Israel is on a high after defeating Jericho. It is on to the next battle. Ai will fall at their sword too, so they think. But something is wrong and Israel is chased away in defeat.
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The whole of the camp are in celebration mode. Tales of the scene at Jericho are flooding the camp and men are sharing their victories with those who remained in the camp.
“You should have seen the walls! Never have I seen ANYTHING like it. They turned to dust before our faces. At the shout of our army the walls seemed to melt like water!”
“The people fled before us like sheep before a hungry wolf. Not even their soldiers stood to fight.”
As the stories are shared Joshua looks to the next campaign. He calls Michael and his partner, Jerome, who had spied out Jericho. They have become his favorites when it comes to spying out the enemy. They are quick on their feet, have keen eyes, and wise minds. Most of all though they have hearts filled with faith in the Lord.
Michael and Jerome appear at Joshua’s door. “You called for us father Joshua. How can we be of service to the Lord?”
“Good. Michael I’m glad to see you. It’s time to prepare for the next battle. The Lord has given us ALL this land. We need to keep moving.”
“The men are excited from this victory so it should be used to our advantage” offers Jerome.
“Yes. We will capitalize on this success and move right away. I need you to go to the town of Ai and spy it out. It is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel. Look at their numbers and their defenses. Bring me word back about what you find.”
Michael and Jerome leave that same evening. These two spies know how to travel quickly and they arrive a week later shortly before dawn. The city is just stirring when the set up on a nearby hillside to watch.
Ai looked nothing like Jericho! The city is small and its walls are no higher than a man’s head. There isn’t even a garrison with soldiers. Michael and Jerome watch the comings and goings of the city all day. They want to know the amount of traffic this city receives, the strength of its defenses, and the people’s numbers. By evening they feel confident in their exploration and have a good report to bring back to Joshua, or at least ‘good’ for Israel.
“This city should pose no problem at all for our forces” Michael says to Jerome.
“I agree. We won’t even need all our forces this time. If we were to bring them all we would be tripping over each other.”
They head back to Israel’s camp to bring Joshua their report. Moving as quickly and carefully as they can they arrive back in camp after a week and head straight to Joshua’s tent. Joshua saw them as they approached and welcomes them back.
“Michael, Jerome I’m glad to see you. What news have you brought back for me?”
“Ai is ripe for the picking! They are a small city with few defending them. They boast of no garrison and their walls offer little to no resistance at all. Honestly, we don’t even need to send all of the army to take this city.”
“That is encouraging news. How many do you suggest we send?” asks Joshua.
Michael and Jerome had discussed this on the way back to camp and had agreed upon a number that would ensure Israel’s victory. Jerome shares that number with Joshua. “We calculated the need to be between two and three thousand soldiers.”
“Wow! That few?”
“Yes father Joshua. As we said, they are small in number and have little defenses” replies Michael.
“So be it. We will send three thousand.”
Joshua called the leaders of each tribe together at the entrance of the Tabernacle. “It is time for Israel’s next victory!” he calls. Victorious shouts rise from the group gathered around him. “Michael and Jerome have spied out the city of Ai for us and have brought back a good report. This city is small enough that we will not be sending the entire army to take it. Instead we will be sending a force of 3,000 men. Go through your men and each of you are to supply your best 250 men for this battle. The Lord our God has given us this land! Let’s go take a little more of it!”
Morning arrives and the contingent of men assemble before the Tabernacle. They have all packed rations for this trip along with their weapons for war. “This is a longer journey than we faced when we took Jericho but I have faith in your ability to do the job the Lord your God has given you. Be courageous and walk in His might! I expect great stories upon your return.”
With this the men march from the camp excited about the victory that awaits them. The contingent of soldiers take ten days to reach Ai. As they near the city they camp for the night to stow the belongings they will not need while in battle.
At daybreak the contingent of soldiers musters for war. They are quiet as they approach the city so as to take them by surprise. But the surprise is on them. Men pour out of the city armed for battle! Israel can’t even get near the city. Heavy fighting ensues and Israel is losing ground. “Retreat!” is the command heard from the commanders of thousands and Israel’s men begin to flee.
