Sermons from Lone Rock Bible Church
Stevensville, MT
November 2, 2003

 When God’s People Lose
Joshua 7:1-9

Being defeated in the kingdom of God is much more serious than losing a ball game. It’s a wake-up call to the fact that something is very wrong on a deeper level. The children of Israel were taught that lesson at a little place called Ai, where they learned a thing or two about sin, in particular that it:

1. Involves more than one (7:1)
2. Ignores normal calculations (7:2)
3. Includes presumption (7:3)
4. Identifies winners and losers (7:4)
5. Inflicts pain, loss, discouragement and fear (7:5)
6. Ignites our spiritual passion (7:6)
7. Infects our judgment and perspective (7:7)

8. Invites a wrong view of God (7:8-9)

If we were among the children of Israel, having just witnessed the collapse of the walls of Jericho and the utter destruction of that civilization, that little city-state, we would have been the most surprised of all at what would await us up the hill at Ai. It would have astounded us.

You’ve read Joshua 7. This, by the way, is not the episode they write songs about because fresh from an overwhelming victory in Jericho, God’s people were whipped at Ai. They were shamefully defeated. We’re going to discuss those first nine verses of Joshua 7.

Some of you will remember film footage from years ago that introduced ABC’s Wide World of Sports where the contrast was graphically struck between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. In my mind’s eye, I can still vividly see that poor unnamed individual who evidently caught an edge just at the lip of a competitive ski jump and went off kind of sideways, one of those deals where he crashed and took out a bunch of markers and then was up and you think for just a split second . . . then down again. The agony of defeat, as whoever that was went tumbling in a certain amount of disgrace I would guess.

In terms of normal competition, and in our culture, it’s everywhere, being defeated or being whipped on could be attributed to a number of factors. We can lose a ball game simply by having an off day. We can be outnumbered and lose a contest, or overwhelmed, or outmaneuvered, or out-thought, out-schemed. We can lose by being cocky, being favored to win and then entering a contest unprepared. We can be out of shape, we can be careless, we can be a lot of things. We can lose the game, there’s always a loser and there’s always a winner and very, very few people can even remember who won the last two or three Super Bowls because that kind of thing doesn’t necessarily stick with us for life.

It’s not so at Ai. In this case, we’re not playing a ball game. It’s not so when God has clearly spoken, when God has guaranteed He would do His part, when God has provided a mandate, and when God has issued the marching orders. If after all of that we are defeated, there’s much deeper and much more serious reason as the children of Israel found out in this episode long ago.

We need a little bit of background. Let’s picture the Jordan River valley. Not too far north of the Dead Sea sat this little town of Jericho, the fortress. The next strategic obstacle facing God’s people in their divide and conquer strategy was to march up onto the ridge route, the hills of Ephraim, and then conquer south and then conquer north. It’s fairly standard military strategy.

Standing at the crossroads though, that north southeast west route was this little town of Ai. Not much of a place, but had to be dealt with before they could move either north or south from the middle of the country. It had geographic, strategic significance and by the way, just thinking in terms of the amount of effort that would go into something like this, probably depending on which way the road would wind, 10 to 15 road miles would separate Jericho from Ai, probably 3700 feet of elevation, however.

So picture a strenuous climb from the valley to the top. Jericho is about 850 feet below sea level and Ai is about 2700 feet above. So it’s a considerable climb, but geographically, strategically, is secondary to what has to be on the minds of God’s people regarding the theological position that they’re in.

Ai was no insignificant place. I’m going to read a couple passages, one from Genesis 12 and the other from Genesis 13, just to set the background for what’s about to happen. Because what’s about to happen is a tragedy of the first order, not just because the Israelites got beat, but because of the way it should have gone.

 Genesis 12:6-8

6 Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land.
7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.
8 Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.

This place now has spiritual significance. We have a pile of stones, an alter signifying a promise of God that He has guaranteed, “this belongs to your people. I will give it to you.”

Genesis 13:3 says, Abram “went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai.” God then speaks to him. By the way, this is where Abraham and Lot had a falling out, and Abram says there’s not enough space for you and me and all of our stuff, so you choose. Lot looked to the east and looked down on the Jordan and he saw the green and he saw the water and he saw the vegetation and said, “I’ll go there.” Abram said, “Fine.”

