Life’s full of victories and failures. Many of the most influential people in the world have had many victories, and many more failures. People like Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, and Tomas Edison. Each of them had many set backs before they were able to achieve major victory, and even then, they still encountered failures.
One of those people that encountered victory that led to failure was George Foreman. Foreman was the heavy weight champion who lost the title to Muhammed Ali. But Foreman won the title back from Michael Moore. Yet even though Forman had victories in the ring, he lost victories outside of it. Mostly in the arena of finances, where in the 80’s he almost lost it all. But eventually through regaining the championship and through his George Forman Grill, he was able to achieve bigger victories than he could dream of. Foreman has also been an ordained minister for decades now, and even though he is rich, continues to share the Gospel with people.
That’s where we come to today, a place where defeats follow victories, and we have to ask the question, “What am I going to do now?” So if you have your Bibles, we’ll be in the book of Joshua starting in chapter 6. Now in the last couple of weeks of our study, we covered a chapter. Then a few weeks ago, we covered just three verses. Today, we’re going to cover three chapters.
The reason why we’re doing this is because, through these summer studies, our purpose is to focus on the big picture ideas that are in the book. There is a lot of details we can cover, but it’s the overarching connections that are in the book, that we are trying to understand.
And in order to understand the connection from our last week, we have to cover three chapters this week. So, we’ll be covering chapters 6, 7, 8 today; that means that I’m encouraging you this week to read all three chapters, because we’re only going to be hitting the highlights in them.
Now as we dive into chapters 6, 7 and 8 of the book of Joshua, we only need to catch up on the last couple of weeks that we’ve covered. A few weeks back we talked about how God had brought the nation of Israel across the Jordan and then required them to put themselves in a state of complete trust in God. God did this through having them circumsicied, which left the fighting men in a state of vulnerability.
In was while the men where in this state of vulnerability that we are introduced to a man who has the title of Commander of the Lord’s Armies. Now we took a whole Sunday morning to investigate who this was, and we came to the conclusion that this person is Jesus, before he took on human flesh. Now that is important, but for what we’re focusing on today, it’s his words that are even more important. When Joshua asks the man, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
The man replies, “No.” And we talked about how this answer of “no”, was meant to communicate to Joshua that he had the wrong idea of how God operates. See Joshua had it in his mind that God was fighting for them, but the reality is, God has his objectives, and it’s us who are either on board with them or not. It’s not that God gets onboard with our objectives and what we want, but rather we conform to his wants and will.
This concept of us being onboard with God’s will is very important, as we’ll see today. So let’s jump into the book of Joshua chapter 6 starting in verse 1.
1 Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.
2 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”
Let’s look at the situation that God is bringing the Israelites into. First, Jericho is a fortified city. There are two sets of walls, the inner wall which housed the main population of the city and a fresh water spring. Then there was an outer wall about three acres away from the inner wall, which housed sparse groups of people. The outer wall was twelve to fifteen feet tall and made out of stone. On top of this stone wall, was another wall made of mud brick, which rose up to about twenty-three feet high and was about six feet thick. In other words, this outer wall was about thirty-five foot tall, or roughly the equivalent to a three story building.
But not only were the walls ready for an assault, so were the people inside. If you’ve been walking with us through this whole study, you might remember a few little details that we didn’t focus on. The two important details were the fact that Rahab the prostitute hid the spies in flax, and the second was that the Israelites celebrated the Passover feast. These tell us that the harvest had been brought in. That means, the city was well stocked with food. Now combine a fresh water spring, a recent harvest, and fortified walls, and you get a situation where an Israelite siege of the city would last a really long time.
This is the situation that God has brought the Israelites to, and all he tells them to do is walk around the city with horns. Now there is a case to be made that this was physiological warfare, because the horns that they were blowing were signal horns for battle. But the reality is, no horn in and of itself or walking would break the walls down.
But this is where that trust that God was building into the Israelites comes in. They had trusted him as they walked through the Jordan River, they had trusted him when he asked them to be vulnerable, and now he was calling them to trust him by not laying siege to the city in the regular way, but rather to follow his command.
But before the walls would fall, Joshua had one more thing to tell the Israelites. Let’s drop down to verse 16 and see what Joshua had to say.
16 The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! 17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. 18 But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. 19 All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury.”
Now it’s here that a couple of things become important. One, we know from chapter 2 that Rehab’s house was built into the wall, yet she was to be saved. Well through archeological evidence we know that there was a part of the wall that some houses were built into that didn’t fall. But the second thing is more important, Joshua tells the people that everything in the city is devoted to the Lord. In other words, the nation of Israel wasn’t suppose to take anything for themselves. Instead, everything was suppose to be destroyed except for Rehab with her family and the silver, gold, bronze, and iron.
Which means, all the people and all the food supplies were to be destroyed. Now, destroying the people made sense in a war, you don’t want an uprising in the future, but usually an army would want to increase their food supplies. But God tells them to destroy everything. And Joshua gives them a reason for this. Verse 18 says, “Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it.”
That’s important because of what happens next. The people do as the Lord commands and walk around the walls of Jericho. On the seventh day of doing this, the walls fall and the nation of Israel conquers Jericho.
Now this is a great victory and the closing words of the chapter are, “27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.” Everything is going in Israel’s favor. But that’s when something bad happens. The next words at the beginning of chapter 7 says this, “But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things…”
This is where the Israelites focus on God begins to falter. Now, we’re told what happened. A man named Achan took a robe, some silver, and some gold for himself and hid it in his tent. But I want to read to you what happens before we find that out. Starting in verse 2 it says…
2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.
3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” 4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”
10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.
13 “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.
It’s after this that we find out what Achan did. But It wasn’t just Achan that messed up here. Sure he was the one that stole the devoted things which leads to the defeat of the Israelite army, but did you notice what Joshua did? Joshua sent in two spies to scout out the city of Ai, nothing out of the ordinary here, he did this with Jericho. The spies came back and told Joshua, it would be an easy win and all they would need is about 3,000 fighting men. So Joshua sends the men, but they’re defeated pretty quickly. That’s when Joshua goes to God and accuses him of bringing them to destruction.
Now here’s the thing, it was the sin of Achan that brought this defeat on to the nation. But my question is, where was Joshua inquiring of God on what to do before the battle? In every move Joshua has made up to this point, there proceeds a conversation with God, but this time there wasn’t. There were no instructions by God to Joshua. So even though the sin started with Achan, Joshua’s focus on God as the commander had already begun to falter. Joshua was leading the Israelites in his own power, rather than God’s and this made him blind to the sin that had crept into the nation.
What if instead Joshua went to God for instruction before the battle at Ai? I bet God would have told him about Achan and the destruction that he had brought to the nation. But Joshua didn’t and moved forward in his own power to defeat the next enemy.
Could it be that the victory of Jericho, though the odds were stacked against Israel, made Joshua forget who the real victor was? Could Joshua’s achievements as a leader, blinded him to the need to continually return to God for instruction?
I believe it was, because God told Joshua, “I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.” Though God had told Joshua many times that he would be with him, God would not be with Joshua as long as Joshua allowed sin to fester in the nation.
So Joshua seeks out the sin and kills Achan for his crime. Joshua’s action returns the nation back into a right relationship with God, and God gives them instructions to destroy Ai. Ai is then conquered and chapter 8 ends with Joshua building an alter to God, presenting sacrifices to him, and then reading aloud the Law of Moses. Joshua did this to bring the people into an understanding that they were God’s people, and they must follow him.
As we read through these three chapters it hits me that we can fall into the same trap as Joshua. There have been so many times in my life where God has brought a victory into my life, only for me to think that I can win the next battle on my own. Now that God has given me a victory, I can do the rest. Ever felt that way? It usually ends in disaster or me. My next attempt to overcome something ends with me failing spectacularly. Because my eyes have moved away from God who is the victor, to me, a mere follower of his. And when I lift myself up to the point of taking God’s place, that’s when I try to force a victory that isn’t mine to take.
But God wants us to instead constantly look to him for victory, realizing in our own strength we can’t accomplish the miracles that he does. The walls of Jericho would still be standing. The city of Ai would still be fighting. Without God, the victory cannot last, because it’s not a complete victory. And this turning of our eyes off God is so easily to do, that when we don’t win the victory we act like God hasn’t been doing his part, when in reality, it’s us that haven’t done ours.
My challenge for you this week is to ask yourself a simple question, “Am I trying to win victories without God?” It’s an easy thing to do, to try in our own strength to achieve what we want. But those are not complete victories without God who is the victor. When Joshua ask the Commander of the Lord’s Armies, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” and the Commander said “No”, it was a valuable lesson that we need to continually come back to. We are to live in victory as God wins it, not to try to force victory in our own strength.
Let us move forward always seeking God’s direction for the victories in our lives, and never allowing the thought of “I got this” to enter our hearts. So that we may be a people who follow God, and not ourselves, so that the world may know that our God will have the victory in all things. Amen.