Now the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed. Take all the people of war with you and arise, go up to Ai; see, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land.”
The Now at the beginning of this verse reminds me that this is a continuation of a longer story. In the previous chapter, the Israelites had tried and failed to conquer Ai. They had gotten cocky and thought they could handle a little town. So they did not send the whole army and they did not inquire of the LORD before heading in to battle. They were defeated. Joshua and the leadership are distressed and discouraged and God tells them to sort themselves by finding the one man who had taken plunder from Jericho when all of the plunder of that city had been dedicated to God. They find the man and stone him to death and burn the body.
Once the sin had been dealt with, God came and spoke with Joshua. That is the Now that starts this morning’s verse. And God’s words are far more encouraging and far less of a verbal slap in the face. When snapping Joshua out of his funk, God had rendered a verbal slap. Now that Joshua has done what should have been done and everything is ready to go, God speaks more gently.
God opens with telling Joshua not to fear or be dismayed. We can forgive Joshua a bit of fear and dismay when he considers going against a foe who has already beaten the Israelites once. The key difference is stated by God: I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land. It is one thing for me to face my foes in my own strength — that often ends in my defeat. But God reminds Joshua that this battle will not be in Joshua’s strength or the strength of the Israelites, but in God’s strength. And that strength is power overwhelming.
This is the piece of the pattern outlined here in Joshua that I most often see neglected in the lives of believers today. We win some great victory and everything is amazing. We feel unstoppable and, if we rely on God, there is a time where that is quite literally true. But there may come a time when we have our Ai moment. We take what belongs to God and things fall apart. The victory ceases. We are defeated. If we, like Joshua, come to God with the situation then God will, as He did with Joshua, instruct us in how to get things right. It is here where things seem to stall for many a modern believer. We receive the instruction in how to set things right and … nothing. Or, if we do act on what we have learned, we fail to take the next critical step: Get back in the fight.
In the movie Patton, there is a scene in a hospital ward where Patton is visiting wounded soldiers and encouraging them to rest, get better, and get back into the fight and in which a soldier tells General Patton that he does not want to fight any more. The General has no soft words for that soldier. He berates him, calls him a coward, and Patton is eventually asked to leave the hospital ward. But Patton was right. Not everyone wants to get back into the fray after they have been handed a defeat. Most of those who do are those who have learned that the battle continues with or without us and we might as well get back into the thick of things.
As a believer, I need to accept that I was defeated because of my own fault, make things right with God, and get back into the thick of it. This may not mean that a pastor who fell into adultery returns to being itinerant and traveling often, but it does mean that he needs to get back to serving God in whatever capacity God calls him to. If he is still to pastor, then he should, but he should do it on the terms that God gives him and that will most likely result in victory.
I also note that the Israelites did not reject Joshua’s leadership after the initial defeat at Ai. They still followed him back into battle. As a believer, I need to be willing to get behind leaders who have repented and done what is necessary to restore things. If I skip ahead to verse 9, I find that Joshua spends the night among the people. Leaders who have fallen and been restored desperately need to be reintegrated into the camp.
I am not a leader. But I fight my Christian fight alongside some good ones. Let me be supportive of them in the battle and ready to receive them back into the camp if they mess up, but then do what is needful to restore fellowship with God and fellow believers.
Father, please give me a heart that seeks to see my brothers and sisters restored when they fall and arms that are ready to lift up those who are fallen.