This time the spoils of the city were to be used to feed Israel. This is the same way God worked for the rest of the campaign.
God gave Joshua the general idea, but left it up to his military strategy to accomplish. God will often give us general direction and then use our gifts and talents to bring it about. We don’t need to be paralyzed with every detail coming from the Spirit, unless the situation calls for it.
For Joshua, God says "lay an ambush behind the city." Once Joshua knows the direction of the plan, he can take it from there. So let’s read through the battle then we’ll come back and talk about a few things.
Verse 3 - 30
A couple of things about this battle.
Verses 4 - 6: Joshua actually uses the results of his past mistake to turn it into victory. An ambush signals subterfuge. So Joshua is thinking: "how can I fool the people of Ai?" It comes to him that if they pretend to come against the city as before that the proud Aites(?) will underestimate Israel and overestimate their ability to defend their city. Joshua learned from his mistake to always seek God and obey God before going into battle, but God actually used Joshua’s error in the battle plan here.
Has God ever used a mistake in your life to bring about His victory? God does it again and again. Here’s just one story. David, King of Israel, makes a huge blunder when he decides to figure our Israel’s strength when God hasn’t told him to do it. He does a military census and God calls him on the carpet. It was a huge mistake and David gets a choice of punishments. You know the story, in 2 Samuel 24. David chooses a plague brought by the Lord. The Angel of the Lord slays people all the way to Jerusalem. David rushes out and offers himself instead of the people. The Angel stops the killing and Gad tells David to build an altar on that spot which he buys from Araunah. That spot ends up being the site of the Temple of God.
Sometimes we feel like we have to go all the way back to the beginning and repeat all our steps again or God can’t use us. But He’ll take us right from where we goofed and bring us into His will and His plan. He’s pretty amazing!