The Book of Joshua Series
Conquering the Land
“Failure Is Never Final”
As we have journeyed through the book of Joshua we have seen the children of Israel enjoy some tremendous triumphs. Triumphs like the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River on dry land and fall of Jericho. But we have also seen them experience a devastating defeat like the lost of thirty-six men in their failed attempt to take the city of Ai. You might remember before raid upon Jericho, Joshua gave the command to not take any of the spoils from the city because everything in Jericho had all been “devoted to destruction.” Before the Lord caused walls of Jericho to collapse, Joshua told the people “But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, so that you do not covet them and take some of the things under the ban, and make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it.” (6.19)
But as we saw last week the people of Israel broke the ban in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel. (7.1) The Lord instructed Joshua and the people of how to deal with Achan’s sin, which they follow completely. The story of Achan reminds us that God will not tolerate sin the lives of His people. Sin hinders the blessings of God. Sin grieves and quenches the Spirit in our lives. (Eph.4.30; IThess.5.19)
Failure Is Never Final
As we move into chapter eight this morning we will see the good news that failure is never final, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes we must experience defeat before we can enjoy victory. This doesn’t minimize the consequences of sin. In the case of Achan, God’s name had been dishonored and people lost their lives. This was serious stuff. With the lost of thirty-six warriors and the embarrassing defeat to the little city of Ai the people of Israel had to be filled with despair. As they camped at Gilgal, the same spot where they celebrated God’s miraculous victories, morale had to be at an all time low. So chapter eight begins, “Now the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed.” (8.1)
As we discover last week in chapter seven Israel had addressed Achan’s sin, their sin, head on. They didn’t ignore it. They didn’t make excuses. They confessed it and dealt with it. The fact is that we all fail. We sin against the Lord in our thoughts, with our words, and by our deeds. “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (IJn.1.8-9) Brothers and sisters, failure is never final.
The first words the Lord spoke to Joshua after the Achan incident was “Do not fear or be dismayed.” Joshua had heard these words before. These were the words Moses used to commission Joshua to be his successor saying, “The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Dt.31.8) Joshua had heard these same words by the Lord Himself as He called him in chapter one saying, “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh.1.9) But no matter how many times we hear these words there are times when we need to hear them again. And for Joshua this was one of those times.
The Lord wanted to renew Joshua’s confidence in His ever-abiding presence. Joshua could have continued to sulk in shame like we saw him in chapter seven sitting with his face to the earth after the defeat to Ai. (7.6) But the Lord had told him twice to “Rise up!” (7.10, 13) And now that Joshua and the children of Israel had addressed the problem it was time for their confidence to be renewed.
Brothers and sisters, shame seeks to shrivel the soul and burden the heart with an intense and overpowering sense of disgrace and dishonor. The Psalmist told us that when he kept silent about his sin his body wasted away and his vitality was drained away. (Ps.32.3-4) But the Psalmist continues telling us that when he acknowledged his sin the Lord surrounded him with songs of deliverance. (Ps.32.5-7) And now that Joshua and the children of Israel had acknowledged their sin and confessed their transgression the Lord desired to renew their confidence in the ever-abiding presence of the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction. (2Cor.1.3-4) And the Lord desires the same for you and me this morning. The Lord receives no glory and has no delight in His children sulking in shame. The Lord desires for us to confess our sin and for us to turn away from it so that our confidence can be renewed in His ever-abiding presence.
Now that their confidence had been renewed the conquest must continue.
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. You shall do to Ai and its king just as you did to Jericho and its king; you shall take only its spoil and its cattle as plunder for yourselves. Set an ambush for the city behind it.” (8.1-2)
There are several elements of the Lord’s strategy to take the city of Ai that can be applied to our spiritual conquest.
First, the Lord does not bring restoration and renewal for us to remain in the same place. The Lord doesn’t bring restoration and renewal for us to stay camped out in Gilgal. The Lord brings restoration and renewal for us to progress in our spiritual journey. But I often see people after experiencing God’s restoration in their lives staying at the same exact place spiritually instead of moving forward in their faith. I have seen people who after receiving spiritual restoration not driving deeper into God’s Word. I see them not being persistent in their prayers. I see them neglect the assembling together and forgo Christian fellowship. Brothers and sisters, God wants us to move on from Gilgal. Our spiritual conquest must continue. Let us arise, go up to Ai.
Secondly, we must not be afraid or ashamed to return to the place of defeat. The Lord’s command to arise, go up to Ai shows us that the Lord doesn’t want our past defeats to be left undone or ignored. We must confront our failures and defeat the enemy. If we don’t, our past failures will haunt us and possibility be used against us. Remember how the Apostle Peter after denying the Lord Jesus to His face three times went out and wept bitterly for his sin. (Mt.27.69-75) Days later Peter was once again face to face with the risen Lord on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. The Lord did not come to the seashore to condemn Peter for his denial but rather to restore Peter in his role as the leader of His Church. (Jn.21.1-19) Brothers and sisters, the Lord does not seek to condemn us for our failures, He desires for us to repent and when we do He comes and restore us to Himself so that we would progress in our spiritual conquest.
