Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Victory at Jericho, Defeat at Ai

Most people know the story of Jericho. The sending of the spies. The marching around the walls. The seventh day, the battle cry, and the thunderous sound of crumbling stone as the fortified city turned to rubble before the Israelites’ eyes.

But not as many people know the story of Ai. It happened quite differently.

Of course, it started out in much the same way as the battle of Jericho. Just like before, Joshua sent spies to scope out the city’s strengths and weaknesses. They came back with a favorable report. The people went out to battle.

But something went terribly wrong this time.

There was no crashing down of walls or decisive victory.

There was defeat. Loss. Fear.

Boy, were the Israelites ever surprised!

Of course, as with every defeat, there’s a cause. At the beginning of Joshua chapter 7, we get to read the reason for the defeat before it even happens. “But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things, Achan … took some of them. So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel.”

What? How could one man’s sin be the cause of an entire nation’s defeat? Why should thirty-six men have to die because one man gave in to greed?

Heyyyy, back up. It wasn’t just Achan’s fault. That verse said that the Israelites acted unfaithfully. Not just Achan. 

I believe there were definitive causes for Israel’s defeat. And it wasn’t all Achan’s fault (though I definitely wouldn’t defend what he did)! It boils down to two things: Pride, and unrecognized sin.


Unfortunately, even Joshua, the fearless leader, succumbed to this dangerous disease.

And who can blame him? You see, when the spies came back from scoping out the city, they told their leader, Joshua, “Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.”

Woah … sounding pretty confident, there! Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d probably feel pretty confident too, after just having marched around a city and watching it just fall over!
But Israel became far too confident, and in so doing, they made a deadly error. Remembering the victory at Jericho, they said, “Hey, this city is a little tiny thing—a piece of cake in comparison to that fortress we just demolished! Let’s just take a couple boys up there and take ‘em out!”

Joshua listened to this encouraging human counsel, which is not a bad thing to do … unless, of course, it’s the only counsel you seek. Throughout the first six chapters, Joshua relied on God fully. In fact, chapter six ends by saying that “the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.” God was making Joshua famous!

But this time, Joshua and his men didn’t seek the Lord. They made the mistake of relying, not on God’s power, but on the momentum of their big wins. They probably thought, “Man, this is a cakewalk. We can totally handle it!”

But they couldn’t. They couldn’t handle it alone, because this time, God wasn’t with them. Why? Because they had some sin among them. And sin always separates us from God.

Unrecognized Sin

When you stub your little toe, it affects your whole body! It hurts! It’s hard to focus on anything else but that pain. When you eat tainted meat, your whole body gets sick. You can’t separate your digestive tract from your overall being and say, “Oh, it’s just a small area of me that’s sick. I’m really ok.”

When you have sin in one area of your life, it will cause defeat. When you dishonor God in one thing, he won’t bless everything else you’re doing and ignore that “tiny” area. Sin, left unchecked, ravages the entire person and makes him or her unfit for service to God. Sin leads to utter defeat.

Maybe you don’t recognize that sin—you don’t even know it’s there. Israel sure didn’t. But if they had inquired of God before going out to battle, they would have known, at the very least, that his good pleasure was not with them.

In Psalm 19, David said “Who can discern his [own] errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” David asked forgiveness for the sins he didn’t even know he had committed. That’s certainly not something you hear every day. But it’s something we should practice every day. God’s Spirit searches our hearts. He’s the one who convicts us of sin. If we want to know if we’re doing something wrong, He is the one we need to seek.

So how do we avoid surprise defeats like Ai in our lives?

The next time you’re about to go out to do battle (or going to get milk at the corner store), Stop. If you’re thinking, “I don’t need help; I can handle this!” …you might be in for a surprise defeat.

First, ask God to be with you. Rely on him fully—even in the littlest things in your life.

But more than that, ask him to reveal anything in your life that could separate you from Him and lead to disaster. A good place to start is David’s prayer in Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

And that’s how to win at life.

Oh, I almost forgot! You can read the whole story in the Bible--Joshua chapters 2-8. And there's a surprise at the end...Joshua and friends make another attempt at capturing Ai, THIS time, with God on their side!


  1. Good, concise thoughts! Easy to follow, and you make a clear, Biblical case for your post. Love it. ;)

  2. I have always loved this story. It is so easy to do the exact same thing in our own lives. Only by putting our full trust in God can we achieve true victory. Thanks for the incites!