Genesis 13:14

The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him. “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are,” (They’re standing right near Ai.) “northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever.”

Strategically, militarily, geographically, but so important -- theologically you might say, they should never, ever have lost at Ai.

Back to Joshua. We know why they lost. We’re going to survey these verses and we’re going to see what happens when sin is in the camp, what we might call the disastrous influence of sin as it affects the institutions, even those God has set up.

When God’s people go down in shame, in any arena -- personally, domestically, in the home, in the family, in the business, socially, relationally -- whenever God has set something up and provided the instruction and the resources and the accountability, and God’s people still bite the dust, the problem is not with God. The problem is with God’s people and the problem is sin.

We’re not talking about disasters that come in life. We’re not talking about the trials and the tests that come our way. We’re talking about times when the problem is us.

Let’s look at these verses. We’re going to talk about these various principles, how sin weighs in on the defeat of God’s people.

 1. Sin involves more than me (7:1)

Achan stole things that were God’s, hid them in his tent. He thought perhaps that this was a personal issue. No big deal. Just me and maybe one or two others.

 1 But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the LORD burned against the sons of Israel.

 They did wrong. His anger is with them. Something seems to be wrong with the picture. Achan stole. Why is it that God would be upset with everybody? There are a couple ways of looking at that, that I would suggest. One is that Achan probably was not the only one who knew. We’ll talk more specifically about Achan’s theft in a week or two. I don’t know how you could pack all that home, dig a hole in your tent floor, and bury it with no one else knowing about it. It’s very difficult to imagine in a community this crowded.

In all likelihood others knew. His family knew. But no big deal, that’s Achan’s problem. Let him speak for himself. We just won’t worry about it; we just won’t deal with it. That’s one side of it. Maybe that’s the side that’s a little easier for us to lay hold of; but there’s another side that goes like this: When God ordains an institution and He has ordained several -- marriage and family, the church, national government -- Scripture bears these out. It seems according to Scripture, when God ordains an institution, part of belonging to that institution goes with it corporate liability. What affects one affects all.

In our culture that’s difficult to grasp. We are the nation of rugged individualists, but in God’s economy it’s not that way. He much more readily identifies the individual with the group. For instance, an individual’s behavior in the home affects the whole home, the whole family, or his church or his society or his business.

Paul addresses the Corinthian church in the New Testament in I Corinthians 5 because there were some immoral relationships being carried on in that church between a man and a woman and nobody seemed to care. So Paul said, “You’d better deal with this. Don’t you know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” And so God has a way of dealing with the lump. You say, “Well, that doesn’t sound very fair.” On a broader scale, realize that the Bible teaches in Adam’s sin the entire race is tainted and has fallen. We think, “That’s not right. I wasn‘t there. I would have stopped him. I would have done something. Look what Adam did, bringing this curse upon the whole race.”

Some would say, “If you or I had been there, we would have behaved the same way.” In all likelihood that’s true. And we may think, “God isn’t doing it fairly here.” In God’s economy it’s perfectly right. By the way, you weren’t there either, nor was I, when Jesus died on the cross for our sins and yet we’re more than happy to be included in His saving work

He represents those who are His on the cross. That’s good news. We love corporate identity in salvation, we wonder about it, however, in judgment. In this point, however, it is very clear, more than just Achan is affected. And folks, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that’s true with us as well. Our behavior affects other people in a rippling sort of way, in a generational sort of way whether we think it does or not.

  2. Sin ignores normal calculations (7:2)

Verse 1 is kind of in a parenthesis, telling us what’s happened, telling us that God’s upset. Verse 2:

 2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, "Go up and spy out the land." So the men went up and spied out Ai.

They made their way there. They secretly went around doing their reconnoitering, checked things out, probably took some notes, paced a few things off, made careful study of the topography of the land, maybe even captured somebody and said, “Tell us what’s going on inside.” We don’t know what they did, but they went up there and they checked it out. You would think that with such careful planning in advance, forethought, that they would have a victory waiting for them.

They’re not just charging in there blind, they’ve looked things over. Everything is completely penciled out. Almost everything. They just didn’t seek God.

