“O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned [their] back before their enemies? 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?”
So the LORD said to Joshua, “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face?”
The Israelites were victorious at Jericho, but one of them, Achan, decided to take some of the plunder when all of that had been consecrated to God.
The Israelites came to Ai and the spies checked things out and came back with the suggestion that Joshua only send up a couple thousand people, since the forces of the city were so insignificant. There is no record of Joshua consulting God on strategy or whether or not to take the advice of the spies. A couple thousand go up to fight and a few dozen die while the rest turn tail and run back to camp. Not the Israelites’ best day.
The first verse for this morning picks up midstream in that part of the story. Joshua hears about the defeat, tears his clothes, and falls to the ground in front of the Ark for the rest of the day. When Joshua starts talking, it is a lament that God ever brought them across the Jordan, since they were just going to be defeated. It seems to me that we too often forget the great things that God has done in and through us when we encounter defeat. The Israelites had just seen the walls of Jericho drop like the curtain at the end of a play. The Israelites had walked over the ruins of the walls and utterly destroyed every living thing in Jericho except Rahab and her family. That is victory writ large. But the Israelites get cocky then get cold-cocked and Joshua is on his face lamenting that God brought them across the Jordan just to destroy them. Then Joshua speaks the words of this morning’s verses.
I notice that he turns from “Why did You do this to us?” to What can I say? He works through the initial anger and pain and loss to the realization that God was not consulted about this defeat until now. Joshua made this mess on his own. The spies came back with good news: not much resistance in the next city. They had a recommendation: send only a few thousand. Had Joshua consulted God, then God might have told him to only send twelve people up AFTER they had removed the sin from the camp. But God was not consulted. Things looked easy, so the Israelites decided to coast on through. I see this same pattern played out in the lives of great men and women of God and in far lesser men of God like myself. God wins an amazing victory on our behalf and we get cocky. We think we can handle the little stuff on our own. But Paul wrote on this when he wrote that the one who thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall.
From What can I say?, Joshua works his way around to the real focus: What will You do for Your great name? The Israelites were not on trial in these battles. A bunch of escaped slaves from Egypt were hardly a matter of concern to battle-tested warriors in Canaan. It was God’s reputation that had struck fear into the hearts of the people in the land. It was God’s Name that had been sullied by the defeat of the Israelites.
God responds in the way that Joshua needs. It sounds, as I read it, less gentle than some might want it, but it hits Joshua right where he needs it. God tells Joshua to get up. Get up off the ground. Joshua was not even sure why he was there. He starts with lamenting God bringing them into the Promised Land then his own lapse in judgment, but he does not reach the heart of the matter: sin. God tells Joshua to get up and go deal with the sin in the camp.
It bears note that only one man took anything from Jericho. And all of the Israelites suffered for that transgression. That might seem unjust, but his family must have known that those things were not in their possession before Jericho and they were now. So his family was in on this. There must have been other people who saw him carrying stuff away from Jericho. You cannot take a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight and no one notices. So there were other fighters who had seen Achan’s wrong and said nothing.
I could rewind this whole story back to the spies and apply this as making sure that I involve God in all my decisions — from the Jerichos to the Ais; the overwhelming to the seemingly insignificant.
I could skip to the end and realize that sin never impacts only one person. Achan brought judgment on all the Israelites and severe judgment on the heads of his family members.
But I think that dwelling in the middle is important this morning. I need to remember that my bad decisions are not God’s fault. In point of fact, my bad decisions are most often those about which I have consulted God the least. Joshua took human counsel, but failed to bring that counsel to God and get His input. The lives of those who died attacking Ai might have been spared had Joshua gone to God for strategy BEFORE attacking the city. God would have told Joshua to purge the sin from the camp before attacking Ai and another victory would have been won. Instead, 36 men died in battle because of one man’s sin and another man’s failure to check in with God about his planned course of action.
Father, please keep in my mind the truth that You are interested in every aspect of my life and that consulting You about everything is not a waste of my time, but the best way to live a fruitful life that brings glory to Your Name. Thank You for being interested in even the minute details of my life and for being willing to step in and do good in, for, and through me.