The men of Ai are hot on their heels and don’t relent until Israel is past the city of Shebarim. When the forces of Ai finally turn back to their city Israel’s soldiers regather themselves a distance away. Many have wounds and some are missing. The missing lie on the ground between Ai and Israel’s position; casualties of this battle. The wounded are tended to with strips of cloth torn off of tunics, binding the wounds as best as possible. A contingent of ten men is sent to quietly retrieve Israel’s supplies from the hilltop where they camped the night before. “How can this be? The Lord has deserted us” is the fear in each man’s heart. All they can do now is return to Joshua and their camp.
Returning to camp took even longer because of the wounded and the downtrodden hearts of the soldiers. Brothers were left behind in this battle. Something Israel hadn’t experienced in a LONG time.
Joshua has been watching daily for their return. He was not worried because he knew that the Lord was fighting for them but he was concerned at the delay. He chalked it up to their needing more time to get the city secured before their return. Finally they are spotted in the distance and a runner comes to tell Joshua. He quickly goes out to meet them but before they even speak he knows that something is wrong.
“What happened brothers?” asks Joshua with deep concern in his voice.
“We were defeated. That’s what happened. Your spies were wrong and our God deserted us! TWENTY SIX of our brothers lay behind in the grave. We couldn’t even get close enough to retrieve their bodies for fear of being attacked again and more falling by the sword.”
Joshua’s face shows every ounce of the shock his heart is feeling. How? Why? This can’t be! The Lord had promised them victory in the land. Tears streaming down his face he calls for the elders of Israel to join him in front of the Tabernacle. He is going to the Lord with this!
Joshua and all the elders meet at the Tabernacle. They tear their robes in grief, cry out in pain, fall to the ground, and throw dust on their heads. Their wailing can be heard throughout the whole camp. Joshua petitions the Lord directly. “Alas, O Lord God, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will You do for Your great name?” (verses 7-9).
(to be continued)
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In our reading today we saw the ‘why’ before Joshua even sent the spies out but Joshua had no knowledge of this. What we see when Israel faces defeat is another sin. Instead of looking to themselves to find where they fell short, they blame God. Joshua didn’t ask “how have we sinned and brought a curse upon ourselves” but “why did You desert us and bring us here to die?”
His last question, to me, shows arrogance. “And what will You do for Your great name?” God’s name isn’t dependent on us! His name stands on its own merit. Yes, all the nations around knew of Israel’s God and His power but He could have easily started again as He threatened to do on several occasions while they were in the wilderness. His great name was even more ensured now because of this action. He showed Israel AND the rest of the nations who were watching that He had expectations of His people that they had to uphold. He was not going to give them a free pass to do whatever they wanted. He gave them instructions and standards that they HAD to live by or they would suffer the consequences; His withdrawal of His protection.
I am honestly shocked by Joshua’s response. Personally, when things go belly up for me I’m the first one I look to for fault. I know we are not under the Law any longer but sin still has consequences. I search my own heart for what I have done that has allowed Satan into my camp. I DON’T blame God for abandoning me. I get down on my face like Joshua did and repent instead of blame. This is a lesson Joshua is about to learn too. Next time we meet we will see God’s faithfulness to teach him just as He taught Moses.
Father God, thank You for Your faithfulness even in the face of my lack of faithfulness. Thank You for teaching me the lesson of pointing fingers again. I remembered the basics of the defeat of this story but hadn’t remembered Joshua’s response. I’m glad he came to You with his issue. You were his only help. Even though he got the root of the problem wrong he at least knew where his hope lay. Help me NEVER to forget that lesson! My hope is in YOU ALWAYS!
Father God I also know that not everything bad that happens to me is because of some sin I have committed. I live in a fallen world and my body is subject to decay because of that sin. Bad things DO happen to ‘good’ people. Bad things happen to Your people. But the difference is where I go when bad things happen. I run to YOU! You are my ONLY hope. You are my salvation!
Thank You Holy Spirit for the lessons that I learn from those ‘bad things’ too. You can turn tragedy into triumph if I will just let You. Help me ALWAYS remember that lesson and surrender both the good and bad things in my life to Your loving hands. Thank You for reminding me of this.