Statistically, it should work. Theoretically we should be fine. We’ve done our homework. Even in the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 where they had it kind of worked out. “We’re going to sell this land,” they said. “And we’re going to say we’re giving the entire sale to the apostles, but we’re going to keep back some for ourselves.” They were condemned for that, they were judged for that. Not for the holding back, but for the lying about it.

At face value, the calculations would have worked just fine. They did the math, they figured it out.  “We give this much, we keep this much. No problem.” What did do, however, is account for God’s weighing in on the issue. And neither do we see that here with Joshua scoping out Ai.

Even a business plan, for instance, on how to start or maintain a business or some sort of enterprise can pencil out beautifully. The resources can line up, the personnel can be there, marketing issues can be taken care of. But I would suggest that if such a plan is motivated by greed or something else that would run contrary to the character or God, that the plan is already in jeopardy, even though it pencils out just fine.

 3. Sin often includes presumption (7:3)

They sent spies out to look at Jericho, now they’re sending spies out to look at Ai and the spies return to Joshua.

 3 They returned to Joshua and said to him, "Do not let all the people go up; only about two or three thousand men need go up to Ai; do not make all the people toil up there, for they are few."

Bible scholars estimate there may have been ten to twelve thousand residents of Ai, of whom only a certain percentage would be fighting force. So they’re counting on a lesser fighting force than they had at Jericho and they know that it’s in the bag. So they say to Joshua, “Don’t let all the people go up. Why should everybody have to hike that hill? Only about two or three thousand to go up and take Ai, don’t make everyone toil up the hill. There’s just a few of them.”

What do we read? We read presumption, which seems to me to be basically automatic when God isn’t consulted. If we don’t take the time to dial God into our plans in a serious, contemplative, focused fashion, we will proceed in presumption. We’ll just figure He’ll be there and everything will work out. And that’s exactly what we see these folks doing long ago.

There’s just a few of them and they haven’t read the Bible far enough because Judges hasn’t been written yet. But Gideon only needed a few. Since when does a few matter to God? He does great things with just a few over and over and over again. So they are being quite presumptuous.

There are a couple passages that I suggest you make note of out of Proverbs, which give us a little bit of insight as we look at these folks from long ago, but we need to look at us too.

Proverbs 14:12 says, There’s a way which seems right to a man but its end is the way of death.

Mere human calculation isn’t necessarily enough. Looks right, feels right above all else, must be right. No, not necessarily.

Proverbs 28:26 says, “It is a fool who trusts in his own heart.” There is a way which seems right but look down to verse 16, “A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil but a fool is arrogant and careless.”

Now we may think, “A wise man, that’s a guy who is smart and a fool is an idiot.” No, these are Biblically defined terms. A wise man is any individual who orders his world around the presence of God. God is relevant to the wise man. God is the focal point of the wise man’s life. God makes the rules for the wise man, his life is ordered around the rule of God. A fool isn’t necessarily a dumb person or someone with a certain I.Q. A fool is someone who does not order his or her life around the centrality of God.

 And so it makes sense if a fool is going to do this, a fool will be arrogant and careless. Why not? We might even say presumptuous because if God is not in the equation, let’s go. What does it matter? Our friends from the book of Joshua would certainly point to this verse and say, “There’s something to this.”

  4. Sin identifies winners and losers (7:4)

 4 So about three thousand men from the people went up there, but they fled from the men of Ai.

We are individuals who function in the win loss column. We understand that. People get uneasy with things like cold war détente. Who’s winning? People want to know. With gradual withdrawals and things like that, it’s not that way in Scripture The scoreboard never lies and it’s never vague. When one or more of God’s people bites the dust, when there’s shameful failure and defeat, it shows. People know it.

 It wasn’t too many weeks ago I read in the paper of an incident of alleged immorality in another community in Montana. Headlined was “Minister’s son accused.” Had this boy’s Dad been a farmer, plumber, anything, it wouldn’t have made the headline. When God’s people hit hard, it’s evidence shows. We may think, “Nobody wins.” We talk about the fifty percent of Christian homes being divorced homes, broken homes and people say, “That’s terrible, that’s just like the world.” In some polls it’s actually worse than the non-Christian polls.

You hear, “Everybody loses.” Well, not everybody loses. The devil wins. You see, there’s a winners bracket and a losers bracket when God’s people hit the dirt. The devil wins, the world wins, at least in their own eyes, those who rejoice when Christians have problems. They love it. They thrive on it. They win. We need to be careful about the win lose thing. it’s there.

