Sunday November 11th
As Joshua and Israelites continued their conquest of the Promised Land, they were heading north, towards the cities of Ai and Bethel.
That made me think how people can be so different depending on whether they come from the Northern or the Southern states.
For example, I heard about a man from up North here who traveled down to Arkansas to check out their famous hot springs.
He decided to ask the girl at the supermarket check-out where to find the best hot springs. He said to her, “I hear that you have a lot of spas around here.”
The girl looked puzzled and said “You heard what?”
The man continued, “They say there are a lot of spas around here. I wanted to see some of them.”
The girl shook her head in confusion and said, “Let me get this straight. You say you’re looking for spas? You mean like secret agents?”
Now the heading over chapter 8 in my Bible says “The Conquest of Ai”.
But wait a minute, wasn’t Ai the place where the Israelites just lost a major battle in Chapter 7?
Yes, that’s true, but today we’re going to talk about how God can help us to turn a defeat into a victory! And we’re going to do it in 4 easy steps!
The first thing we need to recognize is that the defeat of the Israelite army at Ai in Chapter 7 was a direct result of disobedience to God. In that particular case it was the disobedience of one man, Achan, who ignored God’s command by hiding some stolen treasure from Jericho in his tent.
So step Number 1 is going to be this: When we look at areas of our lives where we feel as though we’ve been defeated, we need to ask ourselves, “Have I been disobedient to God in some area of my life?”
Am I gossiping? Am I treating others poorly? Am I allowing my mind and my eyes to focus on things that are displeasing to God? Am I holding back in giving to God what is due unto Him?
And if we discover a situation where we’ve acted in a manner that is contrary to God’s will, then we can simply choose to repent and get that sin out of our lives, the same way that Joshua and the Israelites got rid of Achan.
Oh, and by the way, what did they do with Achan? The KILLED him! And what do we need to do with the sin in our lives? We need to KILL it!
The really good news is that as soon as we get right with God, He is ready to lead us to victory, as we see here in the opening verses of Joshua chapter 8:
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. 2 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.”
Notice how God doesn’t dwell on the mistakes of the past. He doesn’t tell Joshua that he’ll have to wait a while before he gets another chance. When we’ve confessed our sins, God is ready to move forward with us. There is no time to waste dwelling on what went wrong – Just learn from it, make it right and move on!
But did you also notice that God showed us the second step of our plan in that last part of verse 2 verse? It’s this – Listen to God’s plan!
God gave Joshua a very specific plan to defeat Ai. He was supposed to set an ambush behind the city.
Now you have to understand this – God’s plans only work if we listen to them!
Do you remember Naaman, the Syrian General from 2nd Kings Chapter 5? God gives him a plan to cure his leprosy, but Naaman almost doesn’t get healed because he doesn’t agree with God’s plan!
Thankfully, Naaman’s servants convince him to do things God’s way and he gets his healing. The point is – if you want to do things your way and stay in defeat, then go ahead. But if you want victory, then be prepared to do things God’s way!
Does Joshua listen to God’s plan? Absolutely!
3 So Joshua rose with all the people of war to go up to Ai; and Joshua chose 30,000 men, valiant warriors, and sent them out at night. 4 He commanded them, saying, “See, you are going to ambush the city from behind it. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you be ready.5 Then I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. And when they come out to meet us as at the first, we will flee before them. 6 They will come out after us until we have drawn them away from the city, for they will say, ‘They are fleeing before us as at the first.’ So we will flee before them. 7 And you shall rise from your ambush and take possession of the city, for the Lord your God will deliver it into your hand. 8 Then it will be when you have seized the city, that you shall set the city on fire. You shall do it according to the word of the Lord. See, I have commanded you.” 9 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.
Joshua sets up the ambush of Ai exactly as God told Him to. In verses 10 through 17 the plan starts to unfold, but notice that is doesn’t start out looking like a victory:
10 Now Joshua rose early in the morning and mustered the people, and he went up with the elders of Israel before the people to Ai. 11 Then all the people of war who were with him went up and drew near and arrived in front of the city, and camped on the north side of Ai. Now there was a valley between him and Ai. 12 And he took about 5,000 men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of the city. 13 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. 14 It came about when the king of Ai saw it, that the men of the city hurried and rose up early and went out to meet Israel in battle, he and all his people at the appointed place before the desert plain. But he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city. 15 Joshua and all Israel pretended to be beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness. 16 And all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua and were drawn away from the city. 17 So not a man was left in Ai or Bethel who had not gone out after Israel, and they left the city unguarded and pursued Israel.
On the surface, this looks like another victory for the King of Ai and another defeat for Joshua. The Israelites are on the run, and the armies of Ai are chasing them.
Step Number 3 is this – Stop worrying about what things look like. If you are obeying God, then trust Him for your ultimate victory!
That’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about in 2nd Corinthians 5:7 when he says:
“We walk by faith, not by sight!”
Because look what happens just when defeat seems near:
18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” So Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. 19 The men in ambush rose quickly from their place, and when he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it, and they quickly set the city on fire. 20 When the men of Ai turned back and looked, behold, the smoke of the city ascended to the sky, and they had no place to flee this way or that, for the people who had been fleeing to the wilderness turned against the pursuers. 21 When Joshua and all Israel saw that the men in ambush had captured the city and that the smoke of the city ascended, they turned back and slew the men of Ai. 22 The others came out from the city to encounter them, so that they were trapped in the midst of Israel, some on this side and some on that side; and they slew them until no one was left of those who survived or escaped.
Verses 23 -29 tell us that the entire city of Ai was destroyed that day, burned to the ground and reduced to a heap of rubble!
Think about this - that’s what your enemies will look like when you follow God’s plan for your life!
That’s the promise found in Isaiah 54:17
“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper”!
Do you believe that?
So then what’s the fourth step, you might ask?
Let’s look at what Joshua does next:
30 Then Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, in Mount Ebal, 31 just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of uncut stones on which no man had wielded an iron tool; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings.32 He wrote there on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written, in the presence of the sons of Israel. 33 All Israel with their elders and officers and their judges were standing on both sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, the stranger as well as the native. Half of them stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had given command at first to bless the people of Israel. 34 Then afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law.35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel with the women and the little ones and the strangers who were living among them.
The 4th step is simply this – Always give all of the Glory to God for the victories that He provides in your life!
Remember that it was God, His promises, and His word, that has won for you every battle that you’ve ever faced.
If we lose sight of that, then we take our eyes off of the very one who will carry us on from victory to victory, from glory to glory.
So let’s review our 4 step path from defeat to victory:
Step 1 - Ask yourself, “Have I been disobedient to God in some area of my life?” If so, repent immediately and get ready to move on
Step 2 - Listen to God’s plan!
Step 3 - Stop worrying about what things look like. Trust God and walk by faith, not by sight!
Step 4 – Give all the Glory, honor and praise to God!