“Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai…and said to them, ‘Go up and spy out the land.’ And the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, ‘Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few.’ So about 3,000 men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thiry-six of their men and chased them before the gate…And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.” Joshua 7:2-5
After the victory at Jericho, the people of God seemed certain that He would give them success in the land He had promised to give them. So they didn’t hesitate to move to the next city. But here they make a tragic mistake.
In this account of Joshua’s actions, we don’t see him come before God first. Instead, we see him move forward with the plans that seem best to his eyes. He sends out spies, and based on their discernment, 3,000 men are sent to the city in an attempt to take it. But they fail.
What Joshua was entirely unaware of was that there was a man in Israel who had not abided by the command of God in regards to the plunder of Jericho. The man had held back some of that which was to be devoted to the Lord. God likely would have addressed this and advised Joshua on how to proceed, both in this matter and in the conquering of Ai. But Joshua felt confident enough in their defeat of Jericho to make his own plans.
The reminder that we find here is this: If God is with us, it doesn’t matter whether a circumstance looks impossible or like something we can handle. He will fulfill His purposes and make all His plans succeed. Similarly, without Him, it still doesn’t matter what it looks like—we can do nothing without Him.
Our call is not to determine the probability of success and only consult God if we think a situation is beyond us. It is to consult Him always. To seek His face, lay everything before Him, and trust that He will see us through. There will likely still be action on our part—whatever action God leads us to. But it is never up to us. We follow Christ to whatever end. The results are all dependent upon Him. If He has purpose in a venture’s success, He will make it succeed. If He has greater purpose in its failure, then it will fail.
There is hope found here, knowing that it isn’t up to us to make things happen. There is also great challenge to abandon our pride and cast out our sin, removing everything that hinders us from relying wholly on our Lord. It is the act of dying to ourselves. Choosing to take up our cross, lay down our life, so that His life can fill us.
After this defeat, Joshua comes before God with the elders of Israel. The man who sinned against the Lord is dealt with as God commands. Then the Lord says to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land” (Joshua 8:1). Even after our failure, God is still faithful when we turn back to Him. He will open our eyes to our sin so that it can be dealt with and the roots removed from our heart. Then He will call us back into battle, strengthening us with the reminder to not fear or be dismayed. Our failure before was due to our own prideful efforts. But now the power and faithfulness of God is with us, and He will not fail.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
“In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.”
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.”
“For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose’”