Yesterday we discussed what took place in Joshua chapter 7 verses 1-7. We talked about the fact that a victory on any given day does not assure victories in the coming future. Therefore one cannot assume that victory is a settled fact. One has to always remember that it takes prayer, faith,wisdom, knowledge, preparation, etc to gauge what your next move should be. And when you are dealing with people, you must be sure that they are connected to you and that they understand the assignment that has been placed on your plate. You must also know whether or not they are loyal, trustworthy, integral, and committed to your purpose. It is dangerous to have people in your camp that will act underhandedly and thwart the mission that God, your boss, or some other authority has entrusted to you. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch; a little bit of yeast blows up the whole loaf of bread; one rotten egg will spoil the whole omelet!
Joshua takes his complaint to the Lord
Finally, after a whole day on his face, Joshua verbalized his perplexity in three questions and two statements. He didn’t take it out on others, nor did he try to escape with some substitute, or repress it. He did what we should all do, he took it to the Lord.
The First Question (vs. 7a): “Alas, O Lord God, why did You ever bring this people over the Jordan …” The NIV translates this, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver …”
The word “alas” or “ah” is a strong interjection of despair. “Ah” is practically a transliteration of the Hebrew. It often, as here, points to a mood of hopelessness and defeat. In most places it is used with “Lord God” though not always as an expression of despair (Jud. 6:22; Jer. 1:6; 4:10; 14:13; 32:17; Ezek. 4:14; 9:8; 11:13). With one breath he cries out “Ah, Adonai Yahweh,” which acknowledges God’s sovereign authority and lordship over their lives, but with the very next breath he seems to question God’s purposes and promises as the Sovereign Lord.
With the question, “Why did You ever bring this people …,” he was acting as though God were not in control, had made a mistake, or as though God had merely tricked them. How quick we are to act religious while at the very same time we deny God’s authority and power by other things we may think, or say, or do. Here is a perfect illustration of how focusing on the problem negatively affects our view of God which in turn affects our faith in His purposes, plan, and promises.
A wrong focus, on the one hand, often turns mountains into mole hills. Perhaps, trusting in their past victory instead of the Lord, they had their eyes on the smallness of Ai and saw it as just a ‘mole hill’ of a problem. On the other hand, with their eyes on the defeat, they turned this mole hill into a ‘mountain’ that was too big for the Sovereign Lord to handle.
Whenever we are occupied with a problem, or whenever we fail to focus our minds and eyes on the Lord, we become insensitive to the Person, plan, promises, and purposes of God. At this point, it seems it never entered Joshua’s mind that God may have had a reason for allowing the defeat, or that they (Joshua and Israel) might in some way be the cause. When our focus is wrong we either forget God’s promises or question them. We then quit relating to God’s Person in all His divine essence. In such a condition we no longer see the Lord as our hope, rather He becomes the villain.
The First Statement (vs. 7b): “If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan!”
How narrow our vision grows and negative we become to God’s purposes when we lose sight of the Lord and get our eyes on the circumstances. We go in reverse and look back. The tendency is to become nostalgic for the ‘good old days.’ We become like Israel who remembered the fish, the garlic, the melons, the cucumbers, etc., but forgot about the task masters and the mud pits. In order to be comfortable we are willing to settle for a life of mediocrity rather than learn what the hindrances are so we can move ahead in the pursuit of excellence.
There is the assumption here that, since they had been defeated, they could not go forward and that it would have been better not to have encountered the enemy. Their failure had somehow weakened God’s ability to give them future victories. This is a typical assumption, but one that is wrong. God is never limited by our defeats. As the Sovereign Lord, He is able to work all things together for good, the good of conforming us like His Son (Rom. 8:28-29).
The Second Question (vs. 8): “O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies?”
Following the defeat of Jericho, chapter 6 ended with the statement, “So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.” With Joshua’s statement in chapter 7 verse 8, it seems he was now worried about the complaints of the people and their willingness to follow his leadership. Will this failure preempt my ability to do what you have called me to do because of their attitudes and questions? Furthermore, people were going to want some answers and he simply didn’t have any at this time. What could he possibly say to them? This was really a prayer for wisdom (Jam. 1:5).
Perhaps also, feeling a little shame or personal blame for the way the men had turned and fled, he doubted his own ability to lead the army. He was perhaps feeling that he had let them down, that people would be blaming him for the defeat, and he was concerned about the impact of all this on his ability to lead the people.
A Second Statement (vs. 9a): “For the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will surround us and cut off our name …”
Rightly so, Joshua was concerned about the impact of this defeat on their testimony to the nations and how it could bring them down in a concerted effort against God’s people. Would this provide a beachhead for the enemy to now go on the offensive and attack Israel rather than vice versa?
The world is watching us; and the way we handle our problems does affect the attitude of the world toward the Christian community:
1 Peter 3:13-17 And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
The Third Question (vs. 9b): “And what will You do for Your great name?”
Even in all his fears, we see Joshua’s character and love for the Lord manifesting itself. It appears that Joshua’s greatest concern was that the news of this defeat might somehow reduce the respect of the heathen nations for God’s own name. Joshua may have been guilty of thinking what people often think, that one failure must lead to other failures; that victory is less likely now because they had so miserably failed. True, our sin and failure may affect our testimony for a while; it may give Satan an opportunity to establish a beachhead; it may even have repercussions in other ways, but God is always able to work all things together for good for those who love the Lord.
Nothing is ever accomplished with our face in the dirt or with our eyes on our failures and problems. First, we must confess our failures and the things that caused them when that can be determined. Then we must seek to learn from them. Finally, we need to know that God’s will is immediate recovery and faith in the grace of God. God’s will is get up and move on (vss. 10f).
Let’s summarize the causes of failure:
1. Apparently, there was a lack of prayer or a failure to get alone with God to seek His guidance.
2. Clearly, there was reliance on human wisdom when Joshua listened to the suggestion of the spies when they returned from spying out Ai (vs. 3).
3. Then, relying on their past victory instead of the Lord, there was overconfidence in their own ability, thinking they could easily go up against such a small city when compared to Jericho (vss. 3-4).
Now with verse 10, our attention is turned to God’s directions and response to Joshua. This is highly instructive for it not only shows us greater insight into the nature of Joshua’s actions, dismay and doubt, but it shows us both God’s evaluation of what Joshua was doing (He was not pleased) and His instruction for what was to done to correct the problem.
I hope this teaching is blessing you, and we will continue this lesson tomorrow.
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