Joshua 7:5 - And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six of their men, and pursued them from the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent, so that the hearts of the people melted and became as water." Read all of Joshua 7 and 8.
"Defeat at Ai" is not a misprint! Ai was an ancient city located near Jericho. It was not as large and strong a city as Jericho, but it became very significant because it was there that Israel suffered a major defeat. Now that may not seem very important to us today, but we must remember that every defeat of God's people recorded in the Old Testament contains lessons for God's people today. (See Romans 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:11.) Is there such a thing as defeat in the life of a Christian? Yes, but it does not have to happen! The Bible tells us that we are involved in spiritual warfare and that Satan is doing everything that he can to defeat us. (See Ephesians 6:12 and 1 Peter 5:8.) The Scriptures also tell us that Satan is a very clever and subtle enemy and tries "every trick in the book" to cut us down. (See Ephesians 6:11 and 2 Corinthians 2:11; 11:14.) Doubts about our faith, discouragement in our ministry, depression concerning our circumstances, and despondency over our future are just a few of the "flaming missiles of the evil one" (Ephesians 6:16). Our enemy has a whole arsenal of weapons for spiritual attack against us. If he cannot tempt us to quit the battlefield (Satan is quite successful with this tactic!), his aim is to slash away at us with his weapons until we despair and fall defeated on the field of spiritual battle. Unfortunately, this takes place to one degree or another in the lives of many growing Christians. But again it must be stressed that defeat is not necessary. In fact, defeat should not be part of the normal Christian experience. Battles, yes; defeat, no! God has given us all the armor (Ephesians 6:13-18) and tactical strategy necessary to be continually successful and victorious in spiritual warfare. However, we must confess that much of the time we are careless and disobedient soldiers. Let's look at a few of the reasons for Israel's defeat at Ai and see how these apply to our spiritual battles today. The first reason is given to us in the first verse of chapter 7. Israel disobeyed the Lord. How? God had explicitly told His people (6:17-19) that when they conquered Jericho they were not to take any of the spoils of Jericho for themselves. But we read (7:1, 21) that a man named Achan stole some of the silver and gold which was to go into the treasury of the Lord and hid it under his tent. Achan probably reasoned that his little cut of the booty wouldn't be missed. Certainly such a small amount would not affect the treasury of the Lord or the welfare of the people. But God saw it differently! Achan's sin of disobedience was the primary reason for the defeat of all Israel at Ai. God emphasizes this fact in His Word by stating it twice--both before (7:1) and after the defeat (7:11). Think of it--one man's sin affected the whole camp of Israel! Not only did Achan's sin result in defeat at Ai, but God declared (7:12) that the whole nation could not move forward and that the whole nation would not have the Lord's help and presence unless the sin was judged. Remember, this is all because of one man's secret sin which started with a mere look. Check out verse 21 again and notice the snowballing effect. "...I saw ... I coveted ... I took ..." Little did Achan realize that his personal and private sin would affect all Israel. What about our secret sins? The name Achan means "troubler". Achan became a troubler for all Israel. Are you an Achan? Is the spiritual growth and progress of the group with whom you fellowship stifled because of your sin? Is the presence of the Lord and help from the Lord limited, or hindered, within the church or Bible study you attend because of your personal and private sins? These are heavy and maybe disturbing concepts, but they are Scriptural. God sees the fellowship as a whole. We cannot sin in a vacuum. We are not "islands unto ourselves". Like Achan, we don't begin to see the far-reaching effects and consequences of our selfish sins until it is too late. Achan's sin was not that he robbed Jericho or even his own people; he robbed God. Do we rob God? We can rob God by wasting time--because it is His time. The same could be said in reference to the abilities that God has given us, as well as our material possessions. All of our time, talent and treasure belongs to the treasury of the Lord. The idea that only a certain percentage is the Lord's and the rest is ours to use or abuse in any way we choose is foreign to the Scriptures. We are robbing God when we fritter away our time watching "nothing" on TV. We are guilty of robbing the treasury of the Lord whenever we use our natural talents or acquired skills (as well as our money) to do things which are not pleasing to the Lord. Sometimes the Lord's treasury is ripped off in the name of hobbies, or extracurricular activities, or "rest and relaxation"--when such good things are carried too far. God would teach us from Joshua 7 that such robbery is not only sinful, but it leads to spiritual defeat in our own lives and detrimental effects on the spiritual growth of our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Are we guilty of this sin? Are we defeated, and causing defeat in the lives of fellow believers, because we have robbed God of what rightfully belongs to Him? Another reason for Israel's defeat at Ai was overconfidence. We see in verse 3 that Israel was so self-confident that they figured only two or three thousand men were needed to conquer Ai. How wrong they were! We see from Joshua 8:25 that their estimate of the enemy's strength was much too low. Overconfidence will do this every time. Fear will make the enemy appear larger, but overconfidence will make the enemy appear smaller. Both extremes are wrong for the Christian warrior. We are not to cringe in fear before Satan and we are not to think we can fight him in our own strength. Our confidence must be in the Lord. "Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might" (Ephesians 6:10). We growing Christians are particularly vulnerable to the problem of overconfidence right after a spiritual victory. That's the way it was at Ai. Israel had just won a major victory at Jericho. They were still on a "spiritual high". How could little Ai possibly pose a threat when the mighty walls of Jericho had just been toppled? And yet defeat was just around the corner. Let us be careful that a "little problem" like impatience or silly talk or coarse joking (Ephesians 5:4) doesn't trip us up while we're celebrating our victories over the big Jerichos like materialism or bitterness or lust. Associated with Israel's over-confidence was another reason for defeat at Ai. There was no communication with the Lord. We do not read of Joshua and the elders of Israel coming to the Lord in prayer until after the defeat (7:6-9). No wonder the Lord told Joshua to get up off his knees (7:10). There was no need to ask God why Israel was defeated (7:7). God had clearly promised continuous victory to Israel if they would obey Him. (See Joshua 1:7-8.) Now was the time to judge the sin. Continual communication with the Lord is essential for growing Christians. Many casualties of spiritual warfare would be eliminated if we would fall to our knees before the battle--not after we've experienced defeat. Israel's sin had to be dealt with decisively. The fact that Achan's family was stoned and burned along with Achan (7:24) may seem like a rather harsh judgment, but it is probably a good indication that the family was also guilty. After all, it would have been pretty hard to bury the treasure inside the home tent (7:21) without the family being "in on it". In any case, the lesson for us is pointed. We must deal ruthlessly with that which brings defeat in our lives--before it brings further defeat! Is materialism bringing defeat in your Christian life? Then give away your material! Do you have a problem with unhealthy literature or art? Then don't buy or read or scan or browse or "peek at" unhealthy paperbacks or magazines. This is what our Lord meant in Matthew 18:8-9. As Israel passed in review before the Lord (7:13-18), so we should examine ourselves in His presence and let His Word point out those "troublers" in our lives that are causing defeat. (See Psalm 139:23-24; Hebrews 4:12.) Then there must be confession of the sin (7:20). But confession is not enough. The root cause of the defeat must be removed before full fellowship with the Lord can be restored (7:26). In Joshua 8 we see that when we return to the Lord, even our defeats at Ai can be changed into victories. Such is the grace of God to growing Christians.