Lessons in Defeat: Part 1

 •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Joshua 7
Considerations essentially practical to Christian warfare are brought out in this chapter. The conduct of Israel before Jericho teaches what the behavior of the soldiers of Jesus Christ should be in the world, while the lessons of Ai show what Christian conflict too frequently is in its actual workings. In the end, at Ai, as at Jericho, victory was assured through grace; and it is written for us, whatever our defeats, "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Rom. 16:1818For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. (Romans 16:18)).
Before victory, among God's people, there is invariably dependence on God, and prayerful following of His Word; and by these means God prepares His own for beholding His glorious work. But such are our hearts that, in the very victory God gives us, we are apt to begin to trust in self and to loosen our girdles. The path to victory is usually a safer one than the vantage ground of success obtained. Never more than in a time of marked blessing is a truly watchful and prayerful spirit needed; never more than when God gives victory do soldiers of Christ require to apply to themselves the practical truth of circumcision. Indeed, defeats often arise from absence of care in the hour of success.
Each hour of the week of warfare around Jericho had shown Israel's utter inability to conquer in their own strength, and had proved that in every sense the conquest was of God. At the very moment of victory, God had given Israel warning what each soldier should shun, "lest ye make yourselves accursed." But Israel had in spirit departed from their strength. Sin in the camp occasioned defeat, and the pride of the army hindered the discovery of the sin.
In God's history of events before Ai, He lifts the veil previous to His record of a single step taken by Israel, so that the reader of His Word may not fail to enter into His thoughts about the sin in the camp. His finger points out the evil hidden in the midst of Israel, long before they discovered its presence (Josh. 7:11But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel. (Joshua 7:1)). Had they been walking humbly, they would have sought God before the battle, and He would have indicated that evil was among them; then their humiliation would have been alone with God, and on their faces they would have received His word to clear themselves. But their pride prevented dependence on God.
No evil can be hidden in our individual hearts, or among a company of God's people, of which lie is ignorant. No deception, no lie, is compatible with God's presence, or with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And if we do not feel the evil among us, we are lacking in communion with God. On this point, instead of excusing ourselves, we require to be firm and stern with our souls. God creates misgivings in His saints, or makes them sensible, through His Spirit dwelling in us, that something is wrong, when they are near Him in heart. In the absence of this godly state of soul, God allows the evil to develop till, by feeding on its fruits of misery, His people at length are so humiliated that they are forced to humble themselves. Then, once more, the watchful and prayerful spirit is found, and God again allows a victory to arise.
God never alters His principles of government because of His ways of grace. Israel was flushed with the pride of success; therefore He allowed them to find out, by means of their defeat, that He was angry with them, sin being in their midst. They had committed a trespass; they had deceived a deceit; they had "sinned" and "dissembled also." Achan, the troubler, was representative of the people; the sin of one was that of all; the corporate body was affected by the guilt of the unit. Now, as a matter of fact, Christians usually discover the presence of sin among them, which God hates, by the result of His chastening, and too seldom discern it as dear children in His presence, under the gentle eye of His love. Spiritual discernment, to which most lay claim as a matter of course, is really a fine fruit of the Spirit of God, and by no means that common hedgerow plant which many regard it to be.
Israel looked at Ai as contemptible. Its name-"a heap of ruins"-suggests that it was not like Jericho-a mighty city and fortified. Had it been a powerful place, maybe Israel would have sought God about its overthrow; but the language of the spies (after they had gone up and viewed the country) -"Make not all the people to labor thither; for they are but few"-indicates confidence in their own strength, instead of trust in God for Ai's destruction. Truly recognizing God as our strength alone, we hang on Him as much for the small as for the great 'enemies. Do we not know practically how that little enemies occasion great defeats?
Alas for the pride of victory! Could Christians boast in the number, of their converts if they really believed that by God the Spirit each one had been born anew? Could teachers of the Word vaunt themselves in their knowledge, if realizing that they were themselves taught of God? Those who walk in pride, God is able to abase; His "great name" requires humility in Man-a divine principle man is slow to learn.