Third, we see in the conquest against Ai that even the small battles must be fought in the fullness of God’s power. Ai was a small city compared to most the cities of Canaan but the Lord tells Joshua, “Take all the people of war with you.” There is no doubt that the primary cause of Israel’s defeat at Ai was Achan’s sin but a secondary cause was Israel’s underestimating the enemy and sending only three thousand soldiers for the first battle. We often say to ourselves, “I can handle a little of this or a little of that. Those things won’t cause me to stumble,” only to discover that the little things can cause big failures. We must put on the full armor of God to defeat even the smallest of temptations. Who would have thought the King David making the simple decision to not go out the battle with his army but rather to stay in Jerusalem and enjoy the early spring weather would have brought about David’s sin with Bathsheba and killing her husband Uriah. (2Sam.11) Brothers and sisters we must be of sober spirit, be on the alert, even with the small stuff. (IPt.5.8a) We must take up the full armor of God, that we may be able to resist the evil. (Eph.6.13)
Fourth, we see in the Lord’s strategy of the conquest against Ai that the Lord doesn’t always work in the same way. At Jericho the Lord commanded the people to march around the city once for six days and seven times on the seventh day. At that point the priests blew their trumpets and the people shouted and the walls came tumbling down. But here at Ai the people engaged in tactical warfare and hand to hand combat.
The point is that sometimes God works in miraculous ways to gain us the victory while at other times He gains us the victory through normal and natural means. For example sometimes God provides a financial blessing through an anonymous donor while other times He provides us a good job where we go to work everyday to earn a living. Sometimes God provides a miraculous healing while other times He provides great doctors and nurses. Regardless of the way God provides us the victory, we praise God from whom all blessings flow.
The Lord’s strategy for the conquest of Ai was ingenious. The Lord instructed Joshua to divide the people into three groups. The first group was three thousand warriors who were sent during the night to hide on the west side of Ai. Their mission was to rush the city and burn it after its defenders of the city had deserted it to pursue after Joshua and the second group. The second group was the main army that marched about fifteen miles from Gilgal to the north side of Ai early the next morning and camped in plain view of the residents of Ai. This group was led by Joshua and was used as a decoy to cause the defenders of Ai out of the city to chase after them. The third group was about five thousand warriors who positioned themselves between the city of Bethel and Ai to cut off any possible reinforcements from the nearby city of Bethel who might come to the aid the people of Ai.
The plan worked perfectly. When the king of Ai saw Israel’s army he took the bait and pursued the Israelites. The army of Israel under Joshua’s leadership pretended to retreat as they had done in the previous attack against Ai. This left the city of Ai unguarded and allowed the first group that had been hiding in ambush to raid the city and set it on fire. The king of Ai and his army with no where to flee so Joshua and his army along with the third group of five thousand turned and attacked the army of Ai, destroying them, and burning the city to the ground. (8.14-22)
The reason for giving all of this detail of the conquest of Ai is to make the point that in our spiritual conquest we all have different roles to fulfill. There are many members, but one body. (ICor.12.20) In the case there are many soldiers, but one army. “United we stand but divided we fall.” This statement is often quoted to inspire unity and to teach that together we can achieve greater success than we can alone. This truth is also applicable in our spiritual conquest. In our spiritual battles we need each another to fulfill their ministry unto the Lord for us all to be victorious in our spiritual conquest. We need the one who serves and the one who teaches. We need the one who verbally exhorts as well as the one who gives financial support. We need the one who leads as well as the one who shows mercy. Instead of being divided as they were in the first attacked against Ai, the people of God were united and fought together each one fulfilling their particular function.
I also want you to notice that unlike the total ban that the Lord placed on the things of Jericho we see here at Ai the Lord allowed the people to take the spoils and cattle for themselves. Brothers and sisters sometimes the Lord commands us to abstain and other times He allows us to partake. We must seek the Lord’s will for our lives at each junction of our spiritual journey.
The Apostle Paul tells us that all things are lawful but everything is not necessarily profitable. (ICor.6.12) The Lord has given believers in Christ tremendous liberty of conscience to determine what is profitable or harmful for their spiritual conquest. But the danger is that we can use our liberty of conscience as a license to sin. What I mean is that we can use our freedom to make our own choices as an opportunity to indulge in things that are not helpful for our spiritual walk in Christ. What I am saying is that as Christians we must be careful that we do not turn our freedom into and opportunity for the flesh or a covering for evil. (Gal.5.13; IPt.2.16) Let us seek the Lord’s will for our lives with every step of our spiritual journey.