When God’s people say, “Oh they only have about 3,000.” That’s a lot. Three thousand is a fairly good-sized troop. And when they’re running down the hill from the men of Ai, everybody knows who just won and who just lost.

 5. Sin inflicts pain, loss, discouragement and fear (7:5)

Sin inflicts pain and loss and discouragement and fear every time, always. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” Event single time and there’s no way around it. It’s the way our fallen world is. Until the Lord returns and sets it right, this equation is here to stay.

 5 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 the hearts of the people melted and became as water.

Shebarim is the deep, steep cliff country. They took them right to the edge. I’ll bet there were Israelites tripping and falling when they hit the steep ground. I’d have been one of them. Those people from Ai -- can you see them -- they’re waving their spears and swords and they’re taunting God’s people who’ve been given this land. And the devil is somewhere going. “Yeah, this is great! God’s people just lost.”

They were not only struck down, they were pursued. “The hearts of the people melted. They became as water.” We have problems now, don’t we? Thirty-six funerals, thirty-six families, thirty-six widows. Because when sin is in the camp, there’s a price tag and it’s serious. This price tag can be both physical and emotional as the verse tells us.

We have lost and now we’ve lost heart too. The hearts of the people melted and became as water. We don’t want to do this any more. Can you imagine if you’re among them? What’s going on? Confusion. How could this go wrong? What a mess. And they’re thinking, “If this is what Ai is like, I can hardly wait to get to Hebron or some of those places where there are real armies. We’re in trouble.

Isn’t it interesting how defeat just takes the wind out of our sails?  And so frequently we think, “I can’t go on. I can’t keep trying. It’s not worth it.” And that’s exactly where these people are. It’s hard to try again once we’ve bit the dust.

 6. Sin ignites our spiritual passion (7:6)

The camera shifts now to Joshua. He’s the leader. He’s the one who took over from Moses. All eyes are on Joshua, and they should be. He is the one before God who is responsible.

 6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, both he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads.

Sin should ignite our spiritual passion, it better ignite our spiritual passion. If we can go down in flames, having grieved the heart of God and created all kinds of damage and mayhem and have a heart that doesn’t care, we have a serious, an eternally serious spiritual problem going on. Joshua is a believer. He has the spirit of God. He knows what the Bible says; he knows what should have happened. He did almost everything he was supposed to do to make sure something like this didn’t happen and now he’s surrounded by corpses and grieving people and angry and upset hoards.

What’s he to do? He does the right thing. He takes the first step toward recovery following a, fall; and that is, he goes to God. He is stirred in his spirit. He’s whipped, he’s down, he’s discouraged, he’s confused, but he’s going to the right place for help and he’s doing it in all sincerity with torn garments, with dust on his head and in company of his leadership team. He’s seeking God with everything that he has.

He’s doing the very best thing he could do. This is what David did when he’s caught in his sin with Bathsheba. Read Psalm 32, read Psalm 51. David went to his face when confronted with his sin. Isn’t it interesting who isn’t repenting at this point? The perpetrator.

What an interesting contrast, at least here, between Achan and Joshua. If we were Achan we would be falling apart. It doesn’t say he was, it doesn’t say he wasn’t, but they had to go find him, as we will learn. Joshua is on his face before God. Achan seems still to be holding out. It’s a bad, bad indicator spiritually. If we get ourselves in trouble like this, if we face defeat and we aren’t turning to God, we’re not caring.

A friend of mine did years and years of youth work in the same area, working with families on into more than one generation. There was one gal in particular who was raised in a solid Christian family and yet who reached a certain point in life and began to throw off the traces, go her own way and brought upon herself and into her family’s life and eventually into the church all kinds of grief and trouble.

This youth worker told me once that she left him a note on the steering wheel of his car. It said something like this, “I know I’m causing trouble, but I don’t care. And I don’t care that I don’t care and that’s what scares me.”

If we don’t care, if we want to take the bit in our mouths and run and create our own problems and grief and take our own way -- fine, but it better bother us. It better twist us hard on the inside and bring us to our faces before God, or else there’s every likelihood our heart isn’t soft at all anyway.

There are times, perhaps every time, that the only redeeming side of shameful defeat is the recovery God brings about on the other side. And He will.

