Joshua 8: Aftermath

After the distressing failure of Joshua 7, where Achan’s sin prevented Israel from defeating the city of Ai, the people were more resolved than ever. They had put Achan and his entire family to death, as commanded by the Lord, and thus put his sin – and theirs – behind them. Now, it was time to get back to business, but before they marched out against Ai a second time, I suspect that there were still some lingering doubts. I mean, how did they know that there was no more sin that had to be dealt with? How did they know that God had truly forgiven them? For that matter, how did they know God would go with them against Ai this time? And how did they know that, even if He did go with them, Jericho wasn’t just some fluke?

To be perfectly honest, the failure at Ai could not have come at a worse time. The Israelites’ foothold west of the Jordan was still precarious at best; there was, after all, nothing left of Jericho’s once-daunting fortifications. There were still a vast number of very strong Canaanites living in the area; if they decided to come after Israel, there would have been nowhere to retreat without taking a swim. The morale of the people was never more than tenuous, at best. And the morale of the bad guys was still not so low that they would just roll over and play dead. Something had to be done to rally the troops and restore the momentum Israel had after Jericho. God had to do something.

So He did.

In the beginning of Joshua 8, after Joshua and the Israelites had completely destroyed Achan and his entire family for the guilt they had brought upon the nation, the Lord immediately addressed Joshua: “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Sound familiar?

It should. It’s almost exactly what God told Joshua no less than four times in Joshua 1:6-9 alone. And suddenly, we begin to realize why God had exhorted Joshua to “be strong and courageous” (i.e., exactly the opposite of afraid and discouraged) and to “not be terrified [or] discouraged” back then: failure was going to be a part of the process.

Failure is a natural part of life. All sorts of people fail. And in fact, you can make a pretty solid argument that the most successful people actually fail the most. You see, you can’t succeed if you don’t take a risk. And you can’t risk without the possibility of failure. Those who succeed most risk the most. And so, it is only natural that they should also fail the most.

Now, all that is pretty cliché. Piles of leadership gurus and others tell us these things all the time. But this is exactly why I think Joshua 8 is so very important. You see, leadership gurus today tend to be like fishing shows where every cast lands a trophy and every show showcases cast after cast after cast. We never see them fail. And we never get to watch, close up, how they respond when they do.

In Joshua 7, after the defeat at Ai, though, we got to see, up close and personal, how Joshua responded to failure. He was upset, desperate, dejected. In fact, he lamented ever coming across the Jordan River, and I suspect he seriously contemplated how he might lead Israel back to the other side, where they already had territory where he knew they could live safely and securely for a very long time.

I think that’s why God had them cross the river at flood stage; it precluded any possibility that they would just run back to the other side.

This was as low as things could get for Joshua. He knew that the next logical step was to return to Ai, but the what if’s haunted him. And so it was essential that, at just that moment, God chose to speak to Joshua.

It’s an interesting event, really. Verse 1 says nothing about Joshua going to the tent of meeting, where Moses traditionally went to speak with God. In fact, it says nothing about him going to prayer at all. I imagine, therefore, that he was maybe heading back to his tent immediately following Achan’s execution. He was probably pretty sober. Likely replaying the events of the day and lamenting the whole thing. And as he did, he was sinking only lower.

Then came the voice of God.

“Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

I think God probably emphasized the “not” in each clause of that statement, just to reaffirm the point. And then He went immediately into the “let’s get back to work” mode. “Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai.” You can translate that, “Don’t be cocky like when you sent only 3,000 before, but send the troops.” In other words, God knew that Joshua and Israel had failed, suffered a huge psychological blow even if the actual casualties weren’t really that bad, and yet He called Joshua to go all in and rejoin the fight.

After we’ve failed, once we’ve fixed the problem, God calls us immediately to rejoin the fight without delay or reserve. We failed, yeah. But He still wants us. He will still use us. And He still expects us to commit ourselves wholly to Him and His plan. But that wasn’t all God said.

He continued, “For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.” And in that statement, we see the answers to all of Joshua’s questions from before. How did they know that all of the sin was dealt with? Because God just said it was. How did they know that God had truly forgiven them? Because God just said He did. How did they know that God would go with them against Ai? Because God just said He would. And how did they know that Jericho wasn’t just a fluke? Because God just said He was about to do it all again.

We will all experience failure in our lives. It is a natural part of being human and living in a fallen world. What we need to know in the aftermath of that failure is that, once we have dealt with any sin issues that were at its root, God wants to – and indeed, will – use us again. Right away.

Now, please understand this very important qualification: I don’t think God will always call us, as He did the Israelites, right back to the exact same place where we just failed. Sometimes, as He did in the case of David and Bathsheeba, there are lingering effects of failure that change lives and courses forever. But that doesn’t negate the promise: God would use us again.

All we have to do to be used by Him again is recommit ourselves, completely, and head right back out to the fight.

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