Joshua 7: Stand Up.

Having wiped the fortified city of Jericho from the map and secured a prominent foothold in the land of Canaan, Joshua and Israel in set their sites on the next town up the road. The city of Ai, a hop, skip, and a jump from Bethel and about 15 miles west of Jericho, was the next logical step in Israel’s conquest of the promised land, and so Joshua ordered spies to fan out in that direction and check the place out. When they returned, the spies, stoked by the miraculous and overwhelming victory at Jericho, reported that, considering how easily Jericho felt, Ai should be no problem at all. In fact, they recommended taking only a small contingent of the fighting men to attack the smaller, less fortified Ai, and so 3,000 were dispatched to conquer the town.

Within minutes of launching the attack, though, something was clearly wrong. One of the Israelites was struck by an arrow and fell, writhing in agony. Then another was hit, and another. When they reached the enemy lines, the enemy didn’t just fold and retreat, but fought viciously. More Israelites were struck, something which had not happened once at Jericho. Then it happened: Frank was hit, but when he fell, he didn’t move again.

Suddenly, as the whole Israelite force froze, taking painful note of Frank’s demise, it was undeniably clear: God had not come with them to Ai.

Man by man, the three thousand each came to this realization, turned, and ran. The army of Ai, though, wasn’t about to let them get away, and so they gave chase. By the time the Israelites stumbled into sight of the camp on the outskirts of the still-smoldering ruins of Jericho, thirty-some were dead. Dozens, probably more than a hundred, more were wounded. And while the army of Ai stopped and turned back just before they mounted that last rise, as the beaten unit limped back into the west end of camp, the murmurs had already reached the east.

Questions about what had happened quickly devolved into the realization that God had abandoned Israel. Instead of asking why He would do that, though, the people reverted back to their old ways. When something went wrong, they started moaning and groaning, grumbling and complaining.

And if there is one thing that deflates a leader more than anything, it’s moaning and groaning, grumbling and complaining.

In fact, though God had specifically – and repeatedly – commanded Joshua to not become discouraged, as the tone in camp soured, so did Joshua’s. And by the time he returned to his tent after hearing the news, Joshua himself was mad. How could God let them down like this? How could God open them up to attack from all the natives? How could… What was He thinking, bringing them across the Jordan just so they could die at the hands of the Canaanites?

Rushing to the tabernacle, bursting into the holy of holies, and throwing himself to the floor, Joshua laid all of this out in an almost-civil manner before God. Surely, the Most High had made a mistake today! And now, all of Israel was doomed!

God, however, was not impressed. Rather, in what may have been the most curt rebuttal in all of Scripture, the Lord responded simply, essentially, “Stand up. This isn’t my fault. It’s yours. There is sin in the camp, and I will not tolerate that.”

God’s answer to Joshua is interesting to me for a few reasons. First, it shows very clearly that God wasn’t surprised by the whole thing. He knew about the sin. He knew about the failure. He knew. And contrary to what Joshua said as he wallowed on the ground before the ark, He was still in complete control.

Second, God makes abundantly clear that, when there is sin in the camp, it’s not time to moan and groan about failure or feel sorry for ourselves; it’s time to fix the sin. Indeed, Scripture is very clear that God will not listen to us when there is sin in our lives. There’s no sense pretending He will. And since the only reason God would truly abandon us is sin, when we find ourselves out on a limb on our own, it’s time to inspect ourselves and get to work.

Third, God’s response reminded Joshua that He was not on Joshua’s side. It was Joshua’s responsibility to be on His side. God may have called Israel His people, but He wasn’t going to waste His time if they weren’t going to live as He commanded.

This last revelation is, I think, more significant than we probably realize. You see, too often, we operate with the idea that God needs us. We’re doing Him a favor by obeying. And so if we compromise just a bit or cut corners here and there every now and again, it’s okay because He owes us. The thing is, God doesn’t owe us anything. We owe Him everything. And when God told Joshua that He would no longer be with Israel unless they were going to be fully obedient, He was, in fact, making that point clear.

So, is God strangely absent from your life? Is He quiet and unmoving in your church? Is there sin hiding in your camp? It’s time to stop wallowing in self-pity, stop blaming God for not moving, and start working to rid ourselves of sin and make ourselves fully obedient once again.

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