 7. Sin always infects our judgment and perspective (7:7)

 Sin always infects our perspective, messes up our point of view. Joshua said:

 7 Joshua said, "Alas, O Lord GOD, why did You ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan!

Folks, this is Joshua! “Joshua, be very strong and very courageous. The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” This is Joshua who has the Bible. This is Joshua who crossed the Red Sea. This is Joshua with a direct mandate from God. He’s all confused now.

I would suggest that this is an all time low for this brother. He knows why God brought them across. He understands. But now that he’s in the midst of this defeat, he’s not thinking straight and he’s asking the wrong questions. He’s asking from the right posture and, by the way, because his heart is broken, even though he’s asking the wrong questions, God is going to give him the right answers. God is going to fix it.

But for now, he’s not thinking clearly. And that’s why we need so badly the perspective of God and the accountability and counsel of God’s people when we’re in the midst of these issues. We don’t think well then. We aren’t objective. We don’t have all the facts. Our emotions ball us up and we get confused as is happening here.

The reason that’s so is fairly simple. Joshua has taken his eyes off the Lord. He’s looking around, he’s looking at his circumstances, he’s looking at his own position, he’s seeing that he’s under pressure, he’s under the gun, he’s under the light and he’s wondering, “Where in the world could God be?”

God hasn’t gone anywhere. The root of sin is always self, always. My self-centeredness, my desires, something to do with myself. And when we’re in sin we somehow manage to put self at the center rather than God. And now that everything is falling apart on him, he has no answers in self. And he’s coming to see that.

When our eyes and our values and our faith are on ourselves, everything is messed up. Now the good news is that God will adjust it. His Word holds the principle, his Spirit has the power. He’ll adjust it. But for right now, Joshua is registering his confusion in his defeat. When we get on into verse 10, we’ll see God basically unpacking Joshua’s suitcase and fixing him.

Our perspective is always adversely affected by sin.

 8. Sin invites a wrong view of God (7:8-9)

Finally, verses 8 and 9. Sin, on the part of God’s people, always misrepresents God. Joshua prays:

 8 "O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies?

I thought we were supposed to whip them! And now we’ve turned our backs and run from them. O Lord, this is so bad, this is so wrong, this is so confusing.  

9 " For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will You do for Your great name?"

The promise was, remember Abraham -- look north, south, east, west, it’s all going to your descendants. Oh really? Well, we’re looking east and running that direction too. Where does God weigh in on this? And Joshua’s concern is accurate. What will the surrounding nations say? What will they think? How will that register in the great name of God?

God covets and is jealous for his reputation but he’s perfectly capable of vindicating his own reputation. He will do that. Nevertheless He calls His people to represent Him well and Joshua has made that connection. “Lord, we haven’t represented you very well and now all the people are going to get the wrong idea.”

The fundamental issue here, and Joshua has put his trembling finger on it -- do God’s people represent Him well or do they represent Him as just being like all the other options. Remember when the armies of Assyria threatened Jerusalem and the prophet was Isaiah and the king was Hezekiah and the Assyrian army sent an envoy to Jerusalem to try to get them to surrender.

As they stood before them and Hezekiah is up on the wall and all the people were listening to these threatening words of this mighty, horribly vicious, heathen empire, the Assyrians, and the envoy is saying, “Who do you people think you are? Have any of the gods of any of the other people we’ve ever come up against been able to help them, protect them from us? No. And neither will your god be able to.”

In other words, the heathen nation, the Assyrians in that case, saw Yahweh, the God of Israel, as just like all the other ones. What are the options in our society? Oh, there are many. They may be religious, they may be humanistic, they may be utterly secular, they may be philosophical, they may be a lot of things. Folks, one thing that God’s people need to be careful is inasmuch as lieth within us, we need to represent the God of the Bible as the Bible represents Him.

This is where Joshua is concerned. He is the God who makes and keeps His promises. That promise business is what Joshua has called into question. Isn’t this our land? And what he will learn is the very next verse is, “Joshua, the problem isn’t Me. The problem is in your camp and you have to deal with it.” Whether they lived back in these days in 1300 B.C. or A.D. 2003, it doesn’t matter. Sin always brings these things on.

In a fallen world, that’s a given. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

© Jim Carlson 2003, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA