When they returned, they told Joshua, “There’s no need for all of us to go up there; it won’t take more than two or three thousand men to attack Ai. Since there are so few of them, don’t make all our people struggle to go up there.” So approximately 3,000 warriors were sent, but they were soundly defeated. (Josh 7:3-4 NLT) The situation had changed, and Joshua and the Israelites had no idea. The memory was fresh of their absolute defeat of Jericho. The imposing walls of Jericho had proven to be no problem at all! The men bringing this recommendation had just returned from spying out Ai. And Ai looked nowhere near as imposing as Jericho! Defeating Ai would take no effort. And though they didn’t say this, the confidence in their remarks communicates – “we don’t even need God to do this; we can handle it ourselves!” “We can leave 597,000 of our fighting force back in the camp. We only need 3,000 warriors. And they won’t even break a sweat.” Obviously i am putting words in their mouth, but i believe it fairly expresses their sentiment.
The reason i can so confidently express that sentiment is that i have acted in that same way. i’ve walked through that situation where the odds i was facing were overwhelming. i knew that if God “didn’t come through”, i was sunk. i enlisted a multitude of prayer partners to intercede with me and call upon the Lord for His intervention and favor. And then i saw God work in an overpowering way. You know the feeling! i was basking in His goodness and grace – and feeling a might bit invincible. And the next circumstance i encountered seemed so minor – so insignificant – that there was no need to even pray about it. And – SMACK! – there was that unexpected blow that knocked the wind out of my sails.
Where did we get this idea that we go to God for the BIG stuff, but trust ourselves for the “small” stuff? And even if we would never actually say that, why do we live that way? Jesus said it – “apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). And when Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, he said, “Be anxious for nothing, but in EVERYTHING by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6 NKJ). So what part is excluded from “everything”?
In the case of the Israelites, they went to battle with the people of Ai without some very important information. They went to battle without the presence of God going with them – and they didn’t even know it. It would have been very helpful for them to know the information that we read as the chapter starts – But Israel violated the instructions about the things set apart for the LORD. A man named Achan had stolen some of these dedicated things, so the LORD was very angry with the Israelites (Josh 7:1). In the next chapter of this book we will talk about Achan’s sin of commission, but for right now let’s continue to talk about the people’s sin of omission.
The Israelites were facing an enemy – Ai. So what did they do? Joshua sent men to spy out the town – just like he did for Jericho. They returned with a faithful report for the people to advance on Ai – just like they did for Jericho. And the people by faith sent forth the warriors. The problem wasn’t their hubris in the small size of the force they sent out. The problem was that nowhere do we read that they talked to God. We don’t see one mention of Joshua – or anyone – talking to God… until after the defeat. Is it not reasonable to presume that if they had sought the Lord before advancing on Ai, He would have told them about the sin in the camp? Is it not reasonable to presume that if they had sought the Lord before advancing on Ai, they could have prevented the sound defeat and death of many of their warriors?
When will we learn that our Lord God Jehovah is the Sovereign and Almighty God of creation? He is omniscient and omnipotent. There is nothing that we will encounter that He doesn’t know. He knows what is ahead. He knows what He wants to accomplish through the encounter – in and through our lives. He knows what we need. He knows if there is something going on in our lives that cause us to be unprepared or ill-prepared. And He desires for us to seek Him – with the promise that if we seek Him we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).
And then when they suffer defeat, they blame God! (Of course, we would never do that, would we?) They cry out to Him that He has let them down and brought dishonor to His own name. Set aside Achan’s sin for a moment. They went off to Ai with their own plan, having never asked God what He would have them do, and then have the audacity to tell God that it is His fault! And how many times have we done the exact same thing? And then questioned God as to where He was.
Wherever you are in your journey, whether you are approaching a circumstance the size of Jericho, or one the size of Ai – remember, apart from Him you can do nothing! We can’t handle it apart from Him – no matter how insignificant we may think it is. Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take (Prov 3:5-6).
Learn from the lesson at Ai, do not advance until you have first sought the Lord.
(Excerpt from “Lessons Learned In The Wilderness — Possessing The Promise”. For more information about the book see http://www.wildernesslessons.com/Possessing_The_Promise.html.)