Israel has crossed the Jordan River and is now in the promised land. They have set up their camp near Gilgal, a stone’s throw from Jericho. Jericho will be their first conquest in the new land. We already know the people of Jericho are worried. Rahab told the spies they were so afraid of Israel’s God…not Israel but her God…their hearts were melting like wax, out of fear. Now we read the city is shut up tight. No one is going out or coming in. They are waiting, the fear almost palpable. God’s provision for Israel is on display here with the Lord telling Joshua He has given Jericho into the Israelites’ hands. Excavations at Jericho indicate the city was perhaps eight acres and was protected by two high parallel walls which stood about fifteen feet apart and surrounded the city. It was the sight of cities like Jericho that moved the 10 spies to believe the Israelites could never conquer the land. As you read, notice who plans the military strategy. Joshua may be leading the army, but God is making the plan, carrying it out, and leading His chosen people in their fight.
We have some choices before us just like Joshua and the Israelites did. We can make the best plans we can and hope they are successful. We can make our own plans and ask the Lord to bless them. Or we can ask God what His plans are and then do what He tells us to do. Joshua received his plans from the Lord which is why he was successful. God’s plan to defeat Jericho sounded a bit unusual. I can’t imagine any of us have seen a building taken down by marching around it and shouting. But God was once again showing His power and might…for both the Israelites and the Canaanites in the land. Both groups of people needed to be reminded of what God was capable of doing. Joshua shared the Lord’s plan first with the priests. It was vital for them to be in place and invested in the plan. Carrying the ark represented the presence of God in the midst of His people. When we accept God’s plan, we invite His presence and that guarantees victory.
Joshua instructed the soldiers next. They too needed to be invested in the plan. Much of what happened was a test of the people’s faith and patience. They had been marching through the wilderness for a long time and they were no doubt anxious to get moving…defeat the enemies and take the land that would be theirs, settle down and live the good life. Why take an entire week to defeat one city? God was teaching them patient obedience. And the command for silence until the right time was a test of their discipline. Could or would they take orders or not.
We see just how serious God is about obedience in this account. These words are wise counsel from a man named Andrew Bonar, “Let us be as watchful after the victory as before the battle.” One soldier was not obedient, and it cost Israel defeat and disgrace. It also cost this one man and his family their lives. The first battle and victory inside the promised land was dedicated to the Lord. Everything was dedicated to Him…people, houses, animals, everything. God could do with it as He pleased. But one soldier, Achan, disobeyed. We also see here how faithful God is. Once the city was breached the two spies who stayed with Rahab were dispatched to rescue her and her family. God saved her because of her faith. They were initially put outside of the city because they were Gentiles, and they were unclean.
The command to destroy everything is somewhat troubling for many people. But the people of Canaan were incredibly wicked, and the Lord didn’t want His holy people contaminated by their neighbors. It is well to remember that God put His people in the world to be the channel for His blessing. God is a jealous God, and He will not permit them to divide their love between Him and the false gods of the world.
Israel’s victory over Jericho was easy thanks to God. But…that is how chapter 7 begins, with the word, “but.” Things are about to change for Joshua and the Israelites. One man, Achan, was disobedient and it affected all of Israel. The Israelites moved on from Jericho and spied out Ai. It didn’t seem like Ai was much of an opponent for fighting but the Israelites were soundly defeated. The man’s name was Achan, which means “trouble.” It was because of his disobedience that Israel was defeated by the army of Ai. Thirty-six Israelite soldiers were killed. It was Israel’s first and only military defeat in Canaan, one that is forever associated with Achan’s name. One person’s disobedience can do a great amount of damage when they are outside the will of God. God said it was Israel’s sin, not Achan’s. All of Israel was blamed because Israel was one people in the Lord. They may have looked like a collection of people and tribes, families, and clans but they were one in the Lord.
What we see in Achan is a warning to us today. He heard the command of the Lord. All the spoils were to be devoted to the Lord. His first mistake was to look at the spoils a second time. It was probably unavoidable to look at them the first time. But a second look included the temptation to want and to take. We face the same temptations. We look once and then look away. But when we look a second time the temptation sometimes gets the better of us and we sin. His second mistake was to call them spoils. In some cases that would be correct but not this time. These things were part of the treasury of God and wholly dedicated to Him. They didn’t belong to Achan or even Israel. They belonged to the Lord. Achan’s third mistake was to covet these “spoils.” James warns about being drawn away by our own desires, (1:14). And finally, Achan’s fourth mistake was thinking he could get away with what he had done…as though God couldn’t see what he had done. Achan had wealth he couldn’t even enjoy because it was hidden in the bottom of his tent. He couldn’t show it to anyone because they would know where it came from. If Achan had waited a couple of days, he could have had all the spoils he wanted from Ai. He was greedy, impatient, and disobedient. His sin was stealing from God and lying about it.
When Joshua tells Achan to give glory to God that was a form of an official oath in Israel. Achan had sinned against his people and against God and he had to confess his sins. But before Joshua could execute the Lord’s judgement, he had to present the evidence that substantiated Achan’s sin. The items were brought and rolled out before the people and the Lord. The law in Israel prohibited family members from being punished for the sins of their relatives so Achan’s family must have in some way helped him.
We have seen and will continue to see that at the beginning of a new period in the history of God’s people sins bring on a display of God’s wrath. Think Nadab and Abihu and the unauthorized fire. Or Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-11. The death of Achan and his family was a very clear message to the people. Do not take God’s Word lightly. Israel was now free to continue their pursuit of the promised land. God would continue to lead them. Ai was up next.
God’s plan for Israel’s conquering of Ai was simple but effective. They would set an ambush and draw all the fighting men out of the city. They would then take the city and destroy the people. The city would be burned but this time the Israelites were allowed to keep any plunder they might find. God had provided a miraculous victory at Jericho and now leading His people they fought and won at Ai. After this victory Joshua led the people north about 30 miles to Shechem which lies on a plain between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. There the people made a new commitment to the covenant and the authority of the Lord. The law was read again. All the people faced the ark of the covenant which represented the presence of God. This time there was no smoke, fire, thunder or lightening. You will notice that Joshua was not only obedient to the Lord but to the last commands of Moses. Everyone was gathered to hear the law…men and women, children and the aliens who lived among them. There would be no excuses for the people. Everyone had heard what the Lord wanted them to hear.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.