So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai. (Joshua 7:4)
In Joshua chapter 6, we read of a great victory that God wrought for His people, the Israelites. Obeying God’s orders, the people had crossed the Jordan River into Canaan to conquer the land that God had given them. Their first assignment was the heavily fortified city of Jericho.
God gave Joshua specific instructions for defeating Jericho. Although the instructions may have seemed unusual (see Joshua 6:3-5), neither Joshua nor the people questioned them; they simply obeyed. Because of their faith and obedience, God gave them victory that day.
However, God gave explicit instructions on what to do with the spoils of that battle: “And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD…And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. (6:17a, 18).” Such a strong word God used: accursed! You would think that such a scary word would have been enough to keep every person from touching those things. But…
“…the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan…took of the accursed thing…” (Joshua 7:1)
Achan thought he got away with his sin because no one saw him take the items, but we see from the end of Joshua 7:1 that “the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel.”
Coming off the excitement of their victory at Jericho, Israel felt very ready to face their next challenge: the city of Ai. Without consulting God for His opinion, Joshua took the advice of some of his men and only sent about 3,000 men to take the city. They were embarrassingly defeated. In fact, thirty-six of their men were killed before they fled from the men of Ai.
Israel was devastated.
“…wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.” (Joshua 7:5)
Joshua was confused.
And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord GOD, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? (Joshua 7:7)
We can certainly understand how they felt. God had promised to be with them and give them victory over their enemies. Why had He abandoned them now?
God’s answer was simple: “Israel hath sinned (v. 11).” Then, in verse 12, He explained that He could not bless them and give them the victory over Ai “because they were accursed.”
Israel failed because of sin in their camp.
Sometimes, God allows us to fail to reveal to us that we have unconfessed sin in our lives. God desires a close relationship with each of His children, but He will not tolerate sin. Sin puts a barrier between us and our holy God; it hinders our relationship with Him, especially in our prayer lives.
If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: (Psalm 66:18)
God will not even hear the prayers of those who are harboring sin in their hearts. The book of Proverbs 15:29 teaches that it is the prayers of the righteous that God hears. We can only be righteous before God through the forgiveness of sin in Christ Jesus. Forgiveness comes from confessing our sin to God.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Until Israel dealt with the sin of Achan, they were accursed before God; they had to bring it out into the open and purge it from their camp. God would not be with them or give them victory otherwise.
God, in His mercy, gave Achan the opportunity to come forward and confess his sin, yet Achan still chose to keep it a secret. In his stubbornness, he refused to repent, and he forced God’s hand. In front of the entire camp, God revealed Achan’s sin and sentenced Achan and his whole family to death.
It was a terrible and tragic moment for Israel, yet it was also a great opportunity for them to learn. When God gives us a command, He expects us to obey, and He will deal swiftly and surely with those who don’t. We have the choice to do right or wrong, but we do not get to choose the consequences if we choose the latter.
Surely, Israel had to perform a difficult task, but now they had accomplished it, and now God could bless them once again.
And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land: (Joshua 8:1)
Now God comes to Joshua with a message of hope: Israel can now go against Ai and defeat them, for God will be with them. God even gives them the battle plan (8:2-8). What is amazing about this plan is that God uses their earlier defeat to give them an advantage in the fight.
God’s plan was for the soldiers to go up to battle Ai just as before and pretend to be afraid and run from the men of Ai just as before to draw the men from the city. Then, while Ai was pursuing those soldiers, another 30,000 soldiers would be waiting behind the city to ambush it.
Not surprisingly, the plan worked. The men of Ai were fooled by Israel’s “retreat” and left the city unguarded to chase after them. The soldiers lying in wait then moved in, captured the city, and burned it with fire. The “fleeing” Israelites then turned around and fought against the now surrounded Ai, destroying everyone.
God wrought a great victory for Israel that day, but He never would have helped them had Israel not first repented of the sin of Achan. Once Israel had reconciled with God, He was more than willing to abundantly bless them.
Are you living in failure today, Christian? Do you find it difficult to gain victory in your Christian life? Maybe God is trying to use your failure to reveal sin in your life and to give you a chance to repent. Don’t stubbornly dwell in your sin as Achan did.
Romans 6:12 cautions us to not let sin reign in our bodies. We must confess and forsake our sins to obtain mercy from God.
He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)
May these words from Isaiah encourage us to stop living in failure and to seek the Lord:
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)
Perhaps your failure is because you’ve never received Christ as Saviour in the first place. If you would like more information about receiving Christ, please click here to learn more.
To read the full account of Joshua, Achan, and the failure/victory at Ai, please click here.