Believers should understand the absolute criticality of obeying the Lord. They should heed His word and follow His instructions and commands. Sadly though, we all tend to lose sight of that reality from time to time. True, He is a loving God. He is a merciful Father, full of compassion and grace. Even so, forgiveness is not always without repercussions, and like a good earthly father, sometimes and act of disciple is needed to set our eyes back where they belong, a whipping, so to speak, to remind us later of our misdeeds, and perhaps to keep us on the straight and narrow. This is just what Joshua and his people faced in the time after Jericho…
We read in Chapter 7 of Joshua how one individual, Achan, disobeyed the command of God as given by Joshua, taking for himself treasures from the accursed Jericho. This action, though innocent enough in Achan’s eyes, soon lead to a terrible outcome for the Israelites.
After their victory at Jericho, Joshua sent a group of his people to scout the settlement of Ai for intel on the lay of the land and its people. After returning to Joshua, the spies informed him that it would be unnecessary to send the whole of his forces to take Ai, instead insisting that three-thousand or so would suffice, and based on their reckoning, Joshua agreed. Shortly thereafter, it because obvious that a critical mistake had been made. As the three thousand Israelite forces approached Ai, they realized that they were in danger, and turning, they fled with their tails between their legs, in the process losing a number of their own to the men of Ai.
Joshua, distraught over the defeat, fell on his face before the Ark of the Lord, praying and seeking insights from God. He questioned God. He questioned why they ever decided to cross over the Jordan, especially if their fate was to only end up conquered by the Amorites and others within the bounds of Canaan. Surely, he said to himself as well as God, that now, having suffered such a defeat at Ai, their reputation would be soured and all the men of the land of Canaan would be bolstered now against the nation. And then the Lord answered him!
“…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. Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow: for thus saith the Lord God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you. (Joshua 7:10-13)”
The Lord continued on, declaring to Joshua the method by which he was to find that accursed possession from Jericho, and the manner in which to dispose of it, saying:
“And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel. (verse 15)”
In the morning, doing as the Lord commanded him, Joshua began his search amongst the tribes for he who possessed the accursed thing. As the process continued, he came to the tribe of Judah, and amongst it he came to Achan. He said to him, “…Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.”
Achan did indeed answer, admitting that he had sinned against God, breaking His commands by taking from Jericho a stunning Babylonia garment, two-hundred shekels of silver (about five pounds), and a fifty shekel (1.2 lb) wedge of gold, hiding them all in and under his tent. Joshua dispatched messengers to his tent and there they found the cursed goods. Taking them up and showing them to all the children of Israel, Joshua and all the people carried the cursed items, Achan, his family, and all his possessions to a particular spot in the valley of Achor, where because of Achan’s misdeeds, he and all he had paid the ultimate price. His lack of discipline, his inability to obey the commands given him, had not only cost Israel a victory at Ai, but in the end it also cost him his worldly belongings, his family, and even his own life.
After this episode we read in Chapter 8 of a dramatic turnaround. The cursed items and those responsible for them having been cleansed from the nation, God again came to Joshua, saying:
“…Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land: And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king: only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves: lay thee an ambush for the city behind it. (Joshua 8:1-2)”
That, indeed, is just what he did. Joshua issued an order for some thirty-thousand of his warriors to go by way of night and wait behind the city of Ai until the proper moment. His plan, he revealed to them, was that as he and the remaining Israelite forces approached the gate to Ai, they surely would seek to attack as they had previously in hopes of driving them back. As the forces of Ai took to pursuit, the ambushers, Joshua instructed them, were to take the city from behind, setting the settlement on fire in the process.
As the morning came, the plan was put into action. The king of Ai, seeing the once-defeated Israelites (who was by this time feigning fear and weakness) at his doorstep yet again, set forth to finish the job, taking with him every man of the city and leaving behind them the gates opened. The Lord, in the midst of their devious flight, spoke to Joshua instructing him to turn and hold out his spear toward Ai, and that when he did He would give him the city. With that, Joshua turned and lifted his spear, and in a moment the ambush came.
Some thirty-thousand Israelite warriors rushed into the open and unguarded settlement, setting it ablaze. As the smoke of their conquest lifted high into the heavens, the men of Ai turned, seeing their defeat, knowing they had nowhere to go. Joshua’s warriors, those who had feigned fear and defeat at the gate of the city, those who had deceptively fled into the wildness, turned in a moment and and fell in upon the men of Ai. Joshua stood over the whole encounter, arm remaining stretched forth, spear triumphantly in hand, until the last of Ai’s people (save its king) were slain. Ultimately, Joshua had the city entirely burned, its king “hanged on a tree (verse 29, likely a reference to impalement via a sharpened, wooden stake),” and a heap of stones being raised upon it as a memorial for their defeat.
Giving thanks to God for His forgiveness and provision, Joshua built an altar to the Lord in the custom of their forefathers, being constructed of unhewn and unworked stone, at Mt. Ebal, at a site which some researchers are confident has been found to exist even to this day.¹ There, after the blessing, Joshua read to all of the people, all of the Israelites, the whole of the law as it was written on the stones of Moses. As verse 35 tells us:
“There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.”
Now, intriguing as this account is, what is the ultimate take-away? In a nutshell it is this: We need to listen to God, to take Him at His word, trusting in in promises, and understanding that if we do not we will suffer the consequences. As with Achan, even those things we do in the dark, those evils we conceal in the shadows of our hearts, can and will impact us at some point, even causing us to lose those we love. Furthermore, though Achan was one man, his actions harmed not only his family but the but the whole of the nation. As such, we must understand that, though we are but individuals, we as believers represent something far greater than ourselves and any evil actions on our part, little as they may seem at the time, could greatly hinder our ultimate cause. Finally, Achan was not alone in the steps that lead to Israel’s initial defeat at Ai. Joshua, on the advice of his spies, sent only a fraction of his forces to Ai. Why did he not consult the Lord first? By leaning on his own insights instead of the commands of God, he played a role in their defeat.
To this end, consider the words of Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
Look to the Lord always, listen to His words, obey His commands, and you shall be victorious in Him always.
- “Joshua’s Altar has been found on Mount Ebal,” setapartpeople.com
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