But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel. And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east side of Bethel, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men went up and viewed Ai. And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few. So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai. And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water. And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads. 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? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan! O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt thou do unto thy great name? And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you. Joshua 7:1-12.

Part I

The Unseen Army
Joshua, Chapter 7, begins with an ominous, "BUT". Let's refer back to the verse just before it and see why: So the Lord was with Joshua; and his fame was noised throughout all the country. Joshua 6:27. Chapter 7 then starts, BUT.... Something was about to change with Joshua.

Up to this point, the people of God had been completely victorious. God had miraculously backed up the river and they had crossed Jordan. Joshua then learned the first lesson that he needed to learn, and it is still the first lesson which every Christian needs to learn, moreso now than ever before.

Canaan is a type of full salvation. God promised the fleshly descendants of Abraham a land, in completeness from river to river, but they had to go in, and step by step, drive out those things which hindered them from possessing the land. Likewise, God has blessed us: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Ephesians 1:3. Yes, with spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus. God has ordained that every one of us enjoy Christ in His completeness and fullness, but we face things in our lives and in our daily living which must be driven out by the grace of God and by the power of God's Spirit. God wants us to enjoy a full, victorious life.

It was God's plan for Israel to easily overcome every enemy they faced, and at Gilgal, as soon as they set foot in Canaan, Joshua learned a great lesson. He was leading a great people. God had promised him, ...as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. Joshua 1:5, 7. The first enemy Joshua was to take was Jericho, a walled city with high walls and wide walls, a condition which appeared impossible.

Joshua 5:13-14 tells us that while he was standing there, ...he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come... The angel of the Lord was telling Joshua (in so many words), "God knows that you cannot conquer Canaan, but the host of the Lord can. I am the Captain of an unseen army, and I will do the fighting; you just do the marching." That is exactly what he meant.

At another time in history, Syria was trying to rule Israel, and every time they would get ready to attack, God would tell Elisha. He (Elisha), in turn, would tell the King of Israel. Now the King of Syria became troubled and thought he had a spy in his camp:

Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not shew me which of us is for the king of Israel? And one of his servants said, None, my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber. And he said, Go and spy where he is, that I may send and fetch him. And it was told him, saying, Behold, he is in Dothan. Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about. And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. II Kings 6:11-17.

Elisha's servant couldn't see that unseen army until Elisha asked the Lord to open his eyes and allow him to see the "great host". Did you catch it there when Elisha said, "For they that be with us are more than they that be with them." Let me tell you, God has an unseen army which is going to do the fighting. Too many today knock themselves out of the race by trying to fight their own battles.

Failure Is NOT Necessary
The Apostle Paul tells us to Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Ephesians 6:11. Then he lets us know what we will be fighting against: ...not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12. Yet nowhere in there does he tell us to fight! So what are we supposed to do once we have garbed ourselves in the whole armour of God? Verses 13 and 14 of that same chapter tells us specifically: Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore... It said what? S-T-A-N-D. And verse 18 of that same chapter tells us what to do while we're standing: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.

That's right: STAND. When you have done your all, then stand and watch the Lord fight for you! You may have to be in the battle, but you don't have to fight. Oh yes, you will feel the heat of the battle, you will hear the clanging of the swords, you will hear the spears hitting the shields, but Thank God! you don't have to pick up a hand. ...Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord... Exodus 14:13. Oh, how we need to learn this lesson--we do NOT have to fight our own battles!

The Lord appears to every new convert as Captain of the host of the Lord. He is the Captain of our Salvation: For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. Hebrews 2:10. It is a blessed thing to know. This is why we don't have to be disturbed when we hear people say that we cannot live free from sin. They are not throwing off on us--they are throwing off on the Captain of the host of the Lord. Nowhere does the Word of God say that I can keep myself, but over and over and over, it promises that He will keep me.

When Joshua heard the words of the Captain of the Lord's host, he fell on his face and worshipped and said, ...What saith my lord unto his servant? And the captain of the Lord's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so. Joshua 5:14, 15. When you get in that position before God, you are getting in good shape to be a winner. Yes, you are.

The story for Joshua had been one of complete success, miracle after miracle. When we break into the seventh chapter (our text), however, it begins with a black mark (thus the "BUT"). Here, we find the children of Israel in full retreat, instead of shouting, rejoicing and going forward. Joshua and the elders are on their faces and putting dust on their heads. Why was Joshua so upset and discouraged??? Why he had counted on unbroken victory in the land. His hopes were built up in the string of unbroken victories with no failures. Now, they were running from people, a small group of people.

Now I want to say this much about unbroken victory: that is certainly God's plan. If God had His way completely, that is what you would have--unbroken victory. Defeat occurred in Canaan, but it did not need to. Failure can occur in our lives, but it does not need to. I might add to that for the benefit of new Christians: do not get too excited if it does, but do not not let that affect your picture of God's purpose for you. A life of unbroken victory over sin in the purpose of God for every born-again believer.

God does not make it impossible for His children to sin, but He does make it possible for them not to. Now read that one more time, slowly, and let it sink in, please: God does not make it impossible for His children to sin, but He does make it possible for them not to. Defeat may happen in the Christian life, but it does not need to. God's purpose was for Israel to go into Canaan, take every city and drive out every enemy, but they had failure. If defeat and failure does happen in our Christian experience, it is essential for us to discover the reason or reasons why we fail. If we will HONESTLY and SINCERELY deal with the reasons we fail, we will NOT fail again on those lines!

The Peril of Self-Confidence
I want to deal with three reasons why there was failure at Ai. As we deal with them, we pray that God will be able to expose some of the reasons people fail in the Christian life today. When God had purposed complete victory, the first reason for failure was self-confidence. A great percentage of people fail in their Christian experience because of self-confidence. The spirit of HUMANISM will affect us just the same as it did the Israelites.

Notice that Joshua sent men from Jericho, a place of great victory, to Ai, a very small city. They soon came to the conclusion that it was not necessary to put forth great effort. This argument was built upon the supposition that Israel had captured Jericho. Right there is the peril of our victory: when we build up ourselves in our own eyes--called "SELF-confidence". The truth of the matter is, all they had done was walk around the great city of Jericho: GOD took the city! The very silent ruins of Jericho were a testimony, NOT to the strength of the people of God, but to the power of God Almighty!

If you have had any victory in the past, YOU did not gain it: God gained the victory for you. Self-confidence is a dangerous thing. It can easily be built up in any of us. I have to pray against it, and sometimes I have to fast. God will give you a great victory, and self (which all of us will have until our bodies are redeemed) will begin to throw his (her) shoulders back and say, "Wow, we went some there, didn't we?" Then, faced with any small, insignificant task that any newborn Christian could easily do, we fall on our face. Why? Old self-confidence was allowed to build up.

If you ever had any victory, give God the glory for it! If you ever did any work for God which amounted to anything, it was not you, but God. If He could not have gotten you to do the job, He could have used a mule or maybe better.

Daily Strength
The Israelites were deceived in feeling that some quality of greatness and strength was imparted to them which would stand them in good stead through all their future campaigns. The truth of the matter is, however, we have to get our strength daily. In II Corinthians 4:16, Paul said ...though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. The inward man must be renewed through prayer and communion with God's Word, day by day. You must have your strength renewed. You cannot run today's race on yesterday's strength, no matter how powerful you perceive yourself to be.

There is no experience in Christian living so full of danger as a great flush of victory! More people backslide right after a great revival because they think they can live on the great victory they just gained. They fail to realize that tomorrow is a new day. Lamentations 3:22,23 tells us It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. You cannot carry yesterday's manna over for today. No moment is so perilous as when we have experienced great deliverance or victory.

There are those who will say, "If you are a Christian, pride is gone." No! No! No! There is a pride which remains there: that which causes me to comb my hair, wash my face, take a bath, etc. There is a pride that makes me proud to know the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and want to let all those around me know about Him, too. That type of pride is a God-given virtue. However, the same pride, if allowed to, can react in the wrong way and assert itself in the wrong way. Unless we stay humble at the feet of God, and in daily communion with Him, it is easy to take pride in ourselves and boast of our own arm for past great victories. By resting on them, sometimes referred to as "resting on our laurels", we may be misled into thinking we have the strength for the battles of today. This is utterly contradictory to divine truth!

When we are apart from (away from) the Grace of God and the blood of Jesus Christ, the smallest temptation is too powerful for us. That is the lesson, teaching us that no matter how greatly God has moved and taken us through trial and tempation, that small trial we next face may knock us out, unless we have the same God on the job.

Just as in Joshua's case, God sometimes lifts a cup of failure to our lips. That is a bitter one to drink--the cup of failure. It was necessary in Joshua's life that he drink from the cup of failure. It was not God's purpose, but it became necessary because he had to learn a lesson. God still chastens everyone whom He loves. We have to daily look to the Lord, without whom we are nothing.

The Peril of Neglecting Prayer
The first reason for failure was self-confidence; the second reason was neglect of prayer. Notice something: Joshua did NOT pray about Ai. On his own, he sent men up to Ai. He did NOT pray about it, at least not FIRST. He was certainly on his face afterwards, wasn't he? If he had prayed before he made the decision about Ai, there would not have been a failure. God would not have said that Ai was a little thing. He would have said that Ai takes just as much of the power of God as did Jericho. It takes just as great an effort over little things as it does the big things. That is noteworthy, let's repeat it: It takes just as great an effort over little things as it does the big things. Yet, this is ALWAYS where we get into trouble: we think we can handle the little things and call on God for the big ones. There is no scriptural basis for that way of thinking. The Bible tells us that it is the LITTLE foxes that spoil the vine (Song of Solomon 2:15).

The Lord had already told Joshua that the ONLY way he was going to win was for him to call in the Captain of the host of the Lord. Evidently, Joshua thought Israel could do it, and not even all of Israel, but just a few. Evidently, Joshua was saving the "big stuff" for God. God doesn't want that: He wants to be Lord of ALL that is in our lives. And remember, Ai was not nearly so large a city as Jericho was--and that was how Joshua got into trouble.

That same spirit of "humanism" is alive and well today. While we might not rise up and say, "There is no God; I do not need God," it is that spirit of humanism that causes us to divide up the things in our lives: this is little, I can handle it, that is large, God has to handle it. This, this, this, little, little, little; that, that, large, large. God of the mountain is God of the valley. God in the daytime is God in the dark. The God is over both large and small in our lives and we need to remember it. We think, "I had a good day Sunday, so I am going to coast on Monday. I got so much out of Sunday, I don't need to pray Monday. I do not see anything so big I can't handle it." Watch out!

If I have that attitude of "I can handle it", what am I doing? By my actions and my attitude, I am saying, "I do not need God today. I can take care of it myself." Too many think preachers should quit preaching that people need to have a steady, daily, prayer life. No, No! My friends, we NEED to pray, E-V-E-R-Y day. We need strength: without communion with God, we will surely fail.

Joshua 7:2 makes it very clear that Joshua failed to wait on God. He did not bother to go back up to Gilgal, where he had a good talk with the Lord, where he received instructions for Jericho. We need to go back to our own Gilgals and receive some instructions from the Lord. Joshua did not get on his face and take his shoes off before the Lord [before he sent the small army to Ai]. If we would spend more time on our faces before the Lord in prayer prior to taking those "little things" that we think we can handle, we would have to spend less time afterwards in that position!

Joshua got up that morning and told the men, "Go up and view the country." And they did. But then that spirit of humanism took over and they reported back to him, "Ai is a small place. No need for us to take very many with us--we can take them easily." The poor, deceived men, just like so many today. My friends, when the leaders get off track, the people follow. If we could only get the leaders straightened out, we could get the people straightened out, too!

Then what is the very next picture we see with the children of Israel? Why they were running for their very lives, fleeing from Ai. Even so, thirty-six were killed. And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads. Joshua 7:6. Had Joshua "fell to the earth upon his face" before he sent the 3,000 to Ai, he wouldn't have had to do so in sorrow afterwards.

 


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