Victory, defeat, and deception
When Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land they began their conquest with a victory over the city of Jericho. If you aren’t familiar with the story you can read it here .
The next city they attacked was Ai. The outcome was different.
Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, 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 three thousand men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.
Then they came to Gibeon. The Gibeonites took the initiative in establishing contact.
But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.”
And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.
Why would God give the Israelites a great victory over one city and then allow them to be defeated and deceived by the next cities they encountered? We can find the answer by looking at the preparations they made for the conquest of Jericho.
At God’s command they crossed the Jordan to take possession of the land but they did not immediately attack Jericho.
At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.”
So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt. Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised.
After this they observed the Passover.
While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho.
After they had taken these steps in obedience to God’s commands God revealed himself to Joshua.
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.”
And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”
And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.”
And Joshua did so.
Joshua received instructions as to how they were to fight Jericho and he carried them out. The Israelites won a victory because they waited for God’s orders and obeyed them.
When the attacked Ai they didn’t wait for God’s instructions but followed the advice of the spies they sent to check out the city. “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.” After their defeat they prayed to God and discovered that one of them had disobeyed God’s commands regarding Jericho.
But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel.
His sin had to be judged before they could defeat Ai. If the Israelites had asked God’s will before they attacked they could have defeated Ai without going experiencing the trauma of a defeat.
But they were show to learn the lesson.The Gibeonites came and claimed to be from a distant country.
But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?”
They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.”
And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?”
They said to him, “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the LORD your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”’ Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.”
So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.
We can be sure of ultimate success as long as we look to God for guidance and obey him faithfully. When we rely on the advice of other people or on our own understanding we will fail.