On went Israel, knowing not that their sin had separated them from God. Their chosen three thousand were confident of success; but they fled before the men of Ai, who "chased them from before the gate," and smote them. Their courage, built on self-confidence, broke down completely, "wherefore the hearts of the people melted and became as water."
The self-confident despair in defeat, while those who draw upon divine resources strengthen themselves in God in the day of trouble. Adversity and anguish in natural things brings out real moral greatness in men; so in things spiritual, the really great spirit is manifest when everything seems to be adverse. David, in his dark hour, encouraged himself in the Lord his God. Joshua, like most men, almost blamed God for the overthrow. The effect, not the cause, seems to have filled his soul-the defeat, not the reason of it. "Alas," he cried in his bitterness-"Alas, 0 Lord GOD, wherefore hast Thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us?"
A man really praying to God speaks out the truth of what is in his heart. This lamentation proved how far from the spirit of self-judgment Israel was; for to their leader it seemed that the seeds of sorrow were sown not in the camp, but in the heavens of God. Yet this need occasion no surprise, as usually the last place we are wont to search for the cause of our defeat is the state of our own souls. We may, perhaps, say we needed this sorrow; but seldom do we recognize why we needed it.
Let us now turn and engage ourselves with the more healthy spectacle of the nation, representatively through its elders, lying low before the Lord. The praying attitude of these leaders is most hopeful. Their defeat had sent them to God. Would God such an attitude, spiritually speaking, might in this proud day, be that of those who suffer defeats before a heap of ruins, as the world may be termed when we recognize what it really is in God's sight. God revealed the secret of the discomfiture to the elders of Israel, when they were prostrate in His presence before the ark; and He did this despite the lack of absolute self-judgment which seemed to mark Joshua's lamentation. No doubt in the want of this rare quality lay the cause of the secret of the defeat not being discovered earlier, for from morn till even the nation of Israel knew not the cause. Pride stands in the way of true discernment; defeat may send us to God; yet, notwithstanding this, unless we rightly judge ourselves, our hearts remain in the dark as to the cause which hinders God from prospering us.
When Joshua had reached the very depth of his lamentation, and had reckoned all Israel as clean cut off, he touched the name of Jehovah, saying, "What wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?" This question, asked at the end of the day, called forth the answer of Jehovah as to the cause of Israel's trouble. God was acting among them for the glory of His great name. Because of His great name, were their defeat and slaughter. What a heart-searching discovery! To all appearance the defeat of God's people denied the greatness of the name of their God, but God sets His glory above appearances; His name is greater than His people's successes; His character is bound up in His name; His army, His Israel, had sinned. To the natural eye, the sight of men stricken by the hand of their God, might indeed awaken the question, Is
God among them? To the spiritual understanding, the truth is evident, that the honor of the great name of the Lord demands in His people purity and humility, cost what it may.
Jehovah's answer to His servant, "Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?" is again a lesson. How had Joshua been lying upon his face? "Thus"-despairing and practically casting the cause of Israel's defeat upon God. To lie upon the face before God is the only true attitude a believer can take in a season of shame and dishonor; to affect any other is but to add the sin of pride to that which causes the defeat. "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up." Jas. 4:1010Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (James 4:10). True humiliation before God is our only "door of hope" (Hos. 2:1515And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. (Hosea 2:15)) for blessing in a day of distress; but to lie "thus"-not judging ourselves, but blaming God-is not humility.
The spirit which chafes under defeat will not recognize the cause of defeat. True humility is rarer than diamonds. The question in the camp was of Israel's sin, their unconfessed and, therefore, unforgiven sin. God required this question first to be settled. That accomplished, He would use His people for His glory. Arise, for how could prayer that confessed not sin be availing? Sin had to be cast out. Action to this end was required by God.
"Israel hath sinned." The army of the Holy One, sent to destroy the wickedness in Canaan, had opened its bosom to the very iniquities it was sent to sweep away. The holy God had allowed for the greatness of His name that the sword of the Amorite should be His rod of chastisement upon His people. Thus does God allow Satan to sift His saints. He allows the "Amorites" against whom we contend, to smite us when we trifle with sin. If evil be allowed in the camp, and pride in the heart, let none be surprised that, when striving with spiritual wickedness in heavenly places, Satan, the rebel, becomes God's sword against His own people.