One last thing I want to share about the renewed conquest against Ai. Verse nine tells us, “So Joshua sent them away, and they went to the place of ambush and remained between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai; but Joshua spent that night among the people.” (8.9) And verse thirteen tell us, “So they stationed the people, all the army that was on the north side of the city, and its rear guard on the west side of the city, and Joshua spent that night in the midst of the valley.” (8.13) What I find so comforting is that Scripture makes it clear that Joshua was with the people during the entire conquest against Ai. Joshua prefigures the greater Joshua, the Lord Jesus Christ, in that he is with them. He doesn’t leave them or forsake them. He is with them. He doesn’t allow the people to fight against Ai on their own. He is with them in the night. He is with them in the valley. He is with them on the battlefield with his javelin in his hand stretched out towards Ai declaring victory. (8.18) Brothers and sisters, the greater Joshua, our Lord Jesus Christ, is with us during the darkness of night. He is with us in the midst of the valley. Our Lord Jesus is with us on the battlefield declaring victory for His people! Thanks be to God, who gives us the
victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ICor.15.57)
Joshua did not celebrate the victory over Ai but instead he led the people about 30 miles north to the valley between the Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim as Moses had commanded in Deuteronomy chapter twenty-seven. These mountains are located in the geographic center of the land and from either peak much of the Promised Land can be seen. But Joshua did not lead the people to this valley for a sight seeing excursion. He led them here to renew their covenant vows to the Lord. “The Mountains, which were about three thousand feet above sea level or one thousand feet above the valley between them was quite barren. The valley was often green, and at one place where the mountains come close together there is a natural amphitheater.” (James Boice) Here is a modern picture of the mountains and the valley.
This place had outstanding acoustical properties and one person standing on one mountain can be easily heard by someone standing on the other mountain. Mount Gerizim stood for blessings and Mount Ebal stood for curses. The ceremony of the renewal of the covenant involved three things.
First, an altar of uncut stones was erected on Mount Ebal and burnt offerings and peace offerings were offered to the Lord. (8.30-31) Second, on the same mountain Joshua set up some large stones and had the Law of God chiseled on the front of the stones. (8.32) Third, Joshua separated half of the people on the slopes of Mount Gerizim, the other half on the slopes of Mount Ebal, and the Ark of the Covenant surrounded by priest were in the valley. As the curses of the Law were read one by one, the tribes on Mount Ebal responded, “Amen!” As the blessings were read the tribes on Mount Gerizim responded, “Amen!” (8.33-35; Dt.11.29, 27.12-26)
This event between the two mountains formed a huge object lesson. But I want you to see that this ceremony of covenant renewal teaches us more than the principle that obedience brings blessing and disobedience brings cursing. The people had already learned that lesson in real life at Jericho and Ai.
I want you to see is that the before the writing and reading of the Law an altar made with uncut stones and sacrifices for sin were being offered. Before the people responded “Amen” to the declarations of blessing and cursing the Lord knew that the people would not obey the Law. The Lord knew that a substitutionary sacrifice was needed.
I want you to see that the altar was not built in the valley between the two mountains and the altar was not built on Mount Gerizim, the mountain of blessing. The altar was built on Mount Ebal, the mountain of cursing. The altar was built for sinners. The altar being built on Mount Ebal shows that God will provide atonement for disobedient sinners. The altar being built on Mount Ebal shows that God will provide substitutionary atonement for those who should receive curses.
And lastly, I want you to see that the altar was built with uncut stones on which no man had wielded an iron tool to show that the altar of God is not erected by human effort, ingenuity, or any attempt of perfectionism. The altar of God was for provided by God Himself.
Don’t you see it? This ceremony of covenant renewal was a huge object lesson pointing towards the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Before the people responded “Amen” to the declarations of blessing and cursing the Lord knew that the people would not obey the Law and that a substitutionary sacrifice was needed points to that fact that God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom.5.8)
The altar being built on Mount Ebal shows that God will provide substitutionary atonement for those who should receive curses points to the fact that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” (Gal.3.13)
The altar was built with uncut stones on which no man had wielded an iron tool points to the fact that we are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph.2.8-9)
You just can’t make this stuff up! This ceremony of covenant renewal was a huge object lesson pointing towards the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God!
As I close this morning I want you to understand that failure is never final. The Lord can turn our blunders into blessings. The Lord desires to renew our confidence in His ever-abiding presence. And with renewed confidence the Lord wants us to renew our spiritual conquest to defeat the enemy in our lives. The Lord desires that we would renew His covenant of grace in our lives knowing that Christ died for sins the just for the unjust, that He became a curse for us, and the salvation we enjoy was God’s doing and we had nothing to do with it.